Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tackling Inequality on a Shrinking Budget

Local government budgets have been slashed but demands for their services are growing. Across the UK they are responding to in a range of ways: cutting jobs, privatisation, shutting down services and salami slicing. Camden Council is attempting to develop an approach which places tackling inequality at the centre of its decision making. The council set up an equality task force which included amongst others councillors (Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservative), academics and child poverty campaigners. Sadly they council did not invite anyone from the recognised trade unions to take part. Having people who actually deliver services would have provided valuable insight for their report. The remit was to explore the reasons for inequality in Camden, consider the role of the council and its partners in tackling inequality, recommend solutions and make a “strong contribution” to national debates on the role of local public services and tackling inequality.

The task force reported on:
• What the council will do
• What it wants local partners to contribute
• What council should call on the government to do

Their key recommendations are that the council should focus on:

• Housing, including the concept of a living rent to go along side the living wage
• Increased participation in work, education and training for those aged 14-19: highlighting need for pre-apprenticeship and pre traineeship support
• Increased job opportunities for mothers to work: this means tackling the lack of quality, part-time, flexible jobs and exceptionally high childcare costs: Government restrictions on use of Direct schools puts their grant integrated children’s centres (with employment services, universal 25 hours childcare for three and four year olds), commissioning of borough wide play provision and drop in services at risk.
• Council’s role as an employer and using procurement to improve employment for non council staff
• Looking at the property portfolio to release funds for reinvestment in housing and housing repairs and make up for funding cuts
• plan Economic Growth Fund; the council spends over £900million on goods and should make better use of this spend to reduce inequality
• Explore options for residents to deliver public services

No wrong door borough: they suggest that all points of contact with citizens have staff who are equipped to handle the issues people bring even if out of daily remit.

The report is now working its way through the council’s decision making processes.

Until it is clearer how the strategy will be implemented and how it will impact on services and members it is difficult to comment fully on its merits. It is a shame though that there were no staff representatives on the task force. Unions are well placed to collate views of those who work in the services and understand how they operate on a days to day basis and therefore what improvements are necessary.

UNISON is a supporter of placing reducing inequality at the heart of public service delivery. Using the councils spending power and terms and conditions for staff is a really important way to tackle inequality particularly through ending low pay in the public and private sectors. It will interesting to see how the commitment develops and whether we can learn anything from it for our campaigns for a fairer scotland

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