Saturday, 1 September 2012

Cornwall's Joint Venture

At the full council meeting on Tuesday there is a motion to do with Cornwall Council's decision to enter into a joint venture partnership to deliver a range of services including libraries and one stop shops, payroll and back office services. Because the venture will involve creating a private company which will be (at least) majority controlled by the private sector partner and because there will be no councillor representation on the board, we have described this move as privatisation.

The power to take this decision rests with the cabinet and they have already voted to start the process. The debate on Tuesday is a last ditch attempt by non-cabinet councillors from Lib Dem, MK, Labour and Indie groups to put the brakes on.

We know that there are two bidders to be the private sector partner. One is BT - a well known name already in partnership with various councils up and down the country. The trouble is that, as Unison has pointed out to councillors, in Suffolk the hoped for savings have not been made and the contract will not be renewed and in Rotherham the contract wasn't working and the council bought out the contract.

There are no doubt more successful joint ventures involving BT, but there is a degree of risk involved and I am concerned that the council has not properly thought through all the facets of such a deal and is rushing into it.

As for the other potential partner, CSC, they are an American company with very little history of doing business in the UK. Both partners were asked to highlight any 'bad news' surrounding their company as well as the good - something I very much approve of. The trouble is that one of the most damaging accusations against CSC didn't appear in their dossier. In 2004 they bought another company, called DynCorp, which had been involved in extraordinary renditions (ie kidnaps) of people by the US government and flying them halfway round the world to secret prisons.

But, as the organisation Reprieve alleges in a letter to the council on Andrew Wallis' blog, CSC's involvement in rendition did not end when they bought DynCorp. Reprieve say that they were involved in further flights in their own right.

I find it extraordinary that Cornwall Council should consider doing business with such an ethically challenged company. I find it even worse that the company should try to purge mention of these incidents from the dossier they supplied to the council.

At the end of the day I think there is the potential for Cornwall Council to do some sort of business involving bidding for other public sector work. But I remain far from convinced that they have thought this issue through properly and I am incredibly concerned that they should still be considering a company such as CSC.

Tuesday's debate will be an interesting one.

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