Dear English Party, is there something you’ve forgotten to do?

According to Mark Pack, the English Party is thinking of outsourcing its membership database, currently run in LDHQ, to a private company.

Why has there been quiet talk about how Atos or another similar firm might be asked to take over Liberal Democrat membership services? It is because the English Party has been sounding out options for outsourcing the servicing of membership from party HQ in London (for members of the party in England).

As the strategy paper says, “[We should] consider outsourcing of the management of member (and supporter) recruitment and renewal processing and record keeping, if this can provide improved access to data for all parts of the party at a lower cost.”

Given how little of membership work is done by post now (which used to be outsourced from London back when there was rather more of it), this amounts to outsourcing the party’s membership database and/or the phone bank operation in London.

Sounding out someone like Atos is wise in terms of seeing whether this is practical. It also shows the risks and likely unpopularity of such an approach.

In the Liberal Democrats, the state parties, England, Wales and Scotland all have responsibility for maintaining their membership databases. All three nations pay the Federal Party to do all that administration for them. It means that it’s easy for the Federal Party to communicate with all its members. Imagine if there were three separate databases in different places. Actually, it’s only in the last decade or so that the Scottish membership has been administered by the federal party. However, if you think about how technology has leapt forward in the last decade, there are distinct advantages about keeping it that way.

There have undoubtedly been teething troubles with the new membership database introduced last year. However, the fact that people can now sing up by direct debit online and by recurring card payment, is very useful.

Having spent a small fortune on the database, I can’t imagine the Federal Party would be too delighted if the English Party’s proposals came to fruition.

Of course, such an action would also impact on Scotland and Wales. I’m sure that the English Party will, out of courtesy, be getting in touch with the people responsible in each of these state parties (for Scotland, that’s me) to consult about these plans. They would not, I’m sure, wish a repeat of the situation a couple of years ago when they made changes in the Candidates’ Office without any consultation with their Welsh and Scottish colleagues who, in a similar arrangement, pay for candidate approval services. They will surely have learned from the bad feeling caused by that incident. I’m sure my phone will be ringing shortly.

Of course, the ongoing governance review will have to consider whether we actually need two layers of bureaucracy between the member and the federal party. Is there a need for regions and for an English Party as well in the new reality we face? No doubt that will be hotly debated in the months to come.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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18 Comments

  • No, No. Just NO!

  • ATOS – after Duncan Smith’s work assessment fiasco ? NO NO NO. If the party hasn’t the sense or the principles to recognise the folly of this there will be a massive loss of members who, with this, will not put up.

  • Membership services at federal head office have had more problems than just with the database. The restructure where they got rid of the experienced staff and brought in people who had previously worked for banks and other such shiny institutions is still having repercussions. Frankly the number of mistakes they make in all sorts of areas is pretty depressing. But the idea that the solution to this is to outsource it to someone like ATOS shows that we spent far too much time absorbing tory thinking.

    Purposely run it into the ground, tell everyone it’s not working, and privatise it is the tory way, not the lib dem one. I’d genuinely be looking to see if someone on English council (which should be abolished) has shares in ATOS at this point, because that’s the only reason I can see for looking at such a discredited company.

    Still, it’s given me the impetus to write the “this region has no confidence in the English party and wishes to secede from it” motion I’ve been mulling for Yorkshire Regional Conference….

  • Neil Sandison 9th Oct '15 - 9:03am

    Outsourcing to pushy private companies has done little for the credibility of some national charities .please don’t go there .

  • Richard Underhill 9th Oct '15 - 10:40am

    It may not be directly relevant, but it is likely to be mentioned, so –
    at PMQ DC was asked
    “Can the Prime Minister confirm that ATOS have passed Richard the Third as fit for work?”
    If DC replied he was inaudible among the hubub.

  • peter tyzack 9th Oct '15 - 12:54pm

    Jennie, please share your motion with other Regions, that is the way forward. One of this Party’s strengths is the centralised membership database, all we need is someone who knows how to get the best out of it.. the only reason a private company would want to do this work for us is the commercial value of the data.

  • It should be noted that Mark writes, “Atos or another similar firm” and “Sounding out someone like Atos” this does not mean it will be Atos. It seems to me to be responsible management to give careful consideration to different alternatives and not as in the past say, we have to go with the Federal party doing it. And it is important that issues with outsourcing are considered and from what Mark wrote this is included in the report and I assume wider consultation.

