Sunday, 29 July 2012

One Barnet Consultants - another £272k last month

The Barnet Council supplier payments for June are now out and once again Barnet's Implementation Partner, Agilisys, have done well. In June they billed £272,787.30 bringing their total invoices for the first six months of 2012 to £1.56 million.

Every single penny of that money is discretionary spend. It didn't have to be spent. There was a clear Officer/Cabinet decision to spend that money. Last month I thought their spend was slowing down as it was 'only' £165,575, but in June it is back to the levels we saw in January and February.

Cllr Cornelius, how much longer are you going to let the senior officers and your young but entirely inexperience cabinet colleague pull the wool over your eyes. This is a budget that is out of control and someone needs to get a grip. If you don't take any action a quarter of a million pounds every month is going to continue to be squandered on just one firm of consultants to give you a solution which 70% of local authority Chief Executives and senior officers believe reduces control and increases risk.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Has the Audit Commission Act 1998 become a worthless piece of legislation?

The Audit Commission Act 1998 was designed to give, amongst other things, local electors the right to inspect their council's books. This includes inspecting all "books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts" relating to the accounts. There is only a set window once a year when you can inspect these accounts and it is supposed to encourage openness and transparency.

Some local authorities seem to welcome the public inspection, others seem to place as many obstacles in the way of residents as possible. Sadly Barnet Council seems to fall into the latter category.

I, along with two other of the Barnet Bloggers, have been trying to inspect invoices and contracts to ensure that council tax payers in Barnet are not being ripped off. Don't say it can't happen. There are far too many examples at other authorities where is has happened. The ability to take up our rights under the legislation seems to have become a battle of who has more clout, council or residents.
What really upsets me is more than 18 months ago, when the delightfully expensive Pledgebank website was launched I offer to give up half a day of my time each month (for no allowance, fee or payment) to scrutinise and challenge invoices over £10,000 to help the council reduce unnecessary spending. To this day I have never been told whether my pledge was accepted or rejected. Indeed for over a year it was "under consideration".

My motivation in wanting exercise my rights under the 1998 Act is to try and reduce unnecessary spending at a time when front line services are being cut. If Barnet would work with residents rather than fighting against them it actually might benefit everyone.

As for the Audit Commission Act, sadly it appears to be going the same way as the poor old Audit Commission itself - off into the sunset. That is a retrograde step and one which Council tax payers will come to regret.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Another Example of Commercial Ineptitude?

Back in March 2011 I attended a Cabinet Resources Committee. At this meeting the disposal of Barnet Copthall to Saracens was being discussed. I raised a question about the lease and why it was being offered for 99 years on a peppercorn rent and seemed to be against the advice of officers. It struck me at the time that Saracens were getting a highly valuable site worth well in excess of £10 million for nothing so long as they maintain the facilities, a contract which GLL had and which has now been terminated (we don't know what penalty Barnet had to pay to terminate this contract).

Today Saracens have announced a multi-million pound naming rights deal changing the name of Copthall to Allianz Park.. I have no issue with Saracens doing the naming rights deal because their objective is to maximise the value of their new stadium.  My disappointment is addressed fairly and squarely at our Councillors who saw fit to give away a valuable community asset for a pittance without taking specific legal advice on such an eventuality. Their haste at the time was driven by a desire to get shot of Copthall whatever the cost. If there had been a revenue sharing agreement or a commercial exploitation clause then Barnet might be sitting on a windfall of a couple of million pounds.

Interestingly, at  the same meeting, the One Barnet DRS Business case was being tabled and I asked a number of questions about that as well. I hope that for the sake of every single ratepayer in Barnet that the undue haste and lack of foresight on the Saracens deal is not mirrored in the DRS outsourcing deal. Sadly I have absolutely no confidence in the commercial aptitude of Barnet Council and I remain terrified that the One Barnet outsourcing contract will be a commercial disaster.

Monday, 23 July 2012

One Barnet Costs Out of Control

Back in  August 2010 Barnet Council issued a Delegated Powers Report, 1134,  for the award of the Implementation Partner Contract for the One Barnet project and was awarded to Agilisys/iMPOWER. (Mysteriously that report is now missing from the Council's website).  In that report the value of the contract was estimated to be in excess of £500,000. I raised this contract award at Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 13 September 2010 and it was also picked up by Cllr Jack Cohen who asked for the report to be called in. At the meeting Cllr Cohen asked for the maximum value of the contract but because this was declared to be exempt information, the public were forced to leave the meeting.

