We had a long, long cabinet meeting last night – over three and half hours. The meeting was dominated by discussion of whether or not we should outsource our Civil Enforcement Officers, these are the people that we used to call traffic wardens. See paper here.
About 30 of these staff turned up to hear what was going on. Previously they had been protesting outside the town hall chanting “In-house, in-house”. I went to talk to them outside before the meeting but it was hard to find actual CEOs amongst the union reps, Socialist Worker sellers and other hangers-on.
Frankly these staff have had every right to feel neglected over the last few years and we all understand why they would like to stay where they are for the time being. When the Conservatives took over in 2006 the parking contractor which employed them was called Vinci and the nature of the contract they had struck with the previous administration, which incentivised them to give out more tickets, caused us to review this contract and award it to Apcoa. Since then the council has given out about 2/3rds of the tickets it used to.
Apcoa pulled out of this business at very short notice at the end of 2008 leaving us in a bit of a bind and we bought these staff in-house temporarily. We have now come to the end of an exhaustive process of evaluating potential providers of this style of service and last night we decided to go with the market leader NSL. It is very understandable that the staff do not like the prospect of working for the fourth employer in four years and losing the possibility of having their terms and conditions harmonised with those of other council employers which would mean that ultimately they had to work fewer hours to earn the same income.
Unison rep Adam Smith (unfortunate name for a man of the left!) spoke very well on behalf of the CEOs who would have liked the service to remain in house. He talked about how this is “not a broken service”. I agree with him and I, and the rest of the cross party parking specialist scrutiny panel, agreed with him in spring 2008 when the CEOs were being managed by Apcoa. The panel’s report, see here, made 17 recommendations to cabinet as to how to improve the parking service but not one of them concerned CEOs. Our parking service still has a way to go before we can say we have put it right but for some time now the main focus of improvement has not been the people on the streets. It is in the back office, where we do the admin and consider appeals, where there is still work to be done.
Outsourcing the CEOs lets us keep focussed on the tasks that still need to be done. This is a good deal for the council as it ensures that this task is undertaken by a large and capable contractor and it is a good deal for staff who will be working for a market leading company that will give them good opportunities for training and progression which we can’t at the council.