Monday, 17 December 2012

Capita week - The Southampton experience - Guest blog by Brian Norgate

By Brian Norgate,
We are amazed here at Southampton that has just gone through the worst industrial dispute of any Council which was only resolved at the 2012 election where the Tory council lost control as the residents Southampton voted in sixteen Labour Councillors that Barnet Council could use our Council as an endorsement for the Capita contract.
I have to praise the former Southampton Tory administration eight years ago for part of their negotiations with Capita, as they built in "Breaks" in to the contract with Capita at years 3 and 7 and subsequent 5 year terms, even though the performance is reviewed each year and errors corrected for over/under charging", to my knowledge other Councils including Hampshire County Council and Swindon Council have Break clauses in their contracts, everyone would agree this is a pre requiste for any contract and standard in contractual agreements.
Listening to the debate at Barnet Council it comes across as either the Tory administration don't do detail or don't comprehend or worse turned a blind eye to what the contract with Capita is all about, to start at the begining its not the Torys money, its the rate payers and as Abraham Lincoln said "poverty is not having the ability to say No", from this all the financial information used with public money should be openly declared. including all Capitas costings, I know they claim to save 100million but so could anyone, you must remember that when negotiating with public money you must get the best deal that would pass the test of not knowing whether you were the council, Capita, suppliers or tax payers that is a Councillors public duty.
Once you accept its public money there can be no hidden accounting, "warts and all" said Cromwell yet at Southampton that doesn't appear to be the case, most budget books tell you a story rather than the all the facts, an account may have more money in than declared as only the declared spend/income can be shown, Councillors asking for the books to be opened will be sent a tag line "Before these figures are disclosed to an external requester we should confirm with legal if this is appropriate information to provide" or similar statement. now thats not British justice or fair play is it, that is a form of poverty
for the people of Barnet Capitas fees whether Professional, additional or standard contract should be publically declared in the budget book and in the mid term finance statement, exit strategies should have an accrual in the budget book should there be clause in the contract for " Lost Future profits" and Costs for ending the contract or similar liabilities. so should revised budgets but I could provide a shopping list. I was a trustee on the Railway pension scheme from 1998 to 2004 and all of these are known and in good negotiated contracts and thats what you need to look for in Barnet.
I know many companies took independent advice which was openly declared to the pension trustees and pensioners so they could have faith in the contract and that they could not potentially be held to ransom when the break in the contract was being negotiated, our actuarries went through these details with a fine eye for detail and its what i would have been expected to hear the Barnet cabinet speeches and very concerned i did not. whats missing is the biggest liabilty you have to worry about.
Yes people will ask questions but fully declaring all the information they may later use in their defence is their public duty, if they with hold information which is against audit commission rules they potentially could be liable for the losses,
Its interesting that none of the other councils Capita negotiated with are mentioned several other councils here in Hampshire have declined Capitas contracts whether thats in part
or in full as Barnet appearing to be going do, I have been involved with five local councils three went with Capita and two declined.
The two Councils that declined both agreed it was cheaper in house and the contract with Capita was too complicated to get out off in making their decisions, even though things may have changed recently i understand they have not.
working with the Southampton MP i raised the subject of several budget issues Capita were involved with, two of these are the Exford road Housing development and Meggeson Avenue housing developments in Southampton, we did a Freedom of information request as they were not shown in the budget book and were stalled sites, 260 propoerties
had tenants decanted for regeneration and Council rent and rates was lost over a three year period of �1.5million, but this wasnt the total losses and didnt include all the lost revenue or Capitas costs, this is not how public money should be dealt with "warts and all".
So 260 empty proerties in Southampton, our housing list went from 7k to 9k in the same period, do you think everyone in Southampton would give you the same recommendation surely if Southampton or any other Council was in negotiations to take their options to use the Break in the contracts you would have been told
Another contract with was the refurbisment of kitchen and bathrooms on the Harefield and Bitterne estates, I was shocked to see in the Council minutes that an overspend of �109,000 in one year but thats all the breakdown the public got as to what had gone wrong. surely you take out one bathroom/kitchen you fit one bath room kitchen thats what you pay for so how come there is a retro fitting clause, which ended soon after it became public knowledge
from this came strange stories about Southampton work being done by Capita was done elsewhere, for example Lambeth Council who have a Capita contract part of  the work is done at Southampton and in the Barnet contract some of their work is being done at Southampton whilst Some of Southamptons work is being done either at Portsmouth or elsewhere,Capitas newest office block is at Lakeside Portsmouth and during the negotiations its reported that officers were told by Capita Portsmouth would be potentially be working on Hampshire CC and other local councils as well as London councils, this is surely the strangest part of the contracts, whilst i accept David Cammerons Governent failures are down to the fact they dont do detail it must have spread to their tory Councils.
I got a call from a Portsmouth Council officer who said hows the Capita contract going at Southampton as Portsmouth Council were in negotiations with Capita, Surely I said the the Portsmouth Council officer as we sat on Portsdown hill over looking Portsmouth - doesnt that worry you being told the work you have a duty of care to protect is potentially going to be moved around the Country and lose the local connection, during the industrial dispute at Southampton i asked what figure the council estimated a month they had lost in goodwill from the staff, an officer told me he would not be surprised if it was half a million a month. this goes to the central point of these negotiations because there are clauses potentially not declared in the contract as shown by the need to contact the council legal department to see if all the figures could be released.
so in the Warts and all theory,  if there was a contract point that if a certain level of acvitivity rose above 50% for more than a couple of months the work would be transfered back to the council officers to do, how can you tell if the work is being done at Southampton or else where.
Capita do what they say they are going to do and are a good socially responsible company as I have worked well with them at Salisbury,I dont claim to know it all but its a very different view here from Southampton as you were led to believe no ringing endorsement, so unless you know the whole deal and fully comprehend the implication the Bell tolls for you Barnet ignore it at your peril 
Guest Blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye

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