Paul Bell, Unison
Trade unions are about community wealth building. We believe in fighting for decent pay, terms and conditions, providing resources for people to share the fruits of their labour in the local community. The local sandwich shop, bakery and supermarket depend on the recycling of money from the pay packet to the till. UNISON is invested in our local communities across the UK. That is why community wealth building is of great interest and excitement to our members as they are rooted in every village, town and city in the country.
However, austerity has been a heavy weight forced on our members since 2010. While the Tory Party has said that austerity has ended, the reality in local government is that austerity is far from over. In September, Boris Johnson’s Chancellor Sajid Javid unveiled £13.4bn of spending for “a decade of renewal”. The PR machine is in full swing, but is austerity really over? Of course not. But what Javid’s pre-election spending spree did prove is that the stifling of citizen funding for local services was a choice and not a necessity. Billions of pounds are now miraculously available for the disastrous No Deal Brexit preparations, and then there was Theresa May’s magic money tree that could be shaken to keep the Conservatives in power. What the Conservatives fail to understand is that real wealth is not found in the bank accounts of tax havens but in the work of local communities working together collectively. Mutual co-operation is also wealth building. The collective at a local level is the local authority – just like Preston City Council – that employs champions to bring their community together.
Local service champions are there for all of us through every stage of our lives. UNISON produced a video recently that was shown to the English LGA Conference in July. The video showcases the dedication our members show their communities, and it shows how but also the foundations of wealth-building are in the public servants who support us all.
Those champions need a pay rise and an end to cuts in their terms and conditions – because our members spend locally. The Real Living Wage, Scottish Local Government Living Wage and the London Living Wage are not luxuries; they are a real calculation of the cost of living, based on a basket of household goods and services. Outsourcing drives down wages and terms and conditions. That is why UNISON is opposed to privatisation, in all its forms. Carillion’s collapse destroyed many people’s future. Despite the damning National Audit Office and select committee reports highlighting the problems of the flawed model of outsourcing and its impact on pay, terms and conditions, it continues. Privatisation often starts by attacking the wages of the lowest-paid staff, disproportionately women and black staff and then spreads further. Too often public money is lost in the language of commercial confidentiality and the bank accounts of the rich and powerful.
The Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act must apply to contractors now, but more than this, UNISON wants to see outsourcing end and services brought back in-house.
That is why we welcomed the Labour Party’s report Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for 21st Century. UNISON is opposed to privatisation, and that includes the spinning out of public services to Public Service Mutuals (PSMs). We want to see all public services brought back in house in the first year of the next Labour government. For us, community wealth building should not be used as a reason for privatisation with a fluffy and less threatening name, like co-operative, mutual or social enterprise.
The commodifying nature of ownership is a distraction from freeing workers from the shackles of poverty pay, low or below inflationary pay rises. We all have an interest in this goal, as we all share in the benefits. Labour’s Democratising Local Public Services report also stated that companies should move to a 20:1 ratio between the lowest and highest paid. A pay rise at the top means an equivalent rise for the lowest paid, to maintain that ratio.
For workers in local government and schools, pay and other terms and conditions are determined by a negotiating body: the National Joint Council (NJC) for local government services in Cymru/Wales, England and Northern Ireland (NI), and the Scottish Joint Council (SJC) in Scotland.
The work in Preston is impressive. The sharing of wealth through the agreement to work together by anchor institutions along with their workforces is the right thing to do, and it aids and supports social mobility.
UNISON will continue to contribute to and support the Community Wealth Building Unit as our members are invested in sharing, delivering and providing public services. Health, housing, education, employment and public services are the foundation pillars for our communities. Without local service champions, the NHS workers, the police and their support staff, the food inspector working for local and central government, community wealth building would be replaced by ‘trickle-down economics” which we know doesn’t build wealth for communities at all.