I woke up this morning with a sharp stabbing pain in my side. No doubt somewhere deep in Northampton Lib Dem HQ a loyal yellow belly peon was busy sticking pins in their Tony Clarke effigy as punishment for my involvement last night in co-authoring a call-in of the Local Lib Dems plans to "Market Test" (privatise) all of the main public services in Northampton, and in doing so deliver them in partnership with Daventry District Council.
I was very grateful to Labours Joy Capstick in sponsoring our joint request for a call in and I felt she performed extreemly well last night and she will have gained herself a lot of deserved credit both in the eyes of council and also those she serves in her ward and those still loyal to Labours traditional values and roots.
Our shared concerns (which were upheld) were that the administration had been less than truthful over their intentions and contrary to all their warm words about "only investigating the options" and "the need to test best value" and our preparations for the call in exposed further their plans for what they really are.
Backbench Councillors (including many Lib Dems) were annoyed and angered to be told by the press and by myself at full council on June 29th of the plans, as up to that point their had been no discussion or now inkling of what the executive had planned for the Council. The item didn't appear on the Councils Forward Plan until June 30th and then only appeared as a 'Non Key' Decision.
The cabinet decision on the 8th July was accompanied by soothing assurances that nothing was set in stone and that the "in house team" would also have the time and the right to bid. So imagine the surprise on some faces last night when I was able to tell them that the whole process started way back in April 2009, and that the tender document had already been written, printed and advertised in the EOJU (European Journal) on the 9th of July. And that a project manager was already in post, and that the contract for all services was proposed for a period of 14 years ( 7 + 7 by agreed renewal) and that despite not being told of their involvement that Northamptonshire County Council were also part of the partnership.
Imagine the thoughts running through the head of the Lib Dem Portfolio Holder for the services to be tended when I reminded the Committee that she had told Council only last Monday that no advert had been placed and that no meetings with other councils on the tender had taken place, and yet I produced a copy of the advert placed on the 9th July and minutes from the meeting with other councils agreeing the partnership and announcing the appointment of the project manager?
And why they even want to go down this road god alone knows, a cursory glance at refuse collection costs (as but one example) shows that Northampton Borough Council has the second lowest per household cost for refuse collection in the East Midlands at £46, against a national average of £56 when Daventry District Council (our chosen partner) has the highest cost in the East Midlands at £84 !
The success of the call in (on the grounds that the leader says it was wrongly designated as a Key Decision and should have been a non key decision!) now means that this report must be revisited at the next Cabinet meeting in August andthat will give us another opportunity to further expose the folly of these plans and the underhanded deceit that has dogged this project to date.
The administration will say we were simply opposing for opposition sakes and risking the financial Security of the Council.
I say that we were simply doing our duty, I don't want all our services contracted out, and then delivered in tandem with a rural council until 2023 without this Council or those which follow in 2011, 2015 and 2021 being able to reverse the decision.
I don't want Councillors of any party including the administration left in the dark as to the Councils true intention, and I don't want Northampton Borough Council reduced to the status of the largest Parish Council in England on the back of partnership arrangements with surrounding Councils pushing us nearer and nearer to a Unitary County Council run by the Northamptonshire Squirocracy.
And do you know what? I think a large number of the Lib Dem group agree with me, and I also believe that in 6 months time even the Cabinet members will see that this call in saved them from their own folly rather than simply exposing them to cold truth as to what has gone on in their name and without their full knowledge and consent.
So we live to fight again. We have more revelations to come, more call ins to write, and more opportunity for Councillors of all party's to do what they were elected to do, take decisions based on all the information being available to them in order to guide that decision, not sold a line and then forced to go along with the decision out of blind party loyalty.
The other positive outcome from last nights meeting was that the opposition party's acted as one in defence of the common good, long may it continue.
We all want what is best for the Council, and the people we were elected to serve, but we do not expect the decisions to be taken for us, or on our behalf by officers working behind the scenes and committing expenditure and enacting decisions before the authority has been given to them through the votes and decisions of 'all' the elected members.
All Councillors of all Party's should be able to agree to that.
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