2500 Petition Signatures in a Week to Stop Shared Services

I hope readers of the blog will not tire from the subject of stopping shared services. I feel this subject is really worth repeating because if it goes through, it will change how Cornwall Council provides services.

The ePetition has in a week, attracted 2500 signatures. This is halfway to the magic number of 5000 for a debate to happen at the full council. This does not include any paper petition signatures that have been collected ether. As for those I have sent out (on request) 15 of these paper petitions.

First the democratic majority of Cornwall Councillors showed they were against the Partnership for Shared Services, but now and more importantly, the citizens of Cornwall are showing they are against with so many signatures in such a short space of time.

I feel and so do many other people who have contacted me that democracy has been undermined with the original Motion being so quickly ignored. I have been taken aback with the emails and phone calls I have received on this subject. People feel they elect someone to do their best for their community and when they then find out their democratic representative is powerless; even though a viewpoint has been expressed and voted on.

The Government, Local Authorities and town and parish council’s all try to get people in standing for office and taking part in elections by voting in them. But why should they now, when the recent debate and vote has shown the elected majorities view is ignored; with the real power in a few hands. How is that good for democracy? Simply it is not.

I have seen and understood the frustrations town and parish council have when dealing with the bigger cousin authorities. I saw the struggle and arguments between the District Council’s and the old County Council. Now, I have seen the Cabinet system that is simply not engaging with its full council. For instance, one senior Councillor said to me telling his colleagues ‘ignore the council at your peril.’ I think that peril is now very apparent. Something has to change, and change fast.

The executive system, more commonly know as the Cabinet system was introduced to speed up decision-making, and stop the often long and bureaucratic old-style committee. In parts it has worked, but it has also undermined democracy itself with putting too much power in too few hands. The Cabinet system could be better if the scrutiny function could do more than just make recommendations. However, it cannot and adds to the flaws in the system.

I have blogged before about Cornwall Council undertaking a Governance Review. At the start of the process it was pretty balanced on the Cabinet verse the Committee system. Now that feeling has swung firmly behind the Committee system. While the Committee system is not perfect, it does give greater accountability and inclusion in any decision-making process and policy.

So sign the petition not just to stop the privatisation of council services; also if you believe in democracy, and want to place that democratic power back into the hands of all Councillors, who are directly elected by you, the people

The Petition is HERE:

