The Leader writes… 9 October, 2012Posted by Jeremy Rowe in News, Politics.
Tags: Conservatives, Cornwall Council, Finances, Local Services, Privatisation
You may have heard the Leader of the Council on Radio Cornwall yesterday (there’s a summary and response about 2 hours in) revealing the compromise on his privatisation plan that he agreed with the ‘rebel wing’ of the Conservative Group at their crisis meeting on Friday night. He also wrote to Councillors yesterday to outline the thinking behind what was definitely not a u-turn (I’ve reproduced the letter in its entirety below).
There’s an understandable level of cynicism about what many see as a tactical move to shore up the administration’s position ahead of next week’s No Confidence vote, but we must try to take the Leader at face value. While it seems strange that Council will have to make its views known twice on this matter, he is nevertheless clear that he will accept the view of the majority of Members present (as per the Council’s constitution) and end the privatisation process, if that is indeed what Councillors decide.
However, it does rather seem that the administration is missing an opportunity here (unless, of course, it is an attempt to back the rebels into a corner – perish the thought). Alec talks in his letter about Members having all the facts before making a decision – I believe they should have all the options too.
The Leader made the extraordinary admission on the radio yesterday that “We haven’t fully considered the alternatives” (although he backtracks from that in his letter). The truth remains that a ‘Third Way’, where the Council and the NHS work together to create a publicly run alternative, has not received a fraction of the resource and commitment that have been thrown at the ideologically-motivated privatisation scheme. In fact, the Third Way was dismissed right at the beginning – before a business plan was even looked at.
Why not pause the whole process until a new Council is elected next May and put three fully worked up options on the table: the status quo, the privatisation option and the Third Way? That way a decision can be made with all the facts and all the options. Or was the latest announcement made with the next fifteen days in mind, rather than the next fifteen years?
Over the past few weeks a number of Members have expressed their concerns over the Strategic Partnership proposal. As you know we have also received a petition calling for the matter to be debated again before a final decision is made.
Following this morning’s interview on Radio Cornwall I would like to take this opportunity to explain the background to my announcement on the future of the Strategic Partnership and clarify the position of the Cabinet on the forthcoming debate.
The Strategic Partnership proposal presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for Cornwall and I am concerned that we have lost sight of this in a row over democracy. As I said this morning, this issue affects people’s lives and jobs and we need to stop playing politics and focus on what is best for Cornwall.
There has been a great deal of comment in the media on the potential risks of going ahead with the proposal and I have personally been accused of ignoring the views of both Members and the public. This is not true. Both I and other members of the Cabinet are very aware of the concerns felt by some Members and have offered to meet with them to discuss the issues.
Some Members have questioned the potential level of funding cuts we will face in the coming years and are arguing that we should wait until we know the details before making this decision. However I don’t believe we can afford the luxury of waiting if we want to maintain the services we currently provide for people in Cornwall. As the Deputy Prime Minister recently announced, the inconvenient truth is that the country faces further belt tightening and, therefore, it isn’t scaremongering to suggest we could face a further £100m reduction in our budget from 2015. This reduction could have a devastating impact on our budget and we need to take action now to protect our services.
Under the proposal the two companies bidding for the contract – BT and CSC- will be legally required to deliver at least £5 million savings within the first two years, with at least a further £5 million savings per year thereafter, as well as creating a minimum of 500 net new jobs in Cornwall. Not only would this help bring significant investment and employment into Cornwall from a multi national company, these savings would also play a key role in protecting services from the impact of further cuts in our funding.
However, while I personally believe that going ahead with the proposal is in the best interests of the people of Cornwall, I would like to make it clear that the Cabinet will respect the vote of the Council when the issue is debated at a future meeting.
During this morning’s interview I was asked why we needed to have a further debate on this issue as they consider the Council had already made its views clear on 4 September. As I have said previously it is vital that Members have all the facts before them when they debate this matter.
Unfortunately the decision not to go into confidential session on 4 September meant that we were unable to provide details of the bids from the two companies. The reality is that both companies are offering to deliver even greater savings and create more jobs than was set out in the original specification. This can only be good news for both the Council and the people of Cornwall.
We will be holding confidential briefings prior to the Council debate to provide all Members with detailed information about the two offers. I hope that as many Members as possible will attend these session so they can make an informed decision about whether we should go ahead with the proposal.
The impact of further cuts in our funding means that the status quo is not an option. If we don’t do this we will need to find the savings somewhere else, resulting in a real threat of significant reduction in frontline services inCornwall.
Some Members have suggested that we have not properly investigated alternatives to the Strategic Partnership, including the possibility of the Council integrating its IT systems with heath partners themselves rather than joining with a private sector partner. I can assure you that both this and a number of other options have been considered.
The reality is that neither the Council nor health organisations in Cornwall have the capacity, the expertise or the resources to deliver such a project, nor would it deliver the level of savings we require. In fact it could actually result in a reduction in jobs, not an increase. Trying to implement such a wholescale integration of our IT systems without support from a third party with a proven track record in delivering such complex projects would also be extremely high risk and would require the Council to provide substantial financial guarantees.
Both these companies have the necessary experience in implementing such projects and also the enthusiasm and ambition to work with us to create a new company which will be able to sell these services outside Cornwall – bringing in millions of pounds of investment and creating hundreds of new jobs.
This is now a very important decision for every Member of the Council and one that we need to get right if we are to protect services for people inCornwall.
I believe that setting up a Strategic Partnership is the right decision and I am hopeful that Members will support the proposal once they have access to all the facts. However if a majority of the Members present at the debate vote against the proposal, then it will not go ahead.
With best wishes
Alec Robertson CC