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Exposed: Secret Tory plans for massive privatisation

Guest post by Paul Cotterill
(Cross-posted from Though Cowards Flinch)

I’m well used to Tory incompetence and arrogance, but even I’ve been pretty shocked by the news that the Tory administration at Lancashire County Council, with the connivance of their Tory colleagues at West Lancashire Borough Council and other Tory boroughs across the County, have been secretly preparing a massive privatisation of services.

The facts are simple enough.

1) The Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council was instructed by the new Tory administration in Preston to write out to all boroughs seeking their agreement for inclusion in a massive tendering process for ‘computer-related services’, with an estimated £1.9bn over ten years, with potential for a further five years’ extension.

2) The leader at West Lancashire Borough Council agreed that the Borough should be involved in the tendering process.

3) The contract notice was dispatched on 18 December 2009, and the deadline for receipt of tenders is 29 January 2010. The notice states that between 3 and 5 tenderers are likely to be invited into a ‘dialogue’.

4) Services put out to tender stretch the interpretation of ‘”computer-related” beyond what I consider reasonable. According to the contract notice they ”include, but are not limited to”:

“information and communication technology (ICT) including business applications system support & development, professional ICT, operational ICT, help desk and support, technical ICT support, print and reprographic and schools ICT; customer access and customer services including web, telephone, face to face; human resources (HR) including HR advice, transactional HR and payroll processing; pensions scheme administration services…. strategic services; programme management services; programme development services; project development services, project implementation services and project delivery services.”

5) The tendering process has been kept as secret as possible. There have been no official notifications to councillors either at County or Borough level of the Tories’ intentions, and I only became aware of what was going on when I was alerted by my Labour colleague Steve Hanlon, who had seen an item about the tender in the specialist press.

6) As far as I know, there has been no contact with the trade unions at all. This secrecy and total disregard for council workforces up and down the county speaks for itself.

It was I who brought it to the attention of Labour colleagues across the county, who have been as shocked as I was , both at the Tories’ total disregard for the democratic process, and the astonishing decision to privatise such a massive range of services without any assessment of current performance or options. The contract notice is quite specific that only private sector firms are invited to bid.

The more I look at this, the more astonished I become at what’s going on. In the case of the Tories in the borough council, the fact that they are happily planning to sign off a ten year contract to a private firm, with little or no input into what might be in the contract, is simply staggering. It is clear that they are unable to think for themselves, unable to take responsibility, unable to do anything other than kow tow to their ideological masters in Preston.

The Tories in West Lancashire have simply learnt nothing from the distastrous long term contract they signed with Serco in 2004, which has led to massive service inequalities and hugely inflated costs about now being paid by the taxpayers they were elected to serve.

There’ll be much, much more to come on this, believe me, as I dig out more information and start to work with colleagues to challenge this totally illegitimate, underhand process which, if allowed to proceed, could damage services across Lancashire irrevocably.

• Paul Cotterill is Labour Councillor for rural Bickerstaffe ward in West Lancashire. He blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.

Posted by Other TPA at 10:57pm on 16 January 2010
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Comments

It may be the “nasty” Tories doing it but, if they are, they are only following Labour policy regarding “encouraging” local authorities to share resources and infrastructure; especially ICT.

If your reporter is a councillor, as he claims, surely he already knows all about this?

Where’s the surprise? Doesn’t he go to the meetings or read his briefing papers?

Posted by Brian Smith at 05:03pm on 26 January 2010

Brian

Yes, I’ve checked, and I am definitely a councillor.

I don’t want to labour the point, but there have been no meetings to go to or briefing papers for me to read.  That is why I say “There have been no official notifications to councillors either at County or Borough level”, and the total secrecy around the contract notice is the whole point of my post.

Posted by Paul at 09:11pm on 26 January 2010

Paul

Look here
http://www.lgcplus.com/finance/standardise-then-share-urges-cipfa/5010571.article
and there’s loads more; you just have to look.

Sharing/pooling services has been stated government policy for at least 3 years.

As for tendering; it’s always been a bit of a black art but if the value exceeds the EU limits then not to advertise the project in the appropriate medium - OJEU etc - is an offence and almost certainly in breach of your authority’s standing orders.

As for outsourcing, it’s been an unmitigated disaster for both central and local government. Watch out for the next turn of the wheel. Some “bright, go ahead” chief executive will be lauded for explaining how he or she turned back the tide and brought the council’s systems back in-house.

At huge expense and for very hard to quantify benefits. And then, of course, they will all be doing it until in 15, 25 years time, guess what they’ll come up with? Yep; outsourcing.

Don’t despair, if the frustrations of being a councillor finally get to you, you can always get on the local citizen’s panel.

Posted by Brian Smith at 12:10am on 27 January 2010

I’m very familiar with the policy background, and I know where to look.  I’m also very familiar with European rules on open competition and tendering.

Sharing services is not the same as outsourcing, which is what you appear to be saying.

But the point was about secrecy.  Oh, never mind.

Posted by Paul at 09:47am on 27 January 2010

Paul, this sounds similar to what has already taken place in Essex.  Essex County Council now has an 8yr contract with the IBM company.  IBM have put thousands of US jobs out to India.  Essex Unison expect to loose at least 6000 jobs.  In order to run the country the government will ultimately have to deal with private companies instead of elected councils.

Posted by Colin at 11:40am on 27 January 2010

Sharing services is about out-sourcing. For councils that have not (been) merged into unified authorities the only way they can share services is by setting up umbrella organisations into which the member LAs commit resources and dependencies.

These pools or umbrella organisations can be organised along several lines but, typically, they have some kind of incorporation albeit possibly short of limited company status.

