Barnet Council in North London has been trying to pioneer wholesale privatisation of Council services for several years now. Intelligent and committed rearguard action fought by the UNISON branch has, over recent months, taken the form of a rolling programme of selective industrial action which is now set to reach an important point on Tuesday 13 September – Barnet Independence Day.
Hundreds of Barnet UNISON members who have been taking action are set to strike together on this day in an important escalation of UNISON’s trade dispute with Barnet, which is over the identity of the employer of our members in future. Barnet UNISON members are fighting to remain in the employment of the very employer with whom they are in dispute – because they have a sound sense of their own interests and a laudable commitment to public service.
They make the sound point that it is important that many public services are independent of vested interests and are not best driven by the profit motive. Barnet Council on the other hand want to flog off anything that isn’t nailed down, and leaseback anything that is. They now prefer to call their plans “One Barnet” since earlier references to EasyCouncil have provoked well-earned derision. However, the driving force remains privatisation – so much so that options appraisal can be dispensed with as the Council moves straight to procurement.
There is of course nothing new about letting the private sector profit out of the need to provide public services - from the mid 1850s until the inception of the London County Council in 1889, London Government was in the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works, a joint board of indirectly elected representatives, with no accountability to the people of London generally, which was notorious for corruption in its dealings with the private sector.
The postwar development of a Welfare State, insurance against further reaching social change at a time when capitalism seemed to face a global alternative, has simply made for richer pickings for today’s public service “industry” to feast upon. Though since “we are all in this together” everyone has to make sacrifices – the Chief Executive of the Capita Group (Paul Pindar) had to make do with a measly £262,500 cash bonus on top of his £375,000 salary last year – with another £262,500 paid as a deferred bonus.
Mr Pindar’s company isn’t expected on Barnet Independence Day, but all those who care about the future of our public services can support the Barnet workers at a lobby at Hendon Town Hall from 5.30pm