Monday, 30 April 2012

Kerching! Barnet Council pays millions to one firm of consultants

Barnet Council published their supplier payments for March today and this means we now have the payments for the complete financial year. This month sees some large payments to various suppliers including:

Barnet Lighting £1,458,123.15
City Suburban Tree Surgeons Ltd £352,790.06
Civica UK Ltd £436,493.51
Trowers & Hamlins £171,562.09

However one number which jumps off the page this month is the payment to Agilisys, the One Barnet Implementation Partner. In March Agilisys were paid £619,656.75. That brings the total fees paid to Agilisys for the first three months of 2012 to over £1.1 million and over £2.8 million since they started.

I am sure that Agilisys do an excellent job but at a time when massive cuts are being made to the services of the most vulnerable, have Barnet Council got their priorities rights spending over £2.8 million with just one firm of consultants.

One Barnet is a project shrouded in secrecy. Residents are not allowed to discuss it at residents forums. How much longer can Councillors spend such vast sums of money without openly discussing this subject with the ratepayers of Barnet?

Barnet Council's Unfairer Contributions Policy

Last year Barnet Council introduced something called the ‘Fairer Contributions Policy’. This changed the way people are charged for social care and included the Council asking for a contribution towards the cost of services which were previously provided free of charge.

I attended a consultation event (they called it a ‘conversation’) at North London Business Park and at the time thought that this would not work well. In particular the introduction of charges for attending a day centre seemed both unfair and short sighted. At the end of last week I received an email from a user of social care who is experiencing difficulties with the service and in particular the way in which these services are now charged. Their email is set out below:

“Dear Mr. Reasonable,
I have read your blog about auditing and would like to share some of my concerns with you about invoicing under the Fairer Contributions Policy which came into effect in June 2011. Since then people who receive care in their home or attend a day centre have been financially assessed and charged part or all of the cost of their care. I am a little vague about figures now but I think LBB was hoping for a gross income of £850,000 in 2011/12.

I f you have savings of over £23,500 there is no point in filling in a financial assessment form as you have to pay the full amount. This is £37 per day to attend a day centre and I think around £14 per hour for care in the home. My husband falls in this category and since June 2011 we have had many more incorrect invoices than correct ones. People who receive care are likely to be considerably disabled or pretty ill – this means they may be unable to attend a day centre or have to cancel a carer’s visit to their home because they are in hospital or, on a happier note, they may take a holiday. Barnet’s invoicing system has difficulty coping with this.

Most of the services are not actually provided by Barnet but are provided by voluntary organisations or private companies who send in registers of attendance at day centres or number of hours care provided – these are known as the returns which someone in Barnet Adult Care or Financial Services, Income reconciles at their leisure- perhaps 4 months after they receive the returns. However Financial Services, Income send out invoices to service users before the returns have been reconciled. To use my husband as an example, he attended a day centre on 2 days a week so was invoiced for 8 visits in a four week period - £296. Some months he did not go so often, for example during the 4 weeks from end Sept. 2011 he only made 2 visits in 4 weeks because of Jewish festivals when the day centre was closed. However we were invoiced for £296 even though we actually owed £74 – quite a large difference. Barnet assure us they have this issue covered – when they have reconciled the returns, at a time of their choice, we will be credited for days when my husband did not attend the day centre. When you receive an invoice it does not itemise what care you received on what day – it is a very shoddy document. I am not in the habit of paying for services not received, so I have adjusted the invoice if it was incorrect and sent a cheque for the amount actually due. I think other people are doing the same, which has caused some confusion in Financial Services Income, who never answer their telephone or reply to a letter

Barnet urged us to pay by direct debit, which I chose not to do. However I believe some people have done so – if they have been incorrectly invoiced and wrong amounts debited from their accounts, will they ever get their money back?

Although it does not feel great to be invoiced for services that were previously provided free of charge, we are in a better position than people with less savings who have to complete a financial assessment form. This form is very hard to complete in a way that fairly reflects your financial situation and so many people have been incorrectly assessed. If you are bold enough to ask for a reassessment you have to wait a very long time for this to happen – in the mean time the invoices, reminders and final notices keep on coming. Some people have reduced their care because they are unable to pay the contribution Barnet asks. When they inform Barnet that they have reduced the number of hours a carer comes, Barnet ignores this and continues to charge for the hours first agreed. I heard of one person who was so worried about losing the care they needed that they took a loan (not from a bank) with massive interest charges.

It would be interesting to know how much income Barnet received as a result of the Fairer Contributions policy during 2011/12.

Best wishes, Janet Leifer, member of the Campaign Against the Destruction of Disabled Support Services”

In February this year Barnet published a newsletter called Local Account which purports to be “a key way through which residents can hold the council to account on how well we are supporting people with social care needs”.

Well I have a message to Cllr Rajput, who is the Cabinet member responsible implementing this policy. I am going to start holding you to account and I will be following up this blog with a letter asking for a detailed review of the charging policy, how many people have stop using services since the introduction, how many people are being sent inaccurate invoices and how many users have been forced into debt. Success of a policy should not just measured by how much you save but by how much you improve people's lives. I suspect this policy is doing neither.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Barnet Council - a case study in Hubris

I did think about writing up the Audit committee on Thursday night but as ever Mrs Angry has done a much more effective and entertaining job. I asked a couple of questions and I gave a speech about what I see is an enormous gap in the internal audit plan that will leave the council very exposed when, in 8 months time, Barnet hands over the operation of most of the council’s key administration to a private company.

