Thursday, 12 July 2018

Can we trust private contractors with public sector contracts - Guest Blog by Janet Leifer

By Janet Leifer (on Behalf of Barnet Alliance for Public Services)

As reported recently, a former employee on a council contract with Capita has been charged in a £2 million fraud case which will be heard on 31 July at Harrow Crown Court.  How did  62 allegedly fraudulent transactions over the course of 18 months go undetected for so long?

Barnet Council employed Grant Thornton UK LLP (GT) to carry out a forensic review on the alleged fraud.  Grant Thornton are being paid up to half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money for their work including the report they produced.  However Barnet Council will not be making the report public at the moment because the Chief Executive does not believe it is in the public interest as the report contains financial and business information on Capita and Capita has not had an opportunity to provide comments on its contents.

Next week there are two very important Barnet Council Committee meetings taking place where financial matters, including the Capita contract will be discussed.  It is important that Barnet residents are made aware of what happens at these meetings and I trust journalists will be there to report on the proceedings.

On Tuesday, 17 July the Audit Committee meets at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall.  Its gallery is open the public and residents will be following the committee discussion there and asking questions. Were changes made since the alleged fraud came to light in December 2017 to prevent such theft happening again? Did Cllr Richard Cornelius, the leader of the council, and other leading members of the Audit Committee know about the fraud before the elections? How come this sorry business was kept under wraps until after the elections? Why is it not in the interest of the public to see the Grant Thornton investigation report now,  or, is it that it is not in the interests of Capita that the public see this report when Barnet Council is considering its relationship with Capita?

On Thursday, 19 July there will be a special meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee at 7.30 pm in Hendon Town Hall, called extraordinarily because even the Tories ruling Barnet council admit that the model of outsourcing most council services to Capita doesn't work.  A key item on the agenda is the Review of Capita Contracts. – members are asked to recommend one of 3 possible options (1) keep things as they are, (2) re-shape contracts with some coming back in-house,  (3) end the contracts with Capita and bring all the services back under direct council control.  Members of this committee might find it useful to see the Grant Thornton report before they recommend an option on whether Capita should stay or go.  Will they be allowed to do so?

In the name of transparency and accountability it IS in the public interest that the Grant Thornton report be published ASAP, in sufficient time before the Audit Committee and Policy and Resources Committee meetings next week.

The fraud case only illustrates why trusting our services to a commercial company compromises any possibility of scrutiny and accountability, and therefore the only decision that councillors on the Policy and Resources committee can responsibly make next week is Option 3 - bring ALL our council services back in-house. Residents, members of Barnet Alliance for Public Services and council workers will lobby for this option to be selected outside Hendon Town Hall from 6.30 pm on Thursday 19 July, before going into the public gallery to witness how our councillors represent our interests.

Guest blogs are always welcome at The Barnet Eye. Janet Leifer is a Barnet Resident.

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