Monday, 17 July 2017

Children at Risk: Time to take responsibility

A joint statement from the Barnet Bloggers
  
“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Barnet. Inspectors identified a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures and services that neither adequately ensure the safety, nor promote the welfare of children and young people”. 
Ofsted Inspection Report on Barnet Children’s Service July 2017

Over nearly a decade of scrutiny by Barnet bloggers, we have investigated and reported the seemingly endless sequence of scandals, blunders, and political folly created by Barnet’s Conservative councillors. The incomprehensible tale of the MetPro fiasco, the disgraceful confiscation of travel passes for disabled residents, the cutting of vital respite care for children at Mapledown School, which cares for children with profound disabilities, the illegal CPZ parking charges, are only some of the many examples of administrative incompetence – and worse – that we have pursued.

In all this time, in response to all of these disastrous situations, not one Conservative member has taken responsibility for the failure in services to what are very often the most vulnerable members of our community.

No one could be more vulnerable than a child: especially a child in care, whose well being has become the responsibility of the local authority, standing as a corporate parent.

Yet now we see the emergence of a most damning report from OFSTED, one that slates the provision of care services in Barnet for such children: a report that should shame any local authority, and would – anywhere else but in Barnet.

“The vast majority of care planning is ineffective. There is a lack of focus on measuring progress for children or their outcomes. When there is no progress, this is not re-evaluated or escalated effectively. This leads to drift and delay. This is particularly stark for a significant number of children who are victims of chronic long-term neglect and emotional abuse, who do not have the impact of this risk recognised, responded to or reduced, despite spending long periods subject to child protection planning … ”.

“Young people who go missing from care receive a poor service, because social workers do not find out enough about the risks to them. This means that young people who go missing are not always kept safe enough from dangers, such as gangs or adults sexually exploiting them”.

In any circumstances where there has been proven wrongdoing, or a failure in standards, it is usually the case, in Barnet, that officers are held responsible, and those elected members tasked with the responsibility – and paid generous allowances for those duties –of overseeing the enforcement of their own policies remain distanced from the consequences of their actions. We believe that this is wrong, and that Councillors should be held accountable.

In this case, we believe, the fault lies in a serious failure in leadership, oversight and scrutiny by the Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, chaired by Conservative Councillor Reuben Thompstone.

The same committee was responsible for the Mapledown cuts – later reversed, after protests from parents, and a public outcry; and was also the instrument of approval for the devastating programme of cuts to our library service, presented to residents as mere ‘refurbishment’, but which has seen the closure of children’s libraries, and the removal of access for under sixteen year olds from any library operating the newly unstaffed hours.

It seems to us that under this Conservative administration, children are seen not as our most precious asset, but an easy target for cuts, and the lowering of standards meant to ensure their protection, and wellbeing.

In 2014 Tory members approved a cost cutting restructuring of Family Services which has resulted in the use of agency social workers soaring from none in 2013, to £3.05 million per annum in 2016/17.

With the average agency social worker staying just 202 days, there has been a constant turnover of staff, and throughout this period, Children’s Services have been under constant pressure to meet the budget savings forecast.

We believe that pressure on budgets for local social workers responsible for ensuring the safety of young people has lead to the near destruction of the service, and a situation where there are simply not the resources to ensure vulnerable young people are given the life chances they deserve.

This cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children of this borough.

We therefore make the following suggestions: 
  • That there must be a full open, transparent, and independent public inquiry into what went wrong.
  • This inquiry must include a forensic audit of all correspondence between the Conservative administration and officers, regarding Children’s Services, to ensure that political interference has not, and cannot in future, prejudice the standard of care.
  • This inquiry should be concluded prior to May 2018, to allow the people of Barnet to pass their own judgement on the administration.
  • We call for the resignation of the Councillor in charge of Children’s Services, Cllr Reuben Thompstone.

  
Derek Dishman
John Dix
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Supplier Payments for May

Yet again Capita have received a large payment (£1.9 million) in spite of  receiving an advance payment in December 2016 of £26.9 million.

The interim and agency staff contract with Comensura was lower this month but still hit £1.24 million. Time will tell whether Barnet really can get this down to a more realistic level.

