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Six point plan to strengthen public services

In countless examples, public sector workers have demonstrated that direct delivery of public services assures better quality, access and safety. As well, they have shown that public services are cost effective not always the cheapest, but most often the best value.

But front line workers are equally clear that services they provide could be more efficient, more responsive and more accountable. And they are committed to strengthen public services, earning day to day the confidence and respect of the public they serve.

CUPE shares this pride in public services and commitment to quality, access and safety. To make substantial improvements to service delivery and strengthen the infrastructure that supports economic development and social security, concerted action is required by governments at all levels.

1. Assure adequate funding

An essential first step in improving the effectiveness and responsiveness of public services is to assure adequate funding.

The federal government must restore and improve transfers for social programs health, social assistance and post-secondary education. As well, a significant federal investment is needed to support basic infrastructure water, wastewater and highways and other essential services including childcare, housing and environmental protection.

* A detailed program of action to support this objective is outlined in the 1999 Alternative Federal Budget.

* The provinces must increase funding both for direct provincial services and for municipalities, local authorities and public institutions. When responsibilities for public services are downloaded, adequate funds or the authority to raise commensurate revenues must also be transferred.

* Municipalities and local authorities must accept the responsibility to assure that public services are adequately funded to meet local needs.

* Quality public services should be funded from revenues generated by fair taxes, not user fees.

* The federal, provincial and municipal governments must develop a mutually-agreed upon system for sharing public service funding.

2. Require not-for-profit public sector delivery

Investment in public services should be directed to the provision of quality services, rather than corporate profits. All public services should be owned and operated by the public, not-for-profit sector.

Funds transferred from one level of government to another should be contingent on the assurance that they will not be diverted to for-profit enterprises.

* Services should not be commercialized or contracted out.

* Contracted-out services should be brought back in-house.

3. Assure accessibility

In many communities, access to public services is already limited. Privatization almost always has the effect of further restricting access. Reform of public services should assure accessibility to all.

* Gaps and inequities must be identified and action must be taken to assure comprehensive delivery of important public services.

* Barriers to equity, including gender, income, race, ability, age, residence and sexual orientation, must be overcome

4. Strengthen accountability

In any process of reform, public service excellence should be the overriding goal, with the test being the extent to which services meet public needs. To that end, any reform process should have built-in safeguards against the erosion of the quality or accessibility of services.

* Governments have an obligation to make clear to citizens, consumers and taxpayers who is responsible for public services.

* Mechanisms are required to ensure that decisions affecting public services by elected representatives, government officials or program managers are open, transparent and subject to public review.

* National standards for the provision of essential public services such as health care and social security are critical in defining public services in Canada. Any reform of federal programs must ensure that these national standards are protected.

* Provincial standards for the development and delivery of services are essential to ensure access and enhance the quality of life in all communities. In particular, provincial legislation is important for standards in most areas of education, welfare, housing, highways, health and safety, and childrens services.

* Municipal and local authorities have an obligation to set minimum standards and performance objectives for public services and provide adequate funding and staffing to meet these standards.

* Different levels of government share responsibility for protecting the natural environment, as well as providing for the physical and social requirements of communities. Responsibility for regulation, enforcement and funding must be clear and transparent.

5. Respect workers

A crucial element in improving public services is to draw on the experience and expertise of public sector workers and their commitment to provide quality services that are responsive to the needs of the public they serve. To do this, there must be an assurance that the rights and the interests of the workers will be respected.

* The right to organize without interference and fairly negotiate a collective agreement must be recognized.

* Existing collective agreements must be respected, protecting the advances that have been made in wages, benefits and working conditions. In the event of restructuring, successor rights must be guaranteed.

* The workers union must be consulted and have a say in all restructuring programs and in decisions affecting public service delivery. Union representation should be mandatory on all decision-making bodies related to service reform, and workers and their union should be guaranteed access to all relevant information.

6. Strengthen democracy

Effective public services are strengthened by and in turn strengthen our democracy. To reform public services, making them more responsive to changing needs, a major effort is required to reach out to the public those who use, fund and benefit from these services seeking their input and advice.

* This process of consultation and participation must be inclusive, reaching out to those without a voice and facilitating the participation of groups that represent women, minorities and marginalized communities.

* It must take place at each level and in every sector. Locally, provincially and nationally, public services affect all Canadians and every aspect of service delivery should be open to ideas for improvement.

* It must be ongoing. It is not enough to set in place a formal consultation process, seeking input on a given question at a given time. Instead, a culture of participation, evaluation and innovation is required.

Public services play a central role in shaping the quality of life of individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole. By reforming public services to better meet public needs reversing the debilitating round of cutbacks and privatization the effectiveness of these services will be strengthened and public confidence reinforced.

The standard for judging any public service reform is the extent to which it improves the well being of a community and the quality of life of its citizens. We are convinced that applying such a standard, Canadians will reaffirm that Public Works!