Shared Services

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2009 National Delegate Conference
29 May 2009

Conference notes the enormous pressures on local authorities, and other public bodies, to make efficiency savings and their current tight financial predicament.

Conference is concerned that some authorities are responding to this situation by knee-jerk privatisation to cut costs. This is counter-productive not only because it cuts public services at the time when they are most needed, but research work by the New Economics Foundation, Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and UNISON have all found that money spent on directly provided public services disproportionately benefits the local economy. This is because low-paid public service workers tend to spend their wages, not save them and they spend them locally. In a study APSE found that for every £1 spent on direct services, £1.64 circulates in local economy.

Conference notes the establishment of the first cross-sector shared services project between Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Police and IBM. We also note that IBM are 76% shareholders.

We also recognise the work done by the European Services Strategy Unit in “Southwest One: Lessons and New Agenda for Public Services in the South West” and the contribution it has made to UNISON’s new guidance and training “From Commissioning to Contract Evaluation” which is being rolled out to branches and regions.

The framework agreement associated with this joint venture company potentially allows all local authorities in the South West and other public sector bodies to shortcut the options appraisal and procurement process with very little public consultation.

Conference believes that “commercial confidentiality” in the procurement process is detrimental to public accountability and is not a model for running public services in the 21st century. We also believe that IBM’s business case is predicated on getting third party work from other public bodies. UNISON should oppose any moves to relocate jobs and services to Southwest One.

Where shared services are introduced in a public-private form they are often little better than outright privatisation dressed up in a new guise. They pass over essential services to the control of the private sector to make as much profit as they can, with virtually no democratic oversight, little regard for either the effects of moving or cutting jobs on local economics, or crucially for the conditions or rights of workers.

Public-public shared services potentially offer major opportunities for a co-ordinated public-public approach to protecting public services in the recession. With more organisations involved, there is greater scope for economies of scale, and for more flexibility to avoid compulsory redundancies. There is also the opportunity for unions to be involved in a planned approach to protecting jobs and communities.

Conference welcomes the existing guidance, monitoring, and series of regional seminars organised to help branches start to get to grips with the growth of shared services.

Therefore Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Promote in-house service improvement plans before an “options appraisal” process is instigated;

2)Urge public sector employers to produce in-house bids if the procurement process is being implemented;

3)As a least worst option promote public-public partnerships (as opposed to public-private partnerships) ensuring that there are no compulsory redundancies in any proposed reorganisations/restructuring;

4)Produce information to help campaign for directly delivered, publicly accountable services and publicise existing resources to help branches and regions tackle shared services and efficiency savings, including the existing UNISON guides to: shared services, efficiency savings, campaigning and negotiating around procurement;

5)Work with branches and regions to support them engaging not only with employers but also with the new bodies in the local public services framework to develop a planned public-public approach – including Local Strategic Partnerships, Multi-Area Agreements, and the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnerships;

6)Co-ordinate service groups and regions to develop a cross-union public-public approach to tackling the effects of the recession and protecting jobs and services;

7)Develop training on community campaigning to help branches work with the local community to campaign to protect and improve local jobs and

services, including when facing threats from private sector shared services;

8)Work with other trade unions and progressive campaigning organisations.

9) Work with Labour Link and other organisations to pressure the government

to actively promote public sector solutions to efficiency savings and the