Support Barnet careworkers as they strike against pay cuts this week

From Barnet Unison:

Unison members who are careworkers for the outsourced Barnet care company Your Choice Barnet (YCB) will take further strike action this week in protest at the harsh 9.5% pay cut imposed on them by their employer. The strike dates are 24 and 25 February.

This will make a total of eight days of strike action since the dispute began. The careworkers provide support and care services to disabled adults in Barnet. They say the service is deteriorating as a result of cuts.

Unison Branch Secretary John Burgess said:

“The driving motivation for our members in this dispute is their fears about what is happening to the quality of services. Low pay in the care sector does not deliver high quality services. It does not appear to work for Capita, we are at a loss as to understand why this would work for care workers in YCB.”

Barnet Unison says the council has clearly been giving preferential treatment to its private contractors with the news of Capita has already received £110 million in the first 16 months of the two contracts. If YCB were to receive this, it would carry on producing a service to the residents on the scale it does for the next 18 years with no pay cut to staff!

24 & 25 February picket line details

Flower Lane Day Centre
41 Flower Lane
Barnet
London NW7 2JN

Rosa Morrison Day Centre
83 Gloucester Road
Totteridge
Barnet
London EN5 1NA

follow @barnet_unison for updates from the pickets.

The start times are 7.30am to 12noon. See Barnet Unison for more details.

Please sign and share the petition to save services for disabled adults in Barnet from this ongoing privatisation and destruction:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-ongoing-destruction-of-services-for-adults-with-disabilities-in-barnet

Your Choice Barnet careworkers: managers slaughter our wages and then just leave

Photo from Barnet Unison

Barnet and Doncaster careworkers on strike this week. Doncaster careworkers want to be returned to the NHS (their service was outsourced to Care UK). Barnet careworkers want to work for the council again (their service was outsourced to a trading company) Photo from Barnet Unison.

Update 14 September 2014:

Your Choice Barnet careworkers will be lobbying Barnet council outside Hendon town hall from 6pm to 7pm tomorrow, as councillors meet to discuss further privatisation of services. It is testimony to Barnet council’s joke status that it can discuss further outsourcing – apparently in all seriousness – at exactly the moment that the council’s already-outsourced Your Choice careworkers take strike action in protest at the the effects privatisation have had on services for disabled people and staff working conditions. Their fight is discussed in this post below.

The careworkers will also take tomorrow night’s lobby as a chance to make known their feelings about Your Choice Barnet chief executive Tracey Lees. Lees implied last week that the workers who took strike action last week were disloyal to service users, and not committed to their jobs – for all the world as though already-low-paid workers take strike action without a second thought. No matter that those careworkers are trying to protect staff-to-service-user-ratios and the whole service generally from the cuts that will put services for disabled adults in Barnet in the danger zone. No matter that they risk their own jobs and incomes to do that.

Your Choice Barnet careworkers’ lobby and strikes to defend careworkers and services for disabled adults this week:

Monday 15 September 2014 lobby outside Hendon Town Hall 6 – 7 pm

Wednesday 17 September 2014 Strike action, picket lines at Flower lane, Rosa Morrison, Community Space, start 7.30 am.

Thursday 18 September 2014 Strike action, picket lines at Flower lane, Rosa Morrison, Community Space, start 7.30 am.

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Original post – striking Your Choice Barnet careworkers speak:

By total coincidence, one of the people Your Choice Barnet careworkers met this week when they were in Mill Hill handing out leaflets about their strike action was an agency careworker. He was incensed about his own pay and working conditions, to say the very least. He stopped to take a leaflet and he really let fly.

He had trouble with his housing benefit, I think – it sounded like a miscalculation and overpayments problem.

Anyway – Nigel Farage will be the beneficiary of this man’s experience. “I’m going to vote UKIP,” this careworker said furiously. Everyone other politician was useless as far as this man was concerned. He had a point. Nobody would help him. His pay was so low and his costs were so high that he wasn’t sure he could stay in his home. “I earn £102 a week. It’s about 15 hours a week at £7 an hour. Barnet council say I’m earning too much for them to pay my £300 rent. They’ve given me £58 a week and they’ve stopped me £15 week on top of that, because they say that they’ve been overpaying me since March. So, I’m living on £42 a week. I went to spoke to my MP – the Conservative Finchley MP. He had a look at the letters and he said “there’s nothing I can do. That’s the rules. I’m living on £42 a week. ”

So.

The YCB strikers I was with had some sympathy for this bloke, as well they might. Their situation is dire too.

