County Hall set for its biggest structural change in history

First published in Local

AOLMOST 1,500 jobs are being axed and 85 per cent of Worcestershire County Council's services handed to new providers - as the biggest change in its entire history was given the nod.

Politicians last week voted to accept the most radical overhaul the council has ever seen, signalling the start of a huge four-year plan to cut £100 million and radically shrink the workforce.

It means that the private sector will be invited to take over swathes of service areas, as well as other interested bodies like charities and voluntary groups.

By 2018 the council is aiming to have just 2,000 in-house staff of its own, with 85 per cent of services provided externally.

The massive cull of the workforce includes the £78,500 assistant chief executive role, which is being scrapped, as well as finance director Patrick Birch's job, which pays £128,000.

Scores of middle-ranking managerial jobs are also in line to go, but a new 'commercial and change' director will be appointed to get working on the transformation.

The council hopes many of the staff implicated can be found jobs with the new employers, transferring their terms and conditions over, although it will be done on a case-by-case basis.

The controversial change, which is partly being driven by shrinking Government funding, was voted through at a tense full council meeting despite bitter opposition from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party.

The new operating model will see only a few key areas remain in-house including social care and adults and children, support for businesses, and various environmental functions.

But almost everything else will up for grabs to the best bidders, with the council acting as a 'contract manager' to get the best deal.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said: "It's quite clear to us that the prolonged austerity is really starting to drive significant change in local government and Worcestershire is not immune to this.

"We've developed a new operating model for a new era - it's a council which will move forward with the times."

He said the changes signal the end of supplying services "in a directly controlled way", adding that given the finances it was "a sensible and rational thing to do".

Councillor John Campion, who sits in the Conservative cabinet, said it was a way of making services carry on in communities that would otherwise cease to exist.

But during the debate Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour group leader, said: "The services we deliver, in the main, are ones the private sector doesn't because they can't afford to in their drive for profits.

"We would never accept this in a month of Sundays."

Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens all voted against it, but after Conservative backing it was accepted by 35 votes to 16.

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