Council looks to outsource planning

A Norfolk council looks set to hand over at least �35m of council taxpayers' cash to a stock market-listed firm in a deal to outsource one of its key services.

A Norfolk council looks set to hand over at least �35m of council taxpayers' cash to a stock market-listed firm in a deal to outsource one of its key services.

Breckland Council's leading group wants to hand over the authority's planning and building control services to Capita Symonds, a division of outsourcing giant Capita Group.

They say it would be a 'unique' and 'entrepreneurial' deal and that it could potentially net the council savings of �5.7m over 15 years.

It could also mean a jobs boost for Dereham - Capita says it would hope to expand its new department into a hub covering other outsourcing work in the south east and eastern regions.

But last night it took a special joint meeting of two of the council's committees, overview and scrutiny and audit, nearly four hours to make up their minds to endorse the deal, which will now go before the full council for a final decision.

Major concerns included the future of more than 50 staff currently in the department, access to planning officers for councillors concerned with local issues and maintaining quality of service.

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The ability of the firm to grapple with major local issues such as the new local plan and massive plans for Thetford and the potential additional costs this could have on top of the �35m proposed was also raised.

The possibility that rising workload for Capita could trigger costs increases - with no cap - yet cost decreases were capped at 10pc of the previous year's payment, was also raised.

However, Capita's representative, executive director David Spencer, said: 'There will be no cap on the profit or growth and on what the council can earn. If we expand it would be of benefit to us and Breckland. It is core business for us.'

He said he had been in talks with Breckland for two years over the deal and that he anticipated it could make a profit after about two years.

Councillors were told that some 56 staff at the council employed in the department would be transferred under a TUPE - Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 - arrangement to Capita and would continue to work at the council's premises on the edge of Dereham.

Bill Smith, portfolio holder for business transformation, said after the meeting that the deal was part of the council wanting to be more 'businesslike' and 'entrepreneurial'.

He added: 'We will monitor the cost of services. This is unique because it has savings and earnings and will enhance the quality of service.'

The contract, worth �35m at today's prices, according to a report to the full council next Thursday, has already been endorsed by the leading cabinet group.

A tendering process was held for the work, the only firm expressing an interest being Capita.

Formed in 1984, Capita Group, whose main work is with local government, reported a six-month turnover of �1,182m last year and now employs more than 32,000 people.

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