Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Scrutiny demand Cabinet re-think!

There was a ‘first’ at County Hall today. It was the first meeting of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee to debate a Cabinet decision that had been ‘called in.’

The venue was the Trelawny Room. It was the Corporate Resources OSC and the subject was the Severance Policy for Cornwall Council staff. The Cabinet had decided to drastically cut the amount that would be payable in the event of future redundancies.

The call-in was arranged by Committee Chairman John Keeling, due to concerns about how the decision had been taken, the lack of consultation with the unions and other staff members, as well as a range of issues of detail. John proved to be a masterful Chair and the meeting was very much in the style of a parliamentary Select Committee, with members quizzing two senior officers of the Council, a union official and the Deputy Leader.

There was a broad consensus that the process leading up to the Cabinet’s decision had been flawed and numerous questions were also tabled about the decision itself.

I queried why certain employees who might be made redundant from 2010 onwards as a direct consequence of the move to unitary would be compensated less than those who will have left the Council’s employment before that date. I made the point that I believed all people who might lose their jobs as a result of the changes in local government should be treated the same.

The Director replied that those employees still to be affected by the ‘transition’ period would have redundancy payments calculated on the existing policies, but later job losses as part of the ‘transformation’ (whether identified in the unitary bid or not) and ‘efficiencies’ would be treated differently through the new policies.

He said this was equitable. I disagreed and described his distinction as inequitable and morally indefensible.

The Committee does not have the power to over-ride the decision but can ask the Cabinet to think again. I am glad to be able to report that the Committee voted unanimously to ask the Cabinet to revisit the decision itself and the processes it followed to come to the decision.

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