‘CUTS, CO-OPTIONS AND TROJAN HORSES: VOLUNTARY GROUPS AGAINST A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT’

NCIA logo
CUTS, CO-OPTIONS AND TROJAN HORSES:
VOLUNTARY GROUPS AGAINST A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT’
National Coalition for Independent Action
HOUSE OF COMMONS ON TUESDAY 30th JUNE 2015
5.30pm – 8.30pm
 
 
Under New Labour and Coalition Governments, the role and purpose of those providing voluntary and community services has been co-opted by central and local government. Contract-based commissioning and procurement regimes have replaced grant funding, undermining the ability of voluntary groups to support the best interests of users and communities and to act in solidarity with them. At the same time we see the growing influence of private sector interests and values over citizen action and involvement, alongside active voluntary sector complicity with the privatisation of public services.
NCIA totally opposes Tory policies of the Big Society, privatisation and “social innovation”, aiming to replace or deliver public services on the cheap, and is the only national network to have consistently opposed this direction of travel. NCIA champions radical independent voluntary action as part of a wider struggle for equality, social justice, liberty, freedom from want, enfranchisement and environmental sustainability. The decline of the voluntary and third sector is well documented by NCIA in two substantial and significant reports – Here We Stand – an Inquiry into Local Activism and Dissent andFight or Fright – an Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services.
The Tory Manifesto, the Queen’s Speech and some Labour leadership contenders simply promise more of the same – benefit cuts, selling social housing, “getting the voluntary sector more involved” in public service delivery, the Work Programme, scaling up social impact bonds and payment by results to attract private money and a public sector “right to mutualise”. It is important to intensify opposition to these policies, within and outside Parliament.
NCIA is holding an event at the House of Commons at 17.30 on Tuesday 30 June 2015 (Committee Room 9) hosted by John McDonnell MP to present to MPs and others an NCIA perspective on what has gone wrong with relations between the state and citizen action, the damage done to the principles and practice of voluntary action by private sector values and what is needed to put things right.
The meeting will be to present key findings from NCIA Reports above, describe the current position, discuss how voluntary sector involvement in alternative strategies to combat cuts and defend better public services might best be mobilised, and explore how broader alliances of opposition might be created.
Issues and themes to be highlighted will include:
  • Voluntary sector resistance against public services privatisation
  • The impact of cuts on voluntary and community organisations and the communities they serve
  • The damage to independent voluntary action through commissioning and procurement approaches
  • The marketisation and financialisation of voluntary action through social enterprise and social investment strategies and the legitimisation of making profit from social need
  • The growing subservience of voluntary services groups to global corporations through sub-contracted supply chain relationships
  • The complicity with Tory policy and failure of voluntary sector ‘leadership’ organisations to defend and protect their constituencies from these damaging trends
Material will be presented by speakers with deep knowledge and experience of the UK voluntary and community sector:
  • Andy Benson, Co-Convenor NCIA
  • Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, the Refugee Council
  • Leslie Huckfield, Former MP, campaigning against Tory ‘coops’, ‘mutuals’, ‘social enterprises’
  • Elizabeth Bayliss, Chief Executive, Social Action for Health
  • James Lazou – Unite the Union National Research Officer
Please let us know if you’d like to come to this event so we can be sure there are no security hassles – tell me, Andy Benson –andy@independentaction.net ; 0208 800 7509.

A Toxic Mix for Young People – Privatisation and Incarceration at Rainsbrook

Behaved ‘extremely inappropriately’ –  something of a euphemism, to say the least.

Ta to Open Democracy

Ta to Open Democracy

Children held at a prison run by the outsourcing giant G4S were subjected to “degrading treatment” and “racist comments” at the hands of staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs, a damning report by the education watchdog has revealed.

Ofsted inspectors who visited Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire earlier this year said staff had behaved “extremely inappropriately” towards the young people in their care, causing them “distress and humiliation”.

Rainsbrook G4S youth prison slammed by Ofsted report as children suffer ‘racist’, ‘degrading’ abuse from guards high on drugs

G4S-run youth jail criticised over degrading treatment of detainees

The Cuts : The Gravy Train – Cronyism and Incompetence in LA’s?

Ta to johnnyvoid

Ta to johnnyvoid

In a comment on our post on events in Haringey Justin Wylie argues that the young people’s questioning of the consultancy fees paid to an interim Director exposes an oft-ignored dimension to the claim ‘we have to make the cuts, there’s no option’.

