Experiment was a disaster in New Zealand, claims former MP

SUFFOLK: No council in Britain has attempted to sell off all its services, but elsewhere in the world the experiment has been tried – and labelled a disaster.

At Queenstown in New Zealand, the council sold off its services around ten years ago and became an “enabling authority” with services privatised or transferred to other bodies.

Former Ipswich MP Chris Mole visited Queenstown with a parliamentary committee in 2004 – and the all-party group from Britain was unimpressed.

“We spoke to the business community there and they all told us the move had been a real disaster,” he said. “It was difficult to get things done and there was no real democratic accountability.”

Mr Mole said the problem when all services were sold off was that there was no yardstick to measure them by.

“When I was leader of the county council, there were changes to care homes and some were sold off.

“But there were always some which were retained, which set the standard we expected to see.

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“It also provides a safety net – if everything is sold off and one of the new contractors fails, who is going to pick up the pieces if you don’t have that service in house?”

However, new Tory MP Ben Gummer said the changes to the county council should be welcomed.

He said: “The county has to find better ways to spend smaller amounts of money – and if that money can be better spent by using voluntary organisations or other groups then that is good.

“In my constituency, there is an organisation providing very good children’s services for areas around the country. That is the kind of social enterprise the county should be looking at.”

He was not impressed by opposition from unions.

“I accept that Unison is trying to protect the jobs of its members – but they really should realise that the aim of councils is not to provide jobs. It is to provide the best possible services.”