Council may link up with firms to deliver services to the public

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Council chiefs in Wakefield could enter into partnerships with private firms or set up a company to provide services such as school meals and social care as the authority plans a radical overhaul to cope with spending cuts.

It is estimated the move could affect about 2,000 staff at Wakefield Council – with several different options being considered for the ways council services are delivered in the future.

These include entering into partnerships with private companies to run certain services such as school meals, cleaning, catering, building maintenance, human resources, IT, property and asset management and finance.

Some services could also be transferred to the community.

The authority has also considered outsourcing functions such as highways and refuse collection – but officers are recommending councillors do not back these options and that the council continues to provide these in-house.

Yesterday, Councillor Peter Box, the leader of Wakefield Council, said much work still remains to be done but, if the proposals were backed, the authority would still provide frontline services.

The council has to save £67m by 2014/15. Cutbacks have already been made and 500 jobs lost, but further savings are required.

Coun Box said: “It is important that we look at all means by which services can be delivered.

“We want to make sure as many local jobs as possible are maintained.”

Talks have already begun with Unions about the move which could see staff doing work for other organisations.

The report, which will be discussed by members of the council’s cabinet committee next Tuesday proposes a number of different models:

Expanding an existing partnership with Norfolk Property Services (NPS) to consider providing up to £25m-worth of services including property and buildings, cleaning, catering and school meals and exploring whether Wakefield can collaborate with other councils working with NPS.

A new partnership with a private sector partner to deliver as much as £40m worth of back office support such as human resources, finance, revenues and benefits, IT, procurement and legal services to reduce costs and generate income.

Setting up a local authority trading company – a council-owned company that would include current staff to deliver social care services. This model is already operating in a few areas of the country and provides opportunities to create jobs and compete in the marketplace to deliver these services for other councils and the NHS. It also means new staff could be employed– but on different terms and conditions.

Working with community organisations to deliver some services together or to transfer the running of some to these organisations, such as markets and libraries. Featherstone and Hemsworth markets are due to transfer to town councils and this approached is already beginning to operate.

The report says “professional support services” to schools are also being considered and a further report is being prepared.

Council chiefs says as well as bringing in savings, entering into such partnerships could allow it to generate income by offering its services to others.

Coun Box added: “Our challenge is to continue to meet the needs and expectations of local people while saving money.

“With £67m to save by 2015 we have to be innovative and creative. We have already achieved £20m of these savings, but there is still a long way to go.

“By working in partnership with the public sector, community organisations, our own staff, and the private sector we can still deliver first class services and bring in additional external investment. We are not looking to outsource our services.”

He added: “We are the biggest provider of public services in the district and will continue to be responsible for those services, even if some of them are provided in a different way in the future.

If councillors back the proposals a business case for each option would be developed and further discussions will take place.