The Birmingham Post reported yesterday that Birmingham City Council will be spending a huge £200million on private sector outsourcing firm Capita and its partner organisations in order to have consultants demonstrate how to save money and run services more efficiently.
Not only is this ironic, it also completely flies in the face of the advice of the Audit Commission who criticised the council for being over-reliant on consultants to lead its “high-risk” transformation programme.
The newspaper also describes how the District Auditor hit out Birmingham’s “lack of realism” as they have no firm timetable to reduce the number of external staff on the payroll.
And it’s not as if this is an expert advisor here and there, this is a vast squadron of 260 highly paid extras buzzing around the place, mainly fussing around the much-talked-about-but-so-far-hugely-inefficient IT systems, including the Voyager computer payments system (which occupies 130 of these people) which had ‘teething problems’ when it amassed a backlog of 30,000 invoices at the close of 2007.
As if to inspire confidence, both in the Voyager system and the extortionately costly contractors, Birmingham City Council now assure us 95% of bills are paid on time. Close enough, eh?
So if 130 egg-heads and millions of our tax pounds have failed to provide one full-proof IT initiative, what can we expect from a £200million investment over ten years?
Well as always council representatives are gingerly guesstimating just how much such a transformation stands to deliver to the council, no doubt based on figures fed to them by consultants with a vested interest, and Glyn Evans tells us that there will be £1billion in savings over ten years, and £2billion in all-together benefits.
But just who is going to be referencing this figure in ten years time, if they even remember why the ‘business transformation’ was started in the first place? And can the council even guarantee that they’ll be able to phase-out the very consultants who seem to be taking almost sole responsibility for each fundamental mechanistic turn-around? If the council are judged to be over-reliant now, there’s no telling how dependent they will be on consultants after £200million, ten years and a complete ‘business transformation’ formulated and attributable to external workers. The chances are they’ll just become further entrenched.
It seems that our local authorities lack the confidence to make decisions for themselves without additional support from outside workers, and consequently they are haemorrhaging money in their attempts to save some. Every massive project doesn’t have to mean a massive consultancy bill, and Birmingham City Council would be well advised to mine their own vast staff body of 40,000 non-teaching employees for some expertise, rather than diving straight for the public purse and employing these consultants at an average of £77,000 a pop.