Coordinating research to strengthen public services

22 June EPSU meeting to coordinate research and campaigning on privatisation and commercialisation of public services

(27 June) On the eve of Public Service Day, EPSU hosted an exchange with 15 researchers and representatives of research and campaigning organisations from across Europe. The aim of the initiative was to highlight some of the common areas of research that are being addressed and that need to be prioritised.

EPSU General Secretary, Jan Willem Goudriaan, welcomed all the participants noting that EPSU was in an important period in the lead up to its Congress in 2024, identifying the major themes that would require new research in the coming years. He noted that the commercialisation of care had emerged as a central concern for EPSU particularly because of the impact of the pandemic but also because of the growth of major multinationals in the sector over the past 10 years.

Jan Willem then introduced Emma Dowling of the University of Vienna who set out her the main themes of her research that are covered in her book, the Care crisis, demonstrating how political and economic trends have created problems of inadequate staffing and provision that market solutions fail to address.

The broader exchange on public service research identified a range of issues that needed to be tackled not just in terms of the content of research but how that research could be most effectively used to inform people, help swing the political debate and influence policy at local, national and European levels.  

The main themes covered included:

  • Developing positive image of public services and the importance of remunicipalisation and insourcing and how they can benefit both workers and service users – this was seen as particularly important to promote across Central and Eastern Europe where many citizens and trade unions look to the private sector as more equipped to provide public services;
  • Further exposing the corporations and private equity firms that milk public services for private profit while often dodging taxes and so undermining public finances;
  • The increasing domination of multinationals particularly in digital services and infrastructure and the need to establish effective public alternatives;
  • The challenge of implementing the national reform and resilience plans and the prospect of rebuilding Ukraine and the need to protect public services and investment from domination by the private sector while ensuring social and environmental requirements are imposed on contractors, including through institutions like the European Investment Bank; and
  • Look at innovative approaches to public service provision and how to bring services back in-house and how to shift the focus on the foundational economy and deliver core public services in an economy focusing more on welfare than orthodox economic growth.

Suggestions for future initiatives included – clustering researchers to exchange on specific common issues; collating research covering key areas, such as impact of privatisation, looking into the potential of public-public partnerships, investigating digitalisation with a particular angle on how it facilitates privatisation and examining how key themes impact on and are related to workplace issues and the question of union organising.

EPSU plans to stay in touch with all the organisations and welcomes input from other research bodies and individual researchers who are working in these areas.

The organisations that joined the debate included Public Services International Research Unit, Institute of Public Affairs, Counter-balance, Centre for Corporate Tax Accountability and Research, Corporate Observatory Europe, Observatoire des Multinationales, Transnationals Institute, We Own It, Campaign for the Welfare State and Praxis. Individual researchers also joined including Odile Join-Lambert (IRES), Karol Florek, Judith Clifton Walker and Daniel Diaz (University of Cantabria) and Emma Dowling (University of Vienna).