Monday, 30 July 2012

Cornwall Cabinet sticks 'For Sale' sign on key council services

Cornwall Council's cabinet today took irrevocable steps towards the privatisation of key frontline services including libraries and one stop shops. The decision was taken despite the Cabinet member in charge of large parts of the programme complaining that he had not been properly kept in the loop.

The debate was on the idea of issuing an invitation to tender (ITT) to form a new joint venture with a private company to both deliver existing services and to find new business and create new jobs in Cornwall. Once the ITT has been issued, the process can't be stopped unless neither bidder comes back with a compliant bid.

And so this decision has been taken by the ten members of the Cabinet with no reference to the wider council membership and despite the fact that it will commit the council to large-scale privatisation of our services. And there will be no elected person sitting on the board of the new company. Cornwall Council's interests will be represented by the (unelected) Chief Executive.

At today's meeting, the councillor who chaired the scrutiny single issue panel - David Biggs - outlined a large number of areas which he said had not been properly considered. In a hugely eloquent speech, Cllr Biggs essentially said that there are too many unknowns and the cabinet was being asked to buy a pig in a poke. But the concerns of the scrutiny panel were largely ignored as the cabinet members took a "something must be done and this is something" attitude.

What has not been considered is either the original proposal of retaining council staff within the council and simply joining with the private sector to look for new business or forming a mutual with the health service to make savings across the public sector but without private sector involvement. With both these possibilities ignored, I would argue that the cabinet cannot be said to have considered all the options.

One concern that was raised within the cabinet was over library and one stop shop services. The worry is that these are not areas where profits can be made and so they will face slow decline under private management. Cllr Burden proposed taking these areas out of the proposed contract but he got no support.

The overall theme of the meeting was over the ideals of a private sector company. Where these are shared with the council - for instance winning new business and bringing new jobs to Cornwall - then the venture could be successful. But we have to remember that the number one aim of the private sector company will be to make money for its shareholders, not to deliver high quality public services and sometimes the two will conflict. More than a thousand jobs will disappear from Cornwall Council's books in this move and we were warned that things could get worse before they get better.

At the end of the debate, there were eight votes in favour of the scheme and one against. A big hand to Cllr Mark Kaczmarek for sticking to his guns on this. There was also one cabinet member who abstained and, as Jeremy Rowe said, you have to ask why Jim Currie, who investigated the deal more than any other cabinet member, was one of the most skeptical of what was on offer.

In short, can we trust a council that couldn't even collect bins to have planned for every eventuality in this new venture? Because if they haven't then within a couple of weeks it will be too late.


Dianneotherday said...

So they've only got to the ITT stage have they? But they've advertised for a project leader (at £1250 per week for 28 Weeks)to take Shared Services through to privatisation, and already had talks with the post room staff about their futures under TUPE!!That Cabinet member needs to ask some challenging questions.

What will happen to the John Passmore Edwards building in Truro? Wasn't it given to the people of Truro? which would probably rule out it being passed to a private company? Do you think the Council still have a copy of the deeds!!

Alex Folkes said...

They haven't quite got that far. They have agreed to ITT so long as the NHS partners come on board.
As for the library buildings, it appears that Cornwall Council will retain ownership but the new private company will deliver the services from them.