Tagged: public services

New report reveals human cost of Government cuts in North East

A report published today reveals the “human cost” of Government cuts in the North East.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the most deprived areas of England have seen the largest cuts in funding since 2010.

‘The Cost Of The Cuts’ report finds that local authorities have been able to protect front line services by finding new, innovative ways of working, but that capacity for further efficiency savings is fast running out.

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, who last week oversaw £40million budget cutbacks and a council tax increase which will see the city’s Band B residents paying £20 more a year, said:

“This research highlights the human cost of the cuts to service users and staff and reinforces the case Newcastle has made for a fairer and more equitable settlement.

“We have long argued that disproportionate Government cuts have had a bigger impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have now added their independent voice to the many who now confirm that, sadly this has indeed been the case.

“Whilst we recognise the need for reductions in public spending, the cuts have been implemented far too quickly and at a pace and scale which has led to service reductions which could otherwise have been avoided. This approach is causing real harm to our communities.

“In Newcastle we have responded by doing all we can to safeguard services to the most vulnerable, and to continue to invest in our city to create the jobs and economic growth which are fundamentally important to tackling the inequalities in health, wealth and quality of life which blight our communities.

“More innovative approaches are possible based on greater devolution of public service budgets to places, and multi-year financial settlements which give local councils and their partners greater certainty about their finances. This would allow us to plan ahead together for a more transformative approach to sustaining public services in the face of continuing austerity.”

Analysis of local government expenditure data reveals that the poorest English authorities have seen reductions of £182 more per head than the most affluent, breaking the historic link between the amount a local authority spends per head and local deprivation levels.

In 2010/11, the most deprived councils had an extra 45% of expenditure per head to cope with additional needs. By 2014/15, this had been reduced to 17%.

Services such as housing and planning have been worst affected across the country, seeing cuts of around 40%.

The report highlights an important difference between the situation in England and in Scotland. It claims the slower pace of cuts in Scotland may have given local authorities more room to invest in preventative measures, which could drive down costs in the medium term by reducing the need for services in future years.

Professor Annette Hastings from the University of Glasgow said:

“Local councils find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. At a time when the agenda is about how to make public services work better, particularly for those that need them the most, councils are being subjected to year on year funding cuts.

“Their capacity to deliver positive change is being reduced just when it is needed the most.”

Josh Stott, policy and research manager at the Foundation said:

“The cuts have forced the pace of local service reform and there have been some positives, in terms of service redesign and new ways of working.

“However, we are now beginning to see the impacts of the cuts filter through on to the quality of local services. There is a general consensus that we are only half way through the cuts and, if we continue on this course, it seems inevitable that the poorest people and places will be even harder hit.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Mar 2015

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Dave Prentis: Unison reps have more standing than Conservative MPs

A union chief claims his reps have more standing than the MPs calling for reform.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the country’s biggest trade union, Unison, slammed Tory plans to make striking harder . . . and said millions of paid up members give union chiefs more clout that politicians.

He was speaking as of the Northern TUC held a Public Services Alliance Emergency Summit in Newcastle over what unions brand a “constant assault on the public sector”.

David Cameron’s party wants to raise the strike ballot threshold to a 40% turnout, end a ban on using agency workers to cover strikers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and curb picketing.

Today, a strike is valid if it achieves a simple majority.

Defenders of the proposals – which form part of the Tories’ election manifesto – say strikes with low turnout among supporters are not legitimate.

But Dave Prentis said his union has the backing of its 1.3 million members, adding: “As public sector workers, we need to be able to take many forms of action or employers will be able to do whatever they want to us.

“If we do get another five years of this coalition, public services will shrink back to 1930s levels and the trade unions will be hit more than anybody else.

“We represent 1.3 million public sector workers and I really do think that trade unions and their representatives have got more standing than the politicians putting forward these proposals.”

The union chief is lashing out after a long period of discontent which has seen dozens of strikes across the public sector over job losses and pay cuts.

He added the reforms put unions in an impossible position.

He said: : “Turnout is about 25% to 30% throughout the country but we do want to encourage people to vote.

“We spend millions of pounds sending out voting papers to home addresses when life is different now. You can vote electronically and in many different organisations you use email or mobile phone but we can’t do that.

