TRADE unions say they were ‘not even given a fighting chance’ to save a town hall department from being outsourced.

UNISON and GMB members claim they have been ‘made scapegoats’ after council bosses agreed to transfer the Corporate Property Services department, which manages and maintains the council’s property assets, to the private sector.

The plans, which were approved by the council’s cabinet on Monday, will result in the equivalent of 16.2 staff being transferred to outside companies, while a head of service and four officer positions will remain within the town hall. Three staff have opted to take retirement but nobody in the 22-strong department — which currently has 12 vacancies — will face redundancy.

Union chiefs have expressed concerns that, less than 18 months ago, they were assured that a review of the department had helped to safeguard its in-house future.

But council bosses say that ‘every attempt’ has been made to make the service work in that time.

In a letter sent to councillors on Monday, the unions said: “We are of the view that the report on which you based your decision to consult painted an inaccurate picture of the service and was skewed in favour of outsourcing the service.

“The service was reviewed less than 18 months ago. Despite our protestations at the time that it was not fit for purpose we were not even given a fighting chance to make it work as the vacant posts were not filled.

“We believe that we have been set up to fail and made scapegoats for past management failings.

“Though management spent six months developing the proposals to outsource the service, we were given just 30 days to respond; our request for an extension refused.”

They also accused the council of failing to follow its own procedures, saying staff ‘have not been involved’.

However, Bolton Council director of place Stephen Young said the council has ‘absolutely’ followed the correct procedures and had engaged in ‘open and transparent’ communication with staff and unions.

He added: “We have made every attempt to make the service work but, due to several factors, this has not proved possible.”

Mr Young said that the department had struggled to recruit staff and its work was already delivered to a large extent by the private sector. He also said the council never had any plan to outsource the work only to construction firm Carillion, as unions had feared. The unions argued that Carillion has a long history of blacklisting workers.

Councillors have suggested three separate tenders being put out for the department’s work.

A Bolton Labour spokesman added: “We are in the second phase of consultation and discussions with staff are ongoing. It’s worth bearing in mind that Bolton is the last council in Greater Manchester to look at how we manage our extensive maintenance contacts, which look after many of our local schools and public buildings.

“These are already being carried out through contracts we have will local businesses and tradesmen.

“The partnership agreement that we are looking at does mean that the council will have far more influence than simply outsourcing the service.”