A direct link exists between respect for the labour and trade union rights of local public service workers and effective local government responses to public emergencies, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides, cities and regions that rely on publicly owned or publicly controlled governance models may have greater ability to rapidly adjust, adapt, prioritise and re-deploy staff and services. Therefore, the remunicipalisation of local public services can enable swift emergency responses, quick service adaptation and staff redeployment to ensure continued service delivery.
These conclusions are among the policy findings of a new publication launched today by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the World Association of the Major Metropolises (Metropolis) and LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and Political Science with the support and input of Public Services International (PSI) and affiliates.
Representatives from the Belgian Local Government Trade Union Federation CGSP-ACOD organising domiciliary care workers at inter-municipal consortium Welfare Care Kempen (WCK) and from the Belgian CGSP-ACOD National Trade Union Confederation shared their experiences, lessons learnt and recommendations with the research team. They highlighted how the publicly-owned and managed nature of WCK was key to cope effectively with the Covid-19 pandemic by re-deploying workers and services to ensure continued care services to the most vulnerable in the Kempen region, while keeping workers and users safe. WCK management representatives confirmed the trade union analysis and stressed the critical role of having a strong, continuous, trust-based practice of social dialogue with workers and their unions as another key takeaway to ensure future crises preparedness.
Working together in dialogue we tackled the issues one at a time. This way we could continue to provide home care services to our communities
Ken Zegers, General Secretary CGSP-ACOD Belgium, Local Government Trade Union Federation, Kempen Branch.
Good cooperation and coordination with the trade unions in ordinary times certainly pays off in times of crisis
Eric Nysmans, Director of Welfare Care Kempen
Despite its quality service, equitable policies, attention to vulnerable users and service resilience through Covid, WCK is currently facing a looming privatization threat as the Flemish government's plans to privatise the welfare and care sector".
Additional cases looked at multi-utility Empresas Públicas de Medellin (Colombia), and at the public water operator Taigua in Terrassa (Spain) remunicipalised in 2018. The brief also referred to the 2018 ILO Guidelines for Public Emergency Services, the PSI-UCLG Joint Declaration in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic “Strong local public services for a safe world” and to the Public Futures Global Remunicipalisation Database.
Additional key findings include:
The most resilient providers were those that already had, or rapidly set up, systems of communication and coordination with other services and authorities. Operators with pre-existing practices of dialogue and collaborative work across public institutions at the inter-municipal scale were at an advantage through the crisis.
An established practice of constructive social dialogue between local public service workers and employers – together with the presence of collective bargaining structures such as workplace and sectoral works councils - are key to swift, effective service continuation, adaptation, and resilience through emergencies.
The adaptability of a publicly-owned and publicly-managed local public service is hardly possible under a privately-owned, managed or outsourced service, as contracts with private operators tend to be rigid and governed by cost effectiveness rather than by the fundamental principle of providing care to the neediest regardless of their ability to pay.
Looking at the case of Terrassa’s public utility Taigua (Spain) and its participatory governance model, remunicipalisation can be a powerful tool for tackling territorial inequalities. In addition, it can increase the transparency, accountability and effectiveness of service delivery, providing opportunities to democratise local public services by narrowing the gap among users, providers, authorities and workers and put the voices of resident-users at the heart of emergency responses.
Increasing responsibility is being placed on subnational governments for the provision of health services. In OECD countries, local and regional governments are already responsible for 24.5% of total public health expenditure; during the pandemic, this spending increased by 44% and 69% respectively.
Health services provision
Increasing responsibility is being placed on subnational governments for the provision of health services. In OECD countries, health expenditure has increased during the pandemic.
of total public health expenditure for local & regional governments
in expenditure during the pandemic at the local level
in expenditure during the pandemic at the regional level
Policy Brief 05 “Local Public Services in Crisis Mode: Adapting Governance Models to Exceptional Times” is part of the UCLG-Metropolis-LSE Cities Emergency Governance Initiative Serie (EGI), aiming to investigate the institutional dimensions of rapid and radical action in response to complex global emergencies. The publication provides actionable information, knowledge and recommendations to local and regional governments to help them respond to complex emergencies.