08:20 Thursday 27th October 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: The private company taking over the running of a number of services at Peterborough City Council has been chosen. Serco have been confirmed as the preferred bidder for the 10 year partnership, which should deliver at least £20 million in efficiency savings. Council tax collection and the customer service team are among the services being transferred in the deal. Matthew Lee is Deputy Leader at the City Council. Morning, sir.
MATTHEW LEE: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: There’ll be nobody left there soon that works for the city. They’ll all be private companies, won’t they?
MATTHEW LEE: We have a lot of staff left, and we’re moving about 450 staff into Serco. I think it’s a very exciting opportunity. It gives us a real opportunity as well to look at getting Serco to help us look at the rest of the Council and how we work, and where we can find savings elsewhere. But this isn’t just about savings. It is also about actually raising the standard and quality of service as well. So you know this is two and a half .. two to two and a half million pounds a year. Great opportunity then about putting money into other services and protecting them in these very difficult challenging financial times.
PAUL STAINTON: So how is it going to save you money?
MATTHEW LEE: One, because they will operate the back-office and customer service operations more efficiently. They’re going to invest in more technology. But secondly because they’re going to work with us at the Council, those parts of the Council that remain within the Council now, and how we can operate those more efficiently and improve services there. So this isn’t just back-office and customer operations and customer services, this is also about the whole of the Council, and getting us to work more efficiently and giving us that real expertise and help that we need.
PAUL STAINTON: They’re in it to make a profit though, aren’t they? So how are they going to do that?
MATTHEW LEE: Well yes, no, absolutely. All private companies are there to make a profit. But they have to deliver savings for us as well. And we, over the last five years, have made the services in customer services and the back-offices as efficient as we can. Now we can’t do it any more without a significant investment, and at this present time it’s very difficult to find that investment. Serco can deliver that, so .. but yes, they have to make a return. But they also have to deliver a lot for us as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you saying it’s more difficult for you to cut jobs than them to cut jobs? Is that what you’re saying?
MATTHEW LEE: Well this isn’t about cutting jobs.
PAUL STAINTON: Definitely? Because we’ve been here before with Enterprise haven’t we, and they have cut jobs, despite what you said at the time. (SEE NOTE AT FOOT)
MATTHEW LEE: Well what I said at the time was that Enterprise was giving a job to everybody who was in the Council, and that is exactly what happened.
PAUL STAINTON: And then some disappeared.
MATTHEW LEE: Yes, because things do change. And there is never a guarantee around jobs, whether that’s in the Council, in a different operator. But this is also about the growth of services , and Serco will look to relocate their local .. parts of their local government operation here to Peterborough. Now there is never a guarantee around jobs, and there never can be. But this is very important to us that we do look after our staff. We have a good opportunities as possible. And this gives our staff access to a much bigger organisation alongside opportunities to relocate part of Serco’s other operations elsewhere in the country here to Peterborough.
PAUL STAINTON: Rhona Hendry is Branch Secretary of Unison in Peterborough, who look after some of the employees. Morning Rhona.
RHONA HENDRY: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So great new then for the City Council employees.
RHONA HENDRY: I wouldn’t say it’s great news. We haven’t got the assurances really that staff are safe in the long term. Although they transfer over on the terms and conditions it’s a major worrying concern.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. So you’re worried about your members’ jobs. Are you also worried about services suffering?
RHONA HENDRY: Yes. Matthew just said that the whole of the Council will be run by Serco, which is news to us. So I’d like him to explain that please. Totally off the record, I didn’t know that was happening.
MATTHEW LEE: I didn’t say that Serco was going to run the Council. What I said was we would use Serco’s expertise, and they have a great deal of this, because they work for many many councils, to make other services within the Council more efficient and better. That’s not that we’re going to outsource or privatise other parts of the Council. No decisions have been made around that. But we do need help to deliver more efficiencies elsewhere.
RHONA HENDRY: So we’re not going to make any more privatisation within the Council. Is that what you’re saying?
