Cornwall Council Shared Services: Companies with a shadowy past, Pt 2

Yesterday’s blog on the past dealings of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), and their involvement with the process of Rendition was certainly an eye-opener. It maybe in the past, but a massive concern is CSC have not ruled out doing the same in the future. Which as I said before, should be of interest to Cornwall Council.

I decided to contact Reprieve asking for further information and there have been more than helpful in answering my questions and request for further information. So much so, they told me they had even written to the Leader of Cornwall Council highlighting CSC past. They did this on the 4th of August, and got an acknowledgement reply. Though over three-weeks later no further letter answering Reprieves questions has been forthcoming. You would think the council would be quick to respond to such an important letter?

It is of further concern, that the full council will be debating the issue of shared services this coming Tuesday (4th) and you would think this information would be relevant to the debate. Sadly, I have seen nothing in any of the documentation that would show one bidder has this history. Though it could be argued the debate is on the principle of shared services, not the companies that might be involved. However, I still this it is relevant to know who you are getting into bed with.

It leads me to think there is far more that is being kept from backbenchers in this process. I wish just once, backbench Councillors would be kept inform of important facts. After all, 123 Councillors have been elected to Cornwall Council to serve the people. It is only right all Councillors are given the facts.

Furthermore, questions must be asked to how much checking Cornwall Council did when short-listing the two bidders? A simple search online highlights CSC past, surely Cornwall Council carried out a more detailed search than using Google. Sadly, it does not look like it, or if the council did, decided to ignore that fact CSC had these past dealings.

The only sensible thing that now should be done is the entire share services agenda should be pulled, or stopped completely.

Below is the letter to the Leader of Cornwall Council and details of three ‘rendition missions’

Letter to Leader:

 

And here are three Rendition Missions:

Rendition Mission: N982RK, 8-11 June 2004

CSC’s Romania Missions

Rendition Mission: N982RK, 25-29 May 2004

 

Cornwall Council Shared Services: Companies with a shadowy past

The Cabinet’s recent decision (I would like to say folly) to start the process of Invite to Tenders (ItT) with two companies, British Telecom and Computer Science Corporation (CSC), both multi-billion pound companies. But how much do we really understand about these companies. Do they have any skeletons in their wardrobe? Well, Computer Science Corporation has one or two.

A little digging around on the internet for research on other councils who have gone down the process of shared services, I came upon Reprieve. A few clicks on their webpage and I came across an article on CSC. In that article it shows a company brought by CSC  became involved with the renditions, secret detention and torture programme through its purchase of DynCorp in March 2003. Reading this, I let out a few expletives. The link to the whole article is HERE.

Granted this was many years ago, and from the Reprieve article, CSC sold DynCorp in 2004.  However, again in the article, CSC continued dealing with security organisations until 2006. You could argue this was a long-time ago and has no relevance to the possibility of Cornwall Council going into ‘partnership’ with this company.

The real worrying part of it all, and should be of concern to Cornwall Council, is CSC stance when Reprieve wrote to them in March 2012 asking them to sign a Zero Tolerance for Torture Pledge. Sadly, CSC has refused to do this, and sent a letter to confirm this.

So if Cornwall picks CSC as the preferred suppler of  providing services, the council could find the company it is in partnership with takes an active part in renditions, secret detention and torture.  It certainly take the whole argument of ethical investment to a whole new level! In fact a whole new stratosphere!

My question is; does Cornwall Council know about CSC past. Furthermore,  what inquiries/investigations has Cornwall Council carried out to make sure the council is protected from any fallout ‘if’ CSC gets involved again with renditions? If Cornwall Council knew, why have Councillors not been informed? As from the paperwork I have read, there is no mention of anything like this!

A huge and special thank go to Reprieve for their good work in highlighting this issue!

Backbench Cornwall Councillors will debate Shared Services

The next meeting of Cornwall Council’s entire membership takes place on the 4th September. For this meeting I have submitted a Motion that has cross-party support from Independents, MK, Lib Dem’s and Labour. The Motion is on the recent decision by the Council’s Cabinet on Shared Services. My previous blogs on this topic are HERE. The Councillors who have put their names to the Motion in support are Graham Walker, Andrew Long, Geoff Brown and Jude Robinson.

The Motion is as follows:

“In view of its far-reaching consequences, including its potential impact on Council governance and elected Member accountability, this Council believes that it is not in the best interests of the people of Cornwall for the Council to enter into the proposed Strategic Partnership for Support Services.”

There are two main points to this Motion. The first is my unhappiness on the whole process and recent outcome at Cabinet. Only eight Councillors voted in favour of this at the recent Cabinet with one voting against, the Portfolio Holder for Finance abstained, after making his views pretty clear on his unhappiness on so much of the proposals.

The second part is to allow those outside of the Cabinet the ability to debate this fundamental change to how Cornwall Council provides services. As many Councillors feel these changes are so far-reaching for Cornwall, but are not given the ability to debate this issue and give their individual views. After all, 123 Councillors are elected to Cornwall Council!

The number of services that are being fully/part-privatised is staggering, and it is full of risks. In fact I believe massive risks. You only have to Google shared services to see how many other local authorities have run, or are running into trouble with these ‘partnerships’. Only last week, Mouchel has gone into administration, and they have a multi-million deal with Bournemouth Council.

I have also asked for all the information that has been provided to the Cabinet to be made available to the entire Council. I am pleased to say, this request has been accepted and the full membership will be able to see everything which the Cabinet had access to. I am sure there are a few nervous people on the amount of information that will be made available. A lot of it is very sensitive. A least the debate will be conducted with all the information available. This is only right and proper. That information is HERE at item 22.1

I should point out that even if the Council votes and decides to this Motion, it does not mean the plans for shared services are stopped. This is because the Cabinet has the executive functions for this type of decision. Like it or not, these are the current constitutional rules at Cornwall Council. However, if the Motion has overwhelming support, the Cabinet will be in a difficult position to carry-on with the plan.

