“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.
I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”
For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announced that Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.
“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.
The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.
After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.
The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.
The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]
According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.
The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.
Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.
The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.
With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.