When I opened my BC Hydro bill and read the leaflet inside, I thought some transformation must have taken place. The leaflet said that Accenture was now a B.C. business. The last I heard, Accenture was based in Bermuda.
Accenture has been blacklisted by California’s state treasurer for questionable business practices such as relocating to offshore tax havens. The Ontario Auditor General slammed Accenture in 2001 for a deal to take over a government program that resulted in massive cost over-runs. Apparently image problem is nothing that can’t be fixed by opening a B.C. office of Accenture.
The flyer said that “Accenture Business Services of BC is committed to building a world-class operation in British Columbia that will contribute to the province’s economic growth and provide employees with expanded career opportunities.”
Accenture, through BC Hydro, is trying to counter the growing opposition to the privatization of the publicly-owned utility. People are angry that Premier Campbell has handed one-third of BC Hydro operations over to Accenture. It’s a sweet deal — a ten year contract worth $1.45 billion.
Accenture will save BC Hydro money, Stephen Bruyneel told me. He’s the manger of Corporate Communication for BC Hydro. He said that Accenture is contractually obliged to save $250 million over ten years.
“Exactly how would Accenture save that money?” I asked. Well, it turns that we will never know. Private businesses are not obliged to divulge such things. But in general, “savings will result from economies of scale,” says Bruyneel, “by having a larger customer base.”
Accenture Business Services of British Columbia has big plans and BC Hydro is just the start. The plan is to bring other North American power companies into the B.C. office. BC Hydro will share in those profits, Bruyneel said.
“How much profit will Accenture get from the BC Hydro contract?” Sorry, that’s a secret.
Jerri New has a problem with all this secrecy. She’s the head of the Office & Professional Employees International Union. Her members were not given much choice — move to Accenture or retire.
“If this is such a good deal,” Jerri New told me, “why is the government afraid to show us the details?” The whole transfer of a public crown corporation has also been done in secret. “It’s normal business practice when one company takes over another that hearings are held. The shareholders of BC Hydro — the people of B.C. — were not consulted,” she said.
Jerri New also disputes BC Hydro’s claim that they could now “focus on its core business of generating, transmitting and distributing electricity.” Some of that core work is now done by Accenture, such as monitoring water levels in dams. “The whole computer system is integrated with BC Hydro,” said New, “it’s a matter of public safety.”
The former BC Hydro workers feel betrayed. They are still providing Information Technology, computer networking, customer service, and building supplies but their employer is now Accenture.
She suspects that profits for Accenture will come by increasing BC Hydro rates. Accenture is not in business as a public service – – last year they had net revenues of $11.6 billion world-wide. Also, Accenture will save money from fewer staff. Of the 1,600 staff that worked for BC Hydro, only about 1,450 moved to Accenture. That alone results in over one-third of the claimed savings.
BC Hydro employees (some from Kamloops) moved to Accenture call centers in Vernon, Nanaimo, Prince George, and Vancouver. Most call centers are not unionized, so you can be sure that when the current collective agreement expires, they will be asked to take a pay cut. And if they don’t, call center operations can be moved to where workers will accept lower wages.
The real question is why Premier Campbell would dismantle a profitable company that provided high customer service and the lowest electricity rates in North America?
The answer is ideology. In the premier’s mind, crown corporations and public utilities are sources of untapped profits. Regardless of how efficient they are or how well they are operated, they are public services that must be dismantled for the corporate good.
If money and jobs flow out of the province, and if we pay higher electricity rates, Campbell considers it a small price to pay for sake his ideology.