UNION members at a North East council last night launched a campaign opposing moves to privatise some of its services.
Members of Unison at Northumberland County Council set out on their planned opposition to the threat of some services being placed into the hands of a public-private partnership.
Liberal Democrat leaders at County Hall are investigating the possibility of setting up a partnership with a private company to help deliver a number of public services and make budget savings of £74m in the next few years.
Now, the branch of trade union Unison based at County Hall has unveiled its campaign entitled Northumberland Is Not For Sale.
Yesterday’s launch at the authority’s headquarters saw union members armed with a banner – based on the council’s Love Northumberland image – which proclaimed “working with the community against cuts and privatisation”.
They were joined by members of the authority’s Labour opposition group, which has already voiced concerns over the plans and claimed they are being rushed through.
The launch will be followed by a series of activities in county communities including a roadshow which will set out to tell members what the council is proposing.
Unison also plans to work with other unions.
Joint branch secretary Ian Fleming, whose organisation has 5,000 members in private and public jobs in the county, said: “The union has stressed that it is always ready to fully engage with the council on better and more efficient ways of delivering quality services.
“However, management seem to have dismissed the idea to seriously look at in-house options and are making no real attempt to look at improving services, just a headlong drive to privatise.
“At present staff are very demoralised at how they are being and have been treated over the last few years within their job roles, and now the threat that their service could be privatised fills their future with even more uncertainty.
“It seems to all at Unison that the council is moving at rapid speed in order to implement its plans prior to the county council elections in 2013.”
A spokesperson for the council said: “Like all other local authorities, Northumberland County Council is facing significant financial challenges as well as a potential ‘perfect storm’ of reforms and changes to local government funding.
“Over the next three to four years the council needs to save a further £70m, on top of the £100m we’ve already saved, and it’s impossible to do this without considering new ways of delivering local services or simply accepting more drastic cuts.
“Exploring a strategic partnership is about job creation and protecting frontline services in Northumberland.
“We need to create a mixed economy that’s less dependent on the public sector and our primary goal is to safeguard jobs and bring investment.
“This is not about privatising services and a strategic partnership is just one of several options being explored.
“Investigating the potential of a strategic partnership for some of our services may offer a better option than simply implementing more service cuts and staff reductions, but we will only do this in areas where it fits with our overall objectives.”