Statement on the proposal for Birmingham to move Children’s Services to a Trust
The Tories have made no secret of the fact that they want to privatise our public services and allow private companies to make profits from public money. More has been privatised by George Osbourne than in the 10 years of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure and children’s services are on the list.
The Government’s new Children’s and Social Work Bill will give powers to free council-run children’s services from operating under some children’s social care legislation while they explore "other ways of operating". David Cameron has made no secret of the fact that he thinks children’s services should be outsourced.
Of course we will be told that a Trust isn’t privatisation and that the move is to "free up social workers to do their job" but we fear that this is smoke screen as privatisation still isn’t popular with the public.
The media have tried to portray Birmingham’s Children’s Services as damaged beyond repair and say that it is a culture problem that has led to the inadequate ratings. There are also some that try to say it’s the frontline staff that are the problem. We dispute all this that entirely.
Along with the rest of the UK we have had 6 long years of Austerity. Birmingham’s children’s services have faced year on year cuts to the budget and although the social work teams budgets were protected for the last few years the rest of children’s services providing many of the preventive services that are so vital to a working model faced huge cuts. Even this year the council have proposed big cuts in family support teams.
It’s a typical Tory tactic – cut things to the bone and then say they are not working so need to be done differently. Recently a study by the University of Greenwich found that there is "no significant difference in efficiency between public and privately owned companies in public services. But that does not stop the ideological attack on the public sector. The overall budget for Birmingham’s council services has been cut by £450M already and we still face huge cuts every year. We have lost our play centres, our youth clubs and facilities, our Connexions Service and Neighbourhood Offices has been cut to the bone.
Government Austerity doesn’t just cut the council’s safety net but also affects the levels of poverty and need in the city. Child poverty has been increasing year on year under the Tories. The Child Poverty Action Group have found that 81% of children in Ladywood, 79% in Small Heath and Sparkbrook and 75% in Hodgehill live in low income families. We have
seen a huge rise in foodbanks, a growth in zero hour contracts and fall in the standards of living of thousands of families.
This has all produced more need but we have a lot less money to work with.
Many social workers have stuck with Birmingham trying to hold things together even when we had a vacancy rate of 47%. This is tough, and we have constantly reported to managers the problems that our members face. Workers have had huge caseloads, managers change all the time and staff often work in a team where most people you see are agency workers. There hasn’t been consistent supervision and they’ve been working way beyond the hours that they are paid for. Our social workers have been doing the very best job they can in the rotten conditions that they’ve been forced to work in.
Will setting up a trust with no extra money solve this? we fear that it won't. In fact just this March the Tories put an amendment to a Council motion proposing to set up the exact model of care now being proposed and Labour rejected it then, we ask why they are proposing it now?
UNISON recognises that the plans are at an early stage and we will try to work with the City to shape the proposals so that our members are fully protected. But we reserve our right to encourage our members to follow social workers in Sandwell who have overwhelmingly rejected trust proposals there.
Birmingham isn’t leafy Surrey, we are a city of a million people where poverty levels are high. This means we do have the need for a well-funded social work service. However we also need all of the preventive series funded properly too. We don’t need another round of highly paid consultants drawing up different ways to do things. Instead in the fifth richest economy in the world we need to change the government’s priorities.
Austerity is political choice it is not an economic necessity.
While we have had our budget cut by £450M since 2010 the Sunday Times tells us that the richest 1000 people in Britain have doubled their wealth since 2010, with the extra enough to pay off the deficit in full and to fund the services that hold a civilised society together.
Instead of tax cuts and tax havens for the richest we want properly funded and publicly accountable public services. This is the only real solution to the problems faced in Birmingham.