THE days of a local person answering the phone when someone calls the council could soon be coming to an end.
Council chiefs are considering outsourcing some staff at the Worcestershire Hub’s call centre – which answers calls to Worcester city, Worcestershire county, Malvern Hills and Wychavon district councils.
They are keen to stress that no decision has yet been made about the future of the service, with one option some staff could be transferred to a new 'Centre of Excellence' created in Wychavon.
The revelation has left the hub’s 50 call takers fearing for the future of their jobs. At the moment they answer thousands of calls on issues such as potholes, council tax, school admissions and benefits.
Now council chiefs in Wychavon are inviting “expressions of interest” in running aspects of the service.
The announcement, which was revealed to workers on Thursday, came just two days after Worcestershire County Council admitted every service was being examined to see if it can be hived off to outside organisations.
Bosses are trying to save at least £90 million by 2015/16 and are hoping some areas can be commissioned out to get people off the wage bill.
The contact centre is based in Perry Wood Walk in Worcester and was swamped with 677,000 calls last year, the highest figure since the hub launched in 2009.
The reason for the shake-up is because Wychavon District Council is exploring options for the future of the revenues and benefits service, which it manages on behalf of councils in south Worcestershire.
The contact centre also takes calls from the revenue and benefits customers, and bosses say it is “likely call handling for this service” will be included in any changes.
Rachel Hill, County Hall’s head of customer services, said: “The Worcestershire Hub shared service deals with customer enquiries over the phone and in person on behalf of the South Worcestershire revenues and benefits service.
“It is likely that call handling for this service will be included within the scope of this work.
“Whilst this would impact on staff in the Worcestershire Hub Shared Service, no member of staff has been placed at risk and details regarding the changes, when they may occur and the impact are not yet available.”
The move has prompted warnings staff must be protected from any potential handover.
Councillor Adrian Gregson, the leader of Worcester’s Labour group, said: “The danger is that in the rush to save money the service could plummet – we don’t want to see that, nor do we want to see any cuts in numbers.”
Councillor David Thain, the county council’s cabinet member responsible for the workforce, said: “We will look at all options to improve services over the next few years.”