Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cornwall Council: The old privatisation King is Dead Long Live the new privatisation King

Yesterday saw a turbulent meeting at Cornwall Council, which saw an increasingly hot tempered debate and ultimately the sacking of Alec Robertson as Council leader (63 votes to 49) and the widespread proclamation that the Joint Venture for Shared Services was dead in the water. And that the election of the Conservative Jim Currie spelt the end for this privatisation scheme. But is it the end of it?

The left was triumphant yesterday after the dethronement of Alec, people including myself hailed the end of this great gamble. Encouraged by Jim Curries words in his bid for the leadership, seeing off the contender Neil Burden with a speech decrying the privatisation scheme, whereas Burden now the deputy leader spoke for a slimmed down version of the scheme. The morning after the night before I have some doubts about the level of victory, no doubt the Guardian article by Patrick Butler had it right (if details a bit sketchy, Cornwall County Council apparently and no mention of the NHS and health partners being part of the scheme) with the title Thatcher's pro-outsourcing fantasy fails in reality. A popular protest evident in the petition, the cross party support for it, the protest outside Lys Kernow yesterday by members of the Unions, Cornwall ant-cuts Alliance, Penwith anti-cuts Alliance and members of Mebyon Kernow and the Labour party. Not to mention of course councillors voting with the public against the interests of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat dogma of neo-liberal privatisation emanating from Westminster. This was a victory both for common sense and the interests of the public in keeping public services run by the democratic and accountable authorities.

However we must be wise to the fact that Jim Currie is still a Conservative and the right leaning Conservative-Independent coalition  is still in power at Cornwall Council (after an alternative coalition involving the Lib Dems was not reached). We must also acknowledge that Jim Currie was until recently deputy member of the Tory group and cabinet member in charge of finances and corporate support. Under his tenure in this office plans were drawn up to turn the council into a commissioning body, precisely the kind of move that led to the Joint Venture/ Shared Services plan. Read more about that here from back in April this year CC press release "Commissioning Council". Add to this the fact that the same councillors that have devised this scheme are still in office and the same officers and particularly Kevin Lavery are in power. As Tony Collins of the Campaign 4 Change warned yesterday:


"The new leader  Jim Currie won the vote in favour of his appointment by a margin of only three.  Though he is against an outsourcing deal, he will find himself up against opposition from some colleagues and particularly some senior officials.
The strength of feeling in some parts of the council for a deal to be signed is remarkable. Could that strength of feeling overcome opposition to the signing of a deal, even with Currie as the new leader"

A very good point, Tony also discusses to the fact that Jim despite his words yesterday in garnering support from councillors, has not ruled out reviving the scheme. An interview with Jim Currie on This is Cornwall contains the passage:


Mr Currie had been elected to the top job with the implicit backing of non-party members who supported his stance against the council’s joint venture with a private sector firm. However, he said that his concerns were with the massive scale of the venture that had been pursued and that he might have been happy with a substantially smaller deal.
He said the bid – which would have seen Cornwall Council and a private firm form a partnership to run key services – was not dead in the water.
“Never say never,” he said. “It might be an option of last resort.”
But he added: “We are not galloping forward with it at any great haste.”

Jim Currie ready for council business

So not ruling it out entirely?
Have members of the council that supported the claim of being anti-privatisation (including Mebyon Kernow and an assortment of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Independents) been hoodwinked?
Was the Independent Bob Egerton and the Liberal Democrat Ruth Lewarne right to propose and second Jim Currie's leadership bid?

As ever whilst the Tories (and their Indy chums at CC and Lib Dems up the road) are in power the fight to keep public services public, to put people before profit goes on. The debate next tuesday in response to the public petition calling for the original motion, will be the first test of the leadership of Jim Currie, will he come clean then as an outsourcer? will we face yet another no confidence vote as yet another Tory defies the will of the people and ordinary councillors?

Please join me in doing the following and help to hold these people to account and keep their word.

Sign the petition to shelve Shared Services here.
Contact your Cornwall Councillor here.
Contact the new Cornwall Council leader jcurrie@cornwall.gov.uk