Joint Venture and advertising for jobs

Things have gone a little quite in the JV front after the full council put the kibosh on the full out-sourcing deal. More will be known in the next few months on the actual deal between Cornwall Council, BT and which ever health partners (if more than one is still left) are still in at the end of the process.

However, the gravy train is still chugging along with this job advert on Cornwall Council’s website HERE

It makes you wonder, as no deal has been signed, nor has the full council agreed that deal. However, the Council is advertising this job…….

RCHT pulls out of Cornwall Councils JV?

What with the story of Kevin Lavery seeking his fortune in the antipodes, the weather and the lead up to the festive holidays, an announcement from RCHT on the Joint Venture could have gone unnoticed. The RCHT has been sitting on its hands (and I do not blame them) whilst Cornwall Council and its Councillors finished off its coup d’etat and then decide which option it feels is right to enter into.

Now in a letter, the RCHT has made a decision:

RCHT letter

RCHT letter

The leads on to the question of what happens now for the council and the other partners? I am hearing calls from various corners for the whole deal to be scraped because the option the council decided on (6e) is in fact very different from the original tender document. So it could be said the whole process should be re-tendered.

Now lets wait for the reaction from Cornwall Council’s pro-jv gang

Very Thin Joint Venture is Supported (just)

I am sure a few of my readers are wondering if anything else has been going on at Cornwall Council apart from the Strategic Partnership. Well today, the entire council reached a decision…well sort of.

One thing is sure from the various options in today’s papers is the full BT outsourcing option (thick-JV) has been rejected by the majority of the council by 71 Councillors not in favour of thick-JV  and 30 in-favour of the deal. This now means the thick-JV will now not happen. I can say this as previous council motion of no deal to be signed unless the full council agrees, would safeguard against it being signed off. Though to be technically correct, Cabinet still make the final decision.

If you are still following me after I tried to explain the position, I shall press on with what happened next. But it was not the simplest process.

The next option to be decided was the in-house option. A vote was taken, and it was a close vote, with 46 in agreement with the in-house option (me included), but those against this option carried the day with 50 votes.

It was then over to the other options (I know I am trying to make it simple). The option 6c, as listed in the report is, in essence the strategic partnership (as previously defeated) but without Libraries and One Stop Shops being in the mix. This was defeated by the majority with a vote taken by a simple show of hands.

This leaves option 6e, which is a very thin-JV, almost wafer thin option. This carried the day by a majority. This option only includes tele-health, tele-care, ICT and document management. All other departments and services would stay in-house. However, this option might not go ahead. This is due to the health partners and BT who might decide this deal is not for them. That would mean by default everything would remain in-house.

Furthermore, to safeguard other services being added by the back door, any other services can only be included in any outsourcing deal if it has the support of the majority of the elected council, and detailed market testing is carried out. That would stop the oops, how did that get added questions being asked later on. There is still a lot of detail which has to be sorted before any contract is awarded for this option. I hope the Single Issue Panel will continue its good work in highlighting any dangers this deal could include.

For those wondering how I voted after the in-house option was lost. I voted for 6e. As just voting against this after losing the in-house option would not have achieved anything. More so as the democratic majority did not support the in-house option.

The Other Staff Survey on the JV

I said in a previous post, Unison had commissioned an independent research company* to survey staff in parallel to the Cornwall Council staff survey. This survey has been taken from 238 Unison members of shared services, procurement and information services. And out of those 238, 100 undertook telephone interviews**. Furthermore, this survey did not just ask the basic question of which option staff preferred, but a series of other questions, too.

The results more or less agreed with the Cornwall Council survey, with the majority (61%) would prefer services to stay in-house, and 22% would prefer the BT proposal. A further 11% were undecided, 3% wanted no change and 2% wanted (alternative) outsourcing.  In making that decision on which proposal is better, 67% feel that they have sufficient information to form an opinion about the potential options and proposed changes to delivering support services.

However, if the strategic partnership is formed after Councillors vote in favour on Tuesday, those surveyed are divided on their employment contract options: 41% would prefer TUPE, 35% would prefer secondment. 10% are indifferent. This is interesting as the majority of staff prefer becoming BT employees if the deal goes ahead.  Though nearly a half (49%) believe their employment would be safer as a Cornwall Council employee than as an employee of a new organisation.

The survey asked the question on whether any of the staff have felt pressurised during the process. One in five (22%) have experienced some pressure from departmental or line management to support proposals for strategic partnership; and one in ten (11%) have experienced some pressure from non-management colleagues to support proposals for strategic partnership. Though a majority of 71%, agree that they can speak openly and share views at work about the proposals for changing the way support services are delivered with 12% disagreeing.

