Saturday, September 24, 2011

“Public Service delivery by the sector, cuts, and the government’s “big society”.

This morning of the 2nd day of the UNISON Community seminar began with speeches by Stuart Etherington, CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Phil Jarrold, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Mike Short from UNISON.  Some of the things I found interesting. 

Stuart described the years before recession 1994 to 2008 as a “Golden Age” for the sector. The sector doubled in size and scale. Worth £40 billion. Employed nearly 600,000 workers. The “cuts” he estimated are around £3 billion but are being felt more since easier to reduce spending on the voluntary sector. He described “Big Society” as an attempt by Cameron to distant himself from large scale public spending and a different narrative about society from that of Thatcher. She famously said that there is no thing as society only families and individuals. Cameron says there is such a thing as society but it is not the same as the big state. Interestingly there are no fringes at all in next month’s Conservative Party conference that mention “Big Society”. Problem for Voluntary sector is that they do not have scale or access to capital and are having to sub-contract to “for profit” companies who do. Evidence of predatory pricing by private sector to win contracts.

Phil spoke about a clear divergence policy in Wales. Now the Coalition in Westminster are the opposition in Wales. Labour made it clear that the private sector will not be the main provider of services especially to vulnerable people. “Big Society” is rejected and seen as “toxic”. The Voluntary sector is in the middle between Westminster and Cardiff.

Cuts in Wales are more moderate and measured. Welsh government budget reducing 2.5% in 3 years. Cuts in real terms but nothing compared to England. Lack of inflation uplift means things are beginning to bite. Don't just look at money saved but the value lost if you reduce services. He wants parity of esteem for 3rd sector workforce.

Mike reminded us that if there has been £3 billion of cuts the so-called Government "transition fund" to migrate these cuts is only worth £110 million. 73% of our organisations have lost funding, lost staff and had demand for services increased. The “cuts” are ideological driven. Evidence is that the number of volunteers is falling. If our sector competes with private sector it will be on cost not quality.

Union supports genuine co-operatives that develop organically. Not those that take profits out of services. Health provider “Circle Partnership” may be 49% employee owned but the other 51% is owned by investment bankers.

There has indeed been a Tesco-isation of public services but this has been our members leaving to work for Tesco’s since they pay more stacking shelves than you now get caring for the vulnerable.

I asked Stuart about how Housing Association’s have fared and he said they lost out badly in the last spending review. There was a choice between spending on housing or a new aircraft carrier. Housing lost out. They face significant issues about funding.

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