Suffolk: County council admit risks in services shake-up

SUFFOLK County Council is admitting there are risks to its controversial plans to make radical changes to the way it provides vital services.

The admission comes as opposition leaders claim they have “absolutely no confidence” in the plans - the biggest shake-up in the provision of public services in the county for years.

In the 36-page document, Progress in the Implementation of the New Strategic Direction (NSD), published ahead of the full council meeting next week, the risks and mitigating factors associated with the policy are outlined.

They include the financial risk that the divestment process will not generate the savings, that partners will not collaborate in the development of new ways of providing services, that people with “the necessary skills and appetite for risk” will not come forward to run services and a resistance to change.

The risks, rated as being “medium” in nature, have prompted Liberal Democrat opposition leader Kathy Pollard to question the viability of the plans.

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But last night Jane Storey, deputy leader of the county council, said she was “very confident” the plans will be right for the people of Suffolk.

Mrs Pollard accused the council of taking a “huge risk” in outsourcing most of their contracts to private businesses, voluntary organisations, social enterprises and charities, when she said they were struggling to manage the few they currently contracted out.

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Mrs Pollard said: “I think there is a huge risk, first of all that they will not make the savings they are hoping to make and there are large legal costs associated with setting up contracts properly.

“And secondly as we have seen with the Iceni project there is absolutely no guarantee local charities and social enterprises will be awarded the contracts.

“The big risk is we will lose a lot of local knowledge from a highly valued and successful charity that has lost out to a bigger charity coming in from outside the county.”

She said current examples of outsourced contracts, including adult care, inspired little confidence in the new system, which relies on outsourcing even more contracts.

“If you look at adult care where they have got a huge amount of outsourcing to the private sector they overspent by more than �1million last year, proving they can’t manage current contracts. They just don’t seem to be able to manage contracts they run now.

“I have absolutely no confidence they will be able to manage when they outsource more contracts .

“We will get less services and it will cost us more.” But Mrs Storey defended the council’s work praising the contracting and procurement team for being “excellent at managing the contracts”.

She said the overspend on adult services last year was unavoidable and the result of an increase in demand which she attributed to the recession in part forcing more people to turn to the county council for help.

Speaking about the NSD she said: “We feel very confident. This is not all going to happen at once. The NSD is our medium to long-term plan. We know we can’t keep cutting services.

“I am confident we will get it right because we have to. We care about the people of Suffolk and we don’t want to let them down. There is so much to think about, it is not going to happen overnight.”

But a spokesman for the county council said the document which considers an “ambitious and far reaching public service reform programme”, is the council being “open and transparent” about how to manage the risks associated with the NSD.

He said: “Any change programme of this scale comes with risks, and the county council is actively working with communities, the voluntary sector and our partners to identify and take action to mitigate these. “

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