Thursday, 16 January 2014

North Somerset Council ordered by UK's Information Commissioner to hand over secret report

In October 2010 North Somerset Council awarded a controversial 10 year contract worth over £100 million to private contractor Agilisys to run the Council's support services.

UNISON opposed the contract and challenged the Council's claim that it would result in improved services and better value for money.

In December 2011, following repeated requests by UNISON, the Council appointed management consultants KPMG to review the contract. The review was completed in April 2012.

However despite the size of the contract and its importance, the Council kept KPMGs report secret.

Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2012 the Council eventually released a copy of a ‘Final Summary Report’ of the review. When we asked the Council to publish the more detailed report that the summary was obviously based on, it refused claiming that no such report existed.

In fact the Council said the ‘final summary report’ was in fact the full report!

As a result a complaint was lodged with the UK’s Information Commissioner using the Freedom of Information Act.

In January, after an investigation lasting over six months the Information Commissioner has concluded that a more detailed report does in fact exist and has ordered the Council to hand it over. It also ordered the Council to disclose the contents of a paragraph in the summary report that has been blacked out because the Council and Agilisys said it could harm the commercial interests of Agilisys if published. At the time Agilisys was bidding for another contract elsewhere.

We don’t yet know what’s in the secret report that the Council has been hiding. Or the nature of the criticisms that the Council blacked out following discussions with Agilisys.

What we do know is that these huge contracts rarely deliver the benefits promised. And the secrecy that surrounds them makes it very difficult to hold to account the councillors and senior managers who promote them.

As for the Agilisys contract, UNISON is more convinced than ever that it was a big mistake and one we will be paying for, for years to come.

The Summary Report with redactions is available here

We will publish unredacted versions of both the Summary and Detailed reports when we receive them.

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