UNION chiefs are preparing a legal challenge to Essex County Council's controversial proposal to privatise all its services.

Private companies have been invited to bid for a £5.4billion contract to run services including schools and road maintenance for the next decade.

Unison announced today it is consulting lawyers to prepare action against the proposed sale on the grounds the council would be in breach of its own constitution and statutory regulations.

Last year the council advertised for a partner to run "any or all" of its services in a notice which said: "These services will include, but are not limited to corporate and back office functions, environmental services, social care and school-related services."

Kumar Sandy, Unison regional officer, said: "We believe the council has acted illegally on no less than nine different counts, including several breaches of the statutory guidance and European Law.

"If (Essex County Council leader) Lord Hanningfield persists in pushing through the fire sale of century in the midst of the current financial chaos, then we will see him in court.”

Mr Sandy said the move would breach the employment rights of everyone who works for the council, and criticised the administration for "a complete failure" to consult with its employees over the plans.

Lord Hanningfield dismissed Unison's claims as "total rubbish", and added: "We proposed to find a partner to help us find a different way of doing things.

"We're looking to make £200million in savings and that money will go into frontline services."