Why transparency works

Campaign4Change has previously quoted the late Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham on openness but it’s worth requoting:

“… Modern democratic government means government of the people by the people for the people.

“But there can be no government by the people if they are ignorant of the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and the facts underlying those arguments.

“The business of government is not an activity about which only those professionally engaged are entitled to receive information and express opinions.

“It is, or should be, a participatory process. But there can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated.

“Sometimes, inevitably, those involved in the conduct of government, as in any other walk of life, are guilty of error, incompetence, misbehaviour, dereliction of duty, even dishonesty and malpractice.

“Those concerned may very strongly wish that the facts relating to such matters are not made public.

“Publicity may reflect discredit on them or their predecessors. It may embarrass the authorities. It may impede the process of administration. Experience however shows, in this country and elsewhere, that publicity is a powerful disinfectant.

“Where abuses are exposed, they can be remedied. Even where abuses have already been remedied, the public may be entitled to know that they occurred.”

… Leaving officers to decide what to tell councillors, hiding away discussions behind locked doors, forcing some councillors to sign confidentiality agreements, and trusting supplier assurances that outsourcing deals don’t really go wrong – it’s all made up by the media – are factors that make outsourcing failure almost inevitable.

And it’s undemocratic for a cabal of officers and councillors to treat one of the council’s most important decisions as a private matter.

Any councillor whose authority is considering a major outsourcing deal may, perhaps, wish to think about all the councillors and officers who have waved enthusiastically from the open window of their train carriage as they headed unknowingly on a track ending at a precipice – councillors and officers from:

– Bedfordshire County Council which paid £7.7m to terminate an unsatisfactory £250m 12-year outsourcing deal prematurely. The then leader of the council, said the decision to end the partnership was to “improve quality and performance”.

– Suffolk County Council which looked to become a “light” organisation and outsource a lot of its duties but found it “simply did not work” according to then leader Mark Bee.

– Sandwell Council which left its planned 15-year partnership with BT, called Transform Sandwell, nine years early. Councillors were unhappy with the service.

– Liverpool Council which said last year it would save £30m over 3 years by ending its outsourcing/joint venture Liverpool Direct with BT.

– Birmingham City Council which plans to end its £1bn outsourcing deal with Capita early and has taken a 500-strong contact centre back in-house.

– Cornwall Council, which is only 2 years into a 10-year outsourcing contract with BT, and says the supplier has not met key performance indicators, and not delivered on jobs promises.