speak-up-for-public-servicesMYTH 4 The private sector is more responsive to service users’ individual needs

REALITY Only the public sector can respond to society’s collective needs

Public sector reforms are often based on the idea that public service users should be treated as consumers. In many cases, this focus is both appropriate and necessary. For instance, the emphasis in the NHS on developing ‘expert patients’ who will know about and take responsibility for their own conditions and are able to make informed choices is a welcome development, as is the promotion of user empowerment and independence in social care.

However, in many parts of the public sector, users do not engage with services on a voluntary basis but are subject to compulsory attendance, such as with the police or mental health service. And the public’s relationships with public services are often far too complex to be classified as consumers. People do not necessarily buy the service; they may have a right to receive the service; they may be refused a service because their needs may not meet the criteria laid down. But above all, there is often a collective aspect to public services, where the benefit extends beyond the individual, to families, schools, communities, the UK and other countries.

It is this collective aspect of public services which requires them to be subject to democratic accountability and transparency. Privatisation erodes this accountability and treats vital services merely as contracts to be bundled up and sold off.

Barnet Council

Barnet Council is using the business model of budget airlines to plan a radical reform of public service provision. Unofficially dubbed “easyCouncil” the project is part of the borough’s “relentless drive for efficiency” and could see residents paying extra for some local services.

The council’s aim is to turn itself into a focal point called a strategic commissioning hub to commission public services from private and voluntary sector organisations. Barnet also plans to stop providing some services altogether – ’scaling down to a size which would mean delivering only what the local authority must deliver to achieve efficiencies’ – and to outsource the rest.

The council had also planned to save £950,000 by removing on-site residential wardens (whose tasks include dealing with health and security emergencies, organising GP visits, organising social activities, and checking on residents at least once a day) from sheltered housing scheme. They would be replaced with a ‘floating’ support service where support workers based at hubs would visit elderly people who met eligibility criteria. In December 2009, a High Court ruling prevented the plans on the grounds that they did show due regard to the need to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.

Academy Schools

The growth of academy schools represents a transfer of assets and power to unaccountable entrepreneurs, business and religious groups. Parent power is generally weaker in academies than in maintained schools -including reduced representation on governing bodies, weaker appeals processes for admissions, exclusions and special educational needs, and reduced capacity to withdraw pupils from acts of religious worship. Under current rules, academies must appoint only one parent or guardian on governing bodies, even though parents and guardians usually form the largest group of governors at state schools.

There has also been a steady growth in the number of chains and federations of academies, meaning that a single unaccountable organisation or individual is responsible for a vast array of educational provision including the development of the curriculum, admissions and staff terms and conditions.

There are also wider accountability issues related to academy schools. Accountability in public services does not end with accountability to users, as schools play a social and economic role that goes beyond the interests of parents and guardian. Taking academies out of Local Authority control disrupts admissions arrangements within local authorities and in neighbouring authorities.

At the start of the Academy Schools project, sponsors were required to provide a one-off payment of £2million. Many sponsors, however, did not pay or chose to pay ‘in kind’. This requirement has now been dropped.

4 Comments CherryPie on Apr 12th 2010

4 Responses to “Exploding Public Sector Privatisation Myths – Part 6”

  1. jameshigham says:

    Barket Council?

    • CherryPie says:

      Ooops!!! I have put that straight now. The OCR does some weird and wonderful things which I have to put straight, I don’t know how I missed that one.

  2. Ah yes, the public sector does deliver services but the bottom line is profit. While value for money is a jey factor in delivering public services some things cannot be run comercially