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2012 Local Government Service Group Conference
24 February 2012
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that the Localism Act 2011 is the flagship legislation in England for the government’s Big Society agenda, aimed at opening up public sector ‘markets’ to private and voluntary organisations and fundamentally redefining the role of local government as a provider of public services.

The act purports to be a ‘radical shift of power from Westminster to local people, increasing citizen participation, promoting community ownership, lifting inspection burdens on councils and removing regional government’. But in reality, the government’s agenda is to slash funding of public services, replace qualified paid staff with under-trained volunteers, privatise public services, and remove inspection which safeguards standards.

The provisions of the act include the Community Right to Challenge, which allows any non-profit-making organisation or any two employees (including senior managers) to call on a local authority to privatise a service. Councils can only refuse this request on very limited grounds.

Conference notes that as this Tory-led government has stepped back from equalities requirements in public service procurement, this privatisation will inevitably lead to an erosion of our members’ workplace rights. Equality for women, Black, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT), younger and older workers – and service users – will be undermined and discrimination is likely to increase.

As more and more private bodies and community groups take on public service provision, services may not be subject to the fundamental protections contained in the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act 2010. This reduces the legal tools we can use to protect our members terms and conditions.

Further, some third sector organisations bidding to take over public services are run by faith organisations whose ethos is often hostile to LGBT people. Conference notes that the Equality Act retained an exception where employment is for the purposes of organised religion, allowing employers to refuse to employ people because of their sexual orientation or gender reassignment. Although this exception is only supposed to be used for a limited number of posts, the reality is often very different, making it even more difficult for LGBT members to gain or retain employment.

Conference calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1)Continue to highlight the dangers of the Community Right to Challenge, issuing branch guidance on opposing its use and keeping our members in-house, protecting their access to employment and terms and conditions;

2)Lobby government for measures to ensure that where services move to private entities and third sector organisations, there is no reduction in the scope of protection to workers afforded by the HRA and PSED;

3)Continue to work with other service groups, national self-organised committees, Labour Link, and other appropriate bodies to campaign on these issues and to defend local government services that meet the needs of all, delivered by a workforce that reflects its community, all of whom are able to work with dignity and respect.