Council U-turn on call centres

TOWN hall chiefs have pulled out of a deal which would have led to people in Accrington answering queries about council services in Lancaster.

Under the plans around 25 Lancaster City Council customer services staff would have been given the option of seconding to private company OneConnect and moving to its Accrington call centre.

OneConnect was formed in May 2011 by BT and Lancashire County Council in a deal worth at least £400m over 10 years.

The company, which has around 800 county council staff seconded to it, says it can save County Hall £100m and also deals with human resources and payroll.

But the Unison union had raised concerns about possible job losses, with the council having admitted that the contracts of four customer services staff which were due to end this year might not be renewed.

A council report had also warned that some staff may not want to move to Accrington, adding: “This, tied to a diminished need for specific types of work, will lead to a lesser need for employees in certain areas.”

But the call centre plan has now been scrapped. A new report to the council’s cabinet last week said: “Unfortunately, it has not proved possible to establish a cost model and contract period that works for all parties, given the level of investment that such a shared service would require.”

A further proposal which could have seen around 18 IT staff seconded to OneConnect, which would have provided IT services for the city and county councils, has also now been abandoned, with the council planning more work “to test out and clarify” its future IT strategy.

However, talks will continue with OneConnect over plans which would see city council staff delivering face to face services on behalf of both councils at Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls, plus arrangements for out of hours emergency call handling.

Clive Gregory, the council’s Unison union branch secretary, said: “We’re pleased because it means our members will still be employed by the city council and I understand the contracts of the four telephone staff will be renewed.

“We also feared for other jobs in the long term and the loss of the invaluable local knowledge of the existing staff.”