However, what continues to shock me is the level of hubris Barnet Council exhibits. I had to look up a definition of hubris to make sure I wasn’t talking nonsense and I found this one that sum up what it means to me: “extreme pride or arrogance often indicating a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power”.

The senior officers and cabinet members have taken us down the route of One Barnet Outsourcing, a high risk strategy. At the Audit Committee I raised a number of issues which I believe the committee members should have been asking about One Barnet. I got a sense that Cllr Palmer and perhaps Cllr Schama understand the risks, but the attitude of the Council as exhibited by the rest of the committee and all of the officers is so arrogant that I fear it will only lead to disaster.

We were told by yet another new consultant that they would be sorting out procurement. Back in June last year they put forward an action plan to sort out procurement that at the time I said would not work. We had a consultant then (Mick Stokes) who was going to sort it out. At the time I made the point that giving responsibility to a consultant on a six months contract would not provide the continuity needed to drive through the changes required in procurement. Sadly I was proved right and now we have another consultant on another six month contract starting all over again.

Last year I also said that there was a fundamental cultural problem at Barnet with an excessive level of self belief that One Barnet would solve all of the council’s problems. The arrogance of senior officers that they know the answer coupled with their loss of grip on reality has meant that the day to day functions of the council have slipped right down the priorities list.

I have worked with many large organisations and one of the phrases I use sometimes is “stop drinking your own bathwater”. I have seen organisations where ‘consultant speak’ has become the common language and the more it is repeated the more people believe it to be true. Sadly this often ends badly when reality kicks in and suddenly the organisation is plunged into chaos as all their reference points of belief are suddenly found to be false.
From my perspective this is exactly what I see happening in Barnet and this situation is perpetuated by the hubris demonstrated by the senior management team and a few dogma driven members of the cabinet. Their self belief and arrogance will ultimately bring about their downfall but sadly it will have dramatic consequences of all of the citizens of Barnet.

It is still not too late for the Council to change, but only just. Someone needs to get a grip on reality and get back to what they are supposed to do, deliver good services for local people fairly and cost effectively. Failure to do will only end in disaster.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Barnet Council - yet another interim manager

Today's batch of delegated powers reports reveals the appointment of an interim head of procurement at a cost of £59,792 for a six months contract. Now I know the Audit Committee tomorrow is going to be a difficult meeting given the shortcomings that still exist in procurement but is apppointing yet another consultant to this post going to cure the problem. I thought, obviously foolishly, that consultant Mr Mick Stokes, Assistant Director Commerical Assurance was responsible for procurement but I must be wrong.

On the day that the national press has been criticising Barnet Council for the number of senior officers paid over £100,000 a year, the Council goes and adds another person on the equivalent of £120,000 a year. Not clever timing guys.

The reason that we have had a string of consultants in this role is because by the end of the year Barnet will have handed the responsibility for procurement (and numerous other functions) to either BT or Capita. The problem is that Barnet's senior management have been so focused on bringing in One Barnet Outsourcing that important day to day roles like procurement have been delegated to a string of consultants. In my humble opinion, this is not a fit and proper way to run a £1 billion a year organisation.

Barnet Council Salaries

Today there has been a press release send out by the Taxpayers Alliance concerning the number of highly paid staff at Barnet Council. This is a matter which Barnet Bloggers have been plugging away at for the last 12 months. For the sake of transparency I have attached below an extract from the Barnet Council audited accounts for last year which sets out the number of employees in each pay band. Unlike the Taxpayers Alliance figures these do not include pension contributions which add a further 24% to the cost.

Residents may be concerned at just how many well paid staff were employed by the Council last year and perhaps it is something they might raise with their councillors. I would also urge those who are intetrested in the detail behind these figures and the actual posts paid the salaries should look at the accounts which can be found here
Salaries are set out at pages 71-74 of the pdf.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Call this a Library? Barnet's new ABC (Artsdepot Broom Cupboard)

This afternoon I paid a visit to the lovely new replacement for the Friern Barnet library at the Arts Depot. It was good to see some familiar faces; Keith Martin of the Save Friern Barnet Library Campaign and Phil Fletcher of Friends of the Earth were both in attendance. Sadly it is a small room tucked away on the fourth floor of the Arts Depot. You need to take the lift to the second floor and then cross the large atrium cafe area to another lift which takes you up to the fourth floor.

I am not an expert but I suspect it will be difficult to navigate for people who are visually impaired.

Sadly it is a small room with limited capacity.

I didn't notice any computer terminal but I may have missed them.
The plans for the new "Landmark Library" still haven't been drawn up so this replacement looks like it will be here for some time to come. This is not an adequate replacement for Friern Barnet and an insult to local residents.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Barnet Council Audit Committee - What on earth is going on!

