Report back from Lambeth UNISON

What is your name?
Jon Rogers

What UNISON branch?
Lambeth local government

What is your branch officer position?
Joint Branch Secretary (jointly with Nick Venedi)

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
Lambeth was scene of what was at the time the largest privatisation in the history of English local government in 1997 when almost all our then remaining in-house manual workforce was privatised to a “joint venture company” part-owned by the Council. This proved a failure and the contracts are now with a range of different private contractors. We have had some successes in bringing privatised “white-collar” services (such as Housing Benefit and Legal Services) back in-house.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
We have not heard of any detailed proposals yet!

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
At the moment our ALMO (Lambeth Living) is proposing to privatise our emergency caretaking service, our Concierge service and the estate cleaning service (in those parts of the borough where it is still in-house). We have got the Council to agree to pay a consultant from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) to work with us to try to respond to these proposals – and this work is underway right now.

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years?
We will face spending cuts and further privatisation proposals, as well as the shared services agenda. At the same time a future Tory Government will probably mount new attacks upon our trade unions for which we need to prepare.

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members?
Your branch is leading the way in showing how we should respond to the coming challenges and other branches can learn from this – but we cannot fight one borough at a time. We need to work together and to make the official structures of our trade union work for us as best we can. Right now I think we can make use of the national Union’s Million Voices for Change campaign to provide a coherent theme nationally for the fightback in local government and beyond. The Peoples Charter also provides a national framework, supported by the Trades Union Congress, for our local demands and campaigns.

News from Southwark Council – Revs & Bens: Back in House

Revs & Bens: Back in House

On 29th September Southwark Council Executive Committee voted to bring Revs& Bens back in house.

Some quotes from the report:

“Lack of direct control on the part of the Council, leading to slow and reluctant responses to Council-led initiatives to improve the service for the people of Southwark.”

“The main benefits of bringing the service in-house are:

  • “the authority can directly implement new initiatives and methods of working for service improvement quickly and without the need for contract variation.
  • “the authority is able to build more robust relationships with key departments and external stakeholders.
  • “Bringing the service back in-house will eliminate a major 3rd party interface.”
  • “the authority can have direct day to day management of the service and speed of making decisions and implementing change will be quicker.”

To view the full report click here$

2029 Guide to Retirement – ‘Work until you Die?’

2029 Guide to Retirement – ‘Work until you Die?’

So, the bidding war on when we are entitled to take our Pensions has begun. By 2029 it could be that those of us that have lived that long will be fighting to hold on to any income we can get, never mind looking forward to retirement!

I can still remember someone coming down to our junior school and talking about the 21st Century as a time where everyone would be retiring early. They would spend their retirement taking part in leisure activities and dressing up in white lycra? What happened to those promises made to children like me? Or maybe I made it all up or got confused with the story telling class? The Lycra thing was true!

Anyway I thought it maybe a good idea to help prepare members as to what services & exciting work opportunities could be out there for them in 2029.

Top Tip 1.
Why not take some time out to pop down your local community centre for older people (if it has not be closed due to Cuts) to see if this is a service you would want to use for the following reasons:
• A hot meal. Buy a meal and see what you think.
• Somewhere warm to sit for the day, because you are too frightened to turn on the heating in your bedsit. Yes that’s right, you have had to sell your home to pay for your health care (the NHS was finally privatised to a US Healthcare provider in 2023).
• Entertainment what did you think of the day time activities
• Company

• Security, at least there are staff around in the centre to protect you from what has become an increasing lawless society.

“Did you go down? Is it everything you would hope for?”

Top Tip 2
“What about the many career opportunities?”
How about going down to your local supermarket or DIY store now and ask for a couple hours work experience. This will help you when you are queuing up for a job in 2029. With this work experience, they won’t be able to turn you down with this line ‘Sorry, no experience!’

Top Tip 3
“Why not pop down to Job Centre Plus?”
Check out what services are available. Check out benefits advice, just how long is it before you are seen? You may need to use these services in 2029.

Come along to the Branch meeting on Monday 12 October 12 – 2pm Conference Room, NLBP. To collect the Pensions information

Tales from Tower Hamlets

What is your name?

