UNISON West Sussex has expressed strong concerns about the introduction of a new ‘customer service’ directorate as part of the council’s review into the future provision of some of its services, known as the ‘Customer Experience Programme’ (CEP). It is the most fundamental change faced by WSCC for some time and was discussed at the council’s Performance and Finance (P&F) Select Committee in early September.
Branch Secretary Dan Sartin submitted written evidence to the P&F Committee and spoke at the meeting. You can see the resultant press coverage here.
It will potentially impact on 467 full-time equivalent (fte) staff posts (so the actual number of staff affected will be higher than this figure, taking part-timers into account). Of these, 340 fte are in Residents’ Services and 127 in Care and Well-Being. As yet unspecified services will be transferred into the new directorate over an 18-month period, though we know this includes consideration of some parts of Adults’ services, Children’s services, transport services, registrars and others, as workshops have been held with staff in those directorates over the past year.
Once transferred, each service will then be assessed by the council to decide how best to provide that service in the long-term. The obvious high risk of further outsourcing is of huge concern to the union, especially as our recent research demonstrated the problems with the council’s current support services contract with Capita. The council has worked very closely with Capita in development of the project, and Capita is named in the project papers as the likely beneficiaries of any future agreed outsourcing.
However, it is not simply the proposal to potentially outsource yet more services that alarms the union, but the fact that the evidence provided to councillors to help them make their decision is fundamentally flawed. Here are five of our concerns:
- the proposals were light on detail and evidence for what was a highly complex plan, and it was difficult to tell what changes were planned, how they would be implemented, and how they could save the council money;
- that ‘Option 3’ (Build on the current solution, with the most suitable elements of the service provided externally) – the preferred option – was essentially the same as ‘Option 1’ (Fully outsource customer services), and would result in further outsourcing, but deferred outsourcing due to the current Capita contract not being fit for purpose;
- that the proposals carried a significant level of risk due to known issues with Capita service performance and staff morale, and that the programme would further embed Capita in council activity and make the contract ‘too big to fail’;
- that the UNISON-commissioned research on the current Capita contract had not been sufficiently utilised when developing the proposals;
- that the council had not spent sufficient time considering in-house solutions (Option 2, which was discounted) and these should be looked at further and in more detail prior to any decision being made.
UNISON Branch Secretary Dan Sartin said: “We believe the council must not rush this decision, irrespective of the pressure from impending budget cuts and the need to make its existing Capita contract viable. More time is required, along with a renewed commitment to a proper evaluation of an in-house option.
“The overall complexity of the programme and its risks mean that CEP has the potential to make an already difficult period of public service provision in the years ahead much worse for the council. If it is allowed to proceed without adequate levels of scrutiny or is poorly specified, the result could be cost overruns, contractual wrangling and further staff demotivation.”
UNISON West Sussex has produced a detailed briefing paper outlining its concerns.