“We are willing to fund a ballot box near workplaces to do a vote just like in a general election, but because of legislation we can’t do these things.

“The only means our members can vote is a postal ballot. This puts us in an impossible position.”

The Emergency Public Services Summit is being held at the Thistle County Hotel in Newcastle city centre on Saturday.

It is chaired by Clare Williams, chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance, and other speakers include Tyneside Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Chi Onwurah.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Jan 2015

Tory proposal for union ballot reform could be a vote loser in the North East

With a general election looming ever larger on the political horizon, the main parties are now unveiling the policies they think will secure them victory.

The economy, immigration and benefits are among the battlegrounds which they will be fighting over in the next four months.

Another is the heavily unionised public sector which has undergone swingeing cuts since the Coalition Government came to office in May 2010 and historically has been the favoured whipping boy of the Tory party.

And so when David Cameron’s party revealed plans to make it harder to call strikes in certain “core” public services if it wins the general election, it came as no surprise.

A policy along those lines, after all, was floated last year by Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster general Francis Maude.

There was also no surprise in its backing by the employers organisations the CBI and the British Chamber of Commerce, or in its universal condemnation by members of the TUC.

Yet, while certain sections of the media need no invitation to attack the public sector, and its day of action last year caused discomfort and annoyance amongst the public – not least the sight of rubbish piling high in places like Newcastle – it is still a risky strategy.

For a start, it opens the Government up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.

After all, the present Coalition Government is made up of the Lib Dems and Tories who between them received 38% of the total number of the UK’s eligible voters – 18m out of 45.5m – and below the 40% threshold it wants to demand of the public sector it is targeting. The Tory share of this was 23%.

In her heyday , Margaret Thatcher won around 30% of the total available vote and, during the present parliament, the Tories voted down a Lib Dem motion to introduced an alternative voting scheme which arguably would have made parliament more representative of the people’s views.

Meanwhile, GMB general secretary Paul Kenny also got his calculator out to further hammer home the point. He said:

“Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010.

“Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support. They had no hesitation in forming a government in 2010 without securing 40% support from the electorate.”

Another point is that, particularly in the North East, the public sector which employs many in the region, is not as hated as the Tories might think. So such a policy strategy could be a vote loser here.

Gill Hale, regional secretary of Unison in the North East, said:

“They are the anti-public sector party – you only have to see what they are doing to the NHS and what they have already done to local government.

“Industrial action is taken as a last resort, and when we’ve had to take it we’ve had very good public support. I don’t think it will be a vote winner.”

 

Meanwhile comments by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, in which he denounced the plans as “brutal” and “ill-conceived”, echo those of Ms Hale.

He said the Conservative proposals were “entirely ideologically-led and a brutal attempt to strangle the basic rights of working people in this country”.

Mr Cable added that a 40% threshold would be “odd”, when MPs do not have to overcome such a high hurdle to be elected.

Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.

Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC says the Conservatives’ proposals would have “profound implications” for civil liberties.

They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing.

The package of measures will feature in the party’s manifesto for May’s general election.

In explaining the plan, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said a planned London bus strike set to take place on Tuesday had only been voted for by 16% of people entitled to take part in the ballot, and called the walk-out “ridiculous”.

“I think before a strike is allowed to go ahead it must havemuch more support from the union members and cannot be called by politicised union leaders,” he said.

But Ms O’Grady said that participation in strike ballots and other types of vote should be improved by introducing online voting, in “safe and secure balloting”.

At the moment, strikes can only be called based on the results of a postal ballot – which “don’t do the job”, Ms O’Grady added.

She said the government “continues to oppose this proposition”, although Mr McLoughlin replied he would be willing to talk “in more detail” about such proposals.

However, his partner in the Coalition Government, Mr Cable, goes further.

He said: “If there is to be trade union reform, it should be to allow electronic voting in ballots which would improve the turnout and legitimacy of polls.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Conservative Party’s proposed changes would have a “chilling” effect, and added the way to “resolve disputes was through negotiations – not to intimidate and silence by legislation”.

Ministers have repeatedly clashed with trade unions over pay – with a 1% cap on increases in the public sector – as well as changes to pensions and retirement ages.