2 comments

  • Kevin Lavery videcast

    Kevin Lavery videcast – 14 September, 2012
    Video Transcript
    Hi. I want to brief you on the proposed Strategic Partnership for Cornwall Council. It was in the press last week following a long and complicated debate on Tuesday, last Tuesday at the Council meeting where there was a motion on opposing the proposal to create a partnership. So I wanted to cover that with you.
    The first thing I want to be really clear on though is the respective role of the Council and the Cabinet. The decision on whether or not to go for a partnership and the decision on who that partner should be is an executive function for the Cabinet. It is not a Council decision. The Council is entitled to take an opinion and the Cabinet may take account of that opinion, but the decision actually rests with the Cabinet not with the Council. The Council’s job is to decide the overall direction of the council as a whole and the Cabinet will work within that framework, so it sets the budget, the business plan and the core strategy – the planning framework for Cornwall. The Cabinet then operates within that framework.
    The debate took about 3 hours. It was a full debate and the outcome of that was I think 46 councillors supported the motion to oppose the Strategic Partnership, 29 opposed it and 14 abstained and a fair number of councillors left the chamber in the afternoon because they were concerned that the meeting was conducted in public and there were many important issues of a commercial nature which couldn’t be discussed. So it wasn’t a high turnout.
    The Cabinet has considered the debate and has decided to proceed with the partnership so we are going to progress with the invitation to tender and the whole issue will be coming back to Cabinet some time in November to select the preferred bidder.
    I want to also be really clear that the CLT (Corporate Leadership Team) team fully support this and this is something that there’s consensus on, nobody’s sort of arguing between ourselves about who’s for it and against it, everyone is behind the idea.
    I just wanted to take you through the case for that. The first is financial. We’ve already faced a 30% cut in our grant and we know that the next spending review from
    2015-16 is going to be even tougher and the reasons are pretty obvious. When George Osborne made his statement in the House of Commons on the 20 October 2010 he was assuming a growth in the tax base and a growth in the economy, he was assuming that welfare spending would come down while the tax base is contracting and the economy is contracting currently and welfare spending is increasing significantly and on top of that there are huge risks around the whole Euro zone crisis and this affects public spending. The UK government could lose its triple A rating, that could impact on the council and that could make borrowing money much, much more expensive going forward so there are a whole bunch of reasons.
    I’ve gone public saying that I think prudently we should be planning on a 35% cut in Whitehall grant at the next spending review. That’s not just me going out on a limb saying it is going to be tough, it’s backed by the finance director for the council, the whole of CLT, but much more importantly it’s backed by the Local Government Association itself. They’re running a campaign to protect local government services and have fairer funding for local government going forward. So the whole of the local government sector has got cross party support with all of the major groups, it is pressing that very hard. It’s also supported by every single professional body in local government and it’s supported by most of the think tanks in the UK on public finance and indeed some of the global think tanks and bodies on finance globally such as the IMF and the World Bank. So it’s not just a few people saying it’s going to be tough, it’s the whole sector saying it’s going to be tough.
    Doing the Strategic Partnership helps us address that significant cut in grants going forward. If we don’t do it we have to find those savings in other areas and it will impact on front line services.
    The second reason for doing the partnership is jobs. Without the Strategic Partnership we’d still have to find savings and for every million pounds worth of savings we lose 30 jobs on the council. With the Strategic Partnership the partner is guaranteeing significant new jobs for Cornwall. 500 net new jobs that’s very, very significant. It will provide lots of career opportunities for people who work in the support services area going forward and that’s got to be good for the Cornish economy.
    The third reason is to protect services. Within shared services and beyond shared services. Without the Strategic Partnership we would have to make significant savings in shared services and we know that in many cases that would be achieved by reducing the service standards and levels. That will mean longer queues, it will mean fewer facilities in fewer locations and it will have an impact on customer satisfaction, a significant impact. But with the Strategic Partnership we’re able to protect our service standards, that’s very important. We’re not saying we can improve them, but we are saying we can protect them.
    The fourth reason is the council’s income. If we’re able to generate a lot of new jobs through the partnership those people will pay council tax, they will pay business rates as firms who are suppliers to the Strategic Partnership. That in turn results in extra income for the council, which in turn allows us to fund universal services such as waste collection and services to vulnerable people in Cornwall and I think we are moving into a new era where Whitehall subsidy disappears and we have to be self sufficient so council tax and business rates and getting more of it coming forward will really help sustain our services going forward.
    And the final reason is to have a major company based here in Cornwall. We’ve got two bidders, CSC and BT. They’re both global companies who operate in countries all over the world. CSC is a fortune 500 company on the New York stock exchange, operates in something like 75 countries, employees over 100,000 people. BT is a FTSE 100 company, one of the largest companies in the UK, headquarted in London, operates all over the world. It would be a fantastic coup for Cornwall to bring companies of this standing with a major base into Cornwall and it will have a massive positive effect on our economy and that’s one of the reasons why the Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership is so keen to see this partnership progress.
