Thursday, 27 September 2012

Split in the Liberal Democrats over Shared Services privatisation

There seems to be a split in the Liberal Democrat party over the Strategic Partnership for Shared Services proposed by the Conservative- Independent administration on Cornwall Council. Despite statements by Liberal Democrat councillors, the party is really split. Whether this is a result of being in favour of privatisation or whether they do not want to upset Nick Clegg and David Cameron is unclear, or so disillusioned they no longer turn up and vote. Considering this is the party that in Westminster is parcelling up the National Health Service to the higher bidder, they should come clean with the Cornish electorate...

Lib Dem deputy leader on Cornwall Council Alex Folkes explained to the Packet that he signed the no confidence motion to oust Alec Robertson as leader:

“In particular, the decision by the Cabinet to press ahead with their privatisation scheme despite a vote by a majority of councillors against it. If the leader and cabinet system is to work then those in charge have to listen to the will of the majority of councillors."
link

Which obviously is meant to represent his and his parties views on the subject. Alex also blogged and explained that he signed the petition against the Shared Services Scheme (read that here). So the average voter could be forgiven for thinking that Alex and his LD chums are united in opposition and doing everything in their power to scupper the ridiculous scheme. However if you read the excellent This is Cornwall guide to how your councillor voted, it's hard to maintain the view that the Lib Dems oppose this privatisation wholeheartedly.

The political make up of Cornwall Council is such that the administration can only lose a vote if the Conservative group and the Independent group shed votes to the opposition and all of the opposition vote against the ruling group. However the motion to scrap Shared Services had a very strange outcome in terms of voting. Not all Conservatives and Independents voted with the Cabinet and not all Liberal Democrats voted against the cabinet or indeed voted at all.

Like it or loathe it, the introduction of Shared Services would be the biggest change to Cornwall Council since the introduction of unitary it would effect everything. Surely if there was a vote not to miss it was this one. Yet there were 33 absences, 12 of which from the Liberal Democrat party  (Alex Folkes, Jackie Bull, Joyce Duffin, George Edwards, Sasha Gillard-Loft, Brian Hobbs, Jan Powell, Colin Riches, Pat Rogerson, Roy Taylor, John Turner and Kym Willoughbly.) 14 abstentions, 3 were from the Lib Dems (Joanna Kenny, Ann Kerridge, Shirley Polmounter.) And surprisingly one of the most senior Liberal Democrats Lord Robin Teverson voted with his London coalition partners for the Shared Services scheme to continue.

In total, the Liberal Democrats have 37 councillors on Cornwall Council (probably less when you read this, defections are ripe), 16 of which either didn't turn up, didn't vote or supported the Shared Services scheme.

So my curiosity wonders do they support the privatisation of council services?

Are they keen to play nice with the Tories in order to keep the Clegg- Cameron love in, intact?

Or do nearly half of them really not care enough to turn up and vote?

It's interesting to note that if the council leader, Alec Robertson had managed to get Conservative and Independent councillors to vote with him then the motion to throw out Shared Services would have been roundly defeated. With Mebyon Kernow and Labour the only political groups wholeheartedly opposing the scheme it is fortunate that even Tories can see that this plan is unrealistic and not in the best interests of Cornwall's public sector employees or the taxpayer and voted against it (or didn't bother to turn up and/or vote.)

This ambiguity in the Liberal Democrat camp is also evident in the no confidence motion signed, it has been signed by 42 councillors, 6 Mebyon Kernow, 1 Labour, a number of Independents (at least 3 I can think of undoubtedly a lot more). So if you add the Liberal Democrat councillors the number should be at least 47, however it's not. Again the questions above are raised.

