Union could launch legal bid to block Northamptonshire County Council’s outsourcing plans

A Unison demonstration outside County Hall. ENGNNL00120130926121732

A Unison demonstration outside County Hall. ENGNNL00120130926121732

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A workers’ union says it is prepared to do legal battle with Northamptonshire County Council over its plans to outsource its services to mutual companies.

In a recent poll 93 percent of Unison members at the county council who replied said they were against the authority’s proposals to reduce its core workforce to about 200 people and deliver services such as adult social care, libraries and child protection through four mutual companies.

Unison leader and member of the Save Northants Services group, Ben Wesson, says the union may mount a legal challenge to the county council's outsourcing plans.

Unison leader and member of the Save Northants Services group, Ben Wesson, says the union may mount a legal challenge to the county council's outsourcing plans.

The council says the move could save up to £150 million by 2020 and has insisted the four mutual companies will be accountable to a cohort of elected councillors.

But vice chairman of the Northamptonshire County Council Unison branch, Ben Wesson, who is also soon to be made redundant under the council’s proposed budget cuts of 206/17, said a legal challenge to the proposals was being considered.

“We are up for a fight on this,” he said.

“We believe the structural changes should have gone to a referendum.

“There is a significant number of our members who work for the local authority who want to work for a public sector organisation and we don’t think this plan to move everything over to mutuals and trusts allows them to do that.”

The county council has already branched off services such as weight management programmes, smoking cessation clinics and debt advice into First for Wellbeing, the first of the four mutual companies. At the end of 2016 it plans to have moved its children’s services to a similar trust.

Mr Wesson said Unison had major concerns over the way staff would be transferred over to the new companies.

“We want to halt these plans and we are currently looking at how we can do that legally,” he said.

“What we feel is that the county council staff are being sold this on a false pretence - they are being told that their jobs are going to be secured.

“But we know that after three years these services will have to go out to competitive tender. We know there a number of companies out there that provide a similar service, how de we know the council’s mutuals won’t be out-bid?”

Speaking at the time of the launch of the new children’s services trust deputy leader of the county council, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) said: “One of the key benefits of a trust model is the flexibility it can give in relation to the workforce.

“We will be able to significantly improve the terms and conditions for our permanent staff in order to reduce our dependence on costly agency workers. As a result the trust model will also be more affordable and deliver a more stable workforce.

“This is an exciting development in our children’s services improvement journey and will help us to manage the increased demand for services while improving outcomes for all children and young people in Northamptonshire.”

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