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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