We must get new operating model right, say Worcestershire councillors

10:00am Saturday 17th May 2014

By Tom Edwards

COUNCILLORS in Worcestershire say they plan to carefully probe a controversial new 'operating model' at County Hall - and insist it could be a matter of "life and death" if they get it wrong.

A panel of politicians say plans to hive off services to outside providers will only work if they get a proper grip on accountability once departments are no longer controlled in-house.

As your Worcester News revealed on Thursday, a new structure has been voted through which is set to result in 1,500 job losses by 2018.

Almost every area of the county council's work is up for grabs to new providers, whether it be the private sector, voluntary groups, charities, not-for-profit bodies or any other interested parties.

Some social care functions are also expected to be handed to outside bodies, leading to warnings the council must get it right.

Councillor Andy Roberts said the council must learn lessons from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where after poor care led to patient deaths the Francis Report said the entire healthcare system must be more transparent.

"In healthcare, we are often talking about young people with lifelong challenges which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to deal with," he said.

"I don't see how we can come up with an operating model that fits all - to me it's a dilemma, because we're trying to design something that can cover everything but it's not possible with all the things we provide.

"It does strike me that this particular area is a matter of life and death.

"I'm sure in Staffordshire they wished they'd done things differently so they could have picked up on problems before they were manifest."

The new operating model retains children's social care, some aspects of adult social care and a handful of other functions, like support for businesses, in-house. 

Councillor Tom Wells, a Liberal Democrat, said: "We can make any structure work and likewise any structure can fail, it's all about the resources we put into it."

Councillor Kit Taylor, who led a recent review into the new model, said: "There's the question of 'are we expected to be full-time councillors, looking at all the minutiae, or will we still be asked to carry on as we are, representing the community and taking a broad view?"

The feedback is being sent to the Conservative cabinet.

Around £25 million is being cut from budgets every year between now and 2018.

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