Delegates agree with the general secretary. Photo: Steve Forrest / Workers' Photos

Public services are the foundation of a fair and civilised society.

We are Britain’s biggest public service trade union and represent more than a million voices delivering essential services to the public: services that protect, enrich and change lives.

But our members don’t just work in public services – they and their families rely on them too.

We believe that cutting back public service spending and putting our services in the hands of private companies through more privatisation puts all our communities at risk. UNISON is speaking up for public services and for the people who provide them.

That’s why we are campaigning at a national, regional and local community level to make the case for properly funded, publicly-provided local services.

The facts

Public services are the foundation of a fair and civilised society. It is essential that we protect them so they can meet the needs of the future.

But across the UK they are under attack. Services that hold communities together and protect the most vulnerable in our society are being cut and privatised by the Tory-led coalition.

Cuts hurt everyone

Ministers say that these cuts are necessary to balance the books after the banking crisis plunged us all into a global recession. They want us to believe that “we are all in this together” and that everyone will need to tighten their belts to help them deal with the crisis.

They will tell you that private companies are better at providing public services than trained and dedicated public service workers.

But what they say just doesn’t add up.

We will fight to preserve the welfare state, for better care for the elderly, for disabled people, our libraries, parks and open spaces, decent schools, and so much more.
Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary

Their cuts are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the hardest. How can it be right that the bankers – who caused this crisis in the first place – are still getting their bonuses, while communities across the UK are suffering from the cuts?

Key facts

  • Economic output is less than five years ago – and in February 2013, the governor of the Bank of England predicted that “Growth is likely to be weak in the near term”
  • The 2012 Autumn Statement predicted that borrowing will be £64bn higher in 2014/15 than the Chancellor predicted two years ago
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies says a further 300,000 public-sector jobs – on top of those already planned – will “need” to be cut by 2017/18, meaning a total 1.2 million jobs lost
  • The UK economy has lost its AAA rating – despite retaining it being a core Conservative Party manifesto pledge
    UNISON’s alternative budget, 2013

Staff in local government, health, the police service, voluntary organisations, schools and colleges and libraries are being axed. Young people are losing their access to quality careers advice and guidance and are being priced out of education.

Private companies are circling our NHS, our education system, police, probation and our local services and taking over schools and hospitals to run them for profit not for pupils and patients.

There is a better way

We believe there is a better way to balance the books, a fairer way to help us out of recession.

We want to see investment in jobs and services to help our economy. Throwing thousands of people out of work will not help and there is no sign that the private sector will step in and create the thousands of new jobs that we need.

A graphGovernment income and spending 2002-2010
The country can afford the services that UNISON members provide – services that save, protect and enrich lives – if we stop wasting money on costly privatisations and pointless reorganisations and make the banks, big corporations and the super rich pay a fairer share in tax.

UNISON is campaigning against the government’s austerity agenda and their policy of cutting public services and public service jobs. Our 1.3 million members are speaking up for public services because they care about the services they deliver and the services that they use.

UNISON members drive our ambulances, teach our children, clean our streets, care for our elderly and tackle crime in our neighbourhoods. If you cut them, you hurt everyone.

How does this affect me?

This campaign affects members in the workplace and as users of public services. We are campaigning to save jobs, stop privatisation and stop service cuts so this campaign affects:

your pay – public service workers are subject to an unfair pay freeze;
your job – jobs are being cut because the government believes that this is the way to save money and pay off the deficit, but it’s not;
Your working life – your job may be hived off to the private sector as the government embarks on a wholesale sell off of vital public services to the highest bidder, who will then need to use these services as a profit making enterprise, leading to cuts in pay and terms and conditions;
your public services – which are being decimated by politicians who are using the deficit as an excuse to cut public services because they don’t believe in them.

The austerity was supposed to work by inspiring confidence; where’s the confidence?… Needless to say, Cameron and Osborne insist that they will not change course, which means that Britain will continue on a death spiral of self-defeating austerity
Paul Krugman, Nobel prize winner for economics, New York Times, Cameron’s remarkable achievement

Member stories

Maz Jeffery

Derbyshire youth worker


I think young people are written off, because of their age. The usual comment is: ‘What can they possibly know? They’re just teenagers.’

“But the reality is that young people are passionate and have the energy and persistence to make their feelings felt. This shows what can be achieved when they campaign.”

Derbyshire County Council announced in December 2011 that it was closing all of its 29 youth clubs and stopping operating five buses that take youth services into the county’s villages. The cost-cutting move also meant that 157 part-time workers faced redundancy.

