By Tony Collins
Jim Currie, the Conservative deputy leader of Conservative-controlled Cornwall County Council, has resigned in objection to the authority’s outsourcing plans.
“It’s an inevitability at this stage. I have done everything I can to try to influence the process and exhausted that,” he said in an email to the County Council’s leader Alec Robertson.
“The sensible thing is to step back if you’re out of step with the rest of the Cabinet.”
Parts of Currie’s email were published by Thisiscornwall.co.uk.
Some in the media suggest that Cornwall may make a u-turn over its plan to outsource support services to either BT or CSC. But Currie’s email suggests the opposite. He told Robertson “I know you will never let go.”
A small group of Cabinet councillors had expected to take the final decision to sign a deal with BT or CSC in November – a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds – but they must now put the decision to a vote of the full council, which is expected to happen later this month.
The full council will be able to vote on the deal because independent councillor Andrew Wallis organised a petition which has collected 5,800 signatures. Any petition that collects a minimum of 5,000 signatures must go to the full council for debate and a vote.
The petition said: “We the undersigned call on Cornwall Council to reverse its decision to proceed with a Strategic Partnership for Shared Services until such time the majority of the elected members of Cornwall Council have voted to support the proposals.”
The petition is expected to be debated at a full council meeting on 23 October. Robertson has said he will abide by the decision of the full vote.
Extracts from Currie’s email to Robertson:
“I feel I have pushed the cause of retaining council control over the joint ventures as far as I can with the Cabinet.
“The financial risks involved with the rush into the new joint venture proposals are unacceptable. The JV [joint venture] is basically too large to control.
“We have wasted £42m+ on the unitary [authority], £42m+ on the incinerator and we are now proposing to risk a great deal more on the joint venture.
“I welcome your somewhat ambiguous offer to respect full council decisions on the 23rd October but I know you will never let go.
“I could not leave local government with billions of pounds of Cornish taxpayers’ money at risk and on my conscience… Alec, this matter has never been personal.”
Currie told Thisiscornwall “Honestly, I have done everything I can do. I have been out on a limb for a very long time and will just have to let the thing take its course and it’s down to the membership and that’s what the council is supposed to be about.
“It’s absolutely the courage of my convictions and nothing else. The amazing thing is how many other people on the council think the same way across all parties. It’s tremendously non-political.”
Jeremy Rowe, leader of Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat group, told the BBC,
“We’re in a situation where Cornwall Council is becoming a laughing stock. There’s an administration there now which has this bunker mentality. It’s completely out of touch.”
Will the inner circle of pro-outsourcing Cabinet members win a vote of the full council on 23 October, which would enable them to go ahead and sign a deal with BT or CSC?
The pro-outsourcing group may hope that most Conservative councillors and a few from the other groups will vote for a deal, perhaps knowing or caring little about it.
When the outsourcing was last debated by the full council, in September, many of Cornwall’s 123 councillors were either away or abstained. A majority of those who were there voted against the deal – but the Cabinet has ignored that vote.
The next time the deal is debated the pro-outsourcing Cabinet councillors may win the vote if most councillors turn up and vote to support the Cabinet whether or not they know much of the proposals.
The council comprises 47 Conservative councillors, 37 liberal democrats, 31 independents, six Mebyon Kernow, one Labour and one vacant seat.
Campaign4Change has argued that the pro-outsourcing Cabinet has, in defending the deal, quoted the arguments of the bidders, which shows signs of naivity.
Currie is right to say that the deal, as proposed, is extraordinarily risky – and he is right to resign, if only to make a point to those councillors who are undecided on whether the council should outsource.