Cornwall’s Shared Services and the Not Forthcoming Information

The recent battle within the Council on the Strategic Partnership for Support Services has attracted a lot of attention from around the country in both online and the more traditional paper methods. It has been interesting to read many of the various articles and many throw an interesting spotlight on the subject.

Two are from Computer Weekly, with the first: HERE

It certainly throws up various points like the way BT is going around saying Cornwall Council and BT are already in a partnership:

 “We are already in three competitive bid situations for Telehealth/care with Australia Telehealth, Northumbria Telehealth and Hampshire Telecare; where we have named Cornwall as our partner,”

I think it is a little premature of BT to be going around the country and the world saying Cornwall is our partner, when that very partner, Cornwall Council and its elected membership has said, we are not interested in your outsourcing plan. Even at the so-called confidential briefing to Councillors, one of the BT Execs made this comment. It so startled me, that I wrote it down thinking ‘cheeky so and so’s saying that when you don’t have the contract.’

The second article from Computer Weekly: HERE talks about other providers being in competition with Cornwall’s JV. It is a point I raised in the full council meeting in September. I made the point with so many sellers out there, who is a buyer?  It is not hard to find details from around the country of JV’s being set up to try to take over other Council services. Talk about a crowded market. That’s until the big boys buy up all the contracts. Then there will not be much competition for the best deal.

The disaster that Southwest One has turned into (with different partners) originally started out thinking it could take on the services of the whole of the South West, when that  failed; it looked elsewhere in the country. The Southwest One venture is still not going well, and has headed to the courts to be settled.

The Computer Weekly article also points out that if Southwest One sorts itself out, it could actually be more competitive than Cornwall Inc. Just Imagine Cornwall Inc finding itself being sold on to another provider, or taken over? It is a real possibility. This highlights the danger of losing direct control of services and then finding out you are owned by some company on the other-side of the world because of a company balance sheet.

Going back to the Councillor briefing and all the pretty slides which made a great play on savings. In all of the documentation I have been allowed to see, there is no business plan, forecast, or details on how the x-amount will be saved. Just a headline figure, which looks nice, but means little.

Furthermore, the Single Issue Panel whose hard-work highlighted so many issues with the proposals has requested details on the forecasts/savings. It has yet to receive them. Even more worryingly, and I have recently received confirmation to the fact,  the business plan will not be received until the Council has received an invitation to tender. On both counts, the forecast and business plan are critical to investigating if a deal is creditable beyond pretty headline figures. And both of these are not available.

I really believe if this deal was so sweet, those in favour of it would be only more than willing to show these details to prove they are right. Or has it not been shown to the wider council membership because it could contain controversial elements.  Even the past Council director, Ms Stewart talked about a J-curve (job losses first, and then jobs). You cannot help wondering what else is being hidden if the information is less than forthcoming.

You cannot help but think BT thought they were home and dry before the first motion, the no-confidence motion, and the petition firmly threw a box full of spanners into the machinery. It also adds to the suspicion that CSC was merely there to make up the numbers. This rumour had been doing the rounds for a while at County Hall.

More concerning, senior managers are still going about selling BT. My real fear is the ‘alternative’ options will be hurriedly put together, without the time needed to fully investigate them. Then it will be sold that BT is the only option. And we have a fait accompli deal for BT

This whole deal is starting to stink worse than a three-day old fish left out in the sun. But at least the Council via it elected has made it very clear, any contract will only be given if the majority of the Council agrees to it. Convincing ten Councillors is a walk in the park compared to trying to convince 123 (yes, yes I know, you only need 62 for a majority).

BBC Radio 4 covered outsourcing of public services to private providers today with Public, Private, Profitable


Bulwarks soon to be new Play Park

Finally after two years of fundraising by the residents of Bulwark (and surrounding roads) the residents had the chance to pick their preferred park.  Two proposals out of the seven who submitted bids were put to the residents of the area to pick the favoured park. This event before took place last week at the Helston Children’s Centre.

Both the final two bids were great, so it was always going to be difficult to pick a winner. And a winner was selected by the residents voting for their favourite plan. It was great to see seventy-one adults and children turn up and vote. It was close, with the winning bid from Proludic having 39 votes, with the runner-up Hags having 32 votes.

The equipment will be ordered very soon, and as soon as the equipment arrives work will start on the new park. Thanks should go to Cornwall Council’s  procurement team, Cormac and the environment dept for helping the residents in the process. Of course none of this would have been possible without the fundraising from the residents and grant funding from SITA, Helston TC and the Downsland Trust.

The artists impression of the park with the selected equipment:

The new park


Cornwall and Devon Police Commissioner Elections

With twenty days to go until polling day for the Police and Crime Commissioner you would think considering the fundamental change to how the Police Service is run there would be more about it, after all it for the first time, forty-one Police Authorities are going to have a directly elected head. And it has been said this is one of the biggest changes to how the Police is run since 1829.

These elections are taking place on the 15th November (many people still do not know this) and I am staggered at the lack of information available to the public unless you Google it. It seems the Government has decided not to put any real resources into the process; apart from the odd advert on TV. Residents have asked me about it as they have no information. Many are saying why bother to vote, when there is not any real detail out there.

