Friday, 30 November 2012

One Barnet Scrutiny - Too Little Too Late

Last night's Scrutiny Committee meeting was a travesty. Residents asked dozens of questions, many of which failed to elicit a clear response. Conservative Councillors seemed to have come with a series of questions  many of which were left unanswered, but as Cllr Hugh Rayner put it quite succinctly, is this committee here to clarify or is it to scrutinise because actually nothing can be changed now. He is absolutely correct. This was not scrutiny, it was a very feeble attempt to tick a box. Any real scrutiny should have been taking place for the last 2 years but the Conservatives disbanded the committee specifically set up to scrutinize the process. Last night we were told by the lawyer from Trowers & Hamlins that all that can be done now is to clarify and fine tune but no significant changes can be made. So what it boils down to is a fait accompli. Councillors will not get a vote on the decision anyway. It is down to the ten people in the Cabinet to either accept the recommendation or not.

The one highlight of the evening was the speech and follow up by Barbara Jacobson. She gave a clear and impassioned speech but the one message we should all take away is her statement that "If this contract is too big and too complex to scrutinise, it is too risky to sign". She is absolutely right of course but whether cabinet members see it that way is another matter.

A few points that did come out last night which I noted were as follows:

  • If Barnet want to get out of the contract after two years (for example due to a change in control) it will cost approximately £18 million in compensation and refund of unamortised investment.
  • Craig Cooper confirmed that  no redundancy is included in the investment (contrary to what it says on page 44 in the report) and no one knows what will be the cost of redundancy.
  • If Capita fail to meet Council Tax collection targets they will have to make up the shortfall themselves. (note to debt collection companies, it looks like there will be an upsurge in business in Barnet).
  • "The transition to Capita will be seamless", (Craig Cooper)
  • Current council staff are excellent (but we are going to make them redundant anyway).
  • £750 million = the cost of a 15 year contract as published in the OJEU. £320 million = the cost of the 10 year contract. (not sure of the logic in that statement Mr Travers).
  • Barnet have a relatively affluent and educated population and more likely to have internet use and broadband access (so tough sh*t if you are not affluent, not well educated, are part of the 41% of over 65's who are not on line or the 28%  of disabled who are not online).
  • Capita staff are going to turn up to scrutiny committee meetings and answer questions. (oh yeah!)
  • At the end of the contract Barnet will have to take on TUPE liabilities of all of the staff if the contract is brought back in house (but no one knows how much that liability might be).
Overall I came away with the impression that Cabinet Members have completely closed minds to any discussion or reason, many Conservative councillors have some concerns but will go along with the decision anyway. I suspect one or two conservative councillors may publicly express their opposition but they will be punished. The biggest losers however will be the 200+ staff who will be made redundant along with the less able, less affluent and older residents who more dependent on services from the Council.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Arrogance or Plausible Deniability - The sorry tale of One Barnet Scrutiny

Cllr Richard Cornelius is reported as saying that he hasn't read the 8,000 page contract nor does he expect any other Councillor to have done so. Is this arrogance or that well known political tactic of plausible deniability?  If it is the latter then when the One Barnet contract goes horribly wrong Councillors can say "Not me guv, it was those useless senior officers/consultants".

I think we have heard this before in Barnet. Didn't Councillors deny knowing all the details on the Icelandic bank problem and as a result it was an officer who got the sack. The Catalyst contract problems were blamed on officers and advisors and that ended up costing Barnet residents £10.5 million to sort out.

What makes matters worse is the footage I saw yesterday of the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 20th November where Cllr Robert Rams said he didn't go on any of the site visits to learn lessons of how other councils had worked with outsourcing contracts. He said that he had learned it all from officers and desktop research. Not a great idea when so much is at stake and the decision is irreversible.

I will be attending the Overview and Scrutiny committee this evening and I genuinely hope that Councillors will give officers, consultants and cabinet members a grilling. I will be asking a few questions but I know that dozens of questions have been tabled by the public such is the level of concern about the risks involved with this contract. I just hope Councillors take their fingers out of their ears and start listening.

