Barnet and Capita – some unusual contractual conditions?

Through a period where various outsourced service-type providers to the UK government have has a hard time, with Serco, G4S, A4E and others all in the news for the wrong reasons, Capita have sailed through it all unscathed.  But there are a few potential storm clouds brewing.

You may remember the Barnet council outsourcing, which include one unusual aspect -  Barnet are agreeing to jobs being lost in their own area, as Capita move work to existing service centres in other (and cheaper) parts of the UK. That still seems a pretty strange thing for a council to do, I must say. That has now got to the point of redundancy consultation notices being issued to staff in Barnet, so the reality of that may start hitting home to citizens and taxpayers as friends and relatives lose their jobs.

The indefatigable  Dave Orr (Southwest One campaigner) and Tony Collins, (IT journalist and Campaign for Change blogger), have also come up with some interesting material around the outsourcing. That includes some interesting clauses in the contract, which, to give Barnet credit, was made public recently. This one in particularly is most unusual in my experience:

“The Service Provider has frequent meetings across central government at official level and occasional meetings at ministerial level. In addition, the Service Provider is a member of a number of organisations that give access to government including the Confederation of British Industry, where the Service Provider sits on the Public Services Strategy Board, the Whitehall & Industry Group, Reform, Policy Exchange and Localis. The Service Provider shall use its relationships to create opportunities for the successes of the Partnership to be promoted enhancing the profile of the Authority at strategic level across the public sector”.

 So the supplier is contractually bound to tell government how great this deal is – and you’ll notice that it doesn’t say “assuming that things are going well”. Here’s what Tony Collins has to say about that.

“This is not open government. This is a contractual expectation that the supplier’s representatives should smile, and smile broadly, whenever the subject of an outsourcing deal with Barnet is discussed, or there is an opportunity to discuss it. Which rather undermines the credibility of the Public Services Strategy Board, the Whitehall & Industry Group, Reform, Policy Exchange and Localis if supplier’s representatives are there to pass on PR messages about their outsourcing deals, whatever the truth”.

“Sue, it would be great if you could tell some of your contacts, including our friends in Whitehall,  how well this is going”.  Now that is the sort of thing you might say informally to a supplier once the contract was up and running successfully. And of course, any sensible supplier will promote their own success at every opportunity. But to actually contractualise this? That seems wrong. Then we have this clause.

11.1 The Delivery Partner will not make public the existence of this cooperation agreement and will not issue any press releases or sales documentation about or otherwise seek publicity in respect of the cooperation arrangement without Capita’s prior written approval.

The “Delivery Partner” here is Barnet itself by the way.  So the “cooperation agreement” between the parties is supposed to be secret as well! All very unusual – and there’s also more from the excellent Mrs Angry here – she is a detailed source of information about the great Barnet experiment...

As we keep saying, we’re not conceptually opposed to outsourcing or even shared services – although  I do agree with much of what people like John Seddon and Howard Clark (alias  “Calchas”) say. But even with our (I hope) objective and balanced view, I was pretty surprised by all this. I’m also not an expert on what has gone on in Barnet, but there is some history there in terms of contract management incompetence, so it all adds up to a bit of a concern with this contract. It’s is not surprising that campaigners at local and national level are keeping a close eye on this case.

And back to Capita – there may also be issues brewing at Birmingham City Council, but more on that to come.

Voices (6)

  1. Dave Orr:

    Capita shareholders beware – look what happened to G4S.

    I see troubles ahead….

    http://www.barnet-today.co.uk/news.cfm?id=34639&headline=Union%20slams%20lack%20of%20transparency%20as%20Capita%20prepares%20to%20move%20150%20jobs%20out%20of%20Barnet

  2. Ian R:

    I’m no expert but clause 11.1 seems to conflict with Barnets responsibilities under the FOI Act.

    1. Peter Smith:

      Great point Ian R – but I suppose by publishing the contract, they’ve broken that condition anyway! And Steve, yes, you’re quite right, how could I forget the Translation contract!

  3. Steve Woods:

    Anyone who thinks Capita has sailed through outsourcing scandals and failures ‘unscathed’ has obviously not been paying attention to Capita Translation & Interpreting’s woeful record on fulfilling its contract for court and tribunal interpreting services with the Ministry of Justice.

    For those interested, comprehensive details can be found at RPSI Linguist Lounge.

  4. Dan:

    Here is an interesting little paper on Barnets proposed approach to managing these contracts:

    http://www.european-services-strategy.org.uk/news/2012/why-a-thin-client-is-a-bad-policy/

    Some people just don’t seem to want to learn

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