CITY leaders have given a cold reception to suggestions that control of York's traffic wardens could be handed over to a private company.

A report to ruling councillors says York's wardens are issuing fewer tickets than those in other cities, despite working longer hours. Sickness levels are also high, and City of York Council officers want to tackle "inefficiencies" in the system.

New arrangements are to be sought with trade unions, but the council is also to consider whether a third party should be brought in to provide wardens.

That move has prompted fear from motoring groups and council leader Steve Galloway said it was not one he wanted to pursue. He said: "I personally continue to believe that the in-house' enforcement model used by the Liberal Democrat council for the past four years is the correct way to deal with the issue. I hope that it will be possible to negotiate changes which will improve the efficiency and flexibility of our in house' teams, whom I believe generally do a thankless job very well."

Consultation is to be undertaken, and the issue re-visited in the New Year.

Nigel Humphries of the Association Of British Drivers said: "Council wardens are more likely to have a public service attitude, going out to do a good job, and because there are employed by the council they do not have to issue a set number of tickets to survive. But that's often not the case with private firms. You can get situations where people are driven to issue more tickets, and it becomes even more money-grabbing than at the moment."

Kevin Delaney, of the Institute Of Advance Motorists Trust, said it was essential that if the council did pursue a private contract, they signed one that focussed on complying with regulations, rather than simply issuing tickets.

He said: "If it's all about ticket issue, you can brace yourself for an onslaught but if it's about compliance, then the number of tickets may or may not rise."

Labour's David Scott said councillors should be told why sickness levels were high, and why the traffic warden service was increasingly inefficient. He said: "One answer may be to look at outsourcing but I think there are potential dangers in that. If you look at what has happened elsewhere, standards have dropped."

The report says in 2006/07, the council issued 23,418 penalty charge notices - down from 28,467 in 2005/06 and 28,758 the previous year.