Thursday, 9 August 2012

Cornwall Council: A privatised society?

My article for this week’s Cornish Guardian focuses on Cornwall Council’s “shared services” project. It will also appear in the West Briton and is as follows:

People are often shocked when they find out that most key decisions at Cornwall Council are not made by all 123 councillors, but by the ten members of the Cabinet.

It means power lies with the few and not the many. And last week, the ruling Cabinet took a decision of enormous significance that, I believe, was contrary to the majority view of elected members. This has certainly angered many non-Cabinet members.

The Cabinet has voted to proceed with a “Shared Services” project and to invite tenders for a contact worth £300 million. 

According to the Conservative leadership of the Council, there will be a partnership with local health partners and a large private company to deliver a range of “support services.” They also claim it will save money and create new jobs.

I see it somewhat differently. The “joint venture” would mean that a massive range of council services including benefits, council tax, payroll, IT support, libraries and one stop shops, etc, would be delivered by a private company.

I do not support the privatisation of council services as a matter of principle. But I also find it disturbing that the Council will be a minority partner in this arrangement and therefore dependent upon a private company, whose first loyalty will always be to the “bottom line” and their shareholders – not the residents of Cornwall.

Councillors will inevitably also be sidelined and local democracy further undermined.

The so-called savings and new jobs have not been adequately evidenced and are illusory. Even supporters of the scheme are talking about it being a “leap of faith.”

It has been rightly pointed out that many “joint ventures” involving local Councils have failed, costing local taxpayers many millions. I agree with local union representatives that "the whole thing does not stack up."

Stuart Roden from Unison has summed it up quite succinctly: “We don’t see how it’s possible to protect and create jobs, make savings of 20 per cent-plus, improve services and make a profit for the shareholders of private companies.”

It is my view that the massive cuts from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government are doing great damage to the fabric of our public sector, with local authorities increasingly starved of vital funding.

I also agree with the opposition politician who has lambasted the Government for failing to create its much-lauded “Big Society,” creating the “privatised society” instead.


Lance said...

This is all part of the Tory neo-liberal agenda.
Excellent summary of this policy by Thomas Frank - The Wrecking Crew - how Govt functions (in US but Here too) are privatised and the lobbyists working to achieve this. The only way these contractors can make enough profit is to reduce staff and services. See recent Home Office plan -the transfer of helpline staff from Equality and Human Rights Commission offices in Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow to a new call centre in Stratford upon Avon run by private company Sitel.
Sitel has stated that it does not recognise trade unions for collective bargaining at any of its sites in the UK, but the union has pointed out it will be in breach of the law if it enforces this for EHRC staff who are due to be transferred to the company on 1 October. The company is also planning to dismiss more experienced advisors when it takes on the contract. All part of a pattern! the net result is that we end up with less effective and less accountability. Thanks for highlighting this!

MawKernewek said...

Guess who the private company will be?

Whichever one it is, I suppose all the Cabinet and Lavery will parachute into overpaid management jobs within it.

Cornish patriot said...

This is one of the most important derisions Cornwall council will make,it is disgusting that the ordinary members will not get a vote at full council.