Lambeth call centre privatisation – last nights scrutiny committee

Posted: July 22, 2011 by lambethsaveourservices in Cutswatch, Demonstrate, Rally & Occupy!, Labour Party, Libraries, Media attention
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Last night the Lambeth scrutiny committee met in the town hall, along with a rowdy crowd of protestors, to discuss the decision to privatise the call centre in Lambeth to Capita. The 10 year, 10 million deal includes up to a hundred redundancies for the existing well trained staff, unless of course they want to continue the work in the “pretty waterfront” town of Southampton where the deal is being outsourced to.

The deal was “called-in” for scrutiny by Labour’s Vassel ward councillor Kingsley Abrams, the only councillor to raise any opposition to the February budget. The big issues are:

  • Staff have never had a genuine chance to even prepare a bid from inside the council to compete with “the market”. The opaque “consultation” has never given staff the opportunity to match Capita’s 16% saving proposal. Gung-ho privatisation at its worst from a Labour council. Local knowledge is vital to the quality of the service – hard to do from Southampton.
  • The Equality Impact Assessment has some glaringly obvious mistakes and bad references in it and is shoddy at best. The impact on black and minority ethnic workers will be obviously dis-proportionate and the “mitigating factors” in the proposal lack anywhere near enough concrete details.
  • The decision clearly goes against the council’s priority of reducing worklessness in the borough.

Even though the discussion in the meeting showed promise, and big issues with the proposal were identified, cowardly councillors refused to refer the issue back to the Cabinet. An awful decision in our opinion.

We best thing to take from the meeting is the lesson from the Libraries dispute– when the council let you down (and they will) you have to join a union, build a campaign and stand together to defend vital local jobs and services.

You can read more in the Streatham Guardian and below is letter sent to UNISON members after the meeting.

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to thank those who turned up to lobby Finance Scrutiny Committee this evening.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS EVENING

Councillor Abrams gave a clear statement of why the decision to privatise the Service Centre should be referred back and Caroline Clark spoke brilliantly to explain why the decision should be referred back to allow time for a proper in-house bid, for community consultation and for a proper assessment of the economic impact, including on equality. David Ashmore did his best to answer the points which we made, but had trouble under detailed questioning from Councillors.

The discussion, which had been timetabled for an hour, lasted closer to two hours. Councillor Lumsden (Liberal Democrat) proposed that the decision be referred back, but this recommendation was voted down by the three Labour Councillors. Although the Labour Councillors did agree with the Liberal Democrats to recommend to Cabinet that in future there should always be a proper in-house bid when private bids are considered, they would not agree to apply that principle to the Service Centre. We won the argument – but we didn’t win the vote.

WHY WE NEED MORE PEOPLE TO GET INVOLVED

It is a shame that more people did not make the effort to attend the SubCommittee. There were more people there from other parts of the Council and from the local community, to support Service Centre workers than there were workers from the Service Centre. Had we had a larger lobby, the increased pressure on the members of the Scrutiny Committee could have led to a different outcome. Staying away because you don’t think you can win can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A fairly small number of people, working over just a few days, got over 600 postcards signed by local people who were opposed to the privatisation of the Service Centre. Tonight the Scrutiny Committee ignored the views of those 600 people – but if everyone who was at the recent meeting had worked hard to get the cards signed we would have had 6,000 and that too might have made for a different outcome tonight.

WHAT CAN BE ACHIEVED IF YOU STAY STRONG

Earlier today UNISON was able to call off strike action in the libraries when we got a deal which protected the job of every union member in the libraries. This shows that if you organise together in trade unions, stand together and stay strong you can win. Service Centre workers need to heed this lesson now, before things get worse. If as many of the Service Centre workers were in trade unions as are in the libraries you would not now be facing the loss of all your jobs into the private sector.

WHAT WE CAN STILL DO

No contract with Capita has yet been signed and we will explore every way to challenge what the Council is doing. UNISON – and I am sure GMB – will continue to resist the proposed privatisation. If we cannot prevent it then we will work to protect every trade union member.

There is still much to be won. Already under the pressure of the limited campaign which we  have been able to run, the Council have shifted from saying that they would not redeploy any of you within Lambeth Council to saying that they will offer that – at tomorrow’s Corporate Consultation Forum, the trade unions will press for you to have redeployee status with immediate effect so that you can get priority consideration for any other jobs in the Council. The things that management say one day are impossible can easily become possible if you organise together as trade unionists and stay strong.

It would have been good if more people had been more active earlier – but it is not too late to stand together to protect yourselves and each other. I hope that every Service Centre worker will join a trade union and get active in the continuing campaign. We will be meeting with management, both corporately and locally, and calling a further joint union meeting in the near future.

Jon Rogers
Branch Secretary
UNISON Lambeth local government branch

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