When Ms Jeffery, who is one of those youth workers, heard the news, she approached her branch and teamed up with the union’s local and area organisers to spearhead the response.

“It wasn’t just because I was losing my job. It was more out of my concern for the young people I work with every day. That was what motivated me – it’s why I’m a youth worker in the first place.”

Over a 10-week consultation and a number of public meetings, the Tory authority was forced to do a U turn.

“If it wasn’t for the pressure from UNISON, the council might not have conducted as vigorous a consultation as it did,” she says.

“We made sure members knew about the open meetings, and that the union had a strong presence at each of them. We also organised rallies which attracted local media attention.”

And the county’s youth council, with young reps from every school in Derbyshire, started a petition and got more than 16,000 signatures to save the services.

“It was a petition for young people by young people,” recalls Ms Jeffery.

“And as such it was really effective. They were already on the case, but we supported them by providing information and by rallying our members.”

And the campaign paid off: in May 2012, the council decided to keep the youth clubs open.

Joe Taylor

Wirral branch secretary


At our meeting in Birkenhead town hall you couldn’t get any more in – they were standing in the aisles and up in the balcony.

That was the reaction to plans to axe jobs in a bid to save £39m.

“Wirral is a Labour administration, but this is all about the Tory-coalition government and what they are allocating to the authority. The chief executive says they are trying to protect frontline services, but from the options we’ve been shown, many of them look in danger.”

The council faces having to reduce its budget by £103m over the next year as a result of savage cuts by the Tory-led coalition government to the amount it hands the council. The council announced plans to:

  • cut managerial posts by a third;
  • impose four days unpaid leave for all staff for the next three years;
  • abolish the essential car user allowance, which will affect 2,000 staff;
  • remove extra pay for weekend and evening working, which will hit 1,400 people.


“The weekend working cuts will mean up to 20% loss of pay for staff for whom it’s part of their contract to work weekends, including members in social services, leisure centres, residential homes and libraries.

“The cut in car allowances will hit essential users such as social workers who will lose their lump-sum payment for wear and tear – which is part of a national agreement – and receive only the HMRC mileage allowance.

“Staff are well aware of the devastating effects of these cuts to pay, jobs and the service provided to the public and have been lobbying councillors by letter and email.

“They are angry – they have shown that at meetings – and they are on board with the campaign to defend pay, conditions and services to the public.”


Cornwall fights off sell-off plan

In January 2012, Cornwall council and local NHS trusts announced plans for a mega deal to transfer 1,000 jobs to the private sector as part of a plan to set up a national “telehealth” centre in Bodmin.

“We were looking at 1,000 staff, including 400 to 500 UNISON members,” explains regional organiser Stuart Roden. A year later and the plan is dead in the water. How did the union manage this?

First came training. UNISON’s Jim Lewis travelled to Cornwall to run a ‘deconstruction workshop’ with the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE).

“The workshop helps organisers put together a strategy,” says Mr Lewis. “BT was the main bidder, and the workshop helped the branch spot where the proposal didn’t add up.”

Branch secretary Gill Allen found out the key dates for council meetings and decisions so that they could lobby effectively. The branch set up an information network to get important messages out to members, the wider community and local media.

They also used the campaign to recruit new members.

And APSE produced a report to counter the BT business case, which was circulated to the council leaders. BT promised substantial investment to create jobs and presented itself as a model employer. But when Mr Roden phoned round to UNISON colleagues in other councils where services had been taken over by BT, the reality proved very different.

Two activists from Sandwell visited Cornwall to speak about their experiences of the company.

“We invited key stakeholders, including council leader Jim Currie, to a briefing, so they could talk to the Sandwell branch officers. They even gave them the name and mobile number of the leader of Sandwell council so they could hear what he had to say.”

In September 2012, the cabinet decided to press ahead with the plan regardless of opposition from most councillors. A few days later, councillors passed a motion of no confidence in leader Alec Robertson, who was ousted and replaced by Mr Currie.

In December, they voted for a scaled-down version of the sell-off deal, which would outsource 340 ICT and telehealth staff to BT.

But just weeks later, chief executive Kevin Lavery announced that he was moving to New Zealand, while the Conservative group leader resigned. Then the local health trust said it was pulling out of the deal “after taking legal advice”.

Suffolk challenges Serco axe

UNISON is battling proposals by Serco to cut one in six posts at Suffolk Community Healthcare.

The Department of Health rates Suffolk as the best provider of community health services in the East of England – and in the top 10 in the country.

But UNISON believes that patients will suffer if Serco is allowed to implement the cuts, which were announced just weeks after the company was awarded the £140m contract to run the service.

