Citizen Clancy threatens Capita and Amey with ‘trial by webstream’ pledge
Birmingham council must stop referring to the people it serves as ‘customers’ and call them citizens instead, new city leader John Clancy has insisted.
In a move into political philosophy, Cllr Clancy said he didn’t like the word ‘customer’, although he did not explain why not.
Customer services is the wrong way of phrasing it. Being a citizen is a different thing to being a customer.
Cllr Clancy also revealed that he was uncomfortable about referring to city council staff as officers.
Officers were actually “servants of the city”, he said.
The comments came in his first appearance before the main scrutiny committee since becoming the council’s new Labour leader on December 1.
In a wide-ranging discussion of his personal credo, Cllr Clancy urged the council “to show a bit more humility”, get out into communities and help people set their priorities, and realise it didn’t always have the answers to Birmingham’s problems.
In a clear reference to complaints over Christmas about failing refuse collection and recycling services, Cllr Clancy said: “We are still not getting basic services right and we have all seen that over the past month.
“Unless you involve people in shaping the services in their locale these services will be delivered on a one size fits all basis.”
Admitting that some of his priorities had changed in the 48 days since becoming leader, Cllr Clancy attempted to explain the latest position with regard to his key manifesto policies.
Free school meals
Cllr Clancy promised to try to introduce a free hot meal at every council-run infants and junior school. He accepts now that delivery on the pledge will take a long time. With costs running into “many millions of pounds”, the council leader has spoken of an incremental approach and admits only a handful of schools are likely to benefit to start with.
He wants to raise money for the scheme by setting up a free school meals trust which he hopes will be financed by businesses.
Wealth fund and Brummie bonds
Work is underway on developing two of Cllr Clancy’s biggest ideas – putting together a “sovereign wealth fund” financed through the multi-billion pound West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund and through the council’s own property and land assets. The fund would invest in capital projects, with an emphasis on new housing. The council leader also plans to raise finance by selling investment bonds to businesses and on the money markets.
Capita and Amey
The long term future of Clancy’s administration will probably be decided by whether his tough-talking promise to slash the cost of the Capita Service Birmingham ICT joint venture and the Amey Highways PFI can be delivered in practice. The Labour group’s disquiet over the £80 million a year the council pays to Capita is such that this is an area where the new leader must succeed.
He is intent on renegotiating both the Capita and Amey contracts. With Amey, he wants better value for money and to make it easier for local communities to have a big say in the road improvements being undertaken in their area.
Unexpectedly, Clancy strayed close to threatening Capita and Amey at the scrutiny committee meeting, announcing that he would renegotiate the contracts in public with live webstream recordings of the talks if the two companies were not prepared to see sense and come to a cost-cutting agreement. He also repeated a promise to publish in full contracts the council has with Capita and Amey, including pricing structures, dismissing the likelihood that the companies would sue the council for breach of commercial confidentiality.
I can’t take £250 million out of the budget without renegotiating 25-year contracts. There is going to have to be some flexibility. And Amey has an opportunity to reshape the contract to make it better.
One of the ways forward is for this city and city council to be more open and collaborative. In America everything is open. Those businesses that see commercial confidentiality as a way forward are living in the past.
If you want to hide behind corporate client confidentiality then don’t do business with us.
Businesses who feel corporate client confidentiality is the way forward are living in the past. If they want to be involved in Birmingham’s growing economy and with Birmingham City Council, they have got to come into the 21st Century.
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