Subsequently the Barnet Bugle submitted a Freedom of Information request to ascertain this maximum value. Following an initial refusal and a request for an internal review, the response which came back eventually stated:

"The establishment of an Implementation Partner contract enables the provision of consultants for specific assignments based on end to end process of phased delivery requirements. This means that the forecast cost of  the contract cannot be fully predicted it will be in excess of £500,000 [in the first year of delivery with circa £2,000,000 identified as potential contract delivery cost over a three year period.]" The section in brackets is the important information which was originally withheld.

The call in was reviewed by Cllr Dan Thomas who had originally signed off the DPR and he said he had decided to retain the contract without amendment - so from his point of view Cllr Thomas was happy with the contract as it stood.

Now just two years on, the bill for Agilisys at at 31 May 2012 is a shade under £3 million  (£2,972,667.37) £1 million more than forecast and there is still a year to run on the contract.

I don't know who is keeping tabs on this spending (other than me) but if I had signed off a contract that was running 50% over total budget with a third of the contract term still to run, I would be kicking up merry hell asking what on earth was going on.

During the Inspection of Accounts I did try and review the details on the invoices submitted by Agilisys and reconcile them to the contract but according to Barnet Council that information is commercially sensitive so both invoices and contract were excessively redacted to the point that I could not see how many days they have billed or what daily rate they have applied.

I have raised this matter with Grant Thornton, the Council's external auditor, as I wonder if this additonal £1 million should have been spent on this contract without any subsequent authorisation or if any further spending with Agilisys is ultra vires. I will have to await a response from Mr Hughes but irrespective of the outcome it illustrates that the Council's "relentless desire for efficiency" doesn't appear to extend to monitoring supplier payments.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Off Payroll Public Sector Pay Arrangements - Barnet Bloggers Joint Statement

The subject of Town Hall Tax Dodging (a phrase coined by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) is one of enormous interest to the Barnet bloggers, and we applaud the attention paid to this issue by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (chaired by the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP) which took place on Monday 16 July 2012. 
This investigation of the issue of tax avoidance by individuals in publicly funded posts came about following the disclosure by Westminster journalist David Hencke that Ed Lester, the head of the Student Loan Company, was being paid through a service company, and that there are similar arrangements on a very significant scale throughout the civil service and the wider public sector.
One witness before the committee was Carolyn Downs, the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association (LGA). She stated that the LGA had found only 13 examples of off-payroll public sector pay.
We know that this national figure of 13 is an understatement since the draft (i.e. unaudited) Annual Accounts of Barnet Council for 2011-2012 show that there are 14 such arrangements recorded as having been in place during the year for senior officers. 
Far from being a practice that is diminishing it is noted that in the previous year's accounts there were only 8 such arrangements.
The evidence to the committee was that these arrangements were used in the short-term. We can show that this is not true and that, on the contrary, these arrangements are used routinely for long term appointments.
In Barnet, one ‘interim’ post paid through a private company has lasted for more than three years. An appointment lasting over 3 years cannot be described as short-term. In addition, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that there have been no efforts to replace this individual with a permanent staff member.
Evidence to the committee also suggested that there was virtually no difference between the tax paid under PAYE or via a service company. That is to ignore two factors. If a service company is used certain expenses, such as travelling, can be reclaimed whereas an employee does not get tax relief for home to work travel costs. In addition, service companies are able to pay out their profits as dividends and National Insurance Contributions are not paid on those. The overall contribution to the Exchequer will be less if a service company is employed.
We look forward to the day when Barnet Council ensures that all its officers (employees) are treated equally and that all those people who receive their pay from the public purse recognise what Mrs Hodge referred to as a ‘moral duty’ to make their fair contribution to the taxes which contribute to the good of society.
We call on Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council, to negotiate the return to the payroll of the officers concerned as this will reduce the penalties that will have to be paid as a consequence of the inevitable HM Revenue & Customs PAYE compliance visit.
We also look forward to following the evolution of this story in front of the Public Accounts Committee once the summer recess is over.
Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Is Barnet Council Accountable to Anyone? – It Seems Not.

