to Save Edinburgh's Services
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In January 2000 UNISON Edinburgh re-launched
its Partnership to Save Edinburgh's Services
document in a call to the Council and to the
Scottish Parliament for a period of financial
stability for local government.
The Branch had seen indicators from 1997/8
that the City of Edinburgh Council was heading
down the road of more outsourcing and privatisation,
with little value being placed on in-house services.
Cost was becoming more important than quality
and the opposition to these fundamental changes
seemed ineffectual and fragmented.
The branch felt there were alternatives and
before the council produced its "Edinburgh
2000" plan, the branch circulated its
"Partnership to Save Edinburgh's
Services". The document
recognises that politicians, the public and
most of all the workers that deliver services
are frustrated by year after year of cuts, but
also by systems that could work better.
New ideas, new partnerships, new involvement
by workers and the public are all needed - but
they need a basic value to underpin them and
that is a belief in accountable and directly
Savage cuts, trusts, voluntary tendering and
outsourcing are costing jobs and services. Quality
is no longer a value and too many people are
extolling these strategies as virtues rather
than forced emergency measures.That is why the
branch saw the need to set out detailed plans
to bring dialogue, involvement and innovation
to the future, winning support at Scottish level
1.1 This proposal for a partnership
to involve the trade unions and front line staff
in a debate on how best to deliver high quality,responsive,
accountable and efficient local services is
based on an assessment that radical change is
needed to meet the challenges local government
has endured and will face.
It does not seek to change the fundamental roles
of policy-makers, management and operations,
nor to replace existing collective bargaining
arrangements.However, it does outline a parallel
process for reducing conflict and working together
to protect and develop jobs and services.
1.2 While concentrating necessarily
on the involvement of those who deliver the
services, it also recognises the need for that
debate to involve the users of services (always
remembering that council staff themselves are
also service users and council tax payers).
That debate needs to beat council level and
also directly with those who provide the services
at the point of delivery.
1.3 It recognises the danger that continued
under-resourcing,insensitive planning, upheaval
and conflict risks decreasing public confidence
in local government and therefore public support
for the services it provides.
1.4 It assumes a context whereby it
is unlikely that local authorities will be able
to look forward to significant increases in
funding, at least in the short term. That requires
everyone involved with local authorities; councillors,
officials, workers, trade unions, the voluntary
sector and the public to:
a) look to short term options that protect in-house
jobs and services until longer term planning
can be developed
b) avoid short term "fixes" which
undermine longer term options and which will
lead to an irreversible destruction of local
c) look radically at the longer term protection,
organisation and delivery of services in the
1.5 It argues that those who deliver
services on a day to day basis have an indispensable
contribution to make in protecting and developing
those services and in making them more efficient
and more responsive to the public. If they are
given the opportunity to make that contribution
on a partnership basis they will invest more
in the services, have more trust in management
and the council, will adapt better to change
and will come up with radical answers to long-standing
1.6 The experience elsewhere is that
people approach such an exercise with flexibility
and commitment, putting the service before self
interest.But because this has to be based on
trust and a belief that their efforts will have
constructive outcomes, workers need to have
up-front guarantees on minimum protection. Fundamental
to this would be a guarantee of no compulsory
1.7 It briefly outlines the problems
Edinburgh and Lothian faced over the last 20
years which created a lack of stability and
consistency that caused enormous problems for
service delivery. It recognises that,despite
this, the councils have at times taken imaginative
measures to maintain and improve services .
1.8 It contends that 'stop go' policies,
redundancies, reductions in service standards
and a move towards arms length provision are
ineffective and, rather than protecting local
government or making it appear more cost-effective,will
inexorably lead to the reduction of its role,
its effectiveness and possibly its very existence.
1.9 Healthy and imaginative public services,
responsive and integrated infrastructures and
the quality of life they bring have been shown
to stimulate the local economy. The undermining
of the role of local government would therefore
not just affect services but the whole local
2.1 Since the late 1970's, most councils
have had to face a changing climate from an
encouragement to spend and build infrastructure
and services, to more and more measures designed
to curb and reduce spending. Edinburgh's predecessor
councils have faced disproportionate attacks
on their funding. Both Lothian Region and Edinburgh
District encountered serious crises in the early
80's resulting from needs and grant calculations,
'punishment' grant cuts, removal of Housing
Support Grant and unrealistic capping, etc.
