Council insources Capita back office staff

Several back office functions outsourced by West Sussex County Council to a private company are set to be brought back in-house.
Capita provide back-office functions for West Sussex County CouncilCapita provide back-office functions for West Sussex County Council
Capita provide back-office functions for West Sussex County Council

Capita is more than halfway through a ten-year contract signed in 2012 to deliver a range of support areas such as IT, HR, pensions, payroll, administration, and the council’s contact centre.

However the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, which acts as a single point of contact for safeguarding concerns about children and young people, was taken off Capita by the council last year due to performance issues.

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Now a number of other small functions run by Capita are due to be brought back in-house by the council including the personal administration service, supervised contact administration (for parents to see children who are looked after), recruitment and HR management advice.

A total of 32 affected staff will see their terms and conditions protected when they are transferred in February.

This is less than nine per cent of the total staff working in the partnership.

The council would reduce its payments to Capita in respect to the identified services, amounting to £958,000 a year through the remaining length of the contract, which it would instead be paying directly to staff.

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The extra cost is estimated at £54,000 due to expected enrolment in the local government pension scheme.

The proposals were discussed by members of the Performance and Finance Select Committee today (Thursday January 18).

Katharine Eberhart, the county council’s director of finance, said: “It’s about increasing the flexibility of the council to deliver administrative services in the most effective way.

“It’s not reflective of any performance element with Capita whatsoever.”

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However Sue Mullins, leader of the Labour group, said: “We hear there are a lot of things not working well with Capita with pensions advice and long delays with data not being shared.”

She also questioned why HR management advice for schools was not also being insourced, and the rationale behind the council’s senior leadership team getting their personal assistants back.

Officers explained that schools had a slightly different contract through the council, and therefore it had been decided to ‘leave that with Capita at the moment’.

Meanwhile James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, countered the suggestion this was a ‘minor variation’.

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He said: “They have consistently underperformed and we need to hold them to account outside of this particular paper.”

But Conservative Duncan Crow praised the decision to bring some services back in-house as ‘pragmatic’, adding: “I do not think we should be making more of it than actually what it is.”

Wider scrutiny of the Capital contract is due to be carried out in March.

After the meeting, Dan Sartin, branch secretary at UNISON West Sussex, said, “It is common knowledge amongst staff that the Capita contract is significantly under-performing in a number of respects.

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“This was clear from the independent research we commissioned in 2015 and has continued. Some evidence of under-performance is hidden because the council does not publish the data.

“But some aspects of it must be published, such as that related to pension administration. It is clear that targets are commonly not met, and by large margins not small ones.

“Staff who use the services also know the evidence of their own experience. If they are on a disciplinary or a sickness process and that is not dealt with properly for six months, they experience at first hand the problems the contract is having. It is a good thing the council is responding to these problems and bringing the services back in house.

“UNISON welcomes the pragmatic approach and commends the council for doing it. But there is little point trying to dress the contract up as a triumph.

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“It is important to stress though, it is not Capita staff who have got us to where we are. They are doing a great job in difficult circumstances.

“It was evident from 2012 that Capita was going to struggle to deliver. The staffing models they use often involve paying little more than National Minimum Wage and the pension contribution they make is one per cent, the statutory minimum.

“That’s why there is some limited cost involved in insourcing. But in counties like West Sussex which are expensive to live in, if you don’t offer good terms and conditions you experience high turnover.

“And it is with that high turnover of staff that you get difficulties delivering the services. And if the services don’t function, it costs you far, far more in the long-run.

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“The council knows this and what they are doing is good news for council taxpayers.”

A Capita spokesman said: “We do not recognise the comments made and they do not reflect the performance statistics available.”

Meanwhile a joint statement from Capita and West Sussex County Council added: “This contract has worked well with Capita performing against the requirements of the contract.

“However, our joint view is that these particular functions will work better by being run directly by the county council.”