Ploughing through the 278 pages of the forthcoming Audit Committee report pack my heart started to sink. Internal Audit carry out reviews of various services and in the latest report 11 of the 20 systems audits received only “limited assurance” opinions including:

•Parking – permits and vouchers
•Contract management – EPR
•Data quality of Human Resources performance indicators
•Establishment List
•Value for money – facilities management
•Domestic Violence
•New Homes Bonus
•IT review of LiquidLogic (Children’s Services) and
•IT penetration review

The report on Contract Management – Environment, Planning and Regeneration made particularly painful reading with quotes such as:

•All officers interviewed confirmed that they had not received contract management training in the past two years;

•Officers queried about contract variations were unclear about the specific Contract Procedure Rules (CPR) requirements for variations confirming a need for development / training in this area.

•Officers interviewed for 5 of 6 contracts confirmed the lack of a formal contract risk log, documenting risks relating to contractor delivery and performance. This was consistent with a review of the JCAD risk register (the Council’s risk management system) which did not consistently reflect risks relating to performance and delivery by the relevant contractor. In particular, there was no documented risk in JCAD for review and assessment linked to the decision to cease monthly progress meetings (including KPI discussion) for the one contractor with an annual value of £30m.

•Officers interviewed for 5 of the 6 contracts confirmed that there were no formal documented business continuity plans to address delivery failure by the contractor (although some officers stated that informal business continuity arrangements existed)

•There was not always formal record of meetings held reflecting KPI output and discussions, and resulting actions that were agreed within the meetings;

•The management and the officer responsible for the administration of the EPR contracts register confirmed that central EPR processes for identifying contract management arrangements in the contracts register and reviewing for compliance were planned but had not been implemented;

•Central EPR processes for using the contracts register for the timely assistance of contract managers in initiating procurement for terminating contracts were planned but had not been developed, this had however been partly mitigated by the Council-wide work on the central contracts register and Forward Plan that resulted;

•The documentation of formal procedures/protocols for the administration of the EPR contracts register was planned but had not been completed;

•Arrangements for identifying variations to contracts needed to be developed and implemented; and

•Instances where noted where purchase orders were not raised prior to the invoice.

On Value for Money – Facilities Management there was one high priority finding and five medium priority findings including:

Contract Management of Leases
There is a lease in place, for Building 2 Lower Ground Floor, and the lease contract has not been signed, despite the Council starting the tenancy in January 2008. In addition, this and two additional leases were identified against which some of the rents and service charges had not been billed since the start of the lease in January 2008. A provision had been made for these costs for £190K covering 2009-10 and 2010-11, this is to be increased to £310,000 for 2011-12. We had estimated the cost at the time of the audit was £590,000, against the payments of £257k since 2009-10 the accrual appears reasonable however in the absence of correspondence from the lessor could not confirm appropriate provision had been made.

Monitoring of Invoices
In a sample of five invoices, none were evidenced as reviewed by the Chartered Surveyor for appropriateness as required by Council procedure. Management confirmed that an invoice would only be reviewed in practice if there were queries around it. Management confirmed an annual process is performed to reconcile invoices received against the leases. This had not been performed at the time of audit, and the planned frequency (annually) means that issues may not be identified and resolved in a timely manner, nor is it appropriate for good budget management.

Meetings with Leaseholder
Only two meetings could be confirmed as occurring during 2011-12, despite the requirement for them to be held every six to eight weeks by Council procedures during 2011-12. Management confirmed that meetings and correspondence occur on a more frequent basis, but that this was not part of a formalised regime, and it was more reactive than proactive.

Three Year Budgeting: Planning
Management confirmed that budgeting was performed on an annual basis for Facilities Management with no active consideration of the longer term financial impact of operations. Given the size of the operational property portfolio and the cost of Facilities Management, it would be useful to profile the budget for a longer period.

Three Year Budgeting: Monitoring
Budget monitoring performed on a monthly basis. The budget monitoring reports for July 2011 and November 2011 were reviewed, and neither included comments to explain the variances against budget.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
There are currently no KPIs in place in Facilities Management against which to monitor performance. Management confirmed that this issue has been identified and a set of KPIs is being developed; however, this could not be corroborated at the time of audit.

On Parking the following was noted:

•There has been a failure to retain permit application supporting documentation for sufficient time period, in accordance with the Records Retention & Disposal Guidelines, or in a structured manner. As a result of this finding we were unable to review the effectiveness of the controls in operation as an audit trail only existed for 3 months and the filing of records for the three month period was completed on an ad hoc basis.

•The controlled stationery (scratchcards and permits) is kept in multiple locations, with loosely controlled access, we also could not verify that stock was counted and reconciled periodically.

•Whilst procedures exist, they are not currently up-to date and it is not clear when they were last reviewed.

•Changes to the Civica parking system in terms of permit values, discounts or property addresses for example are not made through a formal change control process for the Civica system. In addition, there is an ability to create a new account or issue a discount without appropriate authorisation.

•There is not currently a formal service level agreement between the Customer Service Organisation (CSO) and the Parking Service.

•Within our audit sample there were instances where the daily cash-up reconciliation were not independently checked and evidenced as such.

•There are currently unexplained differences between the parking system and SAP income reconciliations which have not been followed up promptly or resolved.