2.2 These crises were encountered at
a time when the councils' administrations believed
that confrontational political action could
alter the situation, ie the government could
be 'taken on'. Initially, there was co-operation
between the unions and the councils towards
that end, but as the crises developed neither
of the workforces or councils were prepared
to follow a 'do or die' route.
2.3 In the event, with some adjustments,
the cuts effectively went through. Changes of
administration aside, the Labour councils moved
in their political perspective towards a more
pragmatic approach in facing the continued cuts
over the next ten or so years. This involved
a range of innovative financial and policy measures
which at times even allowed growth in some services.
2.4 Other direct attacks on the ability
of local authorities to plan and deliver integrated
and efficient services included government housing
policy, transport deregulation, local management
of schools, incorporation of FE colleges etc.
These were always designed more to undermine
the role of the local authority than to deliver
any benefits to the service user.
2.5 Compulsory Competitive Tendering
brought a major body blow to councils. It was
and is unnecessary, wasteful and unsettling.
Most contracts were won in-house, despite councils
often being disadvantaged by regulations that
tended to favour private contractors. This was
not without cost and many of the lowest paid
staff had to take reductions in pay and conditions
before the implementation of TUPE. What was
clear time after time was that councils could
not be beaten on quality.
2.6 Community care has effectively transferred
the blame for underfunding from the government
to councils and has forced them to cease some
of the provision they once made and pushed more
and more provision onto charities, the voluntary
sector and profit-making organisations.
2.7 While the Poll Tax caused major
financial problems, Local Government Reorganisation
brought the most recent long term threat. The
hastily outlined plan, the gerrymandering and
the high costs for which councils were not compensated
led to another crisis. On top of this were highly
questionable grant settlements that led to compulsory
redundancies for the first time under any administration,
irrespective of political party.
2.8 The election of a Labour Government
in 1997 has not altered the situation dramatically
and is unlikely to do so for some time, if at
all. There had been a hope that, even if the
finances were not available, a Labour government
would at least understand the problems of local
authorities. Instead, it seems that policies
are being driven by the English experience and
little or no regard is given to the different
culture in Scotland and the higher expectations
about public services and the role of local
authorities. (The more recent debate about the
Barnett Formula will also be an issue).
2.9 There are great hopes that a Scottish
Parliament will be far more in tune with this
ethos. UNISON's work on the Constitutional Convention,
along with others, ensured that moves even from
within the Labour Party for, effectively, a
super-local authority were sidelined in favour
of real devolution and an ethos of subsidiarity.
Labour delivered admirably on this in the White
Paper and subsequently on commencing the consultation
exercise on the relationship between local authorities
and a Scottish Parliament.
2.10 Local authorities may be able to
look forward to direct control over more of
their income which would help alleviate the
disproportionate effects on council tax from
quite minor movements in expenditure.
2.11 Local authorities may have some
optimism that the squeeze will reduce at the
end of the government's two year commitment
to the last government's spending limits. If
this is the case it would further underline
the need to address short term solutions which
do not undermine the long term future of local
2.12 However, even within these scenarios,
it is unlikely that local authorities will be
able to look forward to significant increases
in funding. That gives a responsibility to everyone
involved; councillors, officials, unions, the
voluntary sector and the public, to look at
radical ways to protect jobs and services in
3. ATTEMPTS TO DEAL
WITH THE PROBLEM
3.1 Initially, the problems of underfunding
were dealt with via unpalatable local taxation
rises. Latterly, financial and structural methods
have been used to minimise the areas that are
taken into account in assessing expenditure.
This has always involved cuts in services and
jobs, but more recently those cuts have been
drastic and the issue of compulsory redundancies
3.2 Another method of dealing with the
crisis has been to deliver some services at
arms length, taking away the need to maintain
a permanent workforce or to make any long term
commitment to the service itself. Some aspects
of the voluntary sector can be seen in this
light. More recently, there have been trusts
and a move towards 'outsourcing' and unnecessary
3.3 The City of Edinburgh now appears
to be considering plans that could drastically
reduce direct provision of services or service
support - what the previous government referred
to as the 'enabling council'.
4. THE DANGERS OF
'ARMS LENGTH' PROVISION
4.1 The 'enabling council' concept is
the death knell for the significant social,
democratic, economic and politically protective
role that local government has by and large
successfully delivered, especially over the
last 18 years.
4.2 The ability to strategically plan,
to integrate, to cross-subsidise and to respond
to special needs across a local authority area
were already undermined by the narrow political
drive to move away from two tier local government.
