Outsourcing, the privatisation agenda and disabled workers

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2013 Local Government Service Group Conference
20 February 2013

Conference is concerned about increased outsourcing and hidden privatisation in local government and the impact on disabled workers. Local authorities who oppose privatisation are looking at mutuals, cooperatives and social enterprises, all privatisation by another name.

Public services by their nature are under-provided by the market because they do not make a profit. They are considered so essential to life that their universal provision is guaranteed. Public sector workers often want to give something back to the wider community through their work. Private sector companies have to make a profit which means that workers’ terms and conditions are often attacked to maximize profits.

The National Audit Office states “successful Commissioning helps public sector commissioners get better value for money from third sector organisations.” The Government claim that mutualisation, social enterprises and cooperative delivery will devolve power to communities and more public services will be delivered by local community and voluntary sector (CVS) organisations.

There is little evidence to support this. Outsourcing often means large private sector businesses delivering public services for profit. In Local Government many outsourced services are now delivered by Balfour Beatty, Capita or G4S, none of whom are CVS organisations. Even where CVS organisations are the successful bidder it is more likely to be national charities such as Barnardo’s or Age UK rather than local community groups. Good public services should not be based on maximising profit or cutting costs. Many services delivered by Local Government are essential to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Little consideration is given to the impact on the workers who deliver these services or what a change of employer will mean for them. Historic evidence, including government data confirms that the public sector has a proven track record on the employment of disabled people with approximately 80% of those disabled people who are economically active, engaged in public services. It is no coincidence that trade union organisation of these workers has improved the terms and conditions of all, including disabled workers.

UNISON has evidence of where workforce conditions have deteriorated when services have been outsourced. Many are working under conditions that cause high levels of stress that impact on both physical and mental ill health. Conference knows the situation for disabled workers is much worse and evidence from a recent consultation with our disabled members has shown that the procurement process has failed to carry forward packages and arrangements for reasonable adjustments that have been negotiated with the support of branches. Evidence shows private businesses are less likely to: make reasonable adjustments, implement flexible working union agreements and they are unlikely to have trained expertise in the form of HR advisers who understand the needs of disabled workers: this can result in increased and inaccessible workloads that leave disabled members failing by workforce performance measures and a debilitating impact on impairments.

Conference urges the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1) Put the impact of outsourcing, commissioning and privatisation on disabled workers at the centre of campaigns on these issues;

2) Work with the National Executive Committee and other relevant Service Group Executives to raise concerns about these issues in regions and branches to assess that procurement procedures are equality proofed

3) Support the National Disabled Members Committee to produce a briefing document to draw attention to how disabled workers can be at a substantial disadvantage when services are outsourced, privatised or commissioned; and

4) Continue to campaign for reasonable adjustments to be put in place for disabled members where necessary