Two years ago, the support and day services they provide for disabled people were moved from the council into Your Choice Barnet, part of the Barnet Group trading company which the council seemed to think should and would make large profits (out of disabled people and their support funds).

This hope was built on sand, of course. The promised Your Choice profits never came to pass. About a year after its glorious launch, Your Choice Barnet management began to bleat about debt and to claim that the only way to make the business “competitive” was to cut careworkers’ wages and staff numbers.

The company duly set about a very unpopular restructure, with predictable results. Staff left, or were made redundant, and the rest are still fighting to hang onto their jobs and already-small wages. Barnet Unison says that about 145 full time equivalent staff were transferred from adult services to the trading company in 2012. After the “restructure” last year and cuts to shift allowance pay, only about 105 FTE staff are in place now – a 30% cut in staffing levels.

Now, careworkers are trying to make Your Choice Barnet management to overturn a 9.5% wage cut which was imposed on them (on the careworkers, that is) in April this year. Careworkers report wage cuts between £100 and £250 a month. That’s why they took two days’ strike action this and why next week, they’re taking more. They want the service to be taken back inhouse by the council. Meanwhile, Andrew Travers, Barnet council’s amazingly crass chief executive, has been turning out on twitter to brag about the opportunities the Barnet Group offer for growth – even as careworkers at the company prepared to strike. Brilliant. I guess was can expect that Travers will restore the careworkers’ lost wages and jobs if that growth transpires. Very big If there, of course.

Anyway. Here are two transcripts from interviews I did with Your Choice Barnet careworkers this week as they took their first two days of strike action in this round. They describe their worries about low staff-to-client ratios, the problems presented at places that are increasingly staffed with low-paid, inexperienced agency workers and how it feels to lose a couple of hundred quid a month when you’ve got a mortgage or rent to pay, and you’ve given more than ten years to a job and have acquired a great deal of experience. This is the world of care and support work. You’re on low pay and you know that it will just keep getting lower unless you fight hard.

And just btw – if Your Choice Barnet doesn’t like any of this – tough shit. That company can let me come in for a couple of weeks to see how things are working out in these services. Transparency around the issues raised by these struggling careworkers would be useful. The last time I saw members of that company’s board, they were running out of a meeting to avoid Your Choice Barnet service users and their families who were furious about YCB’s proposed staff and wage cuts. You can see that action here.

Celia* (name changed). Has been working as a Barnet careworker for 13 years. Now a support worker for adults with autism.

“Our service is for adults with autism. We have people who have one-to-one support and two-to-one support as well. We have a daycentre with inhouse activities and computer sessions, sensory activities, lots of activities in the community. I work 36 hours a week.

“The [9.5%] pay cut started off this year with a consultation period. But when we were moved from Barnet council to the Your Choice Barnet [company in 2012], we were told that [our wages and conditions] were going to be safe. A couple of years ago, we were told that we were going to be safe. Then a year later, they came back and said that they were running the business at a loss. They said they need to make cuts to make savings – 400k. That’s a lot of wages. Continue reading

Prat CE boasts about “opportunities” for private care company – as that company’s careworkers prepare to strike against wage cuts

Update 9 September:

The Barnet careworkers continue their strike in protest at pay cuts today. There will be a rally outside Barnet House at 1pm: 1255 High Road, London N20 0EJ.

Update 7 September:

The Barnet careworkers who work for the private care company about which useless Barnet Council CE Andrew Travers boasts in the report below are on strike tomorrow. The careworkers’ jobs – all provide support services for disabled people – were outsourced to a now-famously-failed, profit-focused organisation called Your Choice Barnet in 2012. Over the next few weeks, the careworkers will take action in protest at a near-ten-percent pay cut, redundancies, Your Choice Barnet’s failed business model and management’s insistence that Your Choice Barnet will only become competitive if careworkers work for almost nothing in dangerously understaffed circumstances.

Details for the next two days’ pickets and strike action are:

Monday 8 September 2014 strike action, picket lines at Flower lane, Rosa Morrison, Community Space, start 7.30am onwards.

Tuesday 9 September 2014 strike action, picket lines at Flower lane, Rosa Morrison, Community Space, start 7.30 am onwards.

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Original post 3 September 2014:

Early days I know, but I’m calling it: Barnet Council chief executive Andrew Travers has sent September 2014’s twattiest and most disingenuous CE tweet.

Yesterday, Travers tweeted a picture of a group of people watching a Barnet worthy give a presentation.

Travers’ tweet: “Staff briefing to the Barnet Group sets out opportunities for growth.”

