A VITAL county-wide service which tackles poor restaurant and takeaway hygiene, crooked off-licences, dodgy shops and noisy neighbours could be privatised.

Your Worcester News can reveal how Worcestershire Regulatory Services is hunting for a private sector company to form a new "partnership".

We can also reveal that the building control service - a joint venture between councils in Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon, is also among the package being touted to private companies.

The move raises the prospect of Worcestershire Regulatory Services, which launched in 2010, charging people for more services.

In a bid to pool costs all seven councils in Worcestershire teamed up four years ago to launch the service in a blaze of publicity.

But since then, as cash-strapped councils' have become embroiled in cuts, funding to the body has steadily dwindled.

Only last month Worcestershire County Council slashed the funding it gives the service from £1.7million to just £1 million, and it wants to bring it down further to just £250,000 by 2017.

In an effort to keep it viable the body, which is overseen by a panel of councillors, is now trying to find a private partner to share the workload.

The search comes just a year after it launched a controversial 'self service' pilot in Worcester, where people calling with complaints like nuisance neighbours are asked to deal with it themselves.

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, who chairs the joint committee which oversees the service said: "The joint committee has delegated powers (handed to it from the seven councils) and from time to time it is allowed to review the operation and the way it functions.

"With the pressures on budgets, and the pressure of knowing that this service wants to develop, it was thought a strategic partnership was the best way to go.

"We are going through that process now and it will have to go back to all the individual councils (before it can be approved)."

The Liberal Democrat group has tried to throw a spanner in the works by creating a motion calling for an investigation.

The group says the service is "largely about public protection", and has insisted a private takeover would be "a significant change" that needs a fuller debate.

But after a vote at the last full council meeting it was rejected, with both the Conservatives and Labour saying any private deal would need debates from the seven councils before it can be finalised anyway.