Headlines: June 5th, 2001

The London Borough of Croydon is the latest council to open up its services to the private sector in a strategic partnership deal. This is the sort of arrangement Prime Minister Tony Blair had in mind when he said there was no ideological bar to handing over more public services to private companies.The Council has signed up to a strategic partnership with Capita Group Plc, one of the largest professional support services organisations in the UK. The partnership is based on a 7-year contract, worth some100 million pounds. The deal aims to transform customer facing services and involves the transfer of Council staff to Capita.

Capita will lead the development customer services and play a major part in supporting the implementation of the necessary cultural and systems changes required. Existing communications channels will be modernized and corporate and community access IT infrastructure will be radically overhauled.

A major feature of the partnership will be the creation of an advanced customer contact center which will provide one stop shop access to all council services including Housing, Environmental Services, Education and Social Services. Customer access to the center will be through either local walk in one-stop-shops, electronic kiosks, telephone, email, post or fax.

Capita will provide back office support through a regional Business Center and it is planned that this new infrastructure will deliver services to other clients in Greater London. The company has already established a Business Centre in the North West to deal with functions such as council tax collection for a number of councils. It claims to have successfully demonstrated the benefit of economies of scale, including better access to skills and technology, more cost effective solutions for customers and greater opportunities for employees. It believes that such centres also act as a catalyst for inward investment and job creation in the local communities.

Other councils which have recently opened up services to the private sector include Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool City Council. Liverpool’s deal with BT, which also includes one stop shops, media kiosks and a call centre, will be delivered by a joint venture in which both the council and BT have a shareholding. Council staff will work for the new company but remain on the Council’s payroll.