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Sir Albert’s Capita headache set to continue

Sir Albert’s Capita headache set to continue

🕔31.Dec 2013

A petition has been launched on the Birmingham City Council website for the Service Birmingham contract with Capita to be made available for public scrutiny.

The petition requests that this be done so online and with “the minimum of redaction”, citing a similar case in Barnet as precedent for the move. As of publication the post currently has 52 signatories after five days.

David Bailey, Professor of Industrial Strategy at the Aston Business School and columnist at The Birmingham Post, author of the petition, writes:

“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.”

The Professor has been a vocal opponent of the Capita contract. In the last few months, he has used his platform on the Birmingham Post to repeatedly criticise the contract’s secrecy, stating as much in his latest blog on the issue:

“Of course, over the last year or so I have been pressing the point here in my blogs that the Service Birmingham Rolls-Royce (Capita to you and me) is costing the City Council at least £120m a year.”

Bailey’s latest move is a significant watershed in the growing opposition against the contract. For some time, opponents such as Councillor John Clancy have aired their grievances, but stayed their hand on action. The petition marks a change.

It offers a rallying point for opponents to publicly demonstrate their position. The question of who signs the petition will be extremely telling.

As such, the petition has potential to cause embarrassment for the Labour leadership. On the release of a similar contract with Capita, the Barnet Council issued this statement:

 “The council is legally and contractually obliged to redact information that Capita has designated as confidential and commercially prejudicial. This is also consistent with statutory guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“However in the interests of transparency, Capita has agreed to waive its right to keep confidential much of the information defined in the contract as commercially sensitive and confidential, so that more information is in the public domain.”

No matter how many times the Council leadership attempts to dampen questions about the contract, one question will remain: why not follow Barnet’s example and publish the Birmingham contract?

The Capita contracts are becoming totemic in an emerging battle within the Labour group. For his part Sir Albert Bore has,  to some extent, brought the problem on himself. The continual talk of Armageddon and the Jaws of Doom (shrinking budgets, rising demand) and suggestion of wholesale ‘decommissioning of services’ has created the conditions of animosity towards the private sector provider.

It’s undoubtedly tough for Labour Councillors to stomach cuts to local bricks and mortar services (such as the closing of Moseley Road Baths) while a private sector operator is seemingly making large profits.

To quote my esteemed colleague Paul Dale:

“Will Capita’s ‘special relationship’ with Birmingham council come to an end in 2014? Don’t bet on it.”

It may not come to an end, but it will certainly cause even bigger headaches in the year ahead.

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