Ending at the Beginning.

In what will probably be the final [directly] SSTA-related speech/blog post, I’m ending with the first speech I made at an SSTA Congress. It was the last motion discussed in 2002 and I had the graveyard slot at the end of the day when everyone was wanting away and home.

My motion called for the ending of PFI, and here is as close to the text of my remarks as I can provide. As the Conservative government sells off more of the state’s assets and continues with austerity, it seems timely to recall it.

Congress, the case against PFI rests upon three simple grounds:

First, it was corrupt in its inception, second, it is uneconomic in its operation, and third it is damaging in its effects on our public services.

Put simply, It means jobs for the boys, profits for the city and privatisation for our schools – and all at the expense of our pupils.

The Private Finance Initiative is one of a whole host of schemes which under the guise of benefiting the public sector plunder it.

As reported by Paul Foot on channel 4:

PFI in the UK was the brainchild of a committee set up under the Tories in the early 1990s. A key member of which was the deputy managing director of General Electric – a man called Malcolm Bates.

Despite being vehemently against PFI before the 1997 election, after it Labour brought in a top businessman to advise them on PFI and came ‘round to his views, he was …Malcolm Bates.

A whole series of further PFI schemes were launched one of the largest of which was the Edinburgh Royal infirmary. It was built by a consortium including BICC, who’s Board was joined by… Malcolm Bates. Indeed, so happy with him were the government, that Malcolm soon became Sir Malcolm.

It’s just one example amongst many of people advising or promoting PFI to the government who after the deal’s been done, end up working for the beneficiaries.

PFI allows the few to get their snouts in the trough – it’s only the start of the scandalous waste of public money that is the Private Finance Initiative.

Even though the projects involving schools are relatively new on the scene, the lessons from these and from other parts of the public sector are clear for all to see.

The first waste of money is the fact that for a private consortium to borrow money it costs more than it would for the government to do so. Then come the set-up costs for the private sector including millions being spent on financial and legal advisors; prominent amongst which are our job-sizing friends at PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

PFI supporters insist that it presents a cheaper alternative to the public sector due to the risks involved in building and running facilities being transferred to the private sector.

However, the reality is of the manipulation of comparisons between public and private in order to create a false impression of value for money. In the case of the Glasgow schools contract, Unison has pointed out that the risk factor of building by the public sector was calculated at £70 million to cover up the fact that the council would be paying nearly £35 million more by going down the PFI route.

In the case of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – the full business case presented by the NHS trust did not even bother to compare project costs on a like for like basis. The effect of this according to independent analysts will see the project costing an extra £6 million per year over the next 15 years.

The recent controversy involving the PPP scheme to privately build and operate 3 prisons in Scotland show clearly the attempts of the Executive to pretend that there are substantial savings to be made in pressing ahead with PPP.

The clams of a £700m gap between public and private provision were rubished by independent analysts who cut through the biased assumptions of the PPP scheme.

In any case, the estimated private costs soon change after the deals have been done. In the Glasgow schools project the year one accommodation costs grew from an initial estimate of £24 million to over £36 million.

Fundamentally, risk is not transferred to the private sector as if a project fails the public sector will have to bail it out. Witness the additional funds needed to complete the new air traffic control system. Witness as well the additional funds needed to properly install computer systems for the immigration service, the passport agency and now, the Child Support Agency. Witness PFI and witness a total waste of money.

Incredibly though, when a council believes that a contract should be terminated due to the private sector  not keeping to its side of the bargain – it has to compensate the PFI contractors for contract termination – even if the PFI consortium are to blame!

When you add in the fact that private companies are out to maximise profit – the costs of PPP rise even further above public sector provision – and all for the sake of transferring public assets to the private sector.

PFI is backdoor privatisation which puts profits before prisoners, profits before patients and profits before pupils.

PFI supporters insist that PFI is the only deal in town  but Congress, under PFI rules if a council goes to the Executive saying that it wants PFI because it doesn’t have any alternative – they would be barred from obtaining PFI in the first place!

PFI supporters also say that its the only option, as the money would not otherwise be there to pay for these projects. But Congress, the current account surpluses of recent years are much greater than the value of the PFI deals which have been struck. The money is already there its just not getting used to provide better public services.

There simply is no economic case for PFI – but it’s the damage to public services that is the final part of the overwhelming case against PFI.

In order to make their costs less than the public sector, corners are cut.

Any cost savings can only be made from reducing the quality of the resource, the service provided or the conditions for the workers,

In our prisons it will mean less rehabilitation schemes – and an increase in crime. In our hospitals it means less beds and higher waiting lists. In our schools it means less facilities and more stress for teachers.

In hospital PFI projects an average cut of 33% in bed numbers has been made, in school projects facilities are cut back. In the Fife PFI scheme already, the consortium are putting old equipment in the new schools.

PFI brings the promise of the new but delivers the reality of the old.

The increase in the accommodation costs in Glasgow alone has resulted in the loss of seven swimming pools, many classrooms and many staff common rooms.

We are seeing more buildings with less facilities – and are paying for the privilege. Indeed this is further compounded by stories coming from those working in the new facilities that the basic fabric of the new buildings is not up to much in the first place.

The contracts last anything up to 30 years but the needs of communities in relation to school buildings has changed greatly over the last 30 years, who can say with confidence that they wont change radically over the next 30? But PFI forces us into inflexible deals over the long term.

