Potential Changes to Service Delivery at Aberdeen City Council
Your Questions Answered
I saw press coverage about the council stopping services to save money. What’s it about?
Like all council’s, Aberdeen is reviewing ways to save money. The report says this is a “medium-term” option, so its not something that will happen soon. It is a review of services that the council might want to transfer to another provider. The services wouldn’t stop, they would move to a different employer. For staff that would mean a TUPE transfer. You may transfer to a new employer, but will not lose your job or your terms and conditions
Will the saving be in the next council budget?
Definitively not. This is a worrying plan, but it is not an immediate threat. The council doesn’t have the power to do any of this. These statutory services can only be moved by Scottish Government with the consent of the Parliament. Any movement on this will be slow. Cuts for next years budget will come in other ways. UNISON will oppose all cuts.
What is being transferred? And where will it go?
The paper that went to council is very vague. We know the services under review, and we know the council have a possible provider in mind for 48 of the 90 services. But the council hasn’t said who the possible partners are. We have our suspicions. All the council say in the report is that they are reviewing options with “suitable” partners. We have reason to suspect the work is more advanced.
Is this another privatisation?
Although the paper is vague and secretive, we have been given indications that the transfers would be to other public bodies. Frankly, that offers little comfort. A cut is a cut, whether it is public or private. UNISON has asked for the list of “suitable agencies”.
Is this just the council preparing for the National Care Service?
No, it takes the same approach but goes far wider. The list does include social work services that the Government want to transfer to the National Care Service, but the list includes roads, revenues, finance, community education and many more.
Do the other organisations know that Aberdeen City is looking to pass on extra work?
Again, we don’t know. The list of agencies is secret so its possible the other organisations don’t know. We suspect some of the other organisations know all about this and are making preparations for the switch. Our Freedom of Information Request will reveal how far down the road the council has gone with their possible partners. We will reveal all as soon as we know. If you are aware of new links with quangos in your area of work, let us know.
Are the Government involved?
Again, we don’t know. The report seeks approval to “continue” the conversation with Government and other organisations. The council does not have the legal power to move these functions without the approval of parliament so it would be very unusual, and a waste of officer time, for this type of work to be done without the Government knowing.
UNISON believes that any loss of local democratic control would be damaging and should be discussed openly, in public. Any information we receive we will share with you.
Is this part of a secret national plan to shrink councils and pass statutory services to national agencies?
Again, the report doesn’t say. The normal way to change national policy on the role of local government would be to have a public discussion, possibly a vote. The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to pass power down to local democracy so it would be a major shock to see powers, duties and services transfer in the opposite direction.
Are jobs and working conditions under threat?
Not immediately. But this is a cuts package. Removing democratic control doesn’t save money. Savings tend to come from jobs and services. That’s why we will squeeze the facts out of the council at the earliest opportunity.
Why all the secrecy?
That’s a good question. Only your councillor can answer that. They approved the project, and the secrecy. Councillors don’t always answer questions about council working conditions, but they are obliged to answer questions about powers they hold that they plan to give away.
UNISON has asked for full detail to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act. It would have been more helpful if the plan had been opened up for full consultation and debate. We will ensure there is a proper debate in 2023.