Letter to Guardian Editor

Dear Editor 

I write in response to your four page coverage on Barnet Council entitled “Tories adopt budget airline service model”. As Branch Secretary for UNISON members working for Barnet Council I want to register my concern about the view that Council Services can learn from the likes of Ryan Air and Easy Jet.

I understand that this project has been dubbed by a spokesman for the council as ‘Easy Council’ catchy, good newspaper headlines but sending out the wrong message for the thousands of hard working staff trying to deliver efficient, quality services across the borough. Comparisons with Easy Jet and Ryan Air I believe are dangerous & unhelpful in that they play to residents & staff fears that services are going to be sold off to the lowest bidder. Using a low cost airline as benchmark for public services does not feel right when you are talking about public services.   

Twenty years ago it there may have been some truth in ‘jobs for life’ for those staff working in Council services. Today’s Council worker is facing redundancy every year, below inflation pay awards for the last 8 years and increasing pressure to do more for less. The Council worker is the butt of attacks from politicians of all mainstream parties, yet they still manage to keep the streets clean, support and protect the vulnerable and deliver excellent educational opportunities for children.   

The idea that those who can afford to pay more for a service will get services first is worrying especially at this time when unemployment is reaching record levels, in Barnet unemployment figures have risen by 80%. It is also add odds with the Audit Commission encouraging Councils to play a greater role in tackling the recession in their communities. The last thing we need is two tier services for residents in Barnet.  

It is because of the fantastic work of our members that I am saddened to see council services become caught up in the political pantomime about who will win the next General Election.  

I will be interested to hear the Government response to what Barnet are proposing after all it is their policy that is pushing councils to move away from delivering services to commissioning.  

As to what is really happening in Barnet. We have had no decisions about the future of council services. The report on the front page which claims “council plans to save up to £15m a year by outsourcing services and reducing the size of the workforce” does not reflect what we have been told. However if this is the launch of the plan to run services on an Easy Council model I predict serious unrest amongst the workforce who are already feeling over burdened with work, and angry that their hard work is going to be rewarded by cuts to jobs, pensions and pay whilst bankers received billions of public funds for failure.

John Burgess

Branch Secretary Barnet UNISON