John McLoughlin

What UNISON branch?
Tower Hamlets

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
Yes. Many of our big manual services – waste collection etc were privatised many years ago. More recently we have fought a long battle on Housing Stock transfer – winning many ballots – although the Council then established an ALMO with no vote. There is still pressure on many areas – Waste Education has just controversially been given to Veolia and our Tenancy Support Team is to be transferred to Look Ahead. We have also had successes however. When I was convenor of Benefits we stopped privatisation to ITNET, and big campaigns also stopped the privatisation on all of our Home Care and School Meals.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
There has been an experiment in sharing senior HR management with the PCT but that has been deemed unsuccessful and is ending. No major plans yet – but we’re all watching what happens in other Boroughs

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Just the ones above at present

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years?
All the major parties are trying to outdo each other in who can make the most savage cuts. Everything will be up for grabs – jobs, services, pensions, pay and conditions. Yet no one seems to ask one simple question. We were told that the trillions poured into the banks because of the collapse caused by the reckless greed of the wealthiest in society would all be paid back. So why are low paid Public Sector workers expected to pay for the crisis?

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members
Our unions need to unite and stand up to these attacks. In 2005 when public sector unions started to come together we forced the government and employers back on pensions. We need to do that again- on a bigger scale. We have seen the possibilities at a local level. In Tower Hamlets College we have just succeeded in getting no compulsory redundancies after lecturers in UCU took all out strike action and won widespread solidarity.

Breaking news……..Hillingdon ALMO to come back in house

Yes you have read correctly.

Only last week , Barnet UNISON shared with its members the news that Ealing ALMO was failing and Ealing Council were looking to privatise it.

Last week we announced that Hillingdon Council were considering bringing the ALMO in house

Today we can confirm Hillingdon Cabinet Committee made the following recommendation
That Cabinet agrees:
1. To instruct officers to carry out a tenant and leaseholder test of opinion on dissolving Hillingdon Homes and bringing the council housing services back in house.
2. To instruct officers to report back to Cabinet for a final decision on the future of Hillingdon Homes as soon as possible once the test of opinion has been completed.
To view the documents which went to Cabinet click on this link$$ADocPackPublic.pdf

To view the agreed minutes click here$$$Minutes.doc.pdf

There are some significant comments made in the report which members and residetns may be interested to read. With Future Shape very much in everyone’s minds the following makes interesting reading.

“There would also be significant financial benefits to tenants by returning to the council.”

“Financial considerations are also a driver in testing resident opinion for the return of the landlord service to the council. Significant savings are likely to arise which can be used to fund service improvements. Potential savings from the costs of governance of the ALMO are likely to be in excess of £300k per year”

“While the ALMO vehicle has enabled the council to achieve the decent homes standard and improved satisfaction ratings from tenants and leaseholders, there is no over-riding strategic value in continuing to maintain this method of operation. It is also increasingly evident that the vehicle in itself has not been significant in the achievement of excellent standards of service.”

“Any future plans for the council housing services will look to build on the advantages of this involvement. The “freedoms and flexibilities” for ALMOs that were promised by Government have, however, failed to appear.”

“The review of council housing finance has now been published by the Government. One option allows local authorities to buy out of the national HRA subsidy system and finance the maintenance and management of housing stock via rent (and other income), re-investing according to local need. It is not expected that the review will lead to any new specific benefits regarding ALMOs.”

“Although originally there was potential to exploit the ALMO as a delivery vehicle of the council, the case for retaining the ALMO has now been weakened. Local authorities have been offered many of the freedoms that were previously offered only to ALMOs, for example, bidding for Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) social housing grant to develop housing. In addition, the government has now announced that local authorities are able to retain the rental income from homes they buy, build or bring back into use, to invest in new housing. This had previously been a major advantage of the ALMO.”

“In general terms it is also clear that the ALMO vehicle has not been a sufficiently useful model in furthering the wider objectives of councils. Where initiatives of this nature have been developed (e.g. the development of Hillingdon Homes Direct to procure private sector housing for the council) the government’s financial regulations meant it was unable to compete on equal terms with Housing Associations and was therefore not financially sustainable.”

“Maintaining the ALMO as a stand alone vehicle involves a strong duplication of effort in a number of areas, most significantly, governance, strategic direction, performance management and communication functions.”

“In the absence of an ALMO, the council will have complete control over the in-house housing management service and will be able to introduce an improvement programme to meet the council’s corporate standards and ultimately further develop services to residents.”

“Returning the landlord service to the council’s direct management would allow Hillingdon to maximise the potential of the contact centre as well as greater integration with adult social care. It is likely this will deliver substantial benefits to the tenants and leaseholders of the council.”

“TUPE costs are also likely to be minimal if, as envisaged, the terms and conditions for Hillingdon Homes’ staff have not deviated significantly from those of the council. However, this would need to be investigated in more detail.”

It is clear that senior officers have done theor homework and recognised the ALMO has had its day.

Barnet UNISON will be pushing that a similar exercise takes place for Barnet Homes.

Essex meets Barnet

Mick Mahoney is branch Secretary for Essex UNISON. Mick has a long history in trade unions. He worked for many years as a docker down in Tilbury, before moving to local government. The work was a big change but the issues facing the workforce remain the same.