If you haven't already sign the petition To stop the Strategic Partnership for Shared Services

Monday, 24 September 2012

Clegg's using pensions for property scheme, don't hold your breath

The Liberal Democrat leader boasted at the party's annual conference that, his government are announcing a plan to help first time buyers get on the housing ladder. Attracting great headlines and no doubt steadying the queasy Lib Dem membership, this plan sounds great and going by the old maxim if it sounds to be good to be true it probably is. Basically the plan is for first time buyers to use their parents pensions to afford a deposit and voilĂ  break the high house prices versus low wages deadlock, win win, well at least superficially.

Clegg in his leafy suburb, practising his sorry face.
My initial scepticism of the plan was whether it would just be meant for richer families. I asked on twitter if the plans would include state pensions and the replies were none, not a single one. A little odd I thought, so I checked it out and indeed it does not include state pensions, only private pensions. Perhaps the millionaire Clegg in his lovely home in a fashionable neighbourhood of London is unaware, but here among us common folk, private pensions are rarer than Liberal Democrat supporters. The children of fishermen, factory workers, labourers, builders or to put it short many ordinary Cornish people do not have great pension pots to dip into. My parents for one unfortunately were relying upon paying national insurance to get a pension, believing in good faith that would be enough. What hope does this scheme offer the most needy, again and again this government appeals to the most affluent.

This was my initial critique, digging further past the flattering headlines I came across this great piece on the Guardian website Will Nick Clegg's 'pension for property' scheme work. It turns out that the pension providers are very sceptical about this scheme, presumably without their backing this scheme would fail. But that's not the worst thing about it......

Realistically though the Lib Dems are working on an assumption that only 12,500 people would take up the offer. Privately they say the industry suggests a range of 10,000 to 20,000. It's a tiny figure, and doesn't warrant the rather dramatic introduction from Nick Clegg on the Marr show, but better than nothing, they say. link

To put that figure in context there are a lot more people than that on the housing waiting list in Cornwall never mind throughout the UK! This is the problem with the Liberal Democrats and their Conservative chums they recognise problems but don't get even close to dealing with them. Which says a lot for the state of Nick's party, one of the great centre pieces of their conference, the great policy announcement is a half baked idea that will benefit a tiny percentage of people.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Vote of no confidence is perfect opportunity for Independents to leave the sinking ship

Alec Robertson the leader of Cornwall Council is facing a vote of no confidence on the 16th of October, after 41 councillors have signed a motion to oust him as leader. This provides the perfect opportunity for the Independent group to walk away from their coalition with the Conservatives. The political make up of the council is such that the Tories cling to power with the connivance of Independent councillors. Pulling the rug from underneath them is not only possible but the sensible thing to do, the ruling group is at the moment ignoring the votes of the majority of councillors and the thousands of members of the public who signed the petition to oppose the Shared Services partnership. The council can hardly be described as popular suffering from too many bad news stories to link them all, it is in the interests of the people of Cornwall and indeed the people that voted for Independent councillors that they once again act, think and vote like independents rather than propping up the Conservative party.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Council Tax devolved and how localism is more expensive to the Cornish taxpayer than an assembly

A while back I wrote about the Tory criticisms of a Cornish Assembly. I pointed out that devolution to a Cornish assembly may well be expensive to public funds but what of localism where does the money come from? My real fear is that powers will be devolved to Cornwall but the taxes that paid for them will remain in London. At the time it was hard to confirm this fear, there is no real plans that cover what localism will mean in Cornwall, what the details and pros and cons will be. In fact I am coming to the conclusion  that localism is an ad hoc arrangement, whereby politicians and bureaucrats decide amongst themselves what Westminster no longer wants responsibility for and they just 'wing it' and fudge something together. However some details have come to light and it seems my fears are being realised. This means for the Cornish taxpayer that we will still pay the same amount of tax (income tax, national insurance, vat, fuel duty, road tax, corporation tax, capital gains etc etc) to central government but that will no longer be spent on the same services and will be siphoned off to be spent elsewhere. Whilst our council tax will pay for services previously paid for by the treasury. The bottom line is the Cornish taxpayer will pay more for the same (if not fewer) services.