This makes pretty gruesome reading and worries me significantly. Finally, at page 251, we come on to the report of Contract Procedure Rules. This also provides limited assurance and flags up the following issues:

Training Package:
Although a training package for contract management has been developed, and there are minor amendments to be made to bring it fully in line with the CPRs, it has not yet been rolled out to relevant staff members. Without consistent training delivered to all staff members who are involved in procurement, the CPRs may not become culturally embedded within the Council.

Controls and Monitoring Action Plan:
New contracts: 20% of our sample of new contracts tested could not be verified as compliant with CPRs. This was because the contracts could not be obtained/located.

Existing contracts:
10% of our sample of contracts tested were still non-compliant, despite being recorded as compliant. Additionally, 80% of contracts within our sample were waived in order to become compliant. Whilst the option to waive is in accordance with the CPRs, this should be used as an exception to the rule; the Council should consider whether the CPRs provide the necessary framework to enable compliance, however training should start to address knowledge gaps across services.

New vendors:
In 80% of the sample of cases we tested there was not an appropriate level of authorisation evidenced and recorded on the new vendor form. Of these, 62% were not authorised through the correct form, rather this was achieved by email.

Corporate Oversight:
There are limitations with the reporting in place for the completeness of the contracts register, meaning management cannot easily assess their data spend for the current financial year, it currently covers 3 year historical spend but doesn’t indicate where there is current spend. Additionally, there are still some contracts not added to the corporate repository for contracts without valid reasons. We do however note that managers do have access to SAP spend reports, reports extract spend by vendor, year, category which is an improvement from our previous reporting in December. Training is now available on these through the E-portal.

Retrospective purchase orders:
There has been a negative direction of travel, with a high percentage of retrospective purchase orders being raised in February 2012 when compared with the rest of the year.

Personally I found this report shocking and I am sure many other residents would also agree. My concern, which I have expressed on previous occasions, is that Senior Officers care much more about implementing One Barnet than ensuring the day to day operation of the council is carried out properly. How much longer will this go on before Cllr Cornelius gets a grip on how the council is being run. Perhaps he planned to do it but never got round to implementing it!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Friern Barnet Pop Up Library – Barnet’s Pro Democracy Movement In Action

I spent a very pleasant morning down at the Friern Barnet Pop Up Library. With people coming and going, music playing, some enjoying the delicious homemade cakes on offer, it could have been an idyllic scene from a rural country fair.
Several people turned up to return books borrowed from the now closed library and were forced to post them through the letterbox. Sadly the inside of the library shows the shelves are empty except for the pile of books on the other side of the letterbox.
But what really interested me were the discussions that took place. A charming lady, who is one of the pop up library organisers, told me that what was taking place in Barnet reminded her of the pro-democracy movement she experienced in Poland back in the late 1980’s before the Eastern Block collapsed. Fighting in a passive and positive way against an autocratic regime. Yes, this is what we are facing in Barnet in the twenty first century, a struggle to retain a semblance of democracy in the way our Borough is run. This wasn’t an isolated comment. Numerous people wanted to talk about the undemocratic power wielded by the Council. Ignoring petitions, ignoring speeches, ignoring representations from local community groups. Worse still, ignoring expensive but ultimately impotent public consultations funded by the rate payers. “We had thousands of names on the petition to keep the library open but they just ignored us exclaimed one person”. A number of people also remarked about the lack of common sense shown by the Council. These people were not crackpots; they were ordinary, reasonable and intelligent people who see things going horribly wrong in Barnet. The issue of One Barnet also came up in discussion and especially the fact that there is so little in the public domain about this subject. Someone said to me “how can they be pressing ahead with such radical changes without making it clear they were going to do this in their manifesto”. I relayed to this person an experience of mine at a Special (Constitution) Committee meeting where a rather young and arrogant Councillor said “people voted us in so that is our mandate to do what we want”. Barnet Councillors need to realise that this is increasingly how many of the residents view the way Council is being run; as an autocratic, arrogant and increasingly out of touch cabal of ten people who mistakenly think they know what the 350,000 residents want.
Expect to see more about the Barnet Pro Democracy movement over the coming weeks and months as people start to express their dissatisfaction with the Council in an increasing direct manner.

Friday, 20 April 2012

One Barnet Outsourcing - Do residents really understand what it is all about

Last night I gave a short talk at the Annual General Meeting of the Friern Barnet & Whetstone Residents' Association. I spoke about One Barnet Outsourcing, what services were going to be outsourced and who was bidding. The impression I got was that a great many people in Barnet are completely unaware of the scale of outsourcing taking place and the fact that so many different services will be run by two, or possibly even one company with all the attendant risks that brings.

I have been concerned about the One Barnet outsourcing scheme from day one. I am not opposed to the principle of outsourcing but only where is makes sense and is not a core element of organisations business. The scale of this outsourcing project is immense with the two main contracts valued at more than £1 Billion.

What marks Barnet Council out as different is the fact that some many of core services will be operated by a single company for ten years. If this current ruling group lose control of the council at the next local election in 2014, the incoming regime will be tied up in these contract that go on well beyond their own term of office.