I am currently going through all of the Capita and Re invoices for 2016-17 and will report back when I have a more detailed analysis.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Why I'll be voting Labour tomorrow - It's common sense

For the first time in many years we are faced with an election where there is a very clear difference between the two main parties. For me this is a choice between hope and despondency. It is now nine years since the global economic crisis, seven of those years under a Conservative government yet we are told that we face many more years of austerity, further cuts to services, tough working conditions and low pay.

In the past I worked with businesses that were failing. In some businesses it was necessary to make cuts to spending, in others it was pricing policy where they were covering marginal costs but not the underlying costs of the business. Often it was about growing the business out of trouble, typically by investing in the business to make it more effective and able to sell more products. In many ways this country is the same. In some areas there may be the need to make some savings but after so many years of cuts I doubt there is much left. If anything I think the cuts have gone too far restricting our ability to grow the economy and that has created a vicious circle from which we seem unable to escape without a radical change in policy. As such we need to invest in the country, building infrastructure, enhancing employment skills stimulating demand and positioning Britain as a forward thinking, effective and growing economy. Part of that is also about getting companies and the very richest in society to pay their fair share of tax to cover the underlying costs of our society, such as schools, hospitals and care for the elderly.

I looked at the Office of National Statistics figures for underemployment in the UK. Those are people who are willing and capable of working more hours. The latest figures show that there are 3.5 million in that group, a massive under-utilised resource that could be generating growth for the economy. However, the incentives to invest in new equipment and machinery seem limited if the growth of the economy is uncertain and if people have little spare money in their pockets to buy products.  I have spent the last three weeks looking for jobs. What continues to shock me is how many employers in central London still expect people to hold down responsible jobs for £7.50 and hour and for under 25s, even less (£5.60/hour for 18-20 year olds and £7.05 for 21-24 year olds). Given that the tube fare into London can be £47/week it leaves a minimal amount to survive on. Pushing the minimum wage up to £10/hr will help some of the very poorest, allowing them to spend some of that extra money buying goods and services. It will save on state benefits that will no longer be payable and generate additional tax income, both income tax and VAT on goods and services purchased.

Labour's proposals for investing in major infrastructure projects, building lots of new affordable homes and pushing up minimum wage all seem entirely sensible solutions creating jobs, creating demand for products and putting money into people's pockets. The construction sector reckon that around 90% of construction supplies are sourced in the UK. That is why it is such an effective economic stimulator as well as meeting the need of millions who are in cramped, expensive and insecure accommodation. In addition, the more people who are in work and spending money, the more tax is generated and the fewer benefits are paid out. Again it just makes sense.

Another Labour policy is the abolition of University tuition fees which also seems an eminently sensible idea. From my perspective the Student Loan scheme is one of the largest Ponzi schemes  ever conceived. The House of Commons Library analysis of student loan debt says; "The Government has projected that the outstanding cash value of publicly owned student debt in England will increase to around £100 billion in 2016-17, £500 billion in the mid-2030s and £1,000 billion (£1 trillion) in the late 2040s". The report also says that it estimates that 60% of post 2012 students(when tuition fees rose to £9,000 a year) will have some of their loans written off due to the failure to repay them in 25 years. This means the amount written off will run to hundreds of billions of pounds. In effect the government is lending money today and in 25 years time someone else will have to pick up the mess. At least a government paying for fees now is an honest way of treating this investment in growing our skills base.

Investing in the NHS is also an eminently sensible idea, There does need to be change to make sure patients get the best possible service, cost effectively, but closing A&E departments and running hospitals at 98% bed occupancy isn't the way to do it. The Conservatives will press ahead with the Naylor report which will result in NHS land and assets being sold off. The risk is that it will generate some cash in the short term but will limit the options for developing new treatment solutions such as polyclinics, and intermediate/ re-ablement care facilities in the future, something that seems to happen with depressing regularity.

There are lots of other reasons why voting Labour seems the only sensible option but probably more than anything else, it offers hope that things will get better. Another five years of austerity, low wages, declining public services and a growing inequity in society seems to be what the Conservatives are offering and that is not for me.





Friday, 5 May 2017

Barnet salaries May 2017

Below is a chart showing all the Barnet council employees paid more than an MP's salary (£74,000). For the full list of all senior salaries, you can find them here.


