A Capita Offence

Council_House,_BirminghamRichard Lutz questions public spending.

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.

Prof Bailey: revelatory

Prof Bailey: revelatory

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.

He writes:

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?

Well, yes.

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?

10 thoughts on “A Capita Offence

  1. Just as importantly, why have so few of our elected councillors (John Clancy aside) raised questions down the years? And the general public…how many letters to the Mail, how many calls to the never-ending WM phone ins? Bailey’s petition (which this website publicised twice), received a mere 409 signatures in a city of over 1,000,000. At least in the last few months, the Post and to some extent the BBC, have begun to cover the issue, albeit many years too late. But I think the message fundamentally is that if your library, your swimming pool and all those other services that you reasonably expect to receive in exchange for your taxes, are under threat, do NOT accept without question the words of Birmingham City Council when they tell you that it can no longer afford them.

    And remember, Capita made £58m profit from its Service Birmingham contract in the last finanical year. That’s our money

  2. Pingback: Hypothesis: Outsourcing reduces cost and improves quality | Calchas

  3. Quite right Steve.

    I agree with the broad thrust of Richard’s excellent piece.

    Some words of praise for those few local journalists who have actually put in considerable effort in covering this:

    1. Graeme Brown at the Post has plugged away on the financial side of the story, getting hold of the service Birmingham accounts and working out the £345k a day figure;

    2. David Gregory Kumar at bbc midlands today used the £1.2m library website fiasco to do FOI requests to put it into stark contrast with other libraries and hence build a capita story.

    Well done to both of them.

    Otherwise it has been down to bloggers like Paul Dale at the Chamberlain Files and Richard Lutz at the Birmingham Press and critically citizen journalists like Pauline at Politics in Brum who have kept the story alive.

    A big thank you to all of them.


  4. Where was Central TV – it used to be such a powerhouse, now it is flaccid and unquestioning

  5. I don’t know who Richard Lutz is, but it is a fact that the Birmingham newspapers have been closely following the capita story (has ‘birmingham press?) and have reported its’ every twist and turn. The snide nature of this article suggests someone with an axe to grind.

    • Perhaps you would like to provide an extensive series of links or references for where and when the Birmingham Mail has covered every twist and turn of the story, and hopefully in a manner which is not merely accepting of the case for Business Transformation as argued by the leadership of the three main political parties in the city.

      Meanwhile, please remember that the Mail, Post and BBC are full time professional journalists, the Birmingham Press is entirely written and produced in their spare time by people for whom this is not their employment. Thus, even though there has belatedly been questions asked about Capita iand the wider issue of outscourcing in the local media, this follows years of largely unquestionng reports.

      You may also like to acquaint yourself with many of the articles posted both on here and previously on the Stirrer by Alan Clawley asking questions of Capita’s role in operating public services in the city.

  6. I’ve read at least 20 stories in the Birmingham Post about the whole Capita/Service Birmingham saga and from what the good Professor says above it was the Post that got the accounts in the end – and the figure was publicised by Prof Bailey as a Post columnist. Therefore I think your Birmingham Post bashing (it seems to come in for more criticism than others – even the virtually defunct Central TV) is both unfair and wide of the mark. Also, as an avid reader I’d say it’s the least ‘churnalistic’ of the regional papers hereabouts – that’s why I like it.

    • Sure, they’ve taken issue up recently, belatedly, but Capita/Service Birmingham/Business Transformation has been on the agenda for almost a decade, and for most of that time the Post supported the concept and never asked sustained or difficult questions about why this was better than the Council running services themselves. But I don’t want to knock them too much, they are the only part of the region’s professional media who have even addressed the issue, compared with the Mail, Midlands Today, Central and BBC WM How telling that it was Radio 4’s Report, broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday evening, that delved into the transparancy or otherwise of the Capita and Amey deals. You should be able to hear this on iPlayer for the next six days. The leader of the opposition on Birmingham City Council, John Clancy, is featured heavily.

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