Council IT staff play waiting game

Laptop Computer (for Interactive Supplement)

Laptop Computer (for Interactive Supplement)

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Anxious IT staff at Scottish Borders Council were told this week they have six months to prove their jobs should not be outsourced to a private company based in Edinburgh.

Councillors were due to be asked to approve the move, recommended in a recent review and involving around 80 full-time employees, next Thursday (April 2) with the transfer to take place in October.

But an open meeting in Galashiels on Monday of around half that workforce – members of the Unite and GMB unions – heard that the timescale had been revised following talks between union officers and SBC chief executive Tracey Logan on Friday.

“You have been given six months to prove you can deliver,” Tony Trench, Unite’s regional industrial officer, told the meeting.

Referring to the previous week’s mass protest meeting and a petition demanding the services remain in-house, Mr Trench said: “This has only happened because you have had the nerve to stand up and say this is not on and that Borders jobs must stay in the Borders and certainly not go to a private company which can offer no long term guarantees about your future.

“It is the position of Mrs Logan that you have made promises about what can be achieved and she wants you now to step up to the mark.”

He urged IT staff to “fully participate” in working groups which he said Mrs Logan had agreed to set up to discuss ways of improving the service over the next six months, but he cautioned: “You have won a battle but you have not yet won the war.”

A review, commissioned by SBC, concluded the department should be outsourced to a firm which will principally service the IT needs of the City of Edinburgh Council.

While the news of the six month delay received a qualified welcome, the feeling of mistrust towards senior management at SBC was palpable at Monday’s meeting, not least over Ms Logan’s alleged edict that the affected workers must not discuss the issue with councillors.

There was also concern that, in the absence of clear guidelines from management about what was required of them, six months would not be long enough to make their case.

One member of staff stated: “There has been a recruitment freeze in IT which means we have become 15% understaffed since last August. Even if this freeze is lifted it will not be easy to recruit staff quickly enough to turn things round. We need the tools to do the job.”

A council spokesperson said yesterday: “A decision ‘in principle’ to potentially outsource part of ICT services will still be made on April 2 following the presentation of a private report.

“If approved by council, it is expected further detailed work will be carried out following April 2, including staff workshops, before a further decision on a detailed implementation plan is made by councillors in October.

“That detailed implementation plan will assess the value for money case for any decision to outsource services or any part of services.”