That tweet implied very strongly that there were and are opportunities for growth at the Barnet Group. Unfortunately, Travers’ tweet neglected to mention a key part of the picture: that growth at this Group comes at the expense of careworkers and disabled people, and that the Group’s attacks on already low-paid careworkers’ wages and conditions have been so severe that careworkers will start strike action on Monday September 8. Travers’ timeline has been very quiet on that bit. I’ve been watching his feed for redress on this point, but so far – none.

The Barnet Group is parent company to Your Choice Barnet, a part of the profit-driven Group local authority trading company to which Barnet Council services for people with physical and learning difficulties were outsourced in 2012.

That outsourcing was presented to the public on a very big pile of marketing horseshit: the council claimed that the trading company would return mighty profits and that disabled people from all over would abandon their own local services and pay good money to travel absolute miles in the rain, etc, to participate in Barnet’s.

It was clear to anyone who thought about it for even two minutes that this “concept” was a complete non-starter. I’ve read a lot of council bollocks in my time, but the so-called business plan for Your Choice Barnet really took the biscuit. John Sullivan, the father of a Barnet woman who uses those services, described the whole notion to me as “mental masturbation.” It’s still hard to think of a better description.

The council business case was full of utterly unsubstantiated claims about profit opportunities and possible markets. In a report for Barnet Unison at the time, the academic and outsourcing expert Dexter Whitfield observed that there was “no assurance provided on the quality or reliability of data and assumptions used,” in the council’s business plan. He also noted that “ethical and moral issues concerning why adult services should be expected to have such high level of profitability are absent from the business case and the report to cabinet.” He wondered, in other words, why a company should be looking to make big money out of disabled people and why the council didn’t want to discuss that. It really is priceless stuff, this council business planning for the care sector. Basically, it involves sitting round in a boardroom and pulling random numbers out of your arse. Then you tell experienced careworkers that £7 an hour or whatever is reasonable money – for them, that is – and that they can live without weekend enhancement pay and decent sick leave. You do that sort of thing for a bit and then tweet about upcoming management triumphs. Brilliant.

Needless to say, the promised Your Choice profits never came to pass. Disabled people did not descend on Barnet in their masses to pay for and participate in Barnet services for disabled people. A year ago, the company resurfaced to bleat about debt and claim that the only way to claw money back was to cut careworkers’ wages and staff numbers. That has hit the services, all right. Barnet Unison says that about 145 full time equivalent staff were transferred from adult services to the trading company in 2012. After the “restructure” last year and cuts to shift allowance pay, only about 105 FTE staff are in place now – a 30% cut in staffing levels.

On Monday and Tuesday next week, those careworkers begin strike action against a 9.5% pay cut. They plan to meet up on Tuesday with the striking Doncaster careworkers too. This is an interesting and important point. The Doncaster careworkers, who were recently transferred from the NHS to the private company CareUK, have been striking for weeks in protest at CareUK’s cuts to their pay and conditions. They can’t live on that money and have already had to give up their homes. That fight has started to generate a lot of mainstream publicity. People are beginning to understand that careworkers are at the front of a battle for wages that people can actually live on. They are beginning to understand that these private companies make money by paying their workers almost nothing. If careworkers from different parts of the country are meeting up to join forces – well, that will give Andrew Travers something to tweet about all right. And if he can’t manage it, I certainly will. Monday and Tuesday next week, comrades. See you there.

The reasons for low pay? Greed and uselessness at the top

Right. Low pay.

This crap got my attention today: the DWP’s ridiculous notion that the UK’s lowest-paid employees should be classed as “not working enough,” and “be pushed to earn more – or have their benefits cut,” and that people whose earnings are really low “could be mandated to attend jobcentre meetings where their working habits will be examined (my emphasis) as part of the universal credit programme.”

I note, though, that the DWP has omitted to mention plans to examine the working habits and dubious achievements of the people who are responsible for inflicting low pay on others – the wage-crushing habits of employers, if you like. But fear not – I am here to plug that hole. Because it’s Saturday and because these stories can’t be told often enough, I’m going to tell you a story or two about some of the the reasons why people end up on appallingly low pay.

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Case study: the story of low-paid careworkers who work in the North London carehomes for elderly people that are run by the Fremantle Trust.

From about 2007 for several years, I spent many Wednesday nights in the Barnet Unison office with a group of low-paid Fremantle Trust careworkers who were organising against the vicious cuts that the voracious private company they’d been outsourced to planned to make to their pay and terms and conditions.

