Council staff worried about Wealden future

INCREASING workloads, frozen pay, and the downsides of outsourcing and shared services are cause for significant concern.

The direct words of Wealden District Council summarising the ‘major apprehension’ of council staff following a series of ‘workshops’ on the future of the council in a Cabinet report called ‘Vision for 2015 and Beyond - an update on progress’ dated July 4.

Big changes are expected to make Wealden a smaller council, outsourcing more services and fulfilling legal obligations under the Government’s ‘Localism Bill’.

The district council intends to engage more with town and parish councils. But at the same time Wealden would share some services with other authorities such as giving Rother District Council the leadership of daily environmental health services.

By 2015 Wealden is expected to be: ‘A smaller council with fewer directly employed staff and providing fewer services ourselves.

“Where appropriate, we will enable others to provide the services our communities need on our behalf.”

Also the new vision prepares to set out Wealden as: “A leader of local communities with parishes as the key local building blocks’ and an, ‘advocate for Wealden communities holding service providers of all types to account.”

And lastly Wealden will be: “A devolver of power and decision making to the lowest practicable local level.”

A general conclusion of council staff opinions has been published giving both positive and negative aspects of staff feedback on the Vision for 2015 and beyond.

The report said: “In general the perception amongst staff is that they do their jobs well, bringing skills and local knowledge to their roles that could easily be lost through outsourcing.

“They take pride in the council’s public sector ethos and its perceived strength compared to others, and see Wealden as a ‘gold standard’, with opportunities for spreading that good practice through shared services and expanded business.

“There was significant enthusiasm for using shared services to share skills and expertise, and for greater staff involvement in the shaping of services.”

But these positive aspects had to be balanced against concerns raised by the workforce as the council faces, ‘some major challenges which will inevitably mean a number of significant changes if it is to continue to deliver effective and efficient services to customers’.

The report added: “However, there is also major apprehension surrounding possible threats to job security and the resulting loss of skills and experience, and ultimately of Wealden’s strong identity and performance as a result.”

Other concerns raised by staff around outsourcing and privatisation were noted in the report: - ‘the loss of local control over, and accountability for, services; the move to success being measured by profits not by results; the loss of the public sector’s ethos and focus on issues such as the environment, equality, local procurement; and the possible impact on disadvantaged groups (poor, disabled, elderly, rural) who might not be profitable for private services to provide to’.

There was also a perception by staff that ‘relevant decisions had already been taken, and that therefore staff and residents had little or no opportunity to influence them’.

What do you think of Wealden becoming a smaller council and ‘devolver of power and decision making’? Tell us your views.

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