In a landmark political decision that will be noted by councils across Wales, Pembrokeshire County Council looks set to throw out plans to outsource local leisure services to a charitable trust. After dedicated campaigning by UNISON won over local politicians, all services are to remain under council control. In what is being described as a victory for local democracy, the trade union has said the move will safeguard over 400 jobs and protect community life in Pembrokeshire.
The council’s overview and scrutiny committee met last week and unanimously agreed to recommend to its cabinet that outsourcing not be pursued. The committee thanked UNISON for its presentation and the issues it had raised.
The council had paid London-based, private consultant Winckworth Sherwood, thousands of pounds to advise on how to save money by outsourcing of libraries, leisure centres, sports pitches, museums, archives and arts development, to a charitable trust. The move drew intense criticism from UNISON which said Winckworth did not have the interests of the local community at heart and transferring services out of democratic control would forever deny local people a say in how services are run.
UNISON used expert advice from the Association for Public Service Excellence to effectively demolish the council’s case, revealing no evidence the proposal was cheaper or more effective. The union also said the consultant would further gain financially from any decision to outsource.
UNISON led a very public campaign against outsourcing, even touring the Pembrokeshire County Show to obtain signatures to its petition.
UNISON branch secretary Janet Wyer said,
“Every step of the way, we said to the council, we know the pressures you are under because of severe UK Conservative cuts but outsourcing would deliver only short term savings and it would be calamitous for all those local services we all hold dear. If local services are under pressure, councils should work with staff and trades unions to find a solution.
“There is no place for private consultants advising councils to cut or outsource services. We know they deliberately paint a desperate picture of the council’s future in order to secure further work. Outsourcing would have failed the people of Pembrokeshire and local services are always best delivered by staff directly employed by the council.”