Cornwall brings back its plans to privatise council services
Cornwall Council chiefs have revived a controversial venture to privatise services – a project which cost former Tory leader Alec Robertson his job last year and plunged the authority into political chaos.
The council's cabinet met this week and agreed to issue a tender for communications giant BT to take on services including IT and payroll in a new joint venture.
The authority has been criticised for treating councillors "like children" over the issue after deciding that documents with key details of the plans should be kept secret and handed back by councillors.
Such is the sensitivity at senior level over leaks that cabinet papers are now printed individually with members' names as a watermark on every page to guard against copying and to clearly identify whistleblowers.
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The revised plans are described by the council as a "£14.4m contract" which is said to offer guaranteed savings and an undisclosed number of new jobs in the Duchy.
Critics fear there may not be "much change left" out of the costs of setting up the deal.
The outsourcing plans are said to cover a range of services, including "IT support, Telehealth and Telecare, document management, invoice processing, payroll and employment support and improving information sharing".
Ordinary members have seen so-called "pink papers" – confidential records of the meeting – but are not allowed to disclose any information.
Council staff will transfer to BT under the new scheme, but new jobs created are expected to be less than half the 500 originally claimed.
The controversial and valuable "procurement" rights have been removed.
Independent councillor Andrew Wallis, who led a campaign to debate the original plans at full council, a move which forced a major rethink, said "smoke and mirrors" still surrounded the plans.
He said he was "frustrated" to have been gagged from speaking out but did reveal that the savings were "no way near what was hoped".
"There is still concern because at the end of the day do we really want to lose control of council services to a private company?"
"It frustrates me that I cannot actually say what has been agreed – it is in the public interest, it is using tax payers' money and there is only one bidder left in the mix."
The council agreed last year that the cabinet explore a so-called "light" version of the plans.
The ruling group voted on Monday to go ahead with only Bert Biscoe against.
BT will now be asked to submit its bid later this week.
It will be evaluated and a report setting out the results will be brought back to the cabinet later this month for a final decision.