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A day of high drama in the council chamber as leader Alec Robertson is axed

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 17, 2012

  • Alec Robertson, ousted leader of Cornwall Council Picture: Jonathan Jacobs

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There was an unmistakable air of revolution in the council chamber as Conservative leader Alec Robertson paid the price for championing a controversial private sector deal.

In a heated debate watched by 4,400 people on the internet and trending as the third biggest issue in the UK on Twitter, personal insults flew and an accusation of back- stabbing nearly prompted the premature end of the session.

But after just over two hours of frequently fractious debate, the numbers said it all.

Some 62 votes – just over half the council – were needed to carry the motion to remove the leader of the cabinet.

The final tally was 63, a significant number above the 49 who had voted against and paving the way for the leader's former deputy, Conservative Jim Currie, to seize power.

Mr Robertson had excused himself from the debate at the onset and afterwards refused to answer questions, saying simply "no comment".

But the reactions from people who had crowded into the public gallery were more vociferous.

Keith Shilson, of the Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, one of the groups vehemently opposed to Cornwall Council signing a joint venture with a private company to take over the running of key services, was unsympathetic.

"He got his just desserts," he said.

"I think the result speaks for itself as an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the Tory leader."

Stuart Roden, regional organiser for the trade union Unison, said the leadership had failed to grasp just how strongly people were opposed to the shared services scheme.

"I feel sorry for Alec personally, but it was all around the joint venture and how that was handled.

"We hope people will reflect on that and make it an issue come the elections in May."

Jeremy Rowe, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said it was a difficult day, but the people had made their feelings clear.

"I don't think this was about personality," he said. "It is maybe about leadership, which is not far removed from personality, but this has been about more than that.

"It is about the fact that people do not feel they have been listened to."

Plans to set up a joint venture with a private firm to run key services such as benefits administration and personnel, was a flagship policy of Cornwall Council, but a controversial one.

In August, Cornwall Council's cabinet ignored opposition to press ahead with plans to sign an agreement with a private firm to establish a new company. A petition set up to force the matter back to the council chamber for a fresh debate soon passed the critical 5,000 threshold. But then just last week Mr Robertson made the surprise announcement that his cabinet would scrap it if attempts to secure grassroots backing failed.

Deputy leader Jim Currie then piled on the pressure by stepping down over the issue and airing scepticism of the promise.

He was immediately named favourite as successor, a prediction which came true yesterday.

Many people spoke in favour of Mr Robertson during the debate and his ousting provoked strong reactions.

A visibly shaken Graham Hicks, an independent member of the cabinet, afterwards condemned the vote as "a disgrace".

He said: "I'm appalled. I'm gutted.

"People haven't recognised the difficult decisions we have had to take over the last three years."

Mr Hicks said many of the attacks had been personal.

"There were a lot of backstabbers there," he said. "It was a personal attack and this has been going on in the background for years."

Fellow cabinet member Julian German urged members to consider what effect the removal of the leader would have on the whole of Cornwall just six months ahead of elections in May.

He added that portfolio holders would not let Mr Robertson carry the can alone. "We recognised that a vote of no confidence in Alec Robertson is a vote of no confidence in all portfolio holders."

Mr German, along with Mr Hicks and fellow cabinet members Steve Double and Chris Ridgers, followed through the veiled threat and subsequently resigned from their posts.

There was uproar at one point when Mark Kaczmarek spoke against the motion of no confidence and accused Liberal Democrat leader Jeremy Rowe of being a "backstabber".

Chairman Pat Harvey ordered the Independent councillor and cabinet member to sit down while calls were made for him to withdraw the accusation

When Mr Kaczmarek refused to be seated, Mrs Harvey shouted "will you get security" and threatened to rise, thereby bringing the meeting to a close. A brief recess and a huddle of members around the back of the council chamber followed, after which Mr Kaczmarek retracted the remark.

However, inevitably it was the weight of numbers speaking against Mr Robertson which mounted.

John Pollard, Independent, spoke disparagingly of the apparent last minute U-turn performed by Mr Robertson over shared services.

"It is greatly to the leader's shame that he had to have a gun put to his head to change his options."

However, he added that "Although Alec Robertson's approach is insensitive, I have not heard it said that he acted unconstitutionally".

Fred Greenslade, another Independent, said he would vote for the motion, because that was what his constituents wanted. I find the whole process here to be a very defining moment for each individual councillor to decide upon," he said. "The thing that has convinced me to vote is the views of my electorate, who feel let down by the county council.

"I will vote for the motion today because people matter. They inform me that they are not happy with the way things are going here."

Tamsin Williams, from Mebyon Kernow, said the issue was simply about defeating the shared services scheme.

