Cost-cutting council to axe jobs

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:58 11/04/2014

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More jobs could go at the Nelson City Council as the organisation looks at outsourcing parts of its information management department.

The council could not confirm how many jobs will be lost, but chief executive Clare Hadley said of 12 positions in the information management team six positions may be disestablished, five created, five reconfirmed, and one reassigned.

Last year the council completed a reorganisation which resulted in 49 positions being disestablished - with 18 staff made redundant, 22 staff accepting alternate positions and nine vacant roles axed. It took effect on October 14 with a reduced senior management team and its parking operations contracted out.

It then began a review of its administration and information management.

Hadley said the council spent about $4.5 million a year on information technology, but the proposed changes were not about saving money, but "ensuring council makes the right choices and the right investments in technology to ensure they support business outcomes".

Public Service Association Nelson organiser Mike Cunliffe has made a submission to the council asking it to reconsider its position. The PSA said it strongly opposed outsourcing when the decision was being made on bias rather than fact.

"In the current proposal no costings have been provided to support the business case for outsourcing. The current justification for outsourcing is based on assumption and a personal bias that the private sector can deliver better services than an in-house council business unit can.

The PSA believes this argument is based on ideology rather than fact. There is no intrinsic reason why council cannot run its information management services efficiently once a clear focus is achieved," he said.

Hadley said outsourcing work would allow "the day-to-day support services to be available to staff without interruption" and that using external experts for short, but intense periods of time would be more efficient with certain projects.

"We need a dynamic, flexible, and responsive way to manage our information technology. It will mean an improved level of service will be provided in a different way. The intensive nature of launching a new software package or analysing a system upgrade can be the focus of an external project manager while our team focuses on serving internal customers," she said.

Cunliffe said services outsourced often ended up being brought back in-house. "Whilst NCC continues to outsource services such as parking and information management, other authorities are bringing services back in house. This is true of Wellington where parking has been brought back in house," he said.

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The PSA also noted how outsourcing could lead to a loss for the local economy if the contract went to an operator outside the region.

The union wrote that while it recognised restructures were sometimes needed in this case the outsourcing and resulting redundancy which should go "hand in hand with restructure plans" was "overlooked" and in isolation from an overall restructure of the council.

The PSA was also concerned about the loss of institutional knowledge for the council due to staff cuts and Cunliffe said the PSA struggled to see how the cuts measured up against the council's commitment to long-term sustainability as outlined in "Nelson 2060", which states "no one stands alone - we are all connected as part of a living system. Our strategy acknowledges this and asks us to all work together to create a future we all want".

"It is difficult to equate this aspiration in the broad brush approach NCC takes to closing services, outsourcing, and redundancy none of which favour its citizens, or its stated aim of achieving a sustainable community," he said.

Hadley recognised the stress it was putting on the workforce, but said she had not yet made a final decision.

"Any change of this nature is going to be difficult for staff and disruptive to their work and lives. I'm proposing a pretty significant change to the way council delivers information technology. We've taken many months to work through it. The downside is staff with information management responsibilities would be adversely affected, I acknowledge that. I know it's been a very tough time and we've offered support to help them," she said.

- Nelson

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