Business boss casts doubt on takeover

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Business bosses have warned council chiefs cannot count on its experts signing up to work for them.

Investment and job creation company Falkirk for Business was effectively ‘put out of business’ when Falkirk Council cancelled its contract last week and opted to go it alone.

The council claims staff will be “absorbed” to ensure it will be business as usual. But the chairman of the company has insisted that might not be the case.

Mr George Stevenson, who prepared an 11-page report challenging the thinking behind the council’s proposals to bring the service in-house, said: “The council does not currently have staff with the skills, qualifications and experience to deliver the range of services required. It makes the assumption that all FfB staff would transfer under TUPE, (Transfer of Undertaking Protection of Employment) or by recruitment. However, two advisors have already left and the likelihood is that only admin staff and perhaps two advisors would transfer as the rest are either not covered by TUPE or have no ambition to work within the public sector and are already seeking employment elsewhere.

“It should be clearly understood the governance model suggested as a way of maintaining strong links with the business community has been presented without any prior discussion with the private sector and as yet there is no indication as to how this would work.

“Without independence and accountability it is extremely unlikely that private sector people of the calibre required would give their time to participate in some sort of ‘advisory committee’. These types of committees are of no practical use whatsoever when it comes to governing and managing a business.

“Governance is critical to any organisation and building a strong and effective board has been fundamental to Falkirk for Business’s success. Because the company is independent, the board accepts they are accountable for performance, setting challenging goals, keeping the business focused and using their business contacts to encourage all businesses to engage with FfB.

“The assumption made in the council report that the performance delivered by an independent Falkirk for Business can not only be replicated in a council department but improved upon is seriously flawed. All of the existing private sector board members have made it absolutely clear that they see no role for themselves under this type of arrangement.”

Councillor Dennis Goldie, convener of Falkirk Council’s economic strategy and development committee that will oversee the work of the new Growth and Investment Unit, said: “We’re bringing together services that can deliver better results through a more joined-up approach. The new unit’s expertise will supplement the excellent track record of Falkirk for Business. We have set high performance targets which demonstrates our belief in the new arrangements and have every confidence these will be met or exceeded. In the current economic climate we have an obligation to ensure services are not duplicated and we get the best from the resources we have.”