Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Alternate service delivery is privatization

The NBU and its President Susie Proulx-Daigle are not opposed to having discussions about new ways of doing things and finding efficiencies within the public service. However, we don't see privatization as the right solution. The NBU and its President Susie Proulx-Daigle are not opposed to having discussions about new ways of doing things and finding efficiencies within the public service. However, we don't see privatization as the right solution.

The keynote speech from the provincial government's recent public forum - part of its strategic program review - was on alternate service delivery.
If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's how a press release described it, "the fiscal and service benefits of partnering with the private sector for the delivery of government services."
There's a much easier way to describe the idea put forth by John Bethel - a partner in Ernst & Young’s Vancouver office and a former British Columbia civil servant - in his speech: privatization.
There's numerous reasons the New Brunswick Union is opposed to privatization. Typically, when public services are moved to the private sector there's job losses and wages are cut. However, the most important objection is the goal of privatization is the completely different from that of the public sector.
The delivery of public services is to provide citizens with the best service possible and to meet their needs. The goal of private business is profit. Often times, public services suffer or are reduced with privatization as the changes being made are not for the good of the public, but to maximize profit.
An example is the privatization done in keynote speaker Bethel's home province of BC. A study compiled by University of British Columbia professor Penny Gurstein and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher Stuart Murray examined the privatization of back office services including customer services, IT services, human resources, financial systems, purchasing, and buildings services at Hydro BC as well as the administration of the Medical Services Plan and PharmaCare.
When privatization is being trumpeted, there's talk of how it will apply innovation to make government processes more efficient and cost-effective. This was not the reality in BC. Among its key findings were:

  • contrary to what one would expect, there is more bureaucratic paperwork and reporting, not less;
  • there is a trend towards reduced training, which is completely at odds with the notion that ASD (alternate service delivery or privatization) is about innovation and making improvements;
  • tendency to ignore worker knowledge also undermines an employee's sense of the value of their work. As a result, the institutional memory of an organization is being eroded.

What is even more concerning is the type of service being given to the public. Employees dealing will calls from the public reported a deterioration in service:
Workers...reported that while the response time may be fairly quick, if information beyond "the basics" is needed, customers frequently cannot get access to the people who can actually help them.
Study interviewees felt quality was suffering at the expense of quantity, with performance measures such as volume of calls handled trumping the quality and accuracy of the information provided to the public.
The NBU is not opposed to having discussions about new ways of doing things and finding efficiencies within the public service. However, we don't see privatization as the right solution.
Earlier this year, government asked New Brunswickers for help and they responded with several solutions. The answers were compiled and the NBU feels those ideas are worth exploring including (all entries come from the Engage NB document on the government's website):

  • tolls on highways
  • increase corporate taxes - stop giving tax breaks to large companies
  • ensure better collaboration between government departments
  • raise the HST

Those are but a few offered during this review and deserve to be explored rather than focusing on privatization - something the people of the province did not advocate. Some of the suggestions could generate substantial revenue and thus provide more time for government to look at other solutions.
In the end, the NBU and its members want to be part of the solution and believe in providing the best possible services to the public. We want to do what's right for the province in these difficult financial times. It's important to remember NBU members are New Brunswickers and want the best for their province and its future.