Socialist Worker

Councils’ privatisation frenzy is gathering pace

Councils across Britain are thinking of selling off vital services as the economic crisis deepens, writes Simon Basketter, but there is resistance

Issue No. 2131

Protesters sang carols during their 400-strong rally against privatisation in Barnet, north London, last week (Pic: Barnet Unison)

Protesters sang carols during their 400-strong rally against privatisation in Barnet, north London, last week (Pic: Barnet Unison)


Barnet council in north London is considering privatising all its basic services, including children’s services – and its plans are provoking opposition.

Over 400 people protested outside a council cabinet meeting that discussed the plans on Wednesday of last week.

The Tory-run council will spend £250,000 on a feasibility study of its plans, which could reduce its workforce from 4,000 to 200.

The protest, called by Barnet trades council and local branches of the Unison union, was held in response to the council’s “Future Shape” consultation.

Workers fear that Barnet will follow the lead of Somerset county council, which has formed the “Southwest One” consortium under contract to the multinational IBM.

The giant consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers is advising Barnet council.

John Burgess, the Barnet Unison branch secretary, said, “This protest was an incredible response from staff and Barnet residents on a bitter and cold December evening. Hot drinks, mince pies and carol singing all helped to fight off the cold.

“We find it bizarre that, while the private sector can’t look after itself, Barnet council thinks it can run council services.”

Mess

The council talks about the need to cut costs in the current economic climate, but its policies have led it into its current mess. It managed to lose £27 million in the collapse of the Landsbanki Icelandic bank.

The unions prepared a full response to the proposals but councillors dismissed them.

A similar story is developing in many areas across the country, with a number of councils pushing through cuts.

Essex is considering privatising all its services and Wirral Borough Council in Merseyside is pushing through the closure of 14 libraries and three leisure centres.

At the end of last month, Wirral’s ruling cabinet voted for a six-week consultation period over its massive cost-cutting exercise.

Some 20 community centres there also face being transferred out of council control, which will mean they lose staff and funding.

Over 100 protesters gathered outside the town hall ahead of a debate on the issue.

One sign read, “Wirral council’s contribution to the National Year of Reading? Close the libraries.”

The public were barred from speaking during the meeting, in which the ten Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors voted for the consultation period.

Among the angry protesters was Anna Pearce, a lifeguard who works at the threatened Guinea Gap baths in Seacombe. She is also a volunteer coach at Wallasey Swimming Club.

She said, “These cuts are not necessary. Guinea Gap is well used by members of the public and all of our different user groups.

Streets

“Wallasey Swimming Club was formed before the baths were opened and the building is over 100 years old.

“We have eight and half hours of pool time and nowhere else to go.

“We have over 250 members. The youngest is six years old and the eldest is in her 80s. The children exercise and socialise and it’s keeping them off the streets.”

Joe Taylor, the branch secretary of Wirral Unison, called for wider public opposition to the cuts. He said, “These cuts bite at the heart of our communities in Wirral and take away the facilities that are the hub of many communities.”

Trade unionists and residents were set to protest again on this Wednesday of this week.


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