By Tony Collins
Conservative-led Barnet Borough Council’s inner circle of “cabinet” members agreed unanimously last night to confirm Capita as the supplier for a 10-year £320m back-office services contract, subject to financial reports.
The deal was agreed despite widespread opposition, without a vote of the full council, and without a political consensus. A report published by Cornwall Council’s Support Services Single Issue Panel has said that a political consensus is critical to the success of partnership deals.
Capita promises to save £120m over the 10 years, and make an £8m investment in new technology. Up to 200 jobs could go. Capita will run:
- Finance and Payroll
- Human Resources
- IT Infrastructure and Support
- Corporate Procurement
- Revenues and Benefits
- Commercial Services.
About 100 people gathered outside the Town Hall in The Burroughs, Hendon, to voice their opposition to the contract.
Standing on chairs and holding banners, members of Barnet Alliance for Public Services called on the cabinet members to listen to residents’ concerns.
Councillors vacated the room and continued their meeting next door. Speaking at the meeting, Labour councillor Alison Moore said: “This is an end to democracy as we know it… There is no such thing as guaranteed savings.”
Council leader Richard Cornelius said:
“I look forward to getting the savings we desperately need. This is not a gamble. This is not a quick fix – we have been talking about this for a long time. If we were to reject these proposals we would have to find savings elsewhere, which would be very unpleasant.”
Cornelius said the combination of a saving to the taxpayer of a million pounds a month and an £8m investment in technology by Capita made it a “very, very good deal for the Barnet taxpayer”.
The council will set up a monitoring committee in the next couple of months to scrutinise the contract.
Capita’s New Support and Customer Services Organisation deal will be the first of two major contracts awarded under the Barnet council’s One Barnet outsourcing programme. Capita’s contract is due to start in April 2013.
Barnet’s cabinet has made an important and controversial decision about the council’s future without a vote of the full council, which is a snub to local democracy.
Somerset County Council’s joint venture with IBM has failed in part because the staff were opposed to it, the promises were over-optimistic, the finances were on fragile foundations, and the political leadership changed.
In Barnet the opposition to the deal with Capita is more pronounced than at Somerset, particularly among staff. Can the contract survive so much animus, and will opposition to Barnet’s cabinet grow now that local democracy has been flouted in such a macho way?
Cornwall is putting its joint venture decision to a vote of the full council, on 11 December. Whatever the outcome one thing is clear. Cornwall Council’s approach to local democracy puts Barnet to shame.