Monday, 6 June 2011

Is Cornwall Council thinking national when it should be concentrating on the local?

One of the biggest potential decisions for Cornwall Council is whether to start trying to market its expertise to other authorities around the country. Towards the end of last week there was a meeting of two scrutiny committees to discuss to proposal to do just that.

Cornwall Council, as a big local authority, carry out a lot of different tasks, most of which are also done by other councils and public bodies across the UK. The idea is that we could take a contract to run a call centre for a London authority, manage the payroll system for a police authority or mend the roads in Devon, for example.

In order to do so, it is proposed that Cornwall looks to form a partnership with a private firm and then try to bid for work from other councils.

The motivation for Cornwall Council, we were told, is to create and maintain jobs in Cornwall. Clearly the motivation for the private company would be profit.

I have decidedly mixed views about this. I am concerned that Cornwall Council may be taking its eye off the ball and forgetting about its core business - which is to run high quality and low cost council services for the residents of Cornwall. I accept that running services for other councils does not automatically detract from this and may also create some jobs.

However, there is also a cost involved in setting up such a scheme (up to half a million pounds), there is no guarantee that the new partnership would ever win any contracts (and bidding for each one costs money) and there is the danger that we lose quality and control of our own services. It was reported last week that a similar joint venture company set up by Birmingham Council and Capita is now moving 100 IT jobs to India. I asked about whether this sort of thing could happen to Cornwall too and was told that it was not what they wanted to see. Of course, but a few years down the line will we have the mechanisms to stop it?

In the end the scrutiny committees voted to agree the principle and it will be up to the Cabinet to put together a scheme and take it forward. I voted against because I simply don't think Cornwall Council is in a position to be doing this sort of high flying scheme at the moment.

If you are interested in the subject, below is the report we were given on this at the meeting:

Scrutiny Report ASD for Shared Services v12 Final FINAL DRAFT-5

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