IT staff at Bradford Council will not be outsourced to the private sector company that wins a £100m IT outsourcing contract due to be awarded in July, after the council agreed a last-minute deal with union officials.
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Unison officials hailed the agreement - which averts potentially crippling strike action - as “ground breaking”, and said it would pave the way for similar deals across local government.
Margaret Eaton, council leader at Bradford, said, “We are very pleased that, following extensive negotiations between the council, trade unions and the bidders for the 'Bradford i' ICT contract, an agreement has been reached that has averted the threat of industrial action.
“This agreement is not only good for staff but will also allow us to improve the service we provide to people across the Bradford district."
The agreement follows months of negotiations and was only achieved after Unison members among the council’s 135 IT staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, which would have taken place during February.
The staff wanted the option of continuing to work for the authority once the contract is awarded, or to be offered secondment to the successful private sector bidder, instead of the usual Tupe permanent transfer to the third party.
The council has given Unison a “cast iron assurance” that the IT outsourcing deal - known as Bradford-i - will only proceed on the basis of staff secondments, said Gurjit Singh, chairman of the Bradford Unison branch.
“It is time this council and other local authorities up and down the country start listening to staff concerns that privatisation is not the only way to secure the best deal in delivering key services to the publics,” he said. “This exercise has proved that services can continue to be delivered in-house jointly with a strategic partner.”
Partick Kerry, lead negotiator at Unison, said, “This agreement is ground breaking and will pave the way for other similar agreements elsewhere in the wider local government community.”
Unison will continue to negotiate with Bradford over specific details of the secondment agreement with both the council and the specific bidder. The three contenders for the 10-year, £100m contract are Atos KPMG, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and a joint bid from IBM and ITNet.
Roger Barber, senior consultant at outsourcing consultancy Morgan Chambers, said the dispute underlined the importance of winning staff support for an outsourcing deal from the outset.
“It shouldn’t have got to this stage in the first place - this highlights the importance of consultation and communication at the earliest possible stage, and this should be continuous,” he said.
Some local government IT staff have already been seconded to the private sector elsewhere in the UK. About 750 workers, including 200 IT professionals, were seconded to BT as part of Liverpool City Council’s joint venture deal with the telecoms firm, signed in 2001.