Defending Public Services

Craig’s site claims that he’s “one of the UK’s best known social entrepreneurs”.

But his posting True Enemies – or Necessary Allies? Unions and Social Enterprise on Saturday 20 April 2013 shows that he doesn’t know much about trade unions.

Much of his piece seems based on Care Plus in North East Lincolnshire. From this one example – about which Huckfield doesn’t know enough to comment – his posting becomes a wide ranging and general rant against trade unions. He writes:

    “We have to get prepared, together, for the possibility that very few services will be delivered directly by the State within a decade, particularly if growth does not materialise.”

Huckfield doesn’t disagree and regularly makes postings on this site about cuts in public expenditure, including Private Philanthropy is not the Answer to Public Spending Cuts.

The latest projection by the New Local Government Network’s April 2013 Gaming the Cuts: AnyBorough 2016 on page 9 is that “Local Government, along with some other un-ringfenced services, will face real terms reductions of at least 50% of expenditure over the period 2011/12 to 2017/18”.

But how can Craig blame trade unions for resisting cuts and reductions in services when London Third Sector Organisations encourage more competition through external tendering for delivery of these services, especially in the NHS? That’s why trade unions have fiercely opposed ACEVO in its campaign to open up the NHS to more private competition through its support for the National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) Regulations) 2013.

Whatever Craig may think, trade unions and the rest of us know that these Regulations will open the NHS door ever wider to the private sector.

Trade union members have not forgotten that on Friday 19 October 2012, the Chief Executives and Secretaries of several London Third Sector Organisations sent a Letter to Sajid Javid MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, which led many to believe that they had not only signed up to the Coalition Government’s spending cuts, but to its welfare reforms too!

In that letter, these organisations wrote:

  • “Firstly, our sector stands ready to make a greater contribution to the Government’s Open Public Services agenda. Crucially, we need the opportunities to do this. National and local commissioners need more encouragement and support to engage with the sector”.
  • “…..Naturally, the Government wants to support people off benefits and back into jobs wherever possible. But we know that it can end up costing Government more if vulnerable people are not supported through these processes appropriately: the costs associated with contested work capability assessments are an example of this. We therefore ask Ministers to give special consideration to the important work that our sector, and particularly advice services, can play in relation to welfare reforms and preparing for their impact”.

Trade unions know that among the organisations which signed this letter were:

It is any wonder that in October 2012 Unite Voluntary Sector members called for Charities to leave ACEVO?

Unite Community, Youth and Not for Profit members working for Crisis, Greenpeace and Amnesty International and from Unite’s London and Eastern Regions, sought action at national level.

On Wednesday 21 November 2012 NCIA (the National Coalition for Independent Action) reckoned that these Third Sector organisations had signed up to privatisation and welfare reform and responded:

  • “NCIA says the open public services agenda is code for privatisation and termination of public services. ..We question whether we should connive in delivery of policies about which there is growing evidence of damage to our common wealth and to vulnerable people. Our starting point should always be the expressed needs of our beneficiaries and those with whom we stand in common cause.”

And in January 2013, Independence under Threat – the Report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector on page 43 said:

    “The letter was seen by some as placing the Voluntary Sector at the disposal of the Government machine”.

So instead of ranting against trade unions trying to defend public services, perhaps Craig should address his remarks to those London Social Enterprise and Third Sector Organisations which through their actions support UK Coalition Government policy of opening up public services to private profit-making, payment by results and funding through Social Investment?

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‘Defined out of the Equation’

Craig writes about trade union fears of being “defined out of the equation”. But the real trade union fear is of services themselves being “defined out of the equation”.

Unite has a Community Membership for those not in paid employment, students, carers, and those who are retired or unemployed – for 50p a week. What will Craig do when these Community members team up with those union branches of which he complains to defend services – when those delivering services could be in the same union as those receiving them?

Huckfield belongs to a Unite Not for Profit branch in Edinburgh which is setting the pace in recruiting Personal Assistants employed through Personal Health and Care Budgets. Through trying to safeguard these assistants’ employment rights and conditions, the branch also works to uphold and extend the levels of service delivery made possible through these payments.

Huckfield hopes that Craig supports trade unions working with local communities and service recipients to maintain delivery of their services.

“Let me talk to the Workers”

Referring to Care Plus, Craig writes:

    “my understanding is they (the employers) have tried to change terms and conditions for staff and, in doing so, have sought to deal directly with their own workforce (who are also owners of the company) – rather than deal mainly with the unions.”

But he also writes:

    “It is easy to see where the unions are coming from. The public sector is, in many ways, the only place left in the UK where terms and conditions of staff are relatively good. History has taught the unions that once things are moved out of the public sector, things get worst a lot more quickly for the staff”.

Craig should know that “Let me talk to the workers directly” is the oldest trick in any employer’s book. In reality, many of these are not – as Craig describes – “conversations between bosses and workers”, since neither employer nor employee may know enough about employment law.

Anyone attending the Edinburgh Unite Not for Profit Branch, of which Huckfield is a member, will hear an unending littany about employers’ ignorance of employment law.

Members of this branch work for Third Sector organisations in and around Scotland’s Capital – Voluntary Organisations, Charities and Social Enterprises. Each month it’s the same. Members’ and stewards’ workplace reports tell of Third Sector employers knowing little about sickness pay, redundancy and the rest. And some of these employers are large Scottish and UK organisations, including Housing Associations.

