Feeds

Conservative council snubs private sector

Outsourcing is worst option

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has opted to keep its struggling benefits services in-house after assessing the outsourcing ventures of other councils and coming to the conclusion that the the private sector was not up to the job.

The council has been wondering what to do with its worst performing departments since January when it ducked out of a £500m "strategic partnership" with Fujitsu at the nth hour.

The move was vindicated by a report presented to Walsall's Conservative Cabinet last week, which said that after a benchmarking study of other councils that had outsourced their benefits departments, Walsall concluded that there were "serious drawbacks" to handing the whole department over to the private sector.

Walsall's benchmarking study found "very few success stories in other local authorities" that outsourced their benefits service.

The benchmark considered 38 other authorities that had outsourced benefits. Eleven of them had ended up bringing the department back in-house.

The study also found that outsourcing would take too long, and the risk that services would degrade or fail during procurement was too high.

In December 2003, when Walsall was given a "weak" rating by the Audit Commission, the council's benefits department had been one of only two to earn three out of four stars. But by 2005, when the Audit Commission commended Walsall for "improving well" its benefits service had deteriorated so much that it was one of only two departments with two stars.

The council had claimed that benefits and other under-performing departments would see improvements once they were farmed out to the private sector, the Audit Commission reported in January.

But within the month, Fujitsu had been given the boot and Conservative Counsel leader Tom Ansell had declared the council did not need help from the private sector.

January's Audit Commission report explained why Walsall's benefits service had declined while most of its other services had improved since 2003. One of the main reasons was the introduction of a new benefits computer system last year. The council had outsourced its benefits IT systems to Northgate in 2004, but the system was delivered late.

A report by the Benefits fraud inspectorate noted yesterday that the new computer system had "created inevitable delays in claims processing", and inundated its walk-in centres with claimants wanting to query their computer-generated allocations.

The council's benefits service was "already strained", reported the BFI. "This situation was made worse when the council restructured its Revenues and Benefits service at the same time," it said.

The computer system should, however, help pull the department out of its mire, reported the BFI. If only it could train its staff to use it properly.

Walsall still felt the need for some scheme to replace its aborted strategic partnership with Fujitsu. After seeing the benchmarking study that rubbished the private sector, the council's Cabinet considered three other options: do nothing; develop shared services with other councils; or go for a "mixed economy" model in which core services were kept in-house and non-essential support services where outsourced.

It ruled out a joint services agreement with another local authority because of the difficulty in finding a good fit in good time. Doing nothing was never really an option.

The cabinet voted for the "mixed economy" method, which would require an investment of £400,000.

It did, however, note that it would not be an easy ride. "Can the council manage the potentially complex mix of internal core service activities and the externalised non-core activities?" a report to cabinet asked. In light of the problems caused by handing responsibility for its benefits IT systems over to Northgate, this was clearly a pertinent question.®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Vodafone to buy 140 Phones 4u stores from stricken retailer
887 jobs 'preserved' in the process, says administrator PwC
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.