Unison says Northamptonshire County Council’s outsourcing plan threatens future of public service

Northamptonshire County Council is set to outsource the majority of its services to mutual organisations in a bid to save money.
Northamptonshire County Council is set to outsource the majority of its services to mutual organisations in a bid to save money.

A major union says Northamptonshire County Council’s plans to outsource services and reduce the core workforce to 150 could be the beginning of the end for public service as we know it.

In December the authority announced the ‘council plan’ to carve £148 million out of its budget in the next five years.

The move will see the authority outsourcing the majority of its services to four independently operated “community interest companies” free to compete with others for council services.

But, as the county council prepares the next step of setting up its first “wellbeing” organisation next week, workers’ union Unison has expressed anxiety about the plan.

Regional organiser Tonia Williams said its main concern was what would happen to the current council staff if the new mutual organisations had to compete for tenders with other companies.

She said: “The way this is being presented to staff is that everything is going to be okay, you will all have jobs in the new community interest companies.

“But what they are not really being honest about is that they can set these companies up, but further down the line the contracts for Northamptonshire’s council functions could go out to the open market.

“There is no real job security in it.”

And Ms Williams added that Unison has “real concerns” other councils may follow Northamptonshire’s lead

She said: “If the council goes ahead with this plan all that will happen is that other councils will test this model as well.

“There’s not going to be a public service as we know it with 95 per cent of staff hived off to another organisation.”

Unison is urging concerned staff to fill out a survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/NCC2015 to let the union know if they have any fears over their job security.

Northamptonshire County council currently has around 4,000 staff, but the moves to outsource its work to community interest companies will leave it with a core workforce of 150.

The creation of the new “wellbeing” organisation is set to take another step forward at the county council’s cabinet meeting next week, July 14.

The new enterprise will bring together “services that enable people to feel healthier and better about themselves.”

This, the authority says, could include smoking cessation clinics, help with weight management, debt advice and befriending services.

The cabinet report proposes a launch date of December 1 this year, which follows on from “extensive public and partner engagement including an online survey, breakfast briefing meeting and roadshows around the county to gather people’s feedback.”

An outline business case is due to be considered by cabinet in September 2015, with the full business case being presented to cabinet in November 2015.

In response to Unison’s fears about the move, a Northamptonshire County Council spokesperson, said: “With less public money and demand for services in increasing, innovative ways of providing services are needed if they are to continue being made available.

“As the CIC would have autonomy from the county council it would be free to take on other contracts in other areas, bring efficiencies and potentially expand.

“A similar model has already proved successful with LGSS, which merged back-office functions at Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire county councils and has since taken on contracts elsewhere.