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Council Contract Loss Threatens Jobs

MORE THAN 100 workers in Wigtownshire are facing uncertainty over their future after Dumfries and Galloway Council lost a £37 million housing maintenance contract.

The local authority’s Combined Services offer was knocked back by social landlords Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership (DGHP).

Now 600 Combined Services jobs across the region are under threat. The five-year contract went out to tender among firms across the UK to ensure best value.

Combined Services were maintaining 10,600 DGHP homes, which included property repairs, grass-cutting and central heating maintenance.

But Connaught of Surrey in South-East England won the multi-million pound contract, and will take over in April.

Meanwhile the region’s Combined Services has been forced to reassess its future after losing an important function.

DGHP will meet Combined Service boss Geoff Lewis on Thursday (today) to explain why his bid was rejected.

UNISON, which represents council staff, said losing the contract was bad news for the council, its workers and the wider economy.

Marion Stewart of the local branch said: “Redundancies in the future cannot be ruled out because losing the contract was such a big blow to Combined Services — it’s such a big part of their work. “Will it still be viable after this?”

Mrs Stewart said 140 staff will be transferred over under TUPE regulations, but she feared they might have to sign new terms and conditions.

She said: “We will be trying to make sure that new terms and conditions are not drawn up when workers are transferred, it has happened in the past.”

The local economy, Mrs Stewart said, would be losing potential profits from a lucrative contract.

She said: “These private contractors are not local so any profits will be going out of the local economy into the pockets of contractors from Southern England.

“When tenants of DGHP voted for housing maintenance to be externalised they never thought for one moment it would result in such a loss to the economy.

“It would be a bad situation if profits from this contract went to firms outside the region instead of generating money inside the council which could then be put back into service delivery.”

A council spokesman said: “We are very disappointed that DGHP has not awarded these contracts to the council, after many years of sterling service by its dedicated workforce.

“But it is important to stress that 140 local authority employees involved in the work across Dumfries and Galloway are protected by TUPE regulations, and we will be discussing the transfer arrangements with the new contractors as a matter of urgency to ensure a smooth transfer for April.”

DGHP spokesman Mick Higgins said the housing association was obligated by law to take best deal.

He said: “DGHP are committed to maximising local employment opportunities where possible and crucially to ensuring we achieve best value and continuous improvements to the services we provide for our tenants.”

The Labour Group in Dumfries and Galloway Council said it was now demanding answers as to why the council failed to secure the contracts? They held an emergency meeting with Geoff Lewis on Monday to discuss the devastating blow.

Following the meeting, the Leader of the Labour Group Ronnie Nicholson said: “We should be in no doubt that the decision by DGHP to award these contracts to a company out with the region is a devastating blow to the local economy and could have huge implications for the workforce in Dumfries and Galloway Council.

“That is why the Labour Group is demanding answers.

“We will be seeking clear evidence that the council’s bid for the contract was completely robust and that the process followed by DGHP in awarding the contract was fair.”

Stranraer councillor Willie Scobie said when the workers were transferred the council would lose a skilled workforce.

He said: “I would hope that the council would mitigate any potential loss and look for alternative sources to keep these dedicated workers with the council.”

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