Barnet Council outsource to Capita challenged – but council votes to go ahead

The controversial outsourcing by Barnet Council, which we've covered before here, has just got exciting again.  A Barnet resident, Maria Nash, instructed lawyers to seek Judicial Review of the One Barnet Programme, just hours before the council meeting last night to approve contract award to Capita. However, the meeting went ahead and the vote was in favour of the deal.

Here's a summary of the reasons given in the application for judicial review:

1.         Breach of the Council's duty to consult Barnet residents, businesses and community organisations about its plans, the result of which is that it has spent millions of pounds... on consultants helping it to run the procurement process, but has not once asked local people for their views.

2.         Breach of councillors' duty to the residents in their area, to make sure that their decisions represent the best available value for public money. In order to be sure that they are getting best value out of this... the Council must compare the costs, benefits and risks of outsourcing with the costs, benefits and risks of retaining services in house but reforming the way they are provided to optimise value....  Barnet has refused to do it.

3.         Breach of the public sector equality duty: the Council must take issues of equality into account when making important decisions which affect people’s lives, like making radical changes in the way Council services are run.  The “equalities impact assessment” done in the One Barnet case was a pure paper exercise, which took no account of the views of people who would be affected by the changes.

4.         Breach of public procurement law, which requires that this contract be awarded to the company submitting the “most economically advantageous tender from the point of view of the public body”, i.e. the provider that gives the “best value for money” , taking into account the council’s responsibilities. Lack of consultation with local people, lack of consideration of equalities and lack of an in-house services comparator means the council cannot state that Capita gives the best value for money.  Such a breach of the public procurement rules leads to cases like West Coast Main Line.

5.         Breach of councillors’ duty to make up their own minds: Individual councillors must by law make up their own minds how to vote after informing themselves on the issues.  They are not allowed blindly to follow the party line.  Councillors have been starved of information... so they cannot legally vote to do anything other than defer a decision so that they can inform themselves and come to a proper view.

Interesting to see the "most economically advantageous" procurement imperative used in this way to challenge the whole basis of a procurement. I'm not at all sure that will stand up in court, if it gets there, but if it does, it could add a whole new level of complexity to public procurement!

The Barnet deal will see many council jobs moved outside the borough, to Belfast and various other Capita back-office centres. Now maybe Barnet has such a low employment rate that this don't matter, but I must admit I find it a little surprising that a council would vote to reduce its own local employment base in that way. At least in Cornwall - whether or not we think the controversial BT joint venture is a good idea - the purpose is to bring more employment to the County!

And here's a brilliant article by Mark Ballard on the Computer Weekly website about why Barnet's initiative may not be a very good idea from a strategic technology viewpoint either...


Barnet Council Procurement People! Look for a new job on Spend Matters search4 procurement!


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Voices (5)

  1. Odd Wellingtons:

    Glad to see cronyism and lack of accountability is alive and well in Barnet! Was starting to think they’d lost the knack…

  2. Gordon Murray:

    Strange they didn’t draw on the Social Value Act duties.

    1. Aardvark:

      Social Value Act is not yet in force – provisions are not operative until minister lays a statutory instrument in parliament. When he does, it will only affect procurements commencing after that date. In any case the duties it imposes are pretty weak.

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