Saturday, 14 July 2012

The lessons Barnet need to learn from G4S

Please see update below:
Last Saturday I attended the BAPS conference where we all heard about the perils of One Barnet. I even gave a short presentation myself! In the press we have seen Cllr Cornleius say that there is no plan B and Cllr Robert Rams trying to deflect attention from the £1Billion outsourcing project by talking about a Community Coaches scheme. This very clever tactic of trying to make One Barnet mean all things to all people doesn't, however, reduce the scale and risks associated with the main plank of One barnet which ios the massive outsourcing exercise.

Conservative Councillors labour under the belief that all private companies are good and all public sector staff are bad. In the last twenty four hours we have seen the mess that has erupted around the G4S contract and it illustrates several points as follows:

Circumstances change - LOCOG originally contracted only 2,000 staff from G4S but later realised they needed a lot more staff so asked G4s to provide them. With Barnet letting immensely complex contract for at least ten years will the specification for those contract change - almost definitely.

Believing what contractors tell you isn't always a good idea - G4S said they could provide the additional staff and no one wanted to challenge that opinion. I have seen similar situations before where the contract becomes so large no one dares to think the contractor might not be able to deliver because it would cause so much loss of face all round. In Barnet the contracts will be immense and no one dares even think it might go wrong.

Where was the contract monitoring -  this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Monitoring should have been taken place with a high level of scrutiny checking on a weekly basis how many staff had applied, been interviewed, been security checked and been trained. Those KPI's provided on a weekly basis should have been ringing alarm bells six months ago. With Barnet I do not get any sense of any monitoring programme in place and definitely no public scrutiny. This doesn't bode well.

When the contract is so large there is no commercial alternative - In G4S's case the only real alternative was to bring in the army. No other one commercial company could pick up the slack. If LOCOG had thought about the scale of this problem perhaps they might have split the contract between 5 or 6 companies so that if one got into difficulties there were another 4 or 5 who could pick up the shortfall. In Barnet we are also putting all our eggs in just one or two baskets. However, in our case I'm not sure the army will be able to step in and run the Council's planning, building control or environmental health departments.

Ultimately it is us who pick up the bill - whilst much has been made of G4S picking up any additional costs for the army lets not forget that they have already been contracted to be paid £300 million funded directly or indirectly by us the citizens. The same will happen in Barnet if the massive contracts go wrong as has happened at the SouthWest One contract.

Councillors need to think very carefully about whether a G4S situation could happen with One Barnet Outsourcing - the answer is yes!

As a post script to this mess I see today that we already have a potential conflict of interest caused by the  outsourcing. Legal services at Barnet have been/are in the process of being outsourced to Harrow Council. Legal are overseeing all of the One Barnet contracting process. However, in a market where one player (Capita) has such market dominance we now find that Capita provide the IT services for Harrow. This raises all sorts of conflicts of interest given that Capita are bidding for both One Barnet contracts. Apparently the Council are looking for a work around solution but this just highlights the sort of problems the new outsourcing contract will experience on a regular basis. sadly we are not allowed to undertsand how conflicts of interest are dealt wioth as that information is "commercially sensitive". Only in Barnet.

Update 8.52pm
Oh dear! This post appears to have upset Cllr Rams. Just to be clear and beyond equivocation, I am not in anyway opposed to outsourcing per se. There are many circumstances where the outsourcing of non core services can work effectively in delivering quality improvements for an organisation. What I object to fundamentally with the massive £1 billion One Barnet outsourcing project is the scale and complexity of the project. What other Councils of a similar size to Barnet have outsourced so many core services in one go for a ten year period, without allowing a public sector comparator and with such a flimsy business case? This process is highly risky as we have seen from the G4S contract.

1 comment:

  1. Upsetting Robert Rams is a badge of honour, Mr Reasonable. It indicates that the whirring clockwork mechanism of his intellect is beginning to stir into action.