In a last-minute election dash, the Canterbury Conservatives are trying to convince us that their new waste collection idea for 2021 is going to be the “in-house” service we all want. But let’s be very clear. It won’t be. Their proposal for a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCo), wholly owned by the Council, won’t look or feel like an “in-house” service which most of us would recognise.
Empowered by the 2011 Localism Act, Councils are now able to reject outsourcing and exercise greater control over their providers, feeding profits back into the local authority. But the Conservatives’ new proposals won’t work like that. Built into the plans is a degree of “flexibility,” which will benefit the council, not its workers. Their suggested new LATCo service could impose terms and conditions upon its employees which appear considerably less favourable than those enjoyed by direct Council employees. This is not Labour making an unfounded assumption, this change is the main reason the Tories are supporting this option. It appears in the report in black and white. It is designed to save them money.
Should the LATCo proposal be set in motion, our waste collection service may well be just SERCO in disguise, run by the Council in your name. Little will change on the outside. Quite possibly you will still get your bins collected by agency staff on short term contracts, but on zero-hour contracts and paid the minimum wage, with no guaranteed hours to bring stability to their lives. Make no mistake, this is the true face of the “flexibility” which the Tories intend to use LATCo to conceal. Canterbury’s residents and workers deserve better. There is no reason that a true in-house operation cannot be equally able to accommodate the many changes ahead for waste management, but without the imposed “flexibility” of poor pay and conditions. Yet that option has already been dismissed by the local Conservatives.
Labour will be opposing this proposal on these principles, not because we are stuck in a time-warp, but because we feel strongly that CCC should be setting a better example. It should be a fair and ethical employer, not one that is prepared to set itself up deliberately to pass on the consequences of in-work poverty to the taxpayer, and to wash their hands in the tears of local families struggling to survive. I see nothing in this proposal that puts my mind at ease, nothing that sets out to create a true LATCo, if that is what they are wedded to. Such a company should be based around fair and ethical conditions of employment and one that would not create a two-tier CCC workforce serving our community.
Unbelievably the Tories seem to think that residents don’t care how their bin collection is run. Well, I can share this with them: people do care, they are communicating this to Labour every day. Residents will not support a service delivered on the back of poverty wages, poor conditions and insecure employment. Any LATCo established in the name of the people would be wise to take note.
This article first appeared in the Kentish Gazette on 14 March, 2019.