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!

The Day Before Tomorrow

Everything is heading for one almighty collision tomorrow (16th October) when the entire council meets to either support the no-confidence motion, and remove the current leader, or stick with him. The motion has not just come about from the Shared Services (JV) dealings, but for many the JV was the final straw for back bencher’s.

It will not surprise people, but the current Cabinet have been sending e-mails to all Councillors in what looks to be an orchestrated plan to ‘re-assure’ back bencher’s.  So far I have received emails from Councillor’s Ridgers, Rule, Hicks and German. They are all stating the same that the JV is the best thing since sliced bread, but if the council chooses to vote against the JV on the 23rd, they will respect that vote. Funny how they have changed their minds from the last Council meeting!

This massive change of heart from the previous stance is nothing more than a delaying tactic to save their and the current Cabinet Leaders position. As if the vote on the Leader’s position is carried, their jobs are in no way guaranteed. Though, no one is saying the other Cabinet Members will be removed. This seems to come from the Cabinet Members themselves, and not those who have signed the motion, or who will vote to remove the Leader. It is more like another scare tactic.

I am sure there will be lots of arm twisting  going on tonight to make sure the Leader has support. Though I am hearing the support list is rapidly thinning. Threats rarely work, and just shows how desperate people are.

The meeting will be webcast as well. The link for the webcast is HERE

Jim Currie Resigns from Cornwall Council Cabinet

It is Tuesday, and I did say it was going to get interesting in the lead up to the no-confidence vote. The latest development is Jim Currie has resigned from the Cabinet. This is really a huge development as Jim is also the Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council.

In his letter to Alec Robertson:

I am resigning from the Cabinet today as I feel that I have pushed the cause of retaining Council control over Joint Ventures as far as I can with the Cabinet.

The financial risks involved with the rush into the new Joint Venture proposals are unacceptable. The JV is basically too large to control. We have wasted £42m+ on the Unitary, £42m+ on the Incinerator and we are now proposing to risk a great deal more on the Joint Venture.

I welcome your somewhat ambiguous offer to respect Full Council decisions on the 23rd October but I know you will never let go.

I could not leave local government with billions of pounds of Cornish Taxpayers money at risk and on my conscience.

Alec, this matter has never been personal.

Yours aye


The third paragraph in Jim’s letter is really damaging, as it strengthens the case after the announcement on Monday is nothing more than a ruse to survive the 16th, then still press on with the JV. You can not forget Jim has been in the inter-circle of the Cabinet, and was the Portfolio Holder for Finance so would know more than most.

Jumped before pushed? I do not think so, as I think the resignation is perfectly timed for the no-confidence vote on the 16th. I think now, there is only one possible replacement candidate for the no-confidence vote.

Cornwall Council: And it’s only Monday

After this morning ‘announcement’  from the Leader saying he will respect the Council’s decision if it chooses (again) to vote against the Shared Services proposal on the 23rd, then it will not go ahead.

This announcement was later clarified in an email to Councillors seven hours later. In that email, it goes on to stay how wonderful Shared Services is blah, blah, blah. However, it is a paragraph in that message that stood-out. This is:

“We will be holding confidential briefings prior to the Council debate to provide all Members with detailed information about the two offers.  I hope that as many Members as possible will attend these session so they can make an informed decision about whether we should go ahead with the proposal.”

It stood out because firstly,  this ‘briefing’ will take place after the no-confidence onset for the 16th. I believe the 18th is earmarked for that briefing. Two days after the no-confidence debate.

Secondly, if the Leader is removed, the odds-on favourite to replace Councillor Robertson has said he will stop the Shared Services proposals. So why would you need a briefing for something that is not going to happen? Quite simply, you do not. Or is the Leader so confident in surviving the no-confidence motion that he is actually planning for the future!

I indicated this morning about this sudden announcement could be a ruse. The more I am hearing, the more I am coming to that conclusion it is a ruse to distract people from the 16th. I am not the only one that has come to that conclusion because many of my fellow Councillors samilar today.

I smell a……….

Lastly, It is now claimed the announcement is not a U-turn, but what then is that smell of tire-rubber?


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