By Tony Collins
Councillors in Cornwall voted unanimously today (23 October 2012) for a joint venture with BT to be considered more carefully, and for other options to be investigated, without any pressure to finalise a deal by the end of next month, which was the original intention.
The motion passed by the council was that the “current proposals for shared services shall not progress to the ‘invitation to submit final tenders’ stage until they have been debated and unless approved by a meeting of full council”.
The motion called on the Chief Executive [Kevin Lavery] to “investigate fully and as a matter of urgency all reasonable methods of delivering council services covered by the proposals for the strategic partnership which addresses the need to make efficiency savings and generate income”.
Councillors expect Lavery to investigate a “thin” joint venture in which the council and a partner share ownership of a new company. There would be no early, large scale transfer of Cornwall Council staff into the company. Cornwall Council would continue to receive its shared services internally. As the joint venture company won new work – if it did – staff would transfer into it.
Councillors also want Lavery to investigate an in-house option and forming a mutual, which would win the support of central government.
BT, meanwhile, has said it will keep its offer to the council open until the end of its financial year in March. Jim Currie, Cornwall’s leader, has taken over responsibility for leading the shared services discussions. He says he wants more and better information on the proposals. Most of the information has so far come from BT which has “guaranteed” to save the council money, increase investment, transform services and add at least 500 jobs. In BT’s small print it points out that its commitments to the council are “draft” or, at this stage, “non-binding”.
At the full council meeting this morning one councillor called for an investigation into whether proceeding with one supplier BT – CSC having withdrawn from the bidding in part because of a “confused” political situation in Cornwall – would meet EC tendering rules.
Councillors have set no deadline on when they will come to a decision on the BT proposals or on other options.