Saturday, 21 March 2015

FOI refusals in Barnet - Hiding behind Capita

Since Barnet Council changed its website, some information sources have been completely inaccessible or have dead links that lead nowhere. In particular it has been impossible to look at previous Freedom of Information requests and the responses provided. If you click on the link on the website it  takes you to a page where you can fill in an FOI form but not see previous requests.  I drew this to the attention of the Council who promised to get it fixed but, as with so much the Council says, it was an empty promise.

Looking via Google at cached searches I managed to find the previous FOI's and one in particular caught my eye. It asked for Information relating to Fixed Telecommunications and Internet Services, an issue that has been the source of problems in the past.

So what was Barnet's response?

I am writing to inform you that the requested information is not held by London Borough of Barnet (the council). The council has outsourced its IT services to Capita under a 10 year contract. Information about the outsourcing can be found on the following page of our website:

I then looked at another FOI request which related to IT training. It was a detailed question and clear expressed concerns about money being wasted. So what was Barnet Council's response - yes you guessed it:

I can confirm that the requested information is not held by London Borough Barnet (the council). The council outsourced its IT services to Capita as part of the Customer and Support Group (CSG) contract. Details of the contract can be found on the following page of our website:

The same answer is given for  FOI requests about Servers,  IT maintenance and ICT strategy, although a request about printers does get an answer even though it acknowledges the contract is provided by Capita.

This represents a major problem and undermines genuine transparency about costs of operating ICT. The council maintain that they have signed a ten year contract with Capita and therefore they don't need to worry about costs. That seems mad to me given that the cost of ICT equipment has plummeted over the past 10 years and may continue to change, develop and be sourced at a lower costs over the next ten years. Without the public being allowed to question how much  is being spent on this very expensive cost centre, we don't know whether or not Capita and making excessive profits from this area of their contract payments.

Prior to Barnet contracting with Capita, the Council would have had to answer these questions and indeed they were asked and the answers showed what a complete mess the Council's IT department was in back in July 2011 

Now I'm not the only one who thinks hiding behind a contractor is wrong. The Information Commissioner Office (ICO) has written a report specifically on this subject Transparency in Outsourcing: A Roadmap which says:

"We do feel there is a strong case for designating outsourced services as falling under FOIA when they are of significant monetary value and long duration: for example, those over £5 million in value or continuing over 5 years or where the contractor solely derives its revenue from public sector contracts". That would definitely apply to Capita's contracts with Barnet.

With the Children's, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding already in the process of being outsourced (see the tender here), there will be virtually no services that are not provided by a contractor and everything will be hidden behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality.

1 comment:

  1. But nothing will happen as too many people in positions of influence make shedloads of money out of the outsourcing scam. Have a read if Private Eye sometime !