Yesterday I went to meet with the External Auditor of Barnet Council. Accompanied by Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard we were kept waiting for half an hour and then shown into a room which was doubling up for the NLBP sauna. Perhaps someone had been in before us and generated an enormous amount of hot air or possibly it was a tactic to sweat us into submission.  Mr Hughes from Grant Thornton came out on the attack before we have even had a chance to settle down. He had agreed to meet Mrs A and myself by not Mr M. 
Mr Mustard said that he was just there to take notes and that he wouldn’t say anything but Mr Hughes was having none of it. Mr Mustard gracefully retired but it set the tone for the meeting.

The first point made by Mrs A and myself related to the difficulty in actually inspecting the accounts due to the excessive level of redactions - what happened to that lovely old fashioned word censored by the way?
I made the point to Mr Hughes that this had been ramped up from last year. I showed him two invoices from the same company. The invoice I inspected last year had the name of the consultant redacted (fair enough) but the number of days worked and the daily rate were visible.  This year nothing was visible except the VAT amount and total sum, information which is available on the suppliers payments schedule. I also explained that the contract relating to this invoice had also been censored so that it was impossible to reconcile an invoice with a contract eliminating any element of scrutiny. Mr Hughes smiled but stated that it wasn’t his responsibility.

I also raised issued relating to the governance arrangements and the lack of scrutiny by Councillors. I made the point that many people in Barnet would not recognise the Governance Statement in the accounts especially where is it talks about transparency and engaging with local people. Notes were taken but no view offered by Mr Hughes.

Finally the risks around One Barnet were discussed. Indeed it was Mr Hughes who in his report of 10 November 2010 made the classic quote, “there is evidence to suggest that risk management
is not widely understood within the Council.” Sadly I suspect that statement is as valid today as it was 18 months ago.

In all, Mrs Angry and I spent an hour with Mr Hughes. We shall have to wait and see if he takes our points seriously. But if he doesn’t then it calls into question just what accountability exists over the running of Barnet. The 53 Councillors who are not in the Cabinet have very little or no say in decisions that are made.  The Scrutiny Committee dealing with One Barnet was abolished. Residents’ rights to discuss these matters at Residents Forums has been abolished. Even the External Auditor seems to have a very limited role in what he can challenge. That just leaves the concerned citizens of Barnet, BAPS, Unison and the Bloggers to attempt to hold the Council to account. 

As one of the bloggers, I will keep plugging away trying to hold the Council to account but I am exceptionally worried that if the massive One Barnet Outsourcing programme is pushed through any semblance of accountability will disappear altogether. That may not trouble those who just want the pavements swept and the bins emptied. However, if you are vulnerable, elderly, disabled or less advantaged you should be very worried indeed.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The lessons Barnet need to learn from G4S

Please see update below:
Last Saturday I attended the BAPS conference where we all heard about the perils of One Barnet. I even gave a short presentation myself! In the press we have seen Cllr Cornleius say that there is no plan B and Cllr Robert Rams trying to deflect attention from the £1Billion outsourcing project by talking about a Community Coaches scheme. This very clever tactic of trying to make One Barnet mean all things to all people doesn't, however, reduce the scale and risks associated with the main plank of One barnet which ios the massive outsourcing exercise.

Conservative Councillors labour under the belief that all private companies are good and all public sector staff are bad. In the last twenty four hours we have seen the mess that has erupted around the G4S contract and it illustrates several points as follows:

Circumstances change - LOCOG originally contracted only 2,000 staff from G4S but later realised they needed a lot more staff so asked G4s to provide them. With Barnet letting immensely complex contract for at least ten years will the specification for those contract change - almost definitely.

Believing what contractors tell you isn't always a good idea - G4S said they could provide the additional staff and no one wanted to challenge that opinion. I have seen similar situations before where the contract becomes so large no one dares to think the contractor might not be able to deliver because it would cause so much loss of face all round. In Barnet the contracts will be immense and no one dares even think it might go wrong.

Where was the contract monitoring -  this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Monitoring should have been taken place with a high level of scrutiny checking on a weekly basis how many staff had applied, been interviewed, been security checked and been trained. Those KPI's provided on a weekly basis should have been ringing alarm bells six months ago. With Barnet I do not get any sense of any monitoring programme in place and definitely no public scrutiny. This doesn't bode well.