This is an area that needs much greater debate, something that Barnet Council seem determined to prevent. It might help if BT, Capita and EC Harris, the three companies bidding to win these two outsourcing contracts came and talked to the residents they are proposing to serve. It might help to provide some reassurance that they will not ship jobs off to India, that they will not increase charges, that they will respond quickly and openly to FOI request and that they will engage with residents on scrutiny panels. Here is your chance Capita, BT or EC Harris to prove that you could deliver an excellent service for less money. Get in touch!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Barnet Council Members Allowances - top secret?

Barnet Council have yet again shown their utter disregard for the public by withholding the value of allowances paid to member for the year 2010-11. We are now in the financial year 2012/13 and the accounts for 2011-12 were published last September, eight months ago. But what about payments to Councillors. They remain unpublished and a Freedom of Information Request today has told me:

"Information for 2010-11 will be published on our website later in the financial year. This information is therefore exempt under section 22 of the FOIA, which exempts from disclosure information intended for future publication. This response therefore acts as a Refusal Notice".

Well I say to Barnet Council - PULL YOUR FINGER OUT! If it takes more than a year to publish the allowances paid to 63 councillors then either your systems or the people running them are failing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Barnet Council's New Website - it doesn't work

Months late and having cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, today Barnet council launched its new website. Sadly as is so much in Barnet, it was BROKEN.

If you get on to the front page of the website, which now has a new web address, (no www. anymore) you will find lots of broken links that take you back to the old website. Frankly this isn't good enough. The council's IT consultants have had a huge amount of time to sort this out and today it should have gone right first time.

I have written to Councillor Cornelius along with my three ward councillors to tell them it isn't working well. They could have actually turned this into a real PR success but their lack of commonsense and desire to stifle resident engagement has yet again created another problem.

Set out below is my email to Cllr Cornelius

Dear Cllr Cornelius,

The new Barnet council website has gone partially live today. Most of the data appears to remain on the old platform but all council meetings and delegated powers reports are on the new website. Sadly virtually all of the old delegated powers reports have now disappeared; I could only manage to find two on the new website.

At the most recent Chipping Barnet Residents forum I did put forward a question asking if the Council would consider holding training sessions for residents on how to use the new website but sadly my question was ruled invalid and was not even allowed to be considered.

As a simple PR exercise I think it might have been helpful to invite regular website users to a training/briefing session. It might have also helped to build bridges between the Council and the community. Perhaps this is something which you might want to consider as creating such a significant information vacuum will only lead to even more Freedom of Information requests.

Kind regards

Let's wait and see if I get a reply.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Proof that Barnet Council is completely out of touch

Many Barnet residents have little or no knowledge of the workings of Barnet Council. Next week we have a council meeting during which Councillors can ask questions. The list of questions has been published here.

Having read through the questions and the answers it simply illustrates the juvenile tit-for-tat antics of councillors. I would genuinely ask residents to read these questions and answers and then consider if they think our councillors are actually giving us value for money or are suitable to run the largest London Borough.

Quite frankly I think my teenage children act more rationally and sensibly that Councillors seem to portray in these questions and answers. Councillors are well rewarded for their time. A basic allowance of £10,597 can be topped up with special responsibility allowances. The total allowance for the Leader is £45,506. However chairing a committee can also be lucrative topping up their allowance to £25,930. Cabinet members pull in just over £28,000. Do residents believe that is value for money - I certainly don't.

Councillors must start to realise that if they are being paid the equivalent of what many people receive for a full time job they should start taking it seriously and stop this childish point scoring which benefits no one.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Cllr Cornelius and FOI requests that never get answered

In today's Barnet Press Cllr Cornelius has written a piece which, amongst other things, has a go at "an individual" for submitting too many Freedom of Information requests.

Well Cllr Cornelius, I would just like to get my FOI's answered but your officers seem to enjoy avoiding some of my requests. On November 22 last year I submitted an FOI request regarding RM Countryside, a supplier to Barnet Council. My request was as follows:

Please can you provide me with all Delegated Powers Reports that feature council supplier R.M. Countryside Services Limited since 1 April 2005 (with the exception of DPR1419 which is already available) and a list of all Barnet Council tenders in which R.M. Countryside Services Limited were successful since 1 April 2005.

There was a very good reason for submitting this FOI which I will not go into here but it is a serious matter and definitely not frivolous.

Receipt of my FOI request was acknowledged on 1 December 2011 and since then Barnet Council have refused to answer or even acknowledge any follow up requests on 3 January, 30 January and 8 March. Forget 20 days to get a response, I've waited 20 weeks and I still have not got an answer.

Cllr Cornelius needs to understand that the reason people submit FOI request is because Barnet is a deeply secretive organisation and one which seem to thrive on withholding information. Cllr Cornelius may recall that I asked him a question during public questions section at a council meeting last year. His response was "well perhaps you should submit a Freedom of Information Request". Not very helpful or constructive!

The scrutiny process in Barnet if flawed. There is no scrutiny whatsoever of the One Barnet Programme and residents are forbidden from asking questions on such matters at residents forums. Submitting FOI requests is the only way to try and get information out of the council and, baqsed on my experience, even that doesn't work.