Rather than investing in public services, PFI seeks to privatise them. Rather than investing in the future, PFI mortgages it. Rather than investing in value for money, PFI wastes money.

PFI puts public money which should be spent providing better education into the hands of profiteers. But it doesn’t have to be a choice between PFI and leaky windows between PFI and crumbling buildings, between PFI and poor resources.

There are alternatives to privatisation which are economic, viable and indeed desirable – they simply involve the government moving away from its dogmatic desire to line the pockets of the private sector at the expense of the public.

Putting money into the troughs for the snouts of the private profiteers cannot be, never has been and never will be in the interests of public services.

Congress, the pupils in our schools must come before the profits of big business.

The executive must put education before profit.

The chancellor must think again and get rid of these PFI schemes before they do any more damage that they’ve already done.

I move.

Calling Time…

I have written to SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson tendering my resignation from active involvement within the Association.

The substantial text of my letter is as follows:

One of the things that a holiday period brings is a chance to reflect and a chance to regroup. It is also a time to ponder what lies ahead both in the immediate future and the time beyond that.

Following my own reflections I believe the conclusion is inescapable that I have become too thinly spread-out. This has been to the detriment of both my family and my own individual health.

This year, my work as Fife District Secretary was made more challenging and difficult because my facilities time and school time were split each day. Juggling this and my school responsibilities as I had predicted last year has proved impossible. I have carried out neither role with the level of efficacy that I had hoped would be the case.

Added to this the burden I have created for myself in seeking to move the Education Committee forward and the one I have inherited latterly as Acting President. These have further compounded the challenge and my feeling of being unable to over come them all.

My priority is to be the best husband, father, teacher, leader and manager that I can be. I have gained so many skills. experiences and opportunities in my SSTA involvement but these are increasingly getting in the way of the priorities that I have.

Søren Kierkegaard wrote that: “The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.”

The time has come for me to set limits in what I do to achieve a greater degree of resourcefulness.

Consequently I am herby resigning as Vice-President of the SSTA, and am withdrawing my nomination to the post of President with immediate effect.

As a result I will also demit office as Convener of the Education Committee and my ex-officio membership of all SSTA Committees and Panels. Since my term of office as District Secretary comes to an end at Congress anyway, I am stepping down from these duties too with immediate effect.

You have already shown the necessary vision, energy and drive to take the Association forward. The SSTA under you as General Secretary will have its best days ahead of it I am sure.

My thanks go to all those in the SSTA that I have worked alongside over many years. Whilst I am sad that I will not be taking the journey ahead with you, I am confident that you will go from strength to strength.

With all good wishes

Robert

There will be no further comment on this specific matter at this time but I will of course, continue to tweet and blog.

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Stand Up For Yourselves

The following is the original draft of an opinion piece that was published in TESS

For background it was written on the Sunday before the Independence Referendum – and before so many people decided that a route to maintain their activism was in fact to join a political party.

I am grateful for the honour of being published.

“it’s times like these you learn to live again
it’s times like these you give and give again.”
 
Foo Fighters “Times Like These”
 
 
The recent referendum campaign motivated many people perhaps for the first time, to think about political action and to take part.
 
From posting their thoughts online to posting leaflets through doors, many teachers developed a taste for participation. They have discussed the sort of economy and society they want to see and have translated that into action.
 
Participation has given many teachers huge and positive energy.
 
As a trade union activist I see an irony and an opportunity.
 
The irony is that many of those teachers engaged in shaping the future of Scotland are not involved in defending their own working conditions nor in shaping the future of Scottish education.
 
The referendum saw 97% of Scots registered to vote and turnout [expected to be] well-over 80%. This was down to the idea that this time votes would have an impact; and that the referendum mattered.
 
TESS recently noted that purdah prevented schools from holding referendum-related events for their pupils. In so doing it did a potential disservice both to these young people and to democracy. Schools are seen as essential to developing active citizenship in our pupils. Yet, are our schools and the way that they are run offering teachers the opportunity to develop as active citizens?
 
We need to support and challenge school managers to fulfil their responsibility to operate in a collegiate manner.
 
We will never develop responsible citizenship in pupils let alone the other three capacities, if we do not develop them in teachers too.
 
Teachers themselves however need to challenge where there is a lack of workplace democracy. They must also challenge when professional learning is denied or when bureaucracy gets in the way of learning and teaching. 
 
The opportunity I see is that if teachers become active in their trade union they can do these things and ensure that schools put learning and teaching at the centre of what they do. Teacher action is needed to push for better conditions at a local, national and global level too.
 
The point of a trade union is to take collective action to better the working conditions of their members. Teacher working conditions are pupil learning conditions. Yet neither can improve through teacher apathy. Each trade union can only be as strong as its members allow it to be through their interest and involvement.
 
Those of us active in trade unions have to create opportunities for members to participate. We must also develop member confidence that their involvement will have an impact and that it will matter.
 
This can only come through trade unions themselves educating and activating their members.
 
Too often we have had a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. It’s been enough to organise an event and assume (or rather hope) that people would come along.
 
It’s no longer enough.
 
We need to find new ways to engage with members and for them to engage with us. This includes the online participation that so many are now involved in. As I argued in TESS before: “If people are spending increasing amounts of their time online, it is into this space that organisations have to move. Failing to do so may mean failing to maintain relevance.”
 
The challenge for us is to strengthen ourselves to defend our conditions of service and to achieve the best for our pupils.
 
To do this trade unions need to create the conditions for members to become active and to ‘give and give again’.