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Council slashes itself to pieces - County Hall set for its biggest structural change in history

County Hall, the HQ of Worcestershire County Council

County Hall, the HQ of Worcestershire County Council

First published in News
Last updated
Evesham Journal: Tom Edwards by , Political Reporter

AROUND 1,500 jobs are being axed and 85 per cent of Worcestershire County Council's services handed to new providers - as the biggest change in its entire history was given the nod.

Politicians yesterday voted to accept the most radical overhaul the council has ever seen, signalling the start of a huge four-year plan to cut £100 million and radically shrink the workforce.

It means: - The private sector will be invited to take over swathes of service areas, as well as other interested bodies like charities and voluntary groups

- By 2018 the council is aiming to have just 2,000 in-house staff of its own, with 85 per cent of services provided externally

- The massive cull of the workforce includes the £78,500 assistant chief executive role, which is being scrapped, as well as finance director Patrick Birch's job, which pays £128,000

- Scores of middle-ranking managerial jobs are also in line to go, but a new 'commercial and change' director will be appointed to get working on the transformation

The council hopes many of the staff implicated can be found jobs with the new employers, transferring their terms and conditions over, although it will be done on a case-by-case basis.

The controversial change, which is partly being driven by shrinking Government funding, was voted through at a tense full council meeting yesterday despite bitter opposition from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party.

The new operating model will see only a few key areas remain in-house including social care and adults and children, support for businesses, and various environmental functions.

But almost everything else will up for grabs to the best bidders, with the council acting as a 'contract manager' to get the best deal.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said: "It's quite clear to us that the prolonged austerity is really starting to drive significant change in local government and Worcestershire is not immune to this.

"We've developed a new operating model for a new era - it's a council which will move forward with the times."

He said the changes signal the end of supplying services "in a directly controlled way", adding that given the finances it was "a sensible and rational thing to do".

Councillor John Campion, who sits in the Conservative cabinet, said it was a way of "making services carry on in our communities that would otherwise cease to exist".

But during the debate Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: "The services we deliver, in the main, are ones the private sector doesn't because they can't afford to in their drive for profits.

"We would never accept this in a month of Sundays."

Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens all voted against it, but after Conservative backing it was accepted by 35 votes to 16.

OPPOSITION PARTIES WARN OVER ‘TOO FAST, TOO SOON’

WARNINGS are being made about the speed at which Worcestershire County Council is to shrink - amid fears the change is "too fast, too soon".

The Liberal Democrat group joined all the opposition parties in voting against the new operating model yesterday, saying they were in "depression" over it.

It came just after Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, compared the county's possible plight to "Liverpool in the 80s", saying he wanted to avoid a situation where he did nothing and had to make people redundant.

The council hopes in-house workers can transfer their roles to any new providers, saving at least some of the impact on the economy.

Among those safe from the job cuts is the current assistant chief executive Clare Marchant, as despite her existing role being axed, she is taking over the top position from Trish Haines in two weeks.

Councillor Liz Tucker, Lib Dem group leader, said: "I think we are going too fast, too soon.

"Yes, we do need to change but we don't need this dogma that everything needs to be externalised."

Councillor Sue Askin, a fellow Lib Dem, said she has looked at the new structure "with a degree of depression", saying it was "too much, too soon" to be voted through.

But the Cllr Hardman said he had thought about it for a long time, saying any more delays in what they call 'commisioning' would be risky.

"There is a difference of opinion, which is not surprising as that's what politics is all about," he said.

"My view is that we are going about it at the right pace, we've spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, I believe it's a measured approach."

Around 750 staff were consulted over it and he said they were optimistic about it.

He said Liverpool Council made so many staff redundant in the 1980s they "sent redundancy notices out in taxis", something he would not preside over in Worcestershire.

A ll manner of solutions will be looked at for making savings, including the prospect of some "joint venture" organisations created with other bodies.

A report on the new model says the private sector will also have a role, as will the possible creation of new arms-length bodies to take services over.

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