Iron Angle: What about the workers?
Nov 12 2010 By Paul Dale
If Coun Lawrence is right, the co-op will thrive and may even extend its empire by selling services to other Midland education authorities. If he is wrong, the co-op will indeed wither on the vine rather more quickly than it would otherwise have done.
It is unclear whether this organisation will meet the guidelines laid down by the Co-operative Alliance – a business owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services or by the people who work there. Could Birmingham be re-introducing Clause Four years after Labour ditched its commitment to public ownership?
This is likely to be the first in a number of co-operatives or trusts set up by the council to radically reduce the 55,000 size of the local authority workforce.
Work is taking place looking at the feasibility of transferring pretty much all of the leisure portfolio to charitable trust status, enabling the council to save millions on rates bills.
But all of this is pretty small fry compared with the greatest prize of all, hiving off the refuse collection and street cleaning services. If it’s good enough to arrange for school dinner ladies to form their own co-op, then why not treat the notoriously stroppy bin men and street sweepers in a similar fashion?
Some people swear that this is bound to happen, given the scale of Government spending cuts imposed on Birmingham. Others suggest that the city’s Tory-Lib Dem coalition simply hasn’t got the heart for what would turn out to be a very messy scrap indeed.
I know where my money is. Sorry, dinner ladies, you’re on your own.
Les Lawrence is rightly regarded as the country’s senior local government education specialist, but years of talking school theories has left the Birmingham cabinet member with a rather strange language all of his own.
He is renowned for not using a couple of words where several hundred will do. One senior city Tory once told me that Les was highly thought of for his ability to “talk non-stop for ages without actually saying anything that anyone can understand”.
At this week’s cabinet meeting, when praising the new schools workers’ co-op, Lawrence said the organisation would be able to take advantage of “what I call matrix menu provision”. Think he meant it would be able to offer a range of different services, possibly.
You have to wonder whether he speaks in the same way when he is at home. A breakfast conversation with Mrs Lawrence: “My dear, I was thinking, subject of course to extensive consultation, due diligence, and notwithstanding the fiscal drag on our household budgetary arrangements, whether a new pot of marmalade might be procured?”