Croydon spends £1.7m on consultants and saves… £800,000

Croydon Council’s press department has surpassed itself with its latest release, which makes the exaggerated and wholly inaccurate headline claim of “Millions recovered from fraudulent council tax claims”.

Once again, Croydon Council has shown that it is not to be trusted on figures. Instead of “millions” saved by checking on Single Person Discounts (SPD), the whole 2011 exercise actually saved (according to the council’s own figures) £800,000. That’s not even one million. It might be time for someone to call in the fraud-busters on the misinformation coming from the council’s press department.

The council’s own invoices show that in 2011, Croydon paid Northgate, the contractors who carried out the anti-fraud exercise, a grand total of £1.7 million.

There may be other Northgate invoices that have not shown up, or been “redacted”.

Included in that overall total, the council agreed last year to pay £228,000 to Northgate specifically to run the SPD exercise, as page 3 of the council documents here shows. You will notice that this document was signed off by Paul Davies, the interim head of commissioning and procurement, who we recently revealed was being paid £765 per day, even when he was off in Lloyd Park playing frisbee on Council Tax-payers’ time.

We have not been able to discover the amounts agreed to pay Experian, the  other contractors used on the exercise. But even if it is less than half of what was paid to Northgate for this project, after costs, then the actual savings for the Council Tax-payer in 2011 would amount to considerably less than half a million.

Last summer, Inside Croydon carried a report on Croydon Council’s announcement that it was to conduct a review of the Single Person Discount, or SPD, on Council Tax, using Experian (for its database of people’s personal financial information) and Northgate.

You would expect any local authority to do its utmost to collect the maximum amount of Council Tax properly due, and to ensure that discounts are only allowed to those who qualify. These are functions which could often be done by the council’s own staff.

One Taberner House insider, who has been allowed a quick peak to see how all the council’s top executive directors earn their six-figure salaries on the seventh floor, tells us: “Northgate gets a lot of work from council. While they are good at what they do, why can’t Croydon’s ‘award-winning team’ do this themselves?

“All someone had to do – and it could be dedicated person doing it all day long – is just cross reference the claims with the electoral register, and getting help from the registers too. I don’t know what other councils do but I would have thought some would check these things automatically.

“Croydon also has a fraud team, and when they are not playing frisbee in the park, those checks would be something they could do. There is enough capacity in the council to do these basic checks without bringing in consultants at huge expense to the Council Tax-payers.”

For new readers, it might be worth reminding ourselves at this stage of a couple of recent pieces of information, based on the public record.

And yesterday, yet further public money was squandered at Croydon’s Ministry of Truth, by spending time and resources to issue another piece of misleading propaganda.

The press release starts off with the Big Lie straight up: “More than £2 million has been saved and reinvested into front-line services after 8,000 incorrect claims for council tax discounts were uncovered by Croydon Council.”

Only when we get to the detail of the second paragraph does Croydon Council cough up to admit that, actually, it is not “millions” that this latest exercise has saved. Rather, they have added £1.3 million of discounts saved from a similar exercise conducted three years ago, in 2009.

The press release goes on to say that the falsely claimed discounts “were discovered when Croydon Council asked Northgate Public Services to check 84,000 claims for single person’s discount (SPD). An initial review in 2009 found 5,120 incorrect claims from checks of 52,000 – saving the borough £1.3 million. A second investigation in July 2011 revealed a further 2,853 incorrect claims after 32,000 claims were checked – resulting in a further saving of £800,000.” Finally, we get something approaching the truth.

£800,000. That’s not “millions”. It’s not even one million.

The press team goes into full-on patronising mode, as it seeks to “explain” the fraud check process: “Northgate identify people who are claiming the 25 per cent single person’s discount but crosschecks against data linked to their address that suggests they may not be eligible.” Yes, guys. That’s what’s called the Electoral Roll. This stuff really ain’t that complicated: you check every application for the discount against the roll and see if anyone else is living at that address.

But just in case we had not quite got the message, the piss-poor patronising press release continues: “Alongside data partner, Experian…” Yes, no job’s too small that they can’t hire in two sets of consultants!, “Northgate can identify addresses with postal, phone or electoral records that suggest more than one person may be living at the address. They then contact the person making the claim to discuss the irregularities on behalf of the council, saving valuable time and resources.”

“They then contact the person making the claim to discuss the irregularities on behalf of the council, saving valuable time and resources”? Ugh? How does using two expensive outside contractors for a simple job of verifying discount claims really save council resources?

Dudley Mead: Don't panic!

But having taken Council Tax payers for mugs by outsourcing this simple exercise twice in three years (presumably at similar cost levels in 2009), now Croydon announces that it has given Northgate a four-year contract to do a job that could be accomplished in-house by just a small team of council staff.

Unabashed, the Croydon spin-meisters even wheeled out our very own Captain Mainwaring for an official quote. Deputy leader of the ruling Conservative group on Croydon Council Dudley Mead, who is in charge of finance and resources, is supposed to have said: “Northgate Public Services’ understanding of our local procedures was first class…

“The way the project is devised around risk and reward supported by a managed service has resulted in little involvement for Croydon while we benefit from the considerable financial improvements.” It is not recorded whether someone was holding Mead down and applying wired-up crocodile clips to any sensitive parts of his anatomy while his lips moved to deliver that fulsome statement.

Here’s a suggestion for more Croydon Council savings: save at least £660,000 per year by closing down the Ministry of Truth.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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