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Eric Pickles’ plan to ‘throw open the shutters’ may force Birmingham council to publish £120m Capita contract

Eric Pickles’ plan to ‘throw open the shutters’ may force Birmingham council to publish £120m Capita contract

🕔03.Jan 2014

Campaigners attempting to force Birmingham City Council to publish details of its £120 million a year contract with Capita have been given an unexpected boost by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

A new data transparency code of practice backed by Mr Pickles proposes that local authorities must make public all contracts they hold with private sector firms worth more than £5,000.

Consultation is continuing, but the Government has made it clear it does not accept claims that placing contracts in the public domain will breach commercial confidentiality.

Mr Pickles said he wanted to “throw open the shutters” and “bring the full glare of the public’s eye on to spending”.

A petition on Birmingham city council’s website by Aston University Professor David Bailey requests that the Service Birmingham contract with Capita be placed online “with the minimum of redaction”.

Prof Bailey has been leading a campaign to axe service Birmingham, which supplies all of the council’s IT services and runs the call centre, on the grounds that the £120 million cost is excessive and that the service could be run far more cheaply and just as effectively by local firms.

His petition, which currently has more than 120 signatures, states: “This petition is needed so as to ensure greater transparency and openness around the outsourcing of the Service Birmingham contract and therefore enable proper public scrutiny and discussion. It would bring Birmingham into line with other councils – such as Barnet which has done this with its Capita contract.”

Signatories that appear on the list include long time Capita opponent Councillor John Clancy and, as of today, Labour MP Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green).

Labour city council leaders are considering the possibility of substantially changing the Service Birmingham contract in order to cut costs by at least £20 million, or axing the contract completely. A report setting out recommendations will go to the cabinet next month.

In a proposed revised code of conduct on open government the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) states that arguments about confidentiality, routinely used by councils like Birmingham to keep contracts private, “are not convincing, nor are businesses likely to be deterred from bidding by publication of data”.

By publishing details of contracts councils are more likely to open up bidding to a wider range of SMEs, according to the DCLG response to consultation response.

The Government is proposing to require publication of:

– Details of invitations to tender for contracts to provide goods and services valued over £5000 on a quarterly basis.
– Details of all contracts over the value of £5000 on a quarterly basis including purchase orders, framework agreements, and legally enforceable agreements.

Invitations to tender will be published initially, with details of contracts awarded being published later. The information may be published on a register or by publication of documents. Individuals or businesses wanting further details would be able to submit Freedom of Information requests, at which point a decision could be made on redaction.

The new code of practice also proposes requiring councils to be more open about expenses for councillors and council officers including publishing details of corporate credit cards.

Publication of the following will be mandatory:

– Trade union facility time on an annual basis. Comparison is made with the private sector where facility time costs are 0.04% of total annual pay bill in comparison with 0.14% in the public sector.
– Revenues from off and on- street parking and penalties.
– Number of controlled off and on-street parking spaces.
– Spending on credit cards on a quarterly basis.

Cover Image: Conservative Party (via flickr)

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