Archive

Archive for the ‘3rd Sector’ Category

Bankrupt Britain: Is the death of Local Public Service provision avoidable and will it lead communities to provide their own not-for-profit services?

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Whilst it may not be generating the media frenzy or sensationalist prose that usually grabs everyone’s attention, recent days have seen a number of different stories emerge that confirm much about the state of Local Government and the services we contribute towards with our Council Tax.

The common theme is of course money – or rather the lack of it.

Those of us taking the collapse of local public services seriously may already be well aware of the perilous state of funding and how bleak the outlook actually is.

However, despite the many cuts and reductions in services that people have witnessed across the UK already, it is the continuing reliance that today’s politicians have placed in using yesterday’s methods to solve tomorrows problems should perhaps give us even greater cause for concern.

This week alone, one Police & Crime Commissioner covering a Conservative area has suggested that he will seek a referendum on raising the local Police Precept element of Council Tax by no less than 25%, whilst the Leader of Newcastle City Council is now on the record as suggesting that the reduction of funding may soon lead to social unrest, with an expectation that an incoming Labour Government will simply change the ‘settlement’ – and thereby solve the problem after May.

Whilst both of these Politicians are in unenviable positions, neither plan would work in the best interests of the electorate, even if they were to be seen to solve the problems in the immediate term. And by immediate term, we are probably talking just 12 months before the very same problem is there to be solved all over again.

Adding yet more to the Tax burden of individuals and households may be an easy decision for politicians, but isn’t sustainable for the people who are paying.

Meanwhile, more money coming from central Government when the Country is already effectively bankrupt spells disaster of another kind, as the accumulation of National Debt simply cannot continue with each successive Government that comes along attempting to shelve today’s problems for tomorrow by printing money like it was all some kind of game without any real cost.

The system of local public service delivery is broken not just because of a lack of funding today, but because of decades of mismanagement focused on targets, working conditions and the development of the protectionist culture which serves everyone’s interests but those of the very people who the services were initially created to serve.

These cultural and institutional problems have not been created locally, but they are certainly propagated locally.

One of the most serious ‘injustices’ served upon every Council Tax Payer, is the seismic amount of our contributions that actually go into the Local Government Pension Scheme. It has increasingly done so since the then Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown raided Pension Funds in 1997 and left the general public to pick up the tab for the subsequent deficit which would otherwise have surely obliterated gold-plated Local Government Pensions.

It would certainly be advisable to have a look at your Local Council’s Annual Budget and see just how much of your money goes into this Scheme. A good guess would be that rather than being anywhere near the red, your local services would be well and truly in the black if you weren’t funding someone else’s retirement plan, just because of the last Labour Government’s fiscal free-for-all, which removed many of the regulations that actually helped a great many of the very people who supported them.

Solving the problem of how to afford what local public services cost us without losing services, reducing services or there being a need to dispose of assets which basically belong to us all, may have already reached a stage where it will seem impossible to do so without the measures already discussed.

But with such options not being real choices, we will all soon have to accept that the way local public services are delivered is going to change; and that the change that comes may not be in anyway better.

Service sharing between Authorities and even Police Forces is now well under way and is likely to accelerate significantly as the reality of the UK’s financial predicament continues to bite hard.

However, the distinct irony of this pathway is that sharing services does indeed take the management and handling of public services further away from the people themselves. And the point should not be lost on anyone that the real cause of much of today’s political disquiet – i.e. taking decisions further away from people will only be made worse by what is yet to come as a result of this.

The political and government infrastructure that could have solved problems like those raised by the Scottish Independence question has already existed for at least two generations in the forms of Parish & Town Councils, District Level Councils and County Councils.

The problem is that Westminster based politicians do not want to empower local representatives at any cost.

Whilst continually paying lip service through concepts such as ‘Localism’ – which has been such a big sound bite of the Coalition era, the reality has been that all changes within Local Government have simply been pushing more and more power back to London, rather than devolving local decisions to local people as any Government focused upon what is really best for the electorate surely would.

This reality may well give the lie to the ‘vow’ which we all awoke to on the morning after the Scottish Referendum. It almost certainly paints a picture which doesn’t look good for us all locally. But when local politics is itself arguably just as rotten and as focused on itself as Westminster is, what can we really expect?

The reality of what lies ahead should hit us hard, because much of what we today take for granted in terms of services supporting both communities and individuals may soon be simply unaffordable – even though we seem to be paying through the nose for it.

With Government Organisations and structures maintained by a culture which nobody is willing to reform, Local Authorities are likely to lean ever more heavily in the future upon contractors and trading companies.

This is a considerable leap in the direction of privatisation and one which could very quickly lead to the token ability of Local Council’s to affect change and decision making on the part of the communities that they represent to be seen for what it really is.

It is a very real prospect that the only services that many people perceive as being what they receive for their money will be handled by private contractors. Companies who are delivering services to the public whilst making a profit at a lower price than what it would cost the public to deliver itself.

