Many of the changes that we are seeing in the United Kingdom today is driven, not by our Westminster Parliament but, as a result of the United Nations Agenda 21. Agenda 21 describes itself as 'a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which humanity impacts on the environment'.
In this article we will briefly examine the significant changes to the way our public services are delivered which we have been told is forced on us by the austerity measures imposed since the financial crash of 2008. Many of those services usually associated with our local authorities have / are becoming provided by a new system of partnership working. Such Public Private Partnership (PPP) working is also being seen in the NHS, prison service, MOD and other sectors which we would normally associate with the state.
A PPP is defined as ‘an exclusive partnership between a public authority and a private entity that uses the financial resources of the private sector to carry out the legal activities or functions of the public sector’.
Within our e-book Agenda 21: Your Life In Their Hands we wrote:
'PPPs do not work in a free market way where honest competition decides who wins and who loses the business contract, due to the fact that the private company part of the PPP is granted special privileges by the government. This may include financial incentives, tax breaks, subsidies and insider privileges. Such an arrangement forces non PPP corporations to operate in a distorted marketplace, undermines the free market system and ultimately creates government sanctioned monopolies in selected segments of the economy.
In essence PPPs are a legal vehicle being driven across many sectors in the UK to re-model both central and local Government. PPPs can be found within the Health & Care sectors, energy, transport, waste management, housing and education'.
So where does the pressure for such changes really originate? Which private sector organisations are likely to benefit and where does Common Purpose fit into the Bigger Picture?
The Pressure For Change
It can be found in Chapter 27 Agenda 21 (Strengthening The Role Of Non-governmental Organizations: Partners For Sustainable Development) which states:
'Society, Governments and international bodies should develop mechanisms to allow non-governmental organizations to play their partnership role responsibly and effectively in the process of environmentally sound and sustainable development. With a view to strengthening the role of non-governmental organizations as social partners, the United Nations system and Governments should initiate a process, in consultation with non-governmental organizations, to review formal procedures and mechanisms for the involvement of these organizations at all levels from policy-making and decision-making to implementation'.
We tend to think of non-governmental organisations as being those limited to the Charity sector but they could just as easily be national and multi-national corporations.
What Has Happened In Practice?
Evidence from Wales
Beyond boundaries: Citizen Centred Local Services for Wales was a review of local service delivery in Wales. The review team was Chaired by Sir Jeremy Beecham. The following statements are extracted from that report:
Para 6.58 - The third critical success factor is partnership. Partnership is difficult and needs the investment of time, resources and leadership, but it has a key role to play in delivering significant improvement in services. To achieve this, the whole architecture of public services, and the culture, skills and behaviours of those who work in them, must be made more conducive to shared delivery.
Para 6.62 - The aim must be to make local and regional partnership working more routine. By creating systems which fit together and are not sealed into silos. [my emphasis]
According to Julia Middleton, CEO Common Purpose in her book Beyond Authority: Leadership in a Changing World
'Many leaders have established their reputation in the internal silo environment of their organization. [my emphasis]. When they extend their leadership role beyond the organization, authority and legitimacy are constantly in question. New leaders need to be confident to legitimize themselves and challenge old ways. They need to develop a leadership style that will enable them to lead beyond the traditional boundaries and constraints of the organization'.
Is Middleton's use of language similar to that used in the Beecham report coincidental? Readers should also note that Sir Jeremy Beecham has been a Council Member at charity Common Purpose since 1989.
It would be difficult not to conclude that the Beecham review followed the blueprint outlined by the United Nations in changing the role of non-government organisations (Third Sector) in relation to "policy-making, decision making and implementation". The Welsh Assembly Government responded to the review with a document titled Delivering Beyond Boundaries: Transforming Public Services in Wales which sets out the Assembly Government's programme for taking forward the transformation of public services in Wales.
Evidence From England
Mutual Action, Common Purpose: Enpowering the Third Sector, published by the Fabian Society, also describes many of the structural changes outlined in the Beecham report.
Wouldn't this change in leadership style ultimately lead us to a post democratic era where organisational boundaries become blurred and public accountability eroded?
Which Private Sector Organisations Are Likely To Benefit?
One example is the transnational corporation SERCO. Serco operates in Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and North America. The UK currently provides 60% of Serco business. More than 100,000 employees deliver services to government and private clients in over 30 countries.
What do they say about the future of public service delivery?
'Public Services will be delivered by a blend of the public sector, the private sector and voluntary organisations. Understanding the model which allows you to collaborate effectively across those three different types of organisation gives you real advantage in accelerating the rate at which services improve and, for us as a private company, winning in the market'. Jeremy Stafford, Regional CEO, UK and Europe, SERCO speaking at day two, CSC Leaders 2013, London.
This description of the future of public services delivery, provided by Jeremy Stafford, mirrors precisely that spelled on in Chapter 27 of the UNs Agenda 21 document.
Who Are CSC Leaders?
