to EDINBURGH 2000
The City of Edinburgh Council has produced
a consultation document "Edinburgh 2000",
outlining a view of how the council should operate
in the future. While there are some innovative
ideas, UNISON is concerned that the main thrust
is towards the so-called 'enabling' council
model. This would mean fewer elected councillors,
less open government and a drastic reduction
in directly provided services. Accountability,
responsiveness and quality of service would
suffer.Rather than use the council's somewhat
restrictive (and leading?) pro-forma response
sheet, the UNISON branch has produced and circulated
a more detailed point by point response, reproduced
here in full:
A Response from UNISON City of Edinburgh
Local Government & Related Sectors Branch
This response addresses specific issues in
"Edinburgh 2000"as a supplement to
the more detailed "Partnership to Save
Edinburgh's Services" document produced
by the branch in November 1997. That document
was informed by the direction the City of Edinburgh
Council had signalled throughout the previous
year and relates very directly to the issues
raised in "Edinburgh 2000".Our partnership
document was the subject of wide consultation
in the branch and the union at Scottish level
and the principles were adopted by the Scottish
Council of UNISON. The document was also circulated
to local councillors and MPs, several of whom
have forwarded comments.We believe that the
principles in our document command wide support
within our 11,000 members in the council, the
voluntary sector and associated bodies,as well
as more widely within in the union in Scotland
to an extent where very similar proposals have
been adopted by other branches and are being
raised with other councils.
UNISON welcomes measures in Edinburgh 2000"
aimed at creating a more efficient and responsive
organisation. Our members who deliver services
want this, the public wants this and the local
economy needs this. We believe that the drive
towards involving and consulting the public
is an important element in this.However, we
believe this needs to be real consultation starting
with attempts to accurately portray the aims
and limitations of council services, and attempts
to promote the importance of democratic accountability
and access to that accountability.However, UNISON
believes that major elements of "Edinburgh
2000"suggest that the council is in danger
of either deliberately or accidentally going
down the road of the 'Enabling Council' model.
It believes that this model of a smaller number
of councillors and senior officials contracting
out more and more responsibilities has a number
a) It is in conflict with the council's
stated wish for local authorities to have
an important strategic role in the community.
It is UNISON's view that this model will reduce
the council's ability to strategically plan,
it will reduce the expertise and knowledge
available to the council to ensure responsive
and consistent services, and it will reduce
its political influence.
b) The experience in some other areas is
that it will compartmentalise services, resulting
in them becoming less responsive, less integrated
and eventually more expensive. Any efficiency
gains from economy of scale will be lost.
c) It risks distancing operational decision
making from the public. The public will be
forced to deal more with managers whose primary
aim is commercial rather than with the smaller
number of councillors who they will still
see as ultimately accountable, though less
accessible or influential.
The examples are already there to see in
the plans for the Leisure Trust and its shifting
of the catering contract away from "Best
Value" principles towards a cost (rather
than quality) based service. Neither councillors,
by their own admission, nor the public who
will use this service and the staff who will
provide it were consulted or had any influence
over the decision. If such actions are repeated,
and they are bound to be under an outsourcing
or arms length approach, then all pretence
of a "community governance" approach
will be lost.
d) Resulting from the above, the council
and councillors will be seen as more and more
impotent (and therefore irrelevant) in having
influence over the services they are accountable
for. That will further reduce the key role
of local authorities and severely affect any
influential relationship with a Scottish Parliament.
3. Specific Comments
(Using "Edinburgh 2000" headings)"Summary
of Key Points"
The document asks whether the current structure
can deliver acceptable outcomes in a context
of progressive budget reductions. The question
must be posed as to whether any structure
or organisation can deliver effectively in
such a climate, especially when the budgetary
calculations often tend to be arbitrary.Clearly
changes can be made to provide more responsive
and flexible structures but they will always
be hindered by a lack of clear consistency
or security in local government funding arrangements.
"Best Value" also has to address
structures. If council services are failing
fair comparisons, the answer is not merely
to hive them off. Surely the drive for quality
and effectiveness dictates that internal structures,
management etc are examined.Wage levels, in
our view, are often a convenient scapegoat
which avoids the difficult process of the
council having to examine its own organisational
and management structures. Best Value is discussed
in more detail later in this response.
