Council website down for 10 days since Capita handover

Council website 2Croydon residents attempting to use their council’s online services this morning found that the local authority’s website was “unavailable” for a 10th successive day, a “down time” that is potentially costing the council millions of pounds and creating widespread inconvenience for the public.

After years of budget-cutting efforts to get the public to conduct their business online via the council website – because it is far cheaper for the council than properly staffing a phone bank with trained staff who can talk residents through their requests – the outgoing Tory administration, defeated at the local elections last month, have managed to leave the website frozen in time.

It is a legacy, like a steaming turd left on one of the expensive new desks in the £140million new council offices, of one of the last major outsourcing contracts agreed by senior council officials under the privatising agenda of Mike Fisher’s former Conservative administration: a £73.5 million for an eight-year IT “megadeal” with Capita.

The council website downtime was scheduled to last over the Bank Holiday weekend from May 23 to 26 as one council IT service supplier, Capgemini, handed over to Capita.

But even today, at 10am, the on-site service message remains: “This website, managed by Croydon Council, is currently undergoing essential maintenance work. We apologise for any inconvenience caused”.

Not for nothing has the company which makes millions in profit from “outsourced” public services become known as “Crapita”, judging by the experience of residents in Birmingham and Barnet, local authorities which have engaged, and then learned to endure, these “outsourcing experts”.

According to computer trade reports when Croydon’s deal was announced in October last year, Capita’s “secure information solutions business” will “provide an IT managed service that includes renewing all the IT that supports the delivery of council services, the provision of ICT services including a new desktop solution, and management of Croydon’s voice and data network, including unified communications and the local area networks within council offices”.

The council website is the major, public-facing example of Capita’s new work which hasn’t been working, though other parts of the council’s IT systems – such as something as fundamental as email – also appears to be down. Freedom of Information requests to Croydon Council sent via the WhatDoTheyKnow website by concerned residents have been bounced back at them with a message stating, “Delivery is delayed to these recipients or distribution lists: [1]FOI requests at Croydon Borough Council… This message has not yet been delivered. Microsoft Exchange will continue to try delivering the message on your behalf.”

Council staff have had their work frustrated by the Capita delays, including the department handling the local and European elections who have been unable to update details of the results. According to Croydon Council’s online information, it is as if the 2014 local elections never took place for Mike Fisher and his Conservative colleagues.

Inside Croydon contacted the press office at the “Rouse House” to enquire how much longer the “orderly handover” would take, but there has been no reply. At least on this occasion, instead of ignoring legitimate media enquiries under orders from the administration, it may be that the council’s expensive press operation has simply not received the email.

The downtime is believed to have affected, to various degrees, the council’s mobile phone service, as well as “the management of all servers within the council’s data centre, support for business continuity and disaster recovery…” Ha!, and “application support, training services and support for the council’s adult social care system, ICT support for Croydon Adult Learning and Training (CALAT) and council members’ services”.

At the time when the deal with Capita was announced, John Gladman, the council’s head of ICT, said in all seriousness: “This contract gives us cost savings and an improved IT service at a time when resources are extremely limited, when frontline services need as much protection as possible and when staff need all the support that we can give them.” Oh yeah.

Mr Not-So-Gladman also said, “This will provide us with a modernised IT infrastructure which is key to ensuring that the authority can function effectively and respond quickly to the public to create a modern service for citizens with robust data protection.” Our italics.

Yup: “Ensuring that the authority can function effectively”.

And: “Respond quickly to the public”.

Oh well.

Of course, ultimate responsibility for running the council’s services falls to the (interim) chief executive, Nathan Elvery, who not so long ago was attempting to flog his “expertise” in the management of council IT systems when still on Croydon Council’s pay-roll as a full-time senior director. That must have worked well, then.

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7 Responses to Council website down for 10 days since Capita handover

  1. davidcallam says:

    You fail to mention the cost to Capita of the rigourous compensation clauses in this watertight contract. There are enforceable compensation clauses, aren’t there?

    • In Birmingham, after lengthy FOIs, it was discovered that their contract with Crapita could be cancelled inside a matter of weeks.

      The value of compensation payments, however, were all redacted. Commercial confidentiality is used to mask many financial details of such companies, even though they are working in the public sector.

  2. Nick Davies says:

    Presumably when they drew up the invitation to tender the council insisted on a strict service level agreement and punitive penalty payments should the contractor fail to deliver. So Crapita must pay dearly for every day the website isn’t working. Mustn’t they…?

    • Last time I worked for a local authority, the penalty clauses involved “service credits”. If they screw up, you don’t get cash money back, they just have to do some extra work for you for free. Which isn’t really _that_ much help if they’re not very good in the 1st place.

  3. Mary Wolf says:

    It was up and working about an hour and a half ago or more, because I successfully paid my Council tax online.

  4. It was not working on 2 June 2014 at 11:21.

  5. east1956 says:

    Come back CapGemini, we’re sorry about all the horrid things we said!

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