Unions wary of Conservative co-operative plans

Union leaders have hit out at Tory plans to allow workers such as primary school teachers and nurses to take over the running of public services through new employee led co-operatives.

The proposals, which are intended to free public services from central government bureaucracy, would see workers given full control over how local services are run.

The co-operatives would be funded by government and would have to adhere to national standards but would be treated as contractors, enlisted to get results through whichever means necessary.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne described the plans as “the biggest shift of power from government to people since the right to buy your council house in the 1980s”.

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Conservative’s “curious” proposals misunderstand the principles of the co-operative movement and the views of education professionals.

“Education staff want more autonomy over the professional issues of what and how to teach, and how to assess pupil progress. But they recognise they are part of local networks of schools and colleges which require planned co-ordination if they are to provide the best opportunities for all young people,” Bousted explained.

“The majority of education staff are suspicious about policies which encourage fragmentation of education provision and schools and colleges to be run as businesses.”

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary at Unite said Cameron’s plans make little sense, since they seek to reinvent existing national standards for services including education and health.

“These plans will erode the joined-up working that exists between health, social work and educational professionals – the best example of such co-ordinated working today is the Sure Start centres, which the Tories say they wish to retain. Such tinkering is not in the public’s interest.” Cartmail said.

“This will also mean that national agreements for pay, employment conditions and pensions will have to be disbanded for teachers, health staff and local authority workers. David Cameron has not spelt out what the effects will be on those dedicated employees working in the public sector.”