In September 2010 Connaught went bust. They mainly did building repairs and maintenance for local authorities. Barnet Homes had a contract with them. Once upon a time, the people working for Connaught doing building repairs had been directly employed by the council, but those workers were TUPE'd to Connaught (possibly to Barnet Homes inbetween - it gets complicated!).
TUPE'd is a trade unionist's shorthand for transferred from one employer to another. TUPE is the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. I'll let ACAS explain:
The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) protects employees' terms and conditions of employment when a business is transferred from one owner to another. Employees of the previous owner when the business changes hands automatically become employees of the new employer on the same terms and conditions. It's as if their employment contracts had originally been made with the new employer. Their continuity of service and any other rights are all preserved. Both old and new employers are required to inform and consult employees affected directly or indirectly by the transfer.When Connaught went bust, a company called Lovell took over many of the Connaught contracts, but, for a while, it was not clear whether they wanted the contract with Barnet.
The former Connaught workers, many of them members of the Unison union, were left in limbo for several days, not knowing whether they still had a job. They received notice of redundancy, which was then withdrawn, and then reinstated, and so on, while KPMG, the liquidator, Barnet Homes and Lovell got their act together.
It was a very stressful time for the Connaught workers. Barnet Unison called for the workers and the work to be taken back inhouse - at least, for Barnet Homes to take it back. When Maggi Myland spoke to Nick Walkley about this in the lunch queue at NLBP, she was urging him to take an interest, to see what he could do to help sort things out for the ex-Connaught workers.
What was Walkley's attitude? It's nothing to do with us, the workers no longer work for Barnet council or even Barnet Homes - no matter that they were working on Barnet Homes properties. No matter that it had never been their choice to be transferred to the private sector.
Walkley's face, a picture of pure puzzlement. Me, have anything to do with the Connaught workers? In short, he washed his hands of the affair. While, from a purely legal point of view, he was correct, from a political point of view he was wrong. What happened with this contract was a matter for Barnet council.
As we know, Barnet council is planning to outsource the bulk of its services, which will mean many more council workers being TUPE'd. The example of what happened to the Connaught workers is just one reason for Barnet council workers' alarm at the prospect of being shoved into the private sector; it's why some of them are currently taking industrial action, and more of them are considering it.
Lovell did engage the former Connaught workers in the end, although a wrangle over who would pay them for some overtime they did in summer 2010 went on for a long time (it might still be going on).
Why I remembered this was the latest revelations on Barnet council's relations with MetPro. Mrs Angry has received a letter from Barnet council telling her that the council received one copy of a piece of film of residents made (illegally) by MetPro, and that they destroyed it. And that is where they think their responsibility ends. They also say MetPro assured them they had all the appropriate SIA licences - they didn't.
Barnet council thinks all the responsibility lies with the private company, not with them. Barnet council hasn't cocked up; it doesn't have a responsibility to check what contractors are up to, even when they are breaking the law.
Barnet council's upper echelons don't recognise that they need to take political responsibility, even where legal responsibility cannot be pinned on them, for errors committed on their premises, by their contractors (I use the term loosely because, as we know, they appear not to have had a contract with MetPro).
Barnet council thinks it can wash its hands of contracted-out employees? It thinks it can wash its hands of the fate of residents put at the mercy of contractors? You can take that puzzled look off your face, Nick Walkley. You're wrong, it just doesn't wash.