Socialist Worker

Is everything for sale in Somerset council’s venture?

Issue No. 2131

A possible sign of things to come in the councils is the Southwest One project in the south west.

This is a £400 million, ten year public-private partnership involving Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon & Somerset Police and IBM.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Tory MP for Bridgwater, claimed in a speech in parliament, “Southwest One is an outfit born in secrecy and reliant on secrecy. Joe Stalin would have been proud of the company.”

Southwest One came into being in September last year after six months of negotiations between the different parties.

Its claim is to provide all the back office services for the three public bodies – such as human resources, reception services and information technology – cheaper and more efficiently.

It has taken over the jobs of 1,400 workers and has promised tens of millions of pounds in savings over the next decade. Some of this is to come through not replacing some of the 70 percent of staff they expect to leave.

The fine detail of the business plan and contract were kept secret.

Professor Dexter Whitfield, who was employed by the Unison union to look at the venture, believes it will lead to more immediate job losses.

He said, “They talk about the social transformation of Taunton, Somerset and the south west, but we’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that that will happen.”

IBM owns 81 percent of this “joint venture” company.

Unison lost an Employment Tribunal case last month over allegations that Somerset council failed to consult properly with workers over the deal.

Local union officials claimed the deal was never fully debated.

But the tribunal has dismissed the case. The council has now suspended a number of union reps and sacked Unison’s branch secretary, Nigel Behan.

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Tue 9 Dec 2008, 18:04 GMT
Issue No. 2131
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