Tag Archives: Privatisation

Rotten Comrades: Ethical Care Charter, Libraries and the Sirona Strike

by The Dwarf

A nice little bonus for Bristol’s overworked home care workers was unveiled last week to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. A commitment to spend some new money on extra wages, matching and eventually exceeding the Living Wage, was followed up by a commitment to meeting other aspects of the ethical care charter such as paying staff travelling between clients.

When I mentioned this at home, Mrs Dwarf pointed out that it was funny how the Mayor could find a bit of money when he wanted to. After all, he found a few quid to keep the libraries open as well. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth, I wondered aloud? Am I being a bit churlish treating this with my customary scepticism? Well, she snorted at this and started going on about privatisation, all the while pointing angrily at me with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star. She’s a bit more militant than me.

Finding a few quid down the back of the sofa to keep the libraries and home care going can only be a good thing if you forget it didn’t need to be this bad in the first place. But when you realise the problems are caused by privatisation and outsourcing, it becomes only a sticking plaster. Home care nationally only has a problem at all because it has been nearly all outsourced to private organisations.

Those teams that still belong to councils spend enough time with the old and disabled to help with disabilities, with personal care, help a little around the house and even have a little chat. It’s called dignity. And it’s called democratic control and oversight. I have seen work schedules for the private sector where as little as fifteen minutes is spent with the client and not enough time is given to travel to the next client, which is a sore temptation to shave a little of what little time there is with them.

Part of the announcement was that Unison, Bristol’s most hapless union, was involved in all this. I couldn’t believe the Chuckle Siblings had it in them to actually achieve a pay rise for someone. But then I noticed that it was a national campaign – the Ethical Care Charter – which isn’t all that bad a campaign and therefore nothing Bristol’s button-hole water-squirting brigade can screw up. I’m told they didn’t bother to tell anyone with a spinning tie they were doing this, which either just about sums up the secretive little cabal the union has become or that head office has just given up on them.

Needless to say no one sent an email out telling the members or put it on the website or anything like exploiting it for organising or recruitment purposes. At least I haven’t seen anything and neither have my little spies. Unison was also described as the union for care workers, which I can assure you was quite a surprise for Unite who had recruited nearly all of home care when Unison stopped talking to, thinking of, and involving them, several years ago.

So, my message to the Council (and the unions) is to bring home care back in-house if you really want to solve home care’s problems. And, it goes without saying, don’t privatise or outsource the libraries. The same sort of debacle is just as foreseeable with the library service as it was with home care.

While we’re on private provision of care, Unison members in Sirona in Bath are in an industrial dispute. I would like to wish them all the best in their fight and remind them to control their own struggle if they possibly can. If you see anyone coming towards you with a Unison badge, a flashing red nose, a car horn, and trying to tell you black is white: tell them to jog on.

 

Soft Privatisation of Libraries

Overhearing a conversation about mutualisation, I realised the people three desks down were talking about our libraries. A possible staff buyout (or buy-in or spin-out, or something) was mooted. “A stalking horse for outsourcers,” one of them said. As well as the confusing possibility of another council running our libraries, as if we have lost the energy to run our own affairs. So I popped off and had a look on my phone to see if I could find anything published online that would go into more detail. A report had been published (apparently in March) but I hadn’t seen anything, and I had been looking.

Anyway, there is not much good news in the report. It is essentially a list of options with recommendations, though there is an in-house option (with ‘re-engineering’), and we can at least catch a glimpse of how our technocratic overseers see the world so we can have some idea what to expect. The report said March 2018 but the staff have not been allowed copies (up until very recently), and quite frankly the document is turgid and unapproachable. I don’t expect many people will reach the last of the sixty pages, but doom-laden rumours are flying thick and fast among librarians and library assistants.

It seems the preferred option is a PSM, or Public Service Mutual. There is much talk over whether it will have charitable or non-charitable status, but regardless, it is easier to think of the thing as a sort of charity. If this option passes, our library staff would no longer be council employees but would be transferred to what is a bit like a charity. They will retain their pay, terms and conditions. But the report cheerfully informs us that terms and conditions can be changed post-transfer by a consultation process.

