CORNWALL Council leader Alec Robertson said he learnt about his deputy's resignation on the radio this morning (Wednesday).
His fellow Conservative, Councillor Jim Currie, quit the ruling Cabinet by e-mail last night in a message sent to all members at 7.30pm, as first revealed by the West Briton on this website.
But in an extensive response sent out by the council's press office at 5.30pm today (published in full below, with Mr Currie's resignation beneath that), Mr Robertson, who faces a vote of no confidence on Tuesday, claimed he was unaware until this morning and "disappointed to first learn" of it on the radio.
Mr Currie, who also gives up his position as councillor in charge of finance and corporate resources, resigned over his opposition to a plan to hand over some council services to a private company. The leader had said the council would push ahead with the intention to create a new firm in partnership with either BT or Computer Sciences Corporation after the majority of councillors voted against the move in a motion last month, but has now said he will go with the majority in a vote due on the matter on October 23, a week after the no confidence motion is considered.
In resigning, Mr Currie said he had done as much as he could to stop the so-called joint venture or shared services deal, but Mr Robertson was going to "never let go", despite his "somewhat ambiguous offer to respect full council decisions on the 23rd October".
In response, Mr Robertson echoed his claim it was "not personal" but criticised his former deputy for not discussing his resignation with him first.
Mr Robertson's full message:
Thank you for your emailed Cabinet resignation which is acknowledged.
I appreciate your confirmation that this matter is not personal and as you know, I have never harboured any ill feeling towards you over this either. I have always respected the fact that the joint venture proposal is a matter of strongly held principle for you and, although you were clearly out of step with the rest of the Cabinet, I like many others, have admired your customary fortitude. I was, therefore, disappointed to first learn of your resignation from Radio Cornwall. We could have spoken of this on numerous occasions in recent days but I am also aware that this would not have been easy, given our close and successful working relationship over the past seven and a half years.
I can assure you that my oft repeated statement that the Cabinet will respect the vote of the Full Council on 23 October, is unequivocal and is shared by all Cabinet Members regardless of our previously expressed support for the Joint Venture. As I have already said, it would be futile to progress a proposal if it is opposed by the majority of the Council because, as has been seen in other partnerships around the country, such relationships have little prospect of success if both parties are not committed. Obviously, this would be a material consideration which the Cabinet would be able to take into account in its legal and constitutional decision making.
I fail to see what is ambiguous about "if a majority of the Members present at the debate vote against the proposal, then it will not go ahead" but I am happy to re-iterate that message here.
We have discussed, at length, your views on the risks and scale of the proposal and the ability of the Council to ensure adequate control and democratic accountability in it. We clearly have varying levels of risk aversion and my experience outside the public sector, in common with the rest of the Cabinet Members, gives us a different perspective on the private business sector.
We also have a different view on the future prospects for local government finance which I, again in common with the rest of the Cabinet, expect to be more challenging than you have stated in our previous discussions. In fact, much of the debate around the Joint Venture proposal seems to me to indicate a clash of cultures between those who seem to think that life is tough now but eventually things will return to 'normal' and those of us who recognise that we must actually adapt to the 'new normal'. We can only do this by being brave, radical, innovative and much more businesslike and that means taking more calculated and managed risks and working faster than in the past. The alternative is an inevitable decline in services as our resources reduce further while demands on them increase and I know we are both passionate about protecting services – particularly for our most vulnerable residents.
No-one knows better than you that this administration, in the short time that we have been together, has achieved an enviable and envied record of protecting services from the impact of financial cuts, unprecedented in a lifetime. We have done this by being proactive, going early, staying one step ahead and addressing our challenges before the crisis hits. In the Cabinet's strongly held view, the Joint Venture proposal is an important step in that direction as well as a great opportunity to strengthen Cornwall's resilience in the face of the coming storm.
Jim, I am sorry that this next step on the journey is a step too far for you but I will always be grateful for all you have done in supporting me as a Cabinet Member and as my deputy over the past three and a half years. You have done a great job of covering my 6 o'clock and I suspect more daggers will find their way through without you there to cover my back.
Mr Currie's message:
I am resigning from the Cabinet today as I feel that I have pushed the cause of retaining Council control over Joint Ventures as far as I can with the Cabinet.
The financial risks involved with the rush into the new Joint Venture proposals are unacceptable. The JV is basically too large to control. We have wasted £42m+ on the Unitary, £42m+ on the Incinerator and we are now proposing to risk a great deal more on the Joint Venture.
I welcome your somewhat ambiguous offer to respect Full Council decisions on the 23rd October but I know you will never let go.
I could not leave local government with billions of pounds of Cornish Taxpayers money at risk and on my conscience.
Alec, this matter has never been personal.