Thousands call for debate on 'privatisation'
People power is set to throw a spanner in the works of a flagship policy to transfer core council services into a new private venture company.
In August, Cornwall Council's cabinet ignored opposition to press ahead with plans to sign an agreement with a private firm to establish a new company.
A petition set up to force the matter back to the council chamber for a fresh debate has now passed the critical 5,000 threshold.
Independent councillor Andrew Wallis said the fact that this had taken just three weeks was "amazing".
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"This is an indication of the strength of feeling about this," he said.
"This is the public getting behind something to make their views known.
"I'm bowled over that in just three weeks we have more than 5,000 people on the petition.
"I'm still collating it all, but it's easily 5,500 and perhaps as high as 6,000."
If it was to go ahead, the new joint venture company would run a number of services for Cornwall Council and in theory be able to bid for work from other organisations.
Council chiefs, who must put the contract out to tender, say the £800 million contract could save the authority at least £2.5 million a year.
But apart from the principle of the deal, which has been condemned as privatisation by the back door, many have been angered by the way the decision was taken.
Despite the majority of councillors rejecting the plan, Cornwall Council's Cabinet said it would carry on regardless.
Mr Wallis said he had been inundated by comments from people disgusted with council leaders.
"Some people are telling me it is a travesty and not good for Cornwall.
"There is a strong feeling against what people see as part privatisation and there is a feeling that democracy has to work."
Unions have been set against the new venture, while even the deputy council leader and cabinet member Jim Currie described the move as a "massive risk."
In a leaked e-mail last week, 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."
Councillor Wallis said he was still counting the number of online and written signatures, which must amount to more than 5,000, and would submit the petition "very soon".
"The sooner this goes back to council the better as far as I'm concerned," he said. A spokesman for Cornwall Council issued a statement to say they would then act accordingly.
"The current number of signatures on the online petition calling on the authority to reverse its decision to proceed with a Strategic Partnership for Support Services, until such time the majority of the elected members of Cornwall Council have voted to support the proposals, stands at 3, 914.
"We have not yet received a copy of the written petitions.
"Once both elements of the petition have been formally presented to the Council the signatures will be verified in accordance with the Council's petition scheme.
"If the total number of signatures on the petition is more than 5,000, the matter will be debated by the full council.
"If the required number of signatures is reached, we will contact the promoter of the petition within ten days to inform them how the matter will be dealt with."