Audit Commission Blasts City Council

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

High-risk business project...

...lack of realism

No plan for workforce...

...reliance on very few key officers

Birmingham City Council is over-reliant on expensive consultants and has no idea how many jobs might be lost or created as a result of a "highrisk" business transformation project, according to a damning report.

A progress report by the Audit Commission accuses council leadership of a "lack of realism" about the difficulty of achieving more than pounds 650 million in savings over 10 years - largely through better IT and a tie-up with private outsourcing company Capita.

While the commission recognises the council made significant early progress on business transformation, the report warns the local authority will be heavily stretched to deliver change once all nine transformation streams are running.

It says the council has no firm timetable for reducing the number of consultants on the project - the bill for Service Birmingham, the Capita-led company at the heart of business transformation, has already exceeded pounds 20 million.

And the document notes: "Council officers are heavily exceeded by consultants and the scale of business transformation work is increasing. The council risks Service Birmingham costs being higher than they need be unless the proportion of officers with consultancy skills is increased."

The report, written before the departure was announced of Brendan Arnold, the official spearheading the programme, notes: "There is reliance on a very few key officers at corporate level."

It adds: "The council does not have a sufficiently strong strategic management of business transformation. The council puts considerable emphasis on managing business transformation but does not have an overarching plan."

Deputy council leader Paul Tilsley said he was at a loss to explain the criticism, adding an earlier Audit Commission report complimented the council for having the foresight to embark upon business transformation.

Coun Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon) added: "We take reports like this very seriously and will give the commission's concerns consideration. It is good organisations like this keep us on our toes."

The Audit Commission questions the success of the Employee Bargain - the name given by the council to a change under which employees will no longer be based in an individual department or unit and could be re-trained and ordered to work anywhere in the council. …