County’s directly employed workforce could shrink to 100

County’s directly employed workforce could shrink to 100
Local Government Chronicle, By Sarah Calkin


Northamptonshire CC has approved plans for radical reforms under which all its frontline services will be commissioned from external organisations.


Under plans to become a “next generation council”, approved by the full council on Thursday, the authority wants council staff to “spin out” and set up mutuals, community interest companies and social enterprises which it can then commission services from.


The ambition is that these organisations would be able to generate additional income and pursue investment from sources not open to the council.


The first new mutual to be set up will be a community interest company providing public health and wellbeing services in partnership with Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Northampton University. It is envisaged it will provide some services directly but may sub-contract to other providers.


Other proposed bodies include a children’s services mutual, a place-shaping partnership and an accountable care organisation.


Chief executive Paul Blantern told LGC these models would free staff from some of the “ludicrous” restrictions on local government, including allowing the organisations to sell their services on the private market alongside statutory provision.


He said the council would work with the private sector where appropriate but these models maintained the “public sector ethos”.


A significant amount of Northamptonshire’s services are already provided by through council-owned companies or partnerships with other organisations, such as adult social care provider Olympus Care and Northampton Highways, a partnership with private sector company KeirWSP.


As a result the number of staff directly employed by the council has fallen from more than 7,000 to about 4,000 over the past five years.


Mr Blantern said he anticipated that would fall to between 100 and 150 employees once the transition to a “next generation” council was complete.


“The whole thing about next generation is about how do we respond to a completely changing customer base who expect self service, who expect greater control? That’s how people operate now and it’s the same with the workforce.


“The problem is the public sector has been doing the same thing for god knows how long. It’s about responding to changes in workforce, changes in consumers and changes in demographics.”


He said the main driver for the reform was to modernise services, followed by austerity.


Northamptonshire has to find £148m in savings over the next five years.


Functions of the staff that remain employed by the council, or the “NCC Group” as it will be known, will include commercial development, commissioning and contract management, quality assurance and safeguarding, customer insight, and brand development.


Asked how the council would ensure democratic accountability Mr Blantern said what was planned was no different from a district council where the leisure centres were run by a trust, housing by an arm’s length management organisation and refuse collection outsourced.


He said governance arrangements would be crucial.


Steve Bennett, Unison branch secretary for Northamptonshire, told LGC although there were concerns about the approach members felt it was better than the alternative of further cuts to services.


He said employees had seen ventures such as Olympus Care worked well and in many cases staff were on better terms and conditions than council staff.


“Our members’ main concern is they have got a job; in some ways this may offer some job security,” he added.


“We’re looking at a bigger and bigger funding gap year after year so [the council has] got to do something.”