Review of council's Capita contracts agreed
Councillors have agreed a review of Barnet Council’s multi-million pound deals with outsourcing giant Capita, following a debate held almost entirely in private.
The council’s finance committee approved a “limited review” of the contracts after the process was held up by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is designed to determine which Capita-run services should be extended, re-procured or brought in-house at the end of the original contract term in 2023.
The public and press were shut out of almost the whole discussion of the review because the council's report on the contractor “contained information relating to the financial and business affairs of the council and Capita”.
The council struck two deals with Capita in 2013 that led to a range of services previously provided by the council being outsourced to the company. They were touted as saving Barnet taxpayers more than £165million over ten years.
But the contracts have been criticised following a string of problems, including a £2m fraud against the council by former Capita contractor Trishul Shah.
Several services have already been brought back in-house, including finance and strategic human resources, while pension management has been transferred to West Yorkshire Pension Fund.
The finance committee report claims the contracts have “led in many instances to the provision of good services at a lower cost than was previously the case”. But it adds that the “scope for Capita to add further value to some services that remain based in Barnet is limited” and acknowledges “ongoing performance issues, notably in highways and estates, that may require a different approach in order to achieve further service improvement”.
The report set out four options – carrying out a full review of the contracts, bringing the services back in-house at the end of the term, extending the contracts by five years or conducting a limited review. A full review was not recommended, as the report said it could lead to the council having to extend the deals for at least a year, which would lead to added costs for the council.
The limited review, which would identify services that should return to the council in 2023 and those that should be extended for up to two years while a more detailed review takes place, would offer the council more flexibility, the report said.
At the end of the private session, members of the Conservative administration gave their backing to the limited review, with Labour councillors abstaining.