By Christian Barnett – Local Democracy Reporter
The county council is not learning lessons from recent outsourcing cock-ups and is in danger of repeating them, a full financial review has found.
In its annual audit letter, Worcestershire County Council’s external auditor Grant Thornton said lessons are not being learnt from some of the recent outsourcing fiascos including the much-delayed Evesham Abbey Bridge replacement and the council’s HR contract with Liberata, and has told the authority it must start listing the disadvantages of outsourcing services before making a decision.
The auditor said the county council has “fully embraced” the idea of being a commissioning council – with over 75 per cent of its services now provided externally – but did not challenge some of the contractors as well as it should have and was instead driven by a “corporate objective to become a commissioning council.”
The letter read: “These reports do not identify one persistent theme, or weakness in the arrangements.
“Instead they point to areas where contractors’ assumptions could have been more robustly challenged, or where greater experience from the commissioning department could have led to better initial contract management.
“For the contracts we examined, the key driver for putting them out to tender was to fit with the agreed corporate objective to become a commissioning council.
“As a result the potential disadvantages of providing these services from outside of the council was not considered in reports to members.”
The auditor said these problems were brought up in a 2015 report on the council’s commissioning arrangements – when it said the advantages and possible savings were looked at but there was ‘limited discussion’ of the risk – and have yet to be addressed.
The letter continued: “There is no clear evidence that the lessons learned from major contracts are being considered and included in the appropriate training for officers engaged in procurement activity and as a result there remains a risk that further issues could be encountered with other major contracts.”
A spokesman for Worcestershire County Council said: “Our external auditors identified that there were lessons to learn not that we were not achieving value for money.
“We are working closely with our external auditors at Grant Thornton to continually improve all areas of our financial and procurement processes going forward.
“We have strengthened our governance and support for all contracts and how we do commissioning.
“That will include the way we challenge and measure how we get value for money. Our governance will also ensure consistency from all levels, across the council and build on both the findings and the progress made in the last audit.”