Future of controversial Capita contract called into question at Breckland council
PUBLISHED: 14:25 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:31 06 December 2018
The future of a controversial contract which sees Norfolk planning decisions made by staff 450 miles away was today called into question by councillors.
Breckland Council outsourced its planning department to private firm, Capita, for a £35-million contract in 2009.
The council promised the deal would bring them almost £6m in savings, and pledged the quality of the planning service would not change.
But an investigation by this newspaper found planning applications were being handled by staff 450 miles away in Capita’s offices in Belfast and Newcastle; criticism of the firm’s handling of applications from parish councils and planning agents; and that Breckland had kept no records of the overall savings they had made from the contract with Capita.
At a Breckland full council meeting in Dereham on Thursday, December 6, Cllr Keith Gilbert asked council leader William Nunn if it was “now time to end this contract and bring the planning function of this council back in house”.
Mr Nunn said the council was “aware of some delivery issues” with the service.
He told councillors: “Capita are doing all they can to put this right and bringing in new members of staff to fulfil the contract.”
He said: “Every local authority in the country is struggling with planning because there are a finite number of good planners.
“I fully accepted Capita models when they sold it to us was that they could cover the work with their teams elsewhere.
“There are moments when I feel slightly uncomfortable with that and I understand there are agents who are frustrated because they want to speak to someone in Breckland, or Norfolk.
“Capita are doing all they can.”
The council leader said a board meeting was held in December to discuss issues raised regarding planning with Capita.
Cllr Harry Clarke requested the council be able to examine Capita’s key performance indicators (KPIs) “as we go towards the end of the contract”.
Council agreed to discuss the firm’s KPIs at the March oversight and scrutiny commission meeting.
And earlier in the meeting, Mr Nunn told councillors: “Capita have appointed Simon Wood as director of development.
“My suggestion is we invite him to the next full council meeting so we can hear his vision for the future of the service.”