Take for example the devolution of council tax benefit responsibility to Cornwall Council. As their press release states:

"As part of the Government’s changes to the national benefits scheme they are passing responsibility for council tax benefit to local councils such as Cornwall Council and we must create our own Localised Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme.
....
Under the new scheme the Government will no longer cover the full cost and is reducing the amount of funding available to Cornwall Council for benefit support by 12.5%. We estimate this means that Cornwall Council has £6 million less funding than the current scheme has to distribute in Cornwall to people who receive council tax benefit."
Changes to the Council Tax Benefit scheme

This means in effect that the council will be faced with the unenviable decision to either cut council tax benefit or find more funds from the already stretched budget. This will be disastrous for people on council tax benefit,  the unemployed, disabled and the lowest earning families will lose out. As we see time and time again taxes for the rich and corporations have been slashed by this Conservative and Liberal Democrats government at the expense of the poorest and most needy in society. The upshot for the Cornish economy is very negative with these changes, effectively whether the council makes the poorest pay more council tax or takes money out of the budget, the Cornish economy will lose an estimated £6 million pounds per year. This money will be kept by the treasury and spent on whichever whim Westminster fancies and further depress the economic outlook of Cornwall.


A Cornish Assembly may well incur a cost to public funds, this is true, there is no lie in George Eustice and Sarah Newtons' statement, creating a Cornish Assembly would take public money from London and spend it in Cornwall there would be a cost to the treasury. However what they failed to mention is that localism is very attractive for central government they devolve power and keep most of the tax that was currently used to pay for it. However for the Cornish taxpayer and the Cornwall's economy localism is much more costly it takes more public money out of our economy and keeps it in London. It will result in less services and Cornish people paying yet more council tax. The Conservatives may fear that a Cornish Assembly would take money out of the treasury, their number one priority. But as Mebyon Kernow member I would much rather that more Cornish taxpayers money was spent here and I believe that localism is a complete nonsense and will undermine Cornish public services and our economy without repatriation of our taxes to pay for the devolved functions. I despair that Conservative MPs would rather save the treasury money than protect public services and the Cornish economy, George Eustice and Sarah Newton are the worst examples of MPs representing Westminster's interests to Cornwall rather than representing Cornwall's interests to Westminster.

Friday, 14 September 2012

BT and CSC NHS IT fiasco proves they are not suitable partners for Cornwall Council and the Cornish NHS

Ignoring the will of councillors and their voting down proposals, Cornwall Council's cabinet are still intent on pressing ahead with a Strategic Partnership of Shared Services with either British Telecom (BT) or Computer Sciences Corp. Embarrassingly for the administration, not only lost a vote about the proposals but also a petition subsequently launched by Independent Councillor Andrew Wallis has attracted 1796 signatures in less than a week (link here) and there is no indication that anybody (outside of the ruling clique and BT and CSCs' boardrooms) want these changes.

I thought I would have a look around the internet and see if there was any credibility in the proposed benefits of setting up a joint venture, the claims are that jobs will be created, savings made and services improved whilst profits are somehow squeezed out of the current budget. I always had doubts that all of these things were simultaneously possible and from a quick search of the internet neither BT or CSC has any credibility in delivering such grandiose promises. BT however are very keen to protect their image by threatening to unleash their lawyers on Cornwall Councillors shockingly with the connivance of Cornwall Council's own legal team, (read that more about that here).

The National Health Service is a great example of how both have no credibility in making savings or improving services. Both BT and CSC were working on setting up the NHS National Programme for IT (NPFIT). Essential reading on this NPFIT from the Computer World UK news site include:

CSC may not be fit for government work, ministers warned in NHS disaster report an excerpt:


The powerful Public Accounts Committee has delivered a stinging rebuke to CSC, by advising the government to give “serious consideration” to whether the IT supplier is “fit” to tender for other public sector work following serious failures on the NHS National Programme for IT.
In nine years under a £3.1 billion contract, CSC has delivered systems to only three acute hospitals, and has missed numerous deadlines.