Let’s hope if the support there is not for the shared services plans to go ahead they will be dropped. Much like when the Leader asked the Council for their views on the stadium. The decision of the Council was not to support the principle of using tax payer’s money. The Leader made comment the Cabinet would respect the view councils view, and Cabinet would not progress with the stadium plans. Think it will happen again if the vote goes against shared services??

Personally, I am looking forward to the debate

Shared Services: The Great Sell Off

The decision of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to approve the proposal for ‘Shared Services’ has angered many Cornwall Councillors outside of the Cabinet. The information on the proposals has been limited to those who are not in the Cabinet. If the information to back-bencher’s is limited, you can bet the information for the public is even worse.

The Cabinet’s reason for this sell-off is to save money, and create jobs. At face value, you can understand those reasons, but look behind the words, and you get to think how will this be done? Take for example Stuart Roden’s view as Unison spokesperson.

“We don’t see how it’s possible to protect and create jobs, make savings of 20 per cent-plus, improve services and make a profit for the shareholders of private companies. The whole thing does not stack up.”

A private company’s first (and probably only) loyalty is to their shareholders, unlike a public sector, whose loyalty is to the tax-payer. So how will they save money? It is quite simple; staff and pay. Even the Director at Cornwall Council who is leading this plan said in an interview:

On the scenario referred to as “the J curve” could see fewer jobs in Cornwall before all the new jobs were created.

I am sure the 1000 or so staff which will be ‘transferred’ are really happy with the scenario of the J-curve. Worse, and from my understanding, those staff that are transferred would not be able to apply for internal jobs at the Council either!

So what is being offered to the private sector (corporate)? The list certainly made me wince when I saw it.  Well, here is the list:

  • HR – payroll, employment support
  • Finance Transactional – invoice processing and payment
  • Income – billing and collection of council tax, business rates and other sundry debts
  • Benefits – Housing/council tax benefit, financial assessments for adult care, free school meals
  • Customer contact – Call Centres, channel migration and web enhancement
  • Face to Face – Libraries, One Stop Shops, Registration
  • Operational Support – training, systems and general administration,  scanning and archive services

How do you feel with Libraries; One Stop Shops; Benefits, including housing; adult care, free school meals; customer services being run by a private company? A lot of spin has been said about this not being privatisation, but it is, as you are giving these services to a private company to run.

Even the Council Tax we pay to Cornwall Council will be given to a private company to collect and run. How is that possibly right? It will be the same for Business Rates. I would like to see how sympathetic this private company is to those who might find themselves in financial difficulty. I think we all know the answer to that.

Professor John Sheldon HERE and points out:

“Literature on shared services show that all of the ‘evidence’ for sharing comes from estimates, projections (to make the savings sound big) and surveys. No of which represent actual evidence. Additionally all of the evidence is being generated from within the shared services industry (IT software sellers, private BPOs and consultancies). In recent years thinktanks have become vehicles to wash the evidence clean of any bias, reports been produced that are flawed and do not take the facts into account or are based upon reports from those services already sharing”.

Or from The Guardian (just one of many articles on the folly of shared services)

Southwest One, the joint venture between IBM, Somerset county council, Taunton Deane borough council and Avon & Somerset Constabulary, was launched in 2007 with a plan to save £192m by sharing back office functions. So far it has recorded a pre-tax loss over its three financial years, with the latest loss peaking at £16.5m.

Yet managers claim to have made £3.3m in cashable savings. Clearly I need to learn something about accounting – how can you make “savings” at the same time as filing such major losses? It is also reported that a problem with the accounting system has led to duplicate payments worth up to £772,000 and £12.9m in outstanding debts. Meanwhile Southwest One leaders maintain that it can still achieve the promised savings for its partners.

I am certainly not happy, and I am in the process of doing something about it.

Council Services For Sale

Monday’s Cornwall Council Cabinet was going to be a day that would put the council firmly on the Shared Services privatisation path. On the table were many of the council services, like the One Stop Shops and Libraries which are set to be run by a private company. The sheer scale of the sell-off is staggering.

A Scrutiny Single Issue Panel (SIP) was set up to look into this proposal. To the SIP’s credit, they did a great job in highlighting the many dangers and unknowns Cornwall Council would face if it went down this path. Even the Chairman of the council’s Audit Committee, and known Leadership loyalist said, “There is a major risk in this venture.” You have to ask yourself, is it right the Cabinet is taking a massive gamble with tax-payers money? Councillor Biggs, and co-chair of the SIP, said in his report: “This venture is a Leap of Faith.”

Most damning of all the debate was Councillor Currie’s comments. When the Councillor responsible for resources (the money) say’s he was not fully consulted in these proposals. That should stop the process in its tracks, It is like someone running into a brick wall. In fact Councillor Currie did a fantastic rearguard action to stop the process.

The best line (for the wrong reasons) was the Leader’s in responding to those who had concerns with the plans. He said: “if you do not like the option you have the option to abstain.” Abstain? Unless the council’s constitution had been changed, a Councillor can vote against something, not just abstain!

Unsurprisingly, the Cabinet voted to process with the plans for Shared Services. Only Councillor Kaczmarek voted against, with Councillor Currie abstaining.

I guess time will tell if this Leap of Faith actually works. If not, the tax-payer will be left to pick up the bill when the private company walks away with all the money.

 

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