Bill for consultants could hit one million

Labour Party Councillors and UNISON activists protest at Morpeth's County Hall.
Labour Party Councillors and UNISON activists protest at Morpeth's County Hall.

Unions and oppostion councillors have reacted with horror and vowed to block attempts to sell off council services to the private sector.

Northumberland County Council’s Liberal Democrat executive is currently exploring the option of becoming a public-private partnership (PPP), in which a contract would be awarded to a firm to take over the running of everything from bin collections and street-cleaning to administration.

Names mentioned as candidates for such a move include Capita, BT, Xerox and Fujitsu.

But Conservative councillors have called the plan a ‘grave threat to the livelihoods of council workers’, saying they will block any attempt to privatise services.

And they have tabled a motion which calls for any decision to be taken by the full council, not just the ruling executive.

Workers’ union Unison, meanwhile, took its protest directly to County Hall, launching a campaign in its precinct on Tuesday afternoon.

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “This scheme poses a grave threat to ordinary council workers. Much of the saving proposed as a result of this plan would come from the shedding of 1,000 jobs, but there are dangers for workers who keep their jobs as well.

“Council workers are currently protected from wage depression by national pay benchmarks. If this protection was removed, as workers become employees of a private company, in future years we would see less money in the pockets of residents. As far as we are concerned, the plan to hand the entire council over to a faceless multi-national corporation is a complete non-starter.

“We want the council to deliver the best services at the lowest possible cost, but not at the expense of the long-term well-being of staff and residents.”

Labour group leader Grant Davey described the approach as a ‘policy disaster’, while colleagues said they had been kept in the dark about the details.

Unison’s joint campaign – branded Northumberland is Not For Sale – has pledged to work with other unions, community groups and the public to fight the move.

It claims 1,000 public sector jobs are at risk if the plans go ahead. Around 40 activists attended the launch at County Hall on Tuesday.

Joyce Guthrie, joint branch secretary for Unison in Northumberland, said: “To go ahead with this, in an exercise likely to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted on consultants, without learning the lessons of the last attempt at the tendering fiasco when the unitary authority was established was nothing short of reckless.”

The motion will be debated at the full council meeting on July 4. Both Labour and Conservative groups have tabled motions calling for all 67 councillors to be involved in making any decision on the issue.