Friday, 28 November 2014


Anna Earnshaw (Commercial Director of Capita): if you are reading this then please note what life is really like in the hell that is Capita Barnet. 


Last week my Council iPad was taken away by IT support and "reconfigured", and yesterday afternoon at 3pm it was returned to me with my emails and texts working for the first time for weeks and I took it out to a meeting and used it and in that short time began to think fondly of it and appreciate its worth.  

Today?  No texts. No email. "The connection to the server failed" (one of Capita's fave generic messages since IT was rolled out to councillors at the beginning of June, the server apparently being in Spring Park Exchange which could be anywhere in the world.

To do my job as a councillor I need a phone to make and receive calls and a laptop on which to write documents. Both need to receive emails and hopefully to synch. And I need a printer. And perhaps this is the moment to remind us all that Capita claim, and they claim loudly, that they are experts at providing IT services as they do about call centre services.

What did councillors received from Capita after the elections 6 months ago, and I'm talking about new councillors who were the first to be supplied with IT equipment by Capita? We got one piece of equipment only - an iPad on which we couldn't make or receive phone calls or type documents. There was no Word app only a very primitive application called "Pages" which meant that we could not produce documents or read or open Word documents that were emailed to us. We were promised Word within a month, but we still don't have it. But not to worry.  Emails didn't work in any case for some time. The server was moved out of Barnet to another location, didn't work and had to be moved back. 

Capita's failures can have serious consequences on residents' lives. My first casework was for a family who came to see me within days of being evicted from their home and their children taken into care. They were a warm, loving family and the children were smiling and happy unaware of what might lie ahead. It was a Saturday and there was nothing I could do until Monday morning, but during the weekend I took advice and obtained the contact details I required. Unfortunately it meant my having to ring Barnet Council. 

I had direct line numbers but repeatedly got the standard: "You have dialled incorrectly, please try again", in other words all the lines are busy.  (Capita cut the number of lines by 25% when they took over the service.) I was trying to get through to Barnet Homes so I Googled to see if there were alternative numbers. I tried them all including the 24 hour emergency number for residents. All numbers were "incorrect'!! I didn't want to email because I wanted to speak as soon as possible and in any case my email was only working sporadically and I couldn't be sure that a message would get through.  After about three hours I tried the main switchboard of the Council again and got through and was told by a very friendly operator that the dialled incorrectly message just meant that all the lines were busy. I asked why the message didn't say "all the lines are busy" and the operator replied that it did seem silly, didn't it? She also added what so many operators have said to me on so many calls over so many months, that they were having problems with the lines that day. 

I had finally got through to Barnet Homes and they were helpful as ever and gave me the contact who would be able to deal with the eviction.  Another helpful person said he would send me the necessary referral form to complete and return as soon as possible and he would deal with everything immediately and do everything he could help with the family.  All good, you'd think. But you might have forgotten that I was having to rely on Capita. The form arrived by the end of the afternoon but I couldn't open it. It was in Word and I had no word on my iPad. I forwarded the form to my personal laptop but because it was not possible to open it on my iPad it would not open. I tried to print the form unopened so that I could fill it in and scan it back on to the Council laptop. No luck. I couldn't ring the office until the next morning. I rang and asked if I could come down to wherever they were and complete the form but they emailed it to my personal email. By then more than a day in addition to the weekend had been wasted.  Time was short but everything was set in motion and proceeded no thanks to Capita.

From the beginning, posing as IT experts, Capita misjudged what equipment would be appropriate for our job, in fact they got it entirely wrong. And they considerably underestimated how long it would take to set up the Council's IT on the server and moved the IT staff together with its Project Manager to another job much too soon. After a while - it was weeks - I was contacted by phone (my personal mobile) by a very helpful IT person who talked me through setting up my iPad and it actually logged in.  I asked  for his contact details so I could contact this great person again. "Oh, I'm a contractor. I'm only here temporarily to help sort things out so you'd better contact your usual support team if you need help." So here were extra costs.  And just a minor error, but another extra expense and a careless error, we were all given covers for our iPads that were the wrong size. Replacements were ordered, expensive leather ones, but I found it was unusable so I bought myself a decent, simple one for £10 that works. And all this additional equipment and contractors means additional expense to us due to Capita's incompetence.

Then I was told that if I wanted one I could have a phone but I had to ask for one. I hurried to do so knowing that other councillors who were not new had Blackberries.  But when I received my phone it was not a smart phone, but a primitive fin-de-siecle Argos bargain basement model that had no facility for emails, internet, etc. I continued to use my own phone.  Then I was told I could have a blackberry and a laptop if I asked for them.  I asked for them and they arrived. More equipment, more cost.

Have you spotted anything wrong?  I now have an iPad, a Blackberry and a PC laptop.  What I needed was an iphone and an apple lap top - compatible, right for the job, and would synch perfectly.  The iPad is a very cool adjunct but not essential.  I get a good deal with Apple as an individual customer: free phone, unlimited free national calls, mobile calls, unlimited texts, so I'm sure a deal could have been negotiated for free phones and a good deal for 60 people.  It has all been such a mess.  And what is more, I can't remember a time when the phone, iPad and laptop have worked at the same time.  If on one day I can somehow access my Council emails and contacts I feel pretty lucky.  My laptop necessitated a home visit yet again last week. That means staying in and taking a couple of hours out of the day.

If we got service like this in our personal lives we would blow the company out of the water. There can be no excuse, though there are plenty from Capita, for this sort of dire performance. Tory Barnet is run from anywhere but Barnet with profits for Capita a priority and a cheap and nasty service to its residents and workers while costing us fortune.

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