"The whole thing here is that this policy must be defeated and this is the way to do it."

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  • Itsthefuture  |  October 22 2012, 2:27PM

    Ah well, still no response regarding any of the questions put to you. No I am not a member of the council or a councillor, simply someone who detests the cancerous nature of those prepared to drag cornwall to its knees in pursuit of their own objectives. I notice you still bodyswerve all the questions about radio guy. Why quote someone with that background who said nothing of sense and mention them with a strapline advertisement? We all know the answer to that. I see you mention 'we' in point 7. Who are you referring to as we? - a little slip giving away your real job perhaps? ie - 7) The lack of answers to the basic economics of why can a private firm for less money do what we cant. So are you and waldorf going to take up the offer and go and have a public debate as you are a highly paid ceo who knows how to run the council better, yet cant come up with anything of substance other than having a pop from your secret pedestal? Or would you like to put together an answer to all the questions you have been asked or just have some more internet trolls rate/like your comments I'd love either to happen and then we could set an example to others of how to use energy best.

  • Rob1Gillatt  |  October 19 2012, 1:50PM

    Heroic Match; S_h_a_g_rats -3 : Isthefuture -1 Something must be done, roll on May elections

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  • shagrats  |  October 19 2012, 11:49AM

    To T its the future I don't know the radio guy. And I only heard 1/2 of the report, as I was working as I am now. (I am not even in Europe, so chummy relations with other shared services doubters is a bit difficult), but I liked what he had to say. I thought it was funny that as a person who is envolved in promoting buisness in Cornwall, he had not seen any tendering for the services that CC is so desperate to see run by more efficient private buisness. You would have thought that CC getting its message out there to prospective people would be a first step. Unless this is a done dwal and a flawed bidding process in the first place. Now I've told you what I do, what do you do ?, just for the record. For I suspect that you don't come from an objective impartial viewpoint. Which manifests itself when you choose to ignore all the alternatives that have been put in front of you about 1) Flawed bidding process (no clause in contract that protects costs to the council) 2) Internal independant report with extreme concerns with the contracts (ignored) 3) Lack of Transparency with the decision process 4) Lack of public accountability and the 5000 strong petition 5) Complete ****ging off in the professional outsourcing media of the actuall deal and what its chances of success is 7) The lack of answers to the basic economics of why can a private firm for less money do what we cant. 8) The rush to give away services in a buisness model that historicialy has shown to not be applicable to complicated council services. 9) The question of who is actually set to gain from this, is it only the people that are pushing it. I could go on... I'm not expecting you to change your tune. I think from your replys that your in No9) of the issues I have stated.

  • Itsthefuture  |  October 19 2012, 10:53AM

    No handbags just an observation and no rise, just laughter and an attempt to get factual data and answers rather than the handbags you showed all the way through this. You and waldorf have been repeatedly asked to substantiate your facts........twit twooo.....saloon door swings...... I'm not the one spouting off mindless comments about the people you clearly fear. Your mate calls himself a ceo too doesnt he....you know radio guy......the one you are deliberately not answering any questions about.....or as may be clearly obvious to most people reading this...are they one and the same? A person with a huge interest in being noticed with 12 company director or secretary appointments and we wont go into their current state of play will we. I dont love ceo's so I suspect that is your own transference and is clearly important to. "I earn more than kevin lavery......" So are you going to answer any of my questions and those put to you by john1000 or are you just going to keep having mindless pops at something you clearly dont understand. As for laurence reed. Its a radio show and a good one. Shows are not where you gain facts and figures. If you want to learn anything about kevin lavery, alec robertson or anyone go meet them and sit with them to understand them and what they are trying to achieve. Have a public debate where you can ask them questions and they can answer them or do it privately so you can see whats behind them...or do what you are doing. go one on one publicly perhaps rather than trolling behind fantasised pseudos and ceos. You're a big boy waldorf and you're not busy so go on, spend the time and make a real name for yourself.

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  • shagrats  |  October 19 2012, 9:58AM

    If you are that well researched to do business, what were you doing listening to the laurence reed show at that time of the day and why didnt you do a little bit more research before commenting on this outfit. OoooooooHHHH handbags, I'm so glad to get a rise out of you. And as you love CEO's so much. I'm a CEO, so what ! Laverly was a CEO of Serco solutions when it went down the pan, and suffered from massive layoffs and international outsourcing (and then he was out), If you listen to Lawrence Reed you may learn a thing or two, I learnt that Robertson comes accross as an arrogant "richard" when he was explaining his bonkers new world plan. Now if Lawrence Reed is good enough for Robertson its certainly good enough for me.

