Barnet UNISON visit Essex UNISON……Care Assistant vs. a Barclays Finance Director..

She: David; He: Goliath  or “Does Essex Excel in Essex Cares?”


Babs is an assistant branch secretary in Essex County Council UNISON. Her normal job was as a care assistant. She is utterly committed to trying to get the best results for her members and combating the ever growing attempts at mass privatisation of County Council services. Babs knows what she and her members are up against – the insistent grasping tentacles of large private companies lining up to fatten their profits provided by taxpayers’ money with the assistance of slavish politicians who usually have more in common with a Barclays Finance Director than with a care assistant.  

From her role as a care assistant and assistant branch secretary Babs has found herself leading and involved in campaigns to fight privatisation of social care provision within the Council. For a few years the UNISON branch was successful in preventing the privatisation of their 64 residential care homes. Eventually the privatisers got their way and now all homes are run by Excel. The inspectorate of homes is so impressed with the standards maintained by Excel, it has since enforced the closure of two homes! 

The next battleground for privatisation has been all of the other provisions of adult social care; namely the day centres, the 1,000 strong in-house home help service, OTs and support workers. Consultation started March 2008. There was no in-house bid and the only proposal was to privatise all of those services. Babs, colleagues and pressure groups led a campaign to stop that happening. As the trade unions were able to attend all consultative meetings Babs and UNISON colleagues put forward their arguments. They were able to increase their union membership and hold stalls at the meetings.  

The pressure against privatisation grew so much that the Council came up with a compromise solution: the creation of an ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation). Anyone who thinks this is a good compromise should speak to those in Barnet Homes where colleagues are seeing the steady erosion of their terms and conditions or Ealing Homes which is now facing total privatisation as the set up has failed. Nonetheless the proposal in Essex foresees the pension scheme as being saved and open to new starters and there will be no 2-tier workforce. The ALMO, Essex Cares, also pays the Council to be able to participate in the union facility time arrangement enabling the staff of Essex Cares to continue receiving union representation from the UNISON branch. Babs reports most of the staff as being positive about Essex Cares but she does not see it as a victory. She thinks her members will regret their initial enthusiasm not least because she sees the increasing agenda of personalisation as a potential real threat to the viability of these services with no democratic control to bend the services to the new challenges. Currently there are some 800 people with personalised budgets in Essex County. 

Babs is now heavily involved in the negotiations and campaigns around Essex attempting to privatise all Council service. As the Council brings in more and more financial services experts she finds herself sitting opposite a financial director of Barclays Bank. We cannot underestimate how daunting this is. But if tenacity and courage is what wins the day Babs would win hands down. We would be foolish to think these attributes in one person is enough on its own. Babs and her colleagues need our support and we need theirs.


Come and meet Babs at our Branch meeting lunchtime 12 October.