While the authority is planning to cut a youth service it is paying a consultant (according to the young people) £450.00 per day. All this rhetoric about “we have to make cuts because the grant is being cut” misses the main area where savings can be made in local authorities. Incompetent management and absurdly over-paid external consultants as well as corporate suppliers who over-charge. I tried to check on the £450.00 reported fee for the interim head of youth services in Haringey. I couldn’t check that but on the Community Care magazine jobs board I found an advert for the Interim Director of Children’s services somewhere paying £650.00 to £750.00 per day. The post is offered for 6-9 months. That is up to £106,000.00 for the nine months. This appears not to be unusual.

In a blog in early January Justin draws our attention to a situation in Buckinghamshire, which, he argues, illustrates a disease at the heart of local authority life, the ‘gravy train’,  “a feeding trough for private individual and corporate greed.

In an evidenced piece he challenges us to take a breath. He concludes:

This is why the Trade Union campaign against the “cuts” is so unconvincing. No one – neither central government nor the Unions – can mention the real elephant in the room. Local authorities are run by managerial incompetents whose main talent frequently appears to be to shuffle vast amounts of public money off to profit-making firms often run and owned by people who only last week were employees in the public sector. These firms often produce sloppy and second-rate services and products in return.

Meanwhile they cut a few crumbs to a voluntary group which you can bet counts every penny. No doubt the council leaders are wringing their hands about how much it hurts them…

Local authorities should be obliged to develop in-house services and not contract out. In areas where there is a natural monopoly such as the provision of IT services to local authorities a nationalised industry should provide the service and councils should be obliged to use them. Managerial employees in the public sector should not be able to leave and immediately use their sector knowledge (gained at public expense) to enrich themselves. In any other country this would be called graft. These measures would reduce the budget of local authorities. The services wouldn’t be any worse. That would be impossible.

Read in full at The Cuts missing the point.

Thatcherism and Youth Work – Privatising the Public, Marketising the Practice

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
Margaret Thatcher quoting St Francis of Assisi, Downing Street, 5 May 1979

Deafened by the cacophony of the coverage it is tempting to ignore the demise of Margaret Thatcher. However to do so would be historically negligent. I believe that her legacy threatens ultimately the survival of youth work as defined by our campaign.

By way of introduction though a couple of immediate recollections fired by the news of her death. Back in the early days of her reign we fought back against the Manpower Service Commission’s effort to colonise youth work. Informed by two National Youth Bureau pamphlets by Bernard Davies, ‘In Whose Interests?’ [1979] and ‘The State We’re In’ [1981], led by the Community and Youth Workers Union, we resisted the attempt to undermine the philosophy of our work, to shift us from offering social education to delivering social and life skills training.  For example in Leicestershire we boycotted the Community Programme as a cheap way of providing youth work, whilst we subverted the Youth Opportunities Programme by turning a City and Guilds 926 course into a radical youth work training experience for its supervisors.  The clash ended in a truce, which in retrospect was a small victory. In passing we might ponder whether the National Youth Bureau’s successor, the National Youth Agency, would feel able today to publish cutting critiques of government policy, similar to those of Bernard from nearly 35 years ago.

Thatcher, though, contemptuous about ‘soft-bellied’, liberal youth workers, had eyes only for a ‘macho’ confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers, By twist of fate I worked in both the Leicestershire and Derbyshire coalfields across the turbulent year of 1984/85 and found myself, amongst many others, in the midst of the conflict. In both cases the assault was fundamentally ideological and political rather than economic. Its primary aim was to smash notions of solidarity and collectivity, of putting the social before the individual. Hers was a dangerous strategy, fraught with contradiction. In Leicestershire activists, including many youth and community workers, rallied to create a vibrant Miners’ Support Group backing the ‘Dirty Thirty’ minority of miners on strike. In Derbyshire the dispute was solid with miners’ wives to the fore.  However Thatcher deployed the full force of State violence in concert with an orchestrated campaign of propaganda in the media to take on the mining communities. I well remember that going to work via Bolsover, home of Denis Skinner, the left-wing Labour MP, to Shirebrook, the quintessential pit village, was akin to a journey into Occupied Territory.  Being stopped at a road block and interrogated by the Metropolitan Police as to my intentions was a regular occurrence. In the aftermath of the strike the abandoned village primary school, which had been the miners’ food distribution centre, was renovated by the County Council to become the Shirebrook Women’s Centre. Genuine though this development was – I was proud to have my office situated therein – it was ultimately a symbolic gesture. Thatcherism, vampire-like, had torn the heart out of this and many other communities. Bypassed they have never regained their full health.

