Youth & Community Work – Keep it public – Learning not for sale

Youth and community services can be compared to any other public service in a number or areas. Like other services, the majority of youth and community workers are made up of local authority employees. Like other services, staff are employed to ensure that the communities are provided with a service based around social, educational, environmental or health needs and delivered through accountable structures. Like other services, the state has control of funding and quality and quantity of delivery. And like other services, youth and community workers are facing the menace of privatisation.

Since Rapport exposed the “Tower Hamlets model” of running a private youth service CYWU branch officers have been asking some probing questions of their service management, and have received some alarming answers. One or two heads of services have made off the record announcements that following reports and recommendations by Best Value Inspectors, management will be making proposals to cabinet that their service goes out to external trusts. In addition, many London and south eastern branches have suffered restructuring that has seen youth amalgamated with leisure or play.

In many of these cases this has meant that JNC jobs have come under direct threat. In other cases, it is expected that the merger of the services will soften the impact of privatisation. This has been the suspicion of members in one North West London borough where they have witnessed leisure services successfully inviting privateers to tender for work and later merging leisure with youth together. To rub salt into their wounds the centre managers then were instructed to show negotiators around their clubs to value the properties.

In another London local authority, members are certain that the whole service will be offered to the private sector in the next few months. Unfortunately many of these managers who believe that the private sector can provide the best possible youth service are using a established private London model that has a very poor reputation in industrial relations. Or in other terms, it treats its staff badly. Opinion polls show that 83 per cent of the population believes in the public sector ethos. People that work with people, whether with patients, young people, passengers, elderly or infants work from a willingness to do what is right, without an eye on balance sheets and financial quarterly reports. CYWU research demonstrates that private schemes cost more that conventionally funded projects. That is because the private sector has to borrow at higher rate than the public sector since the government secures much lower interest rates.

In addition, the private sector demands a high financial return for their investment, which inevitably leads to a cost burden on service users and an attack on wages, terms and conditions and the health and safety of employees. Pensions are also a major concern for trade unions when staffs are being transferred from local authority services to private services. Pensions are a high value commodity to our members but at a high cost to the perspective privateer. The government offers guidance to successful contractors that a comparable pension scheme is transferred to employees. In reality this never happens. Management and pro-privatisation commentators claim that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector but there is no evidence to support this. In fact all the evidence contradicts this claim whether it is in schools, housing, hospitals or railways.

Youth and community services play a key role in improving the lives of residents in the community. The vast majority of this essential service is provided by local governments, which can respond to the local priorities and is in touch with the community. Could outside agencies meet the demands of the community and be accountable in the same way as the local government. Local councils are the largest employers in the country.

Youth and community services are fragmented enough without introducing outside private companies to provide the work, especially companies that are profit and not people driven. Such companies would undoubtedly attempt to disregard the professional and correct qualification and pay scales in their quest to compete with contractors to provide the cheapest service on offer. CYWU is working tirelessly to combat this threat, and support will be given to all branches under attack. Members are urged to link up with full-time officers as soon as they suspect their authority is considering such a move. As a union we are politically opposed to privatisation and will campaign against such a detrimental move. Members must view this as an attack on their profession and be prepared to fight against it tooth and nail.