With even fortnightly bin collections now at risk, it is not in any way hard to imagine paying for your rubbish to be collected by a company you pay directly – as you would do with electricity, gas or your phone. Indeed it may be little accident that ‘utility’ companies already run such services on behalf of Councils and many of us will quickly wonder what we are paying Council Tax for if we don’t see any Police on the streets and have our rubbish collected by someone else.

Without immediate and meaningful reform, it is a good guess that social enterprise will be the only way that we will be able to have local public services delivered, which are seen to be free at point of delivery or kept at a cost which is both affordable for users and sustainable for the organisations delivering them.

This is unlikely to be restricted to just local service delivery, and whilst utilities, transport and communications are currently little more than the cash cows of the City and its Pension Funds, keeping it real dictates that sooner or later the political classes will have to accept that allowing our society to function at its most basic level requires nothing less than that all services provided for the benefit of the wider community and the individuals within it must be provided on a not-for-profit basis and with best value to the end user firmly in mind.

Regrettably, with much of the infrastructure already disposed of which will facilitate this at National Level, and the same process now progressively happening through the back door at local level, it is communities themselves that may well have to raise the funds to create the new trading companies that will do this.

With crowd funding a good example of the options now available, it is certainly possible to do so.

But as we also wonder why we are paying more tax on everything but receive even less for what we give…won’t we all be asking the question why?

 

image: dailymail.co.uk 

 

Labour’s ‘jobs guarantee’ for the unemployed: Politicians should guarantee their own jobs by giving industry the policies and systems that work for business so that business itself can start working for us all.

January 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Tackling unemployment should be an issue for any Government. But Labour’s attempt at generating meaningful headlines with meaningless content will do little to reassure either business or the unemployed about what the post 2015 future may hold. It will also do little to enhance Labour’s kudos on matters of care for the elderly if they are planning even more ‘Brownite’ onslaughts upon the pension funds of those who are already working.

Subsidising low-paid jobs does little to incentivise those who have not already taken them, but does a great deal for companies who need and profit from a low-skilled workforce; staff who require minimum induction or ongoing training alongside next-to-no supervision; all packaged neatly within a low-risk environment.

People should not be fooled either by the idea that cash-strapped charities would immediately benefit from having unskilled staff delivering services which may currently be undertaken by experienced volunteers, when such staff themselves would in all likelihood require supervision at much greater cost.

Perhaps I will not be alone in seeing the irony that the only businesses which can therefore profitably gain from the implementation of these ideas are primarily the big retailers, who are already targeting such groups for their shop-floor staff pools and don’t actually need Government money to help them do so.

The retail fat-cats must surely be laughing themselves all the way to the bank as they thank the gods of democracy in anticipation of the delivery of such idiocy made manifest in political form.

Getting people of all ages into work isn’t just about job creation. It is about empowering business, education and developing skills based upon the strengths of the individual, rather than devaluing the future of a whole generation on the basis of the weaknesses of groups.

If Westminster politicians were to adopt a more reasoned and practical approach, they might conclude that tackling employment issues tomorrow might be better served by tackling the causes of unemployment today. They might also conclude that the unemployed and disenfranchised young people of today, may well become the long-term unemployed and unemployable of tomorrow. Can it really be that difficult to see how many of these issues actually roll into one when you think ahead?

As Education Secretary, Michael Gove has impressed many with his fervour to return a world-class British system of education for school-age children. But will that really go far enough if it actually happens?

Children are always different and will always react differently to education. Some work best with their heads, whilst some will always work better practically and ‘with their hands’. Any system of schooling which therefore doesn’t recognise that difference and more importantly cater for it, is going to fail many of those who might otherwise go on to succeed – especially when that difference may just have been a simple issue of age and time at individual level.

Returning to a fully parallel and universal system of academic and vocational education from the age of 14 would be akin to pushing the first domino in a whole run of social issues concerning us now and for the future – however ‘un-PC’ they may be.

Removing red tape and legislation that currently prevent businesses of all sizes from employing teenagers at realistic wages during realistic hours and within the real-world employment environment, could give non-academically inclined children the real hope of attaining like-for-like qualifications through the timed-served, rather than the academic route.

Creation of the ‘apprenticeship-degree’ would bolster the competitiveness of British Industry and business of all sizes which themselves would then be able to draw upon an affordable pool of trainees, making investment in their future entirely more feasible; whilst taking Young People off the streets, giving them value in themselves, money in their pockets and taking them away from crime which the Country can already ill-afford to tackle.

Savings to Government from no longer filling what are arguably wasted places in schools could be significant, even if some funds were then redirected to tertiary and higher education colleges which support the vocational route for many of what would be the mile-stoned route to that real and vocationally-based degree. And let’s face it, degrees need to regain the value that the one-size-fits-all mentality of the last Government did much to destroy, whilst giving all those who actually want to work the opportunity to do so.

