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Oct 03 2012

Email Disaster at Harrow Council

We’re regularly in contact with Harrow Council, asking questions, chasing Freedom of Information Requests or generally just asking questions – but sometimes, it just seems to take ages to get a reply. Clearly, we thought that the Council was ignoring our email, or just deciding that it had other, more important things to do, than to respond to us – and other Harrow residents, it seems – on mundane matters.

However, all has become clear. Harrow – which outsourced it’s IT to Capita, the IT organisation which chases public-sector IT work – has had a couple of significant IT failures, with “thousands of emails delayed or seemingly lost in the ether” – according to Cllr Susan Hall, Leader of Harrow Conservative Group. Indeed, one piece of correspondence we’re chasing the Council with took them 89 days to respond to. And that’s just to acknowledge it, not to answer any questions!

We’re not entirely surprised – this outsourcing contract, which lasts for ten years and will cost more than £1 million than previously – that this has happened. Capita doesn’t have a great track record for it’s IT service delivery, and having lost some very senior people in it’s management team (here and here, for example), although they have gone on to win some very lucrative contracts: they’ve just signed a ten-year, £19.6m deal with London Fire Brigade for one.

This contract costs the Council over £1 million more a year…

Capita has long been known in Private Eye as “Crapita” and “the world’s worst outsourcing firm”. But in the neo-liberal era, it, like other firms set up to grab juicy contracted-out bits of public services, has boomed. Its turnover increased from £25 million in 1991 to £2.9 billion in 2011.

Capita was responsible for the multi-billion pound failed/delayed IT project for the NHS and HMRC. It messed up on staff administration services at Leicester Hospitals NHS Trust and the BBC, so that staff details were lost. In 2002, when mandatory CRB-vetting of everyone working with children was brought in, a large number of teachers were temporarily unable to work because Capita’s systems failed: it was so bad that the start of the school year was delayed in some places.

Capita ran the Individual Learning Account, a £290 million scheme intended to give financial support to adult learners – opened in 2000 and then scrapped in 2001 following widespread and massive fraud.

In December 2010 the Daily Mail reported: The wealthy boss of an outsourcing firm stunned his workers when he complained about being labelled a fat cat, even though he earns thousands a week. Paul Pindar, chief executive of Capita, was upset by a leaflet handed to him at the company’s London headquarters which claimed he was on a £9.8 million pay and benefits package. Mr Pindar, 51, told workers he was only paid a weekly wage of £14,500.

Staff expressed amazement. One Capita employee said: “We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here was one of Britain’s highest paid bosses telling people on just above minimum wage that he earns a mere £770,000 a year”.

As Cllr Hall says, “You could e-mail senior Labour councillors to complain about all this, of course, but there’s no guarantee your e-mails will get through…”

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