Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Impact of Cuts

The Lib Dems have accepted Conservative policy on public expenditure cuts as part of the coalition deal. This will immediately face the new Labour council with implementing deep cuts.  Lib Dems and Labour during the election pledged to protect schools and 'frontline' services. However, this is misleading. Implementing cuts in management and 'backroom' services always has an impact on frontline services.

Brent Council, under the Lib Dem-Conservative leadership, had already begun the process of making cuts ('effiiciency savings') as part of the restriction on Local Government expenditure. In Children and Families this has involved freezing vacancies, seeking redundancies and cutting ('harmonising') allowances. The latter involves ending the payment of Inner London Allowances to Brent staff and paying the lower Outer London Allowance instead.

The services provided by Children and Families at Chesterfield House include teacher recruitment, CRB checks for new staff, administering the supply teacher pool, managing special educational needs processes and provision, and asset management.  Cuts will mean that these services will become less efficient, less responsive and more liable to fail when under pressure.  The repercussions for something like CRB checks are obvious.

When such services deteriorate headteachers are likely to be attracted to private contractors. For example, the supply teacher pool administered by Brent Council is one of the few local authority pools remaining. Quality and child protection checks are effective, the staff sensitive to the needs of particular schools, and teachers properly paid with good conditions of service. If this service fails, headteachers will turn to private teacher supply agencies which are of variable quality and cream off a generous fee, costing schools more but paying their staff far less.

In this way public sector cuts lead to the growth of privatisation and a reduction in teachers' conditions of service. Facing an era of cuts headteachers will also be tempted to use private supply staff for filling long-term vacancies. Agency staff can be dispensed with at short notice and will not have recourse to trade union representation or contractural protection ('flexible labour force').

Reduced and less efficient support services coupled with the casualisation of labour will leave the system vulnerable. It will of course be the staff involved who will be personally blamed for any failures, rather than the cuts which created the conditions for failure.

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