13:05 Friday 09 November 2012

Experts highlight flaws and risks in plans for schools


online newsTORY education chiefs’ plans for school support services are ‘substantially flawed’ and carry ‘serious avoidable risks’, independent experts have warned.

APSE Solutions, part of the Association for Public Service Excellence, slammed Staffordshire County Council’s proposals in a report commissioned by trade union Unison.

As previously revealed by the Mail, the council is planning to set up a joint venture to deliver services such as catering, cleaning and building maintenance to 400 schools, including those in Burton.

Bosses are considering a potential £4 billion, 20-year deal affecting 5,000 staff in a bid to ‘protect’ services they say are essential to giving pupils the best start in life.

But APSE’s report blasts the proposals by ruling the council’s business case for them ‘does not, in itself, make the case for the joint venture as the best available strategic option’.

“The joint venture, as proposed in the business plan, contains, in APSE’s opinion, substantial flaws that imply serious avoidable risks to the council and the Staffordshire community,” it says.

These risks are said to include a ‘highrisk’ growth strategy and a minority council shareholding.

“In this context, APSE considers the council’s legitimate and laudable objectives of good education, improved economic prospects and financial returns are endangered by the joint venture as proposed,” the report says.

It then goes as far as to say the risks are ‘so significant that existing provision compares favourably with the proposals set out in the business plan’.

APSE argues the council should determine the services’ future after identifying the best choice and holding ‘a transparent options appraisal’.

“Should a joint venture, following a visible option appraisal, still be considered the best available option, APSE considers the balance of risks and benefit can, and should, be moved significantly in favour of the council,” the report says.

The report says the authority should complete and/or publish a strategic options appraisal, if necessary pausing the joint venture procurement process.

Unison is due to meet council leader Philip Atkins today to present him with a copy of APSE’s report and to highlight the specialists’ and the union’s concerns.

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