Cornwall councillors approve part-privatisation plan

Cornwall Council sign The plans could affect up to 1,000 council staff

Councillors in Cornwall have approved plans to part-privatise some services.

Services including libraries, payroll and benefit payments could be run by outside companies in contracts worth up to £300m a year and affecting up to 1,000 council staff.

The go-ahead has been given by senior members of the Conservative-Independent led council for invitations to tender.

Supporters said the deal would save taxpayers money but critics have called for a full debate on the issue.

Two companies, BT and CSC, are in the running for the work, which the unitary authority said would be part of a "new strategic partnership".

Analysis

Cornwall Council says this deal will create up to 500 new jobs, save £5m over the first two years and help grow the local economy.

But many aren't convinced.

A cross-party group of councillors who looked in detail at the proposals said they have "deep misgivings", and the cabinet were split on the issue.

The union Unison questions how savings can be made without job losses, and points to the recent failure of a similar project in Somerset.

Less than halfway through that contract, some services are now being brought back under council control.

In Cornwall - despite some last-minute efforts to put the brakes on - it's almost inevitable now the plans will go ahead.

The Liberal Democrats said the cabinet had committed the council into "going down this tendering route", and that it could be "catastrophic" if it did not work out.

County party deputy leader Councillor Alex Folkes said: "It might all work out and be a wonderful step, but the risks are there and they can't afford to gamble with services of this importance."

He said the party would be calling for more debates on the proposals before any deals were signed.

He added that some councillors could ask for "a call-in to scrutiny" to establish whether the cabinet "understands all the implications and has made a valid decision".

Councillor Steve Double, the cabinet member for shared services, said there had been enough detail for an informed decision, but that the authority understood that outsourcing meant there were "certainly risks".

But he added that the move could "protect highly-valued services, such as libraries and one-shop shops, from the impact of future budget cuts".

Final approval of the successful bid would be given by council's chief executive, in consultation with the council leader and various cabinet members - including those for environment, waste management, shared services and human resources - the council said.

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