CORNWALL Council's leading cabinet say they will press ahead with plans to join together with a private company to provide services ignoring the call from a majority of councillors urging the authority to withdraw.
In a tense council chamber at County Hall on Tuesday councillors voted in favour of a motion – 46 for, 29 against and 14 abstentions – which called for the council to withdraw from a plan to form a new company with a private firm to deliver services such as housing benefits, libraries and human resources.
But today the council's cabinet issued a statement indicating that it would carry on with plans to privatise services. Liberal Democrat councillors criticised the Conservative-led cabinet saying the decision to ignore yesterday's vote was "arrogant".
Under the support services plan being drawn up by the council it would form a joint venture with a company which would also provide services for other public sector organisations in Cornwall such as health trusts.
Two bidders – BT and Computer Sciences Corporation – are competing for the contract which will be worth between £200m and £800m.
The plans were brought back for discussion in the council chamber on Tuesday by members who are concerned about putting a private firm in control of council services.
However today (Wednesday) the council issued a statement that it would forge ahead with plans to invite the two bidding companies to tender for the contract.
Council chief executive Kevin Lavery told councillors that he believed that the proposals were for the good of the people of Cornwall.
He claimed that it would enable the council to make significant savings whilst also creating hundreds of new jobs and could, eventually, result in profits being reinvested into council services.
But opponents claimed that there was no evidence that the jobs would be created and suggested that hundreds of jobs would be cut before the benefits would be seen.
Cabinet member Jim Currie, who had previously expressed his own concerns about the proposals, said he was worried about placing procurement services with a private company saying: "Putting £4.3billion of spending power with a proxy over 10 years is dangerous."
Independent councillor Andrew Wallis, who put forward the motion to council, said he was most concerned about losing democratic accountability for services.
He said that with plans for the managing board to have five seats with just two taken by the council it could leave the council with no influence over the future of services.
Officers said that while the council would have a minority interest any policy decisions regarding services would be made by the council and the contract with the private partner would be subject to conditions.
Mebyon Kernow councillor Andrew Long, who seconded the motion, said that there was a lack of detail in the proposals saying that the guarantees of new jobs were not backed by any evidence of how they would be created or what type of jobs they would be.
Cabinet members warned that unless the council forged ahead with the plans frontline services would have to be cut due to an expected drop in funding from central government.
Cabinet member Steve Double said: "I appreciate that some members remain concerned about the proposal and unfortunately we were unable to share the confidential information which would have helped them to better understand the background to this decision. I would, however, like to repeat that we are not privatising Cornwall Council services.
"Under this proposal we will be joining with a private sector company to form a partnership which will then deliver these services, although the responsibility for setting policy and strategy will remain with the council.
"The facts are that entering into this partnership will help us to protect frontline services, create 500 new jobs and reduce costs by at least £5m a year. This is surely in the best interests of the people of Cornwall."
Jeremy Rowe, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Cornwall Council said: "I am appalled at this
latest display of arrogance from the Conservatives at County Hall.
yesterday's meeting more than half of the democratically elected councillors
present voted to stop this privatisation process, yet today a select few tucked
away in the top floor bunker in Truro have decided to ignore that clear view
from the Council and plough on regardless.
"They have no mandate for this
outsourcing project but they still have the arrogance to assume they know
better than just about everybody else. It is a black day for democracy in