Exposing the Privatisation of LEAs
Dear Workers Weekly,
I thought it might be useful to say a few words about how
the anti social offensive is affecting workers in the education service where I
work at Southwark Council, South London.
The government has pushed through a plan to privatise the
local education authority and recently announced that out of the 40 companies
which applied for the contract it has selected as a preferred bidder WS Atkins,
a company which has absorbed 2,000 public sector workers since the early
nineties. In a presentation to staff at the LEA one of the directors of WS
Atkins said, "I am the first to admit that I know nothing about
We are here to make a profit."
The current education director in response to a question
about why he was recommending as a preferred bidder a company which has no
track record in education responded by saying that "they have put forward
a commercially viable plan and they are going to add value to the
Workers in Britain know from experience that when these
companies take over these organisations the first thing they do is to downsize
them. I did not have to wait long to discover that I was one of the workers who
was about to be downsized out of a job. Contract and temporary workers will not
be transferred over to WS Atkins when they take over, which looks like being
November. It will be a TUPE transfer, which means that the terms and conditions
of the permanent workers will be protected for one year.
As someone who works in information technology, I was keen
to find out what exactly their plans were in terms of technology because this
is one area in which they seem to have impressed the current senior management.
They did not give any details at the time despite some prompting. But what
later emerged is that they are planning to give each child an email address and
set up cyber cafés in schools, and encourage parents to buy laptops for
the pupils in place of pens and paper. I and my colleagues were somewhat
perplexed by this since we had just been involved in putting in place 30
computer networks with internet (web and email) facilities in Southwark primary
schools and are about to do another 30. This is what a cyber café is.
Many of our pupils already have email.
During the discussion that ensued, it became clear that WS
Atkins knew very little about how the education department functions. What they
obviously know is that this a £200m contract lasting 10 years in a sector
which is projected to be worth £5bn when the other LEAs in the country are
put out to tender.
The WS Atkins director spoke about training the pupils
in specific IT skills, which will enable them to gain jobs working for WS
Atkins. They see that the can make profits through the means of the other
companies in their portfolio taking over the supplies which go to the schools.
For example, they have construction and catering companies in their portfolio.
In this retrogressive period when the bourgeoisie is very
confidently pushing forward its programme of dismantling what Margaret Thatcher
called the "nanny state", how should the workers respond to this
My view is that this move should be opposed on the basis of
the workers themselves discussing and putting forward their views about what
direction education in Britain should take. They need to challenge the notion
that education should be about making a profit by instead putting forward the
notion that education is a right, which should be guaranteed at the highest
level possible to all who require it.
Ten years ago the "old Tories" started with
privatising rubbish disposal and catering. Now the "new Tories" are
throwing the whole education service over to the vagaries of the market place.
When we, the workers, question the logic of this whole move, we are told that
"this is driven by central government, there is nothing we can do about
The battle lines are clear. We, the workers and people of
Britain, will have to respond to this challenge laid down by the bourgeoisie.
Will we allow our rights to education to be eroded or will we fight and dare to
win the affirmation of our rights to education?
Southwark LEA Worker