Thursday, 2 March 2023

Latest Capita Spending

 Latest spending figures are out and the Capita contract continues to cost us a fortune. In January Capita billed an additional £3.2m on the CSG contract and £620k on the Re contract. The latest running total is £638 million.

The spend on agency staff continues at a worryingly high level and looks like it will hit £18.7 million by the financial year end (31 March).

Monday, 13 February 2023

Capita continuing to disappoint in the death throes of the Re Contract

 Apologies for not having posted a blog for a couple of months but I am still monitoring Barnet and the Capita contracts.

The latest spending figures show that Barnet have now paid Capita £634 million which is £273 million more than the contracted value even though some services included in the contract value have already been brought back in house such as Finance.

I watched the Audit committee in January where Capita were requested to attend to talk about their performance. You can watch the Audit Committee meeting here and the part where the director from Capita participates starts at 27 minutes 20 seconds into the meeting. What is most disturbing is that now the contract for Re is coming back in house at the end of March Capita seemed to have given up on rectifying problems that already existed. Performance failure and the inability to meet deadlines was repeatedly raised. At 41mins 14secs, one of the independent members of the Audit Committee does some plain speaking about Capita's performance which has been poor and is definitely worth watching.

While the Capita Re contract will come back in house on 1st April there are still significant elements of the Capita CSG contract will continue to be operated by Capita for another three years and that fills me with serious concerns. Barnet is a case study in how not to outsource services, with overly complex contracts and weak monitoring. I will keep watching Capita's performance.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Looking back almost twelve years - the pledge I made that was never accepted

 I was going through Barnet's supplier payments for October 2022 (£71.7 million) and I cast my mind back to January 2011. At that time the council implemented something called Pledgebank where residents could pledge to carry out some activity on behalf of the council/community. My pledge was as follows:

“I will pledge to give up 4 hours of my time every month to scrutinise and challenge all invoices over £10,000 to help the Council reduce unnecessary spending so long as five other people will make a similar time commitment to sit on the panel and that Barnet Council will genuinely participate in the process and listen to the advice and opinions given.”

Strangely, the council never took me up on my pledge although, rather than decline it, they left it hanging, "undecided" as they put it. You can read about it here.

Why I raise it now is that when costs are so tight and we potentially face serious cuts to services due to the impact of the crazy mini budget of 23 September, every penny spent must be carefully watched and if necessary challenged.

This month, excluding redacted payment, we paid 1,021 suppliers £69.27 million. The top 20 suppliers were paid £48.83 million or 70.5% of the total spent. Looking at individual payments there were a total of 14,811 of which 521 were for £10,000 or more, around 3.5% of the total invoices. Excluding payments to statutory authorities, that number falls further. Maybe now is the time to revisit that pledge?

Barnet also spent just over £2 million on agency staff in October which brings the year end forecast to £18.2 million, up on last year and set to be close to the peak year of 2016/17.

And just to update you on Capita, the running total is now £622.74 million. Scrutiny is more important than ever.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Capita still costing us a fortune

 I was a bit worried that the supplier payments still had not been published for September 2022 so I dropped a quick email to Barnet yesterday. Almost by return, they came back saying thanks for pointing it out but they had been published the figures somewhere else on the website by error and that had now been corrected. Since the finance function has come back in house they have always been helpful and very responsive.

What the figures do reveal is the bill for Capita continues to mount even though the end of the contract is in sight. In September we were billed £5.13 million on the Capita Re contract and £3.39 million on the Capita CSG contract, both chunky numbers.

The running total since the start of the contract is now £618.61 million, £257.73 million more than the contracted value.

It is also important to remember that the contracted value includes the cost for services that have already been brought back in house such as finance so the true cost is even higher.

Other noticeable costs include the running total for agency staff at £8.5 million with a forecast year end cost of £17.1 million.

It is also worth noting that, in the first six months of this year, Barnet have paid out £28.57 million on the Brent Cross project. I remain concerned at the level of risk Barnet is exposed to on this massive redevelopment project.

Listening to what is happening at other local authorities, I think we are in for a serious financial squeeze with the impact of inflation on pay rises, increased energy and construction costs, and contracts which include indexation clauses (such as the Capita contract). Now more than ever it is essential that there is a high level of scrutiny on every pound spent within Barnet. 

As always, I will keep monitoring the spending at Barnet.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

What we are paying Capita

 Even though large parts of the Capita contract will finish next year, they continue to bill Barnet for their charges. The running total is now £607.7 million, £246.8 million more than the contracted sum.

As readers will know, I also review every single invoice Capita have submitted during the Inspection of Accounts period which give residents the right to inspect bills, invoices and payments. This year it was 381 invoices for a total sum of just under £50 million.

Within that figure there are some interesting numbers. £4.49 million was for 'indexation' of their fees. I have raised this with the council on numerous occasions saying that no other council service is guaranteed to get RPI increases every year so why do Capita? This will be a major issue over this financial year when RPI in August was 14.2% (significantly higher than the more accepted CPI rate).