The careworkers met every Wednesday to talk and to organise the next strike action and ballot (they took strike action regularly over the course of about two years). Most of the careworkers were women and most were from black and ethnic minority groups (time and time again, the wage cuts I see are, charmingly, both sexist and racist). Many had worked for Barnet council and then the Fremantle Trust for more than ten years.

Unfortunately, though, that commitment and service didn’t count for a stuff. Nobody at the management end gave a shit about staff commitment, or for the notion that elderly people might just be best served by a reasonably-paid and treated workforce.

Just a few days before Christmas of 2006, horrified careworkers were presented with a reorganisation document and a harsh new employment contract which proposed to reduce their pay and working conditions to rubble. As is always the case with these sorts of attacks on careworkers, the proposed cuts were purportedly “needed” to bring the salaries of people on council wages and conditions “into line” with those of people whose rates were set by the market – ie set in already-privatised workplaces where people were less likely to be unionised and companies more inclined to pay workers as little as possible and return as much of the lolly as they could to themselves.

There was also all the usual guff about a competitive industry and times being tough and tightening belts and getting/keeping the business on track, etc. It’s the good old: “the only way to stay competitive in this line of business is to slaughter the salaries of the people who actually do the work.” This is, inevitably, shorthand for “Fuck you lot working down there on the floor.” Or – “we can’t make money unless the people who work for us get none.” I’m not entirely sure what this business model is called. What I am sure of is that it’s been around from the beginning of time and that I’m sick of seeing it.

Those Fremantle documents were comprised entirely of devastating proposals for careworkers – including a cut to the rate for new starters and (this was crucial) the abolishing of the weekend enhancement payments that many existing careworkers relied on for a wage that they could pay rent and mortgages with. For years, workers had been receiving enhanced payments on Saturdays and Sundays – very important extra money for people who were on a base rate of about £8 an hour. Barnet Unison estimated at the time that the abolition of that enhancement rate would see some careworkers losing 30% of their pay. The weekend enhancement money was particularly important to workers who had children (and plenty of workers did) – by working Saturday and/or Sunday and earning over and above their low standard rate, they could earn reasonable money on days when their partners were at home to look after the kids.

But tough shit for them on that: the weekend enhancement money was to be cut. So was the careworkers’ annual leave allowance (by 11 days) and their sick leave. The Trust introduced a statutory sick leave scheme to cut sick pay and days – a rotten scheme at best and a dangerous one in carehomes for elderly people where flu and colds were likely to spread like the plague if sick workers decided to come into work after all and brought flu and colds in with them (the pursuing of cuts to sick leave and pay for low paid workers is, incidentally, one of the many managerial working habits that I’d like to see the DWP examine).

Needless to say, the employer’s response to complaints about this splendid new world was Kiss It. Anyone who didn’t like the new arrangements was told to piss off. I mean that literally, too – careworkers and unions were informed that anyone who refused to sign the new contract would be sacked. And indeed, one union steward was sacked, on some trumped-up misconduct charge, if memory serves. TUPE was useless, as it often is  – particularly, in this case, because some years had passed since staff were transferred to the private sector.

By far the best part of all of this, though – and this is the sort of thing that the DWP should poke through if it ever decides to examine shit board and management working habits, as opposed to the work habits of people who must live with the fallout from management’s shit ones – was Barnet council’s later admission that that the cuts to the careworkers’ salaries and conditions had very likely been for nothing. Which is another way of saying that the cuts hadn’t delivered quite the money that the care companies involved in this shambles wanted and that they refused to leave things there. In a 6 December 2007 cabinet resources committee report, the council admitted that the “high profile” change (the Fremantle careworkers’ industrial dispute over the new contract) had not helped the Fremantle Trust’s sister company Catalyst Housing blunt its own supposed financial losses and that those losses presented “an ongoing and increasing budget risk to the council.” Which was another way of saying “Catalyst wants even more money from us.” Which it did. Catalyst lodged a claim for further funds from the council – and was ultimately awarded £8m in arbitration. Trebles all round, as they say.

Except, of course, for the careworkers.

‘I said [to management] – how do you expect us to be able to cope [with these cuts]? What [management] said is that you have to do extra hours to make up your pay. But what about the quality of our daily life?” one careworker, Lango Gamanga, told me at the time.

Another careworker – a woman called Sandra Jones – said: ”I came here all those years ago and I worked hard and then I got more leave and more wages. I’m 48 now. I don’t want to go back to how I was when I was 30… we’re not asking for a pay rise or anything like that. We’re just asking for what we had.” As for me – I’m asking the DWP to examine the work habits of every councillor and overpaid twat, lawyer and consultant who was involved in that disaster. And every outsourcing disaster. From beginning to end.

