Composite 2: Public Services October 2002

Resolution passed by Labour Party Conference October 2002 against the wishes of the Government:

Conference congratulates the Government on this year’s CSR and believes that the settlement represents real opportunity to improve public service performance and capacity. Conference notes that public services are essential to a modernised civilised society that has at its base a developed economy but notes the quality and the provision of those services are, as ever, most important

But this cannot be achieved through expensive unaccountable privatised services delivered on the back of cuts to the pay and conditions of vulnerable workers.

In August this year, the local government unions and employers agreed a set of proposals at ACAS which represent a breakthrough for the lowest paid. Decent pay and conditions are an essential prerequisite for delivering public service improvements. The proposed settlement including the establishment of a Local Government Pay Commission has the potential to provide a fair and stable platform for industrial relations in local government. It is therefore vital that this platform is not undermined by the outsourcing of services.

Conference recognises the important role played by the many thousands of local government employees throughout the country in providing many of our essential services and welcomes the two year deal as a fair settlement for all those be they carers, social workers, security guards or librarians, who do so much to sustain our local communities.

Furthermore, conference welcomes the establishment of a joint commission, due to report in September 2003, which will look into the pay of council staff as an excellent opportunity to address the issues that exist.

This Conference believes the settlement of the pay claim puts a further strain on the already stretched resources of local government. It would be wrong to resolve these financial pressures either by cuts in services or redundancies of local government workers. Both of which would reduce a local government’s capacity to deliver service improvements.

To ensure best value government should determine that public service workers who provide public services receive a decent level of pay and conditions that reflects their efforts and loyalty to their employers and the general public, which will include across the nation’s railway system the use of national framework arrangements covering major conditions of service issues, national safety consultation arrangements, and ensuring that a work programme that includes staffing levels, initiatives on skills and training are continually invested in by the government.

Conference notes that the review of Best Value in England, currently out for public consultation, followed promises made by ministers at Conference last year that they would not allow a two-tier workforce to develop in local government as a result of private or voluntary sector delivery.

We welcome the limited progress that has been made, but Conference believes that the proposals do not yet fulfil the promise to end the existence of a two-tier workforce in local government. It is vital that the government addresses the trade unions concerns about the proposals by ensuring that terms and conditions for new starters are ‘no less favourable’ than those for TUPE transferees, and that effective enforcement measures are introduced.

Furthermore a growing number of local authorities are contracting with the private and voluntary sectors in ways that avoid the transfer of staff and the protection of TUPE. An example is the growing use of private home care providers to deliver home care. As well as poorer service standards, their track record is one of low pay, poor conditions, and no pensions. The code of practice proposed does not offer any protection whatsoever to these workers.

Experience shows that the results of contracting out to the private sector are: loss of jobs; loss of TU benefits; lower standards; and above all ‘unfair’ wages without democratic mechanisms for redress.

Conference notes the progress made in developing the Retention of Employment model in the NHS and calls for continuing monitoring to ensure that the model achieves the objective of protecting NHS staff .

Conference calls upon the Government to introduce a Fair Wages Clause in public contracting to protect the pay, conditions and pensions of all staff providing public services, regardless of who employs them. Such a clause would end the problem of the two-tier workforce, boost morale in our public services, and improve services to the public.

Cuts in pay, conditions and pensions threaten staff in every public service contracted out and Conference believes that the best way to remove this threat is to have a statutory fair wages clause to set decent labour standards in all contracts. Until 1983 the UK was a signatory to the International Labour Organisation Convention 94 on Fair Wages but this was denounced and revoked by the Thatcher government. The Labour Government should re-sign the ILO convention immediately.

Fair wages legislation would ensure that private contractors would compete for contracts not on the basis of lower pay and conditions but on quality of the service, ensuring for the first time that the inhouse team were on a level playing field. Fair wages legislation would also help public authorities to meet their obligations to promote social and economic well being in their communities, tackle equal pay, as well as allowing them to regain their role as ‘good employers’ who set the standard for others to follow.

Conference believes that this is an important delivery issue for Government. Delivering fairness at work, rebuilding morale, and boosting recruitment and retention of staff are essential prerequisites to improving public service standards.

Also Government should adopt a ‘partners’ at work approach to ensure maximum consultation, calling upon the numerous expertise that exists within the trade union movement including the use of ‘in house skills’.

Conference regrets that the Government’s programme for public service reform and modernisation continues to promote and encourage greater private sector involvement despite a growing list of failures. The ongoing crisis across the railway system, the near collapse of British Energy and the failures of the CSA and Criminal Records Bureau show that the private sector is not the answer. We do not believe that further privatisation or externalisation of public services is in the interest either of service users or of public service staff.

Conference regrets that the Governments capital investment programme, so vital for the renewal of the nations public service infrastructure, continues to place the discredited PFI centre stage. Increasingly alternative methods of funding capital investment are limited to those who ministers and regulators consider have earned autonomy from strict government controls. These are often those who declare themselves most willing to privatise service delivery. We call upon the government to recognise that PFI/PPP including housing stock transfers, is no answer to the inherited underfunding and that there is a need for setting up a comprehensive review of all aspects of local government finance.

In view of these growing concerns Conference calls upon the Government to:

a) commission an independent review of PFI and the role that the private companies have played in the public services, to include value for money, the impact on staff, and its long-term implications.

b) develop a capital investment framework which will make publicly financed projects a viable alternative. Only then can there be a genuine level playing field.

Conference believes that taking these steps will boost the government’s chances of achieving its stated aim of delivering world-class public services.

Conference believes that the workforce is the public sectors greatest asset, ready to deliver if given the chance.

Moved: Unison

Seconded: Bolsover CLP