Cornwall Council is today pushing its plans for a new joint venture company with a private sector firm to make bids to run services for other councils, health services, fire authorities and police forces. Despite not yet having been approved by the Cabinet, officers are on the airwaves advocating the new scheme which they hope might save money and create jobs.
I'm a lot more sceptical about it because I think it's a huge risk to be taking at a time when Cornwall Council should be concentrating on providing high quality services that fit the needs of the people of Cornwall, not pie in the sky bids to win contracts in Lambeth, Leeds or Lossiemouth.
The plan is to join forces with a big consultancy firm and to bid to run services such as call centres, human resources and IT for other public sector bodies. The Council's press release is full of 'coulds' and 'maybes' which sound great. But they fail to mention the fact that it will cost at least half a million pounds just to set up the new joint venture and there is no certainty at all that they will win a single contract.
Far from being unique or innovative, there are plenty of local authorities around the country doing work for others. Last week at the Local Government Association Conference I met people from Essex who run library services for Slough and people from Norfolk who run property services for councils up and down the UK and there are many more. In a crowded marketplace Cornwall will struggle to win making this a very high risk operation. Cornwall's so-called unique approach appears to be based on helping big consultancy firms, not local residents.
The Council is boasting that there are lots of private sector companies wanting to become our partners in this new joint venture. I'm not surprised. They'll get access to our highly skilled workforce and get to cream off the profits if any bids are successful.
I have no doubt that the Cabinet will nod this through as the officers want them to. But I think that we should think much more carefully about the potential implications for staff and risks involved before spending taxpayers' money in this way.