County chiefs urged to give power to the people

COUNTY chiefs were urged last night to hand power to community groups rather than profit-making organisations when the shake-up of public services gets under way.

COUNTY chiefs were urged last night to hand power to community groups rather than profit-making organisations when the shake-up of public services gets under way.

As revealed yesterday, Suffolk County Council is planning to outsource much of its work in a bid to cut its huge overheads.

Instead of directly providing services such as social care and education, it will aim to buy them in or help create an environment in which they can be run by other groups or charities.

The move was last night welcomed by campaigners, but they called on the county council to ensure the power-shift was conducted in the best interests of the community.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, which aims to tackle the economic, social and environmental needs in communities, said giving control to local groups would have the best long-term benefit.

He said: 'This (reform) could give lots of opportunities for people to do things differently, but the danger is that it may not be Suffolk-based organisations that benefit.

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'There may be a tendency by the county council to go for very large contractors when they are tendering out because they don't want to manage a range of smaller providers.

'Local organisations are passionate about their area and their people. That's why they get into it in the first place and why it is an important factor for the long-term.

'Big companies may only be in it for as long as that contract is profitable.'

Jonathan Moore, chief executive of the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations (SAVO), said he 'commended' the council for addressing the funding crisis.

'There is a severe depression in the amount of expenditure available and there is a strong argument for shifting some of the responsibility to communities or individuals,' he said.

'But there is a great danger it could slip into a regime of political change and not into the interests of services or the vulnerable.

'It would mean a much more mature reform involving commissioning and ongoing support rather than the model of divesting where you issue a contract every year or so. This requires a longer-term vision.'

Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke hinted yesterday that he was keen to work with local groups when he cited Age Concern Suffolk as an example.

He said: 'There are some very good organisations out there we can work with to provide services. If you look at adult social care, look at the great work done by Age Concern.

'We could work with them to provide more care in the area - there are many more examples like that.'

Age Concern Suffolk already gets funding for various projects from the county council, including helping to run day care centres, befriending services and home visits.

Chief executive Daphne Savage said the charity ready to 'step up to the plate' if the need arose.

She said: 'We are prepared to have any discussions with the county council about what they intend to do.'

In its bid to become an 'enabling' authority, the council could shed up to 4,000 jobs, leaving only around 500 to act as contract managers.

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