"Best Value" is again a major element.
The branch welcomes initiatives to work in
partnership to improve efficiency and effectiveness,
however it has concerns about how comparisons
will be defined and whether the 'hidden' cuts
we refer to later in this response will result
due to an uneven playing field.
Terms & Conditions:
The branch, and so far as we are led to believe,
the council is committed to national bargaining
and national conditions. There is already
room for considerable flexibility within these
frameworks. The document itself refers to
the cost effective stabilising effect of such
a system, which is also recognised in many
parts of the private sector.The alternative
is the chaos of councils bidding for skills
and the people with those skills following
the market at the expense of the longer term
loyalty, commitment and resulting experience
which benefits the council. This has been
recognised by the council from losing so many
experienced staff through voluntary severance.
UNISON's "Partnership" document
addresses the pivotal role of local authorities
within the economy and the community and largely
welcomes these aims in "Edinburgh 2000".
to 'Best Value'
If "Best Value" is applied properly,
UNISON believes that most council services
would be well able to stand up to any fair
comparisons. However, the indications or that
a level playing field may not always be there.
Misleading and hidden
cuts and downgrading:
"Best Value" needs to start with
an open council statement about the aims,
quality and content of the service being compared.
The danger, already evident, is that these
issues are likely to change in the process
of comparisons resulting in a 'hidden' reduction
in the aim, quality or content of the service.
This conflicts with the council's stated aim
of openness and inclusion.As such the public
is misled into believing that the 'in-house'
service is inefficient compared to the 'commercial'
comparison, when in fact all that has happened
is a deliberate downgrading of the service.
is not, and was never conceived to
be purely about cost. Quality and appropriateness
of services are key elements and these can
often be difficult to compare, using purely
commercial or cost based formulae.
example, in the area of residential care local
authorities have led the field in increasing
the ratio of qualified staff. This has been
because of active decisions to provide a safe
and high quality service to the most vulnerable.
It has also been the result of directions
or recommendations from inquiries.UNISON is
not satisfied that current community care
purchasing and future "Best Value"
comparisons will always take this into account
and ensure that other organisations used for
comparison (or indeed currently used) have
the same commitment to using qualified staff
at similar ratios.
The public (and central Government) will
not allow the council to abrogate its ultimate
responsibility for outsourced services. The
problems created by putting cost before appropriateness
or quality of service will ultimately land
at the council's door irrespective of
who delivers the service.
Omissions are easy to make in trying to make
real comparisons. The result can be that the
more specialist or lucrative specialist tasks
are contracted out while the council is left
with the more expensive and unattractive ones.
These tasks then become even more expensive
without the ability to cross-subsidise financially
or in staffing terms. The danger is that these
tasks are often overlooked in assessing what
the council actually does and this highlights
even more the need to involve the staff directly
providing services in any "Best Value"
Such omissions can also happen 'in house'.
UNISON is not convinced that the transfer
of litter picking duties from Recreation to
Environmental & Consumer Services took
fully into account how staff were used, what
other tasks they undertook and the co-ordination
required with other tasks. The council has
it in its power to address this. It would
not if it had outsourced or contracted out
on this basis.
The UNISON branch would take issue with the
concept that services formally in the public
sector have necessarily developed a more customer
oriented perspective. We would contend that
there are numerous examples to show that much
of this is a developed image of being more
customer oriented, rather than a reality.
The 'customers' are courted selectively on
spending power and on a competitive basis.
When an effective monopoly exists, the customer
has a simple choice of take it or leave it.
Councils need to be far more sophisticated
Firstly they need to serve all of the community
equally, not just those who can afford to
pay. Secondly, they need to remain responsive
even where they have a monopoly, for moral,
democratic and political reasons, not merely
for commercial reasons. They have to provide
services responsive to culture, race, poverty,
disability etc where there is no 'commercial'
imperative. As such the lessons to be learned
from other organisations are minimal. It is
up to councils, staff and the public to deliver
specific values for local government.The lesson
of UNISON having to contact Liverpool to get
information about a gas leak in Cockburn Street
Edinburgh, as occurred recently, is not a
lesson we would wish the council to draw from
a private sector utility.
