Councils all over the country are looking for ways to save money. The government has imposed drastic cuts on their budgets and every council knows that they will have to try and make do with far less money. In some ways this is not a bad thing. The cash they spend is our cash, it is paid for by our taxes. Challenging councils to improve their efficiency is not evil, it is common sense. If they can cut out administration and deliver the same quality services that is a good thing. If they can use modern technology to "work clever" that is a good thing. If there is duplication in staff or services overlap, these should be consolidated
Then there is outsourcing. There are two cases where this should be considered. Firstly where a new service is being developed and an outside organisation already has a working model which can be transposed at lower cost, without the related start up costs of building systems from scratch. The second case is where there is a clear, low risk model for outsourcing supported by a robust business case. The business case should be based on hard evidence and not guesses of revenue that the council may accrue if all goes well. There should be no costs hidden from the business case (such as legal costs) and it must demonstrate the customer experience will not be degraded. Once such a business case has been developed, then the council should be in a position to open it to challenge from organisations such as trades unions. If it is robust, it will survive and any criticisms will be rebutted.
The One Barnet project is the culmination of four years work. What does the fact that no one is allowed to see the full business case tell you? Barnet Trades Unions have engaged various experts such as Dexter Whitfield and APSE, all of whom have deemed the project "risky".
One aspect of the project which has been completely understated is the risk brought about by change. This week we've seen the effects a minor computer software change at RBS/Nat West had on their business. Customers were left without banking facilities for days on end. People were left in jail, rent wasn't payed, home moves weren't completed. Why? Because someone in the organisation underestimated the impacts of change. One Barnet is a project which completely changes the way the Council is run. If it fails, tens of thousands of vulnerable people could be affected. Where is the detail which tells us this can't happen? Where are the contingency plans, if a contractor fails?
Most of all, who bears the risk? The answer to all of these should be in the business case. Sadly we are not allowed to see it. Why?
One final word. Bidders such as Capita Symonds and BT are licking their lips at the prospect of big contracts with guaranteed profits. Have they done a downside analysis? If the changes fail to deliver, there are an army of armchair auditors in Barnet. The world will soon be made aware. Over 2,000 people have now seen the film "A Tale of Two Barnets" which explains in laymans terms the problems with One Barnet project and the implications for the residents of Barnet. Many people, who would normally support "cost cutting measures" have expressed their concern. If the companies are happy to take a big contract for big profits, based on a dodgy business case, they will reap the whirlwind of bad publicity and reputational damage when it goes wrong and unravels.
One question which BT, Capita Symonds and all the other bidders should consider. There are more TV producers, documentary makers and people involved in the media living in the London Borough of Barnet than any other London Borough and probably anywhere else in the country. That is why Barnet is so regularly featured in programs such as London Tonight and The One Show.
Although this isn't the way the world should work, whilst these companies may get away with cock ups at Sefton Council, and the world at large won't notice, you can bet your bottom dollar a cock up in Barnet will have a completely different impact on their business.