£805,261 was paid to Capita for 'E Test & Trace' work. I just hope we are able to recover that from central government. We were billed £979,727 for the 'Network Recovery Programme' for which read road repairs. Now my understanding is that this figure is not for things like tarmac and pneumatic drills but simply staff to manage the programme.

Brent Cross is a major project to which Barnet has already made a massive investment including £77 million last year alone. The project management of the new Brent Cross Thameslink station was taken away from Capita and given to Mace but Capita still managed to bill £815,880 in fees.

There remains the infamous gainshare clause whereby Capita get to keep a proportion of any savings they make. It was phased out on procurement after many years of me complaining that it was a flawed system (you can read some of the old examples here) but it is still in operation of some other areas. This year we paid £300,015 gainshare on Council Tax and Housing benefit overpayment recovery. Given that Capita administer both these services one would have hoped they got it right first time. A further £221,160 gainshare was paid for reducing council tax single person discounts.

Capita also set thresholds for the number of council tax and benefits enquires they deal with. If the number is exceeded, we get billed an additional charge known as a volumetric charge. This year that amounted to £122,075, less than in previous years but still a lot of money.

In special projects, £2,749,758.83 was paid to Capita on various elements of the Hendon Hub project, one which has drawn very significant opposition and legal challenges. They also billed £1.66m for various IT projects.

In today's Barnet Times (22 September 2022) we see yet another example of poor performance in the Capita contract and that the representative from Capita refused to attend the Audit Committee to answer any questions. While a decision has been made to end the Capita contract, some elements will be continuing for another 42 months. The need to monitor and challenge the performance and cost of the Capita contract continues until the very last day. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Capita - they may be going but costs continue to grow

 I have been tied up for the last couple of months with the planning inquiry on the proposed redevelopment of the former gasworks in New Barnet. I will be producing a detailed blog once we have a decision from the planning inspector but in the meantime I though I had better refocus back on to Capita.

I was delighted that Barnet's new councillors have decided the Capita contract will end before the next election. The Re contract will end when the contract expires this time next year with a few of the remaining services such as IT and customer services being delayed while alternative arrangements can be put in place. However, that doesn't mean that I will stop monitoring the costs and in June there were some large bills, especially on the Re contract. set out below is the latest update 

Later on this month I will be inspecting all the Capita contract invoices as part of the Inspection of Accounts process for the year 2021/22. I want to check what the £49.95 million was actually spent on, especially the £13.95 million that was in excess of the contracted value. So far we have paid Capita £604 million and that deserves scrutiny.

One other area where spending seems to be running high is the agency cost budget. Agency costs peaked in 2016/17 at £19.87 million. After many challenges from me, especially to the Comensura contract who managed all of the agency spend, we saw the agency bill decline significantly until Covid struck when, not surprisingly, the agency spend increased. I was expecting the agency spend to drop back down to where it was in 2019/20 but the first three months of this financial year suggests that on the current burn rate, it may hit the 2016/17 peak of £20 million.

A couple of other large bills this month include the on-going cost of Brent Cross Thameslink station where this month we paid £3.6 million to Network Rail Infrastructure and £2.15m to Volker Fitzpatrick which were part of the total £6.4 million spent on Brent Cross.

We also paid £515,383 to PA Consulting in June with the cost allocated to the Adults & Health department. I suspect this relates to the on-going issue of the Mosaic casework system which was originally planned to be implemented by Capita but was taken away from them when the project failed to deliver. If I am wrong I am always happy for someone at Barnet Council to tell me what it was spent on.

As always, I will keep monitoring the spending.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Capita and Fly Tipping - a short update

 As I have been tied up preparing for the Victoria Quarter Planning Inquiry this will be a short blog.

The first point to mention is Capita. Labour may have won control of the Council but we are still stuck with  Capita until September 2023 at the earliest. The latest figures show the bill continues to climb at just a whisker shy of £590 million.

Let's hope that between now and next year, the contract is brought to a close and we can regain control over these costly services.

The other thing I picked this week was the success or otherwise of penalising people who litter. This is a service that was also outsourced to Kingdom Services Group Limited. In the period February 2019 to November 2021, the contractor issued 8,760 fines for various forms of littering. The two largest categories are for dropping cigarette butts and fly tipping which together amount to 80% of all the fines issued. However, this is where things start to differ. Of the fines issued for cigarette littering, 65% are paid whereas for fly tipping only 16% of the fines are paid.

If people know they don't have to pay a fine, it stops acting as a deterrent. I asked about this problem three years ago and I was told then, "it takes longer to recover the fines for fly tipping". Sorry but that doesn't wash. For fines between January 2017 and December 2018, 25% of general littering fines remain unpaid but 57% of fly tipping fines in the same period are unpaid. I suspect it falls into the "too hard" category but if fly tippers know they have a better then 50% chance on not paying their fine, even if they are caught, then it is no surprise they keep fly tipping.