From November, Brighton and Hove city council will also start offloading services, but it appears to be taking a much more nuanced approach than Barnet council or Suffolk county council to the problem of how to manage its budget cuts. The Tory-led council approved proposals in April that will see it focus on being an "intelligent commissioner" rather than automatically provide services itself. It says that even without central government funding cuts, it must save £45m by 2013-14.
"This new structure aims to deliver quality and innovation that squeezes out cost, duplication and looks for opportunities to collaborate with others both inside and outside the council and the city to share costs," a council spokesman said. Outsourcing is due to start in November and the intention is that the restructuring will be complete by next June. But the authority is clear that many services will still be provided in-house.
There is also an emphasis on social enterprises and voluntary organisations. The decision to outsource will only be taken if a service can be provided more efficiently and effectively, ideally by the voluntary sector. While some services may be transferred to the private sector, the council wants the reorganisation to enable the third sector to have more influence over local services, including by running more of them.
"Our aim is to deliver efficient and effective services that are designed around residents' needs. As part of this we will utilise joint working with a range of partners where it's identified as providing a better customer experience and improved efficiency. Where it is appropriate we will harness the expertise held by the city's vibrant civic society under the new structure," the spokesman said.
"Previous periods of public service financial restraint have impacted disproportionately across communities. At times those with the greatest needs have lost out relative to others. The active promotion of individuals and communities in the commissioning process, and in community engagement and civic life more generally is designed to strengthen the voices, improve outcomes for and empower some of the city's most disadvantaged residents and communities," the council said in cabinet papers.
By "commissioning at the local level" and through "the active promotion of the city's third sector", the council believes it will "maximise the chances of addressing inequality" in everything it commissions. But the Green party's 13 councillors have withdrawn support for the restructuring. "We accept chief executive John Barradell's good intentions in wishing to reorganise the way the council works," said Bill Randall, Green party convenor at the council. "However, we believe the proposals would provide a platform for service cuts and the privatisation of services at a time when a Conservative government is cutting budgets and services with relish and beyond necessity."
The authority will scrap its existing six directorates (such as adult services, children & young people) and replace them with a "strategic leadership board". Four new strategic directors have just been appointed, who will implement the new strategy. They replace five departmental directors. A "strategic commissioning unit" will be created, responsible for commissioning all local services from adult and children's services, to community safety, transport, economic development, housing, planning and regeneration, schools, skills and learning, and waste. The unit will decide whether services should be provided inhouse or transferred to the voluntary or private sectors.
Once commissioned, services will be run by "delivery units", who have direct responsibility for providing that service to the authority's customers, residents, businesses and visitors. The delivery units could comprise inhouse, private sector or voluntary teams. But Randall said this new structure would erode democratic accountability and the quality of local services. "We fear the outsourcing of services would remove them far from the democratic control of elected councillors, result in poorer public services and lead to reduced working conditions and pay for employees."