BT Slammed over NHS NPFIT 'value for money claim' an excerpt:


The powerful Public Accounts Committee has heavily criticised the Department of Health and BT for signing a contract that cut only a fraction of NHS National Programme for IT costs in London in return for half as many large system deployments.
It also said the department was drastically overpaying for systems in smaller mental health trusts with BT elsewhere.


Even the head of the National Audit Office pulled no punches:

The original vision for the National Programme for IT in the NHS will not be realised. The NHS is now getting far fewer systems than planned despite the Department paying contractors almost the same amount of money. 

Eventually and unsurprisingly the NPFIT was scrapped.

Neither BT or CSC have any credibility in their claims, Cornwall Council would be very unwise to repeat the mistakes of the Blair government in commissioning these corporations to run public services. The taxpayer will end up out of pocket and none of the 'service deliveries' will be anything more than empty promises.

If you haven't already please do sign the petition, when I started writing the number of signatures at 1796 and its now at 1813 link here.


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

petition against Cornwall Councils privatisation shared services scheme

Sign the petition against Cornwall Council's Strategic Partnership for Shared Services privitisation plans.
link to the epetition here
Four reasons to sign:

1. The people have not been asked. We the people of Cornwall that will pay for this scheme have not been asked. The Conservative party and Independent group did not stand on this privatisation scheme in an election. Despite the multi million pound nature of the contract the administration has unilaterally decided without a public referundum to take this action.

2. The workers that will have their employment transfered no doubt with worse terms and conditions have not been properly consulted. Every indication is that employees -who ought to know best about public services- do not want this part privatisation.

3. Despite the grandiose promises of the scheme providing savings, creating jobs and profits for the partner corporations, examples of this actually happening are hard to find. Authorities elsewhere have already ditched similar schemes when costs rose and taxpayers money was piled into the schemes to keep them afloat. Providing no savings, less jobs, more costs and worse public services.

4. Cornwall Councillors voted down this scheme and were very clear in their opposition. Despite this the select few in the cabinet, will not listen and pay more heed to slick corporate (unrealistic) arguments. Personally I'd prefer to live in a democracy whereby the people and councillors were listened to and respected. This is still a democracy after all.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to sign.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Shared services, Cornwall Council's cabinet must listen to democracy and stop this great gamble

Following on from yesterday's full council vote to turn down the cabinets and officers plans to part privatise public services the Conservative party remains adamant on ignoring the democratic will of the chamber. This is an absolutely ludicrous situation, the obvious contradiction with democracy is that nobody stood on the platform of sharing services with private companies, the people of Cornwall have not been asked whether they agree with these plans either in a referendum or at the ballot box. The staff that will be most effected by these changes have not even been asked. Despite all this the ruling group on Cornwall Council are determined to push through these plans.

If you missed the webcast (link here) various directors and assorted bureaucrats made the case for bringing in private sector companies to run council services in partnership with the council. Most councillors argued against the scheme in the mammoth three hour long debate and a wide array of arguments came to light against the scheme. When it came to the vote councillors voted in a clear majority for a motion that read:

“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.”

But the powers that be want to still carry on, they claim that working in partnership with private companies could safeguard and indeed create jobs and could attract investment into Cornwall. The operative word here is of course could, nobody actually knows. Despite the senior bureaucrats being very convincing in their arguments yesterday (the Conservative and Independent cabinet were less forthcoming in their own policy, a sad indictment of Cornish democracy) nobody actually knows what will happen. The ludicrous thing about it all is that despite all the promises contracts with private companies have not been signed in fact, the bid process has not finished. So one half of the partnership (the bureaucrats) is making extravagant claims of jobs, savings and improvements to services without a contract explaining as much or indeed a company clearly and realistically offering as much. For all their intelligence quite how they think that a private company can deliver this great wish list is either very naive or impossibly insightful.

