County Council plans to outsource 600 staff

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UP TO 75 West Sussex County Council staff in Horsham could be some of the 600 back office employees outsourced to a private company aiming to save to council £58 million, a report claims.

Jobs in finance, customer services and human resources will be outsourced to Serco or Capita under the deal.

Staff working from County Hall North, Horsham, as well as employees in Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Bognor Regis will be transferred to the successful company, according to the council.

A union representative described it as the largest outsourcing project ever undertaken by the council – and raised concerns that the taxpayer could end up paying more rather than less.

Chris Earwaker, Unison branch secretary for WSCC, said: “We would prefer to keep the jobs in house. The council argue that they can save significant sums by outsourcing, however we are concerned that, unless the contract is very tightly defined the council might end up paying more for the same services.

“In the ongoing consultations we are being assured this is not the case, but time will tell.”

Michael Brown, WSCC cabinet member for finance and resources, said the deal represented the biggest individual saving within the £79m savings plan, and an immediate 20 per cent efficiency in back office services.

Speaking at the Policy and Resources select committee on April 27 Mr Brown (Con, Fernhurst) added the move was in line with the county council position to move to be a commissioner and buy in services.

The preferred bidder will be announced on June 8 with the contract commencing in September.

The competitive procurement, which started in May 2011 is due to cost the council £577,000 with 50 organisations invited to bid.

Outsourcing requires the least amount of investment, can be achieved quickly and provides the maximum amount of savings, according to the report ‘Procurement of a Back Office Services Partner’, by Diane Ashby, executive director of customers and change.

Risks associated with the deal include the potential impact on local employment, an erosion of savings and an adverse reaction from staff and trade unions, the report adds.

Patrick Ellis, head of customer services at the county council, said the number of staff transferred would depend on the successful bidder.

Ms Earwaker added: “At the moment we are anticipating that all affected employees will transfer, but we won’t know the detail on this until the contract is awarded.

“Generally our experience to date has been that all existing employees do transfer in an outsourcing situation, but this is by far the largest outsourcing project the council has undertaken, in terms of numbers of staff affected.

“We will have detailed consultations on all of these once the contract is awarded. There are usually some minor changes around pay dates but otherwise we do not expect any significant changes as this is a TUPE transfer.

“Our experience is that, as staff leave the contractor replaces them with people on worse terms and conditions.”

A council spokesman said: “The number of in-scope staff in Horsham is 75. Majority of these are based at County Hall North.

“We are not able to say whether any staff will need to change location until we have confirmed who the provider will be.”

He added: “Staff currently working in the services covered by the outsource will transfer to the successful bidder under TUPE regulations.

“It is currently too early to say what the impact of staff might be as this will be dependent on the actual solutions put forward.

“The council has worked closely with both bidders to develop solutions that favour local delivery and minimise the impact on the local economy.

“In line with the above, there are no plans to begin consultation over redundancies at this stage.

“The council has been communicating with staff and Trade Unions since the commencement of the project and consultation on the process of the transfer will start in July 2012.”