The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) has officially announced that it is seeking a judicial review of the council’s decision to outsource its back office services.
The London Borough of Barnet has approved a £320 million deal with outsourcing company Capita. The company has agreed to provide services that include human resources, call centres, payroll and ICT for the next 10 years.
The Conservative run council went through with the controversial decision despite protests and threats of judicial review. According to reports, one Barnet resident has already filed a judicial review claiming that the council failed to consult the residents and breached the public sector equality duty.
The applicant has also argued that the council has failed to get the “best value for money” deal in this contract with Capita. Residents and campaign groups such as the Barnet for Public Services (BAPS) have also been up in arms about the potential loss of jobs in the council and the local area.
Approximately 514 employees of the council will be moved to Capita’s payroll and the outsourcing service provider has already announced it will move approximately 200 roles to other parts of the UK.
Despite the furore, the Conservative Leader of the Council Richard Cornelius has defended the decision to go ahead with the Capita outsourcing deal. He argued that privatising the back office operations of the council will save £120 million over the next decade. In addition, the supplier will invest £8 million upfront to improve services.
In addition to the back office Barnet Council has announced intentions towards outsourcing its planning, environmental health, and regeneration departments. This is expected to be worth around £750 million, with the contract expected to be awarded in the Spring of 2013.
The radical move to outsource public services at such a large scale was necessitated by cuts in local government funding by the Treasury. Austerity measures have reduced Barnet Council budget by £43 million, and Cllr. Cornelius argued that unless services were outsourced Barnet residents would have seen “real cuts”.
But criticisms have come from within the Conservative Councillor group as well as Tory residents in the borough, who have claimed the council does not have the mandate to make these changes.
Leaked emails between the local Conservative MP Matthew Offord and Conservative Councillor Sury Khatri revealed deep opposition to the massive outsourcing of public services. Councillor Khatri claimed the party did not have a mandate to mass privatise council services.
Even some who had earlier supported outsourcing of council services have changed their position following opposition from local Tories and resident groups.
Brian Coleman, the former Conservative councillor responsible for privatising parking operations in the borough, have changed his position drastically. But critics say that is more due to his party whip being withdrawn after being charged with careless driving and assault.
He is now calling for a horses for courses strategy in service commissioning and delivery. Echoing the “strategic sourcing” approach, the former Councillor emphasised the need for a “mixed economy” of service provision involving the public, private and third sector organisations that deliver best value for money.