CSC leaders is.... a partnership between international leadership development organisation Common Purpose and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences (UK Fund).
Who Sponsors CSC Leaders?
CSC Leaders is sponsored by Anglo American, PwC, Glencore, BP, Weir Group, Brunswick, PowerCorp (Canada) HDFC (India) and Serco. [my emphasis]
If we look at the biographies of a few individuals attending the CSC Leaders course in 2013 we discover the following from SERCO:
John Biggin, Director, HMP & YOI Doncaster, Serco, UK; Mark Irwin, Chief Operating Officer, Serco Asia Pacific, Australia and Alpna Khera, CEO, Serco India PVT Limited, India.
Duncan Mackison, Operations Director, Serco, UK whose broader experience includes delivering a wide variety of outsourced services into health, defence, local and central government customers. He has run the delivery of IT enabled BPO services to most government departments including the MoD, DoH, HMRC and DoE.
Katy Mecklenburgh, Finance Director, Home Affairs, Serco Home Affairs, UK is currently the Finance Director of the Home Affairs business unit, which provides key services to customers, such as the Ministry of Justice and Department for Work and Pensions.
Emma Needham, Communications Director, ASPAC, Serco Home Affairs, Australia - Before joining Serco in 2008, Emma held advisory positions with senior Federal Government Cabinet Ministers in the portfolios of employment and workplace relations, human services, and health and ageing. Her political experience is balanced with her experience in the Australian Public Service as a Senior Public Affairs Officer working on key government health programmes, including Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Helen Shaw, Head of Commercial, UK and Europe, Serco Home Affairs, UK - In 2010 Helen joined Serco as part of the central commercial team. She has been heavily involved in developing commercial solutions for Government procurement opportunities across a range of departments (e.g. MoD, MoJ, DWP).
On their main website they say
'whether running a Local Education Authority, identifying the best means of sharing sensitive data on children, offering health care services, piloting telecare projects to enable independent living, integrating offenders into society and preventing re-offending, managing Business Link services and helping small businesses to grow, or scoping new projects to improve the local environment - Serco is working with and across the whole local community to make citizens' lives better'.
SERCO also boasts that they 'are at the heart of service delivery for some 200,000 children and their families and have over 1500 staff who are experts in their field and across the Every Child Matters agenda. Serco's work includes:
'A focus on children's social care - through for example children looked after, CAMHS, child protection and children in need agendas. In partnership with others we deliver the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and we also provide Integrated Children's Systems in a number of authorities'.
SERCO Post 2013
At the end of 2013 it was revealed that Serco was desperately seeking to repair its relationship with its largest customer, the UK Government. It was announced that Jeremy Stafford was leaving following a scandal over failures that include charging taxpayers for electronic tags used on dead criminals. Serco was ordered to repay the UK Government £69m over fraudulent tagging contracts.
In March 2015 it was revealed that the company swung from a pre-tax profit of £108.3m in 2013 to a loss of £1.4bn last year. The National Audit Office has recently examined £35bn worth of public contracts held by private firms and found that just 31% allowed profit margins to be scrutinised by Whitehall.
The Common Purpose Effect
In previous research articles into the revised Governance structures of both Rotherham and Nottingham Councils we discovered evidence of many partnerships comprising public sector agencies and non-governmental organisations. Our research uncovered conclusive evidence of the fact that Common Purpose operatives occupied many of the key positions in those public / private partnerships.
We named this phenomena the Common Purpose Effect which
blurs the boundaries between people, professions, public and private sectors, responsibility and accountability, Common Purpose encourages “graduates” to believe that as new selected leaders, they can work together, outside of the established political and social structures, to achieve a paradigm shift or CHANGE - so called “Leading Beyond Authority”. In doing so, the allegiance of the individual becomes ‘re-framed’ on CP colleagues and their NETWORK.
In Rotherham we discovered this partnership arrangement operating at the level of the Local Safeguarding Children Board. Professor Alexis Jay in her report into child safeguarding failings in Rotherham reported that
'The review team considered the governance structures to be difficult to understand. This lack of comprehension extended to staff at all levels. The team also found confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the several bodies functioning within the system. There was a risk of overlap between the various groups and sub-groups, leading to blurred accountability' - @ Paragraph 3.50
'An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody, and in the case of sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham, accountability was key' - @ Paragraph 13.57
Whilst we are in fact not suggesting that any of the SERCO employees listed above have committed any wrongdoing, we believe it is pertinent to point out our full agreement with comments made by Professor Jay.
These new public / private partnership arrangements which SERCO appears to have based its' business model upon have obvious inherent defects. The key issue is that of accountability. Although these partnerships are paid for from both National and Local Taxation the taxpayer has not been consulted on their introduction. There is clearly a democratic deficit. Similarly, when things go wrong, as they did in Rotherham, which of the partners carries ultimate responsibility?
I have to ask: Have we now entered a post democratic era from which return is now impossible?