One of the fiercest critics of Birmingham City Council’s £1 billion Service Birmingham IT and call centre contract with Capita has been appointed to the board.
Councillor Barry Henley has been scathing of the deal which has transformed Birmingham City Council’s IT systems, overseen its business transformation efficiency drive and set up and run the Fort Dunlop based call centre with the aim of saving the council £1 billion by the time the contract ends in 2020.
He will now take up one of the city council’s position on the board of the Capita-run joint venture company.
Coun Henley (Brandwood) was also damning of the latest in a series of inquiries by backbench councillors into the performance of the £182 million call centre saying that those who carried out the review and senior council officers lack the detailed IT expertise to properly scrutinise Service Birmingham.
The inquiry, into the service provided, concluded that, while the call centre staff were professional, they were often limited by poor information and a lack of action by the council departments and has set up a new members group to formally monitor service.
Coun Henley said: “We have nothing much to show for £182 million investment. The system provides poor service. Service Birmingham blames everyone and everything else saying it is the council’s service operations or the council’s software. The call centre provider is in denial about abandoned calls which never get through, about the wrong information endlessly passed to repair contractors who make duplicate visits or turn up with the wrong spare parts.”
He warned that appointing another group of councillors with no technical expertise to monitor the call centre was unlikely to work, as Cabinet groups, scrutiny committees and senior council officials had previously been unable to improve performance.
“It fits one definition of insanity, repeating the same mistakes of the past and expecting a different result,” he said. “It won’t work.
“For my sins I have been asked to become a director of Service Birmingham and look forward to reporting back to you at some future time about whether or not Service Birmingham has changed its ways.”
He warned that if performance does not improve the services could be taken back in house.
New Labour council deputy leader Ian Ward and chairman of scrutiny Carl Rice both recognised the problems with the call centre but said that they are tied to Service Birmingham until 2020 they need to work to improve performance.
Coun Ward (Shard End) announced that an outside consultant would be appointed to perform a healthcheck on the contract, delivering on one of Labour’s pre-election pledges.
“We need to satisfy ourselves that the significant amounts promised are being saved and the service improvements promised are being realised,” he said.
Coun Rice (Ladywood) added that Labour probably would not have signed that contract but has to make it work. “If we find things are not improving the response will be swift and decisive.”