Outsourcing in Public Services

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2010 National Delegate Conference
3 June 2010

Conference notes the continuing consensus across the main political parties in favour of outsourcing public services to the private sector.

Central government “efficiency drives” and attempts to provide local services on the cheap are creating more and more work for outsourcing giants, such as Capita, Serco, Amey, Jarvis, Carillion, NGWSP, Shaws, and NSL, despite the fact that many concerns have been raised about the performance of such organisations.

Conference also notes that the use of private sector shared services has been increasing across local government, the NHS and the police. Often the focus of such initiatives is to tackle so-called “back office” functions, with the implication that workers fulfilling these jobs are less important to the delivery of public services than the more visible professions, such as doctors, nurses or police officers.

Conference notes that in the NHS, the Shared Business Services (SBS) joint venture with Steria has continued to win further contracts with services such as finance, accounting and payroll services being handed over. This is despite the findings of a recent report for UNISON by the Office for Public Management which found that decisions to use SBS were based more on political imperatives than proven benefits and that trusts were not necessarily achieving the sort of cost savings expected.

Outsourcing through arms-length bodies and projects like ‘strategic partnerships’ or ‘joint ventures’, such as those being promoted in Edinburgh and across a range of local authorities, are in effect privatisation. Many of these are justified on the grounds of dubious cost projections with no hard evidence of any benefits. Where there is evidence, it often paints a picture of higher costs, poorer services and the loss of accountability to the public. Whether through funding issues or the drive for profit, services suffer and workers’ pay and conditions are attacked. As more large companies move in on these contracts, the ability to enforce quality standards or respond to changing need is drastically reduced. Local authorities find themselves in hock to companies that become too big, or too strategically important, to fail.

Conference believes that public services are best delivered by teams of staff working together and that attacks on one part of the workforce will always affect the “frontline” delivery of services to the public.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)Continue to promote the value of publicly delivered services;

2)Resist the privatisation of public services to outsourcing companies or through private sector shared services;

3)Work to counter the artificial distinction between “back office” and “frontline” functions in the public services;

4)Build this work into the mainstream Million Voices campaign of the union.

5)Campaign to seek to make In-House Service Improvement Plans mandatory.

6)Continue to provide branches and regional offices with information about successful campaigns against outsourcing.