Wednesday 9 September 2020

Inspection of the accounts - What we pay to Capita.

I don't know about you but I was keen to see the details of the £83.2 million Barnet Council have paid to Capita in the last year, especially as the contract value for 2019/20 was just £39.7 million.  

I have found issues in the past and feel it is my civic duty to at least provide a modicum of scrutiny to the huge amount we pay Capita.  I used to be able to attend committee meetings and ask detailed questions about the contract, but Barnet hated that, so  they introduced the gagging rules stopping that level of public scrutiny. Luckily, every Barnet resident has the right in law to inspect the accounts and that is what I have just completed, checking 421 Capita invoices. It presents some interesting data.

Contract Fee:

We paid £24.2 million on the Capita CSG contract and £20.3 million on the Capita Re contract for the basic fee.  What isn't made clear, when some councillors talk about savings with the Capita  contract, is that this figure excludes an inflation element which is billed separately under the heading of indexation. Last year this amounted to an additional £3.44 million. I would love to have a contract that gave me an automatic uplift for inflation each year and I can't think of a single council department where that inflation proof guarantee since 2013 is in place.


We are still paying out on the gainshare clause whereby Capita get a share of any savings. They don't get gainshare on any procurement now, thanks to my persistent campaign showing that we were being ripped off by a poorly worded contract. However, last year Capita received £109,198 on printing gainshare and just over £100,000 gainshare on property income where Capita  keep 30% of the additional income from rent reviews, lease renewals and letting on the property portfolio above an agreed baseline. They received £180,421.92 gainshare for exceeding the council tax collection target on the basis that if they collect more than 98.5% of council tax  revenues Capita receive 50% in gainshare.  They also received £125,057.81 for gainshare on recovered housing benefit over-payments and £230,702.89 for reducing the number of people claiming single person discounts.  

In total, gainshare amounted to £837,218.66 last year, which I would suggest is money that Barnet desperately needs and should have been retained by the council. Capita supporters say it is essential to incentivise a company to gather this extra revenue, but I doubt the front line staff who do the actual chasing get a share of that gainshare. Barnet used to publish a schedule of how much gainshare had been paid to Capita (Benefits Realisation Schedule) but as with so much else in Barnet, they no longer publish it, possibly because it paints a very different picture of the contract performance.

Out of Hours Service:

Last year we paid Capita  £86,031 to answer the phone out of hours. We pay £1,200 per month as a fixed fee,  which guarantees 80% of call will be answered within 40 seconds, and then between £5.86 and £7.58 per call answered. We also pay and additonal charge if they have to escalate matters with an outbound call. According to Capita's website "'Response out of hours’ is a nationally shared out of hours customer service partnership, delivered by Ealing Borough Council and Capita. Public sector bodies such as local authorities, housing associations and health service providers can join the partnership, wherever they are in the UK, to access a large pool of highly skilled and experienced customer service agents, to deliver their out of hours customer service requirements". It does make me wonder if it might be a bit cheaper if we got together with some of our neighbouring London Boroughs and did this ourselves.

DBS Checks:

Last year we paid Capita £152,972.60 for DBS checks. Nobody is doubting the need for DBS checks, but this seems like a large number of checks and makes me wonder if this is driven by the large number  and churn of agency staff.

Other Items:

The are lots of other costs such as the £1 million paid to Capita for Office 365 licences, £463,628 for mailroom & photocopying, £1.96 million for pension deficit payments and £683,500  for TUPE payments. This again highlights that the savings talked about in headlines are quickly eroded by so many top up charges that are never discussed. We also had to pay back to Capita £801,775 which was money recovered through the proceeds of crime act. When the massive fraud happened within Capita Re with one member of staff stealing over £2 million, Capita had to refund all the money stolen. As money has been recovered and returned to Barnet, we have to refund it to Capita, so in this case not an actual cost to Barnet.  However, the other big cost area is Special Projects which I have detailed below:

Special Projects:

Capita have carried out a variety of special projects with a value of around £8.39 million including:

  • £503,441 for the Corporate Transformation Programme (yes I wondered what that was as well);
  • £286,458 for Customer Transformation Programme to deliver "improved and additional digital online transaction function to deliver a better service"
  • £256,985 to "provide an impact assessment of all relevant and appropriate IT infrastructure for the introduction of the new office and subsequent closing of NLBP B4"
  • £270,457 to provide support to the LBB;
  • £357,787 to prepare a business case for development opportunities under the One Public Estate  (OPE) programme.

The Capita Re contract it is structured differently so they simply bill for work requested.  So in addition to the £8.39 million they have  also billed £659,523 on the new Council Offices in Colindale, £1.065 million on the Local Implementation Plan (LIP), £132,000 for Enhanced Advice and Adaption Services £436,930 for work on the Upper & Lower Fosters regeneration project, to name but a few. 

However, the biggest source of billing for Capita is for work on the different elements of Brent Cross project including the new waste transfer station, the new Thameslink station and the Brent Cross South regeneration. In total these Brent Cross projects clocked up £14.1 million of charges from Capita.

Brent Cross is a massive regeneration project and it has become a major source of income for Capita. I will be writing a follow up blog on Brent Cross in the next few days which I would urge you to read as the consequences of this project could be exceptionally serious.

In summary, when councillors tell you about all the money that the Capita contract is saving ask them about all the extra charges, and whether they have factored these into their claims. It is a bit like the £350 million pounds a week sign on the big red bus. It makes great headlines but dig a bit deeper and you know it simply isn't true.

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