Essex UNISON came to our attention last December when news broke that Essex were already looking for someone to run their council services. A journalist contacted the branch to ask if they were aware that all of the council’s services had been ‘bundled up’ as a package for around £4.5 billion.

The Leader Lord Hanningfield is a key figure in Cameron’s team.

In March this year the branch had been told the scheme for mass privatisation had gone on hold, but that was only until the county council elections in May were over. On the day that our branch was being bombarded by journalists looking for a response to the EasyCouncil article in the Guardian, Mick was being interviewed by the BBC over secret plans for mass privatisation of all council servcies by 2012, just in time for the Olympics!

Interestingly, Mick said industrial relations with their employers have been ok, it is only in the last 12 months when these plans first came to light that there has been a significant change.

Essex Council has already appointed IBM as the organisation to lead commissioning on behalf of the Council. Our members know of IBM because of their partnership (SouthwestOne) in Somerset.

Mick is clearly committed to fighting on behalf of his members. Over the years he feels the language of the politicians may have changed but the message is still the same, they are after our members Terms & Conditions and it is only UNISON standing in their way.

Mick is coming with his Assistant Branch Secretary (Bab’s) to address our branch meeting on

Monday 12 October 12 – 2pm, Building 2, Conference room, NLBP.

Tales from Waltham Forest UNISON

What is your name?
Dave Knight

What UNISON branch?
Waltham Forest

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
A number of our services have been privatized. Our refuse collection has gone out to a company called Verdant, our street cleaning and grounds maintenance to Kier Street Services, our street lighting to May, Gurney, Cartledge, our highways to Rineys. Our education authority function is with VT and our Careers Service is with VT Enterprise. Our housing is with Ascham Homes (an ALMO). We have Outlook running some adult residential unit and a lot of our Home Care is now out with organizations like Leonard Cheshire (the firm featured on the Panorama programme). Our building Consultancy has gone out to NPS.

There are a whole host of procurements for individual projects as well. We have Trust schools. We have Academy schools. And it feels to me that many of our councillors – we are a hung Council led by a Lib-Lab coalition. Locally we continue to argue against every privatisation. Our observation is that privatization does not work, it serves merely to deflect our taxes that should go directly into supporting public services, into private pockets. It is tempting for businesses and councillors to enter into corrupt arrangements and it is amazing how naïve the politicians are in believing that these entrepreneurs have our communities at heart. As far as I can see all they want is our money.

We have fought with some success at times. Three elderly persons homes and our Revenues and Benefits teams have been brought back in house after being outsourced. We fight by being part of our trade council, organizing demos and lobbying politicians. We also ensure that failings get publicized in the local rag.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
We believe that there are some plans to consider shared services. Our in house cleaning team and our call centre are two services where we think management might be planning something.

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Privatisation Proposals are pretty common. We have one that has just started which is to offer up our Children with Disabilities Respite unit for a tendering exercise

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years?
Over the next four years I think we will have massive challenges. If the Tories win the next election I am pretty sure they will come after our jobs, our pay and our pensions. They may even move towards scrapping local authorities. And I don’t see the Labour agenda being much different. What has to change, if we are to stand a chance, is the attitude of our trade unions. We need to transform into campaigning unions willing to support members who want to fight back.

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members?
So we would send a message of solidarity to our colleagues in Barnet that basically says “Keep fighting – Justice must win out in the end for public sector services”.

Is It a Job to Die For?

No one can doubt Social Work is one of the most stressful jobs. Today I attended UNISON’s Regional Social Care Forum where there was a briefing on stress. Medical Research has established beyond doubt there is a causal relationship between stress, major illnesses and mortality. Stress now sits alongside asbestos and smoking as an occupational hazard. It is the second cause of all sickness absence in the UK and accounts for half of the total costs of sickness absence at £7billion.

The following illnesses are related to or are exacerbated by stress: 

  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Immune Deficiency
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy and foetal complications (including miscarriages)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Mental illness
  • Obesity 

Some of these illnesses are killers. It was alarming to hear anecdotal evidence from union representatives of social workers in other local authorities about the levels of miscarriages, deaths of colleagues in their 40s and 50s from strokes, cancers and heart disease. I have heard many times over about how colleagues in Barnet feel very stressed. Management believes there is an issue of stress and will be running Stress Management Courses. It is also the case sickness levels in Social Services are higher than the average.


We want to gather hard evidence about stress levels in Social Services amongst ALL workers and find out what the trends are. You will be receiving a stress questionnaire shortly which we would like you to complete as soon as possible and return to the UNISON office. If you are reading this and you are not a UNISON member we still want you to complete the form. Please contact us!

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