It was during the day of action last summer when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took part in a day of strike action across the UK, that Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “time to legislate”.

Public Sector Workers Day of Action March and Rally Newcastle
Public Sector Workers Day of Action March and Rally Newcastle

But Ms Hale added:

“We already have some of the most draconian laws in Europe regarding industrial action. There are so many obstacles we have to get over.”

However, Mr McLoughlin said:

“It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too.”

He said the changes, which would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament, would “increase the legitimacy” of strike action held by unions.

It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services.”

CBI deputy director general Katja Hall commented:

“Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.”

However, the TUC has previously said imposing a minimum turnout would leave unions with “about as much power as Oliver Twist”.

Labour criticised those plans as “desperate stuff”.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike and would shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants.

He said: “The UK already has tough laws on strikes – there is no need to make them stricter still.”

But John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “In the eyes of businesses large and small, these proposals have merit, as they would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 12 Jan 2015

It will take a DECADE for wages to recover in real terms

Order Of Truth

wagesrecoveryDespite official figures from the Office for National Statistics indicating that wages are rising faster than inflation, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned that it will take at least until 2024 for wages to recover their value.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “What is clear is that it will take a decade for wages to catch up in real terms to where they were before the crash. There are a lot of people who are now dipping into their savings – or, worse, getting into debt, to try to maintain a standard of living.”

TUC research says the real value of the average full-time employee wage fell by £487 in 2014 and has fallen by £2,509 since 2010 – a decline of about £50 a week.

“And current policies offer little relief. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility forecast, released with the Autumn Statement, shows growth weakening…

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Cameron raping our public services for private gain

Order Of Truth

cpgSince being in power, the Conservative dominated government has been on a mission to covertly and overtly privatise as many of our public services as possible – all in the name of profit.

Last year, Cameron was involved in controversy over the grossly undervalued sale of Royal Mail – a sale which netted bankers Lazard, Goldman Sachs and UBS tens of millions in profit and cost the public around £1 BILLION in lost sale revenue

This week, two articles in the mainstream press expose the extent to which public services are being used by the government to line the pockets of private companies.

The Guardian reported how privatisation within the NHS is rife as a result of the much criticised Social Care Act which can into force in April 2013.

The Act has dramatically extended the enforced tendering of services within the NHS, opening up much of the service to…

View original post 1,654 more words

Newcastle City Council jobs and services ‘at risk’ to be revealed two days before Christmas

Hundreds of city workers face a black Christmas as the scale of £40m council cuts is announced on December 23.

Newcastle City Council’s will release the finer details of their budget reduction plans and the number of potential job losses just two days before Christmas Day.

The December announcement is expected to include firm figures on where the axe will fall on certain council departments and how future Sure Start services will be run.

Paul Gilroy, Newcastle branch secretary for Unison, said the timing before Christmas was unavoidable due to the budget setting time-table but given the looming holiday period more details should be passed onto workers beforehand as a priority.

I’m hoping that before December 23 the majority of that detail is shared. The council report will have details of the savings and number of jobs to be cut.

“You won’t be able to see that it’s your job that could be cut, but you will be able to see that your area might need to save ‘X’ amount of money, and that so many jobs are under review.

“The problem at the moment is the size of the cut and I’m not sure there’s any particular area of the council that won’t see cutbacks.

“It’s not going to be positive time of year for anybody. Christmas is usually the time of year when you overspend. It’s a time of year when you should be letting your hair down and instead it’s the time of year when you might be worrying about potentially not having a job in the future.”

Newcastle City Council needs to cut £40m from its budget for 2015/16 following a reduction in its Central Government revenue support grant and rising cost pressures.

In October they released rough plans on the areas they would like to make savings from, including city parks, road sweeping, the number of public bins and reducing the night-time nuisance noise service.

Unions are prepared for an announcement that up to 400 jobs will be at risk, on top of the 1300 posts due to be scrapped by 2016.

Val Scott, regional organiser for the GMB, whose 3500 city council members include catering staff and care workers, said there was never a good time of year to make an announcement on job losses and the pain of entering into a potential consultation period was felt as acutely in summer as in winter.

She said:

“With public services this is an ongoing thing and there’s never a good time for this announcement to be made.

