Trade unions, staff and service users marched through Pontypridd today (Saturday 9th December) to protest against Rhondda Cynon Taf’s recent decision to privatise the remaining in-house home care services in the borough.
The march started by the historic drinking fountain in the town centre and did a lap of the town, before gathering in the recently refurbished YMA building where key speakers from across the labour movement addressed the audience.
The meeting was chaired by UNISON Cwm Taf Local Government Area Branch Secretary, Peter Crews, and speakers from UNISON, GMB, UNITE and The TUC were joined by Beth Winter, MP for the Cynon Valley.
There were several recurring themes throughout the day: lack of consultation with staff and trade unions, going against the grain of Labour Party policy and perhaps, most importantly, questioning how privatisation actually saves any money.
Peter Crews, UNISON Cwm Taf Local Government Area Branch Secretary stated: “If the employer had come to me and asked how how we could run the service more efficiently, I would have gone to our members that run the service for their opinion. But they didn’t do that. They have just decided to privatise the service, with no explanation of how that will actually save money.
Earlier this year, the Welsh Government passed The Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act 2023 which has ingrained it provisions for trade unions to be consulted on the provision of public services. but this appears to have already been ignored
Shavanah Taj, General Secretary of the Wales TUC stated: “The Welsh Government’s own Social Partnership Legislation is there to avoid this sort of thing. I cannot believe that RCT have have chosen to ignore staff and trade unions in this process”.
Beth Winter, MP for the Cynon Valley
Beth Winter spoke of constituents of hers that are in care and are genuinely frightened about implications of the home care service being privatised.
Beth Winter, MP for the Cynon Valley, stated: “It is my firm belief that there is no place in the care sector for privatisation. Privatisation is driven by the profit motive, not by the care for the vulnerable in the community.”
“I’m not here to attack RCT Council, they have had to endure cut after cut in funding from the UK government, and unless we change the UK government, those cuts are going to continue. But I am not here to defend the way they have gone about it, without consultation”.
“I believe the local authority should now pause, hold off on its proposals and have discussions with trade unions, staff and service users. We should harness our anger and direct it where it should be directed, which is at the UK government”.
“The manifesto on which I was elected said that ‘Labour will end the current presumption in favour of outsourcing and privatisation and introduce an assumption in favour of insourcing’. The Welsh Assembly has even produced a tool kit on how to in source services.”
“Oldham, Sunderland and Hackney have been insourcing services that had previously been outsourced and here in Wales in Neath Port Talbot have brought back in-house their leisure services. Why? Because outsourcing is more expensive, gives the service user a worse service and doesn’t actually save money in the long term”.
Gareth Morgans was more critical of the Labour Party in his contribution.
Gareth Morgans, GMB Regional Manager stated: “This is supposed to be a Socialist Council, but they do not appear to be acting in a very socialist manner. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given that Keir Starmer has recently gone on the record praising Margaret Thatcher”.
“What’s worrying is that the leader of RCT is also the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association. They are setting an example here that is likely to be followed by other councils in Wales.”
“The Council claims that all staff will be protected on the same terms and conditions, the same wages, the same access to the Local Government Pension Scheme and they are insisting on recognition of trade unions. But if these companies are going to make a profit, where is the profit going to come from? Either they cut staff terms and conditions, or they cut the services provided, or both. And given past experience with some of the companies they are talking to, it is highly unlikely that they are going to recognise trade unions to represent the staff”.
“This council is heading down the road of being an enabling Authority, that just oversees contracts for outside companies to run all services”
Mark Turner brought words of solidarity from care workers throughout Wales who know that if this is pushed through here, it is likely to be pushed through elsewhere.
Mark Turner, UNISON Regional Organiser , stated – “During the pandemic, care workers suffered terrible conditions, put their lives on the line and some suffer from post traumatic stress due to the numbers of people dying in care homes. Care workers themselves have been joining our demonstrations carrying placards that read, ‘It started with a clap, and ended with a slap’. Yet again, low paid women are having to pay the cost of financial shortcomings of a local authority”
Today’s meeting was just one of many actions planned to halt the turning over of public services into private hands for profit.