Welcome, Kate Kennally, Cornwall Council’s latest Chief Executive. You join a distinguished list of occupants of the hot seat at the council that harbours odd delusions it’s some sort of (powerless) regional assembly. So what skills and experience do you bring us; what wise words from the east should we expect? Inevitably, as with past Chief Execs, Kate has no discernible connection with Cornwall. In the press release extolling the joyous news of the third coming, she assures us she wants ‘to make a difference to a distinct and beautiful place that I love‘. That’s enough on its own to set all the alarm bells ringing and have us heading for the hills.
Is someone ‘in luuurve’ with Cornwall really the right person to reverse Cornwall Council’s drive to create a two tier, parallel Cornwall? The plan is that inland we’ll have a (sort of) Cornish Cornwall where longstanding natives rub shoulders with not so well off new arrivals in an increasingly congested urban spine. That’ll leave coastal Cornwall safe for holidaymakers, second home owners and the gentrifying class. In which Cornwall will Ms Kennally live? Indeed, will she live in Cornwall at all? Or like her predecessors, will she be handed large sums on top of her £150,000+ salary to commute across the Tamar?
It’s most unfortunate timing that the phenomenon of an over-mighty, over-paid, placeless local government mandarin class, running on their career escalators from one job to the next, coincides with the imposition of neoliberal ideology. This is designed to protect and enhance the global 1% and the corporations, and is subscribed to by a Government determined to ensure local government in the UK pays the major costs of its crusade to shrink the state. Which gives the mandarins all sorts of new ways of sowing havoc in their wake.
Ms Kennally’s career record looks similar to her revolving door forerunners, having worked in Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Windsor and then from 2006 Barnet, where she’s currently Strategic Director for Commissioning and Deputy Chief Executive. A career spent within the Home Counties presumably provides the perfect job experience for Cornwall, rapidly being transformed into another Home County.
Ms Kennally claims that ‘I am a passionate believer in the importance of public services working together to improve the lives of local people‘. Which is nice. Hold on though. Isn’t it also a bit puzzling? Because hasn’t Ms Kennally for the last decade been working right at the heart of the Council – Barnet – that’s enthusiastically embraced the Tories’ agenda and is privatising everything in sight? So is she now therefore rejecting the policies she’s been implementing for the past few years? Has she had a revelation while stuck in a traffic jam on the road to Truro? Councillors need to ask.
You might have thought that Cornwall Council would have learnt the lessons of the BT privatisation fiasco, or had a little shame after channelling public money to SITA rather than devise a properly sustainable waste policy. But no. It looks like, having cocked up their privatisation projects, they’re determined to do it better next time. So why not turn to someone from Barnet, someone with vast experience of ‘commissioning’, to put us properly on the path to privatisation?
The problem is that Barnet’s record makes even Cornwall Council seem vaguely competent. For the council Ms Kennally works for pioneered a policy of ‘easyCouncil’ back in 2009. This included the idea of having two levels of public services. Wealthier residents were able to get a ‘fast track’ service by paying more. After throwing £millions at consultants to evaluate the scheme, that particular gem was scrapped and the Council went instead for a ‘One Barnet’ (sound familiar?) scheme. This involved outsourcing (privatising) as much as possible.
The result is that at present 92% of Barnet Council staff are facing the doubtful joys of being ‘outsourced’. This and other cuts have resulted in a series of strikes this year. Undeterred, Barnet Council is pressing on with plans to cull 46% of librarians for example and in the past hasn’t hesitated to cut the pay of the lowest paid care workers by almost 10%. All while handing over wads of public money to the private sector. Which has led to regular appearances in Private Eye‘s Rotten Borough column. (Funny how we didn’t read any of that in the West Briton‘s report of Ms Kennally’s appointment. But then, investigative journalism has long been a dead art in Cornwall.)
So is Ms Kennally fleeing a privatisation hell or is she a missionary for it? In 2014 she was busy regaling the local government sector with a ‘graph of doom‘, pointing out the consequences of savage government cuts and the need to be imaginative in outsourcing. Now, don’t I seem to remember a certain Kevin Lavery who used to flash a similar ‘graph of doom‘ in 2012 to impress and befuddle witless councillors?
Looks like another fine mess you’ve got us into, John.