The union’s response to the crisis has seen a 15% increase in membership in one month alone.

For three years, the Suffolk PCT licensed the management of its community healthcare services to North Essex Partnership NHS Trust. When that contract expired last year, Suffolk opened it to tender – awarding it to Serco, who underbid North Essex by £10m.

“It’s clear that Serco now wants to save that money by cutting the workforce.” says regional organiser Tim Roberts.  “UNISON was very clear with Suffolk that awarding the contract to the cheapest bidder would be a mistake. But the scale of the job losses is even worse than we feared.

“Serco took over the contract in October 2012 and immediately proposed a “new model” for delivering the service, which included cutting the equivalent of 137 full-time posts, or 17% of the workforce, split equally between clinical and non-clinical staff.

Clinical posts to be cut include generic health workers, physiotherapists, community nurses, and specialist and district nurses.

“Suffolk has the fastest-aging population in England,” says Mr Roberts. “Elderly people rely on community health services, but they are clearly going to have to wait longer to see a health professional.

“Vulnerable people won’t receive the same quality service that is available now.”

Mary Stokes, a health worker and UNISON steward at the Suffolk area health branch, says: “The level of anxiety is colossal, particularly among clerical staff. The atmosphere is not good at the moment.

“There’s anger too, obviously, because nobody wanted privatisation in the first place. I have worked for the NHS since the eighties, as have a lot of my colleagues.

“And we were really proud of that. That’s been taken away from us.”

In the meantime, Serco is holding a formal consultation on the proposals – a process that UNISON forced the company to extend. And the union is campaigning alongside community groups and Labour MEP Richard Howitt for the company to reverse its plans.

“Serco is the first private company to win such a contract,” notes Mr Roberts. “If it gets away with these cuts, there will be repercussions for our members in community healthcare throughout England.”

‘Our city’s not for sale’

UNISON in Edinburgh celebrated in spring 2012 after seeing off council plans for a £1bn privatisation.

Described by the branch as “the biggest privatisation of council services in Scottish history”, the council’s ‘alternative business models’ project would have handed three major areas of council service over to private contractors: environment services, integrated facilities management and corporate and transactional services.

The full scale of services – and UNISON members – planned for transfer to private companies was revealed in a list on the city council’s website, which broke down the three main privatisation contracts.

Environment services:

  • waste collection and recycling;
  • cleaning our streets and dealing with litter;
  • how we manage parks and green spaces.


Integrated facilities management:

  • maintaining public buildings like community centres, libraries and schools;
  • janitorial and security services;
  • cleaning services;
  • providing school meals.


Corporate and transactional services:

  • making it easier to contact the council;
  • better administration of services including council tax and housing benefits, non-domestic rates and residents’ parking permits;
  • more effective procurement, human resources and internal administration.


Faced with a challenge of this size, UNISON got together with Unite and the GMB, plus community groups, to launch a broad campaign under the slogan Our city’s not for sale.

As well as public campaigning, the Edinburgh branch worked hard on creating in-house bids as alternatives to the privatisation proposals and producing briefings to back them up.

When the facilities management contract came up for discussion at the council in November, UNISON reminded councillors of their responsibilities under Best Value to look at services holistically.

we pointed out that plans in the sell-off tender “to downgrade recycling efforts, dismiss workers and close the pension scheme will have a damaging social, economic and environmental impact and may be unlawful.”

On the other hand, when the private and public-service options were compared on a like-for-like basis, said the union, the in-house bid would save £20.5m – and deliver a better service.

The council agreed and voted to keep the service in-house.

Then, in January, it made the same decision over the other two privatisation contracts, for integrated facilities management and corporate and transactional services.

Looking back on the campaign, UNISON’s John Stevenson said one of the key lessons for the branch was the “need to use each other’s talents, working as a team and using all the tools available to us.

“That means basic organising, education, campaigning and action where necessary, alongside strong support for bargaining and representation. No one part of it will deliver by itself.”

And the lessons could go beyond Edinburgh – and Scotland.

Reporting on the Edinburgh decision, the Financial Times noted that Cumbria is bringing 300 staff back in-house when a seven-year highways maintenance contract with Amey ends in April, while Rotherham and Ealing councils both insourced highways services last year.

It quotes an analyst at investment bank Panmure Gordon warning the Edinburgh decision “could prove a ‘red flag’ that hostility to privatisation was growing.

“My worry is it might become a wider issue and, if it did, it would knock a hole in order books, put a question over pipelines and put the support services sector under pressure,” said the bank’s Andy Brown.