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
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.