MATTHEW LEE: No I’m not making that .. I’m not saying that either. What I’m saying is we need to continually look to make savings, to protect services, because if we don’t, what will happen is we will have to just cut services, if we can’t be more efficient. And we need to be more efficient. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this city to make sure what they get is the most efficient and best service.
PAUL STAINTON: Rhona, is this your worry, that everything will essentially end up being run by private companies?
RHONA HENDRY: Yes. It is.
PAUL STAINTON: Why are you worried about that?
RHONA HENDRY: Well we are an outsourcing authority. Where does this stop? Matthew’s saying that we’re going to improve services that we’re left with. But we’re a diminishing authority.
MATTHEW LEE: I don’t think we are a diminishing authority. We’re buying in expertise to deliver services.And (MUMBLE) may disagree on that Rhona and (MUMBLE) but as a councillor you know my primary responsibility is to make sure we can deliver the most and the best services for the least amount of money. Because if we’re wasting money, that is services then that are being you know potentially are being deprived from the public.
PAUL STAINTON: What are you going to be in charge of any more, councillors? Why are we voting for you? Why should we bother? You’re not running anything any more, are you?
MATTHEW LEE: Well we don’t directly run anything, but I don’t run anything ..
PAUL STAINTON: You influence stuff though, otherwise what’s the point in voting for you?
MATTHEW LEE: What I do is set strategic direction. And I know that might sound very grand, but I don’t go in there and sort out the day to day issues. I go in there, whether that is a private company or whether that is a directly-operated service ..
PAUL STAINTON: But you go in to determine the policy, don’t you? You determine what officers do on your behalf. And if private companies are doing all these things, how do you influence that?
MATTHEW LEE: But we still do, and that is they key part to all of this, so with Enterprise, with Serco, we are still setting the policies. They are still delivering that for us. They’re not going to go off and deliver something that we don’t want them to deliver.
PAUL STAINTON: There are safeguards in place.
MATTHEW LEE: Yes. But we still set the direction of service. And I spend as much time now dealing with City Services, sorry with Enterprise Peterborough, as I did with City Services. I spend more time now with Vivacity than I did when it was actually involved, when it was directly run by the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: So they’re less efficient.
MATTHEW LEE: They’re not less efficient, but my role is different, and I am either equally or more involved than I was when it was the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: Rhona, have you spoke to the staff that are going to be concerned here? Are they worried?
RHONA HENDRY: They are very worried, yes. I would like to ask Councillor Lee a question ..
PAUL STAINTON: Very quickly.
RHONA HENDRY: The loss of the services to PCC, we’d hope that some of the pay awarded to senior managers of the departments downsized in numbers and budget responsibilities lessened would be looked into. Can you assure me that will be done?
MATTHEW LEE: Serco will run the business. They will employ the staff. And they will set the structures. There are no guarantees. I can’t offer guarantees around jobs. But nor can I offer any guarantee if these jobs remain in the Council. In fact I think jobs .. it’s more difficult to offer any sort of guarantee if you remain in the Council. This is not about trying to reduce jobs. It’s quite the opposite, which , very seriously, always looking at the best interests of our staff.
PAUL STAINTON: Guys, we’ve got to leave it there. But thank you for a nice easy debate. Rhona Hendry, Branch Secretary of Unison in Peterborough. Matthew Lee, Deputy Leader of Peterborough City Council. Where will the privatisation end though? I’m thinking about getting Marco Cereste some advertising for his jumpers.
Note: 07: 25 Monday 24th January Peterborough Breakfast Show
Regarding transfer of staff to Enterprise Peterborough.
MATTHEW LEE: We’re looking forward to it. It will be a big big day for the Council and all our staff. We’re working with them now. They’re a great team of people. But obviously you know it’s a little uncertain, as you’re changing employers. So we’re working with them to make sure all of their needs are addressed. And we’ll start in early March.
PAUL STAINTON: And those staff will move on to the new company.
MATTHEW LEE: Indeed. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: No redundancies.
MATTHEW LEE: Er. No.
PAUL STAINTON: Good stuff.