By Tony Collins
Barnet Council is remarkably defensive about its plan to outsource IT, customer services, finance, payroll, HR, corporate procurement and other services to BT or Capita, by the end of December 2012.
After the controversy in Cornwall about whether the full council or an inner circle of councillors – the “Cabinet” – should make momentous decisions affecting the council’s future, Campaign4Change asked Barnet whether it was putting its decision to outsource to BT or Capita to the full council.
Cornwall’s decision on whether to outsource to BT or CSC was going to be taken by the Cabinet alone but Cornwall’s leader Alec Robertson changed course and decided to put the idea of a mega-outsourcing deal to the full council.
So would Barnet council’s decision to award a mega-outsourcing contract to BT or Capita go to full council for a vote? It was a straightforward question for Nick Griffin, Media Officer, Chief Executive’s Service, Barnet Council. He did not answer the question directly.
“There is quite a bit of information available on our website. Please see the links (at the bottom of this post) …
But was the information on the council’s website out of date? We wanted to be clear on the facts. We asked Griffin again. His reply was polite but insistent: he would not say whether the council was putting its outsourcing decision on BT or Capita to the full council.
Neither would he answer directly another straightforward question on local democracy: Has the decision to approve/reject One Barnet [transformation programme] gone to full council for a vote?
From the council’s website it appears that all key decisions on the outsourcing plans have been made by Barnet’s Cabinet’s alone. This is from the council’s website:
“A decision will be made by Cabinet in late 2012 as to which bidder [BT or Capita] will win the contract. The new provider will start to run the NSCSO [New support and Customer Services Organisation] in spring of 2013.”
Barnet’s website lists as the relevant previous decisions those taken by the council’s Cabinet alone.
– Cabinet, 29 November 2010 – approved the One Barnet Framework and the funding strategy for its implementation.
– Cabinet …2 March 2011 – Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation Options Appraisal
– Cabinet … 29 June 2011 – approved the New Support and Customer Services Organisation business case and the start of the competitive dialogue process…
So one of the most momentous decisions affecting the council, its staff and council services is not being made by the full council.
Barnet Council comprises 38 Conservatives, 22 Labour, and three Lib-Dem councillors. Most of them will not have a say on the outsourcing of:
- Customer Services
- Finance and Payroll
- Human Resources
- IT Infrastructure and Support
- Corporate Procurement
- Revenues and Benefits
- Commercial Services.
The decision will be taken by the Cabinet’s 10 councillors, and perhaps not all of them. Is this local democracy in action?
Accusations of Maladministration?
Given that the decision to outsource to BT or Capita could have a major effect on the council’s future for good or ill, and is controversial –councils including Suffolk and Cornwall are rethinking large outsourcing plans – could Barnet’s decision not to put its outsourcing plans to a vote of the full council leave the Cabinet open to accusations of maladministration if things turn sour?