The Tories branded Compulsory Competitive Tendering as efficiency, quality implementation and provided value for money to the local tax payer.
It proved to be the dismantling of the democratic relationship between the citizen, elected members and service provision, which is at the heart of local authority provision.
The Local Government Planning and Land Act of 1980 introduced a block grant and compulsory competitive tendering (CCT). A block grant is the bulk of funding that a local authority gets from Whitehall each year, local authorities can spend it as they see fit to do so, but the amount is determined by central government. Ring fenced grants are also given by central government, but are solely for a specific purpose and the local authority cannot spend as they please.
Savings through CCT would result in savings and less to pay out from a central government viewpoint.
Thatcher’s crusade against Labour councils had begun and the implications certainly made their impact until Labour came into power and changed CCT to Best Value(Local Government Act 1999). Best Value gave far greater consideration to service users and local authorities.
At the time the U.K was the only place in Europe where an act of Parliament dictated that local councils must tender out their services to the cheapest bidder; the Tory governments turned our local authorities into nothing but auction houses.
During the years of CCT local government was only a local authority in name, the services and maintenance that is rightfully meant to be supplied by the people for the people had been sourced out to the cheapest bidder and in many cases the councils had to accept the cheapest bid.
CCT value was only assessed by the cheapest tender and CCT did not consider the employment agenda, the process of the tender submission stage characterises CCT in a nutshell. It is very fair to say that the Tory ethos was to ensure that private industry increased their ability to pay more corporation tax to the government whilst making the corporations bigger players in society.
What employment rights were in place one may ask, they were not expected to be in the submitted tender and more so where was the union in all of this?
The answer is nowhere in sight, because many who worked on tenders were not part of a union, and by working for the private sector they were cultured to participate in the mindset of the cheapest size fits all and profits before people.
The Tories knew fine well that council employees who were blue and white-collar workers were both part of the union movement, and by implementing the CCT strategy it eliminated council worker participation and they were replaced by the ‘profits before people’ ethos. CCT has affected all services across the board from parking to parks, from housing management and home to school transport.
How could the presence of the union, employment rights, legislation and fair opportunity for those in local government service be secured when the services themselves had been tendered out under the legislation of the Local Government Acts of 1988 & 1992?
As for social requirements being incorporated into the tender this is allowed in European nations but in the U.K it was outlawed. Citizens of democracy were being treated as consumers and the elected members of the council were simply ‘just there’ for the sake of being there and are not being active participants in the say of the private company’s way of working and service provision.
The key issue is the elimination or severe reduction in democratic control over service provision. Public service safeguarding was completely ignored, and business objectives were put in place. Service provision at the cost of democratic provision is a total capitalistic hostile takeover directed by the Tory machine that will not stop until it is satisfied that society has no or very little say in the process of service provision!
The nature of CCT took a lot of power away from elected members and officers of the local authority seemed to be the negotiators and acted as the officialdom that the tenders went through.
Traditionally officers have advised members but CCT took the power away from members making officers more involved with the private contractor?
Is this the Tories idea of greater democratic provision? Social and political objectives were outlawed from the tendering process, surely this eliminates the elected member from the electorate, is this the Tory’s idea of greater democratic participation?
“We will obtain better value for money and higher quality services” (Michael Heseltine, Secretary of State for Environment, January 1992).
This statement turned out to be the Cri de Coeur for anyone who believed in local democracy.
At what cost is there better value for money, direct employees of the council having no employment and facing redundancy!
Direct Service Organisation employees are employed directly, and they cannot be replaced for a cheaper alternative by the local authority.
Private firms know this very well and can easily employ people on low wage, temporary and agency contracts to get the job done as soon as possible. Just how can a local authority compete one may ask the obvious question?
With the exploitation we see today of European workers and others we all know how much employment agencies have managed to get away with!
Making the poor poorer – Is this not a traditional Tory policy?
For many council staff that couldn’t remain employed by the local authority they found themselves being employed by the private contractor. Their wages went down, their hours reduced, their holidays were impacted, and sick pay was non-existent. The nature of the competitive tender resulted in health & safety practices being exploited to cut corners and make savings.