  • Itsthefuture  |  October 19 2012, 9:13AM

    Sure you do...As is always you guys havent answered the questions put to you. I agree with you however on one point that there is a load of wastage in the council in staffing terms and councillors making hurdles for themselves to knock down is a starting point for that saving but a council ceo has already dealt with many of those. At the time many thought they didnt need to go. Jobs for the boys in middle management is another good point you made. But how well do you understand how BT can or may perform over the council. On one hand you are saying that a council is useless yet you are saying BT wont be able to do it any better. Yet the job of the ceo is to decide what you are brilliant at and just deal with that. Business is about being brilliant at what you are brilliant at. I outsource my provision of BT landline to BT, my growing of food to a farmer etc. They have the ability to do those things better than me and much quicker and cheaper. BT may or may not be able to provide that better service but thats down to the judgement of a ceo who is well qualified at his job rather than the political meanderings of councillors and those turkeys who couldnt and didnt vote for xmas but are sat with brussel sprouts on one side, stuffing on the other, and a lump of cranberry on its way onto their fat heads. I look forward to the exposing of some more of these councillors particularly when the information comes out about the stadium for cornwall. Cranberry sauce it is. However.... So how well, or how much do waldorf and statler know the man who 'was on the radio.....who is part of "a body that promotes all the talent that there is here in Cornwall" I havent laughed so much in my life. Puppets indeed. If you are that well researched to do business, what were you doing listening to the laurence reed show at that time of the day and why didnt you do a little bit more research before commenting on this outfit. My questions on the subject remain unanswered and waldorf hasnt even made an attempt to acknowledge them, clearly rattled and not wanting to be drawn on the subject.

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  • ackedoff  |  October 19 2012, 7:20AM

    just thought I'd put my 10p's worth in here and ask how does anyone think BT or anyone else for that matter, will be able to run these services better, and make a profit with the same financial constraints as the council? Are you aware that the promised 500 jobs are over a period of 10 years (how many a year??) Are you aware that the use of expensive temporary employees both low and high, level is rife in the council despite a missive saying don't use them and the councils HR dept cant tell you exactly how many? Are you aware of the massive amount of money being spent on consultants within the council? (dont we have clever people in cornwall or even the council itself?) Are you aware of the massive amount of money lost due to sickness absence by the council annually? The list goes on! I've said it before and will say it again, if Lavery and his gang can address these and many other problems in house he can save that measily £2.5 million easily and probably then some As many contributors to this thread have said there are people in the council and the county itself have the skills needed to sort this mess out

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  • shagrats  |  October 19 2012, 7:17AM

    To ****the future You still think that I am some "Playa" in this and I have something to benefit from pointing out the flaws in this plan. I should then point out a little about myself. I run my own buisness, its an international company providing services to the oil industry. Its very successful and I make more than Lavery does (so in your words "local boy done good"), but all my money comes from private buisness and me being savvy with contracts, and making sure my services are sold to the highest bidder with the best deal for me now and in the future. I make sure I am protected from economic and or industrial problems before I ever think of entering into any sort of deal. I also take advice from independant professionals when I need it. But you can't beat gut feeling. I have walked away from some fanstastic contracts where if they had worked out I would be on a beach in the carabian now. But they were a deck of cards and I'm glad I steered away from them. CC has shown no sign of this contract intelegence in any part of this process so far. They have been incompetent in sorting out the contract in the biddding phase. Now if this Shared Services doesn't go through, we will be looking a cull of upper and middle management, and probably a cull of the ammount of councillors, this will maintain frontline services while delivering savings as right now it seems to be "too many cheifs in the reservation". Looking at some of the views from the council insiders posting here. I would presume that its there jobs that will be on the line, as they are the "waste" that will and should be binned. For me It doesn't matter what happens I will be ok, but I do care about the people in Cornwall who dont have a voice in this, because of education, or just because local politics has been shut off from the rank and file, with the councils secret agendas. Go out and ask "Joe public" what they think and you will find they do not want this, 5000+ signatures on that E petition should give you a very very clear message. My message to you is find a job that is usefull to society. You will get a different perspective on life.

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  • H_Trevorrow  |  October 19 2012, 1:23AM

    Today i phoned a bt call centre. Contrary to phil-ip's information i talked to an operative in the uk...perhaps bt are waiting to gain the mighty contract with the fantastic riches of cornwall council before they shuffle the whole of the british telecom industry to some third world paradise...it don't sound very likely...what is more likely is that Phil is hugely concerned with the union desperately trying to control our taxes. imho.

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  • H_Trevorrow  |  October 19 2012, 12:27AM

    hi cknocker your argument could be interpreted as ''complete privatisation of the entire council''..you accept privatisation/ free economics works well for your company ......we tax payers are the customer...we want ''x service'' delivered as per the contract. ???