Your Job – To Take The Blame When Things Go Wrong

07:20 Wednesday 23rd May 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: A new department has been created by Peterborough City Council to liaise with the organisation responsible for the services that we’ve outsourced. I know it’s confusing, but we’ll sort it out in a minute. Four new positions have been advertised, but they could cost you about 140 grand a year. Do we need another layer of bureaucracy? Or is it necessary for all the city’s services to run like a well-oiled machine, that we need to emply people to put the oil on? Let’s get the opinion of Liberal Democrat councillor Darren Fower. .. So, as I understand it, we’re creating a department for services that we don’t run anymore.
DARREN FOWER: That’s basically it, isn’t it? I think this is a massive indicator to show that the decision by this administration in regards to flogging off the important services to the private organisations isn’t working out. And this is going to be a massive kick in the teeth to the hundreds of council workers who’ve lost their jobs in recent years, and also to some of those who’ve been transferred to these organisations who I understand are having a bit of a torrid time.
PAUL STAINTON: I’m pleased to say that with me in the studio is councillor Matthew Dalton, the Cabinet Member for Communications. .. We’re creating a department to look after things that we don’t run any more. You can understand why some people might be a bit taken aback by that.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well I can understand why Darren thinks that this is an easy hit on the administration. It sound something nice, you can come on the radio ..
PAUL STAINTON: No. I’m confused. Me too.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well let me explain. I’ll explain. As you said, we outsourced a number of services over the last few years to Vivacity, to Enterprise, and to an organisation called Serco. And those organisations ..
PAUL STAINTON: To save money.
MATTHEW DALTON: That’s correct. Yes, to save money. And I can go through how much they’ve saved in a moment for you, if you think that’s helpful.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes please.
MATTHEW DALTON: And those organisations are employing lots of ex-Council employees, like Councillor Fower has made reference to. And it’s important that we make sure, for the tax-payer, that they’re run as efficiently as possible. Because, you’re quite right, they’re there to save money. Over the next five years Vivacity is due to save £6.75 million. £1.9 million to be saved this year in Enterprise, And £20 million to be saved in Serco over ten years.
MATTHEW DALTON: Now £120,000, or £140,000, depending on the band you use, is therefore relatively small in comparison to those savings. Now I accept that in these times of austerity, people will say, do you really need another four, another five posts, to oversee those outsourced services. But those services are extremely important to the people of Peterborough, the leisure centres to Vivacity, and Enterprise the bin collections. And we need to make sure that those external organisations aren’t pulling our leg, that basically they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And they’re achieving the savings they should achieve.
PAUL STAINTON: We were told at the time, when they were outsourced, that these were fantastic organisations, well-oiled machines. They could run these services, and that you and others would be looking after them, overseeing them, it wouldn’t be a problem. Now we’re saying that you can’t do that job. We need to employ professionals to oversee them, to make sure they do the job you said they were fantastic at in the first place.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well those organisations are highly respected. And I’m sure that the people of Peterborough are already delighted with, for example, the performance of Vivacity. We had the opening of the Museum recently, and it’s an excellent facility. However, it is important that as the Council, we make sure they’re delivering. And these four posts that you’ve made reference to, are ..
PAUL STAINTON: Can’t Cabinet Members do that?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well, let’s be fair. Cabinet Members are politicians who are not always in departments. I’m not in my department 24 hours a day.
MATTHEW DALTON: And therefore I can’t oversee exactly what’s going on all across the Council, and even within my own department, on an hourly basis. And that’s why we’ve got these individuals who will report to a Cabinet Member, to Councillor Lee, who is the Cabinet Member responsible for these external organisations, making sure, holding those organisations to account. And I think it’s quite proper that over the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, people can come back to us and say, well those savings, Councillor Dalton, that you’ve just quoted, have they been achieved. And if they haven’t, it will be these people’s fault.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve got Darren Fower back .. As Matthew Dalton was saying ther, you’re just having an easy hit at the Council here.
DARREN FOWER: Well I suppose it all comes down to terminology. What Matthew calls savings, I call cuts. And I don’t think the concept of handing these services over to theses private organisations is working. I think it is a kick in the teeth to the hundreds who’ve lost their jobs. I’ll give you a story that I was chatting to an officer the other day. And they were talling me about they had to do an update on a web page for their particular department. They were telling me that it could have taken them just a matter of minutes, if they had the password and the user-name to log in. But instead, they had to contact Serco, who then sent an invoice back saying it would cost £400 to do. Now that’s not efficiency. I look at these positions and these roles that are being created, I don’t think they’re required. I don’t think they’re justified. But I do think they’re a buffer, and they may be used as a scapegoat later on down the line, when things don’t work out.
PAUL STAINTON: Well as Matthew was saying there, these outsourced services have saved us millions.
DARREN FOWER: Well again, they’ve saved, but I call it cuts. At the end of the day, a saving, you’ve got to look at the services being provided, and then look at the service that is provided now. At the end of the day, it used to be that you paid your council tax and the City Council ran services for the good of the people of Peterborough. Now we’re in a situation where we’re still paying the council tax, but the services are now in the private sector.
PAUL STAINTON: So, is it cuts, is it savings? You say cuts Darren, you say savings Matthew.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well Paul, it would take a long long time to go through every budget line now, and that wouldn’t be appropriate for the listeners obviously. But let’s take Vivacity. We spoke about Vivacity earlier. I’ve looked across the Vivacity piece, and I cannot see where someone could criticise us for cuts. I’ve already mentioned this morning the Museum. The athletics track, I know you were down at the athletics track a couple fo weeks ago, and that’s in great shape. And we’re looking forward to a very significant anniversary this year. So I can’t see where Darren’s getting these cuts from. I’d be delighted to say, if he can pinpoint specific cuts we’ve got through Vivacity services.
DARREN FOWER: Easy. Libraries Matthew. Over the last few years we’ve seen significant reductions in library hours, opening times, staffing numbers. It’s all in the documents.
MATTHEW DALTON: I haven’t got all the library times in front of me at the moment. But as far as I’m concerned, Vivacity services are as good, and in some cases a lot better, than they were when we handed them over to Vivacity. I haven’t got all the library times in front of me, so it would be inappropriate and wrong for me to quote.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you could carry on this row tonight at the meeting can’t you.
DARREN FOWER: We could. I’m looking forward to it already.
PAUL STAINTON: The main nub I want to get to is, and as Darren mentioned, are these jobs just a buffer between the Council and the outsourced services? If things go wrong, the people in the middle get the blame. Because I still can’t quite grasp why, when we’ve got these fantastic companies that Matthew Lee told us about earlier in the year, that they’re going to get on with it, they’re going to save us loads of money, they’re going to get on with the job, and councillors will oversee it, we’ll still be in control, that was the case then. Why now do we need to employ people to look after services we don’t run?
MATTHEW DALTON: Right. Councillors will oversee the issue. Councillors will always oversee everything. Matthew Lee will oversee these four posts. I come back to the point I made earlier, that when we’re dealing with such large amounts of money, we’re wanting to save millions and millions of pounds over the next five ten fifteen twenty years, we need people with significant skill-sets, like the Strategic Partnership Manager, which you made reference to earlier, to make sure we deliver. And yes, these people will be held to account to do that. That’s why they’re being employed.
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s going to cost us 140 grand to hold them to account.
MATTHEW DALTON: It’s going to cost us some money to save lots and lots and lots more.
PAUL STAINTON: Have we just thought of that, or was it envisaged from the start?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well I’m not the Cabinet Member specifically responsible for this, so I don’t know the decision making.