When the contract is so large there is no commercial alternative - In G4S's case the only real alternative was to bring in the army. No other one commercial company could pick up the slack. If LOCOG had thought about the scale of this problem perhaps they might have split the contract between 5 or 6 companies so that if one got into difficulties there were another 4 or 5 who could pick up the shortfall. In Barnet we are also putting all our eggs in just one or two baskets. However, in our case I'm not sure the army will be able to step in and run the Council's planning, building control or environmental health departments.

Ultimately it is us who pick up the bill - whilst much has been made of G4S picking up any additional costs for the army lets not forget that they have already been contracted to be paid £300 million funded directly or indirectly by us the citizens. The same will happen in Barnet if the massive contracts go wrong as has happened at the SouthWest One contract.

Councillors need to think very carefully about whether a G4S situation could happen with One Barnet Outsourcing - the answer is yes!

As a post script to this mess I see today that we already have a potential conflict of interest caused by the  outsourcing. Legal services at Barnet have been/are in the process of being outsourced to Harrow Council. Legal are overseeing all of the One Barnet contracting process. However, in a market where one player (Capita) has such market dominance we now find that Capita provide the IT services for Harrow. This raises all sorts of conflicts of interest given that Capita are bidding for both One Barnet contracts. Apparently the Council are looking for a work around solution but this just highlights the sort of problems the new outsourcing contract will experience on a regular basis. sadly we are not allowed to undertsand how conflicts of interest are dealt wioth as that information is "commercially sensitive". Only in Barnet.

Update 8.52pm
Oh dear! This post appears to have upset Cllr Rams. Just to be clear and beyond equivocation, I am not in anyway opposed to outsourcing per se. There are many circumstances where the outsourcing of non core services can work effectively in delivering quality improvements for an organisation. What I object to fundamentally with the massive £1 billion One Barnet outsourcing project is the scale and complexity of the project. What other Councils of a similar size to Barnet have outsourced so many core services in one go for a ten year period, without allowing a public sector comparator and with such a flimsy business case? This process is highly risky as we have seen from the G4S contract.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Psst! EC Harris and Capita you might want to read this.

Dear EC Harris and Capita,

I am sure that you are fully aware of  the problems that you are likely to pick up if you are successful in winning the DRS contract at Barnet Council. However, I thought it was only fair to bring your attention to a response given by Cabinet member Cllr Joanna Tambourides at tonight's Council meeting concerning the problems in the planning department and what they are expecting you to sort out.

"The Planning Service has had an unprecedented number of officers leave their posts either permanently or temporarily over the last year. Filling the vacant positions with suitable replacements has been challenging. As a consequence, remaining officers have had to take on significantly larger case loads than normal and these have proved to be difficult to manage. This has resulted in planning applications, on average, taking longer to deal with and this has impacted on customer satisfaction, together with the reduction of time officers are able to spend with customers on the phone. Every effort is being made to ensure the Planning Service has sufficient resource to deal with demands. The recent changes to delegated powers will also help in reducing the amount of time officers spend on processing planning applications for presentation at committee. It is anticipated that customer satisfaction will improve as the backlog of planning applications is reduced. The Service is confident of meeting customer satisfaction targets before transfer to the new provider and the new provider will be required to continually improve customer satisfaction."
Given that it is another nine months before you take over the service,  I wonder how many more talented and hard working staff will leave to find more stable employment?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

One Barnet, its Corrosive Impact and the Missed Opportunity

Yesterday I attended the One Barnet conference organised by BAPS. It was both hugely motivating and at the same time desperately sad that not one Conservative Councillor was present. With over 100 people in attendance, what I saw was a room full of people motivated and eager to listen and contribute to their community. A phrase I heard a number of times was "we recognise the need to change". Andy Mudd who works for APSE and wrote a report on the shortcomings of the One Barnet  programme, repeatedly talked about how he had worked with other local authorities to bring about change and cost savings without resorting to outsourcing.

I know John Burgess, the leader of Unison on Barnet and I have heard him say many times that he is willing and eager to discuss how savings can be made but that the Council are unwilling to listen. This came out yesterday time and time again. There is a huge amount of talent and knowledge within the Council workforce that could help to meet the tough budget cuts imposed on the Council by Central Government. What the current Conservative regime has failed miserably to do is utilise all of that talent and goodwill to deliver responsible and considered change in Barnet. Instead the Conservatives have been sold a model out mass outsourcing which has a dreadful track record at other local authorities and which is costing rate payers millions of pounds in consultants and legal fees.