On Monday I will be submitting a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office about the Council's refusal to comply with the Freedom of Information legislation, something which will take time and cost money for the council - but what alternative do I have?

In future I suggest Cllr Cornelius stops moaning about FOI requests in the local paper and start sorting out the obsessive, secretive and obstructive culture that exists within the Council.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Call My Bluff - East Barnet Car Park

Cllr Robert Rams told the East Barnet Residents Association that he was opposed to the introduction of charges in the Church Hill Road Car Park. We have the Barnet Bugle to thank for a permanent video recording of that meeting. Next week at the full Council meeting Cllr Kath McGuirk has tabled a motion calling Cllr Rams' bluff.

It states:

Cllr Rams said of the proposed charges that he, his Cabinet colleague Cllr
Joanna Tambourides and East Barnet co-councillor Barry Evangeli, would do
"everything in their power to stop them."

Cllr Rams also said that "We agree that these charges will be the death of the
community here. It is clearly not the right decision and I can’t see any
rationale as to how it would be. I personally haven’t seen a campaign like this
since I have been a councillor and that is why I’m so confident we will get the
proposals withdrawn."

Council agrees wholeheartedly with Cllr Rams, and asks Cabinet to withdraw
the proposals to charge in these car parks.

I look forward to seeing how Cllrs Rams, J Tambourides and Evangeli vote.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Want to park in Fitzjohn Avenue Car Park for 30 minutes - that will be £4 please!

Maybe it is just me but when did Barnet Council take the decision to turn Fitzjohn Avenue Car park into a long stay car park?

In the Barnet Press yesterday was a notification showing the various tariff changes in Barnet car parks. One that caught my eye was the Fitzjohn Avenue car park. Currently there is a graduated tariff ranging from £1.00 for 30 minutes through to £5.00 for over 90 minutes. From 30 April this will change to a single tariff of £4.00. I popped up there today to check this out and sure enough the official notices show exactly the same. I have to say the car park was surprisingly empty with just 8 cars in a car park with 88 spaces. So even if you only want to stay for half an hour it will cost you £4.00 from 30 April.

I have been through all of the cabinet papers and environment notices and I haven’t found one that talks about a change of use for this car park. Whilst turning Fitzjohn Avenue into a long stay car park may benefit the college next door, this tariff will condemn the car park to being empty out of term time and on Saturdays.

Maybe the Barnet Residents’ Association or Barnet Traders agreed to this a proposal but nothing in the public domain appears to have been discussed before the issuing of these notices. Will this be a further nail in the coffin for High Barnet at the hands of Cllr Coleman?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Save Friern Barnet Library Protest Pictures

While I was outside the Library today a chap walked up looking rather concerned. He asked what was going on. When I explained that the library was closed he seemed quite upset. I asked if he had come to bring back some books but he told me that he was unemployed and in receipt of jobseekers allowance (JSA). He used the internet access to look for jobs, a condition of his JSA, but now he would have to go to another library. With nothing in place yet at the Artsdepot he would have to go to Bowes Road Library and off he trudged. Councillors whizz around in their cars and assume everyone else enjoys the same privileges. Sadly they don't and for those people local libraries are an essential lifeline. Cabinet members are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent and that is a big problem.

Cultural Demolition - Why Barnet Has Got It's Priorities So Wrong

Last night Barnet Council once and for all killed off Friern Barnet Library. Cultural demolition all to save a £100,000. Some people may say that is a lot of money and yes it is. However, in the first two months of 2012 Barnet Council paid over £500,000 to one set of consultants to advise them on the high risk One Barnet outsourcing project. This illustrates the just how misguided the Council's priorities have become.

Thousands of people have opposed the closure of this library. The community have come up with a real alternative for the library as a Community Hub. Barnet should be proud to have such a responsive and constructive community but sadly all they care about is money. Friern Barnet library will be sold and a capital sum generated. Will the landmark library at the Arts Deport ever get built? who knows, but one thing for sure is that as of 4pm today the residents of Friern Barnet will have been cheated out of their local library and that is a disgrace.

Sadly Barnet's Conservative Cabinet members place no value on community or culture - just money.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Catalyst - Will History Repeat Itself?

Barnet Council are about to enter into a new contract with a company called Catalyst. So what you may say? Well this contract has already cost the Council (and therefore Council taxpayers) over £10 million in compensation and legal fees so you would have thought that there would be a great deal of scrutiny over any new contract to be entered into with this company. Well not in Barnet.
In order to understand this a bit more I have set out briefly the background to this contract.

Back in 2001 Barnet Council outsourced its residential care provision for elderly people to Ealing Family Housing Association (now Catalyst) and their care partner The Fremantle Trust. The contract was worth £9 million per annum and covered eleven care homes, four day centres, and over 300 staff all of which were transferred over to Catalyst.

This complex contract involved the rebuilding of a number of the homes and guarantees of the number of places the council would purchase at these homes. For the specific details I suggest you read this document.

