Fears ICT changes are the next step to SBC oblivion

A top trade union official has forecast the end of Scottish Borders Council following the revelation that 80 technical staff jobs could be switched to Edinburgh.

Employees in the information and communications technology (ICT) service at the local authority were briefed on Tuesday on the findings of a comprehensive review, which The Southern understands to have been carried out by experts from the City of Edinburgh Council.

The most controversial aspect of the review is that, while ICT staff at SBC were found to be dedicated and hard working, the service was deemed as basically no longer fit for purpose and the council would benefit more from a joint arrangement with City of Edinburgh Council that would see 80 Borders ICT staff outsourced to a support company provider.

A council insider claimed: “The upshot of the review is that 80 SBC staff are to be outsourced to the company, which is still to be selected, to provide IT services for Edinburgh, and the remainder are to be merged with/managed by Edinburgh.

“Those at the meeting were told that none of the current issues are the fault of the 80 technical staff, but it is the technical staff that are being shown the door and management staff are staying and numbers increased – some justice.

“Ultimately, 80 local staff are being shown the door, as after a year, they will be outwith TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings] protection and no doubt will have to move out of the area to retain their jobs with a large organisation or face redundancy.

“The Edinburgh ICT strategy aims to spend a fair amount of the £20million they spend on IT, in their local economy – this move is taking money from the Borders economy and transferring it to Edinburgh. And this is what will be going to council [SBC] as private business at the start of April to be rubber-stamped.”

Asked to comment, an SBC spokesperson told us: “We have undertaken a review of our current ICT arrangements. On April 2, a private report will be presented to council and we should be able to provide a statement on the proposals thereafter.

“As always, staff and the trades unions have been briefed ahead of the report being considered by council.”

However, Tony Trench, regional industrial officer for the Unite union which represents local authority ICT staff, says there was real anger after the briefing.

“Our members were understandably furious yesterday and many were asking the question whether this is the thin end of the wedge that could actually be the next step to an independent Borders local authority vanishing altogether and being subsumed by Edinburgh,” said Mr Trench.

“First, the council’s housing function disappeared; then we have an arms-length care organsation (ALEO) and now the propsect of 80-odd IT jobs shipped out in October.

“We are always against this kind of thing. With the ALEO we were told that everything would remain the same with no changes, yet that clearly wasn’t true.”

Mr Trench said the union is concerned about what will happen to any employees who find their jobs outsourced by the council.

He explained yesterday: “Whenever such services get taken over, there’s often renegotiation of terms and conditions eventually.

“They’d probably lose having final-salary pension arrangements for a start.

“ That’s why we always advocate such services remain in-house with local authorities.

“The problem here is that ICT staff have not been given the right tools for the job.

“SBC has some of the best IT people around, but they simply haven’t been given the tools they need to do the job.”

City of Edinburgh Council’s 15-year outsourcing arrangement with BT for IT services is due to end in 2016.

And it was revealed early last year that the capital’s authority wanted to find a new IT service provider in a deal that could be worth up to £2billion.

In August, Government Computing network website reported that eight ICT suppliers had been invited to participate in competitive dialogue in the next stage of the project.

The eight were Agilisys, Atos, BT, Capita, CGI, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin UK and SERCO.