Council service outsourced

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PLANS to outsource core council services and dozens of staff to a private firm have been confirmed after it was called in for scrutiny.

Hartlepool Borough Council is to transfer about 65 staff from its revenues and benefits departments to a private sector firm selected as the preferred bidder for the contract.

The plans had originally been backed in December.

But they were “called-in” by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee over concerns about the decision making process, the proposed savings and that not all cabinet members were in favour.

Despite the concerns, the original decision was ratified at a recent behind-closed-session.

The details of the seven-year contract has not yet been revealed due to the confidential contract process.

But Mayor Stuart Drummond said the aim is to secure and create jobs, maintain and improve services, make savings and retain a base in Hartlepool for the services.

Speaking after the closed session, Mayor Drummond said: “It is our responsibility as a cabinet to produce a strategy that gets us through the difficult financial climate.

“If we don’t produce a robust plan then we are failing the council but also the public in general.

“It has been a very difficult piece of work.

“Outsourcing is not everybody’s first option and it is probably the last option, but we don’t have a real choice.

“We need to generate a substantial amount of savings and this will protect a number of jobs and not just those that are transferring across.

“This is about making the most out of an extremely difficult situation.”

Mayor Drummond said the contract was about delivering what is best for the people in Hartlepool and that they wouldn’t end up with a worse service.

The revenues and benefits team, which provide customer service in person and by telephone, deal with the billing and collection of council tax, business rates and housing benefits.

Officers decided to consider outsourcing after fears there would not be enough work at the council to guarantee jobs in the future.

Proposed changes to the national benefits system could see all housing benefit claims processed by the Department for Work and Pensions or private firms from 2013.

The authorities ICT contract is already outsourced to Northgate, but that is also included in the new deal.

The new set-up could lead to new jobs if the successful firm wins other contracts.

The contract – which is subject to due diligence and agreement of the detailed financial and legal terms –is expected to start from April.

A report to the December meeting said there was a clear difference in the two bids in terms of creating jobs and local economic benefits, while one bidder provided a greater overall saving over the lifetime of the contract.

Some elements of the service will still be done in-house including benefit appeals and case reviews, benefit counter fraud activity, internal bailiff and council tax recovery work.