West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper has secured a commitment from the Communities and Local Government Secretary to investigate her concerns over the transparency of West Lancashire Borough Council’s agreement with One Connect Limited.
During a Parliamentary Question session on Monday 18 March 2013, MP Rosie asked how councillors on both Lancashire County Council and West Lancashire Borough Council could do their fiduciary duty and protect council taxpayers interests by scrutinising the deal with One Connect Limited as they continue to be denied information and sight of the contract if both councils refuse to reveal the details because of commercial confidentiality.
In October 2011 West Lancashire Borough Council signed a 10 year contract for One Connect Limited to deliver its revenue, benefits and ICT services, which has a value of £29 million as listed on the Borough Council’s contract register.
Rosie’s main contention is that this service provided by One Connect Limited is not open to any real scrutiny except by a few councillors. Not all councillors are able to exercise accountability as they do not have access to the deal the Council has signed as they are prevented from having access to the information.
MP Rosie said:
“I welcome the Communities and Local Government Secretary’s commitment to investigate concerns regarding the transparency of One Connect Limited.
“For months I’ve been concerned about the lack of openness, transparency and publicly available information about the agreement between One Connect Limited, Lancashire County Council and West Lancashire Borough Council.
“Back in July 2012 we had a situation in which Borough Council staff were stopped from moving across to One Connect Limited having packed their belongings and held a leaving party. Despite questions from councillors, media, Member of Parliament, and trade unions no answers or explanation was given. No information was offered as to the reason for this situation.
“I am deeply concerned by this creeping veil of secrecy in public services
“Whenever questions are asked of One Connect Limited, Lancashire County Council or West Lancashire Borough Council about the contract, services, performance or staffing issues you are met with the brick wall of ‘commercial confidentiality’.
“I have no view on whether One Connect Limited is providing a good level of service, or whether they are offering value for money for the taxpayers of West Lancashire. My problem is we don’t know the answers because they all refuse to provide any information. Yet this is a service funded by the Council taxpayers of West Lancashire. It is their money and they deserve to know how their money is being spent and whether they are getting value for money.
“I will be taking the Secretary of State up on his offer to consider my concerns when it comes to One Connect Limited, especially as the Secretary of State thinks all items of expenditure over £500 should be published on Councils websites, yet West Lancashire Borough Council and Lancashire County Council can spend £29 million, tie us into a contract for 10 possibly 15 years and the people paying the bill can’t see the contract. It doesn’t seem like open transparent Local Government to me.”