Moving on, getting on for thirty years later, it’s no surprise that in my conversations with students and younger youth workers the struggles touched on above often possess little resonance. The harsh reality is that the neo-liberal project, the first figure-head of which was Thatcher, has altered the political landscape dramatically. Its goals continue to be the privatisation of individual life and the privatisation of all services. It detests with a vengeance a notion of the common good. Like it or not the neo-liberals, including New Labour, have made great strides in bringing this about – so much so that the present social arrangements seem to be the natural order of things. Indeed we might wonder if Michael Gove might restore the following verse to the hymn, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, banned by the Inner London Education authority in 1982.

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Thatcherism was never going to be too keen on an educational practice that sought to promote association and critical conversation ; that actively sought to grapple with issues around gender, race, sexuality and disability. It is to our credit that we staved off efforts to change our outlook till well into the 1990’s. However the last two decades have seen the insidious erosion of both our much lauded values and the distinctive essence of our practice, its voluntary character. This has been achieved via the imposition of the discourse of business and the market upon our work with young people.  The decimation of youth work as a public service and the marketisation of our practice are indeed a legacy of Thatcherism, She would have welcomed the turn to building neo-liberal ‘good’ character as defined in the much-touted Framework of Outcomes with Young People. She would have loved the world of bright-eyed, upwardly aspiring Young Entrepreneurs. She would have loathed young people at the gate, who do not know their place.

Perhaps the greatest success of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism has been to induce such a high degree of political passivity amongst the population, including many a youth worker. Of course they have not quelled us utterly. In recent times we have seen the Choose Youth campaign fighting to save services. Most recently young people and workers across the community have been on the streets in Newcastle and Birmingham. But it’s tough and sometimes disheartening. The truth is that not enough of us are throwing off the chains of compliance to the status quo.

If we are to mark Thatcher’s funeral in positive way for ourselves, perhaps we can promise each other that we will meet at least once a fortnight to begin talking about and questioning what’s going on, finding ways of being creative and unpredictable.  And from there, who’s to know? What’s certain is that we need one another if we are to turn back Thatcher’s tide. Renewing our collective spirit would be a fitting response to the death of an authoritarian foe, who knew absolutely ‘which side she was on’.

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For an antidote to the mainstream sycophancy this sweeping and informed piece is well worth a read.

Privatisation of Public Services : The Dogma Unravels. Whither the Youth Sector?

Over the past few weeks I’ve bookmarked all manner of articles questioning  the dogma of privatisation, ranging from Kevin McGuire in the Daily Mirror exploring the Olympic Security farce to Matt Dykes on the ToUChsone blog asking, is the tide turning on public sector outsourcing? I’ve not known which way to post as the economic and political crisis unravels.  However Steve Richards in the Independent has furnished a hard-hitting summary of the arguments in his  Time to explode the myth that the private sector is always better, adding facetiously that “ministers still prefer the deceptive swagger of the incompetent entrepreneur.”

In his brilliant review of Shakespeare’s ‘Timon of Athens’, The Power of Money, Paul Mason suggests we are in the middle of a virulent and contagious ‘social meltdown’.

“Police testimony at Leveson speaks of “a network of corrupted individuals”. Criminal charges have been laid against newspaper journalists and editors. Companies charged with security at the Olympics have failed to deliver; companies charged with getting the workless into work likewise.”

He draws our attention to what Engelen describes as the debacle of the elite, the consequence of the overwhelming hubris of our political and economic rulers. And, as ever, he ponders what might be the basis for resistance and returns to his thesis that critical and rebellious youth will not follow gormlessly yet another hierarchical leader or party. We need to return specifically to this last point over the coming days in discussing how youth participation fits into this scenario.

For the moment I wish merely to pose whether the leadership of the youth sector, the plethora of executives and managers signed up to the market-led agenda of commissioning and privatisation, is experiencing even a sliver of doubt? As it is Children and Young People Now is advertising an Achieving Positive Outcomes for Children, Young People and Families conference.

On 26 September, join us in London for this exciting one-day event. Get detailed advice from industry experts to aid your organisation’s efficiency in planning, measuring and commissioning the most effective services for children, young people and families.

