12 September 2014

Dulwich Hospital Site, interview with the Council Leader, Peckham Rye Station and Contracting-Out

OSC is scrutinising council procurement

Our latest Southwark Overview and Scrutiny (OSC) meeting took place on Monday night.The meeting covered the prospects for a new secondary school on the Dulwich Hospital site, an interview of the Leader of the Council, a briefing from officers on the regeneration of the area around Peckham Rye Station and finally, a session to discuss how and why certain council services are contracted out.  

Dulwich Hospital Site

The Committee heard from representatives of two groups interested in running a secondary school from the Dulwich Hospital Site. Charter School Educational Trust and Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation are sponsoring Free School bids to run a new secondary school from the site. The council is assisting and facilitating the bids. Projected figures on pupil numbers show a real need for more secondary places in the area in coming years. 

The mess created by the anarchic free school system, has resulted in the Department for Education approving a primary school for the site. You can see more information on this here.

It was very useful to hear from two groups campaigning to run a secondary school which is desperately needed.  Charter and Haberdashers’ Aske’s have exemplary records of providing high quality education.  Both groups expressed surprise at developments relating to th DfE and  "Harris Nunhead Primary Free School" but hope this issue could soon be resolved. 

OSC will be reporting on the issue of school places to the council's Cabinet in the new year, so it was fascinating to hear how these two groups had navigated the system so far.  Their comments will strengthen our recommendations.  

Leader's Interview

There was a lively session in which the Leader of the Council, Peter John, was interviewed on a variety of policy issues including the steps which would be taken to introduce free swimming and gym use in the borough.  The Leader was also asked about the Bakerloo Line extension, employment levels in the borough and how the council would deal with further cuts in government funding over the coming year. If you're interested in finding out more about these issues, the minutes for this session will appear here soon.  

Peckham Rye Station Redevelopment

Next up on the agenda was the redevelopment which the council is leading around Peckham Rye Station.  The briefing which accompanied this session is here, giving a useful update on where this project is at.  

In particular, members on the Committee quizzed the officer on why the original proposals for this regeneration project met with such opposition.  We were also given details of the "co-design" process which is now taking place.  The website for this can be found here.  Members made a number of suggestions as to how this process might be improved, particularly regarding the need to include all parts of the Peckham Community.

OSC will continue to scutinise Regen projects throughout the borough as a core part of our work.  

Corporate Procurement

(Don't run away. I know it sounds boring - but it's hugely important). Your council spends millions of pounds every year on contracts for goods and services. Sometimes this is money well spent, but sometimes it can lead to serious problems. In Southwark, we have seen more than our fair share of failed "outsourcing" projects over the last decade.  Revenue and Benefits, the call centre and housing repairs are just a few examples of contractors letting us down in terms of quality and cost.  

OSC will be producing a report in December which tries to identify what has been going wrong and suggest improvements. So far, we have studied the internal processes to sign off these contracts and looked at the details of some current contracts. At Monday's meeting we were able to dig into these areas even further by speaking to senior officers

In the coming weeks we'll be gathering further information on a sample of the current contracts (there are hundreds in total). At our November meeting we'll be talking to John Tizard, former Head of Policy at Capita who has become a critic of some parts of the "Procurement Agenda". I'll also be inviting written submissions from various groups across the borough. 

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