CAMPAIGNERS admitted they were ‘bitterly disappointed’ a last ditch effort to force a rethink of controversial plans to sell off Staffordshire school services failed.
Staffordshire County Council’s Education Support Services project was greenlit this week a move to refer the plans back to the full council was voted down at corporate review.
The project was called in by a cross-party group of councillors who expressed a number of concerns, namely that key details were unavailable when necessary for scrutiny, the size of preferred bidder Capita’s 51 per cent controlling stake, the viability of the new joint venture’s projections for growth and the lack of any back up plan for if things went wrong.
Speaking after the meeting Unison's Staffordshire branch secretary Steve Elsey said he feared the project had the potential to be dangerous.
“Capita are going to want their pound of flesh,” said Mr Elsey. “Now let’s hope that they get that pound of flesh through growth and through the opportunities that Councillor Ian Parry [who has spearheaded the project] believes exist and not by having to find alternative methods of delivering profits to their shareholders.”
Mr Elsey said every time he heard Councillor Parry speak on the subject he was struck by the thought little consideration had been given to a back up plan if things went wrong.
“We’re talking about going from a £70million a year operation now to a £337million pound a year operation in ten years,” he said. “If that turns out not to be achievable they are going to have to find savings elsewhere and we are very concerned that will be at the detriment of the provision of services and our member’s terms and conditions.”
Regional Unison Organiser Claire Breeze said: “We are bitterly disappointed with that decision today.
“We really had hoped that it would go back to a full council meeting so that we could scrutinise all of the information.”
She said within the information that had been offered at the meeting and at previous meetings there was still large volumes that hadn’t been scrutinised.
“The contract won’t be shared, the shareholders agreement won’t be shared,” she said. “What’s in there that is so scary?
“I don’t believe all of that is commercially sensitive, some of it will be, but a lot of that information we should be able to see so that we can reassure the people of Staffordshire and our members that this is a good thing,” she said. “We haven’t got that confidence because we haven’t got the right information.”
Councillor Parry said throughout the meeting he was optimistic about the project's potential to put Staffordshire on the map as a provider of school support services adding he was not planning for what would happen if things went wrong because he did not expect the project to fail.