Monday, 26 November 2012

One Barnet - it doesn't add up

I found some quiet time at the weekend to read through the 128 page report being submitted to the Budget & Performance Overview Scrutiny Committee on Thursday. Frankly what I read left me with a deep sense of unease. It is quite apparent to me that anyone reading this report will immediately want to read the 8,000 page contract for it is only there that the questions will be addressed. By keeping that document secret we can only imagine what the answers are and that does not seem to be the sound basis for making decisions on such a massive and long term contract.

Issues such as how much of the much lauded £13.6 million (or is it £20 million) investment is actually redundancy payments to staff whose jobs will be relocated to Blackburn, Darwen, Bromley, Banstead, Belfast, Carlisle, Swindon, Sheffield, Chippenham, Chertsey or Southampton. Just take that in for a second for that is how far and wide the jobs currently done in Barnet will be spread. It also makes you realise that the option to terminate the contract or bring it back in house at the end of the contract is utterly impossible with the skills having been scattered so widely. That means that once we opt for Capita we are pretty much stuck with them forever.

There is a clause which states that Capita will put up to 12% of their fee at risk for failing to meet Key Performance Indicators (KPI's). So does that mean that if they fail to meet any KPI's they will still get paid 88% of their management fee?

The report also identifies that 37.4% of all the savings made will come from procurement savings. My question remains, if there are still such massive savings to be made on procurement what on earth have the highly paid commercial team and the stream of hugely paid interims been doing for the last two years. Why didn't they discover these savings before now.

We all know what great value is placed in external performance benchmarking yet the contract allows only three occasions in the "first" 10 yeas of the contract (someone making big assumptions there). Given that there are 9 separate services being outsourced that means that 6 of the 9 services will never be subject to external performance benchmarking over the ten years of the contract.

There is a termination clause at 6 months notice but it is not clear how much it would cost Barnet to terminate, something I would have expected to be spelt out loud and clear in this report to avoid the problems experienced with the Catalyst contract. Perhaps it is tucked away in the exempt report? This is one of the questions I have submitted to the Scrutiny Committee on Thursday and I look forward to seeing their response.

So far I have pulled together a list of 38 questions and there are many, many more to come. These are not ideological questions; they are contractual or operational and they run to the very heart of the proposed contract. I wonder how many questions councillors will come up with at the Scrutiny Committee or, more importantly, at the Cabinet Committee when the decision will be made. Sadly I suspect that as ever the decision will be rubber stamped.

Barnet residents deserve so much better.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Has any Councillor voting for One Barnet read the 8,000 page contract?

Yesterday it was disclosed that the contract between Capita and Barnet Council is 8,000 pages long. Has any Councillor read the 8,000 pages. No, but they will vote on committing us to this contract for the next ten years. Are residents allowed to read this contract - come on, don't be silly. Residents aren't allowed to know anything because they are only residents. Not only that, they would then know more than councillors (no big surprise there). So who is protecting our interest here?

Interestingly the Council report going to Cabinet have not been signed off by Barnet's shared legal service. No, it has been signed off by Trowers & Hamlins, the lawyers who have been advising council on the entire legal process.

Now call me old fashioned but I would have thought that in order to maintain checks and balances and to protect the interests of Barnet residents, it would be inappropriate for the lawyers drafting the contract to sign off the papers setting out the recommendations for Councillors. Surely Barnet's own legal department should be the people drafting the paper for Councillors. If they didn't have enough skill then they could have brought in their own legal support.

In Barnet, scrutiny, checks and balances, good governance, all seem to have gone out the window during this process and in my opinion that it utterly unacceptable.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

One Barnet - The Unanswered Questions


Following the disclosure of two internal audit reports on the risks in the One Barnet Outsourcing project, I thought it would be useful to publish the address I made to Audit Committee in April this year. I am not surprised they didn't disclose their hidden reports at this meeting because it might have reinforced some of the comments I made. The committee failed to address my concerns at the time and today those concerns look even more serious.