    Now in a long and complicated debate many things are said and some of those things may worry you as a member of staff and I just wanted to take this opportunity to correct some of the points that were made in the Council debate. One is that it’s privatisation by the back door. Can I just be clear this is absolutely not privatisation. Privatisation is to stop, cease the state provision all together. We are not doing that. The council will remain responsible for all of these services. Outsourcing – it is claimed it is going to be outsourcing rather than privatisation too. It’s not outsourcing because we are having a joint venture, a partnership with a private sector partner which the council will have a stake in and a significant role in going forward. So this is a very different situation to either privatisation or a traditional outsourced contract.
    Secondly it’s been suggested that we will have widespread closure of libraries. The opposite is the case. This is the best way to ensure that we can retain the existing network of libraries. Without the partnership we will have to make savings and one of the areas Members would have to consider is whether they could afford to keep all 30 of our libraries going, but our intention is the opposite and the partnership helps to that end.
    It’s also been said that lots of these partnerships have all failed. That’s clearly, definitely not true. There are a lot of partnerships, most principal large county councils and metropolitan authorities these days have outsourced arrangements for their back office services, that is true and it’s been increasing year on year and yes there have been problems in some cases but the overwhelming number have had significant service and financial benefits from that. We are doing very careful due diligence on this and we’re looking very carefully at those partnerships that have been delivered by the two bidders as well.
    It’s also been said that the process has been very rushed and we need to take our time. That’s not true, the process began in January 2011 and here we are in September 2012. We’ll complete the process if we go to plan in November 2012, that’s almost two years. That’s hardly rushed and I think we’ve also go to be careful guardians of the public purse. We spend a lot of money on negotiating these sorts of deals. It costs a lot of money, we have to bring in specialists, we have to hire lawyers to do things for us etc. That’s important and I don’t want to shirk away from that but it does cost the taxpayer so actually doing this in a timely way, with a reasonable amount of speed saves money and actually taking a long time is not going to reduce the risk of the partnership in any event.
    And finally people are uncomfortable that Unions aren’t fully supportive and I do want to be straight about this. We’ve been talking to the Unions throughout the process and we will continue to do that, we’re committed to doing that, we want to make sure we can address as many concerns as possible. But I do know that they have concerns
    and they’ve been open about that and that’s fair. One of their concerns is around staff transferring into the partnership so that they move employment from the council to a new employer, the Strategic Partnership. And the Unions would prefer to see a secondment solution. We’ve been very clear, we don’t think a secondment makes sense and partly this comes from looking at how these operate in other parts of the country where they’ve worked well and where they haven’t worked so well. It’s just unrealistic to expect a partner to take a lot of risk on your behalf. So you pass risk over to them, you ask them to make significant savings, you ask them to bring significant jobs to Cornwall, you ask them to make very significant investments, £30-£40m in total, in the Cornish economy to deliver those extra jobs and then you say actually but you can’t manage fully the staff who are transferring over because they are remaining employees of the council. It doesn’t make sense to do it that way to be honest and those cases where they have been seconded, arrangements haven’t been ideal and we have talked to the council’s involved. That’s why we’ve been quite clear on TUPE rather than secondment.
    The key issue though is how does it affect you as a member of staff if you work in the shared services, IT or procurement area. I think you need to bear in mind three points. If the partnership progresses, in early 2013 you will be transferring employment from the council to the Strategic Partnership, your terms and conditions will be protected and you will remain a member of the local government pension scheme or eligible to join it if you’re not in it and similarly colleagues in health will have the same position and will remain in the health pension scheme and if they’re not, be eligible to join it. There’s a lot more information on the council website including responses to the many questions raised by councillors during the debate last week, but I wanted to end by just going back to the future. On the 20 October 2010, George Osborne announced the first spending review of the coalition government. That included a 30% cut in our grant funding. We were brave and bold in handling that. We went early, we went deep. It was the right thing to do for Cornwall, it has protected our services, our finances are in good shape compared to many other places and actually we’ve got the foundations to deal with what will be a very difficult public funding crisis going forward. We know we’re facing very difficult cuts again, we know that we will have to go early and deep again to manage it in a sensible way and the Strategic Partnership is an important part of that overall package. It will mean protecting front line services, it will provide extra career opportunities for people going forward, but it will mean some of you go through some significant changes, we do appreciate that. It’s just too good an opportunity to pass over and we feel it’s the best deal for Cornwall to press ahead and go on with it.
    Thank you for watching.

  • Gill Martin

    Mr Robertson stated on the radio this morning that people are signing the petition because they do not understand. I find that patronizing.

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