This, and the inherent "economy of scale"
will be further undermined by a process of arms
length provision which would lead inevitably
to compartmentalising resources and probably
to wasteful duplication and competition.
4.3 This loss of economy of scale, with
less and less co-ordination and integration
of services, will ironically lead to the authority
being seen as more bureaucratic and more impotent
in its ability to offer a 'one door' service
to the public or make basic decisions regarding
service users' needs when more than one arm
of the council is involved.
4.4 Political decision making would
be hampered and hide-bound by contracts, service
agreements and wasteful internal markets which
have been shown to be so damaging in the NHS.
4.5 Obviously there are a host of complex
issues that could be addressed here. But suffice
to say that once the process gets hold, it would
be irreversible. It is difficult to envisage
when local authorities would ever be in a position
to bring 'outsourced', privatised or trust status
services back in-house even if it wanted to.
Very rapidly, the infrastructure that would
make that possible, let alone the finance, would
4.6 The result will be vastly reduced
political influence for local authorities, both
in terms of local issues and national or European
issues. There would likely be a need for fewer
councillors and a growing distancing of local
councils from their electorate. That will undermine
what accountability there is and flies directly
in the face of the concept of subsidiarity inherent
in the plans for a Scottish Parliament.
4.7 The effects on the workforce both
as individuals and as a resource for the council
and the community would be disastrous. Short-termism
would prevail with a significant reduction in
the pool of experienced staff with the very
specific skills needed for many local government
services. The market would begin to dictate
far more than it does now in terms of wages
with some being forced down, but many forced
up because of the scarcity of the skills and
the need to compensate for the lack of security.
Most significantly, the element of loyalty,
so much under stress currently, would all but
4.8 The ability of councils to exert
all but minimal influence over services would
be seriously affected, despite quality assurance
measures and contract issues. As has been learned
from CCT, once the entirety of any part of a
service is run outwith the council, the level
of council influence is limited by the fact
that the service has to be provided. The experiences
elsewhere in the early days of privatisation
highlight the problems when a service is not
being provided and the council is powerless
to provide any alternative.
4.9 The opportunity for 'sleaze' would
increase considerably in a climate where a relatively
small number of councillors, officials and business
people would be interdependent on each other
for their influence and income.
4.10 However, it is not enough merely
to warn of the dangers of 'outsourcing' and
the 'enabling council'. Some of the problems
of compartmentalisation, communication, cross-billing
etc already exist in terms of artificial divisions
between departments and this needs to be addressed.
Such problems can frustrate efficient use of
corporate resources and can create insurmountable
bureaucratic boundaries to making otherwise
quite straightforward operational or strategic
decisions. Clearly there are problems regarding
budgets, accountability to committees etc, but
many cross departmental issues could be addressed
via the standing 'Partnership Groups' outlined
5. PRINCIPLES FOR
5.1 Local services should be democratically
accountable and responsive to users through
active consumer involvement initiatives at all
5.2 There is a need to capitalise on
staff commitment to public service. This is
often the element that is ignored in exercises
that attempt to 'update' services and the way
they are delivered.
5.3 There is a need to capitalise on
the benefits of economy of scale and use this
to act in a more corporate way, integrate services
more, break down internal barriers and develop
much more of a one door approach. The departmental
system will still be essential to deliver and
develop services, but opportunities need to
be sought to break down unnecessary divisions
at operational and particularly at planning
5.4 Except in exceptional circumstances
or where legal restraints apply, service provision
and support functions should be directly supplied
by the council. Attempts should be made to ensure
that the council's services and workforce are
protected as a long term investment that builds
skill, experience and the knowledge to constantly
assess and upgrade provision in a planned and
considered way, promoting the continuity that
is so essential for the development of services.
5.5 'Best Value' should involve staff
and unions in developing strategies that ensure
improvement in quality and cost-effectiveness,
but not on a 'cheapest is best' basis.
5.6 The local authority has a duty to
lead in areas like equality, health & safety
and working pay and conditions.
5.7 Some aspects of services will continue
to be put out to tender (as they have always
been). This should be work that cannot efficiently
be provided consistently by the authority, eg
one-off projects, projects requiring special
skills unavailable within the council and some
5.8 When tendering is considered, wide
consultation should take place first to ensure
that the work could not effectively be carried
out within existing resources. Regard also has
to be given to the need to integrate and cross-subsidise
resources. For example, some staff may do different
tasks at different times of the year, perhaps
even for different departments or functions.
