NEARLY 400 council jobs across Worcestershire are going to be privatised in a £38 million deal.

Worcestershire County Council's Conservative leadership has today agreed that an array of school support jobs can be handed to Babcock International from October.

The jobs, known at County Hall as 'Learning and Achievement', offer a vast array of advice and help to schools including everything from school admissions, post-16 education, teacher training and educational psychology.

As well as help teaching staff they also support pupils directly, and work with academies across the county.

The move, which has been criticised by the opposition Labour group, is aimed at saving money, with the council expecting to claw back £2.5 million within the first three years.

Babcock, which is based in London but has offices around the UK and abroad, has similar tie-ins with more than 50 other councils and has signed a deal worth up to £38 million by 2020, of which around £12 million will be straight from County Hall coffers.

A deal has been on the table for at least a year, with bosses taking the time since then to draw up an agreement, which will last an initial five years with an optional two-year extension.

No job cuts are expected, with the 391 roles expected to transfer over from the start of October.

During a cabinet meeting today, the Tory leadership defended the move by saying having to find savings was "non-negotiable".

Councillor John Campion, cabinet member for children and families, said: "There is no removal of our ongoing involvement and responsibility in ensuring we get the right outcome for children in our schools.

"Taking out the money is non-negotiable, so it's about what we do within that reduced financial envelope."

He said the only alternative was to "salami slice" the service, which would make it worse.

"This is an example of us using this process to protect those public services which otherwise would have to be dramatically changed," he added.

Councillor Marc Bayliss, cabinet member for commissioning and transformation, said the council's responsibility over education "will never change".

"We are obviously living in times of financial constraints, the council needs to find new ways of delivering the same high quality services at a lower cost," he said.

After the meeting the Labour group renewed its criticism, saying the Conservatives were "obsessed" with handing over jobs to outside providers.

Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: "They're absolutely obsessed with cutting where they can and privatisation.

"It's not acceptable, these jobs should stay in-house.

"Learning and achievement has been a good success for this council and they are privatising it - Babcock are doing it because it wants to make a profit.

"The county council didn't start learning and achievement to make a profit, they did it to help children.

"This service was a lifeblood of the council and now profit will come first."

Babcock, which traces its roots to America, employs more than 600 educational specialists.

JJ Bowley, education services director at Babcock said: “This is a forward looking approach to the delivery of core education services in the Worcestershire region.

"Babcock is committed to fulfilling the contract’s aims of raising education standards and investing resources to improve opportunities for young people and children in Worcestershire.

"Babcock and Worcestershire County Council will work in partnership to derive significant savings whilst simultaneously improving services and facilities for local people.

"This is critical at a time of austerity when reduced funding and the drive for improved outcomes have placed unprecedented pressure on local government.”