Thursday, 15 August 2013

Capita - day zero is tomorrow - the dawn of a big brother society

Mr Pindar is the boss of Capita. How does Mr Pindar think the world should be run? Let me take you on a little journey back to 2008. This was when I first became aware of what we now call One Barnet. It was then called "Future Shape". The Council employed a team of consultants to "reshape the public sector in Barnet". The then council leader, Mike Freer (now MP for Finchley) announced that there were huge savings to be made by pooling back office functions and sharing systems. As well as Barnet council, the NHS, the Police and other public bodies would be invited to participate. If such functions as payroll and HR were shared, then big savings for everyone could be realised. Money could be saved and this could be directed at front line services or used to cut tax. Then Mr Freer announced that 300 problem families in Barnet were absorbing a 50% of a particular social budget in the Borough. These families would be enrolled in a scheme "improve them" and make them cost Barnet less money.

The consultants then looked at the council and started to think how the Council could be broken up. Parking control would be flogged off. This could be used as a cash cow and so a company with a rather aggressive attitude to parking enforcement and control was sought out. They decided that the Council didn't need its own legal service, so they flogged that off to Harrow Council. Then they looked at functions such as planning control, licenses, call centres, payroll, collection of council tax & Business rates and management of cemetaries. All of these bring in significant sums of money. They too could be flogged off to the private sector. What went rather quiet was the bit about deriving savings from sharing systems.

So anyway, back to Mr Pindar at Capita. Take his view of the world. What is his mission? It is quite simply to make as much cash as possible for his shareholders. There is nothing wrong with this. It is called capitalism and although to some people it is a wicked word, it is the system which has delivered us iPods, cars, lightbulbs, televisions, viagra, guinness and the Rolling Stones. What Mr Pindar wants to do is no more or less moral than Mick Jagger charging his fans £100 a ticket to watch a bunch of bus pass holders play a bunch of their old hits.

So how does Mr Pindar go about doing this? Well his company has identifies the fact that local authorities and other public sector departments are cash cows waiting to be milked. His company is skilled in the art of persuading such organisation to hand over the keys to their operation to his company and then they run the show.  So how do they save the council money? Their are several ways, especially in London. Staff in London get paid more than other parts of the country (and other countries). The in house staff are let go and cheaper staff are employed. Often these are on zero hours contracts with inadequate (cheap) pensions. The computer systems are replaced with centralised systems. The cost of running a single computer in Barnet can be slashed if a whole host of local authorities and other public sector systems all share the same system, running on the same software. In times of shortage of public funds, these economies of scale are surely eminently sensible. This is what Mr Pindars team will say and to be quite honest, it is hard to argue with the logic, isn't it? So these sales teams are going into all manner of organisations and saying the same thing. In the view of Mr Pindar there is no logical reason why the Police, The Fire Brigade, Barnet Council, the NHS, the department of social services, HM customs and excise or any other public body should ever have their own system. Simply hand it over to Capita and we all save money !!!!!

Which takes us back to One Barnet. In Mr Pindars world view, his company would run the systems in Barnet for the police, the ambulance services, the DSS, the Inland Revenue, Barnet Council, the NHS. All of these organisations will make savings. That is the idea. All good so far? And then what. Lets go back to Mike Freers statement about the "300 problem families". Now all of a sudden all of their private information is under the control of Capita PLC. Not only do Capita systems know how much they are costing Barnet Council, they know how much they are costing the Police, the NHS and the DSS. They know if they are paying any tax. Furthermore, technology doesn't stand still. As we know from recent revelations about google and mobile phone companies, we are in effect tracked 24 X 7. How could all these pieces of information be used to address these problem 300? What "innovative solution" could Capita devise to cut these costs in these times of hardship? Now you are probably not one of the 300, so you are not too bothered?

Well what about if you, like me have cancer? Do you want that information to be shared with the council when they are allocating a council house? Maybe an innovative solution would find your at the back of the queue or worse, you get yourself "managed out of Barnet". Lets face it, if you have any such sort of condition, then you will cost the council, the DSS and the NHS a fortune. Far better you move to Hull, where it is far cheaper to manage your death. As Capita now control cemeteries, then at least they might be able to offer you a deal !

Now of course none of this is on the One Barnet menu at the moment. The trouble is that once Capita control the data, away from democratic control, how can we control what they do? Do we know where the data will be stored. There have been cases where systems running under Capita have had their security compromised. They also have access to your bank accounts via the Council Tax payment details. Is this information to be stored in the UK or will the systems hosting it be in far flung regions?

Another concern I have is whether they are allowed to sell this information. If you've ever had a car accident, you will have most likely been cold called by ambulance chasing firms offering services to get you lots of money. This is because your insurance company has sold your details. Does the One Barnet contract explicitly prevent this? More to the point, down the line, when the council is strapped for cash, will they change their mind and say to Capita "ok, make us some more cash".

You see, if Mr Pindar is doing his job properly, and I for one am sure he is, his company will be looking at all of the above questions and trying to develop "innovative products" for public sector bodies to save them money ore generate cash for them. His company owns the data and in this age, that is power. The whole point of having a huge database is to use it.

Now this blog simply looks at the Big Brother elements of One Barnet and what Capita are proposing. How in a perfect world (from a Capita perspective) they would own all the public sector data we have on file. How they may develop innovative solutions to save councils money (and in the process make huge profits).

The question for today, in a nutshell is this. Do you think it is desirable for a private company to own so much personal data that we are compelled to give to the authorities and do you have concerns about how this could be used in future.

Over the coming weeks, we will look at the downside. You see, whilst there are disturbing elements if it all goes swimmingly for Mr Pindar and his company, what happens when it goes wrong? Stay tuned in.


Mr Mustard said...

People can stop Capita getting their bank details by cancelling their direct debit and moving to paying over the computer sat on your own sofa with a laptop. You press the button each month to pay (and you can pay over 12 months now) so you can control your finances more tightly. When you press the button to pay £200 a month you might also think more about how well the council spends your money and try to get more involved.

Zoe said...

you can also pay over 12 months but Barnet don't shout about that. better to keep the extra interest than load a private company.
Can anyone tell me if the council tax that has been frozen included the levy for the Olympics that every London Borough had to charge us. If so they have taken an extra few £'s off everyone and that must be illegal as the Olympics have been and gone.