One last point, leftist activists need finally, once and for all, to take on board that they are not elected to represent trade unions. You were elected - notwithstanding probably by a tiny % of the electorate - to look after your voters.

Trade unions have no constituency; we all of us only get one vote. It’s a betrayal of our democratic system to give trade unionists, exceptionally, two, or more.

There is nothing intrinsically, unarguably, preternaturally good about trade unions. They are a conduit for organising and making claims on scarce resources; just like all the others in society.

They can be a force for good or bad; ask Bob Crowe and Japanese car makers.

Posted by Brian Smith at 11:51am on 27 January 2010

Paul

I meant to add the corollary; that out-sourcing is about sharing services.

IBM, SERCO and all the others circling the tied down chicken that is the local authority market, don’t set up individual units for each contract. Their profits come from using the same IT infrastructure, running the same software, supported and serviced by the same people for as many councils as they can sign-up/recruit.

That’s how the out-sourcing market works.

PS If Essex can really lose 6,000 jobs simply by changing their working methods shouldn’t there be some sort of public enquiry? People go without food, heat and other necessities to pay their bills - which include council tax. If this statement is true then Essex’s bloated workforce - if that’s what it is - is killing people.

Posted by Brian Smith at 12:00pm on 27 January 2010

I don’t consider Essex’s force of teachers, social services, police and fore service front line staff to be bloated.  We have only recently got the numbers back after Thatcher.  Out-soursing/privatization is putting power into fewer and ultimately non elected capitalist hands.

Posted by Colin at 12:11pm on 27 January 2010

Margaret Thatcher? God save us.

She left office in 1992, that’s 18 years ago or very nearly two whole school generations or three World War IIs. Spurs won the cup the year before in 1991; that’s how far back you’re going.

If you read my email you would see that I did not say that the Essex county workforce was bloated. I asked the question that, if 6,000 jobs could be lost, didn’t that suggest there was something wrong.

It’s not the role of any council to be a jobs provider. They are there to provide the services we need at a cost we can afford.

While writing; how well have Essex state schools done in the 18 years with their growing work force? How many kids have left, in total, unable to read and write? Just thought I’d ask.

Posted by Brian Smith at 02:17pm on 27 January 2010

If you twiddle round many more times Brian you will meet yourself coming back.  New Labour poured money into Essex for years before it filtered through to the front line.  Yes, Essex schools have improved, they have also spent thousands advertising against each other.  Essex CC has recently increased its PR staff by almost 50%.  In 1997 there were 2 policemen in the town and it was mayhem on Fri and Sat nights; don’t know latest figure but there are a lot.  Without people you do not get services.

Posted by Colin at 03:34pm on 27 January 2010

Sadly, essex schools have not improved. They are not alone in this, the performance of most English counties has similarly deteriorated.

And I’ve a feeling that the Inspector of Constabulary might not share your view about the Essex county poice force either.

The rest of your assertions I don’t know about but you do seem to be confirming what most commenators now believe; that there is significant waste and unecessary spending in the public sector.

Shall we leave it there?

Posted by Brian Smith at 05:18pm on 27 January 2010

Brian

I’m now a bit tired of your pointless, snide insults and your inability to read what I actually wrote, but to finish:

a) I did not say anywhere that I was seeking to represent trade unionists.  They are perfectly capable of doing that themselves. I simply said it would have been better if they, like councillors, had been told what was going on. 

b) Activists are not necessarily councillors, and your conflation of the two betrays your ignorance..  Activists are quite entitled to work with trade unions.  As a councillor I am quite familar with both my formal role as employer of all council staff, and of my representative role for my consituents.

c) Sharing services is in no way the same as outsourcing, though it is possible for them to be conflated by Tory rhetoric..  It is perfectly possible for two local authorities to share services without them being privatised.

d) I was elected in a non-general election year on a 53% turnout, amongst the top 1-2% of turnouts in the country in local elections in that year (2007).  It’s easy enough to verify; you just have to look.

Colin:  Thanks for your input.  Yes, it is alarmingly similar to Essex.  While it is smaller scale, what is different is the total absence of any democratic discussion in any of the many councils involved.  When I challenged my own Chief Executive on this (I am at a lower tier borough, not at the County) he acknowledged that it might have been better to tell councillors as part of the general updates provided.  This has not yet happened.  He is an honest enough bloke and I suspect, though certainly can’t prove, that there is political pressure from top Tories in the know not to let any discussion take place until things are much more firmed up.

Posted by Paul Cotterill at 06:02pm on 27 January 2010

I think this guy is on a spaceship somewhere Paul, probable believes in little blue men!  Actually it was only very late in the day Essex Conservative Cllrs found out what was going on. It first came to light when an advert appeared in EU for a partner.  The issue was kept very quiet during CC elections in June, not even the local press wanted to know.

Posted by Colin at 06:24pm on 27 January 2010

Ah thanks, Colin, that’s interesting.  I did actually mean to ask how secret it had been kept down your way as, like many others, i was simply gobsmacked when I saw it announced as a done deal in the press.  It does look a bit as though the bif tory leaders in local govt have come together to work out this strategy of OJEU ‘expressions of interest’ (which they can sell when pressed as only looking at options), working up the contracts behind closed doors and then simply announcing the measures to a compliant Tory group, and then onto the press.

The local press are not interested around here either - I think it’s just a bit too complex for them to get their heads round.

Posted by paul.cotterill@usa-is.co.uk at 07:02pm on 27 January 2010

With every CC in the country Tory they can sell our entire social services abroad and the Government has more or less given its blessing.  The response to Essex Unison petition to No 10 said the Gov. was encouraging it.  Are parents going to phone India to register their kids for the local school?

Posted by Colin at 07:59pm on 27 January 2010

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