The tortuous 2009 local government pay round is over. The final agreement was reached after a consultation exercise of stunning non-involvement – once again plummeting participation levels which are too frightening to reflect on.
Those who argued for rejection of the agreement were themselves overwhelmingly rejected in their branches on a turnout that paralleled the recent Executive Council election returns – around 6 to 7 per cent of the membership. The increase? Between 1 and 1.25 per cent. After tax and NI it might pay for a Sunday newspaper but not much else. Despite the media-inspired myth, local government workers still remain on some of the lowest wages in Britain.
Where next is the question as radical change looms in the provision of local government services. These changes range from the Total Place concept (see Workers, September issue, p6) of bundling all provision into one money-saving shared service provider running across all public services, to the more extreme “no frills” US public services model – privatise and outsource all and be damned, with local politicians only having to come together once every blue moon to hand out the contracts to their mates.
A sense of fatalism seems to be settling on local government workers and their unions, Cameron the Axe on one hand and Darling the Cutter on the other? As much as a strategy of influencing and lobbying will be promoted for dealing with politicians, there is also now the need – more than ever – to promote a more radical vision of where Britain’s public services are to go.
Potential failures in energy supply, water supply, health provision, housing, failing transport infrastructure, collapsing education are all the result of the failure to renew a Victorian civic infrastructure combined with a Dickensian attachment to greed.
All these strands contribute to the quality of life and aspiration. Public services have never been successfully provided by private vested interests when profit is first and the civic interests of the people second.
Public services have always grown when the private market-led sector has failed – hence all the nationalisations of the 20th and 21st centuries. So away with fatalism and promote a new unified vision of public service provision and stop leaving the agenda setting to the failed politicians of all parliamentary parties.