Jim Speaks out on the Hard-sell of Shared Services

The new Cabinet Leader of Cornwall has taken the unprecedented step of sending all Councillors an email quashing a ‘rumour’ that he is now in favour of the outsourcing plans with BT. However, it is not just the rumour part of the email, but claims of hard sell and information not being forthcoming.

In the email it goes on to say:

I have made it clear to senior management that, whilst maintaining circumspection, my previous attitude to the JV has actually hardened.

This situation is due to the relentless hard sell of the JV with no counter arguments. This is democratically unacceptable. Members have a right to all the evidence available and this has not been forthcoming.

When the most senior Councillor has to take steps and sends an email like this, you have to worry. Furthermore, I have been told that many staff are being briefed that the hard-JV is the only option, and even if that happens, not all jobs are safe either.

The plot thickens, and not in a good way either.

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


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!

Petition on Stopping Shared Services is Officially Handed Over

Well it is official, the petition to stop Shared Services going ahead has been officially handed over to Cornwall Council for verification. Once this has been verified, a response will be given to the petitioners on the next course of action. It has been indicated that the petition will be debated on the 23rd October. Which I very much welcome; more so because of the Leaders announcement this morning of he will respect the view of the Council.

The total number of signatures is 5871. This is made up of 1701 paper signatures and 4170 ePetition signatures (as of 1pm today). The sheer number of signatures in such a short space of time (just over 21 days) is amazing. This is because the public really got behind the petition.

I have said before that so many people helped to achieve the target and surpass that magic number of 5000 signatures. It is to those people, both Councillors and the public I would like to say thank you. Special thanks must go to the original motion supporters of Andrew Long (MK), Jude Robinson (Labour) Graham Walker (Indi) and Geoff Brown (LD) who have helped make this petition such a success.

It was great to see so many of the public take the mantle of collecting signatures. One couple who should be congratulated is Bob and Sally Turner. Their endeavours of collecting 1000 signatures is remarkable. There are others too, but they know who they are and they should be proud of their work in getting signatures.

I have to say thank you to the various Unions who helped get the message out. Unison has really pulled out the stops to help highlight this issue.

The whole petition was a team effort, and should be remembered that way.


The Councillors behind the petition officially handing it over to the Monitoring Officer: Geoff Brown, Me, Richard Williams – Monitoring Officer, Andrew Long, Jude Robinson, Graham Walker

Cornwall Council Leader does a U-turn on Shared Services

Wow, talk about starting Monday morning with a bang. I knew it was going to get interesting in and around County Hall, but this morning massive U-turn on the privatisation plan is quite a surprise. Though I hear it has come from not being able to guarantee his own groups full support on the 16th.

The announcement by the Leader on Radio Cornwall that if the majority of the Council are still against Shared Services on the 23rd, then it will be dropped. That is one hell of a U-turn. I am though disappointed the Leader announced this on live radio before informing Cornwall Councillors first. But good for Radio Cornwall for getting the scoop on this.

So what now? Is the offer from the Leader just a ruse to stay in power post the 16th? Is he hoping that he can then persuade enough Councillors to support the Shared Services proposals, and therefore still sell-off great swaths of the council to a private company? As the last time the council had a say, though it was then ignored, the council voted not to support shared services. So what has changed? Or has the Leader realised Councillors and the public do not support the idea of shared services.

The change of heart is at odds with one of the Leader’s messages on this subject on the 25th Sept:

In this case the Cabinet believes we have made the right decision. Nothing has been raised, either during the Council debate, or since, that alters that belief.

with no new information forthcoming on either why we shouldn’t progress with the plan to form a strategic partnership or a realistic alternative that enables the Council to preserve jobs and services is not a legally valid reason to alter a properly made Cabinet decision – even if we wanted to.

What has happened to change the Leaders mind? After all he said they made the “right decision” and could not change that decision “even if we wanted to”.

Furthermore, in today’s interview on Radio Cornwall, the Leader did say the U-turn was also because of the Petition. I welcome this because the public have spoken, and should be listen to. However, it raises questions on this statement by the Leader on the 17th September:

“and then employing tactics such as the petition, actually undermines democracy”

Is being in power and the baubles that come with the position more important? I am sure people will come to their own conclusions on this matter. As it does seem very strange with a no-confidence motion looming there is a sudden, nay massive, change of heart direction.

And it is only Monday!


Shared Services Petition tops 4200

Two weeks have passed since the shared services petition started. And who would have thought it would have attracted so many signatures in such a short space of time. When the original motion supporters started the petition, we knew it would go pass 1000 signatures, and confident to reach 5000 in a month or so. However, the speed in which we have passed the initial 1000, and now we are a hairs-breath away from the 5000 has staggered me.

At the time of writing, the number of signatures on the ePetition is 3781. This is amazing in itself, but this does not include paper signatures. As for those, a rough guess (from the feedback) the paper version has attracted over 700 signatures. One paper petition has, 502 signatures which I now have been sent. That is truly amazing and shows real citizen power at work.

These 502 signatures have been collected by one couple (thank you Sally and Bob) so outraged by the proposals on shared services, they took to the streets. Not only have the collected an amazing number of signatures, but they have also kept a record of how many have said no. This is 27.

Even though the numbers of signatures on the ePetition has slowed down, I am still getting daily requests for details on the ePetition, but also the paper version (sent two out today). The magic number of 5000 is within sight, one last push and we are there. This I believe will show the Leadership the public are not supportive of these plans.

It is not all good news as a key (and worrying) date in this fight is the 27th September. This is where the RCHT board meets to discuss if they are to be part of the partnership. I was hoping this meeting would be public, but from the agenda I have seen, it looks like this will be held in closed session. Which is very disappointing.

And next Tuesday (2nd Oct) is possibly the day when the Invite to Tenders (ItT) is issued by Cornwall Council. I hope it is not issued, especially with everything else that is going on. However, it could be as the CEO, Kevin Lavery can issue the ItT after consulting the relevant Portfolio Holder’s and Leader. Not as it should ‘permission of the’ Portfolio Holder’s and Leader!

The fight continues……

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