And that’s my two cents there.

Although I also have this to say:

The only field of endeavour that is remotely conducive to decent wages is, of course, strong (militant, I mean) grassroots trade union organisation. That’s all that ever really stands between most people and wage oblivion. People who are facing wage oblivion right now are perfectly aware of that, of course. That’s why so many people who are in that category are involved in strike action as we speak (have a look at this list to see the extent of that) . It’s also another reason why the DWP can go fuck itself. People whose earnings are low and/or about to be made lower are never usually thrilled about it, in my experience. They don’t need punishment, or their housing benefits removed, or their work habits examined. They need better wages and they need unions that are committed to fighting for those wages ahead of all else.

Last week, for instance, workers at the One Housing group (a company which provides supported housing and is making surpluses) began another five days of strike action in protest at their employer’s plans to cut pay by £8k a year in some cases. We wrote about that dispute here a few weeks ago when the same group of workers were striking:

“A week before Christmas, 245 letters were sent out. They instructed everyone to sign up to the pay cuts before 21 December. There was a very low union membership at the time, but 70 per cent of the staff didn’t sign – and soon became unionised.

“This triggered endless one-to-one consultations,” said a staff member called Peter. “You would see members of staff in tears, talking about how they’d lose their house – we’d already had our pay frozen for four years previously. It was just an admin exercise, but we got the cuts delayed for 22 months. Now they’ll come in February 2014.””

The really brilliant part of this was that the One Housing Group CEO Mick Sweeney had accepted a pay increase of just over £30,000 – at around about the time when his staff were faced with pay cuts of £8000. There’s a man whose working habits could stand some examination.

Meanwhile, just up the road, workers at Equinox Care, a charity which provides support services for people with drug and alcohol problems and mental health conditions have been fighting a similar attack on their wages. Earlier this year, Equinox workers and unions were given proposals for annual pay cuts of £2,000 – with some people being told to accept reductions of £8,000. Jobs were also be downgraded and downskilled.

Unfortunately, their CE, Bill Puddicombe, just about blew a valve when I rang him to ask why he was wrecking people’s lives in this way. He was furious. As far as he was concerned, I just didn’t get the world in which small charities were forced to operate. That world was cutthroat and that world was competitive and the only chance a place like Equinox had if it was to compete for contracts was to smash wages. The thing is – I do get that world. I get it all too well. I have to operate in a similar world myself. I just refuse to accept it. So, I asked this pissed-off Bill why he didn’t channel his fury/energies into something more constructive – finding new business, for example, or campaigning at council and government level for better contracts. Someone will have to sooner or later: there’ll be nothing left if they don’t. Puddicombe’s staff even told me that they had ideas for areas in which new business could be pursued and had tried to share them to no avail. Wouldn’t pursuing those avenues be a better work habit? Shouldn’t senior management have those skills? Couldn’t CEs pursue national agreements to exclude wages and terms and conditions from tenders for new business? It is genuinely impossible to entertain those ideas? Apparently so. Puddicombe said he couldn’t pursue new business without smashing wages (which was, many suspected, the reason that he’d been put in post in the first place). Only conclusion to draw – that there are a lot of bad working habits at the decision-making level. Ingrained bad work habits. “This is the only show in town” work habits. “Only a wild hippy like you would seriously suggest the race to the bottom for wages isn’t inevitable” work habits. Work habits that the political class refuses to break.

Appeal hearing Nash vs the One Barnet privatisation programme

From the Barnet Alliance For Public Services:

Join us for the appeal hearing to keep fighting Barnet Council’s mass-outsourcing programme: Monday and Tuesday 15 and 16 July, 9:30 for 10am start, at the High Court, The Strand.

Please support Maria Nash, who is fighting a legal battle for us all, to stop the undemocratic privatisation of Barnet by Crapita. Your council could be next! And probably will be at this rate.

For more information and to offer your support, see: http://barnetalliance.org/

The Appeal on Monday is listed before The Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Davis and Lady Justice Gloster at 10:30am in court 71.

Background

On 7 May, lawyers acting on behalf of Maria Nash lodged an appeal against the refusal to allow a judicial review of the One Barnet programme. The One Barnet programme is a widely-discredited Barnet council plan to privatise council services. Major contracts have already been handed to Capita. The refusal to allow the judicial review was made on the technical grounds that the request for a judicial review was brought out of time.

The court has issued the appeal and it has been served to Barnet Council’s lawyers, to Capita and to the other parties.

