Did you know that Birmingham this city, our city, spends £345,000 per day (yes, a third of a million each day) on what are basically computer and outsourcing services?
No, neither did I. So, if you re wondering about the state of the roads, the closure of swimming pools and the chaos of bin collection, maybe look towards the monumental contract with a company called Capita.
That is if you can. Because up to now, it has been virtually secret, hidden by the councillors we vote for, the officers we pay for.
The deal covers IT, call centre, billing and ‘business transformation’. Voters pay £126m per year for this.
But now thanks to Professor David Bailey, of Aston University’s Business School, some of the contract details have finally been revealed.
In the online remnants of The Birmingham Post, for which he contributed a freelance column, he has forced open the contract’s doors- except of course where it has been redacted. Or in old fashioned words, censored by our own council, by the people we are served by.
Technically, says Prof Bailey, the item under the microscope is called The Capital Service Birmingham Contract. After a petition and constant pressure by this university leader, parts of the deal have been revealed.
The most commercially sensitive thing about these contracts is that Birmingham’s citizens have been paying £345,000 per day to Capita Service Birmingham under this contract. What’s actually really commercially sensitive is that they don’t want the citizens of Birmingham to know exactly how they are able to charge every day more than Wayne Rooney is being paid every week under his new contract.””
As for the parts still held secret, called redactions, he promises he will ‘continue to challenge the redactions, as the redacted, hidden-from-view bits will, no doubt, be spurious – not commercially sensitive, but rather commercially and publicly embarrassing.’
First of all, this is information that is vital to everyone who lives, plays and works in the city.
Secondlly, questions must be asked how this grotesque contract ever got through either by the Whitby administration (RIP) or through Albert Bore’s regime .
Thirdly, why did it take an academic, albeit a thoroughly astute one, to uncover this? Shouldn’t that be the role of the media?
But for commercial reasons, the city’s broadcasters and print companies have all but gone to the wall. ITV Central is dead in the water; the BBC is as flexible and hard nosed as Nick Owen’s rictus grin on its nightly news; the Post, despite Prof Bailey’s columns, can’t put a daily newspaper on the street (it is all online) and comes out weekly as a ‘churnalism’ mirror for business press releases. And the Mail has no investigative guts at all.
Prof Bailey’s work must be complimented. But it raises that subsequent question. Where are the baying hounds of journalism? Where are the teeth chewing into the fog of obfuscation and double dealing? The Capita revelations only throw the weakness of Birmingham’s media under a spotlight even more.
Willl the dying remnants of the city’s media jump on this story? Or will they lie down, as they presently do, and watch a really difficult important issue, a £345,000 per day issue, pass them by?