City council officials look to take back more control of keeping Norwich tidy

Council bosses are planning to take back greater control of keeping Norwich tidy after two former contractors collapsed.

Norwich City Council is investigating how to carry out �5m a year work to clean streets and maintain parks, cemeteries and open spaces from March 2013.

Five options are being considered, with the preferred one likely to see council officers manage and monitor any contract rather than giving control to a private company.

It is hoped this will avoid the same difficulties encountered when former city council contractor Fountains went into administration in January. The company, based in Whiffler Road, Mile Cross, made 153 workers redundant and left the council having to find a new firm to provide the �4.6m a year service.

Biffa was brought in at short-notice with the out-of-work staff offered jobs in the new arrangement. But the demise of Fountains came little more than a year after similar problems beset Connaught in 2010 – which increased calls for greater council control over the service.

The new proposals include the council having full control by bringing the service in-house, creating a jointly-owned company to be given the contract, known as public sector shared service, or continue using a private contractor. The authority has been recommended to choose the public sector shared service option.

Under this plan, the council would have to join with another organisation and create a limited company.

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This new company, which both parties would have shares in, would be awarded the grounds maintenance contract, which would be monitored by the council.

Union officials expressed disappointment an in-house option has not been recommended.

The authority has not ruled it out, but it is likely this will not happen due to extra costs.

Kevin O'Grady, Norwich City Council Unison branch secretary, said: 'What we want to see is contracts and services in the public sector.

'If it means through shared services then that's something we would go with because it's the next best option.'

Alan Waters, city council cabinet member for finance, pictured, said further detailed reports on the five options would be submitted to a group of councillors examining the issue, known as the contracts working party, before the plan comes before the cabinet.

He said he had also asked the officers to look into potential for a depot premises.

Mr Waters said: 'Longer-term we need to think about that site and we need to therefore think we might locate a workforce to deliver some of these services for us.'

The council already owns numerous pieces of equipment, worth �484,560, including grass cutters, tractors and lawn mowers. It purchased the items to allow Biffa to carry out the work after Fountains' collapse.

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