The legal team is confident that the grounds for the appeal are promising. The appeal is based on the substantial endorsement of Judge Underhill of Maria Nash’s argument that Barnet Council had failed to consult residents about a fundamental change to the way Council services are delivered and governed, under the One Barnet outsourcing programme. Maria Nash was granted legal aid for the appeal and she is now waiting for a hearing date from the Court of Appeal.

The legal team will challenge the judge’s ruling on delay, arguing that he has not followed a House of Lords ruling on what is meant by a “final decision”.

Twitter: #BarnetJR

Barnet campaign & lobby to save disability support services

via Barnet Alliance for Public Services

The Campaign Against the Destruction of Disabled Support Services was set up by Barnet residents to protest against deteriorating social care provision in the London Borough of Barnet.

At the moment, the group is focusing on the plight of severely disabled adults facing drastic changes to their social care, which Barnet Council is responsible for providing. Neither they nor their families have been consulted about these changes which will have a great impact on their lives.

Lobby Your Choice Barnet Board, Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Barnet residents and members of CADDSS will be lobbying the Your Choice Barnet Board meeting on Wednesday, 29 May at 6 pm, in Committee Room 2, 1st Floor, Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ. We will ask why service users and their families have not been consulted about the changes the Board is proposing.

Background information
Your choice Barnet was set up by Barnet Council as part of the One Barnet Programme of outsourcing to provide services for adults with disabilities. It is failing financially and its proposed solution is to restructure services and reduce the number and skill level of staff.

These changes mean people who need care will have the number of days they can attend day centres reduced. Care will be provided by under skilled workers. There will be inadequate incontinence care at night in residential care units. There will be fewer opportunities for activities in a safe environment.

People needing care will be put at risk of social isolation and damage to their health and well-being. Their carers will suffer from increased stress.

JOIN US on the lobby of Your Choice Barnet board, Wednesday, 29 May 2013, 5:30 pm outside Barnet House 1255 High Road N20, 6 pm in Committee Room 2, 1st Floor, Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ.

Petition to bring services back in house
CADDSS is urging people to sign the petition demanding that Your Choice Barnet services are brought back in house.

Capita wins at Barnet council: the private sector wags the dog

Many people will know that for several years, Barnet council has been pursuing a deeply unpopular plan – called One Barnet – to outsource swathes of council services. Despite monumental opposition from residents, five legendary local bloggers, an extremely motivated and informed union branch secretary and council staff and union members, the council has decided to go ahead with its mass-privatising of council services. There are two contracts up for grabs in the first instance: one worth £275m to take over development and regulatory services and one worth a whopping £750m for a support and customer services “organisation”.

Today, Barnet council told staff that Capita had been confirmed as the preferred bidder for the £750m project. Staff heard more about the impact that this will have on their jobs and the services they provide this afternoon.

Barnet Unison explains in this press release:

“Today approximately 520 Barnet Council staff have been told in a series of briefings that Capita is to be their new employer.

From figures released in the presentations today, approximately 57% of staff will face redundancy as local jobs are exported to Belfast, Blackburn, Bromley, Carlisle, Darwen, Sheffield, Banstead, Swindon, Southampton.

For the last four years, UNISON has warned of the danger of jobs being exported out of Barnet. Leading councillors and senior officers have either played down this risk, or discounted it as irrelevant.

John Burgess, branch secretary said: “It is a dark day in the history of Barnet council. Staff and residents will remember this date as the day the council carried on marching over the cliff ignoring the stark warnings of residents and other key stakeholders. The implications for our members are awful.

I thought the morale of the workforce had already hit rock bottom. I believe this news will drag it down deeper and it will have an impact on other council staff. I also fear for the impact on future quality of services to Barnet residents. I really hope councillors will think again about the implications of what they are proposing and the risks of ignoring a growing dissenting community voice emerging from a resilient committed community campaign. But, it isn’t over yet, there is an alternative way to delivering public services and our campaign is still very alive and focused. Watch this space.”

***** Ends *****

Background

Barnet Council is implementing a policy known as the One Barnet Programme, sometimes referred to as the ‘Commissioning Council’. This mass privatisation policy is designed for the Council to divest itself of responsibility to deliver services to its residents.

Continue reading

Barnet council’s mass outsourcing plan and the perils of privatisation

Big, bad privatisation plans and failed private-public projects have caused near-meltdowns at Cornwall  and Somerset councils in recent times – but that hasn’t stopped Tory Barnet council from storming towards oblivion with a plan called One Barnet – a deeply unpopular proposal to outsource swathes of council services which has brought the council to its knees before it has even begun. With just a few weeks left before the first major One Barnet contract is decided, this post looks at the controversy and a bit of Barnet council’s outsourcing history.

