Wednesday, 30 January 2013

My Letter of 28th January to Cornwall Council Leader Jim Currie


There has been much debate about whether use of "voice risk analysis'
is ethical and on whether it works.

However, the most important question is why was it being done secretly.

If it's OK ethically why the secrecy?

If it doesn't work if the interviewee knows it is being used then it
is no use when people find out. So not much of a shelf life?

It was always going to come out. What I hope I have done is to make
it public before the interviews took place.

I have put a motion to Council to try to restore public trust that
the Council will not use it in future.


My Resignation letter from the Cabinet


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

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


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Conservatives continue to push for NO council tax rise for third year

Conservatives on Cornwall Council reiterated
their aim, at a meeting on Friday, that it is a
priority to push for a zero change in the
Cornwall Council part of the Council tax for a third consecutive year.

Conservative Group Leader Fiona Ferguson
explained, "It is becoming more and more
difficult to achieve no increase in Council tax
but we also know how difficult the financial
situation is for many people in Cornwall and we
will continue to try to reach this goal.

"I have taken over the Finance Portfolio from the
new leader, Cllr Currie. I take my hat off to him
for the work achieved to date in saving £170m
from the Council Budget. I know he is sceptical
that a zero rise can be achieved but I am
determined to work towards this goal."

The meeting also pressed for the increase of an
emergency fund to help those who find themselves
in difficulty as government changes to the
welfare system take place. They also promised to
feed back any experiences from Cornwall so that
the government is fully aware of issues faced in Cornwall.

The budget proposals will face a week of scrutiny
by Cornwall council members starting on the 21st
January leading to an extraordinary meeting of
the full council on 26th February to set the
council tax figures for the next year.

Contact: Fiona Ferguson 07731 548139