Cornish council leaders clash over flagship policy
Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson was dealt another major blow yesterday after his deputy labelled a flagship shared services policy as a "massive risk".
Councillor Robertson is already facing a vote of no confidence over the plan to transfer public services worth hundreds of millions of pounds to a new private company.
Now the policy, and his leadership, has been further undermined by his Conservative colleague and deputy council leader Jim Currie.
In an email to all members, Councillor Currie claimed the "promise of jobs in six to seven years' time indeed may well happen". But, he warned: "Unfortunately, information freely available to all members would indicate a distinct possibility that each job could cost the Cornish taxpayer one million pounds.
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"At that rate, the jobs will continue to happen so long as members push up council tax as their main involvement."
Neither Mr Currie nor Mr Robertson could be contacted last night. However, their political opponents seized on the email as further evidence of disquiet in the top corridors of County Hall.
Alex Folkes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said it was "explosive".
He said: "Comparisons have been made already with the devastating speech made by Geoffrey Howe in helping to bring down Margaret Thatcher. I'm not sure that Jim would deserve the 'dead sheep' analogy, but when one of the main figures in your administration writes in this way, then things are looking grim for the leader."
The flagship policy to transfer public services in Cornwall to a new joint venture company could end up costing a million pounds per job, the deputy leader of the council has claimed.
Cornwall Council is pursuing a shared services project with a private partner which will be responsible for services such as libraries, benefit payments, IT and payroll.
Estimated to be worth between £210 million and £800 million, a tender for the long-term project is currently being drawn up, with BT and Computer Sciences Corporation both in the running.
But in an email to all council members yesterday, deputy council leader and cabinet member Jim Currie described the move as a "massive risk".
He said it was a "distinct possibility that each job could cost the Cornish taxpayer one million pounds" with members limited to "push up council tax as their main involvement".
"The competitive dialogue process has been backed up by secrecy, loads of anecdotal comments including filibuster and threats of legal action but no real evidence," Councillor Currie said.
"Unfortunately, it takes ages to filter out the direction of travel so members are getting a kicking if they venture into the minefield."
He added: "I have seen or heard nothing to change my views on the massive risk involved with the size of this venture."
Political opponents at County Hall said the email further undermined Conservative council leader Alec Robertson, who is already facing a vote of no confidence over the proposed deal.
Labour councillor Jude Robinson said Mr Currie had laid out his "manifesto for the top job".
"The reason the council is riven with conflict is just this kind of arrogance and lack of accountability from the administration," she said.
"The big question now is whether the current executive, whose position looks very precarious, will commit the council by putting the plans out to tender next week. If so, Cornwall could face huge penalties for pulling out of the deal."
Neither Mr Robertson nor Mr Currie were available for comment yesterday. But their Tory colleague Steve Double, portfolio holder for environment, waste management and shared services, said there were "no surprises" in the email.
"There is nothing in there that he hasn't already said publicly on two occasions," Mr Double said. "Why he has chosen to send the email at this stage, I don't know. He would have to answer that."
Mr Double said he still believed the joint venture was "right thing to do for the people of Cornwall" and publicly backed his leader, adding: "Alec has led the council through some of the toughest challenges in local government for a generation and he has done that very well. He's the best man for the job."