The Comprehensive Spending Review and Efficiency

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2007 National Delegate Conference
1 June 2007

This Conference notes that the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) being conducted by the Chancellor will set the UK Government’s spending priorities up to 2011 and that it is perfectly possible to combine sound management of the economy with ample provision of high-standard public services. Already we know we face a tougher spending environment than previously, when an extra £40 billion was found for the National Health Service (NHS).

Conference regrets that there will be average efficiency targets of 3% per annum for public bodies up to 2011 and condemns these crude, cost cutting attempts as more likely to endanger quality and service delivery than improve it. This at a time when average real terms economic growth of 2.75% per annum is predicted up to 2011. Furthermore, artificial attempts to cap public service pay will damage morale and threaten delivery of key services.

The Pre-Budget Report (PBR) in December 2006 set out that education, skills and climate change would be a CSR priority for the UK in a globalised economy.

Whilst extra for education is welcome, Conference believes that large sums will be wasted through a capital programme reliant on PFI for new build, especially Building Schools for the Future in England. The millions being spent on consultants are also an enormous source of waste. The TUC’s Drive for Change toolkit launched in 2006 shows that the in-house team can deliver improvements by consulting and involving staff.

The Leitch Review of UK Skills sets out ambitious targets for adult learning and qualifications, and looks likely to secure extra resources but at the price of letting the employers dominate the training agenda. A statutory entitlement for protected paid time for training up to NVQ level 2 would be better introduced today to up skill the UK workforce than waiting possibly until 2011 to assess employer training performance.

Conference records that health spending is now above the European average but expected to slow and this will contribute to the financial problems associated with marketisation, especially in England.

Conference is concerned that in the context of crude efficiency targets, policies designed to meet the challenges of globalisation will amount to the triumph of rhetoric over policy. This is also the case in relation to tackling climate change. Whilst the increases in passenger duty from £5 to £10 and the carbon neutral home were welcome components of the PBR, such measures hardly match the scale of challenge set out in the Stern Report.

And on housing too, whilst the PBR targets to increase to the numbers of people that the government helps into home ownership are on the face of it welcome, we must not let this mask the need for substantial investment to tackle the estimated 1.6 million children in Britain who are either homeless, trapped in temporary accommodation, or living in overcrowded or unfit housing. As UNISON has stated on many occasions, direct investment by local authorities has to form a major element of any strategy to deal with the housing crisis.

Whilst recording that profits in recent years in the UK services sector have been averaging 18% per annum, Conference condemns attempts by the CBI and others to further de-regulate the UK economy, already one of the mostly lightly regulated in Europe. The UK and Europe need more labour market security and less exploitation if a fair economy and society is to be built. There is still room for greater public spending to meet social need.

To help finance the improvement in public services to which the public is entitled, Conference now calls on the government to:

i)stop using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the shareholders of private contractors;

ii)review the amount of money currently being spent on warfare as opposed to welfare;

iii)consider levying windfall taxes on those companies making exorbitant profits, for example banks and oil companies;

iv)reverse without further delay the tax handouts which the Thatcher government gave to those who had most money in the first place.

Conference resolves to continue to promote UNISON’s spending priorities for a fairer and sustainable society, funded by progressive taxation, which include in the immediate future:

1)defending public service pay against artificial caps;

2)the government meeting their target to end child poverty by 2020;

3)equality proofed pay systems;

4)the funding of quality social care in light of the Wanless Report;

5)building 20,000 new social rented homes a year up to 2011 and direct investment in Council Housing;

6)Non PFI-type capital investment;

7)real investment in further education courses based on community control of colleges that includes trade unions.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

a)ensure that the case is understood by our members and the public by education and publicity, including seeking the use of the General Political Fund;

b)lobby all political parties, including calling on Labour Link to pursue our priorities;

c)work to secure a consensus in the trade union movement in these areas, including the Trade Union Congress, Scottish TUC, Wales TUC and Irish TUC.