Barnet Post

More public services set to return to council control

Barnet Council seeks to return privatised services to direct authority control

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By Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter  
  @BarnetPost

Four more services that were outsourced to Capita could be brought back under Barnet Council’s control in two years’ time.

A review of the council’s two major contracts with the firm proposes insourcing highways, regeneration, procurement and regulatory services when the original ten-year deals end in 2023.

Six services would stay with Capita, while a further four would be subject to a short extension before a decision is made on whether to bring them in house.

The contracts review, which had been held up by the Covid-19 pandemic, was presented to a meeting of the financial performance and contracts committee last week.

John Hooton, Barnet Council’s chief executive, told the meeting the review was about “how we get the best possible services for residents”, admitting there had been some “delivery challenges” with services that could be insourced.

He added: “I think for all of those services, people and services are being delivered from Barnet, and I think we feel there is an opportunity to improve the quality of service in the future and deliver those services for at least the same cost or cheaper by integrating them into the council.”

But opposition councillors raised doubts over the review’s scope and effectiveness. Liberal Democrat councilllor Gabriel Rozenberg suggested the council could have gone further and proposed to bring other parts of the contracts in house, such as customer services.

Cllr Rozenberg said the long-term trend for the contracts had been “a steady admission that this bit doesn’t make sense, and this bit doesn’t make sense, and this bit isn’t commercially viable”.

The council brought finance and strategic human resources back in-house in 2019, while pensions management was moved from Capita to West Yorkshire Pension Fund last year.

“I really wonder what, after the end of the ten-year process, we will actually have that still remains in 2023,” he added.

Labour councillor Arjun Mittra said he felt the review was “a bit of a reward for Capita”, with services that had been “messed up” or where the company was making a loss being returned to the council.

“The mistakes that were made eight years ago… I think are being made again,” he told the committee.

John Hooton said insourcing had been the trend over recent years in some instances. He claimed the council had “completely shifted the business model” for customer services but admitted there were things it needed to do differently.

The chief executive said he did not think the review was a “reward for Capita”, as the firm would be “earning less money from a smaller set of contracts”.

Labour group leader Barry Rawlings raised concerns that Capita would still have ownership of key data and information after the proposed contracts shake-up. “I’m just not sure the levers of power are in our hands at the moment and that we will get them,” he said.

Cllr Rawlings suggested there should have been a “wider discussion” about alternatives. He said the 'Regional Enterprise' deal with Capita could change from being a joint vehicle to a traded company – meaning the council would get 100% of any profits, rather than 51% going to shareholders in Capita.

Labour councillors voted against the proposed approach to public consultation and the direction of travel for each service, but they were backed by Conservative committee members.

The council will launch consultations with the public and staff before making any decisions on the proposals set out in the review.

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