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'Black hole' claim over city finances
A “BLACK hole” could develop in Worcester City Council’s finances unless it agrees to hand services to outside providers, according to its former leader.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, who was ousted in a shock coup last May after seven years running the Guildhall, says he is gravely concerned about “slowing down” commissioning.
His old Tory leadership drafted proposals to hand swathes of departments to external bodies, such as the private sector or voluntary groups, in a bid to save cash.
The controversial tactic is being reviewed by the new Labour leadership.
Coun Geraghty, who leads the Conservative group, said: “My worry is that this whole commissioning agenda is ebbing away, and we can’t allow that.
“It’s being slowed down to such a pace that I don’t know if it will be carried forward - and if that proves to be the case we could end up with a big black hole in the finances.
“They have got to continue the momentum because this is so important - we can’t afford to have a piece of the council’s ‘architecture’ fall away because of lack of commitment to this.”
Councillor Marc Bayliss, Tory group deputy leader, said: “It could fundamentally affect the council’s viability to survive - ‘go slow’ is the worst of all worlds.”
The criticism has been rejected by Labour, which says it will still commission out departments if it will save serious money.
Under the previous plan, major savings from commissioning were not factored to kick in until after 2015.
A previous financial strategy, which is currently being torn up for a new one, suggested £1.2m of cuts are needed before then, with more to follow.
As your Worcester News has reported in recent weeks, a new blueprint is expected to call for cuts of £3m by 2017/18.
Councillor Richard Boorn, cabinet member for finance, said: “All of these figures are a fantasy.
“Anyone can produce a medium term financial strategy saying ‘we’ll save X amount’ or ‘we’ll do commissioning and save this much’ - actually achieving it is a different matter.
“Anyone can say things, we’re actually about producing.
“If commissioning is the answer, we’ll do it.”
Commissioning can take many forms, including private operators, not-for-profit bodies, community groups, social enterprises and the voluntary sector.
Bin collections, leisure, and museum services were among the first areas due to be marketed to outside groups.
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