Another sign of the times…Local Government in the UK December 18, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, The Left.
Between January 2012 and October 2013, Barnet farmed out its care for people with disabilities, legal services, cemeteries and crematoriums, IT, finance, HR, planning and regeneration, trading standards and licensing, management of council housing, environmental health, procurement, parking, and the highways department.
This evening, a full council meeting will vote on whether to consider cuts and “alternative delivery models” for another tranche of services, including libraries, rubbish collection, street gritters and children’s speech therapy, among others. Should they go the way of the rest and be outsourced, the local Unison branch calculates that Barnet council will shrink from having 3,200 staff in September 2012 to just 332.
And Chakrabortty notes one crucial element of this, away and beyond the ‘service provision’, such as is left:
And a tour of the neighbourhood teaches you that when cuts reach a certain magnitude, it’s not just services you lose; it’s an entire democratic institution. Residents can show you lots of missing services: the borough is right now consulting on plans to squeeze the vast majority of libraries to around 540 sq ft, or the size of a Hampstead Garden Suburb living room.
For those who live and work in Barnet, their local affairs are now handled remotely by people hundreds of miles away, who know nothing about them or the area. Payroll for what remains of council staff is done in Belfast, while for schools it’s Carlisle. Pension queries go to Darlington. Benefits end up in Blackburn. Parking notices come from Croydon. Calls to the local library are first directed to Coventry. Even births, deaths and marriages are managed in Brent.
Got a complaint? Then you have speak to someone you’ll never see – that is, if you can speak to them at all. Capita has admitted previously “capping” phone calls: throwing callers off the line when things get too busy. So rather than rely on their local institutions, residents increasingly depend on their councillors to intercede.
This is what happens when you lose locally accountable public servants. It’s also the cost of losing local expertise. Take the legal department, now run out of Harrow. The result was that in early summer, Barnet councillors were given the wrong reports to vote on. The resulting mockery led to the commissioning of an independent report that stated on its first page: “There is no one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers.”
And as Chakrabortty notes, the deals Barnet has struck with Capita are such that they’re are locked in for ten years, at least. There’s no democratic oversight, no democratic control, no democracy, no there, no local. And this isn’t about saving money – as he notes the Tories were pushing this line long before the current financial crisis. This is about shaving away the state – actually slicing away the state.
A very good point made in comments is that this isn’t just about now, or the next ten years, but that by the very nature of this process it removes institutional knowledge from councils and other state entities as regards the provision of services, thereby increasing the challenge for reinstating services under democratic local control.
This has happened in this state over the past decade (and by the way, there’s nothing more nauseating than hearing the LP bleat about how bin protests ‘led’ to privatisation – they could have put taking those services back into the public sector into their election manifesto if that was the case, strangely they didn’t). It is a process that continues, that is where services aren’t actually cut outright.