Burnley Council services to be sold off to private firms?

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Savage cuts – expected to affect one in three workers – are being drawn up by Burnley Council as it plans to sell off the bulk of its services to private companies.

In an effort to overcome a crippling shortfall in funding, some £3m. in the next two years, the council has drawn up unprecedented plans to put out the majority of its services to tender.

Entitled the Change Programme, the historic cuts would see the council save between £700,000 and £1.2m. a year.

It would include buildings such as the Contact Centre close with staff transferred to private companies.

Chief executive Steve Rumbelow told the Express soundings have been made throughout the summer to potential bidders to take on areas such as customer services, revenues and benefits, engineering and Environmental Health.

Companies that have already responded include BT, Liberata and Serco.

Mr Rumbelow admitted the long-term effect for borough councils such as Burnley would likely see them merge with other neighbouring authorities.

He said: “Burnley Council is facing the biggest cuts in Government funding ever.

“We have to find savings of £3m. over the next two years – that’s 19% of our budget. We feel Burnley has been disproportionately hit. I believe Burnley is a district council with city-sized challenges.

“Our staff were briefed in May when these proposals were first discussed, but we want to keep as many jobs local as possible.

“Change is often difficult but our staff have been through change every year for the last five years. They have become very resilient.

“I can foresee a time in the near future when neighbouring authorities will merge. We are certainly open to that. Local government reorganisation is inevitable.”

Mr Rumbelow said the council would still oversee the services and put in place strong performance measures to ensure the people of Burnley still get the best possible service.

But Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle, a member of the Government which enacted the funding cuts, said Burnley Council should first look at other measures to save money.

He said: “I understand the council has to make these savings, but I think there are other ways.

“One would have thought further discussions with staff and senior management could have helped them achieve savings by becoming more efficient and less top heavy.

“There are still plenty of savings within the council that can be achieved without decimating services.”

Members of the Council’s Executive Committee are now being asked to agree that the programme moves to the next stage, which could see commissioning work carried out from November.

The council has promised residents will be consulted as commissioning work gets underway.