Former Tory council votes to end mass outsourcing of services

A former Tory council has voted to end the mass outsourcing of frontline services, bringing most back in-house and ending one of the most controversial local government policies in recent years.

Amelia Hill www.theguardian.com 

Barnet council, in north London, called itself the country’s first “easyCouncil” in 2013 when it announced it would provide only the legal minimum of services, outsourcing everything else from disabilities and highways to planning and procurement through contractors Capita.

Bringing in the private sector at a cost of £500m over 10 years would, councillors claimed, allow them to reduce the number of direct employees from 3,200 to just 322 and ensure better public services for less money.

But the council, whose Finchley constituency was famously represented by Margaret Thatcher but which turned to Labour for the first time in the May local elections, has now voted to end that policy.

Damning the years of outsourcing as a “failed experiment” and the “death knell of the council outsourcing experiment”, the leader of Barnet council, Barry Rawlings, said: “This model of governance guaranteed savings only if other councils also came onboard: Barnet was going to be a shop window. Instead, the council has paid £229m more for Capita core contract services than was originally contracted.”

Services had already begun to be brought back in-house under the previous Conservative administration after a series of disasters. In 2017, the council was forced to admit its finances were in such a state that the regulator fined Capita, while the poor state of the borough’s roads became a big issue in the local elections.

In 2018, a Capita employee working for Barnet was jailed for 62 instances of fraud worth a total of £2m after his crimes were spotted – although the loss was not noticed by Capita or the council itself but by the employee’s own bank. Capita was forced to underwrite the financial loss to the council.

That same year, the council admitted it would have to axe services after revealing a financial black hole of £62m: precisely the fate that its outsourcing plan had claimed to safeguard against.

Problems have continued. The resident and blogger John Dix reviewed the invoices submitted by Capita. According to Dix, a parent phoning the library to check if a Harry Potter is in stock is charged by Capita at £8 a call while training for senior officers is charged at £1,200 a session.

By next year, however, most of the services outsourced by the previous Conservative administration will be back under direct council control. Rawlings said this will save taxpayers money and return 370 staff to direct employment by the council. The remaining Capita contract will close by 2026.

The decision has been condemned by Cllr Dan Thomas, leader of the local Conservative group. “Barnet Labour have taken an ideological decision to bring back in-house the services currently run by Capita, despite the fact that this decision will hit Barnet taxpayers’ bank accounts,” he claimed. “It is clear that this decision is simply politics.”

Rawlings disputed this, pointing to a report by Barnet council’s policy and resources committee that found little difference – and a potential benefit of £204,000 a year – financially between extending the contract for these services and returning them in-house.

A Capita spokesperson said: “We will provide further value for money for local taxpayers as we work with the council to continue to deliver top-quality services that make the borough a better place to live, work and study for all.”

Bed-blocking hits record high in Cornwall hospitals

The number of people who were stuck in hospital in Cornwall despite being fit enough to leave hit a record high of 243 last week. The figure is included in a new report detailing how bed blocking is affecting efforts to reduce the number of people awaiting surgery and treatment in Cornwall.

Richard Whitehouse www.cornwalllive.com 

Details of the latest figures are included in a report going to Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee next week giving an update on plans to cut the number of people waiting for surgery. Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) says that by the end of this month there should no longer be anyone in Cornwall waiting for more than two years for treatment and it is working to cut the number of people waiting 18 months to zero by March 2023.

However too many beds are being blocked from new patients at the county’s hospitals. This includes those run by RCHT – Treliske at Truro, West Cornwall Hospital at Penzance and St Michael’s Hospital at Hayle – as well as the community hospitals run by Cornwall Partnership Foundation NHS Trust (CPFT).

However in order to help reduce the number of people waiting for treatment the hospital trust needs to close a bed deficit of 79 by cutting the number of people who are stuck in hospital despite being ready for discharge. Those patients are waiting for care at home, require a rehabilitation bed at a community hospital or require a care home bed.

The report states: “On Thursday 14 July, 2022, it was reported that across CPFT and RCHT there were 243 patients who required care in another setting which is the highest number ever known in the Cornwall Health and Social Care system.” To try to cut the number of people waiting for surgery the trust is also increasing overall operating capacity by using a range of options to provide Saturday and Sunday operating. There are also plans to increase bed capacity at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.

In a separate report going to the council’s overview and scrutiny committee hospital bosses provide an update on the operational pressures currently being faced by the NHS in Cornwall which are also linked with the number of people waiting to be discharged from hospital.

