Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Fiona Ferguson resigns from Cornwall Cabinet

I've just received this email which was sent by Fiona Ferguson, the Cornwall Cabinet member for Finance, to Council Leader Jim Currie:

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


1 comment:

~ Ariel said...

Thank you Cllr Ferguson. Bring on the petition, please !
BN. Penzance