Even experts in elections are predicting a very low turn-out, which is hardly surprising because of  the low-key way this election is being handled. If it is as predicted a low turn-out, how does that impact on the democratic process? Not well I fear, or the democratic mandate for the new Commissioner.

So who is standing as a candidate in Cornwall and Devon? What are they promising to solve? There is a fully functioning  and official website for the Police Commissioner candidates HERE. But who is standing for Cornwall and Devon? You might be amazed, but there are ten candidates all wanting our vote. These are in alphabetical order:

Brian Blake – Liberal Democrat – Info

Graham Calderwood – Independent – Info

Brian Greenslade – Independent – Info

Cdre Tony Hogg – Conservative – Info

Ivan Jorden – Independent – Info

Tam Macpherson – Independent – Info

William Morris – Independent – Info

Bob Smith – UKIP – Info

John Smith – Independent – Info

Nicky Williams – Labour – Info

I have linked the various candidates websites so you can have a look for yourself and make your mind up who you think can do the job. Let’s hope for the sake of democracy people actually turn out and vote on the day. For something that is a fundamental change to policing, and the Governments pet project, you would think they would have put in more effort in the whole thing.  I guess not.

Am I Worth £4.36?

The very emotive subject of Councillors allowances (or pay) was discussed at October’s meeting of Cornwall Council. I think the fact that Councillor’s having to vote for their own allowance gets people more annoyed than the actual amount. Though, depending on the amount,  people can get equally annoyed, but I think you get my point. However, without a change to the Law, Councillors will still have to vote for their allowances. Which I believe is rather stupid.

Let’s make it clear, apart from a Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) a Councillor is not paid any more money. No attendance allowance, no other daily expenses (apart for mileage for journey’s to an official meeting – strict rules apply). The allowance is also taxed and subject to National Insurance. I have often heard you must get expenses too. Well I do not, apart from being able to claim for a meal at County Hall.

When a Council looks into the allowances, an Independent Review Panel (IRP) is set up and is made up of people not connected to the Council. It looks at the workload, time, duties etc of a Councillor and sets the rate according to its findings. It then makes its report to the Council who either accept the findings, or in most cases chooses not to accept anything due to the public backlash.

In the IRP report it recommended the rate of allowance should be £16,400. This is roughly a £4000 rise from the current (£12,250) allowance. Three years ago, the IRP recommended the allowance should be £14,600. This was turned down by the majority of the Council. I must also point out, the increase of any amount would start at the new Council post the elections in May 2013, not now.

So what is the cost to the elector for having a Councillor? Using the current allowance, taking the average number of electors in each Cornwall Council Division (3,344 people) I cost £3.60 (not including mileage) per elector per year, or 30 pence per month. So I would say I am good value, for the amount of work I currently do.

Now during the debate the various side of the argument said their piece. As always, it was interesting to hear why people should/should not vote for the allowance. Jude Robinson summed it up beautifully. She said many Councillors are saying “they don’t need the allowance” etc,  but as she pointed out they all claim the allowance.

To spare you from reliving the debate, the £16,400 IRP recommendation turned down, but an amendment was put forward for £14,600 which was the amount recommended by the IRP three years ago. This vote was carried 42 votes for, 29 votes against and four abstentions.

A further question that needs to be asked is what do you want a Councillor to be? Attending meetings; fighting their areas corner over getting the right services in their area; helping people with problems and offering advice on 101 subjects? Or do you want someone who cannot give everything to the role because they have to find money to pay for bills and the cost of living?

I have heard it too many times people say why has so few Councillors attended a briefing on a certain subject? In a lot of cases is because they have to work, or have other responsibilities that take them away from being a Councillor. Furthermore, I firmly believe no Councillor should be paid no more than the average wage (blog on the subject) of the area/Cornwall.

So ask yourself; am I now  worth £4.36, per year (36p per month), per elector? Is that a price worth paying for democracy?

Shared Services Halted

Shared Services, or to give its full name of Strategic Partnership for Support Services was debated today at Cornwall Council. Just to remind people, the reason for this debate was because a Petition had reached the magic mark of 5000 signatures. In fact, the Petition has officially 6453, as of 22nd October.

After a few hours debate, the motion put forward in response to the Petition was voted on. This motion was proposed by Cllr Graham Walker and seconded by Cllr Andrew Long. However, during the debate, various Councillors proposed several amendments, which were accepted by the proposer and seconder.

The whole motion is as follows:

1) This Council expresses its thanks to all the people who signed the petition and have thereby strongly engaged in the local democratic process.

2) The current proposals (BT) for the Strategic Partnership for Support Services shall not progress to the Invitation to Final Tender (ItT) until after they have been debated and unless approved by a meeting of Cornwall Council.

