Saturday, 14 July 2012

Library privatisation on the cards for Cornwall?

There's a hugely technical report that has been produced by a group of Cornwall councillors one a process which could have significant impact on the way in which services are delivered in future. At one end of the spectrum, we could be seeing a move towards the privatisation of many front line services like libraries and one stop shops.

The process is known as the support services joint venture and the report has been prepared by a single issue panel of councillors which has been allowed to see the confidential documents relating to the formation of the joint venture.

About a year ago, Cornwall Council's cabinet agreed to consider a possible tie-up with a private sector firm to save money on services that the council already runs, to run some services jointly with other public sector bodies in Cornwall (like the NHS) and to bid for contracts to run services for other councils.

Over time, this has moved to a position where more emphasis is being put on saving money than on creating new jobs and the two companies in the running for the contract are arguing for a wholesale transfer of Cornwall Council staff to the new company. Previously it has been though that staff would stay with the council to run current services and new jobs would be created in the new company to run new services.

Not having been part of the detailed investigating team, I can't comment on the relative merits of the two bidding companies (and the procurement stage has yet to start). I have no problem with the idea of the council working with public sector partners or bidding to run services for other councils. After all, that is done very successfully by authorities across the UK. But I don't want to see Cornwall Council staff transferred to a new organisation if it means they risk losing pay and employment conditions or the public risks a lower level of service.

The key aim for Cornwall Council should be to provide high quality local services at value for money.

My other major concern is that some of the services being considered for transfer to the private company (privatisation is an accurate description) include libraries and one stop shops. I believe these are core council functions and should continue to be run by the council with its elected and accountable members.

Finally, I think that the memory of the catastrophic transfer of the waste and recycling service will be fresh in the minds of residents. How can we be sure that this venture will not be another such fiasco?

The full single issue panel report goes into a lot more detail and poses many questions to the administration. I hope that the cabinet will provide full answers before agreeing to any further steps along the joint venture path. But I also hope that they will agree to withdraw front line services such as libraries and one stop shops from the proposal.

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