"Having reviewed the CAFT (Corporate Anti Fraud Team) and Internal Audit plan for 2012-13 it strikes me that there is an enormous gap in the plans which represents a very significant risk to the Council. The Council is in the process of radical change and by 1 January 2013 the delivery of a large number of key support services will have moved to a private sector supplier. This involves hundreds of millions of pounds worth of spend and involves some of the key financial service such as revenues and benefits, procurement and the entire operation of the finance department.

Internal audit’s plan makes only passing reference to One Barnet and then only in the context of the initial commissioning process. Indeed Internal Audit have allocated less than 4% of the time to reviewing One Barnet. CAFT appear silent on One Barnet and have not allocated any time to it.

I would have expected to see a detailed report which sets out how One Barnet Outsourcing and the complete restructure of the Council to a commissioning council would impact on the operation of internal audit, CAFT, external audit and the audit committee.

For example:

Have the audit committee identified what audit rights and responsibilities they have under the new contract?

If Revs & Bens are administered by a private provider, will the CAFT team still have a role in identifying benefit fraud or will that responsibility pass to the external provider?

What audit rights will the council have over the new procurement function?

Will audit look at the contract procedures of the new provider or will audits remit be limited to examining the payment made to the new provider?

Will internal audit be expected to travel to the provider’s data centres to review procedures? Having reviewed Capita’s business centres map, it is perfectly possible that by 1 January 2013 we could see the council’s financial administration being undertaken in Mumbai, back office administration in Shepton Mallet, customer contact in Blackburn and pensions administration in Pune (in India).

How much thought has been given to the logistics and practicalities of how the internal audit function for these services will take place – if at all?

In terms of the new council structure, have the audit committee examined how they will interact with the new assurance group and with the outsource providers?

To what extent have the committee been involved in ensuring that the new assurance group will continue to provide the information and reports that the audit committee requires?

Will the audit committee be able to ask the outsourcing provider to appear before them to answer specific questions on the financial information they produce?

How will Grant Thornton’s on going external audit services be affected?
Have they provided advice on the issues arising from a commissioning council based on their experience of other local authorities?

What is their experience of dealing with a remote outsourced finance function?

It may be that all of these activities have been carried out, but if that is the case why hasn’t a report been published setting out all of these issues. What I am particularly concerned about is the audit committee are sitting in isolation whilst change is happening all around you. Failure to plan for these radical changes now will mean that you may be unable to provide the level of scrutiny you require in the future because of operational, logistical or contractual restrictions. I would like to get some reassurance from you, as a committee, that resident’s interests in the new world of “commissioning council” will be protected."

We are a week away from Councillors voting on this massive financial gamble yet all the matters I raised remain unanswered. In the commercial sector I cannot imagine any company signing up to such a radical organisational change without having addressed these issues in full, yet because politicians are in charge, they vote with what their party tells them irrespective of what makes sense. And please don't accept the myth peddled that there is not alternative. There is. I have identified savings of £9.5 million a year that could have been introduced several years ago but have been ignored because the culture of change and the influence of external consultants has prevailed. The in-house team have been prevented from submitting their proposals simply for political reasons.

If your councillor is a Conservative then ask them if any of the matters I raised have been addressed and if they can't answer the question ask them why they would vote to introduce such a radical financial gamble with so many unanswered questions.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

One Barnet Rubber Stamping Exercise

Set out below is a joint letter from the Barnet Bloggers expressing our concerns at the incredibly short timescale in between Councillors being informed as to who has been designated preferred supplier for the NSCSO contract and the vote on awarding the contract.

Dear Councillor,

We are about to hear which company has been awarded one of the two massive contracts that constitute the £1 Billion One Barnet privatisation scheme.

Barely a week after the recommended bid is announced, Cabinet will vote on the proposals, and this borough will surrender control of a huge number of its services to an unaccountable private sector provider, for a minimum period of ten years.

