Back office and customer service project given the green light

Last night (29 June), the business case for the New Support and Customer Service Organisation project was approved by Cabinet Resources Committee. This decision gives the council permission to proceed with the procurement process to find a strategic partner to deliver back office and customer services.

The private sector is well placed to provide support services at a lower cost than the council ever could. Specialist suppliers provide these services as their core business; they have access to industry expertise, they can take advantage of economies of scale, and they can access the latest and best technology to help them deliver better services.

Barnet’s customer services need significant investment to improve resident access to council services but the council simply doesn’t have the money. The private sector can provide the financial support we need to improve and modernise customer services.

I don’t believe residents are concerned about who provides back office services to the council. Indeed every time we, or other councils, ask residents how they want us to deal with a reduced budget, we are asked to reduce back office costs. Residents seem far more interested in Barnet doing what councils are supposed to do – delivering the best quality front line services. Over the life of the contract, we will make significant savings, which will free up resources for our highly rated core services.

You can read the business case on the Barnet Council website.

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Adults In-House Services business case approved

The business case for the Adults In-House Services project was approved by Cabinet Resources Committee on Tuesday evening (24 May). This decision gives the council permission to set up a local authority trading company to run adult social services in Barnet.

We need to set up this company because the way eligible residents receive money to pay for adult social services has changed. An increasing number of people who access these services receive the money to pay for them as direct payments.

Direct payments are good for service users and their carers, they allow them to manage their own social care budgets and let them choose which services they want to purchase. Central government wants everyone eligible for social care to receive direct payments by 2013.

But if you receive the money to pay for adult social services as a direct payment you cannot buy these services directly from the council. By setting up a local authority trading company to run adults social care we will allow people to continue to use our services and access our centres.

The new organisation will be wholly owned by Barnet Council but will manage its own operations and have its own board of directors, which will include service users and carers. Back office costs will be shared with Barnet Homes.

You can read the business case on the Barnet Council website.

Another One Barnet project approved

The business case for the Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) project was approved by Cabinet Resources committee on Monday night.

DRS is a One Barnet project that is looking to secure an external partner to deliver a group of council services that relate primarily to Barnet’s built environment and environmental health.

There are a number of advantages to be gained from working with an external organisation to provide these services, including access to private sector technology and expertise. But the appeal is also financial.

When I speak to residents about how the council should save money, I’m often told that we should reduce back office costs. Using an external provider to deliver services will significantly cut what we spend on support services.

You can read the DRS business case on the Barnet website.

Last night in Hendon

Last night (2 March 2011), I presented two papers at Cabinet Resource Committee, the committee that considers reports of a financial nature. (I’m aware that the way the council makes decisions isn’t clear to everyone, so I’ll try and explain the purpose of the various committees, meetings and processes as I mention them). The committee dealt with all agenda items very quickly, so I thought it would be helpful to go into a bit more detail.

The first paper I presented urged that the committee accepted the recommendations of the Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation options appraisal. The options appraisal process is used by the council to identify and evaluate the various choices that are available when thinking about how to change a council service. A joint options appraisal took place to consider how we should deliver customer and support services.

The Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation projects are part of the One Barnet council transformation programme. The options appraisal recommends that the council finds a strategic partner to deliver seven services; reorganises and improves four of those services prior to the transfer to a strategic partner; and transforms one service in house. The committee accepted these recommendations and we will now be putting together a business case for these services.

There are a several reasons why working with an external provider to deliver services is beneficial for the council, these include: private sector investment, something that is increasingly important now we will be operating with a reduced budget; access to expertise and knowledge not available within the council; improved technology; and reduced costs due to economies of scale.

The second paper sought Cabinet approval to update Registration and Nationality fees and charges from April 2011. Broadly speaking, we are bringing charges for weddings, and nationality and settlement checking in line with the market rate, specifically the rates charged in neighbouring boroughs. The fees we charge to perform a marriage ceremony on a Monday to Friday don’t cover our costs, so an increase is definitely required. At the moment it only costs £40 to get married on a Monday or Tuesday!

There was also a paper about the Award of the One Barnet Legal Partner Contract. The paper concerned the appointment of an external legal firm to work on the One Barnet programme. It is important that we have access to expert legal advice, particularly with complex projects that involve procurement and contract management. The recent media coverage of the previous administration’s botched contract with Catalyst is a timely reminder of how costly it can be when things don’t go according to plan.