Canterbury City Council today announced the ‘exciting news’ that district wide refuse collection, currently being done to a rubbish standard (arf) as a private contract by SERCO, is being re-examined. Wake up at the back – yes, it’s bins, this is the local authority, it’s what they do. But let’s take a closer look at what they’re proposing.
The Tory-led council have been pretty happy to outsource / privatise (let’s call a spade a spade) as much as possible, and have relished the centrally forced shift in role by local authorities from spending our taxes for the public good, to acting as dodgy and not very competent investment companies. See their foolish purchase of Whitefriars and their excitement over the ridiculous new multi-storey car park for evidence of their dazzlement at their own purchasing power. Unsurprisingly, privatising our public services tends to result in increased profit for private company bosses and a decline in workers’ rights, and a total loss of control and oversight. SERCO have failed in Canterbury. Judgement made – privatising the bins has failed. Goodbye to a Tory pet project. So what’s next?
The council are proposing setting up their first ‘LATCo’ aka a Local Authority Trading Company, in order to avoid their fiscal responsibility and take control of a messy (arf) problem. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a proper company, a business, which does the job of collecting refuse and recycling, garden waste and so on. So why are they doing this? Why not give up on privatising completely and take back control of our public services, as most Canterbury residents want?
Well. It turns out there are some sneaky advantages in a LATCo. Our council are trying to sell us this as a ‘the best of both worlds’ arrangement, but in reality it’s the very worst of both. They don’t even pretend it’s anything other than what it is – a vehicle to avoid paying the pension contributions and other things that contribute to workers having decent working conditions. For all the rants I read on various forums online about SERCO’s dire performance, the men on the ground who do the dirty work, are for the most part admired and sympathised with – they’re doing their best under poor conditions. They are asked to work longer, harder hours, with targets that mean they can’t do a good job. It’s not their fault – it’s the management of SERCO, who by their nature as a private profit making company, need to cream off as much as possible. By choosing a LATCo over bringing refuse collection fully back in-house, your Tory council are choosing to deprive our bin men of their right to decent working conditions that have been defined and set as appropriate for the work they do. It’s there in black and white in the proposal document, available online HERE. They won’t get a decent pension, they won’t any better working conditions than they do currently working for SERCO. And it will be the same men – TUPE law means that it will be the same men collecting your bins. The council can’t sack them or make them redundant, so they will move to working for this LATCo, with no better working conditions than they currently have.
The big question for residents – will this improve the service for residents of Canterbury, Whitstable and the Villages? I see no way how it could. A mainstay of Labour policy is to take back control of outsourced, privatised work which is currently done by the private, profit-making sector. This seemingly small shift towards Labour policy is nothing more than cynical vote seeking in advance of the council elections in May. The Tories know privatising services doesn’t work, but their entire party is based on eroding workers’ rights and conditions for the pursuit of profit. Why would we expect a Tory-run council to behave any differently from a Tory government? It won’t be residents or workers who see an improvement here. The question then is who is this proposal going to benefit, exactly? Tories scared of losing their seats at the election, perhaps? I wonder.