Privatisation fear at county hall

Council services in Suffolk may be privatised in a desperate attempt to deal with a predicted shortfall of £150m.County council leaders warned yesterday that jobs would be lost and services could be cut because of rising costs, inadequate government funding and limits on council tax.

Council services in Suffolk may be privatised in a desperate attempt to deal with a predicted shortfall of £150m.

County council leaders warned yesterday that jobs would be lost and services could be cut because of rising costs, inadequate government funding and limits on council tax.

The council says it has a yearly gap between what it can afford to pay and what it needs to maintain services of about £25m - adding up to £150m over the next six years, including this financial year. It says that by 2008-9 this will “devastate” services.

Next Thursday's full council meeting will be asked to agree to a “radical reorganisation” of the council. The chief executive, Mike More, will be asked to come up with a plan to be implemented over the next three years, scrapping existing council departments in favour of a more joined up approach to how clients' needs are assessed. The council will also ask the government for more money, particularly for adult social care, and try to cut costs by focussing on prevention of problems rather than dealing with them once they have arisen.

Mr More said: “There is a steely resolve that the authority has to do something to avoid a complete breakdown in our service provision.”

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: “We have to take action now to avoid a breakdown. We cannot ignore the warning signs…Inevitably, this will have a huge impact on our staff, but we hope to manage vacancies with the minimum of redundancies by redeploying staff and training them in new skills.”

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Deputy leader Sue Sida-Lockett said: “It is very difficult to feel cheerful about this. It is not a good situation.”

More services will be outsourced to the private and voluntary sector where it means the council can save money. The council is also involved in a Pathfinder partnership which could see district councils delivering some county council services and efficiency savings from councils carrying out work for each other.

Mrs Sida-Lockett said: “It is not so much privatisation, it is asking people to do some of the things we do if it is financially viable. We may have to stop doing some low priority services altogether.”

More than £3m has been set aside to start the transformation process and the authority is working with its consultants KPMG on its internal reorganisation.

Opposition Labour leader Julian Swainson accused the Conservatives of making “dire forecasts without any convincing evidence”.

He said: “Privatisation