Monday, September 25, 2023

County Council to Outsource Lowest Paid Jobs

The county council has signed off plans to outsource many of its lowest-paid staff, including cleaners, caretakers, plumbers, bricklayers and electricians, to save money.

Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet gave the review of its property division the go-ahead yesterday (Thursday, February 28).

The decision could have an impact on many of the near 1,500 staff in the department.

The reshuffle has been agreed so that the department is “fit for purpose”, supports the Conservative authority’s Enterprising Council strategy – in short, to find new, more effective ways of providing services – and to make financial savings.

In total, the financially-under-pressure council must save £63 million by 2023.

The authority owns 1,124 properties across the county, worth around £1.8 billion. The department has an annual budget of £12.6 million. Many of the properties on the council’s books are schools, with staff including caretakers, grounds maintenance and cleaners, through to electricians, architects and plumbers.

The council has “experienced significant financial change” as a result of schools converting to academies – taking them out of local authority control – and carrying out their own building repairs and employing their own cleaning and maintenance staff instead of retaining the county’s services.

A review of the department by Ernst Young (EY) recommended that three areas of the department should be “provided externally”.

This includes:

  • The facilities delivery service, which includes cleaning, caretaking and grounds maintenance
  • The design and construction service, which includes architects, bricklayers and joiners
  • The repairs and maintenance service, which includes plumbers and electricians.

The decision has drawn criticism from the Labour opposition, which claims money is no longer available for front-line staff.

Labour group leader, Cllr Anne Western, said: “The property services review will see the outsourcing of most of the workforce, especially the lower- paid jobs such as cleaning, caretaking, grounds maintenance and building maintenance, whilst at the same time bringing in two new management posts.”  She said the authority is appointing a new assistant director of communications and customers, a new project manager and four project officers.  She said: “It seems like there is plenty of money for management but not for front-line workers.”

No mention has been made of the number of staff who will be affected, or whether there would be any job losses or pay cuts.

It was agreed this week that a new post of assistant director for communications and customers would be created with a salary of £80,000 per year. This is to be funded from savings within the communications department – thought to be around 20 to 30 per cent of its current budget.

Alongside the new assistant director role would be a project manager on a two-year contract and four project officers – to carry out research and analysis – on yearly contracts. These additional roles are thought to cost £226,000 over two years – savings through these roles could amount to £170,000 in this period.

In yesterday’s cabinet, Cllr Angelique Foster, the lead member for council services, said: “This will improve the quality of service and create value for money for taxpayers. We need a quality service, which can make financial savings, and to support our stakeholders. The current operation is not fit for purpose. The council, at the moment, does not have a long-term strategy.”  She said that without reshuffling the service, the council would continue to lose business to competition.  Cllr Foster continued: “The maintenance required to our buildings has increased by £30 million in the last six years, because they have been left in disrepair for so long.”

Deputy leader Cllr Simon Spencer said that it was imperative for the “modernisation of the service”.

The aim is for the service to be reshuffled by April 2020.

Two further staff would be recruited as programme managers to oversee the changes, at a cost of £100,000 for one year only.

A report on the hiring says that “the transformation of corporate property is a significant issue for the Council” and these new roles are required “to enable it to be completed expeditiously whilst continuing to operate”.

Eddie Bisknell (LDRS)

Eddie writes for Nailed through the Local Democracy Reporting Service, in partnership with the BBC. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a partnership of media outlets sharing reporters to cover council meetings.

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