COUNCIL workers in Worcestershire could be sent on visits to private companies to learn about "profit and loss" as more services are handed to new providers.

The suggestion has been made by the incoming chief executive of Worcestershire County Council, who says staff will need to be more commercially focused in the years ahead.

Clare Marchant, who is taking over the top job from Trish Haines in June, spent over an hour outlining her vision to a panel of councillors at County Hall yesterday.

She told them she is going into the role with her "eyes wide open" and is determined to shape a better council despite yearly cuts of around £25 million having to be factored into the budgets.

She also said the council has to learn more from the private sector, insisting "smart commercial use of taxpayers money" will be vital.

As your Worcester News revealed in March, around 1,500 in-house jobs will go by 2018 as part of a plan to hand over services to other bodies, including the private sector, charities, the voluntary sector and not-for-profit organisations.

During the debate she even cited John Lewis as the kind of company the council could learn from.

Councillor Ken Pollock, a Conservative, asked her: "For some people in this council profit is a dirty word - I wondered what kind of reassurances you could give them."

Ms Marchant said: "We can't say 'nobody can be allowed to make a profit' because if you do that you risk the quality of the services that can be delivered.

"But there are unreasonable levels of profit and we need to understand that, for us it will be about understanding the financial make-up of what each provider puts in front of us."

During the Q&A she was asked by Labour Councillor Richard Udall if she is prepared to "publish advice" she gives the leader Councillor Adrian Hardman, especially on decisions she privately disagrees with.

Cllr Udall said there is "some sensitivity" around the ways in which the council is changing and appealed for no political bias.

She said: "I realise I represent all 57 members of this council, it's about embracing everyone."

She was also asked about "secondments" for staff to the private sector and said it was a "great idea" she was prepared to back.

"I've been in public service a long time, I remember 10 or 15 years ago a saying 'every £1 you spend is a taxpayers' pound'," she said.

"I'll be looking to instil that culture when it comes to our staff."

She told the panel she knew she had a "difficult balance to strike" in keeping staff happy.

"I want them to feel this is a great place to work, I don't want them to be weary of change," she said.

She also told the panel she was determined to be ambitious about the council's role in promoting Worcestershire's economy.

"We are much more flexible than we were four years ago, we see more flexible working, people expect to change as a result of their yearly appraisals, we're also much better at listening (to the public) through our roadshows," she said.

"I want to be ambitious - 10 or 15 years ago when I first worked in the public sector, it was said that partnership is the key word, but it's not about just talking about it, it's actually about putting 'skin on the game'.

"We believe this council has a key role to play in helping the economy."

Mrs Haines is about to take early retirement from the council, which led to Ms Marchant, the current assistant chief executive, getting the top job.

She joined the council in 2010 and started her career in the private sector, working at Hovis.

She also worked at Deloitte back in 1997, advising employers in the public and private sector on how to modernise, and held a high-ranking position in the NHS for seven years, using a new IT system to change the health service.

The debate took place during a meeting of the overview, scrutiny and performance board.