Birmingham City Council’s controversial £1 billion contract with its IT and call centre provider Service Birmingham will be placed under the spotlight through an independent health check.
Senior Labour councillors have voiced doubts about whether the Service Birmingham contract, which runs until 2020, is delivering top notch services and value for money.
The contract with private sector firm Capita, first signed in 2006, was designed to deliver £1 billion of savings over ten years by transforming the way Birmingham city council was run with an efficient call centre, modernised neighbourhood offices and website and a new IT system streamlining council operations.
It has often been trumpeted as a major success of the outgoing Tory-Lib Dem administration.
But having seized control of the city council the sceptical Labour group leadership will now order an independent assessment of the contract and Service Birmingham performance.
They have for some time raised questions over the way calls from the public are handled and whether they are dealt with efficiently.
Service Birmingham also hit the headlines last year over attempts to offshore skilled IT jobs to India, which was later aborted at a cost of £12 million to the taxpayer.
The “health check” will be carried out by an independent organisation and report to the new cabinet as soon as possible.
Labour deputy leader Coun Ian Ward (Shard End) said: ““We want to cut through the jargon and find out whether we are getting real value for money.
“The previous administration weren’t on top of this project. Although savings have been made we’re not convinced that service improvements have been delivered in the way promised.
“Individual councillors find it hard to know how well Service Birmingham is performing. We do get complaints on the doorstep from people who have called the contact centre requesting a service and then hear nothing.
“We need to join up those holding the information in the council and those providing it to the public at the call centre. We believe that if Service Birmingham were run more openly it would provide a better, more reliable service for the council and the public.”
While council bosses have long claimed the project is on track and will deliver the promised savings others have had their doubts.
In 2010 Labour councillor Barry Henley, described the Service Birmingham deal as a ‘boondoggle’ – a large scale corporate project which, even though they realise that the savings will never be achieved, the key personnel plough on regardless rather than admit failure to their masters.
Coun Henley said: “The situation can be allowed to continue for what seems like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long.”
A council watchdog committee has also been concerned over the call centre’s performance, in terms of both the time taken to answer calls and how they are dealt with.