Cabinet decision 'not in the best interests of the people'
Councillors in Cornwall sent a clear message to leaders they do not back proposals to unite with a private company to run services.
In July, the Cabinet at Cornwall Council paved the way for a joint venture partnership with a private company by inviting bids to run services including libraries, benefit payments, IT and payroll.
However, yesterday, following a tense three-and-a-half-hour debate at County Hall, 46 councillors voted in favour of a motion that flew in the face of what council leaders are pushing for.
The motion stated the Cabinet's earlier decision was not in the best interests of the people of Cornwall.
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In total, 29 voted against the motion while 14 chose to abstain. Cabinet has yet to make a final decision but insists the partnership will save money.
Private firms currently in the running include BT and Computer Sciences Corporation.
The contract on the table is worth between an estimated £210 million and £800 million.
Before the debate took place councillors voted not to hold the discussion in private.
In a narrow victory councillors voted 45 against the debate being held behind closed doors with 41 in favour.
The vote came after Richard Williams, monitoring officer, warned councillors a public debate risked members divulging "commercially sensitive and confidential information" about the bidders.
During a presentation to the chamber, Gill Steward, corporate director communities, said: "This is not outsourcing or privatisation of our services.
"It's creating a public/private partnership to deliver services for Cornwall."
With reference to libraries she said: "This contract, rather than detracting and reducing services, will enhance it, because our partner can invest in areas we can't such as updating our kiosks and e-books."
However, the majority of councillors could not be convinced the move was a step towards part-privatisation. Councillor Jeremy Rowe, who spoke in favour of the motion, said he feared the deal would lead to the council losing control of other services.
He said: "If this isn't privatisation, then what on earth is it?
"Is this the thin edge of the wedge?
"In a few year's time will it be a case of 'that went well, let's carve up the rest'?
"This should be decided by the people of Cornwall and not the Cabinet."
Councillor Neil Burden, who was against the motion, said working with the private sector was the only way to maintain services.
He said: "We live in a world where everything is run by the private sector – GP practices and so on.
"If anyone can think of a better way to protect vulnerable people and services then please tell me."
Councillor Jude Robinson, said: "The joint venture is like a runaway train – it has gone from a request to explore all options in 2010, to a resolution to note the progress last month with little discussion of the consequences for Cornwall.
"There are concerns about the plans themselves, the future for staff who will be transferred and the risk of failing as other councils have."