3) The Chief Executive be requested to investigated fully, as a matter of urgency, all reasonable alternative methods of delivering the Council services covered by the proposals for the said Strategic Partnership, which addresses the need to make efficiency savings and to generate income including; a thin trading JV working with a commercial partner to deliver services outside Cornwall; a shared services project with local NHS and other public services, but without a private sector partner; an employee owned mutual and other in-house options

4) The Council’s draft Business Plan 2012-16 be prepared to reflect recommendations 2 and 3 above.

5) The full Council supports the ongoing work by the SIP for Strategic Services

This was voted on, and carried by 93 for, 7 abstentions, and no-one voting against! Now, let me explain the points

Points 1 and 5 are self-explanatory, so will not require explanation. The second is good news, as the ItT will now not be issued, which was a real possibility after the 26th of October and the various health partners had finally decided their position.

Point three is a great result because throughout the issue, many including myself wanted all the various options looked into in-depth. Only then will we all know which option is the best. Which is what should have happened.

If savings can be made, then surely the public sector should fully benefit, and not a private company. Health and the Council already work closely, and will have to more in the coming years. So surely a venture between the two sectors, could work.

In fact, I believe if the ‘thin JV’ was still on the table most of what has happened in the last month would not have happened. It was the change from this to a ‘Hard JV’ without any support from the Council caused the problem for many of the Councillors. Hard JV, is outsourcing and staff transferred to a private company, where Soft JV is more in-house.

Point four, stops the ItT from being issues even if the Cabinet or the CEO wants to issue it. As the Cabinet can only implement the Business Plan, and if something is not included, it cannot be carried out.

Now no motion is perfect, and I am sure some people will still be disappointed, but I really believe the vote today was a massive step in the right direction.

Shared Services and the BT Briefing: Pt2

Yesterday, I blogged about some of the details on the proposals from BT. Further clarification has now been given on what is confidential and what is not. The basic rule of thumb is now; as long as it is not marked confidential, it is not.

Instead of just writing from the presentation, I thought I would just use the relevant slides, so people can clearly see what Councillors saw. The first slide is on the job front, and the 1043 job split. (see below).

Like I pointed out on the previous blog post, these new jobs are in Health and BT related. Not many Council function jobs is there? In fact 331 one of the jobs will be in BT retail. Sorry, I can just imagine when you call the Council to talk about council tax or benefits, you could get asked a series of questions on your phone package…

Now onto the savings and profit slide:

I did ask the question on how do these figures stack up if one or more of the other partners like the RCHT do not enter into the partnership. I was told, the figures would change, but at the time they could not give me those figures. They did however say they would send me them.

Lastly, the slide on staff ‘benefits’ and other services that could be provided as part of the deal:

There is another 12 slides of PR etc, none of them I can see is marked confidential, so if you really want to see pretty pictures and colourful diagrams I can post them.

Is this JV still a good idea??

Stop Shared Services Petition – Update

Good news, well from my point of view and those who are against the Shared Services (JV) venture the number of petition signatures has passed 6000! As of 8th October the actual and verified number of signatures is:

Paper: 1885

Online: 4348

That gives a total number of signatures (as of the 8th October) of: 6233

The paper petitions are still coming in as I have a further three that have not been counted. I still cannot express how amazed I am on the number of signatures. If that does not show the Council on the 23rd the feeling of the public, then I do not know what will.





Shared Services Still Rumbling On

The confidential briefing on the JV took place today at County Hall.  Even though the briefing was marked as confidential, I checked with legal to ask what I could and could not say. Saying that, I still believe what I am about to blog is in the public interest, and will defend that right if anyone wants to say otherwise.

The first announcement of the day was one of the bidders has pulled out. CSC have decided not to progress with their venture, and informed the Council yesterday! Maybe it would have been nice to know as it happened. Not over 24 hours later.

This leaves BT as the only bidder in the process, and today they gave their presentation of how they are the best company to deal with. To stick within the rules, I will not be discussing the financial figures, even though they are important to the bid.

The first point I will clarify is if the contract is awarded to BT, all staff that are transferred WILL be transferred to a wholly owned company of BT. So the staff will not be employed by the Council but BT.  In the deal, 750 council and 250 ‘health’ staff will be transferred. If that is not outsourcing I do not know what is!

BT has promised to create 1043 jobs in the first four years. However, 38% of those jobs will be low-skilled. This is not a made up figure, but taken from the presentation today. My understanding is many of the higher-skilled jobs will be in health. I am really worried the 396 will be low-skilled and low paid because why would a company pay more than the going rate in the area. This point was raised by many Councillors and they were concerned with this aspect of the bid.  I know a job is a job, but when it could be little more than the national minimum wage, I do not think that is good enough.

Much emphasis was also placed on a lot of services being ‘self-service’. In other words by the dreaded soul-destroying call centre and you having to push more numbers than is in a complicated maths equation. I know I hate this type of service, and would imagine many others are in the similar view.

While I am grateful for BT being open about their deal, and their presentation was very good; I am though concerned it is business as usual and yesterday’s fun and games is being treated like it never happened. I am also worried with only one bid in the running, which could be to the advantage of BT.

I guess everything now will rest on the 23rd to see if the Council finally gives the killing blow to the current proposals, or allows it to go ahead.

Roll on the 23rd!

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