Trading Through Austerity

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2018

Conference condemns the continued attacks on the funding of local councils, which are destroying local services, threatening community cohesion and threatening our members’ jobs and income. They represent the biggest threat to locally provided services, controlled by democratically elected councils.

Whilst acknowledging that councils face difficult decisions as to what can be done, most local authorities no longer rely solely on ‘in-house’ operations to deliver either public services or their own internal functions. Many councils use different models such as ‘shared services’ between multiple local authorities, between local authorities and other public bodies; outsourcing to private or voluntary providers, and its obverse, ‘insourcing’; the increasing use of Local Authority Trading Companies (LATCs) to trade for profit, providing a revenue stream for the local authority; and mutuals.

Whilst UNISON acknowledges that it is laudable for councils to look at new ways to raise revenue, there is a need for local authorities to be clear on the service model they are proposing, and its purpose.

Whilst there appears to be four key themes that are examined when councils are looking at alternative models of delivery: governance, commercialisation, leadership and talent, UNISON has a key role to ensure that any alternative models should not be at the detriment of our members’ terms and conditions, or jobs. In order to ensure that our members’ best interests are served, it is vital that we develop our political influence with the councillors, who will ultimately determine which avenue is pursued.

Within the Northern region there has been some really positive work to strengthen our political influence when working with local councils such as Gateshead Council. By positive joint working with APSE and UNISON national officers, the branch, region and council have been able to promote alternative in house models to maximise income generation.

Conference believes that promoting and defending the role and values of local democracy is intrinsic to promoting and defending public services. Local government itself needs to do more to highlight the damage that is being made to local services and local democracy.

To do this we need to work with councillors to ensure that motions are debated and passed at full council, that protect our members’ jobs and terms and conditions, as well as delivering vital public services.

Campaigns led by UNISON to oppose the austerity policies and proposals on how councils can mitigate cuts by in-house income generation, use of reserves and management of borrowing, should be promoted more to get local councils to adopt them.

Therefore conference calls on the service group executive to develop a campaign which:

1)Develops ideas for policies that councils can implement to mitigate against the immediate impact of austerity;

2)Creates an understanding of alternatives to austerity policies which would invest in local government and sustain services to communities and generate benefits for local economies;

3)Continues to expose the long term harm that austerity policies are doing to council services;

4)Supports branches and regions in working with councils to increase income generation from in house services;

5)Supports regions and branches to extend and develop their political campaigning work;

6)Provides training for councillors that helps deliver increase income generation from in house services to protect our members’ jobs and terms and conditions;

7)Provides support and resources to assist branches and regions in lobbying the LGA to campaign fairer and better funding for local councils.