Photo: a protestor at a march and rally for Fremantle careworkers, 2007 (By @skinnyvoice)

I first became aware of the problems faced by people who were on the rough end of Barnet council’s privatisation deals in 2007.

That was when I started to spend Wednesday evenings at union shop meetings held by Barnet careworkers whose lives had been wrecked by outsourcing.

The careworkers were a group of low-paid staff (mostly women) who were in the middle of a bitter industrial dispute with the Fremantle Trust (a partner of Catalyst Housing) – the so-called not-for-profit organisation to which Barnet council had outsourced care for elderly people.

Earlier that year, the Trust had slaughtered the careworkers’ salaries and terms of employment. Their wages and working conditions had (supposedly) been protected when the council privatised care and TUPE-transferred staff to their new, outsourced employer – “they said it was all going to be super duper and we were going to be fine,” careworker Carmel Reynolds told me in 2007 – but in December 2006, the Trust made its move.

Staff were presented with a harsh new employment contract and told that anyone who refused to sign it by April 2007 would be sacked. With the new contract, the Trust cut careworkers’ annual leave allowances and reduced their sick leave to a statutory minimum. Worst of all was the abolishing of the weekend enhancement payments that many careworkers relied on to make up a reasonable wage. Barnet Unison estimated that after those cuts, some careworkers lost 30% of their pay.

When they complained, staff were told by management that they could make up their lost pay by working extra shifts. ‘I said [to management] – how do you expect us to be able to cope [with these cuts]? What [management] said is that you have to do extra hours to make up your pay. But what about the quality of our daily life?” said careworker Lango Gamanga in 2007.

The truly appalling part of all this, though – the part should not be forgotten in light of Barnet’s current outsourcing quest – was the discovery, late in 2007, that the cuts to the careworkers’ salaries and conditions had very likely been for nothing.

In a 6 December 2007 cabinet resources committee report, the council admitted that the “high profile” change (by which, presumably, it meant the much-publicised industrial dispute over the new contract) had not helped Catalyst blunt financial losses and that those losses presented “an ongoing and increasing budget risk to the council.” Catalyst lodged a claim for further funds from the council – and was ultimately awarded £8m in arbitration. So. The moral of this tale is that outsourcing often goes arse-over for everyone involved, except those selling it. Don’t take my word for it – here’s a list of outsourcing catastrophes for you to weep over. The point in this post is that the Fremantle-Catalyst endeavour was a Barnet council debacle to beat the band.

One Barnet

Unfortunately, that experience has not deterred the council from pursuing new and even bigger potential outsourcing disasters.

As we speak, the council nears a decision on the now-infamous (even before it is launched – not a good sign) One Barnet project – an amazingly unpopular plan to pay private companies the best part of £1bn to provide a mass of council services. There’s £275m up for grabs for development and regulatory services and a whopping £750m for a new, if ill-defined, support and customer services “organisation” from which services like council estates, finance, human resources, IT and revenues and benefits will, allegedly,  spring. In the face of monumental opposition from residents, five legendary local bloggers, an extremely motivated and informed union branch secretary and council staff and union members, the council will, on December 6, decide which (very lucky) private company will win the £750m contract. The second contract will be awarded in January.

The scale of the proposed private sector entanglement terrifies people – recent scandals like the G4S Olympic security failure demonstrated a) how spectacularly private companies can fail to meet obligations and b) that in the end, you need the public sector to come in and clean up the crap.

And One Barnet could be a very big turd indeed. Estimates are that 70% of the council’s services could be tied up in ten-year contracts with the private sector if One Barnet gets the green light. Unison expects hundreds of job losses as a result of outsourcing and “efficiency savings” – the sort of numbers that can only have a negative impact on services.

Pointed questions have also been asked about Barnet’s ability to keep a grip on all or even some of its relationships and contracts with private companies. I’ve already talked about the Fremantle-Catalyst wreck. Last year, there was another scandal, when Barnet bloggers revealed that the council had spent more more than £1m to hire a private security firm company called MetPro. The council engaged the firm without putting the contract out to tender, or running basic security and financial checks. I had the pleasure of that firm myself at a very feisty (ie full of pissed-off locals being denied the right to attend the meeting by overzealous private security guards) 2011 Barnet council budget cuts meeting. Security guards confiscated our laptops and cameras, bullied people who wanted to sit in on the public council meeting and overrode police decisions to let members of the public into chambers.

