Plans by Northamptonshire County Council to begin splitting its services into not-for-profit companies have been branded as “reckless” by a major trade union official after 93 percent of members say they are against the moves.
It has now been a year since the skint authority revealed it would be looking to split its services to four mutual organisations, while retaining a core staff of around 190 workers.
Council leaders have maintained the move does not represent a step towards privatisation and that each of the mutuals - one of which will solely focus on children’s services - will be fully accountable to an elected body of councillors.
This week Unison has released the results of a survey carried out this year, asking the county council staff it represents what they think about the moves.
Results show an overwhelming opposition to the proposals.
Unison asked: “Do you support your job being transferred out of Northamptonshire County Council?”
In response, 93 per cent of those asked said “no” and only seven percent said “yes”.
Following that Penny Smith, assistant branch secretary of the Northamptonshire County Council branch of Unison, has released a scathing attack on the plans.
“The claims by the Conservative-led council that this is not privatisation, simply are wrong,” she said. “All but 190 employees will remain employed by the council. Everyone else will be transferred to a private company that can only be given a contract for up to three years.
“When the three years is up, your children’s social care could be run by a company seeking to make profit out of your child’s illness, needs and life-supporting services.”
Ms Smith said the council now needed to re-draw its plans, which are driven by a need to save more than £150 million by 2020 thanks to huge cuts in the amount the council receives from central government.
“It is time to rethink and put council ego-trips aside to protect services for the benefit of all,” she said.
“Unison and the other trade unions are willing to help. It just takes courage to admit when an organisation like NCC has got it wrong.”
Leader of the county council, Councillor Jim Harker (Con, ISE), has issued a robust defence of its plans, which it claims will help it to save millions each year.
The mutuals, while part-funded by the council, will be free to win other contracts to generate additional income, which would reduce their costs to the authority.
He said: “The suggestion from Unison that this is a privatisation of public services is ludicrous. Our move towards a ‘Next Generation Model’ is categorically not about privatising public services.
“The model will see an expert core council commissioning specialist social enterprises to deliver services in the most effective and efficient way possible to meet the needs of Northamptonshire.
“As a local authority, we are not alone in facing serious financial pressures, but we are leading the way in creating a new model which will enable us to better address these pressures head-on.
“The new organisations will be council-owned delivering services for the council and fully accountable to it. Staff affected will transfer over to the new organisations under TUPE provisions with their terms and conditions protected.
“It is a shame that rather than supporting employees during this time of change, Unison is scaremongering staff and causing anxiety by sharing misinformation and inaccuracies about the proposals.”