Council to share services to save money

JOBS will go and there will be “a dramatic loss in customer service” if plans to share revenue and benefits services at Uttlesford District Council go ahead.

Staff issued that stark warning to councillors before they voted in favour of moving services, including council tax, business rates and benefits, to Harlow district council.

Benefits officer Hayley Bennett spoke on behalf of workers who are “greatly concerned” because they will be forced to work in Harlow or risk losing their jobs.

She said: “They have previously tried to implement a shared service which resulted in a dramatic drop in customer service levels and a fall in council tax collection rates.

“A number of authorities have tried and had similar problems. Staff are very concerned about increased costs in clearing subsequent backlogs.”

If forced to work from Harlow a UDC worker could be forced to pay out �2500 per year for parking because there is a five-year car parking waiting list.

A number of councillors felt that the hardest hit would be working single mothers, as travelling to Harlow and back takes over two hours, meaning less time with children.

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Mrs Bennett added: “Uttlesford is currently a high performing authority in comparison to Harlow which is much lower performing. Staff cannot see how their current high levels and service can be maintained by going to there.

“Customers, including vulnerable groups, will not continue to have access to specialist staff.”

The concerns did not fall on deaf ears in the council chamber as members gave cast iron promises that staff “will be looked after” during the move.

Tory council leader Jim Ketteridge said that he hoped for a similar outcome to a 2008 job cull after less people were made redundant than the 50 initially feared.

He said: “We did not get this idea off the back of a fag packet, it has been researched for 18 months and we are fully committed to working with Harlow. We take on board staff concerns.”

Councillors conceded that management posts will go in the shakeup and that staff have to consider working from home if they do not move but they insisted it will be a shared service – not an outsourcing.

Lib Dem opposition leader Peter Wilcox urged the council to come up with a “cost-effective exit strategy” should either council wish to back out of an agreement.

He was voted down after Cllr Ketteridge said “It would give the wrong impression and that they should go in with both feet.”

The restructuring is expected to save �635,000 but will cost �670,000 to put in place, however �570,000 of that is due to be met by a grant from Improvement East.

Everything should be in place by next June, but it will take two years for the project to be fully completed.

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