A few questions were also asked on the way Cornwall Council has engaged with staff during the process with 37% support what Cornwall Council is doing in its review of how it delivers support services. Then again you could say 63% do not, but lets not look at the negative figures.  45% also agree that information provided by Cornwall Council at a corporate level, about the proposals for changing the way support services are delivered, has been fair and unbiased (29% disagree).

So there you go, two surveys that support the in-house option from staff. Will Councillors take this into consideration when they decide on Tuesday? I believe they should, but a decision also has to be made on what is best for service delivery, value to the tax payer and a whole host of other information. Sadly, in saying this, there is still a lot of information and actual detail missing in some of the proposals.


*PFA Research Ltd,** All interviews and research conducted in accordance with the Market Research Society Code of Conduct. Thanks also to Unison for use of material

Results of the Cornwall Council Staff Survey on the JV

The results of the staff survey on a range of options the council could travel on Tuesday is now out. Out of 850 staff which received the survey 467 have initially completed the survey.

The results* are:

In-house – 55% (256)
BT option – 33% (154)
Other outsourcing – 0%
Undecided – 12% (56)

It certainly shows the staffs view on the proposals, which is different to some of the spin coming out of the Corporate Leadership saying staff are onboard with the BT option.

*The figures used are the votes from first choice option

Cornwall Council and then a Unison JV Report

With just six days to go until the full membership of Cornwall Council meet, the report that will decide the if the BT outsourcing deal is supported or another option like the in-house has been released. It is a large report of 134 pages and includes a few pages of confidential information. That report can be found HERE. I have only read parts, as I only got it a few hours ago, but when I do, I will be able to tell if the report is full of spin and estimates or actual facts. The full council agenda can be found HERE

However, this is not the only report on the options and proposals. The union Unison has commissioned two reports of  its own. One has been done by the association of public service excellence (APSE). The consultant who is  undertaking the report is herself  a lawyer specialising in procurement matters and previously worked for a local authority so is very experienced in these matters. It is also good to hear the council have been very helpful in assisting with this review and APSE have had access to all the relevant documentation with the exception of the options appraisal on possible “in-house” alternatives.

The other report is from an independent market research company to test staff opinions within the council and particularly of those staff who will be affected by the BT deal. The survey will be done to industry standards and will be wholly independent of Unison. This study will hopefully be available Friday morning. This has come about because the council’s own survey is has no option to simply vote for only one option and if you wish to complete the survey you have to express a view about all options, a little akin to the transferable vote system. Even if your first choice is ‘undecided’. I mean if you are undecided, you are hardly wanting to vote for other options. The council survey just smacks of gerrymandering.

For me, it is going to be interesting to see if there are any differences between the report. Though that is if I am allowed to see the APSE report, as no doubt being allowed so much access, I am sure some sort of confidential agreement had to be signed. If the evidence from the council is to be fully believed, they should be similar in their findings. If not, then there will be some very interesting questions that will need to be answered.

I hope the non-council report will also be available as that way Councillors and the public will get a chance to compare and come to their own conclusions. Anyway, there is going to be a lot of reading in the next few days.


Cornwall Council Surveys Staff on Outsourcing

Cornwall Council are undertaking a survey of staff that will be effected by the outsourcing proposals before the full council will and I hope, decide finally which way it will go on the Strategic Partnership for Support Services (JV). This meeting is on the 11th December, starting at 10:30 (agenda HERE).

It is good that the council is now surveying its staff now, at this later stage, but lets not dwell on that shall we? However, I have seen this survey, and I am surprised by the way it is laid out.

Two of the options (B and C)  are basically the same, as BT is a full outsourcing contract.  It is because staff will be transferred to BT and will no longer be council employees. Option C only really comes into play if a few years down the line the council looks to outsource again. But that is unlikely, as I do not see a mad rush by companies to take on these services, or we would have had more than one company still in the current process.

Though the conspiracy theorist  in me cannot help but think that by having lots of options it makes it easier to say the BT deal is the preferred. It would also have been better if each option had a  none or no view. That way, it would have given a clearer picture of the true feeling.

Lastly, you cannot leave one of the boxes blank, so to complete the survey, you have to give each option a tick in the box. This point was highlighted when a member of staff emailed me last night:

“Eagerly went into my email to complete the survey. I only wanted to select the in-house option but was not allowed. Waste of time! What are they scared of?

Anyway, I look forward to the results

JV or nothing: well, apart from the dozen other options

In the past, Councillors have been told there is no alternative to the thick JV, or as it is more known to the layman “outsourcing”. However, on Monday, a briefing was held on at least a dozen alternatives to handing over so many council service to a private company.