Entertainingly, the report mentions twenty five times that a mutual (and another option, a joint venture) could save on business rates by achieving charitable status, in fact it is significant to how well the options are recommended:

“This option is forecast to realise operating surpluses each year over the 5 year period. The viability of the option is however heavily predicated on the assumption that the service would realise savings through 80% mandatory National Non-Domestic Rate (NNDR) relief. Should the service not benefit from this saving, it is forecast to incur operating losses during the first two years post-establishment”

Does this mean that the council would save money by, er… receiving less money from rates?

Now, I know I’m going to get comments telling me I’m a dullard who doesn’t understand tax law. But the fact remains that these options are attractive because they pay less tax. Or might do if they get charity status… If.

The rate relief is an option for two of the proposed options: mutual and joint venture. Regardless of the irony of such savings, failing to achieve charitable status, which is not at all certain, the report goes on to say:

“Such a situation obviously brings the viability of either option into question.”

And also:

“The scoring of the PSM (charity) and joint venture (charity) options is informed by the assumption that the new model would benefit from NNDR. Charitable status should not be automatically assumed, given the complexity of the application process and the strict criteria that any applicant is required to meet.”

It was late last year that full council agreed, with cross party support, to look at mutualisation. Of course, the right wing of the Labour party have been pointing out that that vote was not binding, but they did find it difficult to contain their glee at the interesting possibilities. After all, the mayor can pose the question: the people of Bristol have spoken through their representatives, who am I to get in the way of democracy? Privatisation or a spin off of Bristol libraries could then be blamed on everybody and not just him.

Likewise, if there is an effective wave of protest, the elected mayor can then point out that that is the point of having an elected mayor, to overturn the narrow interests of ward councillors and consider the needs of the entire city. This will make himself appear like he is listening. Win win, I would say.

The report is here: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/34300/Options+appraisal+for+a+future+library+service+in+Bristol+2018/a572f11b-9cda-d369-2f0c-c0c209a4f0e9

PRIVATE SECTOR EFFICIENCY WATCH

Spunkface

City Council Property Services Director, Robert “Spunkface” Orrett, finally abandoned his local authority sinking ship in September for an executive lifeboat in Filton. Here, a LUCRATIVE CONTRACT appeared with Malaysian corporate, YTL.

YTL are the firm who want to build Bristol’s arena in Filton with public money and who, no doubt, will find Spunkface’s city council CONTACT BOOK and INSIDER KNOWLEDGE of developing an arena in Bristol very useful indeed.

Those with longer memories, may recall Spunkface arrived at Bristol City Council in the autumn of 2012 from corporate property firm BNP Paribas as the man who was going to bring “private sector efficiency and discipline” to the council’s STRUGGLING and UNDER-POWERED Property Services Department.

He also brought along an UNLAWFUL private consultancy gig with BNP Paribas, which he didn’t give up for over a year, breaking all known codes of conduct for public servants. However, for some reason, this conduct was OVERLOOKED by senior council bosses and councillors who are supposed to rigorously defend the integrity of our public services.

When Spunkface departed in the autumn, his department – largely run by a revolving door of interims and consultants who couldn’t give a toss – was announcing over £7million in UNACHIEVED SAVINGS; an OVERSPEND of £2million and was engulfed in MANAGEMENT CHAOS. Meanwhile, on Spunkface’s watch, a number of financial and bullying SCANDALS had emerged across his department.

These SCANDALS in markets, security services and the Harbour Office were all brushed under the carpet by Spunkface while he SINGULARLY FAILED to make any progress in increasing income from the council’s valuable property portfolio as he had been employed to do. Although plenty of city council property was handed over FOR FREE to corporate property guardian firms to earn big money from EXPLOITING the homeless and vulnerably housed.

Now that Spunkface has departed, we learn that discussions are taking place at a senior level in the council about OUTSOURCING the management of the council’s Property Services to the PRIVATE SECTOR to bring – wait for it – “private sector efficiency and discipline” to the useless department!

Who would ever have guessed that a manager brought in from the private sector would achieve nothing except to so thoroughly trash a local authority department it needed to be outsourced to the, er, private sector?

