Redundancies could ‘tear apart’ council services
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MORE than a quarter of jobs which were outsourced to a private company by North Somerset Council earlier this year have been lost – with more cuts potentially looming as the council battles to save money.
The council’s decision to transfer business support and front office work to Agilisys in February was approved as the authority aims to save £2.7million.
However, the Mercury has learned the transfer has come at the cost of 36 full-time jobs. This is around 27 per cent of the 130 jobs which were transferred to Agilisys, and more could be at risk if further ‘transfer opportunities’ are adopted by the authority in the future.
A council report seen by the Mercury revealed that Agilisys made the redundancies as part of a staffing restructure, which predominantly affected staff working in council admin roles.
While the majority of staff left their jobs through voluntary redundancy packages, some were forced to resign or take on reduced working hours.
The report said: “The reduction in staff was achieved largely through a voluntary redundancy exercise and the council has set aside a ‘capped’ budget of £500,000 to fund redundancy costs, which are currently forecast at £355,000 and (are) therefore well within budget.
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“The council and Agilisys have also been concerned to ensure that service knowledge is maintained and transferred where staff are departing.”
Job losses are not thought to have affected frontline staff, such as social workers or teachers – but according to council trade union Unison, the loss of admin staff would ‘tear apart’ crucial teams and have a detrimental impact on the capacity of frontline employees.
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Unison area organiser Helen Thornton said: “The council argued that transferring admin staff to Agilisys would save money – but the way Agilisys is actually making savings is by making staff redundant, while the council picks up the redundancy payments.
“If council workers like social workers have to do their own admin – which is increasingly the case – this cuts down on the time in which they can actually work with children and families and therefore impacts on crucial council services.”
The report also showed that proposals which could result in further job losses are to be considered by a council committee in the near future.
The community and corporate organisation (CCO) policy and scrutiny panel will consider so-called ‘transformation ideas’ put forward by Agilisys, which are said to cut costs by consolidating and restructuring teams.
The report said that while council restructuring – or ‘transformation’ – had already taken place since Agilisys took on business support services, this had been opportunistic and more opportunities to consolidate and simplify services needed to be looked at.
Ms Thornton said: “The so-called back office staff, like admin workers, are an easy target for the council, but what such a strategy fails to realise is that the so-called frontline staff cannot operate effectively without the support of admin staff, IT staff and cleaners – and this team work is torn apart by outsourcing.
“It is difficult to understand why public sector organisations, like North Somerset Council, think the private sector can save them money and provide the same level of service – it’s simply not possible.”
The council did not respond to a request for a comment before the Mercury went to press.