This report states: “Over the last two years the number of acute hospital beds occupied by patients who are waiting for social care or other community support almost doubled since 2019/20 and this has resulted in over 100 of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust acute hospital beds are now not available for our emergency patients as they are occupied by people who have completed their acute hospital care and are waiting for some form of social or community care before they can be discharged.”

It also explains that category two ambulance response times – which have a target of 18 minutes – were more than two hours at the end of June. However in March they peaked at 230 minutes on average. The number of people waiting on trolleys in the emergency department has also increased significantly with 767 waiting for more than 12 hours to be transferred out of the department in March. At the end of June it had dropped to 615.

However the report notes that RCHT is one of six trusts which account for 34 per cent of all national 12-hour trolley waits. The report states: “It remains the highest priority of Trust board to continue to focus on internal improvements and to work collaboratively to resolve external factors and see step change improvements with our health and care partners.

“Unless all parts of our health and care system do everything possible to support the discharge of patients that no longer need to be in hospital so that we can provide the timely access to our essential emergency hospital services our mortality position won’t significantly change and harm will continue to occur.

“We see this issue as the greatest priority for our health and care Integrated Care Board which will be established on 1 July 2022 and look forward to working with our health and care partners to urgently progress these challenges.”

Who holds back investment in the South-West, the Treasury or the Tories?

Boris claims the Treasury stifles investment but it was Maggie, not the Treasury, who did for the A303.

Boris Johnson, in his valedictory speech in the commons said:

“If we had always listened to the Treasury we’d never have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.”

To which Owl retorts:

“If we hadn’t listened to Margaret Thatcher we’d have dualled the A303 from the  M3 to the M5 by now, as promised by the Tories 50 years ago! That’s 50 years of broken promises Boris”

[In 1971, the Conservative Environment Secretary, Peter Walker announced the entire length of the A303 would be upgraded as part of a new roads programme that would deliver 1,000 new miles of motorway by 1980!

Owl remembers that the 1980’s was when Margaret Thatcher insisted that the Ilminster by-pass should be limited to three lanes on cost grounds, despite safety and future-proofing concerns.]

See history of these 50 years here

And it’s the Thatcher years we’re returning to!

Boris Johnson Could Face By-Election If MPs Decide He Misled Parliament

Boris Johnson could be forced to face a by-election if he is found to have lied to parliament over the partygate scandal.

The cross-party committee also published advice from the Clerk of the Journals, Eve Samson, the Commons’ expert on parliamentary privilege, which suggested that whether Johnson intended to mislead MPs was not a factor that needed to be considered.

But she said intent could be seen as an “aggravating factor” when considering penalties.

Ned Simons www.huffingtonpost.co.uk 

The Commons privileges committee is examining whether the prime minister committed a contempt of parliament by misleading MPs when he said no lockdown breaking parties happened in No.10.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle confirmed the committee’s findings would fall within the remit of the Recall of MPs Act, following advice from a leading lawyer.

That would mean a suspension of 10 or more sitting days, or 14 calendar days, would trigger a recall petition.

If at least 10% of voters in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat demand a by-election he would lose his place as an MP, but would be eligible to stand again in the contest.

The cross-party committee also published advice from the Clerk of the Journals, Eve Samson, the Commons’ expert on parliamentary privilege, which suggested that whether Johnson intended to mislead MPs was not a factor that needed to be considered.

But she said intent could be seen as an “aggravating factor” when considering penalties.

In a report setting out how it will handle the case, the privileges committee said: “We agree with the reasoning about the nature of a contempt in that paper, namely that the focus of the House’s jurisdiction is on whether or not an action or omission obstructs or impedes or has a tendency to obstruct or impede the functioning of the House, with the consequence that, looking at contempt in broad terms, intention is not necessary for a contempt to be committed.”

The case will be considered “on the balance of probabilities” – a lower standard than the criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The privileges committee also insisted its inquiry will go ahead despite Johnson’s resignation as Tory leader and his expected departure from No. 10 in September.

“Since the House agreed the referral there have been political developments concerning the future role of the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, and some have suggested that the committee’s inquiry is no longer necessary,” the MPs said.

“Our inquiry, however, is into the question of whether the House was misled, and political developments are of no relevance to that.”

The MPs intend to call Johnson to give oral evidence in public in the autumn, under oath.

The committee has already said that whistle-blowers will be able to give evidence about the PM anonymously.

Johnson has also been ordered to hand over a cache of documents to the MPs investigating whether he lied to parliament with his partygate denials.

