Bromley council’s plans to carry out a mass privatisation of services are being challenged by members of Unite, the country’s largest union, with a second wave of strikes.
The selected strikes from 27 April to 19 May dovetail with the stand of the council’s Labour group which has accused the Conservative-dominated authority of being ‘openly committed to being a ‘commissioning council’ and to reducing the number of council employees from 4,000 to 300’.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said “The aim of the strikes is to stop and roll back the privatisation of council services. Such a privatisation process has been shown to fail when it has been implemented in Bromley over the last 12 months.
“The previous two days of strike action earlier this month led to libraries shutting, the care centre closing and the passenger services not running.
“While this was inconvenient to local people, the bigger picture is that if a stand is not made now against privatisation, there will be a gradual deterioration in what people have been used to expect from their council, leaving just a skeleton of services.”
Unite’s selected strike action will hit libraries (27 April-30 April); the parks (5 May); strikes by all the branch members, except school staff, on 1, 7 and 19 May; and at the Astley care centre and the passenger services (13-19 May).
Despite having £130 million in reserves, the council is privatising the bulk of its services, including services aimed at vulnerable members of the community, parks, passenger services and libraries.
The Labour group said in a statement: “During the last year in Bromley, Capita and Liberata have missed numerous performance targets and are struggling to do what they are contracted to do for the contract price.
“People have been evicted from their homes and forced to sleep on the streets because the benefits to which they are entitled have not been correctly processed. Another contractor has been found to be employing illegal immigrants. Many of our roads and pathways are not being cleaned as they should be.”
The Labour group also allege that many of the privatisation proposals going to the council’s committees ‘are written by the contractors themselves and contain highly complex information so it is hard to see the truth beneath the technical terminology’.
Onay Kasab said that the Labour analysis of what was happening regarding privatisation and the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of services, and pay and conditions was ‘spot on’.
He added: “Unite is, once more, drawing a line in the sand against privatisation and austerity in local government. Council services should be for the public good – and not be used as a milch cow for the private outsourcing companies benefiting from generous contracts.”
Unite’s members voted by 87 per cent to take strike action in protest against the Bromley mass privatisation programme, cuts to pay and conditions, and the withdrawal of facility time from the Unite trade union representative.
The dispute comes against the backdrop of a Fair Deal For Local Government campaign by Unite’s London and Eastern region which has almost 300,000 members. The campaign is aimed against privatisation and austerity in local government.
The campaign is a set of proposals that Unite is putting to councils in the region. It is a procurement strategy to ensure that quality services are maintained and that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ for pay and conditions post any transfer.
The Labour Bromley group added: “We also believe that Unite’s proposals for a procurement strategy deserved proper consideration and not instant dismissal.”
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite regional officer Onay Kasab on 07771 818637 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2061 or 07768 693940.
The main points of Fair Deal For Local Government campaign are:
• If services are performing well, leave them in house
• If they are not performing well, look at ways of putting it right in house
• When contracting out services, over 50 per cent of the consideration should be about quality rather than cost
• Fair employment rights for transferred staff – no zero hours contracts, pay the ‘living wage’, no downward pay and conditions harmonisation
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.