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

 

13 comments

  • You are completely correct that the full business justification for the JV needs to be scrutinised but i would suggest that this needs to be carried out by specialists, by Economists, Statisticians, Finance and Audit officers. A clear assessment of the Business case, financial and job projections needs to be carried out. Much of this stuff will be too complex for Cllrs to understand (for example the reviewing the underlying assumptions on which the projections are based needs to be compared with comparative industry data as well as taking into account the current economic conditions).

    HOWEVER I’m not sure that Officers of the council can be considered to be subjective enough to do this considering that most of the senior officials seems to be already convinced (or have already been seduced) by the JV proposal. Remember BT is from the private sector and selling is what they do…as much as I dislike the idea, Cllrs should probably buy in some some independent expertise for impartial advice on this…from somebody that does not have an existing relationship with BT or Cornwall Council.

  • I completely agree that those documents need to be seen and understood. I’m not necessarily sure that Cllrs will have the experience and expertise to get the the bottom of the figures though. That would take a team of specialists comprising of Economists, Statisticians, Finance and Audit. The underlying assumptions that lead to those headline figures you have been given need to be understood and tested against comparative industry data and current economic projections for the economy.

    However i would not consider officers at the council to be subjective enough to carry this out (unless they are maybe seconded to the SIP and allowed to work in complete freedom) assessment, not least because the senior officers of the council have already been convinced (or maybe seduced) by the BT Bid. Remember that BT is a private company and selling is what they do. Having been involved in PPPs in central government i know from bitter experience the reality gap between what companies are willing to promise to get you into bed with them and what they are able or willing to deliver once they have the contract. Although I’m not a fan, it might be necessary to buy in outside expertise so the Cllrs can have independent verification of the vital data.

    You also correctly point out that the owners of the companies can change, so you might get into bed with BT but end up with an entirely different partner. The IT partner i worked with in Defra was originally SEMA Group, then part of the company working on our contract was bought out by first Schlumberger and then ATOS. That was in the space of 6 years.

  • brian

    Mr Wallis, it would seem Alec Robertson and his cabinet was right not to share information with the full council. Within a week of Alec being kicked out, you appear to have leaked confidential information about the project to the national press. Clever move that, now nobody will want to touch Cornwall and we can face these cuts on our own!

    So what I’d like to know Mr Wallis is this: can you be trusted to act on my behalf when you have broken the trust that the people of Cornwall have privileged you with? I live in your constituency but who exactly are you representing? It isn’t me. Perhaps you could tell us what your plan B is?

    What you don’t seem to understand Mr Wallis is that all people like myself want to know about anything connected with politics is this – what is the impact to my life? And that’s why I object to your antics – you are not presenting me with any information about Plan A or Plan B. And until you come forward and say “I leaked this to the press because…” as far as I’m concerned you cannot be trusted.

    So please tell me and all the people of Helston: Will my council tax go up if you vote for or against this? Will the libraries be protected if you vote for or against this? Will services be cut if this project collapses?

    You ask in your previous blog: “Am I worth £4.39?” – to justify your pay rise. But let me assure you of this Mr Wallis: if your actions puts services at risk, threatens they very things you are trying to save (e.g. libraries) – isn’t the real question here: are you worth anything at all if you are putting the lives and services of people in Cornwall at risk?

  • Andrew Wallis

    Brian,

    Let me clear up the first point you raised. I did not leak any confidential information. None of that information was, or is classed as confidential. This has been confirmed by the Monitoring Officer. Nor have I leaked anything to the press. So I do not know where you ‘heard’ this information.

    As for plan B, or C. I wish we could have looked at all the plans before one was picked. Sadly, plan B, or C or any other plan was not fully investigated. So how do we know, this deal is the best? The simple answer is we don’t. Take for instance, the procurement process the council normally uses for contracts etc. This deal scored so low, that it would not have been acceptable. So another system was used, called Competitive Dialogue.

