Unison studies model of partnership success

A partnership between Liver-pool City Council and BT to provide the local
authority’s HR and other services is being considered as a solution to union
concerns over private finance initiatives in the public sector.

Services have shown significant improvements and absenteeism plummeted since
1,200 council staff were seconded to the joint venture company Liverpool Direct
in April 2000.

The joint initiative is being studied by Unison, which has just published a
report highlighting its concerns about the use of the private sector to deliver
public services. It fears this creates two-tier workforces without improving

David McElhinney, chief executive of Liverpool Direct, believes one of the
main benefits of the initiative, which also delivers payroll, revenue, benefits
and IT services, lies in its inbuilt safeguards for staff. Seconded employees
remain employed by the council and retain their final salary pension.

Any Liverpool Direct employee can return to the council if they want and
will have their pay protected for two years regardless of their allocated role.

"Staff feel they are working in a secure environment and there are
benefits in both motivation and loyalty," said McElhinney.

Service improvements include a reduction in absenteeism of 60 per cent
across the council, the clearance of a 15-month backlog of revenue and benefit
claims and £1m in rent arrears recovered.

The £300m, 10-year initiative has also enabled the council to benefit from a
cutting edge ICT infrastructure. Much of the progress stems from Liverpool
Direct’s 225-seat call centre, being expanded to 500 next year. Call centre
staff turnover is only 2 per cent, possibly due to high salaries of £19,000.

Stephen Blakesley, Unison regional officer, said: "So far Liverpool
Direct is meeting its objectives and generally speaking, staff are

By Ben Willmott

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