“Budgets are really stretched by the Government at this moment in time and people are losing their jobs left, right and centre and unfortunately public services are having to deal with a disproportionate cut to the North East.

“The budget cuts are common knowledge but this is getting down to the nitty gritty and identifying job losses, which makes it extremely difficult.”

She said council proposals to transfer the running of some city parks over to civic trusts, to avoid an annual £1.1m maintenance bill, did not ‘sit well’ with the union.

These proposals are up for discussion and we will try everything that we can to object to that as it is not something that we advocate.

“There’s volunteer services which are crucial. In terms of doing a volunteer job where it’s been a previous council job then I’m not satisfied with that position,” she said.

On December 23 draft budget plans will be prepared for the city’s cabinet with the formal consultation period starting after a full city council meeting in January.

The final budget will be set in April.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  06 Nov 2014

New political party aiming for North-East devolution

A new political party has been launched with the aim of bringing devolution to the North-East.

The North East Party is aiming to secure powers similar to those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It intends to contest 12 seats in the region at next year’s general election, funded through membership and donations from people who want political independence from Westminster.

The North East Party (NEP) wants to take control of issues such as job creation, public services, including health and social care, as well as education and public transport. It also says it wants to ensure world class science and research is carried out in the region.

The party’s chairman is Hilton Dawson, former Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre, who lives in Warkworth, Northumberland, and is from the area.

The 60-year-old social worker, who has a wife, two daughters and is a grandfather-of-four, said: “We are the most neglected region in England and until we have real power and real decision making here we won’t be to address the fundamental issues of the North-East.

“This is the poorest region in the country with the highest level of unemployment and the highest level of social deprivation.

 “It is also a region which is rich in community spirit, entrepreneurialism, research and development and opportunity.”

Susan McDonnell, a former Peterlee Town Councillor and Labour Party member, is considering standing against Easington MP Grahame Morris in the general election next May.

The 49-year-old, who lives in Peterlee with her husband, and has one son, narrowly missed out on a seat on Durham County Council last year.

Ms McDonnell, the party’s administrator, who works as an office manager for an email marketing company in Newcastle, said: “The purpose of the party is to bring political representation to the North-East.

“We had a referendum on regional assembly and that failed because it was dressed up as another level of bureaucracy.

“What we would aim to try and do is get true devolution for the North-East so we are not beholden to Westminster. We would decide on the key issues that affect the region with our own Government.

“It won’t be a separate country, but we will have devolved power so decisions that affect the North-East will be made here in the North-East by North-East people.”

The first gathering of the North East Party will be held at the Durham Conference Centre on Monday, June 16 from 6pmto 9pm.

For more information:

contact@TheNorthEastParty.org.uk,

www.TheNorthEastParty.org.uk

  www.facebook.com/TheNorthEastParty

Source – Durham Times,  27 May 2014

Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20%

This article  was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Monday 17th March

The scale of Britain’s growing inequality is revealed today by a report from a leading charity showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.

Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday’s budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top.

Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year’s general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010. But he is likely to announce a fresh crackdown on tax avoidance and measures aimed at overseas owners of high-value London property in order to pay for modest tax cuts for working families.

The early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership.

In a report, a Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital’s soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn).

Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

The UK study follows an Oxfam report earlier this year which found that the wealth of 85 global billionaires is equivalent to that of half the world’s population – or 3.5 billion people. The pope and Barack Obama have made tackling inequality a top priority for 2014, while the International Monetary Fund has warned that the growing divide between the haves and have-nots is leading to slower global growth.

Oxfam said the wealth gap in the UK was becoming more entrenched as a result of the ability of the better off to capture the lion’s share of the proceeds of growth. Since the mid-1990s, the incomes of the top 0.1% have grown by £461 a week or £24,000 a year. By contrast, the bottom 90% have seen a real terms increase of only £2.82 a week or £147 a year.

The charity said the trends in income had been made even more adverse by increases in the cost of living over the past decade. “Since 2003 the majority of the British public (95%) have seen a 12% real terms drop in their disposable income after housing costs, while the richest 5% of the population have seen their disposable income increase.”

Osborne will this week announce details of the government’s new cap on the welfare budget and has indicated that he wants up to £12bn a year cut from the benefits bill in order to limit the impact of future rounds of austerity on Whitehall departments.

