FOUR of Cumbria’s Conservative MPs have raised serious concerns about a local authority move to privatise waste services across Cumbria without public consultation.
In the letter Workington MP Mark Jenkinson, Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, Carlisle MP John Stevenson, and Barrow MP Simon Fell, are also seeking more details on the sale of Cumbria Waste Group (CWG).
The joint call, addressed to Chief Executive of Cumberland Council, comes amid contradictory reports about the sale of CWG – and concerns that such an important issue was apparently agreed behind closed doors.
CWG is a subsidiary of Cumbria County Holdings CCH which, in turn, is entirely owned by Cumberland Council and Westmorland and Furness Council.
It was reported last week that Cumbria Waste Group had been sold off, but specific details of the deal have not been published or discussed in an open forum such as a council meeting.
The MPs are therefore unclear whether the private equity company Waterland has become a majority shareholder in CWG (as reported by Newsquest), or whether CWG has been sold outright (as published in Cumbria County Holdings' press release).
The Cumbrian MPs are also concerned that such a matter of public interest was not publicly debated. They are also seeking additional assurances that the arrangement delivers value for money to the taxpayer.
The letter said: “Both the sale of the company, or the sale of a majority share, represent a significant disposal of taxpayer-funded assets held by the company, as well as the privatisation of yet another statutory function of the council, we were perturbed that it would appear that full council did not have the ability to debate and vote on the matter in public.
Given the experience of all of the predecessor councils with the privatisation of statutory functions which has not ended well for the council’s reputation, budgets or their fiduciary duty to council taxpayers – Renewi, CNDR, Amey, FCC to name a few – we would have expected robust public debate on best value and discussions with the trade unions, and are surprised that this was not enabled by the Executive.”
The MPs have asked several questions of the council which they say need to be addressed on behalf of their constituents. They want to know whether the assets, landfill restoration liabilities and pension liabilities have all been transferred as part of the deal.
The MPs have also requested details of the value of the sale, and the expected dividend to each council.
They are seeking further assurances that this money will be used entirely for capital investment rather than to plug a revenue budget gap.
They have requested information on the cost to the public purse, as a consequence of the council no longer being a supplier to their waste-handling contractor, and no longer in control of recycling sites,
Finally, the MPs have asked for details of any further privatisation of council assets and services, including assurances that such plans will not be discussed behind closed doors.