Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Tory Councillors vote to privatise more services at North Somerset Council

UNISON members did themselves proud tonight with a brilliant turnout at our lobby of North Somerset Council , when councillors met to vote on extending the contract with Agilisys, including the transfer of 130 admin and front office staff. Recently the council's Head of HR told UNISON Reps that staff were happy to transfer to Agilisys - the turnout at our lobby proves him wrong.

The council's Chief Executive started the meeting by giving a presentation on the so-called benefits of extending the contract, including their ridiculous interpretation of the phrase in-house service plan - apparently they have asked Agilisys to provide their in-house service plan! Of course this means that the plan for services isn't actually being implemented in-house, because the last time I looked Agilisys are a private sector company, not a local authority.

Opposition councillors expressed serious concerns about the proposal, including the lack of an in-house service plan, the lack of information to enable them to vote and the impact on staff. The councillors who spoke up for staff and against the contract were Mike Bell, Tom Leimdorfer, Richard Tucker, Donald Davies, Geoff Combs, Deborah Yamanaka and Ian Parker. But 30 Tory councillors voted to approve the contract extension, with 13 Green, Independent, Labour and Lib Dem councillors voting against. There were 18 councillors absent. The named vote is published below.

The full council report can be found at: http://apps.n-somerset.gov.uk/cairo/docs/doc26149.pdf

The report was amended to include a third recommendation that councillors continue to scrutinise the contract negotiations through the due diligence period.

Here's a video and some photos from tonight's lobby.

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How the Council voted:

30 Conservatives - all voted for the contract extension

Elfan Ap Rees, Nigel Ashton, Felicity Baker, Karen Barclay, Chris Blades, Jeremy Blatchford, Mary Blatchford, Charles Cave, Robert Cleland, Peter Crew, Bob Garner, Colin Hall, Ann Harley, David Hitchins, Jill Iles, David Jolley, Anne Kemp, Reyna Knight, Tony Lake, David Pasley, Dawn Payne, Nick Pennycott, Marcia Pepperall, Lisa Pilgrim, David Poole, Ian Porter, Sonia Russe, Clive Webb, Liz Wells & Roz Willis.

13 Opposition councillors voted against:

Green Party - Tom Leimdorfer
Independents - Geoff Combs, Donald Davies, Derek Mead
Labour Party - James Clayton, Catherine Gibbons, Ian Parker, Richard Tucker
Liberal Democrats - Mike Bell, Mark Canniford, John Crockford-Hawley, Robert Payne, Deborah Yamanaka

18 absent councillors:

Conservatives - Jan Barber, Peter Bryant, Bob Cook, Carl Francis-Pester, Stephen Fudge, Linda Knott, Tim Marter, Alan McMurray, John Norton-Sealey, Terry Porter, Arthur Terry, Annabel Tall
Independent - Andy Cole, Hugh Gregor, Tony Moulin, David Shopland
Labour - Bob Bateman
Lib Dem - Clare Kingsbury-Bell

Here's our speech from tonight's meeting:

On 6th May North Somerset councillors voted to amend the Agilisys contract report to add an instruction to officers to look at other options including an in-house service plan, alongside continuing the contract negotiations. Section 9 of tonight's report claims that an in-house option has been looked at, but this is not the case - managers have not been asked to look at how services could be restructured and savings made in-house. In fact managers have been silenced, and those who have spoken out have been given warnings. Councillors should therefore be very concerned that officers have failed to carry out their instructions.

The report you are voting on tonight is all about the money. It provides you with no information about the impact on council services, service users and staff. The equality impact assessment says nothing about the impact of the move to mainly online access for  council service users, the most vulnerable of whom will find this difficult.  There is nothing in the report to tell you that Agilisys are proposing to fragment teams by taking admin staff out and putting them into what amounts to a typing pool. Gone are the days when admin staff only typed, filed and answered the phone. These staff have specialist knowledge of the teams they work for - they are integral to the way teams work, and many staff fear the impact on services of centralising them.

There is also nothing in the report to tell you that Agilisys' proposals for how staff will access admin support are likely to create more work for already overloaded front line staff - Agilisys have already proved with Itrent that they're good at pushing work back on to council staff. Neither does the report tell you that 130 and maybe more council staff will transfer, and then Agilisys will make 40 full-time jobs redundant, although the equality impact assessment does tell you that the staff affected are disproportionately female, part-time, under 20 and between 50 and 65. The report contains no mention of the cost of monitoring this extended contract, and also no mention of Schedule 15 of the contract, which outlines the procedure for further services approval. In fact there are many aspects of the contract which will require further negotiation after your vote tonight - these include detailed service specifications, and the business cases for the transformation proposals, which have not been assessed for value for money. So to put it bluntly you are being asked to vote on a contract for which the final specification and terms have not actually been agreed. We think that you cannot possibly vote on extending a contract on this basis.

Tonight's report also makes clear that the savings target of £3 million which you set for these contract negotiations has not in fact been met - it falls short by £300,000. And you can only reach the target if you agree to an investment to help Agilisys with transformation projects. In addition the difference between the 22.9% savings Agilisys are promising, and the PWC benchmarking figure of 20% potential in-house savings amounts to £87,000 - a relatively small amount in terms of the council’s overall budget. Councillors will need to balance this against the risks that services fail, that vulnerable service users are badly affected and that the council's reputation is impacted.

We also think that councillors need to consider the timing of this decision. If you vote for it tonight, staff will transfer to Agilisys on 31st January. Councillors will need to consider how this will impact on your plans to further integrate health and social care and share services with other local authorities. The transfer will also come only a few months before the social care reforms, which will place even more obligations on local authorities and is likely to lead to a need for extra staff. Officers claim that the Agilisys contract is a flexible contract, but the council have been in negotiations with Agilisys since June 2013 - a  16 month negotiation doesn't sound very flexible to us.

Because you have so little information on what this extended contract is actually going to look like, and because in our view the timing makes this dangerous for services, we think that tonight the only recommendation you can vote on with confidence is recommendation (i) a - the re-specification of currently contracted services. We think that you need to postpone your vote on all the other recommendations until you have all the information you need, including the full and final details of the contract, and the in-house service plan which you requested, and which is now essential to ensure value for money given that the Agilisys proposals fall short of your savings target of £3 million.

Finally, as you can see there are many staff here listening to what you will decide for their future, and the future of their service users. In some cases these staff have given you 30 years loyal service, they want to continue working for the council, they don't want to work for Agilisys, and they fear that services and service users will suffer if you decide to transfer them to Agilisys. Please bear that in mind when you vote tonight.

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