Oxfam said that for the first time more working households were in poverty than non-working ones, and predicted that the number of children living below the poverty line could increase by 800,000 by 2020. It said cuts to social security and public services were meshing with falling real incomes and a rising cost of living to create a “deeply damaging situation” in which millions were struggling to get by.

The charity said that starting with this week’s budget, the government should balance its books by raising revenues from those that could afford it – “by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth”.

The IMF recently released research showing that the ever-greater concentration of wealth and income hindered growth and said redistribution would not just reduce inequality but would be economically beneficial.

“On average, across countries and over time, the things that governments have typically done to redistribute do not seem to have led to bad growth outcomes, unless they were extreme”, the IMF said in a research paper. “And the resulting narrowing of inequality helped support faster and more durable growth, apart from ethical, political or broader social considerations.”

Phillips said: “Increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success. It’s far from inevitable – a result of political choices that can be reversed. It’s time for our leaders to stand up and be counted on this issue.”

Landed gentry to self-made millionaires

Duke of Westminster (Wealth: £7.9bn)

Gerald Grosvenor and his family owe the bulk of their wealth to owning 77 hectares (190 acres) of Mayfair and Belgravia, adjacent to Buckingham Palace and prime London real estate.

As the value of land rockets in the capital so too does the personal wealth of Grosvenor, formally the sixth Duke of Westminster and one of seven god parents to the new royal baby, Prince George.

The family also own 39,000 hectares in Scotland and 13,000 hectares in Spain, while their privately owned Grosvenor Estate property group has $20bn (£12bn) worth of assets under managemenSpaint including the Liverpool One shopping mall, according to leading US business magazine Forbes.

Reuben brothers (£6.9bn)

Simon and David Reuben made their early money out of metals. Born in India but brought up in London, they started in local scrap metal but branched out into trading tin and aluminium.

Their biggest break was to move into Russia just after the break-up of the Soviet Union, buying up half the country’s aluminium production facilities and befriending Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch associate of Nat Rothschild and Peter Mandelson.

The Reuben brothers are still involved in mining and metals but control a widely diversified business empire that includes property, 850 British pubs, and luxury yacht-maker Kristal Waters. They are also donors to the Conservative party.

Hinduja brothers (£6bn)

Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja co-chair the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with a presence in 37 countries and businesses ranging from trucks and lubricants to banking and healthcare.

They began their careers working in their father’s textile and trading businesses in Mumbai and Tehran, Iran but soon branched out by buying truck maker, Ashok Leyland from British Leyland and Gulf Oil from Chevron in the 1980s, while establishing banks in Switzerland and India in the 1990s.

The family’s London home is a mansion on Carlton House Terrace, overlooking St James Park and just along fromclose to Buckingham Palace, which is potentially worth £300m. They have links with the Labour party.

Cadogan family (£4bn)

The wealth of the Cadogans family is built on 90 acres36 hectares of property and land in Chelsea and Knightsbridge, west London.

Eton-educated Charles is the eighth Earl of Cadogan and ran the family business, Cadogan Estates, until 2012 when he handed it over to his son Edward, Viscount Chelsea.

Charles, who is a first cousin to the Aga Khan, started in the Coldstream Guards before going into the City.

He was briefly chairman of Chelsea Football Club in the early 1980s and his family motto is: “He who envies is the lesser man.”

Mike Ashley (£3.3bn)

Ashley owns Newcastle United football club and became a billionaire through his Sports Direct discount clothing chain which he started after leaving school.

He was the sole owner of the fast growing business, which snapped up brands such as Dunlop, Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale, until it floated on the stock market in 2007. He now owns 62%.

Ashley is a regular visitor to London’s swankiest casinos but is famously publicity-averse

Source – Welfare News Service,  17 March 2014

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DWP On Verge Of Meltdown Over Big Welfare Projects

This article was written by Jane Dudman and Rowena Mason, for The Guardian on Friday 14th March 2014

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is facing “meltdown” over three of its biggest projects, Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public spending watchdog, has said.

Ahead of a damning report on government contracts with private firms, Hodge singled out the DWP as a department particularly struggling with the delivery of welfare changes, which involve managing a relationship with private IT contractors, back-to-work providers and benefit assessors.