    Also Carol if you wish to get involved in how the English party is organised it might be more helpful if you shared the benefits and disadvantages of the organisational and staff side of running the Scottish Party and give a clue to where on the scale of English regions it fits. I assume it is smaller than the London region and the South-east region, and larger than the Northern region, but I don’t know if it is larger in membership and income than Devon and Cornwall or Yorkshire or any of our other regions.

    I hope those who are considering obtaining state level status for their region have also read Mark Pack’s concerns about returning campaign staff to the regions rather than centralising it, which he believes gives a career path for staff, has improved staff management and allows for expertise and not having to employ “jack of all trades”.

    If Mark or any member of the English Council Executive is reading this I hope one of them might write an article on the English reorganisation plans so we can comment. Or if necessary post in the members only forum and state here they have done so.

  • SIMON BANKS 9th Oct '15 - 3:58pm

    Maybe the Welsh party could run the English database?

  • Unfortunately people have an irrational hatred of Atos / G4S / Serco / A4e / Capita. These corporations are the modern and popular way of providing services, and we should be proud to partner with them, not insult them.

  • Interesting times!

    The LibDem’s in looking to outsource this service are going to come face-to-face with the new reality of privacy and data protection, that has resulted in the European Court’s verdict of last Tuesday, that said that the “safe-harbour” arrangements between the EU and the US fall foul of EU law and in fact fall foul of Human Rights Law (which also drives the “coach and horses” through various remedies people are producing to try and say “nothing to worry about, its business as usual”. So here we have a clear case of the value of being in the EU: The court’s verdict is a verdict in defense of the individual. However before we get too Pro-EU, the verdict does overturn an agreement made by the EU which also gives us a case for concern over it’s capability for protecting EU citizens in current negotiations such as TTIP.

    However, there is one more grenade to waiting to explode, namely the outcome of the Microsoft.v. DoJ case currently being heard in the US, the case basically revolves around whether data (from non-US organisations) held in datacentres located in the EU but operated by subsidaries of US businesses is subject to US law and hence fully accessible to US government agencies. If the DoJ win, as you can guess, the verdict will further put these companies in breech of EU law and Human Rights law.

    As you can guess, these cases are bringing to a head the vast gulf between European and US views on privacy and data protection, adding another blazing torch to the TTIP funeral pyre…

    So what does this mean for the LibDems? Well it is obvious that any potential outsourcing partner will have to be wholly UK/EU owned and located (to avoid any risk of data being moved outside of the EU), which would tend to remove from consideration any of the big names…

    As an aside, I hope the LibDem’s take time to carefully review their IT systems for adherence to EU law: There are significant privacy and data protection concerns around the user agreements for: Windows 10, Google Chrome/Chrome Office, Facebook… and that was before the EU court verdict…

  • Gordon Bruce 10th Oct '15 - 2:20pm

    My wife and I have had to deal with ATOS over the last 2 years………….don’t do it! There is a well wore brewery based saying that encapsulates ATOS’s abilities. There is not a long enough barge-pole to hold off such companies in my view.

  • @ Ian Eiloart “I don’t care who the third party is, I won’t give consent to transfer my personal information to them”.

    Me too………..

  • Allan Heron 10th Oct '15 - 6:20pm

    All too often, firms look to outsource services because they somehow this as a solution to problems that they’ve experienced. When this is the case, the experience is always unsatisfactory to say the least.

    We need to have a clear understanding of what we need to do (and might like to do) in relation to our members. That will drive the data that we need to hold and how it should be structured to meet these ends.

    I’m not convinced this exercise has been carried out in sufficient depth. I think we’ve bought into systems that will somehow magically resolve our problems without fully getting to grips with what they are.

    And another issue is that I understand we have data held across different systems. That’s a complete nonsense – it should all be on a single database.

    If we had a properly constructed system any talk about outsourcing wouldn’t arise. As it is, it just seems to be about the mythical magical solution.

  • No we don’t need both National and Regional parties. And possibly neither. Too many Chiefs…..

  • Jonathan Harrison 12th Oct '15 - 11:05pm

    If ATOS run our membership database even for a minute, I will instantly resign from the party. I do not want to be associated with that company in any way. They have brought a lot of pain to a lot of people, including people in my family, through their work for the DWP.

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