Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open Public Service' agenda: Turning the tide on privatisation using the new UK Public Procurement Regulations fringe #uNDC14

This post is a little late but this was one of the most interesting fringes at UNISON National Conference this year (#uNDC14).

The meeting was chaired by Jane Carolan (2nd from right) UNISON NEC.

First speaker was Dave Watson (2nd from left) who is the Senior UNISON Scotland Policy officer. Dave argued that while the public sector in Scotland is important, a third of the Scottish budget is actually spend on the private and voluntary sector. There has been a Scottish Procurement Reform Act which was intended to be "business friendly".  UNISON had argued for "10 asks" to be in the Act. Not all were agreed but preventing trade union black listers and tax dodging companies bidding for public contracts is in there as is (indirectly) a Scottish living wage.

Dave then gave the best bit of advice on dealing with lawyers that I have ever heard. Don't ask your legal advisers "what is legal position?" Ask instead "this what we intend to do - so can you advise us how to do it".

Former head of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) Richard Bourne (left of photo) was next. He saw  procurement as a "weapon". He didn't see European legislation as being the real enemy since it is fairly liberal. The problem is the Tories. While Councils are quite good at it, health is "crap" at procurement. They tend to be arrogant, not open and transparent and with no accountability. They find it almost impossible to get it right - so challenge. There has been a number of successes.

3rd speaker (see photo middle) was Chris Durnall, who is a top trade union activist, fellow Community Branch Secretary and member of our Service Group Executive. She works for a national Children's charity. Chris reported on the onslaught in our sector of attacks on terms and conditions, reductions in numbers and lower grades. Our members have suffered cuts in pay of up to 40%, Defined benefit pensions are a distant memory and employers treat staff as "costs" not people.

We need a political approach. Commissioners, employers and unions need to work together. We need political and industrial pressure to bring about a living wage and better pay. We need an Ethical care policy with full costs recovery. Move away procurement and return to grant funding and wage councils. A strong union is the best thing we have to protect members.

Matt Dykes (right of picture), Senior policy officer at the TUC was the last speaker. He spoke about "Social Procurement" with agreement about models being used for bids. He wants to see Freedom of Information applied to all with "open book accounting" . All contracted out staff ought to be on NJC (local government) terms and conditions. There is no significant evidence that outsourcing works. There is now a trend for "in-sourcing". We need a Social Value Act. Public opinion is on our side. There is a lot of support within the Labour Party (such as John Trickett MP) but we have to convince their Treasury team that it is value for money.

There was not that much time for a Q&A but I remember Dave Watson explaining that in his experience the cost of a Living wage is cost always exaggerated. In the ones he has been involved in it has only been 1/3 the estimated cost.
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