This is a flexible use of staff resources which
avoids the need to hire and fire on a seasonal
5.9 Where tasks are regularly put out
to tender, consideration should be given as
to whether it would be better to provide more
consistency and build a body of skills and knowledge
in the council by using existing staff or employing
additional permanent staff. Training and diversification
also needs to be addressed to maintain a workforce
with updated, transferable and relevant skills
(see 7 below).
5.10 More attempts should be made to
'sell' the value of directly provided local
services. It is frustrating for staff to see
other local authorities launch 'new' initiatives
which they know have been regular practice in
this authority for some time. It is also frustrating
to see private initiatives promote practice
which has been developed by council staff. In
some circumstances these developments have been
thwarted by council cuts or by inflexible decision-making
structures at management and political level.
6. UNDERVALUING STAFF
AND WASTING A RESOURCE
6.1 The council needs to recognise the
frustrations of staff who are committed to the
service they provide and who put considerable
dedication into that task. There is no sympathy
amongst staff for the minority of 'time-servers'
and they are frustrated by systems that seem
more and more to tar all staff with this brush.
6.2 There is a need to recognise that
front-line staff have to deal with the frustrations
of the public and are often faced with defending
the indefensible in terms of lack of resources
or inflexible systems. Opportunities need to
be given to staff collectively via their trade
union to influence services and promote the
recognition of good practice in terms of 6.1
6.3 There is an increasing problem of
low morale due to cuts, feelings of being undervalued,
overwork and stress. Morale is also greatly
affected by the issues in 6.1 and 6.2 above.
6.4 More thought needs to be given to
staff development schemes that allow a voice
to, and capitalise on the contribution of workers
who are committed to developing and improving
services. This cannot be achieved by crude and
mistrusted performance appraisal schemes, but
can be addressed by creating innovative opportunities
and effective consultation and involvement schemes.
7.1 If more flexibility is to be achieved,
there will be a need for more integrated training
packages, including more use of SVQs etc, to
address changing ways of working and to equip
staff to take on more varied, interesting and
7.2 There are parallels with the diversification
that has been required in areas like the printing
industry. Training needs to address the fact
that staff may need new skills, as well as updated
skills, and that they will increasingly need
skills which can transfer across functions.
7.3 Other projects have pointed to the
importance of more interesting jobs and job
satisfaction as key elements which compensate
for the upheaval and flexibility required in
any radical review of operations.
8.1 There is a need for clear political,
professional and managerial direction in planning.
There is a developing danger that a lack of
consensus and clarity and an increase in tensions
can lead to chaotic and unresponsive reorganisations.
8.2 There is an increasing belief among
staff that politicians are failing to adequately
brief themselves and are lurching from one 'flavour
of the month' to another in directing services.
8.3 There is a need for more dialogue
between service providers and their trade union
at multiple levels, service users and politicians
on an ongoing basis.
8.4 There is a need to ensure that staff
fully identify with and 'own' structural changes
and changes in focus or ethos. Without that,
any changes can be merely window-dressing.
9.1 Any review of services, functions
or structures should start with the people directly
involved at all levels. Too often their views
and ideas on the development of these areas
are ignored or never heard, and recommendations
are made by 'experts' who have no direct knowledge
of the practicalities of operating services
or functions in the context of public service.
9.2 There is a place for outside consultants
where the skills, knowledge and in special cases,
the independence is not available within the
council. This would only be in rare circumstances.
The recent use of ex-employees as consultants
demonstrates that the skills were available
in-house. It has been widely accepted that where
consultants are brought in for organisational
reasons, they generally learn more from councils
than they contribute.
9.3 There is a concern amongst those
who provide the services at 'coal face' level
that advice from outwith local government can
be misinformed and can attempt to impose private
sector solutions inappropriately to address
public sector problems. There have been additional
concerns that some of the solutions imposed
(internally and externally) have been out of
date by the time they are implemented. In this
context we refer to organisational changes implemented
within the council at times when such initiatives
are being reviewed and changed elsewhere in
light of experience.
10. VOLUNTARY SECTOR
10.1 There is a crucial role for the
voluntary sector in developing and providing
innovative services at local level. This should
be done on a partnership basis with consideration
given to the council taking over proven initiatives,
while freeing up the voluntary sector to develop
further new initiatives.
10.2 There is also a role for the voluntary
sector in community and neighbourhood projects
where self help and the need to identify with
the organisation as 'independent' of the council
are issues. However, the reality of funding
arrangements has to be recognised as does the
reality that complete independence is unrealistic
within current funding arrangements.