The options can be broken down into three types; public sector, strategic partnership and outsourcing. Though, the last two options are to a point the same, just varying levels of what is handed over to a private ‘partner’. It is interesting to note, there is an option in the thick JV of Libraries and One Stop Shops not being included, and staff being on secondment rather than, as is currently proposed, being transferred to BT.

The in-house option(s) fall into the following categories: a new wholly owned public company, Cornwall public sector shared services and a employee mutual. As part of the briefings, three Heads of Services (HoS), IT, Shared Services and Procurement gave their views on the in-house options and the amount of money that could be saved.

All three HoS said saving could happen with the in-house option. For IT, the savings over three years would amount to half of the target savings of 20%. Councillors were told this would include some job losses (roughly 10%), but these would be non-compulsory and would be achieved by natural ways like retirement etc.

Those services that are covered within shared services (OSS, call centre, Libraries etc) have identified 10% savings for the 2013/14 period for an in-house option. This equates to roughly £600,000. The HoS did say if more savings are required, difficult choices would have to be made, especially as 90% of this services cost are staff.

In procurement, again savings could be made, but it would also need investment to make sure those savings can be realised. This investment would also be a requirement for shared services and IT and this money would have to come from capital reserves.

At face value I reckon at least if not more (with more work) 50% of target savings could be made with the in-house options. If more work was done, I am sure more could be found without a drop in service to the public, or wholesale job losses. Surely that is better for staff and the public to have council controlled services, rather than relying on a contract between a private company and the council to make sure that service agreement is delivered?

However, even with the most robust contracts, there is always a very clever lawyer who finds the loophole which in most cases benefits the private sector, rather than a Government or council. History is full of public/private sector deals that have gone wrong, and it is the private company that comes out of it smelling of roses. Furthermore, from my investigations, I reckon as least 70% of shared services deals have failed to some point. Will Cornwall be lucky and be in the 30% success rate? Is that risk worth taking with tax payers money?

The feeling today that there still is not enough information, and I believe another briefing will take place before the December 11th meeting where this subject will be decided once and for all.

When is a job not a job?

When is a job not a job? That might seem a strange question, however it is an important one when it comes to the actual number of jobs that have been ‘guaranteed’ as part of the support services proposals. Previously, those supporters of outsourcing have made a song and dance on the many extra jobs that will be created if the JV goes through. Worryingly, it now turns out that 181 of these so-called new jobs have actually come from those jobs that have come from redeployment.

This point was picked up by the Single Issue Panel and top marks should go to the panel for spotting this. I am told these jobs will now not be part of the guaranteed jobs. This is good news, but you cannot help but think it was all part of the plan in the first place. Furthermore, are there any other jobs coming from redeployment, or relocation that have been counted as new jobs that have yet been exposed? It really makes you wonder.

Another discrepancy is the amount of money that is included as part procurement. The council say it is £200 million, but BT have figures of £360 million. This point was sort of clarified today, with the man brought in to help the council in this deal saying BT would accept the council’s figure, but the figure could only go so low, or else the deal would not be worth entering into. Which sort of proves the point of the procurement side of the deal is the real target of BT.

These points and others were raised at Fridays SIP meeting. On Monday, Councillors will be briefed on the alternative plans, which is a little strange, as you would think the SIP would have had chance to compare in detail these alternatives against the BT offer. Then again, it was highlighted at the SIP meeting that the in-house JV (alternative to outsourcing) the savings could in fact be much better than first thought.

The Single Issue Panel Releases its Third Report on the Support Services Proposals

The Single Issue Panel (SIP) has just published its third and probably final report before the entire Council decides to either issue the Invite to Tender (IiT) and outsource many council functions and departments to a private company, or to say no once and for all.

Congratulations should go to Dave Biggs, the panel’s Chairman, and the rest of the panel for their hard work in putting this report together. As expected, the report gives a honest appraisal of the deal as best it good. Even though a great deal of information was not made available to the panel as part process.

A fundamental flaw to the process and I believe has hindered the SIP’s work is the lack of detailed business case on how the actual savings this deal would bring. The report highlights this (page 18) because the SIP has only been able to make observations on some of the figures.

Another flaw, is the lack of detail on alternative models which the full council wanted looking at. The SIP has not seen these alternatives apart from an early estimate of an in-house option. I firmly believe the SIP should have been able to scrutinise these alternative methods and compare them with the bid from BT. This could have been done, but certain sections of the Council have instead pushed for the council to decide in December, and not in the first few months of new year. Like I and many of my fellow Councillors want.

Friday’s meeting of the SIP is going to be interesting as the panel members might have to decide with the evidence provided if they support the BT deal, or it should not be progressed.

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