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Tories eye plan to revisit outsourcing city services

Jeremy Balfour

Jeremy Balfour

AXED plans to outsource city council services to private companies would be revisited under new proposals to transform way the local authority is run.

Every council department would be assessed to determine if it would be more efficient and affordable to bring in a contractor to take over under a plan by the city’s Conservative group.

Target areas for the proposals – part of the party’s manifesto for the council elections on May 3 – would include bin collections and catering but they would be rolled out across the system. White-collar jobs such as HR, payroll, IT, call centres and revenue and benefits would also be re-assessed.

The Tories insisted the process would be carried out “not by dogma but by pragmatism” and fell short of privatisation, but the move is likely to set the group on a collision course with the unions.

Councillors have faced criticism for spending three years and £3.8 million on researching plans to privatise a large batch of council services – only to throw out the proposals and keep them in-house instead.

If the process – known as the “alternative business model” (ABM) – had been approved thousands of workers would have been transferred from the council to the private sector.

Jeremy Balfour, the Conservative group leader, said “ABM Lite” would only be sought if services could be improved in the private sector. He said: “If we form the administration after the May elections we’d want to revisit everything over the five-year term and see what could be achieved.

“We need to work in partnership with businesses and the voluntary sector to provide the best possible services.

“It would be done not by dogma but by pragmatism. If the service would be better in-house it would stay there.”

One example of ABM Lite would be giving the contract to care for those with disabilities to voluntary organisations, which he said could improve the service and save money.

The local authority already outsources scores of contracts to private companies. One of the largest, a controversial deal with BT, saw it billed £13 to reset a computer, although council chiefs insisted they saved money overall.

Cllr Balfour added: “There are lessons we can learn from the BT contract but it has provided us with a reasonably good service that all councillors support.”

Last year, council politics was dominated by the row over whether to outsource three major workstreams. The issue nearly led to the council’s coalition administration collapsing.

£3.8m models kicked out

OFFICIALs spent three years and £3.8 million putting together three “alternative business models” but councillors voted them down and kept services in-house.

A bid by outsourcing specialist Capita to take over HR, payroll, IT, call centres and revenue and benefits was rejected in December.

Another by the Mitie Group for janitors, school meals, cleaners and porters was voted down in January.

The third, environment, including bin collections, was rejected in November.

 

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