So.

There are just a few weeks left before Barnet council decides on that first major One Barnet contract. The council could hardly be in worse shape for it. Chief Executive Nick Walkley resigned at the beginning of October. Jury’s out on that one – depending who you talk to, that was either a great career move, or a running jump off the sinking ship (the two probably go hand in hand). A week or so ago, council leader Richard Cornelius faced a no-confidence vote.  Then controversial (many other words work as well) councillor Brian Coleman publicly slammed One Barnet as an “officer-driven juggernaut” and a turkey which needed to see Christmas. Only this week, a disabled woman has started legal proceedings against the council, saying that One Barnet does not give due regard to the needs of disabled people. Now, the fabulous Mr Mustard has published the impressive (as in size) One Barnet risk register.

And if you think Cornelius has lost control now – just wait until he signs off on this thing. There won’t be many people looking to make it work.

Why not to privatise…

Residents in Barnet have made this brilliant short animation to explain the risks associated with Barnet council’s plans to go ahead with its massive, and massively unpopular, one-billion pound outsourcing deal.

As many people will know, Barnet residents, bloggers and unions have been fighting the council’s plans to mass privatise council services (a plan called One Barnet). Already, they’ve won a fight to keep the council’s waste and recycling services in house.

Meeting tonight – a “Question Time” in Barnet on the One Barnet outsourcing programme
Tonight (Thursday 8 November at 7pm at the Greek Cypriot Centre, Britannia Road, London N12 9RU) Barnet residents will hold a ‘Question Time’ debate about the proposed One Barnet programme. On the panel will be Barnet resident and chair, Barbara Jacobson, Barnet Conservative Council Leader, Richard Cornelius, Labour Leader, Alison Moore, Lib Dem Leader Jack Cohen and Andy Mudd from the Association for Public Service Excellence.

Many people will know that it’s all hit the fan in a very big way over that mass-outsourcing deal. Council CE Nick Walkley recently resigned – only a couple of months before the mass-privatisation decision was due to be made. Everyone else is fighting – so this evening’s meeting could be a belter.

Top job done there by residents, bloggers and union members who have simply refused to accept that the private sector is entitled to their money and services. Hope they win.

The Billion Pound Gamble – film on Barnet cuts & privatisation

From the makers of The Billion Pound Gamble:

On Monday 22nd October at 6pm, the world premiere of a new film, Barnet – The Billion Pound Gamble – will be shown at the iconic Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley (52 High Road London N2 9PJ).

The film has been made by acclaimed US film director Charles Honderick and exposes the chaos being wrought by the policies of Barnet Council as the council cuts services and pursues a highly-controversial billion-pound outsourcing deal.

Local residents are interviewed and explain just how difficult life has become. A family with a child suffering severe disability tells how no appropriate accommodation has been provided for 11 years.

Users of day centres explain how cuts to transport have affected them and how they get charged £1.20 for a cup of nescafe. Local traders tell the tale of how the parking policies have forced them to the brink.

Award winning film director Ken Loach explains how outsourcing destroys local economies. A host of experts explain how the One Barnet programme is doomed to failure, it is a Billion Pound Gamble, where private companies will pick up fat cheques, local residents will get shoddy services and local taxpayers will be left to pick up the bill.

The film also features shocking scenes filmed inside the Town Hall as uncaring local councillors dismiss the concerns of residents and laugh as important decisions, which will cause misery for thousands, are passed without proper debate.

The official trailer for the film has been released today and can be viewed on the film website – http://www.billionpoundgamble.co.uk

Notes for Editors.

1. The world premiere for the film will be shown at The Phoenix Cinema on Monday 22nd October. Doors open at 6pm and the film will be shown at 6.30pm. Entrance costs £1.

2. The film has been directed by USA film director Charles Honderick. The film is a follow up to the acclaimed film “A Tale of Two Barnets” which has been screened at The House of Commons, The Edinburgh Festival, The Unison National Conference and the TUC centre at Great Russell St. There have also been over 20 local screenings.

3. The film features a new exclusive interview with award winning film director Ken Loach, talking about life, football and outsourcing.

4. The film website is http://www.billionpoundgamble.co.uk/ . This is being constantly updated with information, details and clips as we move towards the full screening.

5. The website for “A Tale of Two Barnets” is http://ataleoftwobarnets.yolasite.com/. This has full details of all press coverage and clips from the film including full interviews with Ken Loach, Richard Cornelius (Leader of Barnet Council) and Nick Walkley (CEO of Barnet Council).