Solving such a challenging problem of the budget cuts needs a clear vision and an ability to be creative in the way the council provides services. The outsourcing model the council have been sold shows no vision whatsoever and is a crude blunt instrument which assumes that the private sector have all the answers - which they don't.

What saddens me most is how the most vulnerable are being impacted by this crude and insensitive cost cutting model. They have few votes and they are votes the Conservatives seem prepared to sacrifice to push through their discredited outsourcing programme.  If One Barnet is pushed through there is a very high likelihood that it will fail. McKinsey's published a report in 2008 showing that 70% of major organisational change programmes fail. One Barnet is such a programme and already the signs of failure are apparent.

In questions to the Leader and Cabinet at Tuesday's Council meeting tucked away at question 69 there is a response from Cllr Joanna Tambourides which highlights the corrosive and damaging effect that One Barnet is already having on the operations of the Council. In response to why the planning service is failing to meet satisfaction targets Cllr Tambourides says,

"The Planning Service has had an unprecedented number of officers leave their posts either permanently or temporarily over the last year. Filling the vacant positions with suitable replacements has been challenging. As a consequence, remaining officers have had to take on significantly larger case loads than normal and these have proved to be difficult to manage. This has resulted in planning applications, on average, taking longer to deal with and this has impacted on customer satisfaction, together with the reduction of time officers are able to spend with customers on the phone. Every effort is being made to ensure the Planning Service has sufficient resource to deal with demands. The recent changes to delegated powers will also help in reducing the amount of time officers spend on processing planning applications for presentation at committee. It is anticipated that customer satisfaction will improve as the backlog of planning applications is reduced. The Service is confident of meeting customer satisfaction targets before transfer to the new provider and the new provider will be required to continually improve customer satisfaction."

What a surprise! Tell staff that in 12 months time they may not have a job and then show surprise when they all start looking for new jobs and why would new staff join the Council when they could be out of a job in less than 12 months. I said this would happen over a year ago at an audit committee meeting. Exactly the same thing happened when Government announced the intended closure of Primary Health Authorities. Key staff started leaving straightaway with no chance of recruiting new staff.

There is a very simple solution to One Barnet and that is to put it on hold. Start engaging with the staff and the community about creative solutions that have the buy in of everyone and they are much more likely to stick. This can happen quickly because the ideas are there and there is a will to make change happen.

Cllr Cornelius, there is most definitely an alternative solution to the problems we are faced with but you need to have the will and the courage to stop the One Barnet Programme now and start working with staff and the community to deliver a better, cost effective and more harmonious Barnet.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Accident Black Spot at Barnet Council - Democracy in Intensive Care

The culture of secrecy and paranoia was alive and kicking at the North London Business Park this morning. I was attending to inspect some invoices and contracts as is every resident’s statutory right under Sections 15 and 16 of the Audit Commission Act 1998. I was accompanied by Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard and a gentleman who had a specific interest in the parking contract.

I had given the council 10 working days notice of my requirements yet sadly two contracts were still not available to inspect as they were still busy redacting their contents.

Last year, names were redacted but I was at least able to see how much Barnet was paying for services.  This year the black pen was in overdrive.  On many of the invoices the only visible figure was the total amount, something which is already available in the supplier payments list. For example, the invoices from Agilisys, the Council’s One Barnet Implementation Partner, did not show daily rates or even the number of days work provided just the total figure. Given that Barnet Council paid Agilisys £2,168,555.05 in the financial year 2011/12, I think it is perfectly reasonable to know how many days work we got for that fee.
One less redacted invoice shows that Barnet are still buying those delightfully expensive HP tablet computers .
When I looked at the contracts this is where the obsessive redaction really had taken over. In one contract all of the fee rates had been redacted because the information was “commercially sensitive”. However in the contract there is a section where a supplier can state what elements they wish to be considered commercially sensitive and they had written “N/A” against each line. My interpretation of that is the contractor had not declared the information to be commercially sensitive but that Barnet had declared it "politically sensitive".

