Fiona Commits Seppuku

Out of the blue, another Cabinet Member resigns. This time is was not over a leadership ‘change’ but due to a method used when Cornish residents were being called to check if they are eligible for the single occupancy discount.

The Cabinet (now ex) Member in question is Fiona Ferguson, the former Finance Portfolio Holder. This could not come at a worse time as the council is going through its 2013/14 budget proposals, and tomorrow, the Cabinet meets decide on further recommendations post the defeat of its proposals on the new Council Tax Benefit Scheme.

The resignation letter is as follows:

Jim,

 As you know, it came to my attention that the contract let to Capita (before I took up my portfolio duties) to survey claimants of the single person’s council tax relief will include the use of “Voice Risk Analysis” (VRA) techniques when making phone calls to claimants.

These techniques are sometimes called “lie detector” tests.

It is clearly right that Cornwall Council takes a strong line against people who deliberately mis-claim tax benefits but in this case I am more concerned about the impact on the vast majority of honest claimants.

In passing, although this does not deal with my fundamental ethical objection, I note that the techniques used by Capita were trialled by the Department of Work and Pensions in 24 local authorities on the processing of Housing Benefit between August 2008 and December 2010.

 Their report issued in September 2010 said: “From our findings it is not possible to demonstrate that VRA works effectively and consistently in the benefits environment. The evidence is not compelling enough to recommend the use of VRA within DWP.”

 I have discussed this matter with the Monitoring Officer.  He has advised me that, as this is an operational matter in relation to a contract that the Council has already entered into, he strongly advises me that I should not require  that this software is not used.  If, contrary to his advice, I maintain my stance that we must not use this software then officers will comply provided you also agree.

 You have made it clear to me that you will not agree.  Indeed, you have said that I will be ‘sacked’ if I inform members that this software will be used.

That will not be necessary.  Please accept my resignation with immediate effect. 

May I say that I have no reason whatsoever to believe that you were aware of this aspect of the contract before I drew it to your attention.  I also appreciate that you are in a difficult position in view of the Monitoring Officer’s advice.  But, I do not believe that his advice is correct and I cannot accept it on ethical grounds.  I also do not believe that it will help the Council to pursue fraud (which we must surely do) if the public think we are using this software.  Finally, I fear that it will be extremely damaging to our reputation.

Therefore, I am launching a petition to require any use of this type of technology to be approved by Full Council.

Fiona

It is certainly going to be an interesting Cabinet meeting tomorrow, as the Cabinet will be discussing parts of the budget, but without a Portfolio Holder for Finance. Unless of course someone gets a phone call from Jim tonight. It is certainly a dwindling pool within the Conservative Group to pick from.

9 comments

  • worried worker

    Feels like it’s all falling apart. Will there be anyone
    left come May?!

  • The threat of cutting front line services such as libraries,street lights and care services is made to allow the increase in council tax to be made. This is despite the government saying freeze it.
    All I can say is beware of the elections in May.

  • The threat of cutting front line services such as
    libraries,street lights and care services is made to allow the
    increase in council tax to be made. This is despite the government
    saying freeze it. All I can say is beware of the elections in
    May.

  • mick martyn

    sorry Andrew but since the ousting of Alec Robertson
    Cornwall Council has become an utter shambles, i’m sure this was a
    deliberate ploy from childish members who decided to stir up enough
    trouble to make themselves more attractive as an alternative come
    the new elections however as far as i am concerned this is having
    the opposite effect. Regarding the services with the axe over them
    if members make the wrong decision why these services?? Where are
    the traditional ‘back office’ services such as I.T., Finance,
    Legal, millions of policy officers too?????

  • A N Other Worker.

    There is no point trying to get 25% council tax from people on benefits. Despite the tabloid headlines, the majority of people receiving benefits are already struggling to make ends meet. If you impose this extra bill, then all that will happen is that the council spends a great deal of time and money on pursuing these people through the courts for money they don’t have. I know there is a profit made on every summons issued, and I question the ethics of that, but even so, I cannot see how this will make economic sense. Fewer highly paid executives who seem to have limited understanding of their departments could make an immediate saving and perhaps keep a library or two open. Just a suggestion!

  • A N Other Worker.

    There is no point trying to get 25% council tax from people
    on benefits. Despite the tabloid headlines, the majority of people
    receiving benefits are already struggling to make ends meet. If you
    impose this extra bill, then all that will happen is that the
    council spends a great deal of time and money on pursuing these
    people through the courts for money they don’t have. I know there
    is a profit made on every summons issued, and I question the ethics
    of that, but even so, I cannot see how this will make economic
    sense. Fewer highly paid executives who seem to have limited
    understanding of their departments could make an immediate saving
    and perhaps keep a library or two open. Just a suggestion!

  • Toni Mills

    I realise the government have put the Council in a very
    difficult position with this funding cut, but I think councillors
    need to realise that the best way to win support in May is to pull
    together and take the decisions that must be made, not to indulge
    in endless rounds of squabbling. Nobody is emerging from this with
    any credit at the moment: governing coalition or opposition. In
    May, all sitting councillors will be up against candidates who can
    truthfully say they weren’t involved in this mess, so surely
    personal interest, if nothing else, ought to encourage them to
    cooperate, regardless of party?

  • Matt

    Mick, the reason that most of those traditional back office services aren’t being mentioned is because they are in the proposed JV. As much as you would seem to like to think they aren’t a endless pit for you to keep throwing away, in fact they are the resource that they are hoping to “sell out” to bring money back into the council.

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