Birmingham’s new Labour-led council is bringing in experts to conduct a “health check” on the performance of Service Birmingham, the arms-length company with £1 billion of contracts to provide IT services for the local authority.
The decision to order an independent probe reflects concern among Labour councillors about the extent to which Service Birmingham, run by outsourcing giants Capita, is delivering promises to transform information and technology at the council.
Service Birmingham, which plays a leading role in delivering £1 billion of business transformation savings over a ten-year period, has been the subject of persistent criticism at scrutiny committee meetings for three years.
At the top of a list of concerns raised by councillors from all political parties is the performance of the council contact centre which fields millions of phone calls each year from the public. Scrutiny hearings were told of customers facing long delays in obtaining housing services and being told to ring back, at extra cost to the council.
The criticisms were rejected by deputy council leader Paul Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon) who told scrutiny committees that the contact centre had been a great success and that most callers were having their problems dealt with far more quickly than in the past.
Service Birmingham also found itself in hot water when proposing to make savings ordered by the council through the offshoring of jobs from Birmingham to India. The proposal was dropped one the orders of Tory-Lib Dem council leaders.
Deputy Labour group leader Ian Ward announced the probe into Service Birmingham by “an independent organisation”, which he did not name.
Coun Ward (Lab Shard End), who is expected to be appointed deputy council leader at the end of the month, said the inquiry would find out whether Service Birmingham was “fit for purpose in delivering a world class information and technology system”.
Service Birmingham was set up in 2006 as a joint venture between Birmingham City Council and Capita. It runs the council’s extensive IT services, telephone network, payments systems and contact centres.
Coun Ward added: “We want to cut through the jargon and find out whether we are getting real value for money.
“The previous administration weren’t on top of this project. Although savings have been made we’re not convinced that service improvements have been delivered in the way promised.
“Individual councillors find it hard to know how well Service Birmingham is performing. We do get complaints on the doorstep from people who have called the contact centre requesting a service and then hear nothing.
“We need to join up those holding the information in the council and those providing it to the public at the call centre. We believe that if Service Birmingham were run more openly it would provide a better, more reliable service for the council and the public.”