The contract experienced problems due to delays with the rebuilding and with a change in needs of the elderly. This meant that more people either stayed in their own home or moved in to extra care sheltered housing rather than moving into a Catalyst care home leaving empty beds at these care homes. In August 2006 Catalyst formally submitted a Deficit Claim to recover cumulative losses on the contract between 2001 and 2005/6. In July 2007 a further adjustment claim was received covering 2006/7. The Council sought financial and legal advice and rejected the first claim, but the second claim remained in dispute. In 2007 the Council unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate aspects of the contract to mitigate further deficits at which time they decided to go to Arbitration to resolve the Deficit Claim.

Skip forward to March 2011 and the arbitrators decision was finalised with the bill for Barnet Council as follows:

Final Award to Catalyst (including interest and costs) £8,674,000
Council’s final estimated legal costs £2,000,000
Outstanding issues (land swaps) £110,000
Total Cost £10,784,000

Some of these costs were offset against net income from Catalyst giving a final cost to Barnet Council of £10,252,000.

Now I am sorry that I have had to bore you with all of this information but it is essential to understand the background so as to make sense or otherwise of what the council is now doing.

Just over 1 week ago the Council released a Delegated Powers Report which set out the basis for the new contract with Catalyst and agreed that this recommendation should be exempted from call in by the Scrutiny Committee that would normally deal with this decision.

I wrote to the Chairman of that Committee, Cllr Hugh Rayner asking that he reconsider his decision to allow this report to be exempted from call in (so that it can be scrutinised) but he has said he will not do so. The argument is that because an earlier version of the report was tabled last November, albeit that it wasn’t finalised, that was the opportunity to call in the report and we have now missed our chance. I would point out that this tabled at a Cabinet Resources Committee meeting which, although it had 10 items on the agenda, was over in just 20 minutes according to the minutes. So no debate at all then.

Set out below are my concerns about this proposed new contract which I forwarded to Cllr Rayner and perhaps would have been useful to discuss:

• Catalyst appear to have successfully de-risked their part of the contract by simply becoming the landlord. This will guarantee them with a rental stream for the duration of the lease in return for dropping the ‘deficit clause’.

• It is not clear who will be responsible for repairs and upgrading of the homes over the next 21 years and it does not appear to resolve the issue of overall capacity. As such, in 10 years time Barnet could be leasing homes it does not require or which are entirely unsuitable for its needs.

• It is not clear when the “appropriate stage” for the break clause will occur or the terms of such a break clause. For example, it is likely to prove difficult to invoke a break clause on lease which covers all of the homes whilst there are residents in some of the homes. However, if each home has been let under a separate lease, the council would be able to invoke the break clause one home at a time, minimising unnecessary costs whilst retaining sufficient homes capacity to meet on-going need.

• By novating the Fremantle contract to the Council this has shifted the operating risk back to Barnet. Cllr Thomas, who signed off this report, states that “This novation will enable the Council to either negotiate a contract more appropriate to its needs or, retender the care provision and thus provide more flexibility in terms of block beds, the price per bed and the form and location of day care services”. However, it also places the responsibility back with the Council to find a suitable operator at the right price which may, in reality, prove very difficult to deliver.

• It is essential to understand the details of the contract that is being novated to ensure that the terms enable the council to renegotiate the contract with Fremantle without incurring subsequent penalties.

More fundamentally, I would have expected to see a strategy explaining what Barnet anticipates in terms of the changing care home needs of residents over the next 21 years, how this revised deal with Catalyst fits that strategy, what other options were considered, what risk analysis was done to test the robustness of this proposal and, finally, whether this deal represents good value for the rate payers in the medium to long term. I can see that this may be an expedient short term solution but I worry that over the longer term it could prove just as damaging to the council as the contract it seeks to replace.

What the Delegated Powers Report is asking is that we should trust the officers who have renegotiated this contract without having sight of any of the relevant details. Given that the previous version of this contract has already cost the Council over £10 million in compensation and penalties, I am sure most reasonable people would understand why it is so important that, this time around, the Council need to demonstrate the highest standards of scrutiny and rigour so that all of the details can be thoroughly examined in public.

Maybe the other 350,000 residents of Barnet think I am just mad and should let the Council get on and run things the way they see fit. However, I am afraid I have a lack of confidence in the way the Council do things. Just look at the problems that have surfaced in the last twelve months over the Council’s procurement procedures. If this contract goes wrong again, the people who will pick up the bill will be the ratepayers - again.

My view is that this proposed contract should be scrutinised in public so that at least someone can ask these and other pertinent questions. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Agilisys - £248k fee in February

Barnet Council published their supplier payments for February last Friday. Sadly the Council's love affair with their One Barnet implementation partner just keeps on rolling. In February Agilisys were paid £248,169.40, slightly down on the £270,719.50they were paid in January. So in the first two months of 2012 Agilisys have been paid over half a million pounds of council tax payers money to help implement One Barnet. Yet this is something we are not allowed to discuss at the residents forums.

In the year to date Agilisys have been paid £1.55 million and when coupled with the £642,050.64 they received last financial year they have now billed £2.2million. That is £2.2 million to just one firm of consultants.

Only in Barnet!

