Further reading: the Cornwall council and NHS outsourcing rebellion

The last fortnight has seen extraordinary events in Cornwall. This Tuesday, council leader Alec Robertson lost a vote of no confidence, primarily over plans to outsource many local council and NHS jobs. Jim Currie, a councillor who opposes the scheme, and who had resigned last week as deputy leader, won the vote to replace him. (Both are Conservatives.) The debate was watched live via the internet by around 4,400 people.

The terms of the deal, worth around £300m, mean that the supplier would have to create at least 500 decent jobs in the county – and Cornwall has a dire shortage of good private-sector jobs – as well as cut costs. The outsourcing would, however, move many council and NHS to the private sector. Councillors had already voted in favour of changing the decision in September.

At the start of this week, the two potential suppliers were BT and CSC, also the two largest suppliers to the NHS National Programme for IT. Government IT expert Tony Collins, who has been following the story closely, wrote a detailed analysis on October 1 (before the political events of the last fortnight). While he had some praise for Cornwall, he concluded:

If Cornwall enters a deal in which it relies on the contract to protect services and the council’s reputation is it being naive? Could it end up facing accusations of maladministration, particularly after side-lining a council vote against the deal?

After the change of leader on Tuesday, Wednesday saw Charlotte Jee, my colleague on Government Computing, breaking the story that one bidder had pulled out – and it wasn’t BT. CSC confirmed its withdrawal later in the day.

BT, the last bidder standing, explained its plans to councillors on Wednesday. Thanks to Andrew Wallis, the independent councillor for Porthleven and Helston South, we know that if it wins the deal, council and NHS staff will be moved to a BT-owned company, and that the firm plans to create 1,043 new jobs for Cornwall, with 38% of these jobs low-skilled, and the better ones health-focused.

Mr Wallis has since published slides from the presentation (those that were not specifically marked confidential), showing that transferred staff would get very cheap phone and broadband deals from BT and (more substantially) protection for union membership and pension arrangements; and a letter from Cornwall’s chief executive, showing that the deal is still on as far as managers are concerned.

These plans may of course be academic: next Tuesday will see Cornwall Council voting on whether to scrap the scheme – although Tony Collins has just noted that some councillors seem to be warming to the idea.