Tonight's Audit Committee was both disappointing and disturbing. Mr Reasonable had tabled two questions, one about Future Shape and one about very expensive computers for councillors, neither of which got a written answer nor a reasonable verbal response. The proceedings were dull, Barnet Times reporter looked very bored and then got up an left the meeting before we had got to any of the juicy business. Future Shape was glossed over, "yes in an ideal world we should have done a business cased but we are going to do one now" Mr Travers reiterated that they had only spent £810,000 on consultants last year and it would be £1.5 million this year. What irritates me is that he failed to mention all the senior staff they have appointed in the name of future shape including setting up a new commercial directorate that will cost an additional £500,000 a year. What about the budget of "up to £500,000" for legal advice on how to set up Local Asset Back Vehicles (the structure for flogging off local assets). What about the Implementation Partner Contract that we aren't allowed to know the cost of other than it is "in excess of £500,000). None of that got mentioned. Several Councillors expressed concern that they still didn't really understand what was being proposed and that there was a lack of detail. They were promised that by the next meeting in December there will be more details.
Then a rather interesting point, a number of people have been allowed to join the Barnet Pension scheme who were previously council employees but have been transferred to other employers. The example given was some of the non teaching staff at Middlesex University. Now what is supposed to happen is that the council then claim these pension payments back from an organisation called the Higher Education Funding Council from England. The problem is that Barnet forgot to make the claims and as a result we didn't recover the £2 million we were entitled to. You can't backdate these claims so that money we didn't claim is lost forever. Chairman says well its lost and we can't reclaim it but it is a systemic failure. Why didn't the auditors pick it up? Up pipes one of the Grant Thornton chaps. "Yes but we did identify it in the 2006/07 audit but nobody picked it up. Sharp intake of breath! Serious matter!
Finally onto the matter on computers. The Council have splashed out £106,000 on buying new tablet computers for Councillors. That's £1682 per councillor. I had asked if anybody bothered to check what councillors actually use their computers for to see if they need one of these very high spec tablets. Cllr Palmer decided that actually it was all about the inconvenience of log in and how he wanted an apology from the IT department. Yes but what about these expensive tablet computers. Well they were expensive and probably over specified but it was easier for everyone to have the same machine even if it cost more. I reckon they have wasted £50,000 and more fundamentally did they need to buy these 1700 of expensive machines for all of the council staff. We then have to leave the room so they can talk about the procurement process which we the residents have to pay for. Overall, a hugely disappointing waste of time and a clear indication that the council will do whatever it wants and there is no one there to stop them.