We all no doubt remember too well the widely discredited Labour PFI scheme (private finance initiative) which were sold as cure alls to the state's ills. Before they were introduced they were widely bandied about as a way of private money providing capital for state spending. Allowing authorities to build such things as hospitals without the up front capital, then the company would make a profit and helping the state out of bind, a win win situation. When the rose tinted glasses were removed and the plans introduced costs spiralled and the taxpayer was left vastly out of pocket and the shareholders were left the only happy party. My point is that PFI was too good to be true and Cornwall Council and other authorities in Kernow sharing services will go the same way.

Most troubling thing about the whole endeavour is that it involves Cornwall Council and NHS staff in Cornwall having their employment transferred to the partnership. Quite what pay, conditions and contracts they will be under will be up to the partnership, which will be run by a board of 5, 3 from the private sector, 1 from Cornwall Council the CEO and 1 from the NHS (note none of these people spending taxpayers money will be elected or accountable to the people of Cornwall). More worrying still this board could decide that Cornish services would be better run from elsewhere, perhaps the Cornish taxpayer might ring the council to pay their council tax, or ring Treliske to make an appointment and speak to someone in a call centre on another continent. It will be up to the board to decide what happens, they might decide it's cheaper to take jobs out of Cornwall. Minded more to running down costs and preserving profits, an obvious choice would be to take jobs out of the Cornish economy. Considering the uncertainty about the future of jobs in Cornwall themselves or their pay and conditions, it comes as no surprise that NHS staff in Cornwall do not support the private-public partnership proposals. I'd imagine council staff feel much the same in the face of such uncertainty.

These plans are very badly thought out, there is no guarantee that the extravagant promises of the bureaucrats will be matched in reality, in fact examples from local authorities in England where these kind of schemes have been a success for the taxpayer are few and far between in stark contrast to the many examples where they have failed. Those in charge at Cornwall Council may well think that this is a great idea and they may have convinced themselves that companies as far afield as America will place the best interests of Cornwall before their profits. Even if they were right, even if, this is besides the point, democracy is the guiding principle of Cornwall Council not what the select few thinks is best. The council chamber was very clear, councillors from all parties joined together to condemn these plans. The people of Cornwall have not been asked if they want their services run by private companies. The staff at Cornwall Council have not been asked and the staff at Treliske have been very clear to their management that they do not want this. There is absolutely no mandate outside of the top floor of County Hall and corporate boardrooms for these plans, this great gamble should be binned immediately.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Problem with Serco (NHS) out of hours service in Cornwall today

Bit of a public service announcement, via Pirate FM news. Serco that run the NHS out of hours service are having troubles with their phone lines today (first September). Posted on the Pirate website from a Serco spokeperson.

"A spokesperson said: "Patients can also get medical advice from the NHS Direct service on 0845 4647. For very urgent cases only, patients should consider using emergency services. Please listen for further announcements this evening."

The link to the Pirate story is here and it does include more information, NHS out of hours helpline problems.

If you need to contact Serco for some form of medical problem, please follow the instructions on the Pirate FM site. If you don't, this case is something to ponder, Serco has been in the news for failing in their Cornwall NHS service and this is more problems with it. This is one of the problems of privatisation, whereas a NHS run service could probably find alternative arrangements, a company running a public service obviously having huge problems and putting great strain on the actual NHS in Cornwall.

Also worth noting that this news comes in the same week that the Conservative- Independent run Cornwall Council are looking to farm out more services to companies like Serco. I sincerely hope that this does not happen and that councillors on Cornwall Council will see sense and not risk more of our public services in the hands of companies that have little ability to cope and have a complete focus on making money not providing the best service to the public.

A breath of fresh air at Penzance Town Council

The election has certainly rung a great many changes at Penzance Town Council. There are now 12 brand new councillors (although Simon Reed...