BRISTOL HASN’T GOT A HOMELESS PROBLEM. IT’S GOT A HOUSING DEPARTMENT MANAGEMENT PROBLEM

Bristol Labour’s new housing boss, Paul “Wolfie” Smith lets slip a few very INTERESTING FACTS in a piece of shameless self-promotion he’s written for the Guardian:

“Bristol has a real problem with homelessness, with more than 300 households in temporary accommodation at a net cost to the council tax payer of £800,000 a year; at the same time 550 council homes are empty, losing rent of £2m and £700,000 in council tax. “

Er, sorry, come again? We’ve been handing around a £1,000 a month to private sector temporary housing ‘specialists’ for each homeless family – at a cost he alleges of £800k but is likely to be much  more  – while leaving 550 council homes they could live in sat EMPTY?

Council homes that could generate almost £3m in income to the city. That’s lots of money and housing stock that we could be using to house the homeless ourselves. Instead our money’s being handed over to DODGY LOCAL BUSINESSMEN to provide a revolting, anti-human homeless service while our own housing resources are left to ROT.

Wolfie’s wrong. This city hasn’t got a homeless problem. It’s got a HOUSING MANAGEMENT PROBLEM. What the fuck is going on at Bristol City Council’s housing department? Wolfie offers us half an explanation:

“six years of austerity, service cuts, redundancies and restructures, all of which have destroyed both morale and provision”

It’s not just morale and provision that’s been destroyed, however. The concept of a social housing department that’s there to serve the public and provide support to the vulnerable has been PULVERISED.

The city’s senior housing bosses – strategic director, Alison “Three Jobs” Comley and service directors, Nick “Drooper” Hooper and Mary “Contrary” Ryan – have obsessively focused – for over six years now – on delivering Tory policies of AUSTERITY, CUTS and PRIVATISATION at the expense of their actual jobs of delivering a housing service to the public.

We’ve had these three fucking idiots systematically SACKING, DOWNGRADING and DESKILLING their workforce for over eight years now while introducing a GORMLESS CORPORATE CULTURE of privatisation, outsourcing, constant restructuring, regular office moves, ‘agile working’, management consulting, ‘demand management’, half-arsed techno solutions, useless software and IT fixes and any other PASSING MANAGEMENT FAD a well paid consultant can pass off on this trio of useful idiots.

These three bosses haven’t bothered running a housing department in the traditional sense for years. They’ve been implementing a right wing, ANTI-PUBLIC SECTOR ideology. DOWNGRADING a vital public service to the point where it’s barely viable. Try phoning (0117 922 2200) Drooper Hooper’s housing department and see if you can even get to speak to a human being.

All three need to QUIT or be SACKED. We need normal housing bosses in our housing department who can quickly provide homes fit to occupy and get families into these homes. It’s not difficult and it’s what a housing department should do. Leaving council homes EMPTY while stuffing the pockets of local businessmen with large amounts of public cash for shit housing is nothing short of a criminal enterprise.

The current housing management needs to go and go now. They’ve fucked up our city up and now they need to fuck off.

VIRGIN ‘CARE’

BARISTOLSAYS

After the suffering and sacrifice of World War 2 the British working class were determined not to return to the poverty, humility and ill health which were their lot before the war. Flexing their political muscle, the people achieved the nationalization of many industries, the establishment of a welfare state and a National Health Service providing free health care for all. Although not perfect, these were great advances for the British public. However, since the 1970’s the wealthy elite in this country have successfully fought a relentless war to overturn this social progress.

The Health and Social Care Act (2014) is the latest offensive in that war, designed to destroy one of the greatest achievements of that era – the NHS. Waiting to suck the lifeblood out of its destruction is today’s generation of profiteering spivs such as the smug, ego-maniac billionaire Richard Branson. As this issue of THE BRISTOLIAN highlights, Virgin Care (sic) are favourites to take over a large chunk of children’s health services in Bristol in the near future.

Virgin ‘care’ about siphoning off your money into offshore tax havens and into Richard Branson’s bank account, but they care little about our children’s health. By their nature, corporations such as Virgin exist for one purpose only – to make the maximum amount of profit possible. They achieve this by minimising every cost and maximizing every charge, regardless of the impact this has on human lives.

If we relinquish the running of our society to these uncaring organizations, then an uncaring society is the predictable outcome.