Fears over privatisation plans

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FEARS have been raised that the standard of council services could decline if plans to privatise some services go ahead.

Liberal Democrat councillors at North Tyneside Council are concerned that proposals being drawn up by Mayor Linda Arkley and her cabinet could hit communities and service users.

Plans are being drawn up by the Conservative-led administration as part of the 2012-13 budget setting process, which could see outside organisations bid to run various services within the council with trusts created to look after various departments.

Lib Dem councillor Graeme Brett is concerned at the plans and what he describes as a lack of information being given to councillors.

Coun Brett said: “The council is pushing ahead with this but there is limited information on what guarantees there are for services.

“We have called a special meeting. It’s the fact these services have been outsourced but the council hasn’t been discussing it. Councillors haven’t had an opportunity for debate.

“The mayor and cabinet are railroading through this, with services possibly being run by outside organisations without the council having any control.”

Coun Brett added: “There is a whole list of services that will be transferred to save money.

“But if you have the same staff getting the same pay then the only way to save money is to reduce the level of service.”

If the proposals are approved then Coun Brett said some services could be privatised as early as September to help the council make a half-year saving.

But Mrs Arkley hit back, saying: “There have been plenty of opportunities for members – as well as the public – to get involved in this process and to suggest alternatives to achieving efficiencies.

“All parties were invited to join us when we visited some other local authorities to examine different ways of working that have proved successful.

“There have since been four all-member briefings on the council plan and budget, plus members were encouraged to attend their local area forum, where there were two sessions on the subject.

“Our overview and scrutiny committee also established a budget dub-group to review and scrutinise budget proposals.

“A number of meetings were held and were attended by a member of the Liberal Democrat group.

“The sub-group’s key issues were subsequently presented to a meeting of the committee, at which Coun Brett was present, and a number of recommendations were made, which my cabinet and I are considering carefully and will be responding to shortly.

“However, I welcome any further opportunity to explain the significant challenges this council faces and hope members will work constructively together to deliver the best outcome for the borough and its residents, rather than face the unacceptable consequences.

“The alternative to our changes are closures, reduced services and job losses, so it is for Coun Brett to decide his preferred way forward.

“I would like to retain staff and offer great facilities.”