Council outsourcing firms told to 'come clean'

Companies with council outsourcing contracts are being urged to be open their books

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Companies with council outsourcing contracts are being urged to open their books so that Unite the union can check that they won’t be using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to shed jobs, and cut pay and conditions. 

Unite is targeting the ‘top five’ local government outsourcers, which are claiming financial hardship, but are refusing to let the union have the financial data to see if their claims stack-up. So far, the bosses at APCOA Parking; street cleaning outfit Continental Landscapes; leisure management company Fusion Lifestyle; controversial social enterprise giant Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL); and waste management firm Urbaser have all stonewalled Unite’s requests.

Unite estimates that, in total, these five companies hold more than 70 local authority contracts and employ at least 16,500 workers in the UK.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said, “GLL has replied refusing to provide the financial data and the other firms have declined to respond at all to our ‘Open the Books’ campaign.

“These companies are claiming financial hardship – but stonewalling when it comes to Unite scrutinising the books. This is especially true of GLL and Fusion Lifestyle whose executives have been in the media saying that they are in danger of going under,” he added.

“However, when the union has raised the matter with GLL managers, they have responded by saying that they are in good financial health. So who is telling the truth?

“There is only one way to find out – GLL and, indeed, all local government contractors which claim that they are in difficulties must be open and transparent over their financial state of health. It is time for these companies to come clean,” Kasab went on to say.

“Our members need to know that their pay, jobs and futures are safe – and Covid-19 won’t be used as a smokescreen for possible job cuts down the line.

“Job and pay cuts in this sector have not happened on a mass basis yet. However, we know that GLL has begun a redundancy consultation for headquarters staff. GLL also has a standard clause in contracts allowing the company to cut pay by five per cent during times of economic hardship.

“GLL and Fusion staff have been on furlough, but the suspicion remains that when the scheme ends in the autumn job losses and pay cuts will kick-in.

“Bosses cannot have it both ways. If companies are in financial trouble, they need to start talking to the unions now – not when it is too late,” Kasab continued.

“Local authorities also need to be on high alert – if contractors cannot afford to run services, they must be taken back in-house immediately.”

Unite is using the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act to strongly remind the five companies that it is obliged to provide the union with information needed for collective bargaining purposes. 

In normal circumstances, the union would examine the most recently registered company accounts to assess the ability to pay staff. However, in the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, Unite can no longer rely upon these accounts to give a true financial picture.

By Shaun Noble

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