So the Branch is now producing some basic guidance on these issues. Though this is for members, their employers will probably read it keenly.

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Resisting the Next Public Spending Cuts

Craig writes:

    “… trade unions, I believe, need to re-evaluate the Social Enterprise route in terms of its alternatives as the UK enters its next round of public austerity.”

Huckfield hopes that Craig will support trade union opposition where Local Councils may decide to contract out their entire homelessness provision on a payment by results basis. Political decisions for payment by results mean that only the biggest providers – especially those members of the Employment Related Services Association – stand a chance of getting the contract.

Trade unions already resist contracts where their members providing care only get paid “face time” and nothing for time spent between home visits. And some Third Sector employers have agreed contracts which only allow payment for “face time”.

Trade unions will also oppose any attempts to provide housing and care services using a “volunteer plus” formula, under which mentors or befrienders instead of paid employees deliver the service.

Surely Craig supports unions’ arguing against these minimal levels of service delivery?

The Coalition’s Third Sector Procurement

Craig writes:

    “Furthermore, there need to be assurances to trade unions that all will be done to ensure that they are included fully in the operation of these businesses. It happens on the Continent and there is no reason it should not happen here.”

But there is a major political difference for Social Enterprises and Third Sector organisations in many Continental countries. The UK has never experienced a sustained political period when Social Enterprises or Third Sector organisations are regarded as part of a mixed economy in public service delivery.

Jim Callaghan’s 1976 to 1979 Labour Government gave more encouragement to the Third Sector than during the whole recent New Labour era, when a string of Government Third Sector policy statements and documents read like a Procurement Manual.

The latest testimony to this came in the January 2013 Independence under Threat – the Report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector.

On Infrastructure Bodies, on page 43, the Report said:

    “We also believe that infrastructure bodies could do even more than just question practices that threaten the independence of the sector – for example by launching judicial reviews of contractual terms which reduce independence.”

Hopefully, Craig will recognise that these timid “infrastructure bodies” are those same London Third Sector organisations which through their actions are signed up to the UK Coalition Government’s political agenda.

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‘Privatisation – you’re just as a bad as all the rest’

Craig writes:

    “Compared to the prospect of mass-privatisation to firms with dubious motives and a bad track-record, Social Enterprise may well look more attractive, particularly if this can also maintain a wider range of services”

But what does Craig expect unions to say when Big Society Capital, Social Investment Business and London Third Sector Organisations keep extending the range of “social sector organisations” which now style themselves “Social Enterprises”?

Big Society Capital in its For Profit Social Sector Organisations Governance Agreement September 2012 shows that shareholders’ interests are as important as those for whom services are being delivered:

    “The Company exists:
    (a) Primarily to provide affordable credit and other financial services to individuals
    and organisations which are excluded from or are underserved by mainstream credit and financial services markets; and

    (b) As an equal or subsidiary object, to generate value for shareholders.”

Rodney Schwartz, Chief Executive of ClearlySo, when he wrote Social Investment is a Large Tent that is Broadly Defined in Third Sector News on Tuesday 09 April 2013, was equally relaxed about extending to more organisations with a self-styled social mission:

    “From our perspective at ClearlySo, the biggest problem for Social Investment is not the precision of the definition of the term, or its deviation from some ideal, but rather the small size of the market. Put simply, we need more investment in social everything.

    “Thus, we endeavour to bring in more investment from individuals or organisations with capital, however they choose to define ‘social’ (within the bounds of decency and legality, of course) and match them with appropriate investments. By defining the sector broadly, we help to create the largest possible market”.

Again, the conclusion of Independence under Threat – the Report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector is relevant. On the independence of the sector on page 25, the Report says:

    “One danger is that commentators will call for new categories of Not for Profit Organisations to be created, where public money is received, reducing rather than reinforcing distinctiveness. The defining characteristic of the Voluntary Sector should be the primacy of its mission and purpose and independence, rather than the source of funding or activities. A clearer definition of Social Enterprise is needed to prevent abuse”.

On Social Enterprise on page 25, the Report says:

    “.. 26% of small and medium size enterprises badge themselves as Social Enterprises. (Annual Small Business Survey 2010, BIS, April 2011) The Voluntary Sector brand is being abused. ‘Social Enterprise’ is a totally unregulated or defined concept and, for some, just a convenient brand”.

Hopefully Craig will agree that the Baring Foundation’s Panel membership isn’t from trade unions but from those with a distinguished track record of service in the Third Sector.

And, Finally

None of the above represents what Craig calls an argument between “Two Tribes”. “Face time contracts” and mainstream public services delivered by “volunteer plus” befrienders are on the agenda right now. Craig should surely be arguing against Social Enterprises and Third Sector Organisations being driven into contracts which only permit payment for “face time” or public services delivered by volunteers?

Instead of ranting against trade unions, he should surely recognise that these public spending reductions are so big that Social Enterprises and unions should join together to resist them?

Just as importantly, Craig should be asking those London Third Sector Organisations why they have allowed the whole concept of Social Enterprise to become so diluted that Big Society Capital, ClearlySo and others in the London Bubble no longer distinguish between Social Enterprises and profit making Companies Limited by Shares with a self-styled social mission.

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