Bedford Borough Council’s 2020 digital plan set to cost millions

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A private global company could end up running Bedford Borough Council – at a cost to taxpayers.

That’s the fear of opposition Tory councillors, who are concerned the council’s new 2020 ‘go digital’ plan will backfire badly.

The multi-million pound scheme, which involves more than 200 council staff being made redundant, will streamline services and increase efficiency by using more computers.

It has been masterminded by accountancy and business advisory giants PwC.

Already the council has paid a £1.6m consultancy fee to PwC, said Tory leader Stephen Moon.

“They will pay them double or treble that to run the system over the first few years. Our fear is that PwC will effectively end up running our digitalised council,” he said.

The high tech scheme will save the council £10m a year, at a time when it is forced to make £27m a year in savings.

Said Mr Moon: “There is no doubt that, after the capital investment costs, it will save money. But at what cost?

“Can we really expect a computer or a robotic voice to deal effectively with the sometimes very complex problems that people have cause to contact the council about?”

Mr Moon said even senior councillors had reported being put on hold for between seven and 10 minutes when they try to call the council. He fears the new digitalisation will exacerbate the problem.

“We are not happy about it. But we have had no chance to air our concerns because the decision was made in private by the mayor and his executive group,” he said.

The council’s finance portfolio holder, Michael Headley has defended the scheme.

He said: “This process was approved by all parties including the Conservatives last autumn. Now out of the blue, the Tories have chosen to snipe from the sidelines rather than take responsibility for the tough choices needed.

“They make party political attacks while we are making the difficult decisions to enable us to protect the vulnerable and save millions in the face of their government’s cuts.”