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'LISTEN BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE' PRENTIS TELLS GOVERNMENT

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Unison general secretary Dave Prentis today called on the government to listen to front line staff in public servic...
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis today called on the government to listen to front line staff in public services and not just policy advisers before its too late.

He told a Fabian Society policy seminar:

'The Brent by-election is a wake up call to the government. The government is not pausing to evaluate where it is going. Is not stopping to measure success and failure in the many initiatives it has launched. Is not seeking the evidence.

'Even worse is the fog of spin. The government often talks down its successes; conceals its efforrts at redistribution; downplays reduction in poverty and denigrates public sector workers and their efforts.

'So whilst the public service debate is dominated by talk of modernisation, talk of reform, a picture is painted of staff pursuing their self-interest. In need of a bit of private sector discipline. Unions are portrayed as producerist, having narrow interests, and as not caring about public service users. Is it any wonder the public is losing its patience? Who can blame them for being sceptical?

'The government is perilously close to losing its way and jeopardising a third term. If it cannot deliver on schools and hospitals, as it promised at the last election, the electorate will lose trust. We have to re-evaluate where we are going, we have to look at what works and not allow the Lib Dems to steal our clothes.

'And the government has to honour its commitment to end the two-tier workforce in our public services. Two years ago the prime minister gave Unison a public commitment that the two-tier workforce would be ended.

'We have had a deal in local government in England, but we are still waiting for it to be rolled out to the rest of the public services - to workers in health, education and defence. They deserve the same protections so working conditions are not a lottery dependent on which public service you happen to work in'.

The full text of Mr Prentis' speech follows.

'What matters? What works?' Conference

Workforce involvement and public service change

Fabian Society Policy Seminar 22 September 2003

The Commonwealth Club, 18 Northumberland Ave WC2

'Hello and my apologies for missing the first part of the seminar- I was giving a speech at a work life balance conference ??? well we can all learn, can't we?

We are here today to examine public service delivery. To look at the relationship between evidence and policy making ??? or the lack of it.

And this is no academic exercise, because at next week's Labour Party conference, and at the next general election, the government will be judged on whether it has delivered on schools and hospitals, on housing and health. And we already have an interim judgement from the voters in Brent East.

And my concern is that the government is not pausing to evaluate where it is going. Is not stopping to measure success and failure in the many initiatives it has launched. Is not seeking the evidence.

Even worse is the fog of spin. The government often talks down its successes; conceals its efforts at redistribution; downplays reductions in poverty and denigrates public sector workers and their efforts.

So whilst the public service debate is dominated by talk of modernisation, talk of reform ???. a picture is painted of staff pursuing their self interest ???. In need of a bit of private sector discipline. Unions are portrayed as producerist, having narrow interests, and as not caring about public service users.

Is it any wonder that the public is losing its patience? That the number who believe the Government's policies will improve public services has fallen dramatically in the past 2 years. According to MORI from 54% to 31%.

Who can blame them for being sceptical about whether their increased taxes are delivering when the government efforts are focussed not on what has been achieved ??? what can be delivered by sustained investment. But instead promoting the profit motive as the only incentiv e that works.

Is it any wonder that fed on a diet of bad news, only 23% of Londoners think the quality of nursery provision in the capital is any good. Yet in the same poll 71% of nursery users in London said it was either good or excellent.

The picture is the same whenever you compare the views of those who use, with those who don't use the services.

So, What does Work? What is the evidence? What reform is taking place?

Well, first we know about the extra £61bn being invested in public services. £40 billion more in health. Something to cheer about after a slow start.

But did you also know that UNISON has been working on radical reform packages involving members? Members who daily deliver frontline services and who know what is wrong and, often, how to make things better.

In health we have worked for four years on Agenda for Change, the largest shake-up of NHS pay since its inception. Sweeping away old grades and a single spine from cleaner to chief executive, with skills training and qualifications available at every stage for people to progress.

In local government, we have a new code to tackle the two-tier workforce and stop private contractors winning business on the back of pay cuts. Now they will have to bid on quality. The government delivered on that part of their promise, and now we want that deal rolled out across the public sector, so workers in health and education can have the same protections. So working conditions are not a lottery dependent on which public service you happen to work in.

And UNISON has signed up to an agreement to remodel the workforce in schools. An opportunity for genuine partnership between the government, local authorities and unions ??? a partnership designed to reduce excessive teacher workload and improve the career opportunities and status of school support staff.

Police support staff are taking on jobs previously restricted to officers to free them up too.

Of course this has to be properly funded or it will be another lost opportunity on the road to reform ??? and by reform we mean improvements, not bringing in the private sector.

This is not defending 'producer interests' but stating the obvious ??? if you want quality public services, you have to pay enough to attract people to work in them. As the retention and recruitment difficulties in local government and health reach crisis point, where are the funds to tackle the scarcity of staff in hospitals, in social work, IT and planning?

A decently paid workforce becomes a well-motivated workforce, which in turn delivers the best. And nor is the solution to poach the same limited pool of staff into some other structure such as Diagnostic and Treatment Centres.

And there is more good news. There are success stories. Government policies are starting to produce results:

Take the Commission for Health Improvement survey, based on real patient experiences that found:

- 95% of Accident & Emergency patients satisfied with their care

- 98% of Outpatients saying their service was well organised

- 91% satisfied with their GPs

Achieved without Foundation Trusts. Yet Barely warranting a mention by the press.

Instead, in England, the government tells us that hospital services will only improve if they are spun off from the NHS into Foundation Trusts.. Creating a two-tier service. What about the evidence of improvement?

And that council housing can only improve if it is spun off from Local Government. Despite the evidence from the National Audit Office that councils could deliver the desperately needed repairs and improvements one-third cheaper.

We are still told that new hospitals, schools, and even prisons, must be spun off into private ownership through the costly Private Finance Initiative. £700 million overspent in health in the Manchester area alone.

Last year the Labour Party conference called for an independent review of PFI. Instead, the T reasury has carried out its own examination, which has sought to justify the government's policy on PFI. It largely used its own research, which remains unpublished, and was selective in its consideration of other studies. It completely ignored research by non-government bodies. It is no substitute for a proper, independent assessment of PFI.

We are told that 'what matters is what works'. Yet as far as public services are concerned we are treated to the old story, 'public bad - private good'. Where is the evidence to justify the greater use of the private sector?

Is it WS Atkins who walked away from a £100m contract to run Southwark's' education services because it wasn't profitable enough? Leaving the cash strapped council who picked up the £1.5m bill? Atkins who paid a cool £770,000 to the two former directors who steered the company into losses. Is that their evidence?

Or perhaps it is Jarvis?

But it's not too late to listen

It's not too late to make all that investment really bite

The government must have the confidence to build on what has been achieved so far, to celebrate the excellence in our public services.

The government must base their policies on the evidence of good public service practice and workforce involvement??? not the ideology of market practices. Markets where the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker.

The government must listen ??? and with all due respect to Michael ??? not just to its advisers, but also to front line staff and yes, to trade unions.

Today's meeting could be a starting point for developing programmes for improving public services. For assessing what 'works' and what doesn't.

There is the new 'aquarium' of think tanks ??? Compass, another attempt to take a rational view of policy.

And the unions have set up the Public Service Forum ??? an opportunity for genuine dialogue.

We all need to be able to present our evidence to government. To present th e reports and analyses. To show how we can build on the best and to raise the standard of the worst.

Only then shall be able to truly say 'what matters is what works'.'

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