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

http://modgov.hillingdon.gov.uk/Published/C00000115/M00000510/$$ADocPackPublic.pdf

To view the agreed minutes click here

http://modgov.hillingdon.gov.uk/Published/C00000115/M00000510/$$$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.

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”.

Tales from London UNISON branches”

I thought it would be a good idea if Barnet UNISON members had the opportunity to hear about what is going on in other London councils. It is important for members to get an understanding about what is happening and how the branches are responding. Over the next few months UNISON branch secretary’s from across London will be answering a few questions from me.  

What is your name?
Matthew Waterfall

What UNISON branch?
Hackney Local Government

What is your branch officer position?
Branch Secretary

Have any of your services been privatised? Please explain?
A few have been privatised but others have come back in house. Hackney was burnt around the turn of the century when it let massive sections like Waste and Benefits which were privatised out to Service Team and IT Net respectively. These contracts worked so badly that the council was later forced to bring them back in. What we do find is that smaller contracts are often let out without much consultation etc with the unions. On the plus side though we were recently successful in campaigning for the majority of the estate cleansing service to be brought back in house. The major down side is that education in Hackney is run by a private firm called the Learning Trust who have done nothing to improve the lot of our mainly female membership in the 7 years since they took the contract on. As of today support staff in schools are still to go through single status and the result of that is low pay and poor treatment. Hackney Unison will continue to campaign to get education back in house, run by elected councillors rather than unaccountable board members.

Do you know if there are any plans to share services with other public sector organisations in your borough?
Not heard of any plans thus far but always on the look out

Do you have any privatisation proposals in your borough?
Nothing major at the moment

What do you think will be the big challenges for public Services over the next four years? The next four years pose the biggest challenge that our members in local govt have ever seen. The Tories are likely to win the next election and that can only be bad for public services. Our chief executive is talking of cuts as big as 20% which will devastate the workforce. This is why it is so important for members to stand strong together and for the national and regional union officers to provide us with the support we need now so that we are better placed to fight the cuts when they do come.

What is your message to Barnet UNISON members
Barnet and Hackney have a long history of working together in educations and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our comrades to the north. We realise what members in Barnet are having to put up with dealing with future shape and ludicrous headline grabbing schemes like ‘Easy Council’ and we share your distain. Having worked personally with your branch over the past couple of years it is great to see a branch with such a strong sense of solidarity and comradeship and as long as members in the borough can keep this going then I believe that although the times ahead may not be easy you will be strong enough to reject the worst aspects of what the Council is trying to do there.

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