Wednesday 7 August 2013

Capita's takeover of Barnet

For the last four years, since the subject of Futureshape, (later EasyCouncil and One Barnet) was first mentioned I have been asking questions. Not rude questions, not ideological questions, just questions about how such a massive contract will work in practice and how it will be administered. In my day job I have been working on outsourcing/competitive tendering of service contracts since 1986 so those questions are based on my experience not just random thoughts.

All the way through the process I have never had a straight answer, I have had misleading answers, false answers and answers to different questions. The public have never been allowed to see a copy of the contract, indeed at one stage the council denied a contract existed (because it was a draft).

I have raised concerns about the length of the contract - I still do not believe there is any clear justification for such a long contract other than it is what Capita wants. I am worried about the level of power and control Capita will exert over the council - with so many services under one contract, even if some go into meltdown the council will be unable to terminate the contract as they simply will not have the resources to take it back in house at short notice

I am worried about the fact that all of the council's data will be held and administered on Capita's servers in a Capita office in the North of England (or further afield) with only the promise that the council can access that data at the end of the contract at a "reasonable cost".

I am worried about fraud and conflict of priorities between ensuring new council tax benefits claimants are registered quickly and the need to identify fraudulent claimants.  I am seriously concerned about the shift in emphasis that may take place in planning decisions where four out of five are delegated to officers when there will be an incentive to maximise the new homes bonus and build as many new homes as quickly as possible.

I am worried about the role of managing agent for procurement of third party contracts Capita will assume even though it was never mentioned the original tender document and the ability Capita will have to influence contracts with care providers for the most vulnerable in our society.

There are many other real concerns about the way this contract is structured, about the millions of pounds of management fees that Capita will receive but most of all I am concerned that throughout the process there has never been any independent oversight, no due diligence no scrutiny whatsoever other than that attempted by the residents of Barnet. That isn't just naive and stupid, it is downright reckless. The council's response is that they have had legal and professional advice but these are the same advisors who have been pushing this outsourcing juggernaut from the outset so they are definitely not impartial or objective.

All the way through the process I have been told that there is no alternative, there is no Plan B. Well frankly that is nothing short of an admission of failure; a failure to think creatively a failure to work collaboratively with the workforce, a failure to ask residents what they want and if they believe handing so much control to one company is in the best interest of the residents.

The council has spent over £7 million with just one firm of consultants and many millions on other professional and legal advisors to promote this outsourcing contract. Yet if only half of that money had been used to invest in new technology, new working practices, a rationalisation of council buildings, then the savings could have been made whilst retaining the flexibility of a service under our direct control.

Only a handful of councillors have pushed this contract through with the remaining Conservative councillors doing as they are told through whipped votes. I genuinely do not think they really grasp what they have done. They have given this contract to Capita in perpetuity because with so many services bundled together it will be almost impossible to bring them back in house at the end of the contract and it will be exceptionally difficult for any other company to take over because of the way Capita will have integrated the various council functions into numerous different locations within their own organisations.

Hundreds of Barnet council staff are going to be made redundant in the next three months. That will have both a social and economic impact on them and the borough. Some families will be forced to move some may lose their home, many will end up on benefit which we as taxpayers will all have to pay for so that a private company can prosper. How many children will suffer when they have to move schools. These are not a by product of an outsourcing scheme, they are people with lives that will be damaged. Local shops and tradespeople will lose the spending power of all those staff but none of this has figured in any of the calculations about savings that will be made.

Capita may have won the contract but Conservative councillors may have just lost themselves the next election especially when things start to go wrong and we as residents start to experience the problems. The items that weren't written into the contract, the services levels that weren't quite agreed properly. I intend to request a copy of the contract and in particular details of the key performance indicators. The council will no doubt try to claim commercial confidentiality but I see no successful defence to that as Capita are in now and they will have no competition for  at least ten years. I will make sure as many residents understand those key performance indicators as possible so that instead of a team of three or four contract monitors there will be 10,000 people each checking how Capita are performing.

Capita, I think you may come to regret the day you ever entered a contract with Barnet.


  1. If my research into the first 11 months of the NSL parking enforcement contract is anything to go by the KPI may not get measured to mutual agreement or if they are nothing may be done by council officers about failure by Capita and given the thin client model there may well not even be enough resource to properly monitor what is going on, especially at a distance.

    I'll join the Crapitaville monitoring commitee John, you be chair.

  2. Sadly Mr M you seem to be the only person who has scrutinised the NSL contract and you aren't even employed by the Council. Why do we pay over £1 million a year to councillors who should be leading this scrutiny? In Barnet it seems that the concerned residents are the only people who are prepared have the ability/inclination to scrutinise.

  3. As an ex-employee of Somerset County Council (now Somerset One) I can tell you that whatever 'contract' copy they send you will be incomplete and censored.

    I was a member of Unison and in order for the them to view the contract they were expected to sign up on confidentiality to see it. They declined citing that it wasn't in the best interests of their members to see the contract and not be able to act on or share the details of with the very members they represent.

    I went to every meeting going and posed difficult questions to IBM the winning tenders and I was never satisfied with their responses.

    How can a private profit making business ever delver value for money when the service in question is not for profit and a public service?

    It's illogical from the outset and doomed to fail.

  4. Hi Verity, It sounds so familiar. I have tried to inspect previous contracts. One consisted of a title page and 26 pages of black pen; the only thing not redacted were the page numbers. I have repeatedly asked our councillors to talk to councillors in Somerset but they simple stick their fingers in their ears and shout lalalala. They just don't want to know about the problems elsewhere because it might mean they discover they have made a monumental mistake. In Barnet it's all about political ideology - private good public bad and that is just bonkers. My late brother in law worked for SW1 and he used to recall the mad decisions that destroyed the morale of committed and hard working staff.