Amongst the usual mantra about evidence-based decision-making, efficiency, early intervention and targeting, delegates will hear how to

  • Assess the best methods for devising and managing payment-by-results contracts
  • Build investor confidence and access funding for payment by results contracts

 

Of course the explicit introduction of payment-by-results is at the heart of the government’s Troubled Families initiative, within which the definition of ‘troubled’ keeps changing, whilst curiously the figure of 120,000 remains steadfast. Given the £7.6bn budget squeeze on councils it’s hardly surprising they grab at any pot of money available. Pragmatism is inevitable, but principles do intrude.  It is clear that a diversity of youth agencies, including many from the voluntary sector,  are bidding to deliver this intervention. It would be illuminating to hear how these organisations explain their incorporation into a scheme, whose funding is linked intimately to top-down ‘behavioural improvement’ – £4,000 available for each troubled family that is eligible through a payment-by-results scheme (based on performance after 1 year of intervention). Indeed how do they rationalise touching with a barge pole a cynical, ideological exercise, which allows Eric Pickles to froth at the mouth, declaring, “These folks are troubled: They’re troubling themselves, they’re troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it”?

Not to be upstaged the Tsar of the show, Louise Casey, echoing Keith Joseph’s infamous 1974 speech, “our human stock is threatened…. a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up”, declares that mothers in large problem families should be “ashamed” of the damage they are doing to society and stop having children. Not content with yet again ‘blaming mum’, she proceeds, “Yes, we have to help these families. But I also don’t think we should soft-touch those families. We are not running some cuddly social workers’ programme to wrap everybody in cotton wool.” It seems limp to observe that these crude and long-standing attempts to demonise the troubled at the bottom of society’s pyramid have no basis in the Department of Education’s own research. Is it limp too to ask how can an empathetic, critical young person-centred practice grounded in their lived reality survive in a straitjacket, which scoffs at youth work itself- not to mention the working-class pastime of fishing in the canal?

Under the £448 million programme, each family will have a dedicated worker whose job is to turn them around. Sometimes this will involve arriving early to ensure that children go to school. Miss Casey says that getting children to school, and encouraging teachers to keep them there, is the major challenge. “There are a lot of people who use the term ‘diversionary activities’, things like angling, netball and all these activities. I always smile when I go along and hear we must set up more youth clubs.

“Actually, I say, the biggest diversionary activity on God’s earth is called school. If every kid in the country who should be in school [was] there, all day, every day, you would transform all sorts of problems.”

Answers in an e-mail to tonymtaylor@gmail.com or indeed comment below.

POSTSCRIPT

Organisations funded to work with NEETs
The Government has announced the names of the organisations, including many NCVYS members, who will be working with 55,000 16- to 17-year-old NEETs with no GCSEs at A* to C, who are at the highest risk of long-term disengagement. The new programme, part of the Youth Contract, is the first to use payment by results to help get NEETs re-engaged. Funding worth up to £126 million will be made available to organisations across England. Organisations will receive an initial payment for taking young people on, but will only receive subsequent payments when they show progress. The contracts on offer are worth up to £2,200 for every young person helped, with the full amount payable only if a young person is still in full-time education, training or work with training six months after re-engaging.
http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00212063/radical-scheme-to-rescue-neets

Just a Human Revenue Stream? Drive to the Market.

 

As we move towards our ‘Drive to the Market’, April 26 and 27 seminars, we’ll post links to articles/papers, which raise pertinent issues and questions .

James Meek in the London Review of Books opens:

The privatisations are joining up. First it was gas. Then telecoms, oil, electricity, public housing, water, the railways, the airports. There are moves afoot to obliterate the concept of the council house; NHS hospitals are to be privately run, built and managed; now David Cameron wants to get private companies and foreign governments to ‘invest’ in Britain’s roads. What does it all mean? The episodic character of privatisation – one sector being sold, then a pause, then another – has hidden a meta-privatisation that’s passed the halfway point. The essential public good that Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now Cameron sell is not power stations, or trains, or hospitals. It’s the public itself. It’s us.

Read on here

DRIVEN TO MARKET : YOUTH WORK'S SHEEPISH RESPONSE

The Market rules has been the mantra for over 30 years. With each passing year its invocation has gotten ever louder. Today, despite a crisis of its making, the Market continues to dictate, going so far, namely in  Greece, as to oust elected governments. Yet the Market’s dominance over our lives is being increasingly questioned. In the UK opposition to the privatisation of public services is growing, witness the campaigns against the NHS reforms and against the Work Programme. What has this got to do with Youth Work and Youth Services?

Well, to listen to leading spokespersons and organisations from within what they dub ‘the youth market sector’, it seems to mean little or nothing, indeed to be irrelevant. In this parallel universe the Market is embraced with unconditional regard. It is as if the present economic and political crisis is an act of God rather than the consequence of policies created by living human beings infatuated with the Market as the arbiter of human existence. Thus CATALYST, led by the NCVYS and NYA, talks of accessing new and bigger markets, of brokering investment, of establishing licence and franchise agreements, of being ‘investment ready’ and creating ‘business in a box’, all softened by references to ‘social’ and ‘young people-led’. Whilst UK Youth – at its national Social Network conference to be held appropriately at Canary Wharf – will be wheeling on experts to inform us that we need to find ‘the social entrepreneur within’ and put a monetary value on youth work to evidence impact, whilst Tim Loughton , the Minister responsible, will speak on empowering charities to work with business organisations. You get the picture. There is not even a sliver of contradiction in sight.

And it is this lack of debate that most disturbs us. Many within youth work seem to be sleepwalking into this marketised and privatised world. Perhaps it’s too late, but we do want to sound an alarm. Thus you will find below a flyer, inviting interested parties to be involved in organising some argument and discussion about what’s going on. Please circulate it widely and put in your pennyworth, even, indeed especially, if you disagree with our analysis.

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DRIVEN TO MARKET: YOUTH WORK’S SHEEPISH RESPONSE?

Since the start of its campaign, In Defence of Youth Work has been contesting the imposition of the capitalist market’s demand for measurable certainty on the unpredictable character of a youth work shaped by young people’s interests and concerns. Our January meetings on the campaign’s future particularly highlighted the growing dominance of public services conceived of as ‘a market’ – a notion which cannot float free of either the grand Coalition strategy to embed private capital and the market at the heart of all public provision or its more specific desire to regulate the very character of youth work itself.

Indeed, the Government’s ‘Positive for Youth’ policies are explicit in their intention for youth workers in the future to operate within a radically changed landscape in which ‘results’ will have to be demonstrated in order that payments (and profits) can be made. In the process core features of the practice will be undermined as more ‘measurable’ targeted schemes for the ‘problematic’ and ‘risky’ are preferred over open access provision focused on young people’s own definitions of personal and social development.

Nonetheless, within the youth work field the social entrepreneurs are in the ascendancy.

  • The CATALYST consortium, with the National Youth Agency [NYA] and National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [NCVYS] at its head, propounds an unquestioning acceptance of the Coalition’s vision.
  • NCVYS plans to establish a social finance retailer that can pilot and then promote a youth sector specific social investment approach based on evidence of impact.
  • UK Youth – a bedrock national organisation with a proud history of demonstrating alternative ways of working to statutory providers – makes business relations the taken-for-granted theme of its annual conference.

It is not even as though the best of the business sector’s practices are being mimicked – such as a commitment to research and development as crucial underpinnings for risk-taking initiatives. Meanwhile, even as scandal breaks out over allegations of corruption at the-welfare-to-work giant A4E – and as major companies withdraw from work experience schemes – a precious autonomy is being sold for a few crumbs from the financier’s table of austerity. Little heed is being taken of the Carnegie Commission’s reminder that:

Civil society associations can never be just providers of services …civil society thrives best when it has an independent and confident spirit, when it is not beholden to the state or funders and when it is not afraid to make trouble.

This said, we know these are tough times. As workers are made redundant, services slashed and funding streams dry up, sheer survival is the name of the game. Projects and organisations are faced with little option but to be drawn into the market. Pontificating from on high looks easy. Grappling with reality on the ground is far harder – and exhausting.

With the drive to a youth market presented as a fait accompli, over the next months, with support from the ChooseYouth campaign and the National Coalition for Independent Action, IDYW is proposing a series of events at which, we can think through the implications of this predicament. We are inviting individuals and agencies to join us in sponsoring and contributing to these gatherings. We don’t expect uniformity of opinion. But, if you’re committed to a rich diversity of youth organisations, to defending pluralist youth work – and are up for a provocative debate, contact the IDYW Coordinator at tonymtaylor@gmail.com

Drive to the Market  – Word Version for printing and circulation

In our next post we will provide a list of links to relevant articles and materials.