Cornwall Council leader facing vote of no confidence goes on the attack
Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson has pledged that his cabinet will scrap a controversial privatisation scheme if attempts to secure grass roots backing fail.
The embattled Conservative chief has also revealed there is "no plan B" for his replacement in the event that he is toppled at a meeting to debate a motion of no-confidence next week.
Mr Robertson surprised councillors yesterday by announcing on a live BBC radio show that the ruling executive has agreed to drop the "shared services" scheme if it fails to win favour at a full council meeting later this month.
The Tory leader said he was simply being "realistic and democratic" by allowing the membership to effectively make a decision which legally rests with the executive.
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But with members set to meet a week today to debate a motion to remove him as leader, the change of heart has been viewed as a tactical move to win favour and unite his divided Tory group, some of whom say they are planning to rebel.
He told the Western Morning News: "Every Conservative member knows this (leadership challenge) is an attack on the Conservative leadership and our Independent colleagues and will be supporting the administration.
"That's why there is no plan B – we are working on the basis that the challenge will fail."
The Cabinet has already voted to go ahead with plans to create a joint venture company with a private partner which will be responsible for services including libraries, benefit payments, IT and payroll.
The new firm would also provide call centre and back office services for health organisations in the Duchy.
A tender for the long-term project – estimated to be worth between £210 million and £800 million – is being drawn up, with BT and Computer Sciences Corporation in the running to be the private partner.
Opponents of the project fear handing so much of the council's business to private partners and have collected 6,000 signatures, triggering a full council debate on the issue.
Mr Robertson will now spend two weeks persuading councillors to back the plans.
He said he was simply being "realistic and democratic" by allowing the membership to effectively make a decision which legally rests with the executive.
"I welcome the debate but it is vital that we separate the two issues – the joint venture is too important to make into a political football," Mr Robertson added.
"I have discussed this with the cabinet and there is no point pushing through a proposal that cannot get support of council."
Independent councillor Andrew Wallis, who proposed the second debate, said the plans had "massive risks".
Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Alex Folkes said the council had already voted against the plans and claimed Mr Robertson was simply trying to save the jobs of his colleagues at County Hall.