UNISON is disappointed that there is no specific
mention of a structured partnership with council
staff but recognises that the council has
yet to respond to the branch's document.UNISON
welcomes partnerships with the voluntary sector.
The voluntary sector has a major contribution
to make as outlined in our document. But it
is to be stressed that this should be on a
complementary level rather than as a substitution
of 'in-house' services.
UNISON recognises the need to develop structures
to fit the task and to 'modernise' local government
to make it more responsive. However, we have
serious concerns about the philosophy behind
some apparent proposals and the ultimate direction
they will force the council into.These are
addressed in "Section 1. Overview"
Local authorities assuming "wider responsibilities
in the governance of their local areas"
and the direct provision of local services
are not incompatible.Although the document
does not directly state that these are incompatible,
the tone at times suggests this. UNISON believes
that would be a simplistic approach creating
an "either/or" situation to satisfy
other agendas.UNISON supports principles of
'subsidiarity' in bringing services and decision
making about those services down to the most
practicable local level. It has concerns however
that hybrid structures like those in Social
Work (to an extent forced by a response to
legislation) have resulted in decision making
being subsumed to a district and HQ level.
While budgets were not devolved to local office
level before, many important operational decisions
were, and many of the better offices had close
community involvement which has never been
FOR THE COUNCIL"
UNISON welcomes much of this section as a
positive approach which addresses many of
the issues in our own document.It believes
that success will depend in more involvement
by staff and their union in creating a two
way process in developing targets and standards.
Standards set in isolation, or merely from
the top down are not owned.More concerningly,
even though they may be supported, they are
often viewed cynically because they do not
relate to staff's experience of the 'real
world' of service delivery, lack of resources
and lack of systems to ensure the standards.In
such cases standards are merely seen as guidelines
by which staff can be criticised rather than
genuine attempts to improve service.
to the Development of the City"
UNISON recognises the significant achievements
of the administration and the previous Lothian
and Edinburgh councils in developing the city
and welcomes the commitment to the future.
However, we do not believe that partnership
with other agencies and direct provision (or
control for that matter) are necessarily exclusive.
We believe that suggestions that these may
be incompatible in themselves relate to an
'enabling council' agenda.
- Getting More from Less"
The reality of current funding needs to be
addressed, but the council cannot plan for
the future without addressing the national
perspective.There is an absence in the document
of any firm position on better funding of
councils. A strong argument needs to be made
for better funding, for fairer funding formulae
and a more consistent approach to allow local
authorities to plan in the longer term and
in a more efficient way, encompassing real
Best Value .Part of that process needs to
be a challenge to the hidden shift of financial
commitments from central to local government,
for example in devolved statutory duties or
in DSS benefit regulations.
We have commented above on the need for a
real, rather than a commercial customer focus.The
branch's document addresses the issue of integrated
services and the need for cross-departmental
co-operation, delivery of service etc and
the need for cross departmental decisions
to be made at the lowest operational level
possible.Much cross departmental co-operation
is hindered by inflexible budgetary arrangements
and decision making processes. UNISON believes
that much of the 'co-operation' perceived
at councillor or chief official level is not
experienced by staff at service delivery level.In
addition, the whole CCT regime of one arm
of the council monitoring the other and the
waste of internal markets makes integration
and co-ordination all the more difficult.
UNISON welcomes the consultation on Edinburgh
2000 and hopes that a debate can be entered
into on this document and on its own "Partnership
to Save Edinburgh's Services" document.It
welcomes measures to improve the effectiveness,
responsiveness and security of Edinburgh's services
but believes that outsourcing, arms length provision
and the drift towards an "enabling
council" model will damage those services,
make them less effective and responsive,
more compartmentalised and ultimately more expensive.
It urges the council to enter into partnership
dialogues with UNISON and the public to defend
and improve services. This should involve considering
emergency short term measures to protect service
infrastructure so that a base will still exist
to build on and develop new ideas and initiatives.Fundamental
decisions about the long term future of services
should not be made on the basis of immediate
financial constraints.UNISON further believes
the council should promote the value of its
current services and the benefits of direct
provision in terms of integration, responsiveness,
accountability and consistency.