Suffolk County Council to outsource most services

A library interior Libraries could be one of the first services to be outsourced in Suffolk

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A county council has agreed to slash its £1.1bn budget by 30% by outsourcing almost all its services.

The decision by Suffolk County Council could be seen as model for other councils to follow.

Under the New Strategic Direction almost all council services will be offloaded to social enterprises or companies over the next few years.

Unions have warned the plan puts a huge number of the council's 27,000 jobs at risk.

The aim is to turn the authority from one which provides public services itself, to an enabling council which commissions other to carry out the services.

It could eventually see the council's workforce slimmed down to just a few hundred people who would manage the contracts.

'Lesser government'

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: "This decision was made with consideration to the financial deficit in the public sector and the coalition government's priority to reduce the deficit and the size of the state.

Analysis

Outsourcing by councils is nothing new.

In fact, a whole new private industry has been created over the past two decades delivering vital services, like rubbish collection and recycling, on behalf of local authorities.

What's different about Suffolk County Council is the scale of the proposed change - even sensitive services like child protection could be privatised - and the speed: Divestment is expected to be completed within four years.

The main public concern will be one of accountability. Councillors will no longer be directly responsible for the delivery of public services to the community which elected them.

Thirty years ago a Conservative minister Nicholas Ridley praised the style of local authorities in the American Mid-West where they "met once a year to award all the council service contracts to private firms".

Today, Suffolk County Council has brought that vision a little bit closer.

"The coalition requires lesser government and a bigger society and Suffolk County Council has responded to this change.

"Now that full council has debated the issue and agreed with the future model for the county council, we can begin to talk with the people of Suffolk so they can be involved in the shaping of services for the future."

Local councils across the country are trying to find way to save billions as part of the coalition government's drive to cut the deficit. Some councils are considering sharing services.

The plan by the Conservative-controlled county would be the first time a local authority would ended up providing virtually no services directly itself and will be watched closely by other councils looking to make savings.

The union Unison had written to every councillor asking them to think about the impact that scaling back would have on people and the services they rely on.

Unison's Steve Warner said morale was low among members working for the council and they were very concerned about the future of services in the county, particularly those affecting the very young, older people and those with learning disabilities.

He said: "Those are the services that we are worried about. We're worried that the councillors will have less control over those services and that the people of Suffolk will find that those services are less accountable to them."

Some services could be outsourced later this year with others in three phases starting in April 2011.

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