Tuesday, 16 September 2014

North Somerset Council Scrutiny of Agilisys Contract Extension - Councillors vote against excluding the public from a public meeting!

North Somerset UNISON Reps attended North Somerset Council's Community and Corporate Organisation Policy & Scrutiny Panel, where councillors were due to discuss the Agilisys Contract working group report, and receive a presentation on the council's evaluation of the Agilisys offer, along with details of an in-house plan outlining what the council could do internally to transform services, and what savings could be made so that councillors could compare that to the Agilisys offer to ensure value for money. We had requested to speak at the meeting, because the council's proposal to transfer more jobs and services to the private sector contractor Agilisys will, in our view, have a detrimental impact on the staff transferring, as many of them are likely to be made redundant once transferred to Agilisys. In addition it is our view that the transfer of front office and business support staff to Agilisys will also have a negative impact on service provision both for the residents of North Somerset and the staff at the council who face having their teams split apart and even greater workloads as admin staff are taken out and transferred to Agilisys.

We had previously submitted a paper to the Agilisys Contract working group, outlining some of our issues with extending the contract for another 5 years and transferring more jobs and services. These include: the lack of consultation with users of council services particularly around the transition to mainly online access to many council services, the risks associated with transferring admin staff who are so crucial to the smooth running of all teams at the council, the loss of the specialist knowledge of the transferred staff, the redundancies which Agilisys are likely to make, Agilisys' requirement for the council to provide them with enough space in council buildings to meet their job and rental income commitments and the current issues with Agilisys Westminster City Council staff being on the second floor of the Town Hall because there's no space in the 3rd floor call centre, the loss of the council's apprenticeship scheme, and the lack of an in-house plan setting our how we can transform services internally with less risk, and with equivalent or greater savings. We re-iterated some of these concerns at today's Scrutiny Panel.

At the Scrutiny Panel councillors were advised by officers to vote to exclude members of the press and public, including UNISON Reps, from what is normally a public meeting on the grounds of commercial confidentiality - that is the presentation on the Agilisys Contract negotiations apparently contained information which councillors were advised may affect the extension of the contract. Councillors present at the Scrutiny Panel quite sensibly voted against this (6 to 4 against with a number of abstentions), and the meeting continued as a public meeting, while the presentation was given - although all present were asked not to divulge the information once they had left the meeting. It was then a great surprise to UNISON how short and uninformative the presentation actually was, and with only a very small amount of financial information. The only reason we can think that they did not want us, or other members of the public, to see the presentation is that it made clear that no work has been done on looking at how services can be transformed internally, as instructed by councillors at their meeting on 6th May. We think that North Somerset councillors should be concerned that council officers have not followed their instructions. We also think that North Somerset residents should be very worried by the secrecy around this contract extension, secrecy which has existed right from the beginning when the contract was awarded and has continued since when UNISON had to go through the Information Commissioner to get the council to release the Detailed version of KPMG's review of the Agilisys contract. The public may not have been excluded from this meeting as officers had advised, but the only published document for this meeting was the report of the Agilisys Contract working group. The  presentation from today's Scrutiny Panel  has not been made available publicly.

Almost 200 council staff have already been issued with letters from the council advising them that if councillors vote to approve the Agilisys contract extension they will either be TUPE transferred to Agilisys, or have their service redesigned and then transferred to Agilisys. North Somerset UNISON will continue to campaign against transferring any more jobs and services to Agilisys, and will continue to press the council to look seriously at transforming services internally. It is our view that this can be done, at less risk to the council and council service users, and making equivalent if not greater savings. Why allow a private contractor to take on jobs and services to make savings, which will be reduced by the profit that a private company has to make to satisfy its shareholders? Why not instead make the savings in house, and in that way keep all the savings for ourselves to invest in excellent services for the people of North Somerset? It's really quite simple - private companies should not be making profits out of public services. UNISON members will lobby the council meeting on 21st October when councillors will vote on whether to award the contract extension.

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