    My main role is to protect services and to make sure people are actually receiving those services. Is putting those services in the hands of a private company a guarantee? Who would you like to run/control the OSS, libraries etc? The entire council (93 in favour 0 against) voted at the last meeting to look into all the option including in-house options because it felt these should be explored fully (which they haven’t). Previously the SIP, whose hard work highlighted so many dangers, were mostly ignored. No business plan or forecast has been made available, which is of concern too.

    So there is a concern on this deal. So until such time it is proven this is the best and only deal, I will make sure I stand up and fight for those services. Or would you just like me to accept everything without investigating what I am told is right?

    Best wishes,

    Andrew

    (you message got caught up in the spam filter)

  • Andrew Wallis

    I agree, any deal needs to be scrutinised by an independent body. It was one of the recommendation out of the motion. It is also something the SIP wants.

  • brian

    Thank you for that clarification Mr Wallis and I am relieved to hear your main role is to protect services. But may I suggest you think carefully about your approach in the future.

    By fighting for services as you claim, you appear only to be placing them at risk. If you are truly confident that Cornwall Council will be better without the private sector, then I wish you well and look forward to hearing your solutions.

    But let me tell you this now. As a former employee, I can assure you that Cornwall Council can’t do everything themselves. And as a proud Cornishman, I have seen and experienced it all. My wife, who is in poor health, and my 28 year old daughter who still lives at home, would certainly welcome knowing the facts behind this project. Your duty is to represent people like myself. Your campaign appears to be based on fear.

    So go and investigate as you claim to be doing, and then make a decision based on that. If you cause irrepairable damage before you have found out the facts, then people like myself will hold you responsible. And if after that you still believe the project is a bad deal for Cornwall, and can articulate this to me in a better way than you are currently doing, then you will have my full support.

    Good luck to you.

  • Worried Worker 2

    The deal with B T needs to be looked at closely and other options , there is push to get this sorted by early December what’s the rush, if BT has said it will keep the deal on the table till March, are higher officials worried about what might be revealed next !

  • Hatchett

    “Now nobody will want to touch Cornwall”

    If big business is put off investing because Cornwall has proven it is not a push over, then maybe it’s big business that needs to change rather than those Councillors who stood up for us…

  • Zed

    Keep up the great work Andrew! The BT bid just makes no sense at all. There appears to be a huge financial void at its centre and taxpayers should worry that it will end-up like the somerset project. This is the most effective bit of local democracy I have seen. The belief that councillors are too think to understand a bid is disgraceful and suspicious.

  • Zeb

    Keep up the great work Andrew! The BT bid just makes no sense at all. There appears to be a huge financial void at its centre and taxpayers should worry that it will end-up like the somerset project. This is the most effective bit of local democracy I have seen. The belief that councillors are too think to understand a bid is disgraceful and suspicious.

  • a benefits assessor

    Brian seems more concerned about his council tax going up than protecting services and jobs. With 3 adults in his household he shouldn’t worry so much. I pay 75% of his bill on my own.

  • A benefits assessor

    Brian seems more concerned about his council tax going up than protecting services and jobs. With 3 adults in his household he shouldn’t worry so much. I pay 75% of his bill on my own.

  • Johns

    As the bid from BT never reached tender stage and now all other competition has bailed out, how can a single supplier tender possibly be judged to be in the best interests of Cornwall.

    Given how this deal has morphed over the past months surely (if it proceeds) it should be the subject of a new public procurement.

    The purpose of a competitive dialogue was to clarify the requirement of the purchasers – Council and Health Trusts, (although some might say it actually clarified the requirements of the bidders).

    So IF the JV option does become the preferred one, then it seems sensible that the Council offers its clarified requirement up for re-bidding.

    I gather BT have left their (untendered) deal on the table until March and as an honest and open company should have no problems in continuing to do so whilst we see if there is anything better out there in JV pricing and savings.

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