A survey instructed by the Department of Environment discovered that, in those services that fell victim to CCT one in eight jobs had been lost. A further examination of 20 local authorities revealed that CCT caused more than 10,000 part-time jobs to be lost in the lower paid sectors of building and cleaning.
Evidence that the poor and working classes were the victims of the Tory policies that hit that most financially vulnerable in society.
The main objective of the Tories was to increase taxation revenue and take away the powers from the unions and the Labour party controlled authorities. Once again, the working classes in the north of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland were badly affected.
Unions were seriously affected, bargaining power was taken away from them, reduced membership and less consultation over management policies and decisions. It really was a major clean up operation for the ‘fat cat’ Tory thus ensuring a comfortable income for the Treasury, company shareholders and the losers, as usual, were the working classes.
What did Heseltine care for the working classes when he made his 1992 statement, he was in the full swing of his political domain and with the income that comes with it. All he had to do was play the Tory tune at every opportunity he could to make enterprise the way forward and local democratic participation a thing of the past and an outdated concept.
Nationally and locally agreed pay structures were ignored and the position of the local authority as a major local employer was clearly undermined or diminished in many cases. Did the Tories consider the fact that people like cleaners and maintenance workers were having to claim for in work benefits and housing benefits to make ends meet due to the treatment they were getting by the private contractor?
In addition to this the job losses that the local authority had to endure were immense and many in ‘secure long term’ employment found themselves with no work at all.
Did the Tories care? No, they did not!
That was not their concern, when was the last time the Tories cared for anyone apart from themselves or their associates and friends in industry.
Remember profits before people and power over society is the main concern and policy of the Tories and their ilk.
One would believe that the Tories would have least protected themselves and their friends in industry. By the early ’90s The Public Service Privatisation Research Unit discovered that the failure rate of private companies was 4.5 times higher than that of the work carried out by the local authorities.
Complaints relating to the standard of cleaning to the maintenance work carried out in schools was in high occurrence. Work was not completed on time, in many cases incomplete and overall very poor standard.
In 1997 Hilary Armstrong, the then Local Government Minister, changed the agenda of CCT to prioritising Best Value and making consultative changes. CCT was replaced by Best Value in 2000, the TUC welcomed the proposals by the then Labour government and added that pay and working conditions were of paramount importance.
At the time Jon Monks, the TUC General Secretary said, “This is a clear recognition that CCT has failed. Its market-driven approach has failed to deliver improvements in service quality and has driven down pay and conditions for public sector workers.”
The Tory divisions of class and social segregation spared nobody as it usually does. The first wave of victims were blue collar workers and in 1993 white collar workers were targeted.
As usual all services were subjected to phased changes causing uncertainty and insecurity spreading throughout the workplace; fear was the best instrument to select for the Tories as a resource to subdue and control the working classes.
In 2016 the state owned Calmac ferries won the contract over Serco to run the ferry service in Scotland. The employee centric focus and modern technology commitment was a major factor in winning the bid. An area of attraction was a commitment to maintaining the living wage and boosting local employment including apprenticeships, in addition to this their bid involved communities in the decision-making process.
This clearly has the hallmarks of the Labour changes that were made in 1997 and best value characteristics are evident.
The Scottish Conservative response to this successful bid was in defence of private companies – (Quote from BBC news coverage) The Scottish Conservatives said the tender process had been designed to deter private companies from bidding and winning, and that a number of questions remained to be answered as to why Serco’s bid was ruled out as being non-compliant.
CCT and other Tory policies were selfishly thought out by Thatcher, she firstly prepared the police to be on side to deal with the miners and any form of protest.
They carried out her physical and brute force agenda, whilst appeasement to the corporations extracted out whatever willpower and strong blood was left in the veins of society and its representatives through taking power from the local authorities.
The very nature of using corporate enforcement and breaking the relationship that the electorate has with elected members in relation to local service provision will always be at the centre of serious controversy.
Greed has no limit and does not know when to stop. However, a mind that is cautious of the implications of greed and puts society first will prevail; that mind belongs to the electorate and they must choose wisely to deal with the crusade that has taken from the poor and allowed the rich to exploit at will.
Sources: BBC, Unison, EURWORK & The Insecure Workforce (Walsh & Davis report 1993).