Getting the unemployed who want to work into work will always be a job done better by employers. Politicians should guarantee their own jobs by giving industry the policies and systems that work for business so that business itself can start working for us all.

Pensioners, Social Care and the Questions of inevitability, independence & incentives lost

Getting older is one of the few things left that we cannot actually control in our technical age. But how much thought do you give your ability to retain that independence which many of us today simply take for granted?

Just last week, whilst walking through the rain in the local Sainsburys Car Park, I found myself being beckoned by an old lady who literally called ‘will you come to my aid?’. A non-starting car, a phone-call to discover that her roadside assistance was 10 years out of date and then another to drag a Friday-afternoon-weary mechanic out across Town, all paled into insignificance when she excusingly announced that she was 92.

This terrific pensioner regrettably had nobody whom I could call on her behalf to prevent her just sitting there whilst the time passed to the completion of her rescue. But to be fair, I wouldn’t want to make a song and dance if I found myself in a similarly unwelcome situation and would be lying if I were to say anything other than how much I admired her stoic independence and indifference to such items as the seemingly unused mobile phone, still wrapped and jiffy-bagged in the door-well of her car.

Sadly, not many 92 year olds will be driving themselves to the supermarket before returning home alone today, and this is perhaps where many more of us should be casting our thoughts in terms of what support is put in place for older generations, how it is funded and perhaps most importantly how much of that bill we should seriously expect pensioners with varying levels of need to pay themselves.

The issue of Social Care is jumping in and out of the spotlight at the moment. But are MP’s really thinking about the wider issues involved in this nebulous policy area; about how pensioners really feel about having decisions made for them about everything they have worked for? After all, many who have worked hard and been regular taxpayers throughout their lives are potentially being left without the option to leave something for their families, or perhaps even to leave a legacy to a charity which somewhat ironically the Government might itself need to look to for help as part of its push towards ‘Big Society’.

Many are at a loss as to understand what the term ‘National Insurance’ actually means in all this. If any one person can contribute to the NI ‘pot’ on the understanding that they will be supported when they are in times of need, but find that when that need arrives, a judgement is then made on whether they can help themselves first to outwardly save the public purse, can we truly believe that we have a universally-applicable, balanced and fair welfare system?

Evidence would suggest that not only is the welfare system inherently unfair to those who through their actions choose to regularly pay tax, but that it is those who have always paid who will actually continue to keep on doing so. In a modern, civilised and free society it is little more than idealism that creates a situation where some can have all for the price of giving nothing, whilst others can end up with nothing for the price of being forced to give just about all that they have.

The elephant in this room is a difficult one to deal with and most of us appreciate that fact. But we are living in a society where success and simple hard work are now being penalised in every part of life right up until death, and where making little or no effort is now seen to be the ‘right thing’.

No considerate person would suggest that anybody in genuine need should not be given adequate and appropriate help when they need it. But have we really seen the dawn of times when those that work will pay for everything and everyone else throughout their lives and get virtually nothing back in return?

Without Government Funding, many Not-for-Profit services are unviable…

News has been making its way into Today’s agenda regarding Charities struggling as a result of Government budgets shrinking. But this story itself alludes to the differences between what are in some cases little more than not-for-profit organisations carrying out low-cost public services on behalf of perhaps a number of government organisations and what most of us would consider to be Charities in their ‘truest sense’, which are those specific cause-focused organisations which are rarely anything but funded by donations, fundraising and private support.

All enjoy varying levels of volunteer support and share the commonality of reduced incomes  – a factor not just brought about by the economies required by the times, but also by the sheer number of Charities which now exist, many of which duplicate the work and aims of others at least in part, if not entirely – literally creating competition for donors.

Together as the Third Sector, Charities and Not-for-Profit ‘service delivery’ organisations face very different issues in the drive to fill the gaps left by cuts and the short reach of Government and it is a little more than ironic that at a time when David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ looks to the service delivery specialisms of the Not-for-Profit providers, that the Government is itself reducing the funds which are their very lifeblood.

What many of us may not readily understand is that whilst there will always be some members of the public who are motivated to donate what are sometimes sizable amounts to service providers such as Rural Community Councils and Dial-a-Rides, the community focussed work that these very worthwhile 3rd Sector Organisations carry out, in simply assisting people in their everyday lives fails to have the same donation draw as a Charity with a cause which fires the imagination, passion and dare I say it fear of many – thereby  motivating them to put their hands in their pockets.

In simple terms, this leaves the practical reality that Government – whether Central or Local or through NGO’s – will always have to support the Not-for-Profit service providers within the 3rd Sector if they wish them to continue to provide services, as the public will never provide the level of support voluntarily to make public services provided in a different name available.

Whilst the services that these organisations provide may be low in cost and a cheap option for the Government to take, politicians do not have the option of stepping away from supporting them with some kind of misplaced idea that the public will directly choose to pick up the bill. They won’t and shouldn’t have to, because that’s one of the reasons they pay Tax…

%d bloggers like this: