Union: public service and profits don't mix
Trade unions are calling for an end to outsourcing the Westcountry's public sector services to private firms.
The TUC claims the tide is turning against the practice in the light of recent controversies such as those surrounding firms which deliver health care.
Nigel Costley, South West TUC regional secretary, said people were fed up with the services being taken out of the hands of local authorities and the NHS. He said private firms were about delivering profits to shareholders and that didn't sit well with providing public services.
"Wherever humans work, they have the capacity to mess up, but a company with shareholder profit as its prime motive will inevitably cut corners to boost returns," he said. "Value for money will take second place to big salaries for those at the top and squeezed wages for the rest – and at what cost to those who actually use the public services?"
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The TUC has staged a seminar bringing together academics, trade unionists, researchers and practitioners to discuss how alternatives might form part of a progressive political agenda.
The South West branch highlighted particular concerns over health in Cornwall where the out-of-hours GP service is run by the multinational firm Serco.
Mr Costley told the seminar that earlier this year the service was at the centre of an independent investigation in the light of a scathing inspection report. The report found no evidence that the out-of-hours GP provision was unsafe but said improvements were required.
Mr Costley said people wanted such services to be run by the NHS, but things were changing and voices were being heard.
In Cornwall last month, the Conservative leader of the council was ditched after championing an unpopular shared business venture to outsource services.
Mr Costley said: "These decisions show the level of public disquiet at the outsourcing of public services. Councils reflect the views that voters are nervous about losing control of vital public services and that promises made to win contracts may not be delivered."
Bridget Sampson, director of primary care at NHS Cornwall, the primary care trust which awarded the out-of-hours GP service contract to Serco, said it worked well.
"The contract with Serco provides a value for money, high quality service for patients with equitable access to GP appointments out of hours," she said.
"We undertook a full procurement process as required by NHS regulations and Serco were successful in winning the contract.
"The service scores very highly in local patient satisfaction surveys and meets the required national standards."
Cornwall Council said it worked with a range of partners including the private sector, the voluntary sector, public bodies and joint venture organisations to provide the most effective and efficient use of public funds.
A spokeswoman said: "In all cases, the council retains the responsibility to specify what service is required and to monitor the performance of the service to the public. Each service and procurement opportunity is different, however, in many cases the savings amount to millions of pounds."