Suddenly this is back on the agenda in a bigger way than ever before. Why? It's not as if there hasn't been a move in this direction for a number of years now, with greater 3rd sector involvement in delivery of commissioned services at local regional and national level. The answer is obvious when you think about it: Tories. Whatever misgivings anyone may have about New Labour's move to the right, encouragement of PPP (that's private/public/partnerships), PFI (that's Private Finance Initiatives) and the involvement in the voluntary and community sector (Hey, I'll go with the flow and use VCS) in delivering public services on the cheap, Labour are amateurs compared to the Tories.
This week is Tory conference time, and the recession has really allowed those old tories to come out of their shells. It has given the right in the Tory party the chance to propagate their policies of Government's 'lighter hand', of LESS public services (for the poor) saving MORE money (for the rich). Hey, we wouldn't want to alienate the bankers would we? So what do the Tories come out with this week - first cuts to benefits for disabled people, secondly, cuts to pensions, thirdly cuts to public services. Of course these are slightly dressed up. Let's have a look.
1. Cuts to benefits for disabled people - well no this isn't what it is at all, is it? This will be a policy to encourage disabled people into jobs, and discourage them from living off the state - a good thing surely? NO: this may sound reasonable, but in real life this isn't what happens. and what would happen. Disabled people to be assessed (by who - oh god no, not the same idiots who screw up mobility allowances surely - Oh yes) whether the CAN work. If so they get a job. Simples. Except if you have a disability that flairs up only part of the time (there are millions of examples), then how are you judged? Except what jobs, in times of high unemployment ARE you going to get? Er... yes, this is simply a way of cutting benefits for the most vulnerable members of our community. WELL DONE YOU TORY BASTARDS.
2. Cutting pensions: no no no no no, there won't be cuts to pensions, you just won't get one until you are 66, instead of 65. Wait a minute, that means a year's less pension for everyone... several thousands pounds less for older people. Another group of the most vulnerable people in our society. WELL DONE AGAIN.
3.Cuts to public services: NO, we just want the voluntary sector to deliver services, because they'll do them SO much better than the public sector and SO much cheaper (shhh, don't tell anyone that bit). So what we will have is services delivered on the cheap, with costs kept as low as possible to ensure contracts are won. How are these costs kept low? Well it won't be bureaucracy (got to pay those CEOs somehow), so it will be done in two ways: by subsidising services through other funds: Yes that's what you gave your donation to charity for isn't it? For delivery of public services. Wait a minute isn't that what you paid your tax for? And by keeping wages low. Which a lot of large unscrupulous charities will be able to do because their staff aren't unionised and there are no collective agreements in place and because there will be no shortage of cheap labour (Hey, there's all those cripples looking for jobs, they'll be cheap, and we'll look great!).
Most sickening of all is the stupidity of people in senior positions in the VCS who think there's nothing wrong with this. They love the 'contract culture', it makes the voluntary sector 'modern', 'effective' and 'efficient'. Silly fools, can't you see you are being conned? The Tories can't get elected if they're seen as being too right wing, but they can get elected if they manage to con the british public into believing their crap. They are trying to con people into believing they are 'new' Tories, 'caring' Tories. But efficient, responsible Tories, not like bumbler Brown. I'm no Labour supporter (I'm a socialist, obviously) but even I can see what a horrible option the Tories are.
So where does that put the suck-up sector? ACEVO and their like? Are they Tories themselves, or are they stupid? The fact they employ a series of policy officers with no 'at the coal-face' experience gives you no confidence in them, the fact that they spend so much time aggrandising themselves doesn't help either.
People in Britain want good public services. They want good health services, good education services, efficiently managed hospitals, schools, universities, prisons, nurseries etc. If anyone bothers to analyse services to actually see what is good and what is bad, there is one thing in common: they are well managed, they are responsive, they are accountable, they are run and delivered by committed staff. What difference does it make what sector they are in? Very little, except that it is obvious services get worse when costs are cut: when staff are underpaid and demoralised and there is no top down commitment to the service but a commitment instead to low costs, to the bottom line. Unfortunately that's the route successive governments have taken: and the joke is that thousands of billions of pounds have been siphoned off into the private sector who proceeded to blow it all in their banks that they couldn't manage.
The VCS has been forced into a position where it has to play the game to some extent, but it doesn't have to cheer along on the sidelines, and it should draw a line somewhere. The fear that some dodgy newly-developed Public Interest Company ( a private organisation in disguise) will get a contract if the VCS doesn't bid should be, in many cases, dismissed. In the long run the shit WILL hit the fan: for example the poor over-priced health services being delivered by PCIs won't last the pace. Does the sector really want to join in this service suicide? I look forward to the day when a charity running a prison (or whatever) has to publicly explain how so many prisoners escaped/were abused (or whatever). No doubt they will moan it was lack of funds that caused the problem.... HELLO-O!! That's why you got the contract, fool.
Running a charity is political (whatever the Charity Commission say). Back two paragraphs ago I said people want good services. When chasing a contract Charities' trustees should ask themselves: Can you really do it? Will it benefit the public? Will it benefit society? Will you have to compromise your values to do it? Could someone else do it better? Will it benefit the Charity? Are you sure?