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Council rules out hive-offs
THE leadership of Worcester City Council has “pulled back” from controversial plans to hand services to outside bodies – amid fears it could be too damaging.
Councillor Adrian Gregson, who took over as leader in May, says the commissioning project is being deliberately slowed down.
As your Worcester News first revealed last December, bosses want to actively market services to external organisations to see if any can be handed over. That could include the private sector, not-for-profit enterprises, voluntary groups or any other body expressing an interest. The previous Tory administration announced a raft of areas first in line for possible handovers earlier this year, including bin collections, leisure and museum services.
Coun Gregson said the review is continuing – but he wants to see evidence any plans would save “serious money” before taking the plunge. He also wants it to focus on bodies like social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations rather than the private sector.
“Many people think commissioning involves the traditional ‘contracting out’ of a service to the private sector, but it needn’t do that,” he said. “It could mean a service going to a social enterprise, or a Co-operative, for example. The bottom line, for us, is that if it saves serious money we will look at it, but we have pulled back.”
Staff at the authority are also being asked for feedback on it – which could see some get different job titles, roles or even hours of work to see if services can stay in-house.
It comes as the council is battling to balance the books, with at least £1.2 million of cuts planned by 2015.
Over the last few years some services have been shared with other councils, including the benefits department, which is based at a centre in Pershore and handles calls from people across south Worcestershire.
That particular department is being handed to a private firm called Civica.
However, some councillors have expressed disappointment in the performance of the new merged Worcestershire Regulatory Services.
Councillor Liz Smith, Lib Dem group leader, who sits in the cabinet, said: “If there are options in the third sector which are feasible, that’s a good way to go.
“There are issues with shared services – the revenues and benefits one has worked very well but others have been less effective.”
Councillor Simon Geraghty, Tory group leader, says “taxpayers will be let down” if the cabinet turns away from commissioning.
Coun Gregson’s Labour group teamed up with the Lib Dems to take control in May.