March 2013        

Austerity hits local services


So far the main emphasis of the “austerity” measures has been on the national, macro level. The effects of local austerity measures have tended to be overlooked. We take a short look at these local measures. According to successive governments, most are said to be needed as part of the austerity measures.

Health

Local provision of many health services has been cut back or completely ended. The HSE has defended the decision to slash its budget for ferrying patients to hospital for life-saving treatment, saying that some people could make their own way to clinics. The cuts are expected to affect thousands of ill people around the country.
      In the south-east some years ago a HSE official accompanied the hospital minibus in one town and reported that, as patients were picked up at the local train station, they might as well use the train. Nothing about the location of hospitals, clinic times, and the physical condition of the patients. When the ambulance-drivers sought to raise the issue they were asked by the official, Can’t they travel to Croke Park on the train? Why not to hospital?
      Since then the ambulance has been replaced by private operators. They too feel the constraints of operating under the new regime.
      Already six hundred patients in the HSE West region have suffered cut-backs to transport services for cancer and dialysis treatment.
      Meanwhile, in many cases, dialysis treatment has been switched from hospital units with blood, heart and other back-up and is now provided at profit-making centres, like the Beacon Clinic in Dublin and the Wellstone in Galway.
      And patients with serious illness, like kidney failure and cancer, now find that medical-card prescription charges on a non-high-tech prescription have trebled, from an initial 55 cent to a charge of €1.50 per item on their prescription.

Education

During recent years we have become accustomed to the attacks on special-needs children and their parents. The latest budget cuts to state-financed school transport schemes are uprooting children from their communities and heaping heavy costs on parents.
      Parents have drawn attention to the cuts and lack of bus seats for their children after already purchasing uniforms and books and enrolling youngsters in classes for the coming year. Some of the children are considered to be outside the school catchment area by only 200 metres.
      A Co. Kerry parent explained: “There are a large number of parents in utter turmoil, as they have just been unexpectedly hit with the news that their child does not have a seat on a bus to their chosen school; yet many have tried to gain entry to their nearest school only to be told there is no space at the school. Many families genuinely are not in a position to pay for transport and do not know what they are to do.”
      Dozens of families are being forced to consider moving their children out of schools because their homes are considered closer to other schools. The other option is to pay €350 per child for state buses for the year, or even more for private buses. “By charging parents more, or making children move schools, they’re breaking up communities. It’s so unfair for rural communities, and there’s no flexibility.”

Waste disposal

Once upon a time refuse was collected by the local council, using the council bin lorry and employing union labour. Then the service was privatised through stealth. In Co. Carlow the small operators were taken over by the other players. Some were bought by Ray Whelan, and other operators were bought up or pushed out. Whelan has extended his operations to Cos. Carlow, Kildare, Laois, Kilkenny, Wicklow, and Wexford.
      This suits the management of the various counties, who provide the landfill site and permit for cash. Collection and employment policies are a matter for the firm. Recently there have been allegations that the company is boosting its profits by allowing only smaller bin bags and refusing to accept anything that looks too big or overweight.
      AES, a subsidiary of Bord na Móna, operates in Cos. Kildare, Wexford, Limerick, Carlow, Meath, Wicklow, Tipperary, Laois, Offaly, Roscommon, and Westmeath. It is fast becoming one of the best-known disposal firms outside Dublin. Other examples can be found in the areas of water provision and broadband.
      Over time the outsourcing sees the reduction of competition and the growth of monopoly. This was best illustrated in “Outsourcing is a further transfer of wealth to big business,” a statement by the CPI on 3 September 2012.
      The government is to outsource services in health, justice, education and local authorities as part of the EU-IMF cuts programme.
      Each department has been given until the end of the year to propose areas for outsourcing; but given the history of these decisions being discussed beforehand in foreign parliaments, it is likely that the principal areas have already been picked and that this is merely a rubberstamping of this major negative development in the provision of services to Irish people.
      Private companies will carry out these services only if there is profit to be made off citizens. This will drive a reduction in the quality of services, accompanied by extra costs, either direct to the citizen or by way of government contract. These companies will put their own profit agenda ahead of citizens’ needs. It is likely that any outsourcing will also lead to “offshoring,” as jobs are sent to the cheapest country.
      We are still suffering the consequences of this private-sector agenda in banking that has bankrupted the country.
      What outsourcing really represents is a transfer of money from citizens to big business. It will be the usual global monopolies that will win contracts through their cut-throat cost-cutting, and the state will hand over millions to boost their profits.
      Once again taxpayers will be paying for the lavish and outrageous life-styles of the global elite while our services are cut, jobs outsourced and offshored, and our young people forced to emigrate.
      Unions and citizens need to combine to defend jobs and services. The trade union movement, if it is to remain relevant, must no longer allow the tail to wag the dog but must break with Labour Party policy.
[MA]

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