Controversial Thurrock Council contract may be axed

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THURROCK Council could be about to split with the company that provides many of its administrative services.

Officers have been instructed to look at the possibility of ending the contract with Serco after members of the authority’s Cabinet reviewed their financial situation at last week’s meeting.

They were debating a report which stated: “Cabinet reports over recent years have identified a number of savings requests that have been agreed with the contracted strategic services provider, but which have not been delivered.”

Cllr Richard Speight said: “We have talked before about the non-delivery of savings that Serco offered and here we are again – another high-risk saving that needs to be achieved in the coming year.

“We have talked many times at cabinet over this and the difficult decisions portfolio holders and officers have made regarding very vulnerable people and services that really need the spend – and certainly Serco have failed on many occasions to make the kind of savings they’ve agreed to do.”

Council Leader, Cllr John Kent agreed, saying: “I think we have pussy footed around long enough with Serco quite frankly. Officers and members have worked incredibly hard once again to deliver a balanced budget for next year, a budget that protects, as far as possible, the front line – we are making people redundant here, we are doing things that we really don’t want to do. Year in and year out we have challenged Serco to deliver savings and year in year out they have failed.

“We do have experience, with Morrison, of exiting failing contracts and I think I would move an additional recommendation that cabinet instructs officers to bring back a paper to us in March which explores all possible options regarding the future of the Serco contract up to and including termination – frankly I think it may well be time to say ‘Cheerio’ to Serco.”

Other members also complained of Serco’s lack of support and understanding of the Council’s position.

Cllr Lynn Worrall said: “I agree it is about time they go,” and Cllr Phil Smith added: “I think it is about time we did something about this.”

Cllr Victoria Holloway said: “I am delighted you have put in the points about Serco – we are trying to make really tough decisions, Serco make things difficult all of the time in regards to savings,” and Cllr Oliver Gerrish said: “I agree on the point made on Serco – everyone is making savings and they have to be seen to doing their part.”

After the meeting Thurrock Conservatives backed calls for Serco to start making savings or face losing the contract.

Tory Leader Rob Gledhill said: “The contract was signed at a time when councils were ending these partnerships because of restrictive contracts or performance failures. The advice given to councillors at the time was, as I understand, that it was an excellent deal for Thurrock and it would help it save money.

“I am sure back then no one could have predicted the austerity measures to help reduce the national deficit. I remember how difficult it was to get any savings from Vertex, now Serco, when I had cabinet responsibility for that area. Serco and Thurrock are supposed to working in partnership and they should be looking at sharing the requirement to make savings. It is about time Serco stepped up to the plate.”

Cllr Shane Hebb, Conservative spokesman for Corporate Service, said. “There is no doubt that Serco need to get in the game and start delivering. Thurrock as a whole has been patient with this contract, but enough is enough. Any act to hold Serco to account for their failures is welcome and supported all the way by Thurrock Conservatives.”

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