Yesterday the Cabinet were forced, by the Council’s Scrutiny Committee, to reconsider their outsourcing of Learning Disabilities. Perhaps predictably, for a Council so ideologically-wedded to privatising everything, they ignored the request to defer the contract start. The Chair of the meeting, Council Leader John Osman, arbitrarily chose to limit questions from members to just 1 minute each, which meant that I was unable to say much of what I have planned to say in support of the service and the people who provide and use it, some of whom are my constituents. He compounded his unreasonable behaviour by repeatedly interrupting me; he doesn’t like challenge, John. Had Councillor Osman acted reasonably, this is what I would have said: –
“Questions for Cabinet on Learning Disabilities – 15th March 2017
We’ve heard today, comparisons made between the outsourcing of Learning Disabilities and the failed SouthWestOne contract. I too am struck by the similarities, which include: –
- You have begun with your ideologically-driven, preferred option, set as the ‘right answer’ from the outset and have bent the business case, such as it is, into a shape that supports that;
- The excessive use of confidentiality. For example, I have repeatedly asked to see a copy of the signed contract and have been prevented from doing so;
- The application of ‘gloss’ to all news, leading to poor risk identification and suppression of potential issues and problems;
- Running the procurement on aspirational aims and a lack of hard-nosed, in-house contract-letting skills;
- A lack of effort, through a long procurement process, to improve the in-house service;
- A lack of baselines and KPIs;
- Poor risk-sharing;
So many similarities, so little learnt. Why should we expect a different outcome, when you follow the same path?
And now, at the eleventh hour, we can add to these concerns the following:-
- Staff pay, conditions and terms are to be attacked. We now know that Cabinet & Senior Officers knew that this would happen as far back as last summer but kept that knowledge secret from service users and staff. So much for Cabinet Member William Wallace’s claims of transparency;
- We now hear there exists a secret compensation fund. How has this been set up? How much does it contain? How will it operate? How has it been established without the apparent knowledge of the County Treasurer?
- How is three years not enough time to improve the in-house service and address the supposed overspend?
It’s no use putting forward photographs of dilapidated facilities as evidence that the service needs to improve. The Conservatives have been in charge of the service for 8 years. You are responsible for the mess. Own it.
And finally, John (Osman), don’t sit there and tell us that you make these decisions with a heavy heart. Every single Conservative county councillor went out in 2015 and actively campaigned for the election of Conservative MPs, whose express policy was the continued hammering of the Council’s budget. The Council’s financial position is not a surprise to you. It is what you campaigned for.