Can a price be put on public health protection and Environmental Health services?

North Tyneside Metropolitan Council has set a precedent by becoming the first council to outsource its environmental health services to a private company. Capita Symonds has been selected as ‘the preferred bidder’ in a deal worth an estimated £152 million over the next 15 years.

In a press release dated 14th August 2012, North Tyneside Council stated ‘the council’s change efficiency and improvement programme set the organisation a target of achieving £47million of efficiencies over 4 years to meet the challenge of having 28% less resources in a changing global economic environment’. Although the council did discuss the options of a shared service with a neighbouring authority it would have resulted of a loss of over 300 jobs and would not have reached the required financial target needed, so this was quickly ruled out as an option.

In November 2011 objectives were set and the hunt was on to find the ‘best partner’ for the council that would deliver their expectations and ultimately reduce the number of job losses, while meeting the intended targets and criteria.

Capita Symonds is set to take over services once the contracts have been formally signed. The contract will be for an initial term of ten years with the possibility of extending it by a further five years should the partnership prove profitable and deliver the council’s expectations and performance criteria targets.

Three hundred and thirty five staff from the environmental health service division will keep their jobs, with a further 58 seconded to enable the council to fulfill its statutory duties.
Capita Symonds estimates that the partnership will present opportunities for the whole community by aiding growth, development and job creation for the future. They expect to deliver “at least £41 million in savings to the council.”

Graham Jukes, Chief Executive of the CIEH said, “The model being adopted in North Tyneside is groundbreaking and not without political disagreement. I am pleased that Capita Symonds is working with the CIEH to maintain professional competencies”.

Worryingly, outsourcing could indicate the starting point of environmental health services being on the road to privatisation. The budget expectations on council services are proving almost impossible to achieve and, as a result, outsourcing is seen as the only option. Although the safeguarding of jobs is a positive outcome from this partnership, concerns are being raised over the efficiency and accuracy of environmental health inspection and enforcement in the future.

The loss of in-house environmental health services could dramatically reduce the public’s communication with their council and result in the loss of reporting of issues that could be of public health significance.

Although this move by North Tyneside council has been conducted with the interests of job security and the community firmly in mind only time will tell if this out-sourcing precedent will be a success.