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Strike threat in Brum

Huge roads deal hits more trouble as workers ballot over pay and conditions fears

THE TROUBLED £2.2 billion PFI deal to hand maintenance of Birmingham's roads to the private sector has been threatened with strike action by council workers.

Members of engineering union Amicus in Birmingham City Council's 1,000-strong highways, street lighting and maintenance department will hold a ballot next week.

The workers are protesting against plans to outsource repairs to private contractors.

Union leaders fear the move will lead to deterioration in terms and conditions.

Amicus national officer for local authorities John Allot said: 'We are opposing the forced transfer of employment of our members to the private sector. We do not believe their terms and conditions of employment will be safeguarded in the private sector and we want Birmingham City Council to investigate other options.' The strike threat is the latest blow to the council's plan for the largest PFI roads maintenance deal in the country.

The deal had been delayed by a series of inter-party wrangles as political power changed at the council.

Fou r consor t ia were f inally shortlisted for the scheme in April. But supporters of the privatisation suffered a setback earlier this month when Balfour Beatty pulled out following the withdrawal of its partner, Mouchel Parkman.

The move left Amey, Atkins/ EDF Energy and Birmingham Street Services (Vinci, Amec and Laing O'Rourke) to fight it out for the 25-year contract.

The successful bidder will be set a seven-year deadline to remove a £170 million repairs backlog.

Mr Allot said: 'We do not believe the privatisation of essential services such as these is in the best interests of the people of Birmingham.' One bidder said: 'It is obviously not an easy prospect to assimilate the labour force on a project such as this, which has been fraught with difficulties.

'It is conceivable that the council could work with the bidding team and create incentives for the labour force into the bid.'