Executive Council Report: March 2009

March 30, 2009

A report of the March Executive Council meeting is here. This report is obviously a personal one, giving my own impressions of the meeting. The document should in no way be seen as an official record of the meeting.

I spoke several times at this meeting about the NHS, and the Government’s moves to dismantle NHS community services. My contributions at the Executive Council meeting reflect my growing concern that the union response falls short of what is needed to withstand these attacks.


Money for the banks, cuts for the NHS

March 22, 2009

Unite organises workers in the finance sector. They’re not all ‘greedy bankers’ – in fact they earn, on average, around £15,000 a year. One of the real industrial problems they are now facing is that members of the public come into banks and abuse staff, somehow believing that they’re all greedy fat cats, and that they’re all responsible for the catastrophic recession.

At the Unite Executive Council last week, Rob McGregor, National Officer for Finance, reported on the massive job losses now taking place in the sector. He also gave us a reminder of just how much of our money has been poured into bailing out the banks (with a view to nationalising the debt and re-privatising the profit). The real City fat cats want to get back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as they can, and the Government is happy to support them. There is, of course, no trade union representation in the FSA, the agency that pretends to regulate financial services in the UK.

The public money spent on ‘capitalising’ the banks now stands at an astonishing £900 billion. This compares with only £82 billion in total spent on education – schools, colleges and universities.

Pouring this kind of money into banks has serious implications for public sector spending. The Government is pretty cagey about this, but reports are now emerging about the deep spending cuts that are planned for the NHS.

Monitor, the regulator of Foundation Trusts, has warned that NHS Trusts applying for foundation status will be required in the future to demonstrate that they can survive if their income grows by only 0.7 per cent a year from 2011-12 onwards, compared with 2.2 per cent next year. The Monitor estimate for ‘efficiency savings’ (the Government’s euphemism for cuts) stands at 4 to 4.5 per cent in 2011-12.

What does this mean? Real cuts of up to 3.8 per cent a year. The HSJ story on all this is here .

It may well be even worse than this. Sue Slipman, the Foundation Trust Network Director, says, ‘We all know it’s going to be infinitely more grim than the Monitor figures suggest’.

And Price Waterhouse Cooper – a company that knows nothing about healthcare but a good deal about money – says that Primary Care Trusts should reckon on cutting their spending by up to £6 billion between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

We have a Government that bails out banks but shows utter contempt for workers. We have a system – capitalism – that looks ever more corrupt.

Transforming Community Services: An attack that has to be stopped

March 15, 2009

I’ve posted before on the ‘Transforming Community Services’ guidance now being implemented across England. A detailed analysis of what’s happening is here. We have to understand what’s happening in order to resist it.

‘Transforming Community Services’ would be more accurately described as Transferring Community Services’ – transferring them out of the NHS. The clear intention is to strip community healthcare out of the NHS altogether. This has been an ambition of this reactionary Government since 2005. Then, we forced them to back down. Now, they are counting on unions falling into line as a general election looms.

This is an ideological attack, from a Government that has an increasingly open contempt for workers and trade unionists. The NHS was one of the greatest achievements of the last century. If our unions don’t wake up to the scale of the threat here, the loss of the NHS will be one of the greatest defeats of this one.

Community Healthcare: Opportunities for big business to make big profits

March 4, 2009

Many of us think of the NHS in terms of hospitals, cancer, cardiac arrests and blue light emergencies. Actually most NHS care is a lot less exciting than this. Around 80% of NHS appointments are in ‘primary care’ – the unglamorous community services offered by GPs, health visitors, district nurses, speech and language therapists and so on.

This is the ‘bread and butter’ work of the NHS. It doesn’t make for good TV, so we don’t have the primary care equivalent of Casualty or Holby City. But primary care is about ensuring quality of life for elderly people, people with disabilities, people with terminal illnesses, children.

The Government, through a vicious set of proposals called ‘Transforming Community Services’, is now trying to strip community healthcare out of the NHS. Short term, we’ll see a return to the 1930s – healthcare provided by a ragbag of charities, social enterprise companies and private companies. Longer term, it is a virtual certainty that big business will dominate the NHS ‘market’.

A brief commentary on the proposals is here. This was prepared for a Unite meeting tomorrow. I’m working at the moment on a much more detailed analysis of this. I regard ‘Transforming Community Services’ as the most serious threat the NHS has faced yet. The damage that will be done to the NHS (and to NHS workers) is immense.

It is essential that our trade unions oppose this nonsense at national level. We cannot possibly have the level of fightback we need if it is left to trade union activists to resist a national attack at local level.