Friday, 30 March 2012

ONS Data - Trends in Local Government Confirmed.

For a while now I've been banging on about the future of local government. Being involved with an authority at the time it entered an outsourcing deal with Capita whilst simultaneously looking to jettison leisure centres, road maintenance and street lighting I saw a trend which would leading to a new kind of organisation appearing.

What I saw was a kind of 'slimeline' local authority not dissimilar to a what has been perhaps more fashionably referred to as a 'virtual council.' This organisation consists of a rump of professionals primarily concerned with the functions of strategic management, contracting and enforcement.

Strategic management and contracting are in many ways combined and if anything these areas will grow in our new local authority. Contracting involves the business of drawing-up, tendering as well as administering contracts on a day-to-day issue-by-issue basis whilst strategic management involves the setting of the over-arching priorities for outsourced departments and providing a link with elected officials.

'Enforcement' includes functions, such as environmental health, licencing and planning. These areas stay under the umbrella of the Local Authority due to the conflicts of interest which would clearly be present if they were carried out by a contractor. Also included is high-end social work. I say high-end meaning not routine work such as assessing for meals-on-wheels, day care, or even home care, but work such as safeguarding investigations and dealing with more complex cases as well as children's services which require the involvement of qualified social workers. This will stay in-house for two reasons; firstly the strength of the profession, but most importantly it is the sensitive nature of these activities which would make it politically problematic to outsource them.  

Outside these areas everything is up for grabs. Medium to long-term all authorities are heading towards this new model in various stages. It is also a process of one-way drift as bringing services back 'in-house' would prove costly and infinitely complex as whole sections have been handed over to the private sector along with all the systems, experience and knowledge they encompass. Unless this were handed back the cost alone would be prohibitive in many cases.

But what evidence is there of this? Much of it so far has been simply been anecdotal. My experiences of being up-close to this process and having the opportunity to ask questions on the inside have given me a sense of what is happening, but still this is in one area.

The latest ONS data on public/private sector earnings however has provided some clear evidence of this process. In their analysis they find that making a straight comparison of median earnings by sector is difficult as the skill levels are different.

Over time the public sector has outsourced some jobs to the private sector. While some of this
outsourcing has involved contracting out higher skill jobs to the private sector, for example,
Information Technology (IT) support, much of the outsourcing that has occurred has been in lower skilled jobs, for example, cleaning. The result of this outsourcing has been to take many of the low skilled jobs that would have been carried out in the public sector and transfer them to the private sector.

This is of course a finding which is highly consistent with the 'streamline' hypothesis. If the trend is for local government, or indeed the public sector in general, is to recede to this professional rump then this is what we would expect to see - a higher concentration of high-skilled 'professionals.'

Anyone fancy funding a PHD?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Remploy - A step forward or a step back?

Sadly its far from  unusual these days to read a story about 1 700 being put out of work, but it is a little strange to be asking whether this is in fact a good thing, but so it is in the case of Remploy who employ a workforce comprising mainly of disabled people.

Remploy is in many ways an eerie crystalisation of the eclipsing of what academics refer to as a 'Fordist' welfare state; one characterised by one-size standardised services, overwhelmingly provided by state buracracies.  

In a 'post-fordist' welfare state services provided not by a bulky and buracratic state monolith, but by a range of providers usually in the private or voluntary sector and are tailored, personalised and customised to meet the needs of individuals who themselves take a much greater role in planning their support.

The Remploy model, of subsidised factories belongs therefore to a time which is passing and maybe we should be glad of this.

 On one hand it arguably serves to segregate disabled people from mainstream society into a box with limited horizons. Why shouldnt a disabled person have the right to career aspirations beyond whats on offer in a Remploy factory? Whatsmore if the reported 'average subsidy' of £25 000 a year is anything to go on then Remploy hardly seems to represent value for money. Certainly that amount could buy a lot of support for individuals and educate a lot of employers about the benefits of adopting more disability friendly practices.

Small wonder then that some sections of the disability movement seem to be welcoming the axe which looks set to fall, but at the same time is their are a number of issues.

The practical issues are will personalised support deliver better outcomes? Will it free individuals, or will it isolate and trap them either in unemployment, or in unsuitable, demeaning, or degrading employment.

The most crucial question however, is how do the 1 700 affected individuals feel about this? Have they been consulted and listened to in the debate about their future, or in the rush to create a brave new world of welfare are the same mistakes being made by those who critique the past for its failings in this respect.