Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services

The Conservative-led government's 'Open public services' white paper is expected any day; it is a rush to outsource our public services on a scale that threatens the very notion of what is ‘public’, writes Unite's John Earls.

John Earls is Research Section Head at Unite the Union

The Conservative-led government’s ‘Open public services‘ white paper is expected any day. But the direction and speed of travel is clear, as confirmed by David Cameron in The Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago. It’s a rush to outsource our public services on a scale that threatens the very notion of what is ‘public’.


Unite, the UK’s largest trade union, has today published a report by economist Howard Reed which challenges many of the assumptions cited by those pushing the outsourcing agenda. Among his conclusions are:

• The government’s plans to outsource public services are being rushed through at breakneck speed without proper consultation, planning or evaluation. For example, the white paper call for evidence allowed less than six weeks for responses, including the Christmas period, breaching government guidelines (pdf) on consultation which specify a minimum of 12 weeks;

• Expanding outsourcing in the current climate of severe cuts to public spending means declines in service quality are almost inevitable;

There are clear dangers that increased outsourcing will result in reduced transparency and democratic accountability of service provision. Particular concerns include the scope for outsourced public service providers to be outside provisions in respect of the Freedom of Information Act and responsibilities to promote equality;

• The voluntary, community and not-for-profit (VCN) sector has a clear role to play in supporting high-quality public services, but a mass shift of service provision to the not-for-profit sector runs the risk of being the long and painful route to privatisation, if VCN organisations fall victim to acquisition by large-scale for-profit providers;

• It is in the commercial interests of private sector outsourcing providers to lobby politicians to promote greater use of their preferred model of public service delivery, and lobbyists have influenced policy development in areas including education and auditing.

Clearly, the government’s ‘reforms’ have huge consequences for public service users – not least the most vulnerable – and trade unions are an important part of the broad coalition that is resisting the attacks on public services. But Unite is also focusing on what this means for workers delivering public services (in the public, private and not for profit sectors).

In new evidence using data from the Labour Force Survey our report compares the conditions of employment of public sector, private sector and voluntary sector employees in similar jobs such as childcare, healthcare, social work, cleaning and administrative jobs.

Short job tenure and high turnover can have a detrimental impact on service delivery as they disrupt the relationships between service users and providers, while working long hours can put the safety of service providers and users at risk. As the graphs below show, short job tenure (one year or less) and working long hours (more than 48 hours per week) are more common in the private sector than the public sector, with the voluntary sector somewhere in between.

Graph 1:

Short-job-tenure-by-occupation-and-sector-Labour-Force-Survey-2007-10
Graph 2:

Long-hours-working-by-sector-and-occupation-Labour-Force-Survey-2007-10
Unite is not against change – but reform needs to be based on sound, evidence-supported arguments – not on an ideological drive to ‘shrink the state’. And sustainable change requires the involvement of staff. Public service workers and their unions provide the knowledge, insight and experience essential to ensuring reform is effective and deliverable.

‘Shrinking the state’ might sound attractive when it is dressed up as dealing with so-called faceless bureaucrats. But ‘the state’ actually means our health and care services, education, youth services, libraries, and civic spaces. In short, the public services we value.

That is why the government’s plans are so dangerous and why they must be resisted.

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33 Responses to “Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services”

  1. David Dubost

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  2. Huzaifa Ali

    Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: It's a rush to outsource our public services on a sca… http://bit.ly/fWmVNb

  3. PRO Solutions

    Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/i5pZsk

  4. Jason Bowles

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  5. Stew Mott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  6. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  7. Broken OfBritain

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  8. Lisa Ellwood

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  9. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  10. Itsmotherswork

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  11. Nick H.

    RT @BrokenOfBritain: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion' …

  12. blogs of the world

    The Conservative-led government's 'Open public services' white paper is expected any day; … http://reduce.li/shf0vp #service

  13. Lambchops

    RT @IconicImagery: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's …

  14. Tony Burke

    Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP

  15. John Ruddy

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP

  16. Jackie Fleming

    Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/dPYtZS

  17. Michael Turner

    RT @Jackielive: Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/dPYtZS

  18. Jon Purdom/Paco Saez

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE by @UniteTheUnion's John Earls

  19. barnet_unison

    RT @Jackielive: Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/dPYtZS

  20. Jon Purdom

    The government’s disregard to its own code is disturbing, but not surprising given the total contempt with which it has treated public opinion over the past 10 months. The cuts to council budgets and services, together with the potential privatisation of just about everything is targeted directly at the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

    These people – and the professionals who have a responsibility for looking after their welfare should be given a proper opportunity for meaningful consultation. Instead the government seems hell bent on taking the advice of the corporate lobby that has donated millions to the Tory’s funds. In any other field this would be considered to be shemeless corruption, but because it is government, we shrug and say “well, it’s been done like that for years and years”.

    Not good enough. I’m a member of the public, I’m a taxpayer and I’m a potential user of many of the services that the government is about to throw into the realm of EU competition law. I demand that my views be heard and be given resonable consideration. I’m not being presented with a fait accompli because of some excuse about the urgency of dealing with the deficit.

    I will be marching on the 26th of this month – and no doubt on many other days after that. I will encourage my union (Unite) to challenge many of these changes under human rights and discrimination legislation. And I, and many thousands of others like me will write, e-mail, tweet, blog and do whatever is necessary over the next 4 years to let people know that I believe that this government is effectively in the pocket of CBI rather than listening to the voters.

    Now is the time for the electorate to reclaim our government and our country. This is our day of rage. The ConDems have begun to alienate just about everyone apart from the millionaires and billionaires. They can only play the race card and blame the previous government so many times before these tactics begin to look very lame. This is the people’s time if they will only take ownership of their future.

  21. Don't Break Britain

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP #dontbreakbritain

  22. Tony Dowling

    RT @DntBreakBritain: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP #dontbreakbritain

  23. UniteYou

    RT @DntBreakBritain: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP #dontbreakbritain

  24. Superlative

    RT @DntBreakBritain: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services http://bit.ly/fckTCP #dontbreakbritain

  25. Dave Citizen

    Good on you IP – the Tories do seem to have convinced themselves that their buddies in the media and associated ‘expert’ apologists can spin them out of trouble almost regardless of what they do. I just hope people realise what’s really going on before the worst damage is done.

  26. Mr. Sensible

    Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ mask has slipped…

  27. Daniel Pitt

    Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE #ConDemNation

  28. NoBigGovDuh

    RT @myinfamy: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services: http://bit.ly/gfHxpE #ConDemNation

  29. Ben Hogwood

    RT @john_earls: Cameron's rush to outsource threatens our public services. Read my posting at Left Foot Forward: http://bit.ly/fifNgF

  30. Government bonus crackdown ignores the outsourced sector - again | Left Foot Forward

    […] Cameron’s rush to outsource threatens our public services – John Earls, March 19th 2011 Share | Permalink | Leave a comment […]

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