PEOPLE in the Forest could see changes to how vital services are run with councillors calling for a review of a publicly-owned company.

Publica is a not-for-profit firm owned by Cotswold, Forest of Dean, and West Oxfordshire District Councils and Cheltenham Borough Council.

Set up in 2017 to share resources, deliver more for residents and businesses while reducing costs, it runs council services meaning the district or borough council doesn’t have to administer them.

Of all the services run by those authorities the only one it doesn’t do is the bin and recycling collections.

But recent comments by Cotswold District Council leader Joe Harris saying his authority faces difficult financial decisions due to funding cuts has spooked civic chiefs in the Forest of Dean.

An opposition councillor on the Forest of Dean District Council wants to see an immediate enquiry to examine the option of withdrawing services from Public and bringing them in-house.

Councillor Bernie O’Neill (Progressive Independents, Ruspidge) said the previous cabinet –  which he formed part of – asked for a review of Publica, this has been superseded by events, he said.

“As Publica’s key partner and joint owner, any financial concerns facing Cotswold District Council will affect the Forest of Dean Council,” his motion reads.

“There appear to be discussions on Publica service provision between certain members and key officers going on behind the scenes.

“It is time to be more open and honest for the sake of the council, Publica employees and the public.

“A review of Publica service provision was requested by the previous administration.

“We now move that following the Cotswolds leaders’ comments and to offer transparency and certainty to those that we employ while facing up to harsh financial realities.”

His proposal says the investigation should provide councillors with full financial implications and or opportunity for such a decision and must include all members.

“It should also include representatives of staff. It must also be open, transparent, and open to the public and streamed online.

“It is time to address the issue frankly, to put a stop to whispering campaigns and the personal agendas or views of individual councillors and instead have an open discussion and make the right decision for our employees and the council.”

Cllr O’Neill said the council was looking to have discussions over Publica and plans for the future.

“That’s been superseded by the fact that what’s happening in the Cotswolds has worried us a little bit,” he said.

“We’ve also heard Cheltenham Borough Council are taking their housing back in-house.

“These are partners of ours and if they start to chip away at what Publica are doing then we need to consider the position.

“That’s what it’s about. We don’t want to be left as the council with the biggest amount. We don’t want to be the only ones surviving and therefore have a big bill to pay.

“We’d rather get to the bottom of it now.”

Cllr O’Neill said he had concerns over Publica before it started. “The whole idea was that it was going to save money,” he said.

“That’s fine but what we’re worried about is to what extent that has a knock on effect to our services.

“We are asking for a review into Publica to see if it applies to the council in 2023/24. Could it be better now taking facilities and services back into council control?”

Conservative councillor Alan Preest (C, Lydney East) said the motion is a good idea and will be supporting it.

“I was never in favour of Publica and I don’t think people in the Forest of Dean, who are paying more council tax than ever, are getting the same level of service.

“We are not localised enough. It’s too far afield.”

Publica bosses messaged staff to allay concerns over the motion which is due to be debated in Coleford on October 19.

Managing director Jan Britton said there is already a review underway and that they welcome these as a good thing to look at how they can improve services.

He said if there is an agreement for an open review ino how Publica works at the Forest of Dean they would support it and would welcome the open and honest conversation in the spirit of doing what’s best for the partners, residents and staff.

Mr Britton also said they would be following the council debate and do not know how it will play our or what will be agreed.

He assured staff they would be informed if there are any implications for them.