Staffordshire school services privatisation plan is 'flawed', say unions
A REPORT commissioned by trade unions to analyse a council's £2 billion school services privatisation plan has exposed 'substantial flaws.'
Staffordshire County Council was today facing calls to suspend plans to put the services it provides to 400 schools – and 4,000 council jobs – into private control.
The calls were made after an independent study by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) concluded the authority's plan contains 'substantial flaws that imply serious avoidable risk to the council and the Staffordshire community.'
The council's aims are described as 'laudable' but raises concerns about the plan, which will see out-sourcing giants Carillion or Capita appointed to run the services from April. Its concerns include:
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Plans for the venture to double and eventually triple its business by taking over school services elsewhere in the country are 'ambitious', 'risky' and have less than a 50 per cent chance of success.
The private firm's option to quit after five years of the initial 10-year deal, and its majority shareholding, could lead to it holding the authority to ransom if is not making sufficient profit.
Services like cleaning are labour intensive and low profit, making it unclear how they can be made lucrative without 'significant downward pressure on pay and conditions.'
The council has not proved privatisation plan is the best option.
APSE said the plan is a legitimate option, but that 'rapid completion' should be delayed to allow the consideration of other options – including an internal council case for retaining its own services, favoured by unions.
Unions fear jobs and employee terms will be hit as the private partner looks to boost profits.
Cabinet members are due to pick a winning bidder in December to take control of services including school cleaners, cooks, grounds staff and even outdoor education.
Claire Breeze, West Midlands regional organiser for Unison, said: "The council's objectives are good, but they will not be achieved and the people of Staffordshire are the ones who will suffer because they will pick up the costs."
Steve Elsey, Unison's Staffordshire branch secretary, said: "We want to work with the council to look for growth in a successful, very well-regarded public service, in a way that removes the risk this report makes clear there is."
Councillor Ian Parry, cabinet member for education, finance and transformation, said: "We will not be pausing this process. We have full confidence in the business case and remain committed to delivering an innovative solution that will ultimately safeguard jobs in Staffordshire in the future."