Friday, 28 April 2017

Barnet Year End Supplier Payments - as bad as anticipated

The March supplier payments are out today and I can now collate the entire financial year figures for 2016-17.



Let's start with Capita who in total this year have received £105 million on the CSG and Re contracts. Even though Capita were paid £26.9 million up front for 2017 charges last December they are still billing Barnet for reasons I cannot understand. In February it was £1.32 million and in March it was £1.54 million.


Since the start of the contract we have paid Capita £277 million and yet again I ask Richard Cornelius to show me the savings!

As for the other out of control contract, for agency and interim staff, it is, as predicted, within a whisker of £20 million. Barnet have consistently told me they are going to get this contract value down but it continues to rise. Four companies take a commission on the agency and interim staff spend which is money wasted. In addition having such a high proportion of agency and interim staff leads to a lack of consistency, new staff who have to be constantly re-briefed and who lack corporate memory of what has gone before. Agency and interim staff inevitably have less loyalty to Barnet which inevitably impacts on the quality of service residents receive.


Barnet spends a massive amount of money annually and I just don't get the impression someone is making sure every penny is wisely spent.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

My Submission to the Re Contract Review

Next week is a public meeting to take evidence from the Barnet residents about the Capita joint venture contract (Re) that runs Barnet's Development and Regulatory Services. I have prepared a detailed submission which I have attached below. Overall I get the impression that Barnet simply don't have a handle on contract performance.

I know Richard Cornelius and the other Tory Councillors keep saying this contract is saving us money but I genuinely cannot see any evidence of the savings promised. Unlike the other Capita contract (Customer Service Group) which is all about automating activities and moving staff to low cost areas, the Re contract is dependent on locally based, skilled staff: Planners, Environmental Health Officers, Trading Standard Officers, Highways Engineers etc. Indeed, in the original business case for this contract, the operating cost savings identified were minimal with the lion's share of the "savings" being generated by increased income from new contracts and additional charges.

 I will update you after the review meeting.

















Thursday, 30 March 2017

Is anyone monitoring Capita?

Barnet's supplier payments for February have been published and as usual I have gone through them in some detail. One set of payments jumped out of the spreadsheet which was to Capita. There were 14 payments and two small credits amounting to a total of  £1,321,887.55 which were designated as "CSG Services Contract Payment".

So what you may say? Well, on 15 November 2016 Councillors agreed to make an advance payment to Capita of £26.9 million to cover CSG contract payments for 2017 and this formed part of the £39 million paid to Capita on the CSG contract in December. This was supposed to generate a saving of £500,000 which is due to be paid on 3 April (based on a response to a specific question I asked in February).

So we have paid £26.9 million up front, we haven't had the savings payment yet but nevertheless we still paid Capita another £1.32 million. To my mind this is unacceptable. No further payments should have been made to Capita on the CSG contract until the entire £26.9m advance payment has been exhausted. It also rubs salt into the wound that we still haven't been credited the £500,000 saving yet.

I would also point out that within the Re contract payments, which are also made to Capita, there is a payment classified as "CSG Services Contract Payment" for £167,500. This should have either been included under the Capita payments or has been incorrectly labelled. Either way it is poor practice.

What I want to know is who is monitoring these payments (other than me) and why are these payments being made? Maybe one of the many readers within Capita or Barnet Council who visit my blog daily would care to give me an explanation.

So far Barnet have paid Capita £273 million on the two contracts. That is £102 million more than the contracted value yet everyone maintains these contracts are saving money. I can't find those savings!


The other long running sore is the contract for interim and agency staff with Comensura. In February Comensura billed £1.68 million bringing the year to date total to £18.3 million with a month still to go and an estimated year end cost of a shade under £20 million. That equates to £400,000 a week from which 4 separate organisations take a commission.


  Barnet have now conceded they can't run the council without all these agency staff as was disclosed during the budget setting meeting. Cllr Jack Cohen had put forward an alternative budget which included significant cuts to agency staff but had those savings capped by Council Officers at just £129,500 for the entire year or just 0.6% of the annual cost as he was told the council couldn't operate without those staff. That does not strike me as an efficient organisation.