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Swansea Council has asked ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) to intervene in the increasingly bitter IT strike which could potentially spread to the whole of the council.

One hundred IT staff are in the fifth week of industrial action against proposals to privatise the council's IT department as part of a £100m e-government initiative.

The decision to call in ACAS was taken after informal talks between Unison and the council failed to make any progress. Unison is holding a meeting this morning to discuss the proposal.

Said council leader Chris Holley: "The dispute is now in its fifth week, and, during that time, the council has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to Unison. The Council feels its proposals provide assurances for IT staff and Unison.

"However, in order to make progress, the Council believes the time is right for a third party to assist in resolving this dispute. The Council is determined to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible."

News that the council has called in ACAS comes as Unison begins sending out ballot papers today to 5,000 of its members at the council in support of the striking IT workers. If the vote gets the thumbs up it could see an escalation in industrial action and potentially cripple essential services in Swansea.

Separately, striking IT staff have accused the council of "completely unacceptable and unprofessional" conduct after a safe containing computer disks and tapes was left open. The safe - which contained personal and financial information regarding council tax and housing benefits - was left open to allow contractors to continue work while IT staff are on strike.

Said Unison in a statement: "This safe should never, under any circumstances, be left in this unsecured state."

The council says it will look into the matter although it insists that there was never any danger that the confidential data could fall into the wrong hands.

"There was no risk that the data contained on these discs could have been published. To suggest otherwise is misleading and scaremongering," said a spokesman.

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