Another contract associated with the One Barnet programme had the bidder's entire submission redacted; page after page of black pen. Fee rates had obviously bitten the dust but in their proposal all that remained was the contents page and section headings. Why, for example,  are we not allowed to reviewed the contractors approach to dealing with conflicts of interest and confidentiality of data. Surely there is nothing commercially sensitive about that? 

In one contract there is a detailed clause stating that even though a contractor may deem information commercially sensitive it may not be, for example, once a contract has been awarded. The contract goes on to state that “Tenderers should note that no information is likely to be regarded as exempt forever”. It should have added “except to residents” as every single cost schedule was redacted.

This is our money the Council is spending and every resident should be able to inspect the accounts as set out under the 1998 Act. However, in Barnet they are obviously so afraid of what the bloggers might find that they are happy to ignore their own contract rules to prevent us from seeing the truth.

Escorted to the toilet, I did at times feel a bit like a prisoner. I paid my £2.28 to get copies of the invoices I asked for (the black toner cartridge must have been working overtime). 

North London Business Park is adopting a siege mentality to residents. This will not end well.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Helen Michael: open letter to Councillor Richard Cornelius and the police

Since the electoral defeat of former Assembly Member and Barnet Cabinet member Brian Coleman in May, Barnet’s Tory council leader Richard Cornelius and his colleagues have sought to distance themselves from most of the more controversial policies that Coleman promoted. 

Most significant among these is the parking scheme, which has caused so much anger among the residents and traders of this borough.

At a meeting with Barnet traders at a North Finchley forum in December last year, Councillor Cornelius was told in no uncertain terms by the shopkeepers and small business owners of this borough about the devastating impact of this ridiculous scheme. He replied:
I’m listening, but I haven’t got any intention to do anything else other than that ... I’ve heard you and it’s obviously affected me. I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know if I can do anything.”

Local cafe owner Helen Michael said:
We are wasting our time – you’ve said in no uncertain terms that you’re not going to do anything. We are begging for our businesses, for our livelihoods. Please do something.”

Councillor Cornelius and his fellow Tories sat back and watched as the life of our local high streets ebbed away, in some cases losing up to 40 percent of their usual level of trade.
He refused to do anything for us, so we acted for ourselves. 

Bloggers, traders, residents, community activists and trade unions united and voiced their opposition to the changes. Prominent among the campaigners was Helen Michael. As spokeswoman for North Finchley traders she made every effort to focus attention on the injustice and devastating impact of the policy, and hold Councillor Coleman to account for the consequences of his scheme. Her efforts won admiration from London Mayor Boris Johnson – and even Richard Cornelius, who is reported to have suggested she should think of standing as a Conservative candidate for the council.

Only since Brian Coleman lost his seat on the London Assembly, and then his Cabinet post, and in response to two other electoral defeats, has the Tory group on Barnet Council admitted that the parking changes were unfair, and sought to retract them. Councillor Cornelius has now apologised for introducing the policy, and a review is underway.

How ironic it is, therefore, that the woman who did what Councillor Cornelius failed to do, and fought for the best interests of residents and traders, is now being investigated by the police, after an allegation of wrongdoing in relation to a poster produced by her in the course of the parking campaign. An omission on this poster was rectified early on in the campaign, and Helen Michael was informed by local police that there would be no further action. 

Despite this assurance, Helen Michael is now being investigated by officers from Scotland Yard, and yesterday spent two hours, under caution, being interviewed at a local police station about the poster, and her motivation for its publication.

We believe that this targeting of a local campaigner is a deliberate and politically motivated act of intimidation. 

To involve the police in this way is inappropriate, and a serious misuse of their time and resources. 
We call on Council leader Richard Cornelius to speak out against the victimisation of a brave, resourceful and admirable woman. We call on the police to desist from taking any further action in regard to this matter.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Church Farmhouse Museum Clearance - just get shot of it

Barnet Council are obviously in a hurry to clear the Church Farmhouse Museum. They must have found a buyer. In today's Delegated Powers Report it sets out the clearance and auction company they are going to use:

Auction Plus carries out both clearance and auction and will remove everything, including excess furniture. All items will be entered to the sale. Unsold Lots are automatically re-entered into a following sale. Items then not sold can be returned at request or disposed of free of charge in an appropriate manner. Their estimate of the auction value of the contents was up to £25,000 with a 20% commission. The company guarantees complete clearance of the entire contents, repeat entry into resale of items that do not achieve sale at first offering and subsequent ethical disposal without any further risk or cost, thus having the additional benefit of saving on the additional costs that would be required to clear and dispose of excess furniture,
fittings and rubbish.

