APSE Report Invigorates Justice for Cleaners Campaign

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Ella Linskens, BA Arabic

An APSE Report entitled ‘Review of Integrated Facilities Management Proposal’ refutes the claims of SOAS Management that bring the cleaners in- house would not be cost effective by reporting that meeting Justice for Cleaners campaign demands would be ‘cost neutral.’ The Justice for Cleaners campaign, in their decade long fight against outsourcing, have been met with the same response from SOAS Management; that their demands are not feasible due to financial constraints. After a report commissioned by APSE this has been exposed as a lie.

APSE is a ‘foremost specialist in local authority front line services’ and ‘provides services such as benchmarking, consultancy, seminars, research, briefings and training.’ It describes the current context for the campaign where a ‘procurement process for building and facilities management services’ for a five year contract, with the option of extending it for two years, has already begun. The tender return date was set for the 23rd of December 2015 and the tender evaluation is happening until the 7th of March. At this point, SOAS will award the contract to the ‘most economically advantageous tender from {their} point of view.’

As a result of student activism backing the campaign and ‘concerns raised by UNISON at Regional level, and by staff and students about outsourced services, the Registrar agreed, and commissioned APSE to undertake an independent review.’ The report itself comments on the role of the campaign: ‘the campaign has taken up a significant amount of time on all sides in recent years and has affected income in relation to the recent student occupation in November 2015. This is estimated to have cost the University £64,600 in terms of loss of conferencing and catering income and costs of relocating customers to external venues.’ It also recognises the risks, both concerning finance and reputation, associated with Management’s current policy, as ‘the school may be subjected to student protests and/or building occupation.’ The report provides background and context to the issue.

In this, it is stated that since 2012 SOAS has ‘commissioned external resources to consider the future management of Integrated Facilities Management Services,’ three times by three different consultancy organisations (Serco in Sept. 2012, Mott Macdonald in May 2013, Gardiner & Theobald April 2015). The April 2015 report done by Gardiner & Theobald did not consider the in house option, following the Board of Trustee’s decision to not review the decision to outsource till 2016. The Mott MacDonald report was commissioned by SOAS Outsourced Contracts Working Group ‘partly as a result of pressure from Justice for Cleaners Group in 2013.’ In the report it is stated that ‘SOAS has asked APSE about the costing for in-house Integrated Facilities Management, which was already analysed as part of the Mott MacDonald Report in 2013; the in-house option was reported to be the lowest cost at that time.’

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SOAS Management being aware that bringing the cleaners in house as cheaper for 3 years casts a gloomy light over Management’s interactions with staff and students. On the 22nd of October 2015, Laura Gibbs the SOAS Registrar, held an open meeting to discuss the demands of the Justice for Cleaners campaign. In this forum she claimed that bringing the cleaners in house would cost half a million pounds more, a clear denial of the results of the Mott MacDonald Report of 2013. This reasoning was based on economies of scale, and the costs that would be induced by having to buy cleaning products in bulk. Co-President Welfare and Campaigns Tom King commented on the APSE results, saying, ‘the report shows that the School’s arguments that bringing the cleaners in-house would be too expensive just don’t stack up. There is now no justification for continuing with the indignities and injustices that outsourcing brings. The demand of the SOAS community must be listened to and the cleaners brought in-house.’

The APSE report writes in the recommendations that ‘the further modelling prepared by SOAS [for bringing the cleaners in-house] and then reviewed by APSE does show a potential for increased costs in year one, but after further reviews of Facilities Management provision and negotiation on terms and conditions, e.g. Integrated Facilities Management staff would continue to be contracted on the basis of a 40 hour week, should achieve a cost neutral position around the successful negotiation on terms and conditions as referred to above.’

The APSE Report seems to have breathed new life into the campaign.Almost weekly rallies have been occurring in support of the cleaners. A monumental moment occurred for the campaign this month, when campaign figure head Consuelo Moreno was able to address the Board of Trustees meeting directly for the first time.

Interestingly, the report also includes a summary of the Core Values of SOAS. Perhaps this points to the complex and multifaceted concerns around the issue of the cleaners and outsourcing the contracts, in which the question of ethics can not be forgotten. When one reads this lists and sees values such as ‘ethical standards,’ ‘community,’ ‘evaluation and self reflection’, one wonders if the answer to this decade long struggle is obvious.

The report ends ‘in summary, taking into account all factors raised in this report, SOAS’ Management Team must find a solution that allows it to focus on improving its current performance and ensuring the academic and financial sustainability of the institution in an increasingly competitive and turbulent operating environment.’

With Management’s last argument against bringing the cleaners in-house undermined, and with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees Tim Miller having resigned, the cleaners, staff and students wait with hopeful baited breath that Management chooses the ethical, sustainable solution and finally brings the cleaners in-house.

Images: Ella Linskens

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