10.3 There is a growing danger that
the voluntary sector may be seen as a 'cheap
option' alternative to direct provision. The
fact that many voluntary sector workers have
moved from parity with directly employed staff
to lesser conditions adds weight to this view.
If such conditions are undermined it presents
a serious risk to the strategy of ensuring services
are delivered by appropriately trained and experienced
staff. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
10.4 There is a need, already being
tackled by the council in some areas, to provide
more professional support and guidance for management
committees with clear expectations about service
delivery, staff conditions and issues of equality
and health & safety.
11. CONSULTATION &
11.1 While recognising that the responsibility
for and the control of effective policy making
and strategic and operational management must
remain at the appropriate levels, there should
be widespread consultation with the workforce
and the public at all levels on the direction
of council functions and services and on the
delivery of these.
11.2 In terms of the workforce, this
should include 'anonymous' consultation via
a structured and time limited suggestions exercise.
11.3 There should be a council-wide
Partnership Group comprising politicians, management,
trade unions and agreed nominated 'specialists'
from each participating group to evaluate and
address the purpose, principles, efficiency
and delivery of functions. Practitioners should
be involved in this group with the freedom to
challenge and honestly communicate the practical
issues resulting from council policies. This
would take the form of a more highly developed
and specialist 'works council' structure.
11.4 Such a structure should be developed
at departmental level, and where appropriate,
at sectional level within departments.
11.5 Systems should be developed to
include input from service users into these
11.6 There should be an organised 'whistle
blowing' structure with a nominated officer
in each function with the power to investigate
and report on issues brought to their attention.
11.7 There should be an ability for
any participant in these groups to bring forward
suggestions and plans for the development of
11.8 There should be provision for briefing
and question and answer sessions with relevant
groups of staff on planning, budgeting and other
service delivery and structural issues.
11.9 These groups should use the existing
council resources to the maximum, ie specialists
in the professional task of service delivery,
in finance, in management and information, personnel
etc. They should have the ability to request
reports from such specialisms or to request
regular or ad hoc co-option on to any specific
11.10 A voluntary sector forum should
be set up comprising representatives of voluntary
sector organisations, trade unions, management
of funding departments, personnel, appropriate
community groups and politicians. This should
address issues like planning and integration
of services as well as issues surrounding parity
12.1 The proposals in this document
recognise that the local authority has had to
deal with years of under-funding, uncertainty
and instability and that this is likely to continue
at least at some level, even with a more sympathetic
government and the advent of a Scottish Parliament
which is likely to have a greater understanding
of the Scottish ethos of public service.
12.2 There is therefore a need to attempt
to radically review the provision of local services
to maintain them as long term, consistent,directly
provided, democratically accountable and responsive
to local needs and wishes.
12.3 This requires flexibility from
management, unions and staff.That will only
come from a system that promotes the trust and
full participation of the staff that deliver
these services via their trade unions and needs
to capitalise on their skills, experience and
knowledge, otherwise the exercise will be expensive,
wasteful and probably resisted formally or informally.
12.4 The solutions
of the past with reorganisations from the top
down, stop and start policies, cuts and reductions
in service which are finance based rather than
properly evaluated, the questionable use of
outside consultancies, wholesale outsourcing
and 'flavour of the month' new thinking are
not appropriate and will lead to the eventual
destruction of effective local democracy.
12.5 The way forward is formal partnership
structures that involve and respect the skills,
experience and commitment of staff, co-ordinated
collectively via their trade unions but ensuring
that those actually doing the job have a key
12.6 There is a need to develop ways
of including service users in such partnerships.
12.7 The development of such a joint
approach would make for a powerful lobby to
seek short term breathing space from government
to allow the longer term solutions to be developed.
12.8 This will be achieved by key proposals
in this paper, which include:
'Partnership Groups' involving
councillors, management and unions, with nominated
practitioners, at corporate, departmental and
sectional level where appropriate, to involve
and seek solutions from the people doing the
Systems at the level of these
groups and at the point of delivery for involving
and consulting service users.
A training and development
package to develop and diversify skills to make
the most efficient use of staff resources, to
build consistency and stability, to make jobs
more rewarding and interesting and to protect
jobs and services.
A voluntary sector forum to
integrate and support initiatives and to ensure
consistency of conditions.
Protection for staff with a
no compulsory redundancy element to engender
an atmosphere of trust and co-operation.