They did not chose Company A even though they were proposing only 12.5% commission because their "reputation is built upon selling fine art and antique items with the attendant risk that the wrong buying audience may be reached. The Council would be liable for the cost of disposal or return of objects that remain unsold with consequent likelihood that receipts from the sale could be heavily eroded with unpredictable final costs for storage and secondary disposal".

I am surprised they just didn't hire a skip. So much for culture and heritage in Barnet.

The Rotten State of Barnet

Something is very very wrong in Barnet. I am sure you have read on other blogs about the questioning of Helen Michael by the Special Investigations Unit of Scotland Yard over the poster she put up regarding parking in Barnet. It appears that the complainant is Mr Nick Walkley, Chief Executive of Barnet. What I find utterly incomprehensible is that just days after we have been told there is a massive black hole in the Met Police Budget and just over 3 weeks away from the biggest ever policing event in the capital, that someone in the Met has deemed this worthy of investing so much time in such a trivial non issue. I am deeply worried that the police are being used for political purposes. At the recent Brunswick Park by election the Conservatives put out a leaflet that drew the following comments from Mr Walkley as reported in the Barnet Bugle

The Returning Officer’s concerns with the leaflet related to the following statement.
“Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward’s two car parks”
No such decision had been published by the Council on this matter and, as that is the only decision which can be relevant for these purposes, the statement was incorrect. In that regard, he requested that no further leaflets were distributed, or otherwise published, incorporating this particular statement or any other which might convey or imply that the Council has confirmed a decision in relation to free parking at the car parks in the ward.
The concern was that a wrong perception may arise that the Council has assisted others with regard to publicity and, as such, acted contrary to the law regarding local authority publicity during the “purdah” period.
So we clearly have a set of dual standards operating in Barnet and I, for one, am utterly disgusted. Are the bloggers the next on the target list?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

One Barnet Conference on Saturday 7 July

Barnet Council Not for Sale Conference Saturday 7 July 2012.

Barnet UNISON in partnership with Barnet Alliance for Public Services are hosting a conference on the mass privatisation of Barnet council services this Saturday 7 July 12- 3 pm at the Greek Cypriot Centre, Britannia Road, North Finchley, London N12 9RU

The Council is attempting to become a Commissioning Council whereby it no longer delivers council services. In the last few months Barnet Council has already transferred the following staff and services out of the council to new employers

· Social Care services for adults with disabilities

· Housing Needs & Resources

· Parking services

· All of the Legal Department * (talks on the transfer of staff to Harrow Council are still ongoing)

By the end of May 2013 up to 70% of the council workforce will no longer be working for the Council.

The aim of the conference is to provide information about the scale of risk to the council tax payers of Barnet. The conference will be in two parts.

Part One speakers include

Professor Dexter Whitfield European Services Strategy Unit (ESSU) recently published a report on the cost and consequences of the Commissioning Council.

Andy Mudd from the well-respected local government research body the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) published a report warning that over the past few years those at the north London Council involved in the awarding and managing of contracts to private contractors, have often ignored both council guidelines and UK competition law.

John Dix resident, one of the infamous Barnet Bloggers recently reported the Council has agreed another £10million be allocated to consultants to deliver the outsourcing One Barnet Programme

The second part of the meeting will include speakers from Aberdeen UNISON, and Edinburgh UNISON. Both of these councils recently decided not to go ahead with outsourcing after taking part in lengthy procurement discussions with a number of private sector contractors. A speaker from Sefton UNISON will talk about why Sefton Council decided to terminate their contract early with Capita Symonds. Capita Symonds is one of the Bidders for one the One Barnet projects.

John Burgess, Branch Secretary UNISON said “We are continuing to seek a meeting with councillors in particular the members of the Cabinet Committee regarding our concerns about the One Barnet Programme. We know from experience that once residents are made aware of One Barnet they are very concerned about the implications. This conference is just one part of a widespread community campaign to bring public scrutiny to the One Barnet experiment.”