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Sir Albert’s difficult day with the BBC, and Cllr Clancy pops up on the Jeremy Vine Show

Sir Albert’s difficult day with the BBC, and Cllr Clancy pops up on the Jeremy Vine Show

🕔16.Jan 2014

The BBC’s presence in Birmingham is generally regarded as a ‘good thing’ by the city council – something to be praised and defended at all costs.

But council leader Sir Albert Bore may possibly be revising his unqualified backing for Auntie after a somewhat difficult day with radio presenters.

First, Sir Albert was forced to admit for the first time that Birmingham City Council may decide to terminate its £120 million-a-year contract with Capita.

And then he could only listen, fuming presumably, when his great rival for the council leadership, John Clancy, was afforded prime time by the BBC to talk about a possible sale of the NEC Group.

Sir Albert said on BBCWM’s Adrian Goldberg show that ending the city’s relationship with Capita was a possibility and indeed it was something that he was “looking at”.

His comments appear to confirm a shifting of ground among the Labour council leadership, which up until the latter part of 2013 was shying away from commenting on the possibility that winding up Service Birmingham – the council’s Capita-led ICT joint venture – was even being thought about.

A determined campaign by Aston University Professor David Bailey and Cllr Clancy, involving a petition calling on the council to publish in full its contract with Capita, including details of termination costs, has privately annoyed Cllr Bore and his allies.

They hit back by claiming that lawyers for the council and Capita have been discussing since October 2013 how to publish the contract and, crucially, which sensitive bits to redact. Prof Bailey says the litmus test will be whether details of the cost of ending the contract are published, adding that the people of Birmingham cannot take an informed view of £100 million-plus public spending cuts unless they have this information.

Sir Albert told BBCWM that terminating the contract would be considered if he was unable to reach agreement with Capita to reduce its core contract with the council by £20 million. The core contract is worth £50 million a year, but when the cost of other Capita services to the council are taken into consideration the total amount paid in a year to the outsourcing company is about £120 million.

Part of the payment reflects Capita’s work on the council’s business transformation project, which has now ended. There is a saving of £13.5 million to be achieved from no longer paying for business transformation – a saving that, one imagines, requires little negotiation.

Therefore, if a £20 million reduction ends up including £13.5 million from business transformation, the net saving is just £6.5 million, or 5.4 per cent of the total amount of money the council gives to Capita each year. That figure is unlikely to be acceptable to many Labour councillors.

The council leader’s humour will not have been improved, either, by an appearance on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show by Cllr Clancy, who is again expected to challenge Cllr Bore for the council leader’s job this May.

Cllr Clancy was on the programme to talk about emerging details of a plan by the council to sell part or all of its interest in the NEC Group – something that Sir Albert also confirmed to Adrian Goldberg.

Chamberlain Files has learnt that the BBC invited Sir Albert to take part in Jeremy Vine’s programme, but he declined to do so. Listeners with no knowledge of Birmingham council’s set up might possibly have assumed that Cllr Clancy was an official spokesman.

The position on the sale of the NEC Group is, thankfully, somewhat clearer than the Capita saga.

Yes, this is something that is actively being considered. No, it does not, as has been suggested in some quarters, have much to do with raising cash to meet the £1.1 billion equal pay compensation bill facing the council. It is aimed at bringing in private sector cash to provide a much needed modernisation and improvement of the NEC Group’s facilities, in particular to address competition from conference centres in China.

A decision about disposing of the NEC, ICC, LG Arena and National Indoor Arena is not imminent. Any sale, possibly to pension funds, will not feature in the council’s 2014-15 budget and may not be decided until later this year or possibly sometime in 2015.

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