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Gloucestershire Business News

BREAKING: 270 council workers to be taken back in-house

Two of Gloucestershire's local authorities have made a statement today which indicates they will be moving to take more of their services in-house - although the move, which will also affect people working for Cheltenham Borough Council, may well be invisible to the naked eye.

Together with West Oxfordshire District Council, Cotswold District Council (CDC) and Forest of Dean District Council (FoDDC) say they are planning to shift 270 employees back onto the local government payroll by the end of this year.

Those staff currently work for Publica Group Ltd, which is a 'Teckal' company jointly owned by the four councils and whose registered offices are embedded within CDC in Cirencester's Trinity Road.

A Teckal enterprise is dedicated to being outward facing and focuses on delivery back to a local authority, but in a bid to help generate further revenue, it can trade with third parties in up to 20% of its activities, including investment. 

Alongside these three councils, Cheltenham Borough Council, which was not a signatory to the statement given to Punchline-Gloucester.com today, also owns Publica in a four-way split.

Established in 2017, FoDDC said in its statement that Publica "has delivered a wide range of council services ranging from customer services and planning to back-office functions, including IT and finance".

The FoDDC statement, which came after West Oxfordshire council broke the news yesterday, said: "Six years after Publica was formed, an independent review was undertaken to look at whether the Publica model was still able to meet the current and future needs of its council owners. It came against the backdrop of significant political changes in the councils, new council priorities and a changing local government landscape."

Two independent reports subsequently recommended that a significant number of "locally focused services", such as planning, economic development and community support, should be directly delivered by the councils, the statement added, stating: "This would enable the councils to better tailor local services to their individual areas."

The changes will shrink Publica's role to delivering a smaller range of services for the councils, but see it retain work on areas that include IT, customer services and benefit payments.

The statement went on: "The proposals being considered by the councils in July are for a first phase of employee transfers with a second phase due in early 2025. The first phase includes over 270 employees."

If the proposals are given the go-ahead, Publica staff working for FoDDC and DCD would be consulted in September before a proposed transfer takes place in November.

The majority of affected employees would be subject to what is known as a 'TUPE transfer', meaning their roles will transfer directly to the councils with protections to salaries and other employment benefits.

A joint statement from the leaders of the three councils added: "Every partnership must evolve to meet new challenges and now is the ideal time to make sure that as individual councils we are fit for the future.

"Our councils, and the backdrop of local government, have changed significantly over the past six years. To meet the current and future needs of our residents and businesses we need to take greater control of the local services we deliver, so each council can take an approach best suited to its communities.

"Moving services into direct council control will give us more choice and options on how we can find the most cost-effective way to maintain and improve the council services that people rely on. It will form part of wider plans to meet the challenge of significant budget reductions facing local government."

It added: "We will still share some services within the Publica model, meaning we will have services run locally for local communities which will be supported by an established shared services partnership to maximise efficiency.

"While this may mean a change for some staff, the vast majority will see their jobs transferred back to being under council employment. We will work hard to support staff through the transition."

Punchline-Gloucester.com says: "This may be an outwardly imperceptible change in terms of user experience for taxpayers, but the timing is interesting, given last week's change of government. It leads to questions over whether the Publica experiment is moving towards a natural death. We are optimistic that as a work culture shift, this may well help to make local councils in the county more accessible to media scrutiny. As an email-first policy and with no advertised phone numbers on communications, our daily news experience of Publica has not been easy – a far cry from the days of simply calling up a council to ask what's going on. What's your view of communication with your local council in your business? Share your thoughts with Punchline-Gloucester.com editor Mark Owen at news@moosemarketingandpr.co.uk .

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