By Tony Collins
Updated 17 Oct 2012
Cornwall Council has today voted to remove its Conservative leader Alec Robertson, which casts some doubt over a mega-outsourcing deal with CSC or BT.
Robertson and his cabinet colleagues have been ardently in favour of an outsourcing deal that could be worth between £210m and £800m.
He will be replaced as leader by Conservative Jim Currie who had resigned from the cabinet in protest at its push towards the outsourcing deal despite a vote of the full council against the signing of a contract.
Currie’s appointment as the new leader – by 49 votes to 46 – makes an outsourcing deal less likely, though a final decision will be taken by the full council on 23 October. Several pro-outsourcing members of the cabinet resigned a few minutes ago without giving a reason. The suggestion is that they would not serve under Currie because he is opposed to outsourcing.
Standing against Currie for leadership of the council was Neil Burden, an independent councillor and member of the cabinet. In general the pro-outsourcing councillors voted for Burden.
Two independent councillors, Graham Walker and Bob Egerton, had brought the vote of no confidence in Robertson. It was carried by a majority of 14 – 63 in favour and 49 against. The chair of the council Pat Harvey said she was sorry Robertson had lost the vote. She thanked Robertson for all he has done for the council. She expressed regret that several cabinet members had resigned over Currie’s appointment as leader.
During the debate on the vote of no confidence in Robertson, most of the arguments in favour of his staying were supportive of him as a person. Most of the arguments against him were about the council’s policies and particularly his cabinet’s strong support for an outsourcing deal.
Several councillors spoke of their dismay that a majority at a full council meeting in September voted against the outsourcing deal but the cabinet has proceeded with negotiations anyway.
Robertson lost the vote but not by a large majority. It may be that his displacement will bring out neutral councillors in sympathy for his mega-outsourcing deal.
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?
Continuity of leadership is usually a good thing, but not when the leaders have become too like-minded and lack independent challenge. Some new faces at the top of Cornwall council will refresh the authority’s outlook even with only a few months to go before local elections.
Currie doesn’t rule out outsourcing deal
In an interview with regional BBC TV news, Currie said he will want to see the facts of the outsourcing proposals, and he urged caution – but did not appear to rule out the signing of a contract. Doubtless BT and CSC will be working hard to keep the scheme alive. Can they persuade Currie to change his mind – although he was elected in part because of his opposition to the outsourcing scheme?