The spin given to Birmingham City Council's budget consultation highlights that 'the biggest single saving' proposed to the budget is the £20m cut from the £50m Capita Service Birmingham contract.
Er no. To suggest to the people of Birmingham that Capita Service Birmingham costs them just £50m and that 40% is being cut from that cost really takes the biscuit.
Had the consultation document stated that there would be a £20m cut from the 'core contract' with Capita Service Birmingham then it might have been an acceptable, if still very partial presentation.
The leader of the council should have been clearer with the media and the people of Birmingham on this budget: they are proposing to cut £20m from an annual current spend of over £120m, as my blogs have been stressing for some time.
It does not help an already obscure and selective conversation between the leader and the citizens of Birmingham to suggest it's a massive cut from a small budget.
In fact, this appears to be a deliberate obfuscation about the realities of one of the biggest ever private sector outsourcing contracts in municipal history, with over a billion pounds of the Citizens of Birmingham's money already having passed into the corporate hands of Capita Service Birmingham. Hundreds of millions more will follow.
And £50m for the core contract seems, in any event, something of an understatement of the core contract. I have seen no evidence to suggest that the core contract was as low a £50m. Maybe £60m or £55m, perhaps. But not £50m. Of course, that core Capita Service Birmingham contract isn't in the public domain for us to scrutinise. It should be, as it is in Barnet.
Add in the woeful call centre costs, council tax and other billing, supposed 'business transformation' (low hanging fruit stuff), payment for schools' ICT, and supposed 'one-offs' that keep popping up on an annual basis like a run of bad 'Carry On' films, and before you know it, Capita Service Birmingham raked in over £120m from the Council last year. I suspect it will do so again this year, and next. Carry on Capita, it seems.
To attempt to massage over these figures in the consultation with the citizens of Birmingham will not do. It has made an already appalling level of frankness about the contract even worse.
This seems indicative of how much the current leadership of the council simply doesn't 'get it'. You can't have an open and frank conversation with the taxpaying citizens of Birmingham about the future finances of the city if you aren't actually open over key facts like the real overall cost of Capita Service Birmingham.
Moreover, this looks like an attempt to spin (in an official consultation document) attention away from valid enquiry on Capita Service Birmingham by being even more obscure and partial. When further openness was requested on this contract, more obstacles were instead placed in the way of our understanding it.
Of course, as I keep saying in these blogs, by rolling this supposed 'renegotiation' of the Capita Service Birmingham contract into a municipal year finance consultation simply puts off the day when the council actually has to do something about this inefficient and bloated outsourcing contract.
Is this supposed saving of £20m going to have to wait until next April? Has the cut actually been agreed by Capita Service Birmingham? Is it just a hope, or an aspiration? In fact, all the consultation document says is that it is 'my [Sir Albert's] target of saving £20m'. Target? Big deal. Or, rather, small deal.
I'd like to see a press release jointly from Birmingham City Council and Capita Service Birmingham confirming that this £20m cut has at least been agreed. Has it?
And how long does this prevarication (on both sides of the contract) have to go on? It appears to be taking an age.
You don't need to consult the citizens of Birmingham before you slash this contract down to size with pretty much immediate effect. You could do it today.
I have repeatedly made the point here that the council could and should have done it 18 months ago when the current leadership came into office. It could have saved the Council over a hundred million pounds since if it had. Stick that in your jaws of doom and smoke it.
So Sir Albert Bore has been less than frank in his discussion document - which leaves the rest of the consultation of questionable validity.
Indeed, the only way that the citizens of Birmingham can properly have their say on the council's budget proposals is for the City leadership to tell them the truth about the Capita Service Birmingham contract: what it actually costs in full, its cancellation provisions, the costs of cancellation, succession provision and succession proposals.
And while you're at it - tell us how much extra other Capita Group Companies get paid by the council outside the Service Birmingham Contract, as well. They seem to get first dibs on a whole load of other outsourced contracts for some reason.
Better still - simply publish the Capita Service Birmingham Contract in full so everyone can make their own mind up about it before commenting on the rest of the City Council's budget proposals. Barnet has done it. Why can't Birmingham?
The collective intellectual strength and common sense of the people and firms of Birmingham could then crowd-source or 'open innovate' this contract price down to something that the city council can now afford, or even replace this contract with a more affordable one with local small firms. And I mean now; not in the middle of the next municipal year.
That might just mean that the Armageddon about to be visited in the New Year on families whose jobs are at risk might be postponed.
Never mind be damned: publish and be praised, Sir Albert!'
* Professor David Bailey works at the Aston Business School