'Slow down' plan to transfer 5,000 staff
PROTESTERS gathered outside County Hall to demand a slowdown to the 'breakneck speed' of a process to privatise school dinners and other education services.
Staffordshire County Council is planning to form a joint venture with a private firm to sell the services it currently provides to more than 400 schools.
That will mean up to 5,000 council staff will be transferred to the new company – which will sell £75 million worth of services to schools, ranging from building maintenance, school dinners and cleaning, to specialist support for children with disabilities.
Yesterday protesters with unions Unison, Unite, and CWT, along with representatives of independent campaign group LOSS – Lobby against Outsourcing Support Services – waved banners and placards outside the county council's headquarters.
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Unison branch secretary Steve Elsey said: "We want the council to be more open about the process and to stop the secrecy and the rush.
"It's going ahead at a break-neck speed. We are now a matter of a few weeks away from the cabinet meeting when the final decision will be made.
"This is one of the biggest ventures ever taken. Thousands of staff transferred to being employed by a private company.
"A private company will be required to keep shareholders happy. What is in their best interests may not be in the best interests of the Staffordshire public."
A spokesman for LOSS said private companies may look to make profit for themselves and their shareholders 'by reducing staffing levels, reducing pay, reducing terms and conditions and pensions, to any new and possibly existing staff'.
"Staffordshire residents will lose the direct connection with these services," he said.
"They will no longer be directly accountable to us, as Staffordshire residents."
The council has whittled down a short-list of preferred partners to just three companies during its procurement process, which has cost £625,000.
Councillor Mike Lawrence, Tory cabinet member for children's services, said: "The education support services project is essential if we are to safeguard services for the future.
"We have been completely open and transparent with staff, unions and local residents, and have been holding regular meetings.
"This is not about privatising services. It will be a joint venture, with the county council having a major stake in the business and an active involvement in its shape and growth.
"Most of all, it will still be accountable to local people."
Councillor Ian Parry, cabinet member for finance, education and skills added: "This process is not being rushed as has been claimed. We are abiding by European procurement rules and we are going through a very thorough and robust procurement process."