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Borough's adult services staff to be transferred to private company

Hundreds of Royal Borough staff who deliver the council's adult services are set to be transferred to a private company next year.

Optalis, which is owned by neighbouring Wokingham Borough Council, delivers adult services to that council and is set take on 301 Royal Borough staff in April next year.

The Royal Borough will spend £771,302 of its reserve cash on purchasing a 45 per cent stake in Optalis, and will need to use an extra £200,000 from its development fund to hire temporary project managers to help put the plan together.

Wokingham will own the other 55 per cent of the company, but the Royal Borough intends to buy the extra five per cent by April 2019 for £85,700.

The plans will be discussed for approval separately by both the Royal Borough cabinet and Wokingham’s executive on Thursday, October 27.

Optalis, which employs 450 people, was founded by Wokingham in 2011 and is a private limited company.

Its profits will be paid out to both councils, and though in theory they could be spent on something other than adult services, Cllr David Coppinger (Co, Bray), cabinet member for adult services and health, said he could only envisage it being spent in that area.

He said: “Nothing is changing. It is the same people, the same line managers.”

He explained the move will allow the councils to retain quality staff, and improve efficiency at a time pressure on costly adult services is increasing.

He added: “It is great news we are all living longer, but there is a downside.”

The money was available to buy the stake in Optalis, he said, and there would be no cuts or asset sales to pay for it.

Adult safeguarding, which regulates the services and will monitor Optalis in the borough, will remain part of the council as it is a statutory responsibility.

The Royal Borough and Wokingham already share legal and auditing services.

However, Cllr Lynne Jones (IND, Old Windsor), said while she supported the idea, she wanted more information so see if Optalis ‘was a viable company’.

She said: "We have problems recruiting in this area, I can’t believe Optalis don’t have the same difficulties."

Wokingham leader Cllr Keith Baker insisted Optalis was viable. He said: “By working together we stop competing for the same resources.”

If the plans are approved, both councils will appoint three councillors to Optalis’s board who will meet regularly to oversee company strategy.

Optalis uses a two-tier board structure, and a separate board, below the appointed councillors, will manage the day-to-day running of the company.

Senior officers from the Royal Borough’s adult services team, including the deputy director, Angela Morris, will join that board.

Most of the borough's adult services staff will remain in York House where they are currently based.

Their terms and conditions of employment will remain the same when they transfer, though Cllr Jones expressed her concern about ‘how long’ some of their benefits, such as expenses, would last at Optalis.

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