Independent report questions legality of Derbyshire County Council’s proposed joint venture

An independent report has raised serious concerns about Derbyshire County Council proposals to set up a new company to provide cleaning and maintenance services to its buildings and schools in Derbyshire.

Under the plan, around 900 council staff would transfer to the new joint venture company Vertas (Derbyshire) Ltd. It is being set up with Suffolk Holdings Ltd, a company owned by Suffolk County Council.

But a report produced by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) questions whether the proposal complies with regulations that put a duty on councils to obtain “best value”.

The report, commissioned by UNISON, raises a number of issues about the financial viability of the company as well as concerns that money currently spent within Derbyshire might go elsewhere. The council will only have a minority share of the company.

Photo Credit: questmedianetwork

We are worried about the future employment terms of staff who are transferred.

The new company has announced it will not recognise unions for negotiations, nor does it intend to apply nationally agreed pay increases to which staff are entitled at present.

We think the only way for the new company to produce the profits expected by the council will be through job cuts or a worsening of staff employment conditions.

The report also criticises the lack of transparency in the decision-making process behind the joint venture and whether there has been sufficient public consultation and scrutiny to ensure it’s in the best interests of the community in the county.

We have formally written to the council to raise our concerns over the past three months but have not received any response.

UNISON East Midlands regional organiser Keith Libetta said:

“This report raises real concerns which the council must address in order to reassure the people of Derbyshire this proposal is in their interests.

“There are serious concerns for the future of the 900 staff who are effectively being sold off by the council, which appear to be washing its hands of any responsibility for them.

“This proposal appears to be a way for the council to gain income by sacrificing the rights and conditions of current employees. They are the ones who ultimately will be paying the cost.”

“Staff were originally to have been transferred to the new company with effect from 1 April this year but this has now been delayed to 1  September due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The transfer of staff and the creation of the joint venture company should be halted until a complete review of this decision is completed and proper answers to the important questions raised in the report are provided.”

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