Parking Chaos in Colemanistan

An open letter to Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, and all Barnet Councillors

Dear Leader and Barnet Councillors,

On 20th March a document was placed upon the Barnet Council website entitled - Bittacy Hill_Introduction_of_Waiting_Restrictions - (

This document details the mayhem caused by the abolition of free bays in Controlled Parking Zones as part of Councillor Brian Coleman’s parking policies. This document details how the Barnet Police have had their time wasted, congestion has been caused, buses have been delayed, residents inconvenienced, and people’s safety has been endangered. In short, it is the most damning indictment of a Council policy possible. The background information section of this document says:


8.1 In June 2011 the Council completed a scheme whereby all ‘Free’ parking bays were converted to permit holder or paid for parking bays in the borough’s Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs). As a result of the changes made to the Mill Hill East CPZ, a proportionate level of displaced parking is occurring on both sides of Bittacy Hill on the outskirts of the CPZ boundary.

8.2 The council has been contacted by roads users and local residents, complaining of the congestion being caused as through vehicles are being obstructed by the displaced parking.

8.3 London Buses have reported to the council that the displaced parking is obscuring sightlines and obstructing through traffic, preventing their buses from gaining suitable access through the road, resulting in the delay of their services. They also stated that this situation has caused major congestion in both directions on Bittacy Hill and therefore, have had to temporarily put some of their buses on diversion.

8.4 In addition, the Police have also expressed concerns regarding this location, and have requested for waiting restrictions to be introduced.

8.5 Following investigations including site observations, Officers concluded that major congestion occurs on the hill at this location, and in order to keep traffic moving through the borough considered that the provision of waiting restrictions would be appropriate given the obstructive parking which is taking place.

8.6 Therefore, proposals to introduce lengths of ‘at any time’ waiting restrictions on certain lengths of Bittacy Hill including around its junctions with Bittacy Close and Engle Park, were designed in order to deter obstructive parking and improve traffic flow, sightlines and safety.

8.7 In anticipation of the statutory consultation, Mill Hill Ward Members were consulted on the proposals with all advising of their agreement and support of the measures for the area. In particular, Councillors Khatri and Hart stated that they had also received complaints on this matter or have experienced problems themselves. Councillor Hart did raise the issue that more restrictions may cause more problems to the wider area as did Councillor Schama.

8.8 However, Officers consider that any displaced parking that may occur as a result of the introduction of the restrictions can be absorbed into the local network with minimal impact.

8.9 In mid August it was necessary to introduce emergency temporary waiting restrictions on the eastern side of Bittacy Hill, as nearby Devonshire Road was closed to allow for essential maintenance works to take place, which resulted in an increased traffic flow on Bittacy Hill that exasperated the problems occurring at the location.

8.9 Traffic cones were placed on street to indicate the temporary waiting restrictions, and the location was monitored by Officers. Observations showed that displaced parking was minimal and what did occur had little impact on the area. It was concluded that the removal of the parked vehicles at this location was very effective in relieving the congestion normally experienced.

8.10 Additional supporting evidence underlining the concern via photographs showing buses being obstructed and the congestion experienced were sent to the council and a petition signed by all residents of Bittacy Close was also submitted, asking for waiting restrictions to be implemented at the junction of Bittacy Close and Bittacy Hill.

8.14 Councillor Khatri and Councillor Hart have since also reaffirmed their views and support for the proposals. In particular, they advised of their concerns regarding safety being an issue at this location. Councillor Hart also re-iterated his concerns for residents of Bittacy Close, who suffer from obstruction at the junction of Bittacy Close and Bittacy Hill.

Councillor Brian Coleman ignored all wise counsel in order to introduce these policies. He ignored all efforts to mitigate the problems caused. As a result, we have a situation where ever more parking restrictions will be required to fix a problem that did not previously exist. To what end? To inconvenience and overcharge local residents.

It is time for Barnet Council to have an urgent rethink. It is time to reinstate free bays, cut parking charges on Barnet’s high streets, and, most of all, it is time to put someone in charge of parking who is competent.

There is no way that Barnet Council can pretend that Coleman’s parking policies are anything other than an unmitigated disaster. Your own document says so in black and white.


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Colemanistan - the code name for Barnet?

It is amazing what people leave in the back seats of taxis; false teeth, the ashes of loved ones as well as the more typical umbrellas, wallets and mobile phones. Last week a good friend of mine had to get from a very nice restaurant on the South Bank where he had been entertaining some clients back to his office in the City. A short hop but after a rather good lunch, a taxi seemed the most suitable means of transport.

Sitting on the back seat was a confidential file. Being a city professional of the highest standing he of course immediately opened the file in the hope of finding some price sensitive information which he could use to his own advantage.

Unfortunately for him it contained only a short report which was printed on plain paper with no distinguishing marks. However the contents were dynamite from my perspective and was happy to pay for my friend's rather good lunch in return for seeing a copy of this document. I have subsequently sought legal advice and hence my blog has been especially quiet this week. At this stage I have been advised not to divulge the specific nature of the document but what is interesting is that the code name for this project is 'Colemanistan'. It involves the reduction of 62 posts in the London Borough of Barnet with only one of the original 63 posts remaining. It involves some of the most Machiavellian moves I have ever come across and is a masterplan in manipulation of the democratic process. It involves just one character who is at the heart this project and who has the ear of people in the highest positions in government.

I will reveal more once my lawyer has carried out more detailed investigations and clarified my legal position.