The committee wrote to the prime minister and cabinet secretary Simon Case demanding details relevant to its inquiry.

Downing Street was unable to set out a response to the committee, nor could it say when it would be replying.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “As with previous letters from the committee, we will need to consider them and then set our response, this is a formal parliamentary process.”

Asked if Johnson intends to co-operate with the inquiry, the spokesman said: “We have said we will assist the committee in their work but beyond that I will have to repeat again it will need to wait for the formal response.”

The Conservatives will likely elect her, but lacklustre Liz won’t help them

“Ms Truss is a remarkable politician in that she seems to have been gifted with the soaring oratorical skills of John Major, the mastery of the Commons displayed by Iain Duncan Smith, the common touch of David Cameron, the barnstorming, election-winning panache of Theresa May, as well as Mr Johnson’s inability to sift economic fantasy from reality.”

Editorial www.independent.co.uk 

At his final Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson dropped a particularly heavy hint to the cheering benches behind him – some of whom actually cannot wait to be rid of him –  that his favoured candidate in the leadership election is Liz Truss.

Perhaps exaggerating the facts and over-simplifying complex arguments, the prime minister declared that his successor should go for tax cuts and deregulation. He advised them, and by extension the Tory membership, that they shouldn’t take too much notice of the Treasury: “If we had always listened to the Treasury we’d never have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.”

Given that Rishi Sunak was in charge of the Treasury until recently, and wants to put beating inflation before tax cuts, it doesn’t take Alan Turing-level skills to decipher that remark. After all, Mr Johnson’s spin doctors have already briefed that Mr Sunak is a “treacherous bastard”, while a loyal cabinet ally warned: “Rishi will get everything he deserves for leading the charge in bringing down the prime minister.”

Mr Johnson’s valedictory “hasta la vista, baby” suggests that he has not quite ruled himself out of a return to frontline politics, or even No 10 one day. However, even he cannot be cynical enough to want to choose Ms Truss simply to make himself and his record look good.

But it may be that Mr Johnson’s resentment towards Mr Sunak, who owed so much of his precipitous rise to high office to Mr Johnson, is such that it has clouded his judgement about who will be best to lead the nation.

For the next few weeks, Mr Johnson will be in the background, intervening only occasionally, surreptitiously and in coded ways to assist Ms Truss, and deprive Mr Sunak of the reward for perceived treachery. No doubt the sympathetic Johnson loyalists in the party, those who treated him more like a US president or even a cult leader, will take the hint and vote for Ms Truss.

But Mr Johnson is not as wildly popular among the grassroots as he was despite it still sometimes being assumed by his parliamentary cheerleaders. In other words, Mr Johnson may not be able to stop Mr Sunak with as unsuitable a weapon as the bollard-like Ms Truss, to borrow a phrase.

Ms Truss is a remarkable politician in that she seems to have been gifted with the soaring oratorical skills of John Major, the mastery of the Commons displayed by Iain Duncan Smith, the common touch of David Cameron, the barnstorming, election-winning panache of Theresa May, as well as Mr Johnson’s inability to sift economic fantasy from reality.

Unless the economy takes a sudden turn for the better, she will lead the Conservatives to a terrible election defeat next time around. She threatens a trade war with Europe, unfunded tax cuts to stoke inflation, and an absurd plan to try and reschedule Britain’s debt, as if it were Argentina or Zimbabwe pleading with the IMF. Debt is still debt, and it will need to be serviced, whatever the maturity, and even if it is perpetual (as war debts used to be).

Indeed, Ms Truss’s ignorance of economics has been one of the most surprising and disturbing aspects of this leadership election. The best she can hope for is a pre-election boom engineered through generous spending on key Tory target seats and demographics, and she finds a way of preventing the Bank of England from raising interest rates to control inflation.

Whatever happens, the Tory civil war seems set to intensify. What began as a simple wish to replace Mr Johnson with a more honest figure has spiralled into soul-searching about tax cuts, transgender rights, culture wars and, inevitably, Brexit. It has become more bitterly personal than any previous leadership election, with the possible exception of when Michael Gove declared Mr Johnson unfit for leadership in 2016.

It is perfectly possible that Mr Sunak will win the MPs’ ballot but lose the membership vote by a slim margin (say 48 per cent to 52 per cent to Ms Truss) and refuse to serve in a Truss cabinet. Facing oblivion, the Tory party is guaranteed to panic again and again, and display that feature that voters can never forgive – division. With Brexit “done” and Boris gone, they have nothing to rally around. Lacklustre Liz is not the answer to their problems.