Today, the entire council debated my motion which was supported by Andrew Long (MK), Jude Robinson (Lab), Geoff Brown (LD) and Graham Walker (Indi). Without their support, I doubt this motion would have made it on to the council’s agenda. The motion is:
“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.”
Before the debate started there was a move to put the whole item, debate and vote into closed session because it was claimed from officers that some of the information, and questions could be commercially sensitive. I really struggled (as did many others) with this, as the information the Councillors had been supplied with, was already in the public domain. The impact on the Strategic Partnership has such far-reaching consequences to the people of Cornwall, that it should be fully debated in open session and the vote in full view of the public. Not behind closed doors. Thankfully, and it was a close vote, the Councillors decided not to go into closed session.
There were some excellent speeches from all sides of the chamber. The two really outstanding speeches came from Bert Biscoe (Indi), who made one of the best speeches I have ever seen in the council chamber. The other was from Jim Currie, Portfolio Holder for Finance. His words on the procurement side of the plans, and if the council hands this over, it will also be handing over a multi-billion pound chequebook to a private company was starling. Bob Edgerton, liken it to when Geoffrey Howe turned on Margaret Thatcher (this is all available on the webcast archive). You certainly knew Jim was no fan of the Strategic Partnership. Jim even got a round of applause from the Lib Dems.
My points came from too many unknowns, losing democratic accountability on so many services and pie-in-the-sky predictions on job creation. These ‘aspirational’ jobs were a concern for the scrutiny panel looking into this plan, If the scrutiny panel is worried, you have to get worried, too. Much has been made of the J-curve. When I believe it will not be a J-curve, but an L shaped letter. Job loses, and then flat lining.
A main selling point of the Strategic Partnership is the ability to ‘buy’ other services from other council’s. I however, pointed out what I believe is a massive flaw in this plan. For example, imagine if there was a motion to handover all these services to another council to run, and therefore create jobs in that authority. There would be uproar, and claims the jobs must stay in Cornwall. So you can hardly expect other councils to allow jobs to go to another council at the expense of their own. It just would not happen. I believe the market is already flooded with many sellers of shared services, but not many buyers!
After a three-hour debate, it was time to vote. Both Andrew Long and I proposed a ‘recorded vote’. So records would show which way a Councillor voted. I am very pleased to say my motion was supported by 46 for (51.69% of Councillors); 29 against (32.3%) and 14 abstentions (15.7%). It is a shame 34 Councillors were not present for the final vote, but this could be for various justified reasons.
A good question is what happens now. The full council has voted not to support the Strategic Partnership proposals, but the ultimate decision lies with the Cabinet. Will the Cabinet change its course on this? To be honest, I do not think it will drop the proposals completely. However, it could postpone the decision to after the elections in May 2013. Then the new council has the democratic mandate (and possible will) to enter into some sort of Strategic Partnership.
Lastly, thanks should go to all those Councillors, from all parties who supported this motion.