Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Union demands ‘end to secrecy’ after council report battle

Great article from Becky Parker in the Weston Mercury - here it is in full:

‘MISTRUST’ and ‘lost credibility’ – this is how North Somerset Council’s contract with service provider Agilisys is described in a report the authority refused to make public.

Unison, the union for council and schools staff, eventually won its battle for access to the critical report after a year-long fight.

Agilisys took over council services including IT, human resources, payroll, facilities management, procurement, the contact centre and revenues and benefits, in 2010.

A review was carried out into the contract in early 2012 by KPMG, an advisory accounting firm.

Unison has been using Freedom of Information requests to try to get hold of the report, but the council handed over only an edited summary.

The union took the case to the UK Information Commissioner who, after a six-month investigation, ordered North Somerset to hand over the document.

The release of the report comes as the council negotiates with Agilisys over extending the contract and transferring more council jobs and services.

Among the dozens of recommendations, KPMG stresses a need to prevent further negative service impacts and rebuild confidence and regain the trust of council staff.

The report says: “The council has seen a number of benefits, from the introduction of the partnership such as job creation and a greater focus on business change as well as reduced costs for services.

“However, the aspects of the partnership which have not worked well, such as the quality of some transactional services, have resulted in officer mistrust and a lack of contractor and client team credibility.”

One recommendation is ‘to ensure the council is accurately paying for what it is getting from the contractor and receiving value for money’.

The council expected the contract to make procurement savings of £5million by 2014/15, but in fact by 2012/13 it saved just £740,000.

KPMG said: “Procurement has been identified as an area within the scope of the partnership that has significantly failed to deliver against expectations.

“It is unclear whether this is a result of unrealistic and inaccurate expectations at the outset or poor delivery.

“The council lacks a clear overview of the partnership and its overall performance.

“Roles and responsibilities are blurred and people are not sure what should be covered where – this is inefficient.”

North Somerset Unison spokesman Helen Thornton said: “We are concerned about the amount of money wasted by the council trying to bury the report, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to pursue the Information Commissioner to prevent its publication.

“We will be demanding an end to the culture of secrecy that has grown up around this contract.

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

North Somerset Council says it regularly reviews the performance of the contract and all the targets are currently being met.

It said: “On the whole the review was really positive, and highlighted some early areas of success and achievement. It also acknowledged there were a much smaller number of areas which could be further strengthened, and since the report was written these have been fully addressed.

“Every year we ask staff about their overall levels of satisfaction with working for the council, and the latest results show these satisfaction levels are the highest they’ve been since before the partnership began.

“We are currently in discussion with Agilisys regarding the potential to increase the scale of the services it provides on behalf of the council, where this represents value for money.”

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