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IT staff and officials at Swansea Council could be heading for a showdown over plans to bring in a private company to help run the city's new e-government project.

Described as the largest e-government project in Wales, Service@Swansea is set to overhaul the way the council interacts with local people.

As part of the scheme, the council is to create a new call centre handling incoming calls. It also plans to introduce easy-to-reach contact centres where residents can deal face-to-face with staff. The project is also expected to deliver around £3m in efficiency savings each year.

Swansea Council is seeking a private sector partner to inject investment, expertise and experience. Two companies, ITNet and Cap Gemini, have been short-listed and are currently preparing their bids.

Both companies are to submit plans that would include the council's 100 or so IT staff remaining in-house - or being transferred to the company concerned.

This has raised concerns at public sector union, UNISON. No-one from UNISON was available for comment at the time of writing. However, regional organiser, Jeff Baker told The Western Mail that he has lobbied councillors over the plans but was unable to rule out possible industrial action.

"It could be we will ballot our IT members on possible industrial action," he told the paper.

But the council said IT staff have nothing to fear from the plans which, it maintains, will not result in the loss of any jobs. A spokesman: "The project will provide enhanced career opportunities for our IT staff who will develop their expertise and skills.

"None of the proposals being considered will result in IT staff losing their job. They will either remain in-house or will transfer to a private partner with their terms, conditions and pension legally protected under TUPE [Transfer of Undertaking - Protection of Employment].

"Other Councils which have gone down this route have seen huge benefits for residents and staff," he said.

In February, a proposed strike among IT workers in Bradford was averted following the successful completion of "extensive negotiations" between the council and UNISON.

Bradford Council's 100 or so IT staff were due to strike over plans to privatise the authority's IT department. Instead, they ditched their industrial action after winning assurances that staff would not be transferred to the eventual winner of the £100m, ten-year IT services contract to privatise the council's IT department. ®

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