Plans to save millions of pounds by outsourcing bin collections and park management, affecting 130 council employees, have met stiff opposition from a public sector union.
Watford Borough Council discussed how it must make savings of £5 million from its £16 million budget to cover a 30 per cent reduction in Central Government funding, at a meeting on Wednesday night.
A report showed that while savings could be made by remodelling the parks and open spaces, street cleansing and waste and recycling services, more money could be saved by outsourcing.
However, Unison regional organiser Sam Older said the only way those savings could be made was either through redundancies or reduction of contractual conditions.
He said: “We are talking about 130 members of staff who will be affected by this. We will be left with a two-tier workforce, which annoys people and then the service doesn’t operate as well.
“A private organisation needs to make money for its shareholders, while the council has to serve the residents of Watford.
“We want to make sure we are listened to.”
Any staff taken on by a new company will be protected from dismissal or reduction in contractual terms and conditions by the Transfer of Undertak-ing Regulations 2006.
The council’s cabinet agreed to carry on contractual discussions with two companies, Enterprise and Veolia, before a final report on the proposals is presented in March next year.
Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill said: “We haven't got a fixed ideology that says ‘public’ is good and ‘private’ is bad – or vice versa. That would be bonkers considering where we were ten years ago, branded one of the worst district councils in the country.
“We appreciate the services but you have to consider the tax payers of Watford, we can’t be dewy eyed about it. We want to do some more challenging, because the status quo is not an option.”
Councillors agreed that for the outsourcing plan to be taken forwards, significant savings had to be made with no reduction in quality of service, and keeping the current in-house option had to be considered.
Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Crout said: “The reason we’re all sitting here is the financial situation we’re in, but I don’t want to make these savings if it means jeopardising the service.”
A scoring matrix in a council report put Enterprise ahead of Veolia in terms of suitability, but Green councillor Steve Rackett said one company’s bid missed the council’s deadline. He said: “One of the two companies was three minutes late on one section of the bid, which was put down to heavy traffic on the internet.
“When you apply for a job, you’re told to get it in on time, that’s the point of a deadline. They’re saying it’s only a technical breach, but these companies have specialist teams doing these bids.
“Do we want someone who can’t get this basic thing right in charge of our bins and parks?”
A report into the scheme revealed the services spent £5 million, about a third of the council’s revenue budget.
In 2013/14, the council has set aside £650,000 for five new collection vehicles, £600,900 for 30,000 wheelie bins and £313,105 for 1,300 Eurobins for communal properties.
It plans to spend £18,900 in “communications”, £1,225 on its reward scheme and £15,000 for vehicle signage in the same year.
The council has also budgeted for four “waste advisors”, costing £43,756 in 2013/14 and £87,512 the year after.
Clive Brown, road sweeper and refuse collector for 20 years, said: “I’m glad they want to sit down and talk to the union because if they had just gone down the road of using Veolia or Enterprise it would have been bad for all of us.
“Staff morale is very low because people are just thinking they are going to be outsourced.
“We know how much the Veolia drivers are paid because they use the same depot as us and we’ve asked them.”