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Campaign Of The Week The Barnet activists battling Capita

OUTSOURCING public services has time and again been shown to deliver poor quality at significantly greater expense, yet local authorities — particularly Tory ones — continue to contract out services, with predictable results.

Barnet residents have been fighting the Conservative-run council’s decision to outsource huge swathes of its public services to Capita for almost a decade — and are finally starting to see some results.

Barnet Council farmed out departments including highways, human resources and funerals to the notorious outsourcing giant under a decade-long contract worth around £32 million a year beginning in August 2013, despite huge public opposition.

But, in the wake of Capita’s recent disastrous financial results (which has shades of Carillion’s collapse), the council has been forced to consider taking some services back in-house.

Last month, Barnet published a review of its contracts with Capita and recommended bringing some services back in-house, though it stopped short of calling for the termination of the contracts altogether.

That report will be considered by the council’s policy and resources committee later this month and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, with the help of the Chipping Barnet Labour Party (CBLP) and Barnet Unison, will be pushing for all contracts to be taken back in-house.

CBLP members also attended Capita’s AGM last month, at which shareholders and Barnet residents challenged the board to address financial projections showing a potential shortfall of £62m by the year 2023.

CBLP executive committee treasurer Holly Kal-Weiss reminded the meeting of projections that Barnet Council will cease to exist in its current form within the next four years.

“More worryingly,” she added, “Capita has been responsible for running the finance department, yet councillors are unaware that the shortfall is as severe as it has now been found to be.”

She also pointed out that Barnet Council was now forecasting a shortfall of £9.5 million in 2018-19 and £19.3m in 2019-20, up from £2.79m and £8.2m respectively, and described long-term prospects as “apocalyptic.”

Some shareholders even walked out of the meeting in disgust, with one telling members of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services: “It’s scandalous what’s happening, and a disgrace that [Capita] was set up by former public servants. They’re running it into the ground.”

Kal-Weiss told the Star that she thought Capita’s financial position and the looming shadow of Carillion’s demise was the main reason behind Barnet’s decision, but said it presented an opportunity to push for public services to be publicly run again.

She said Capita’s financial woes were obviously a concern, but added: “I think what's more of a concern for me and the Barnet Alliance is that at present Barnet Council don’t have enough money to balance the budget. Why are we paying anything to an outside company? 

“This is illogical — the whole point of outsourcing is to save money. Whatever gain we may have had early on from outsourcing, by paying lower wages and less advantageous pensions, has gone.”

Kal-Weiss said that Barnet’s call centres were now based in Coventry, meaning staff were limited by a lack of local knowledge.
She added: “The services have not improved. There’s holes in the roads, the children’s services are failing, the call centre is in Coventry. 

“You phone a Barnet number but actually the people are in Coventry and it makes a huge difference when you are trying to explain a problem. It’s a false economy. Equally, there’s the demise of our community because we don't employ local people.

“Our community is being run by a big company, there’s no heart left.

“We need to keep up the pressure on the council. They are saying there’s three options: keep all the Capita contracts, some of the contracts or bring everything back to being run by the council. We are going to push for everything to be brought back in-house. Whatever money we have should be spent on our services.

“This is political. The residents are caught between the council, which is run by the Tory Party, and Capita.”

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