A MOVE to outsource Worcester's bin collections to the private sector is embroiled in fresh controversy - amid claims Tory councillors plotted to "shut down the debate".

Earlier this month a sudden 'extraordinary' meeting was arranged at short notice to probe Worcester City Council's attempt to hand refuse pick-ups, parks maintenance and street sweeping to private providers from 2017.

A session of the scrutiny committee, the council's main in-house watchdog, took place on Tuesday, August 18 - the first time in years a meeting has ever been called at short notice during the traditional summer break period.

The process to set up a debate over the outsourcing kicked off after Labour Councillor Lynn Denham, a known critic of the policy, asked for it to be discussed at scrutiny.

Your Worcester News can reveal how the Conservative group then took advantage of the council's constitution to trigger a sudden 'extraordinary' meeting after four of its councillors - Stephen Hodgson, Steve Mackay, Alan Amos and Mike Whitehouse - asked that it take place immediately rather than wait until the next scheduled session on Tuesday, September 2.

It went ahead despite the fact neither Councillor Andy Roberts, the cabinet member for cleaner and greener or David Sutton, the head of the department, were able to even attend due to holidays.

During the meeting the Labour group also wanted a confidential consultants' report about the finances to be debated, even if it meant asking the public to leave the room, but were defeated after the Conservatives voted to effectively close the debate.

The vote means the decision is not being sent back to the Conservative cabinet for reconsideration, allowing officers to get on with progressing the project.

The council is hoping to strike a deal with Malvern and Wychavon under a deal which consultants believe could save a combined £1.6 million a year.

But the saving to Worcester taxpayers is expected to be above £250,000 per annum but less than one third of the total sum, with opposing councillors saying they want more details, especially as it implicates 111 council staff, the majority of whom are expected to have their roles transferred over.

Councillor Denham said: "Those four councillors, firstly they weren't even all at the meeting and secondly, those that were there said nothing other than present a motion at the end to shut down the debate."

Councillor Joy Squires, who chairs the scrutiny committee, said: "This is the biggest decision Worcester City Council is ever likely to make, involving millions of pounds and more than 100 staff.

"It is disappointing the cabinet is moving at such great speed and is unwilling to engage in serious discussion."

Members of the Conservative group have refuted the criticism, saying they want to move quickly to ensure everything clicks into place.

Councillor Stephen Hodgson said: "It's all to do with timing, there are lots of variables around the project and things other authorities need to sort out - Wychavon have a post they want to fill to progress it and by waiting another month, effectively, to September it shortens the whole timetable.

"It's not about trying to stifle debate, for us it was important to deal with it as soon as possible - we are still very early in this process and later in the year there'll be more opportunity for scrutiny to look at it.

“By allowing the process to go ahead it means they can look at it once there’s more flesh on the bone.

"We wouldn’t normally call for the meeting to be urgent if we felt it wasn’t going to have an impact on the process (by waiting)."

A spokesman for the city council said: "Councillor Lynn Denham requested that the chair of the scrutiny committee Councillor Joy Squires call in the cleaner and greener outsourcing paper that went to cabinet in July for consideration by Scrutiny.

"Councillor Squires did so following the normal procedures.

"Under council rules the chair of a committee can call an extraordinary meeting if a request is made by three or more members.

"In this case requests were made by councillors Stephen Hodgson, Steve Mackay, Mike Whitehouse and Alan Amos."

A timetable has already been laid out revealing how the councils involved want the hunt for a provider, or more than one provider, to start by January – and shortlisting to be finalised by May.

The deal, if it can be struck, would start from September 2017.

The city council also says it intends to do serious consultation work with the public and staff before any decisions are made.

The city has prepared a budget of £200,000 for drawing up the hunt for a private provider because of the massive complexities involved, although some of the costs will end up being shared.

Wychavon already outsources its refuse service to a firm called FCC Environmental but that deal expires in 2017, giving it an ideal window to strike a new combined deal between all three areas.

* To see what we said about this in July, when the three councils issued their first detailed reports on a possible deal, click HERE.