Friday, June 29, 2012

Labour Party Councillors and UNSION activists protest at Morpeth's County Hall

Bill for consultants could hit one million
Labour Party Councillors and UNISON activists protest at Morpeth's County Hall. Labour Party Councillors and UNISON activists protest at Morpeth's County Hall.

Unions and oppostion councillors have reacted with horror and vowed to block attempts to sell off council services to the private sector.

Northumberland County Council’s Liberal Democrat executive is currently exploring the option of becoming a public-private partnership (PPP), in which a contract would be awarded to a firm to take over the running of everything from bin collections and street-cleaning to administration.
Names mentioned as candidates for such a move include Capita, BT, Xerox and Fujitsu.
But Conservative councillors have called the plan a ‘grave threat to the livelihoods of council workers’, saying they will block any attempt to privatise services.
And they have tabled a motion which calls for any decision to be taken by the full council, not just the ruling executive.
Workers’ union Unison, meanwhile, took its protest directly to County Hall, launching a campaign in its precinct on Tuesday afternoon.
Leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “This scheme poses a grave threat to ordinary council workers. Much of the saving proposed as a result of this plan would come from the shedding of 1,000 jobs, but there are dangers for workers who keep their jobs as well.
“Council workers are currently protected from wage depression by national pay benchmarks. If this protection was removed, as workers become employees of a private company, in future years we would see less money in the pockets of residents. As far as we are concerned, the plan to hand the entire council over to a faceless multi-national corporation is a complete non-starter.
“We want the council to deliver the best services at the lowest possible cost, but not at the expense of the long-term well-being of staff and residents.”
Labour group leader Grant Davey described the approach as a ‘policy disaster’, while colleagues said they had been kept in the dark about the details.
Unison’s joint campaign – branded Northumberland is Not For Sale – has pledged to work with other unions, community groups and the public to fight the move.
It claims 1,000 public sector jobs are at risk if the plans go ahead. Around 40 activists attended the launch at County Hall on Tuesday.
Joyce Guthrie, joint branch secretary for Unison in Northumberland, said: “To go ahead with this, in an exercise likely to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted on consultants, without learning the lessons of the last attempt at the tendering fiasco when the unitary authority was established was nothing short of reckless.”
The motion will be debated at the full council meeting on July 4. Both Labour and Conservative groups have tabled motions calling for all 67 councillors to be involved in making any decision on the issue.

Latest from Troubles to hit NCC News Post Leader Reports

New £20m leisure centre could trigger mass sell-off

editorial image

THE £20m new sports centre being lined up for Ashington could lead to a sell-off of all Northumberland County Council’s leisure facilities.

Neil Bradbury, the authority’s executive member for leisure, describes the suggested deal as uncontroversial and wants the decision to be delegated to him and a colleague without any other councillors having a say.
However, the council’s Labour opposition sees the proposed move as another example of privatisation of public-sector services.
Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “Once again, the Lib Dem administration has been caught trying to slip through plans to sell off the family silver.
“It is disgraceful that the executive of the authority seems to want to offer up a newly-built leisure centre in Ashington as a tawdry inducement to bring in the private sector to run the council’s leisure services.”
The authority is already seeking a commercial partner to take on services as it faces pressure to save £70m within the next three or four years, on top of the £100m and 1,500 jobs it has slashed already.
Coun Bradbury’s aim is to cut the £4m annual subsidy for leisure by a quarter.
He maintains that his proposed leisure deal is not privatisation because the old district councils brought in outside organisations to run their sports centres, so this would just be a continuation of that policy.
However, most of the organisations involved so far are charities.
North County Leisure runs centres at Alnwick, Rothbury, Hexham and Prudhoe, and Tees Active runs Berwick’s Swan Centre.
The council-owned Blyth valley Arts and Leisure runs the sports centres at Blyth, Cramlington, Ashington, Newbiggin and the Pegasus Riding Centre for the disabled at Tranwell.
Coun Bradbury, of Prudhoe West, describes that mixture as a “mess of contracts” but praises its results.
“These operators have revolutionised the provision of leisure, with massively increased sports participation and user numbers,” he said.
He cites the example of Cramlington’s Concordia Leisure
Centre attracting 576,284 users a year at a subsidy of £1.14 each.
“This compares with a much worse story at the leisure centres with county council staff – a subsidy of over £5.50 per head and a third of the user numbers of equivalent outlets,” he said.
“We use 25 per cent of our subsidy to fund seven per cent of the users in Northumberland County Council-run centres.”
It would be hard to pull out of the current contracts, but it would be “a prize worth pursuing”, he said.
Coun Bradbury said: “My strong preference is to use the lure of a brilliant new facility in Ashington as the starter of a contract, where we will appoint a preferred provider who will gradually take over the other centres when the other providers’ contracts come to an end.
“My aim is to save 25 per cent on the leisure subsidy, but with little increase in prices and no cutting back in service.”
Coun Davey, of Kitty Brewster in Blyth, said his group would try to force a statement at next Wednesday’s full council meeting on what he brands “chaotic proposals to sell off Northumberland”.
Plans are currently being drawn up for a new leisure centre at the former Asda site at Lintonville to replace the present one in Institute Road.
It will include a sports hall, gym and swimming pool and other facilities such as a library and registrar’s office.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Latest Press Release please contact Grant for further information

Northumberland County Council motion: Regional and local public sector pay

Council notes:

·         The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the 2012 Budget the Government’s desire to introduce ‘more market facing’ public sector pay. This could mean regional or local public sector pay.
·         This recommendation has come in advance of the Pay Review Bodies reporting on the issue in July and September 2012.
·         There has been no independent assessment of the impact and consequences this policy could have for public services or the economies of low pay regions.