The public accounts committee report turns up the pressure on ministers to allow all government contracts to be subject to freedom of information (FOI) laws and examined by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Given that half of all spending on public services now ends up in the hands of private providers, departments must stop hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” when people want to know more about how these contracts work, it said.

The committee said two examples of contracts that the public deserved to know more about were the scandal of G4S and Serco charging for the electronic tagging of offenders who were in prison or dead, and the “complete hash” that G4S made of supplying security guards for the Olympics.

Following a stretch of negative publicity, the major outsourcing companies – G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita – are now willing to be subject to FOI laws when it comes to public sector contracts, but the government is still resisting, it said.

“Time and again when we see failures … it’s a failure of government to manage contracts,” Hodge said, adding that departments “simply have to up their game and get a grip”.

The committee said the DWP is particularly bad when it comes to private firms’ involvement in public services, including Universal Credit, its new IT system that will deliver an overhaul of benefits, the Work Programme, its back-to-work scheme, and the personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.

“All their programmes are on the verge of meltdown,” she said at a briefing to launch the report.

On Monday, a leaked internal review from the DWP said the government’s ambitious welfare strategy is at risk because of the speed and depth of the cuts imposed on the department, while a recent NAO report said the new PIP payment will cost almost three and a half times more to administer than the existing scheme.

Hodge said it was deeply ironic that if the DWP had been more open about the Universal Credit scheme – which she said was a “good policy” – there would have been a far better chance of the programme being implemented. Instead, she said, it was being “appallingly handled”.

> the Universal Credit scheme – which she said was a “good policy” – Is this a hint that a future Labour government intend to keep right on with UC regardless ?

A spokesman for DWP said the department has a “track record of delivery”. “We’ve already successfully launched the benefit cap, Universal Credit and the new personal independence payment. The industry tells us that the work programme has got almost 500,000 of the hardest to help into jobs. We are bringing in our reforms safely and responsibly,” he said.

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, a business lobby group, said the report notes that the the private sector “plays an increasingly important role in running public services”.

“The public has a right to know how its money is being spent and the industry has pledged to meet a higher bar on transparency,” he said. “Businesses running public services agree that open-book contracting should become the norm. The National Audit Office should also be able to audit government contracts as long as this is done in a systematic way with the triggers for inspection, like missed performance targets, agreed from the outset.

“Rather than relying on individual Freedom of Information requests, we think FOI should be built into contracts when they are agreed.”

Source – Welfare News Service, 14 March 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/dwp-verge-meltdown-big-welfare-projects-margaret-hodge/

North East council workers in call for fair pay

Today local government employees in the region will take part in protests, stunts and rallies at lunchtime and outside work hours as part of their campaign for fair pay and fair council funding.

The activities today will highlight the state of Local Government pay and the impact of cuts on local jobs and services.

Clare Williams, UNISON Regional Convenor, said: “Today is an opportunity for local government members across the region to tell their employers that they have had enough of being treated like second-class citizens. In the last four years they have seen a massive fall in real terms in their earnings, and are struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

“Many are having to resort to Food Banks to put food on their tables. They are demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that they perform in delivering quality public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities. The government cuts are having a devastating impact on service provision and on those who are committed to delivering public services. It’s time to stand up for local government and tell the public how government cuts are hitting us all.”

Since 2010, council workers have had a three year pay freeze and then just a 1% increase last year, representing an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s. Council budgets have been cut by 40% by the Coalition government.

UNISON, GMB and Unite – the unions representing 1.6 million Local Government workers – formally submitted their pay claim to employers last November, and expect a formal pay offer later this month.

Ms Williams added: “Politicians need to do more than just talk about supporting the Living Wage, now is the time for Local Government employers to implement it and end low pay for their staff. More than half a million of whom currently earn less than the Living Wage. More than 75% of the workforce are women, whose contribution has been consistently undervalued. UNISON wants this pay increase to be part of a new gender agenda to give women in Local Government the recognition they deserve in their pay packets.”

She said members in local government now need a commitment from the government and the Local Government Employers to make a decent pay offer.

Source – Newcastle Journal  04 Feb 2014