Contracts, Commissioners and Chaos – broken public services laid bare by Coronavirus

Directors of Adult Social Services say that the supply chain for PPE has been “shambolic” and that testing for care workers hasn’t been properly thought through.  

An important intervention from this influential group of local government professionals 

From the outset of the Covid-19 crisis UNISON has been demanding the appropriate PPE for all our public services workers. 

While the media narrative has focused on our big hospitals we’ve said all along the biggest crisis is felt by those working in the heart of our communities.

The Government rightly stands charged with dragging its feet leaving staff exposed to unnecessary risks. Workers still don’t have access to the necessary supplies, in range or volume.  

At the root of the problem lays the legacy of a fragmented system of public services cut to the bone through 10 years of crippling austerity 

Government says it is confident appropriate supplies of masks, gowns and gloves are in the system then scratch their heads wondering why PPE is not reaching the frontline.  

Without an integrated system of delivery embedded within our communities the chaotic results were entirely predictable.


It was not that long ago that Emergency Planning was a core functioof local government. In Town Halls across the UK, Emergency Planning Officers could be found, more often than not embedded within the Chief Executive’s Department, giving them status, influence and reach across all public services.  

Access to resources and information allowed for robust civil emergency plans and the attendant command structure could be mobilised at the drop of a hat to deliver support to people across communities. Workers from other departments would muck in, leaving their own jobs to join a central team of emergency commanders, hoping their time would never come but always ready if it did 

Services were integrated. Not perfect but better. Homecare, for example, a service once delivered by an army of local women, employed by the councilworking in their own neighbourhoodTrusted and valued in equal measure with the time to care not just for the physical needs but the overall wellbeing of our most vulnerable citizens  

The Homecare Senior ran a team of homecare workers. Formidable women, the “go to” person known by the GP, community nurse, police and pharmacist. The patch was their back yard and they knew it inside out. 

It’s exactly this ‘intelligent system’ which is now desperately needed but unavailable as its been discarded in favour of a ‘mixed market’ of private companies, which rather then working to the needs of the community, is enslaved to service specifications agreed by accountants, adjudicated by lawyers. 

As we emerge from the current crisis we cannot revert to business as usual. We owe it to those on the frontline to campaign for a new settlement for our public services

No blank cheques but fair, sustainable funding. Our desire should not be to go back, but to move forward with a public service renaissance. Simple, understandable, and accountable structures of public services, delivered by well-trained people living in our local communities. Public service for the people, by the people. 

Blog post by Chris Jenkinson, Regional Secretary

As the COVID-19 virus spreads, find out what your rights at work are.