Council believes:
·         The Government’s case is based on the claim that public sector pay is ‘crowding out’ the private sector. This is not supported by evidence, particularly at a time of high unemployment. There are currently 10 JSA claimants for every job vacancy across Northumberland.
·         This approach also ignores the real reasons for the differences between public and private sector pay. For instance, there are more high skilled workers in the public sector (such as teachers and nurses), and a smaller pay gap between top and bottom earners and a smaller gender pay gap.
·         Public sector employers already have some flexibility to adjust pay in response to local conditions, and higher rates are paid in London and the South East
·         All other English regions and devolved nations stand to be affected by this, with the possibility of years of pay falling behind the cost of living.
·         Workers in Northumberland are paid £77 less per week than the British average.
·         65% of public sector workers are female.

Council further believes:

·         Regional or local public sector pay would have a harmful effect across the North East.
·         It will make it harder for schools and other public services to recruit and retain good quality professionals who could earn more for doing the same job elsewhere.
·         There are 36,900 public sector workers in Northumberland and reducing their real terms pay each and every year will dramatically reduce spending power and have a negative impact on the private sector.
·         This policy will not improve the pay of private sector workers but instead could encourage further depression of wages in all sectors.
·         We do not want to be forever defined as a ‘low pay’ region.
·         This policy is therefore counter to our county’s vision and ambitions for the future.   

Council resolves:

·         To write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chief Secretary to the Treasury stating this council’s opposition to plans for regional and localised public sector pay.
·         To write to all local MPs within the next month outlining concerns about the impact that this policy would have on services and the local economy.
·         To sign up to the Pay Fair campaign and raise awareness of the implications and risks of this policy locally, regionally and nationally. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ITEM CARRIED BY NEWS POST LEADER

Published on Thursday 21 June 2012 10:43

THE county council has denied claims that £1m has been set aside to pay for consultants and advice on privatising services.

The local authority is currently investigating ways of making savings of £74m over the next three years.
Included is the possible privatisation of some council services.
A Cramlington town councillor, speaking from the public gallery at a meeting of the county’s south east area committee in Ashington Leisure Centre, claimed £1m had been identified to pay for consultants.
But officers and members at the meeting denied any knowledge of the deal.
Democratic services manager Paddy Gascoigne said he did not recognise the figure of £1m.
Liberal Democrat executive member Coun Tom Brechany said: “The reason we are looking at the idea of private provision is we have got to save £74m over the next three years and we are looking at everything.
“I have never heard of this £1m being spent on consultants – there was no mention of that whatsoever.”
Labour leader Coun Grant Davey said it was disconcerting if the council was not looking at options other than wholesale privatisation.
“If a company can produce profits for its shareholders out of any contract, we should be able to produce services and savings on those services because we don’t need to produce profits,” he said.
“It’s a major problem for people. It threatens their jobs, it threatens their families and it threatens local businesses.
“We should have a full and proper public debate to see whether the people in south east Northumberland wish to have a privatised council or whether they are happy to have a council which may have to reduce some services but will still be able to produce services.”
Coun Brechany assured him the decisions would not be rushed through.
He said a report would go to the executive in late July and the final decision would be taken by the full council, not by the executive.
As revealed by the News Post Leader in mid-April, executive member for corporate resources Coun Andrew Tebbutt argued that the county faces a “perfect storm” of government pressures to cut spending next year, coupled with growing demand for care of elderly people.
Though it had already cut £100m, it needed to save another £74m over three or four years – the equivalent of 1,000 jobs on top of those 1,300 which have already gone.
It wanted to save jobs by forming a Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Council leader Coun Jeff Reid later denied £1m had been set aside for consultants and said the cost of the various fees involved was not yet known.
“When you haven’t got expertise to hand sometimes you’ve got to buy it in.
“But we are not anywhere near the point where any money has been allocated for anything.
“What you have got to remember is the council is a half-billion-pound organisation, so when you want to do things it’s going to cost money.
“I have no idea what the figure will be.
“Until we have identified a strategic partner and started down the path of discussing what we might do together, then really there isn’t very much to talk about.”

LETTER TO PRESS FROM GRANT DAVEY

Dear Editor

I find it hard to understand why the Liberal Democrat Leader of Council, Jeff Reid and his colleague, Andrew Tebbutt wish to privatise Northumberland County Council services.

Almost 40,000 people in Northumberland work in the retained public sector. 38% of families rely on their income from the public sector. In South East Northumberland you have some of the poorest wards nationally with a huge increase in poverty levels between 2009 -2011 recently reported to Parliament. 

I can understand why Andrew Tebbut can be persuaded towards privatisation, living as he does in one of Britains least deprived wards of Kirkhill, Morpeth.  Jeff Reid is a native of Blyth and only has to have opened his eyes a couple of times in the last 3 decades to see the impact privatisation of mainstay industries such as mining, British gas, electricity generation, shipbuilding, bus deregulation, BT etc has brought on our local economy and how under his supervision, Northumberland has moved from a four star council to one that has to get rid of its services in only four years.

Since 2008 your administration has almost cut off the public, people cannot contact your staff to discuss their problems and your premium rate telephone line frightens off the elderly and those in need. The public need to have full input into your current plans and a referendum should be arranged to see how Northumbrians feel about this proposed sell off.

I urge you Jeff to think again and keep public services democratically accountable to the public not a profit making scheme for those who can afford to buy shares in our County.


Yours Faithfully