Cornwall Council leader denies U-turn on shared services venture
CORNWALL Council leader Alec Robertson has denied he has U-turned and is trying to "save his own skin" over plans to privatise council services.
The Conservative has now said if there is a majority vote against the shared services project in a debate on October 23 the ruling Cabinet would scrap it.
After a similar vote against the project last month Councillor Robertson said Cabinet would forge ahead with the plans to form a partnership with a private firm to provide services such as libraries, benefits and IT.
It prompted a motion of no confidence in him, to be voted by full council on Tuesday.
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This week he told the West Briton he welcomed the chance to have councillors debate the issue again.
"Nothing has changed, (we're) still very supportive, still convinced it's the best way forward and obviously I'm doing my best to get that across to councillors and the public.
"I am very aware there's a lot of concern and the council is very aware of those concerns and we want to get the situation clear.
"Realistically, if the council doesn't support this the Cabinet wouldn't be wise to put the proposal forward because without council support, or if the council is in opposition to the proposal, the council will make sure it doesn't work."
He added that confidential briefings will be held to give councillors all the information available about the project, saying it was a "failing" that the council did not go into private session during the previous debate.
"I am hoping, of course, that the councillors will have learnt enough and take the view that they can make an informed decision to support the joint venture because of all the benefits it will bring."
The briefings will include details of the cost of pulling out of the project, which Mr Robertson said could lead to claims from bidders BT and CSC.
He said: "The two bidding companies have spent a lot of money over the past couple of years and they will have a legal claim against the council for changing direction.
"Councillors need to know the consequences.
"There is a lot of commercial confidentiality, but we wouldn't be talking about small amounts of money."
The council is believed to have spent £1.8 million on the project and potential NHS partners have had to foot legal bills for engaging in it.
Mr Robertson said the only alternatives would be "painful ... reducing services, we can't provide as many as we have less money, or the council tax option, people would have to pay more for it.
"There are a number of other options but this is a good one that not only protects jobs and services but could bring more in."
See more about shared services on page 18 and Mr Robertson's column on page 41.