Emergency time for our public services

This government’s constant assault on the public sector – its attacks on pay, austerity cuts to vital services and the wholesale involvement of private firms in health, probation and education – is being felt everywhere, and especially keenly in the North East, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis will say later today (Saturday).

Speaking at the Northern TUC’s Public Services Alliance emergency summit in Newcastle, Dave Prentis will say:

“Since 2010 parts of the government have been on a mission to shrink the state, to cut back on the services we all rely upon.

“Slashing the funding that councils in the region get from central government has seen libraries, swimming pools and youth centres close, and charities forced to cut back on the help they provide to the community as local authorities in turn slash their funding to them.

“An analysis by Newcastle City Council last year showed that councils in the north are facing bigger cuts in funding than the leafy, Tory voting authorities in the south. Its researchers estimated that had the council’s funding been cut in line with the national average, it would have had £22m extra to spend in the last financial year – enough to protect many of the services at risk.

“And just yesterday the TUC published research that showed that all but one of the councils in the North East will have had cuts in funding higher than the English average – both this year and next.

“That means a loss of over £109m this financial year alone – a reduction in the North East of £92 per household, compared to the average English council cut of £72 per dwelling.

“But it’s not just services, it’s people’s jobs too. Since the last election 59,000 public sector jobs in the North East have vanished – a combination of redundancies, privatisation and outsourcing

“A few years ago one in three workers in the North East were employed in the public sector, now it’s one in four. And it’s going to get worse. The Conservatives have pledged to reduce public sector spending to 1930s levels should they still be in power after May – and let’s sincerely hope for everyone’s sake that they’re not.

“We hear much from ministers how the private sector is rapidly creating jobs to replace the ones axed in the public sector. But the problem is that the new jobs are mostly of the low-paid, insecure, zero-hours variety. No wonder so many families are still struggling to get by – despite the upturn in the economy.

“Public sector workers are still paying a heavy price for the recklessness of the bankers all those years ago. With inflation falling, pay in the private sector has begun to recover but nurses, dinner ladies, teaching assistants, midwives and other public sector workers have suffered years of wage freezes and their pay being held back.

“That’s why later this month thousands of dedicated health workers across the region will be reluctantly going on strike for the third time in their dispute over pay.

“On Thursday 29 January there’ll be pickets at hospitals across the region, and a rally in the centre of Newcastle so the public who know NHS workers do an amazing job in difficult circumstances, can show their support for them to get a decent pay rise.

“It’s not surprising the public doesn’t trust the government to run the NHS. What’s taken 67 years to build, has taken them just five years to put into crisis.

“Trusts across the country declaring major incidents as their A&E departments struggle to cope, A&E waiting times their worst in a decade, hard-pressed staff putting in hours and hours of unpaid overtime a week, trying to paper over the cracks – this is what the NHS under the Tories means.

“Ministers keen for their rich chums in business to take the pick of the best of the NHS and use services to turn a tidy profit is very definitely the current direction of travel. But can the private sector really be trusted with our NHS?

“Only last week Circle turned tail and jumped ship. Just hours before a critical report from the Care Quality Commission picked holes in the way it had been running Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the firm was off – desperate to avoid putting any more of its cash into keeping the hospital afloat.

“So Circle gets to walk away but what happens to the patients, the staff and the local community – the victims in this dangerous and failed government experiment in privatisation?

“Unions told ministers time and time again the NHS wasn’t shaped for competition, now those same ministers must give the community urgent reassurances that healthcare locally isn’t about to go the same way as Circle’s commitment to the hospital. This is what the NHS under the Tories means.

“No wonder the Prime Minister didn’t include the NHS in his party’s key election themes this week. With more polling out this week suggesting that the NHS has leapt to the top of the list of voters’ concerns – we need to make sure that people remember what five years of a Tory-led government has meant for the NHS when they go into the ballot booths in May.

“We need to put patients back at the heart of the health service, not the interests of shareholders. It’s emergency time for our public services – the NHS needs saving for all our sakes.”


Notes to editors:

The Northern Public Services Alliance is an umbrella of public service unions affiliated to the Northern TUC and campaigns across the North East and Cumbria in defence of public services.

The Emergency Public Services Summit takes place at the Thistle County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle NE1 5DF from 10am-4pm on Saturday 17 January. Dave Prentis is speaking at 11.40am.

The event is being chaired by Clare Williams, Chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance. Other speakers include Dave Anderson MP and Chi Onwurah MP.