Contributions by Delegates to Conference on
Jobs and the Welfare State
Ursula Pierce from the South Birmingham Health
Council, in her personal capacity, informed the conference of how the Private
Finance Initiative (PFI) would affect the health service and what it meant for
patient care. She said that private firms design, run and build hospitals. When
built, the hospitals are leased back to the NHS over a projected period of
35-60 years. The new hospital to replace Selly Oak and the Queen Elizabeth in
Birmingham will work out to be much more expensive to run. This includes money
from the European Investment Bank.
Four years ago in Carlisle, she explained, by way of
example, the estimated cost for their hospital was £40m and is now doubled
to £87m. This clearly shows how PFI will make costs rise. It will mean
higher costs and higher rents for the NHS she pointed out. In the case of the
Birmingham University Trust, which runs the two hospitals, they will have to
pay £30m each year in order to rent. They only pay £6m to the
government each year at present and these are funds that can be recirculated
into the NHS. Now, she continued, the cost of rent will be three to five times
higher. Therefore the money will go straight into the pockets of shareholders
of private firms and will be lost to the NHS. Surveying companies will jump
onto the gravy train, observed Ursula, making huge profits estimated at 15 to
25 percent each year on investments. If there is a budget squeeze on the health
service by future governments, rents will be protected showing that patient
care will take second place to shareholders' profits. The government are saying
that there will be no help towards the rents and will not invest in private
hospitals. The result is obvious, she insisted, there will be smaller
hospitals, beds are expected to drop by 30 percent according to the
"National Bed Enquiry" and there will be staff reductions.
Edinburgh was Ursula's next example: there will be a loss
of staff to the tune of 800 she pointed out, 45 doctors, 30 trained nurses and
support staff. Private firms are not interested unless they can run private
clinical services and not support services, which include catering, cleaning,
telecommunications and portering. These tasks will be transferred to contract.
New contracts will have to be signed with other parts of the private sector.
The future is one of "production line care" or
what is known as a "revolving door" scenario. Older people are being
discriminated against. More workload will be shifted to GPs and there is a
chronic shortage of these in Birmingham and the Black Country. One third of GPs
are due to retire in the next ten years. Patient charges will come in and there
will be hotel charges, the poor will be left to recover at home.
Ursula analysed that the causes behind it are Maastricht,
it has become central to European policy. There is no need for PFI because it
only helps big business, the global financial institutions and the World Bank
she insisted. The conclusion can only be that what is going on is undermining
the NHS and the principle that healthcare should be "free at the point of
delivery" and this happening when there has been no public debate on the
future of the NHS in Britain.
Mark Oley, an AUT research officer, gave an
informative account of the government strategy of "Partners for
Progress". He outlined the history of collaborative policy, which included
"New Realism" of the 1980s. He exposed the ideology of Tony Blair's
"Third Way" politics, the main plank of New Labour's compromising
social partnership policy. He pointed out that the leadership of the unions was
a block to progress, as they are the main engine driving the social
Graham Fletcher from Residents Action Group for the
Elderly (RAGE) was another delegate to the conference. He said that the
privatising of old people's homes has been carried out under the pretext of
saving money. He said, "We have taken the council to the High Court but we
couldn't go forward because legal aid has been stopped." He said that
local authorities have been driven by the New Labour government to constrain
councils on spending. Graham was adamant that the fight was not going to stop
and said, "We must stand up and say No!" He pointed out how people's
money is being used to fight the legal cases of the authorities but people's
money cannot be used to provide legal aid for the people themselves when they
One woman delegate said that mental homes are going too and
£650,000 has been spent on various infrastructural improvements to
property while there are seven handicapped homes closing.
Charlie Denton from the pensioners' movement said
that he had travelled down from Skelmersdale to the conference. He said that
they were organising a pensioners' meeting there on April 28. Charlie is
Regional Chairman of the "Pensioners' rights campaign in the North
West". He outlined how the pensioners problem was very much linked
to European policy and felt strongly that, "Pensioners conditions are
being constrained as the welfare state is affected." He said that
pensioners are an important force with 20 percent of the population. Pensions,
he stated, are part of the same problem as everyone else is talking about. He
said that the main principles were linked to living with dignity in old age he
said that pensions should be linked to the average wage.
Dick Howell, a TGWU Shop Steward from the Rover
Longbridge plant spoke and was well received by the delegates. He said that
under the present conditions we could see the activities of the so-called
European Works Councils. He said that Longbridge, Solihull, Cowley and Swindon
had had Works Councils, for what they are worth, since BMW had purchased Rover.
He said, "No-one was elected to go on these committees, no-one came to
came to the shop stewards or the shop floor and asked which person do you think
is best?" He said that the shop stewards objected to them and didn't want
any truck with it. That was five and a half years ago.
Dick said that he now found himself in the present
predicament after 31 years as a Longbridge worker and 25 years as a steward. He
is now, as ever, trying to defend workers' jobs.
The agreement brought back was sold to stewards. It
represented a longer working week with no extra money. "For 14 months we
done it!" he said, but, "BMW dropped us like hot cake."
Dick said that he wanted to nail the lie about BMW losses.
He pointed out that from 1996 there were supposed to have been £600m per
year losses, £2,400m losses were the total in four years.
"Where has the money gone then?" asks Dick he
explained, "The Freelander (4x4) was successfully launched and is
showing profit. The revamped Discovery, which Alchemy is stealing, was
re-developed with plenty of the cash, the R75 was developed with money as was
the R75 and the R30 and also the R50 Mini."
"Where are your losses?" Dick is demanding on
behalf of the workforce and says, "You cannot invest money and put it down
as losses! It is investment! £40m was taken out our pension fund as part
of the survival package too!" He stressed that Rover workers and stewards
should keep the initiative in their own hands, maintaining their own agenda,
and said, "The fightback started last Saturday, on the first of
Les Woodward, a steward at the Swansea factory of
Remploy, speaking in his personal capacity, talked about the origins of Remploy
factories set up after the war to employ disabled workers. He said that the
biggest factory was in Birmingham. Les said that Remploy had been under
continuous attach since 1994. The £94.2m subsidy from the government had
been frozen since 1994. Each government since has said that Remploy must employ
more people. This is despite the maintenance of the subsidy at the present
levels, which has increased the pressure. An 18 month campaign has been taken
out and politicised the workers. There was a resolution passed in Manchester
that any factory attacked would face united industrial action. MP's have been
lobbied and a 24-hour vigil was placed outside the Houses of Parliament. Les
pointed out that much of the work of Remploy is down to supplying Rover and
there is an estimate of an immediate effect on the jobs of 250 disabled
"In 2 or 3 moths now," Les said, "we will
back on the campaign trail fighting the same government of today because they
won't support disabled workers."
Les said that the £155m of new money is a drop in the
ocean and asked the conference to take the issue of disabled back to the rest
of the working class.