5,000 school jobs row after Staffordshire council manager quits
A £2 BILLION plan to privatise school services and 5,000 jobs has been thrown into doubt after the council manager in charge quit – to join one of the companies bidding for the contract.
Staffordshire County Council was today under increasing pressure to suspend the country's biggest out-sourcing plan for school services amid a 'disturbing conflict of interest'.
Phil Cresswell, the council's transformation delivery manager, was leading the scheme to transfer school services and staff – including cleaners, cooks and grounds staff – to a profit-making private firm.
But in September Mr Cresswell quit the council to become business development director at the local government wing of out-sourcing giant Carillion.
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And documents seen by The Sentinel show Carillion was named in September as one of three firms picked from an initial 14 interested parties to compete for the contract.
The three firms will submit final bids in November.
Newcastle Labour MP Paul Farrelly said: "We are formally opposed to this privatisation of services. This individual's move raises serious conflicts of interest.
"Too often in these cases we see the revolving door between the public and private sector and this does not look good.
"It's time this process was stopped."
The county council today confirmed Mr Cresswell was taken off the project in May after he revealed he was leaving for Carillion.
But he had been working on the project for around 18 months and wrote a report on the proposal for the education scrutiny committee in May.
Mr Cresswell yesterday removed all reference to his involvement in the out-sourcing project from a website following inquiries from The Sentinel.
Robert Oxley, campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This is a remarkable conflict of interest which could overshadow the whole process.
"This is a controversial project that requires total transparency so residents can trust it will provide value for money and a better public service."
The Conservative-run council is to pick a winning bidder in December and sign a contract in March.
It will retain a minority stake in the company formed to sell the services to 400 schools, but the firm will be free to decide how it runs them to make a profit.
The £2 billion contract will run for an initial 10 years.
A Carillion spokesman today denied a conflict of interest and said Mr Cresswell is not part of its 'bid team'.
County Councillor Ian Parry, cabinet member for finance, education and skills, said: "At no time was he privy to commercially sensitive information that could put any business at an unfair advantage.
"At no time was Phil involved in advising on commercial decisions, nor was he involved in setting the bidding criteria."