Union’s privatisation fears for council jobs

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A UNION has said it has grave concerns that Erewash Borough Council is ‘ploughing ahead’ with plans to privatise its IT services without consulting staff.

According to a council source, the authority met with representatives from Northgate Information Services – a firm which specialises in outsourcing IT services – on Friday.

Erewash Labour group says the move puts the 40 to 50 jobs in the council’s IT department at risk and could put front line services in danger if things go wrong.

Andy Freeman, regional officer for Unison, which represents IT staff at the council, has said both the union and employees are being left in the dark.

“It seems like a done deal,” he said.

“Erewash seems to be three or four stages down the line with things.

“It seems like they have picked a preferred bidder without even opening it up to staff. They have a legal obligation to consult with unions.”

But deputy chief executive and director for resources Ian Sankey said this week that no decisions have been made.

He said: “A number of efficiency initiatives are currently being considered including a review of the ICT service.

“The latter may include a possible partnering arrangement with Northgate or other organisations.”

Mr Freeman, who has written to Mr Sankey this week asking for clarification, added: “If it’s only an option they are exploring, I would want our members to have been able to have a say.

“Denying staff that isn’t what councillors or council taxpayers want and it is frankly unacceptable.”

Labour group deputy leader Cllr Frank Phillips has branded the council’s actions ‘autocratic’ and is demanding answers.

“I am very suspicious of deals being done in back rooms,” he said. “This autocratic council is turning their nose up at the public.

“Whatever the council owns is not theirs, it belongs to all the rate-payers of Erewash – they have no right to sell off the family silver.”

He said the council’s past record of outsourcing has been ‘very poor’, explaining that in the mid-1990s, refuse collection services outsourced to SITA by a Tory-run council had to be taken back into council ownership after numerous problems.

But Mr Sankey blamed funding problems for the latest move.

He added: “The coalition Government’s spending review resulted in a sizeable reduction in government grants to the council and, combined with the freezing of council tax, provides us with a significant challenge in delivering quality services.

“The council has already worked hard to achieve efficiency savings of £1m plus for this year’s budget, however, further efficiency savings are required to be made for the 2012/13 budget due to the reduction in funding from central Government.

“The council will tackle the difficult decisions that lie ahead and will strive to deliver cost-effective services, providing value for money in everything we do.

“We will think smarter about public services delivery to get the most for every penny of your money we spend.”