THE BIGGEST shake up in Worcestershire County Council’s history which will see hundreds of jobs axed and more private sector involvement has been given the green light.
About 1,500 jobs will be cut and 85 per cent of its services handled by external providers as bosses attempt to manage a £100million budget cut over the next four years.
Cutbacks in staffing at County Hall include the scrapping of the assistant chief executive role, which was recently vacated by the new chief executive Clare Marchant and pays £78.500 a year, and the £128,000 finance director’s job. Dozens of other managerial roles are also on the line.
The council wants to have just 2,000 of its own staff on the books by 2018 but it is hoped many of the workers under threat can find jobs with the new providers.
A few key areas will remain in-house including children’s services, adult services and health, support for businesses and environment and community schemes, but almost everything else will be offered to the best outside bidders – a mixture of private companies and other groups including charities and voluntary organisations.
At a heated full council meeting last Thursday (May 15) fears were raised the changes were being made too fast and too soon
but council leader, Coun Adrian Hardman, said given the finances available it was a sensible and rational thing to do.
“It is quite clear to us that prolonged austerity is really starting to drive some significant shifts in local government and Worcestershire is not going to be immune from this,” he said.
“What we are attempting to produce here is a council that will move with the times.
“By and large the response we’ve had from staff, most members and stakeholders is they think moving to this model is a sensible and rational thing to do.”
Coun Hardman also said he felt an increase of 20 per cent in the number of services it commissioned externally was not a huge amount.
“Members have raised the question of quality assurance and they are quite right to take an interest in this as we move the percentage of services we commission from somewhere in the region of 65 per cent to 85 per cent – not an enormous change in the way that we work,” he added.
“When we looked around other councils, we found that we were already a commissioning council.
“We need to do different things, not just do the same things differently.”
Fellow Conservative, Coun John Campion, said he believed the private and public sector could work together well.
“We need to take the very best from the private practice and instil it here and that doesn’t mean those nasty capitalists running amok in the building,” he said.
“What it means is using their best practice and keeping a firm grip on our values as a public sector organisation. Absolutely they can work together.”
But Coun Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said he had major concerns about the changes.
“The services we deliver, in the main, are ones the private sector doesn’t because they can’t afford to in their drive for profits,” he said.
“We would never accept this in a month of Sundays.”
Despite the opposition from Labour, the Liberal Democrat and Green Party members, the changes were waved through by 35 votes to 16.