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AVON STAFF CAUGHT IN JOINT SERVICES DELAY

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Hundreds of Avon CC staff are still awaiting news of their fate while unitary councils argue over joint arrangement...
Hundreds of Avon CC staff are still awaiting news of their fate while unitary councils argue over joint arrangements for running county-wide services.

Negotiations for joint arrangements to run education, social work and library services were described by the county's Unison branch deputy secretary, Steve Lamprey, as a shambles.

Members and officers have been unable to agree over which council should act as lead authority for the services, how costs should be charged to other councils and who will pay redundancy costs if the services fold.

The City and County of Bristol UA is likely to manage most of the joint arrangements but, because its standard spending assessment falls £33 million short of historical spending levels for the area, the city is wary of committing itself.

Mr Lamprey said: 'There are still staff sandwiched in between these discussions who don't know where they are going and what will happen to their careers.'

More than 30,000 county staff are due to transfer to new council jobs in the area, and a further 1,700 county staff are on the transfer list, but still unsure where they will transfer to or whether they will have jobs to go to.

Among the 1,700, some will be appointed to the jointly run services, including special schools, Bristol's music library and emergency social services.

Negotiations are holding up the transfer of all county staff, because until officers know how many unallocated staff will go to joint services, the others cannot be distributed to the new councils. And the unitaries cannot take on new staff until all the transfer details are finalised.

If no long-term, stable arrangements are made for joint services, Mr Lamprey said, 'as soon as staff are in them they'll be looking for jobs somewhere else and services will suffer'.

Proposals endorsed by all the districts and the DoE to set up a strategic planning team for the county area, put together when the Avon reorganisation was announced, have not been developed.

County planners who could have been appointed to the team are still unsure whether they will be needed, said Mr Lamprey. They are on the transfer list, and so unable to apply for new jobs in unitaries.

- Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth has announced he will be setting up an independent property commission to arbitrate in any disputes over the transfer of property to unitary authorities.

Mr Forsyth said he was encouraged that several councils had already begun work on property transfers. 'I am aware, however, that this process involves a huge property portfolio and will require careful negotiations and discussions,' he said.

'To prevent extended and damaging disagreements, an independent property commission will be given the task of settling disputes between councils.'

The arrangements for property transfers were drawn up in collaboration with local authorities and put out to consultation in July.

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