Leader Richard Cornelius has written to a resident of Barnet stating he feels that a week allows sufficient time for the scrutiny by councillors of a contract of this size and significance, one that has taken four years in creation, by a process which has itself cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in fees to consultants.

We suggest to you that a week is self evidently a completely inadequate length of time for councillors to inform themselves of the details and full significance of what is clearly a hugely complex undertaking, and one with enormous implications for the future of all residents.

One Barnet is the most ambitious privatisation exercise that has ever been attempted by any local authority.

Despite the unprecedented scale of this project, NO independent assessment has been made of the enormous risks such an enterprise must inevitably present.

Equally astonishing is the fact that the internal assessment, the One Barnet Risk Register, has never been presented to the council's own Audit Committee.

Not only does this represent the most irresponsible disregard for the security of local residents' investment in One Barnet, it quite clearly makes the authority liable to legal challenge on the basis of failing properly to consult with members and residents, as required by the demands of the democratic process.

We ask all councillors to consider the very real concerns we raise: resist the demand to rubber stamp a decision from which, effectively, you have been excluded by the leadership and senior management team of this authority. Ask yourselves why you have been excluded from the process of scrutiny.

And then please have the courage do the job you were elected to do: to protect the best interests of the residents and tax payers of the London Borough of Barnet, and act immediately to call for a suspension of this reckless programme.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Has Governance been sidelined in Barnet?

Last night a number of reports were published by Unison which call into question the role of governance in Barnet. Two internal audit reports and a report by Local Partnerships demonstrate the risks attached to the One Barnet outsourcing programme. A few quotes from the reports include the following:

"The programme does not have a formalised and universally understood change control process operating either at programme or project level."

"There is scope to strengthen the programme governance arrangements, in particular clarifying the authority of the programme board and reviewing its participants."

"A programme level dependency log identifies dependencies, but it is not optimised to manage the dependencies. For example, there is no record of when a dependency was:
- Originally identified
- Last updated
- Discussed with the action owner
- Agreed."

"Without a fully effective approach to managing dependencies within the programme and between the programme and other parties, the following risks may affect some or all dependencies:
- They may not be delivered in line with the critical path
- They may not meet the quality requirements of the programme resulting in a compromised solution."

"The risk of running project boards without project board papers is that any decisions made within that forum may not be fully informed. Decisions made using incomplete information may be suboptimal."

"There is a great deal still to be done before starting the main dialogue stage and it would be a significant risk to the project to start the next stage prematurely or to decide that tasks and issues that should be completed prior to main dialogue are actually completed during the CD2 stage."

"Evidence from this review indicates that whilst many of these issues are recognised by the project team and in some cases the team have started work on them, there is a lack of clarity on when, how and by whom these issues are to be progressed."

"The RT (review team) feel that the project programme post close of CD2 is very optimistic. Milestones to achieve Contract Award by November 2012 and Service Commencement by April 2013 are possibly achievable in a best case scenario but are probably unachievable in all other scenarios."

"There are signs that the procurement process is being driven by the consultant rather than by Authority due to their much greater experience on the CD (competitive dialogue) process and clearly there are risks if that is the case.

"The programme does not have a defined and agreed issue management strategy.
This may mean that issues are not identified, managed or escalated consistently."

"Interviewees were not aware of formal thresholds for escalating risks from project level. We understand that the training pack provided to all project managers set out certain key criteria, but it was not clear that this control was operating in practice."

"For DRS, there were 17 risks categorised as “treat” – only six had defined control actions and for NSCSO, there were 37 risks categorised as “treat” – only one had a defined control action."

"Through our sample testing of risks we noted 14 out of 49 risks on the NSCSO Risk
Register did not have any scoring against them."

"Senior officers showed they were familiar with the defined internal framework to bring specialist resource onto the programme. However, project level staff did not show the same level of awareness with the contractual agreement. Increasing the awareness levels of this arrangement may lead to more effective use of key resources at critical points at project level."

At this stage alarms bells should be ringing loudly. What I want to know is why none of these reports were discussed or circulated at the Audit committee, the natural place to discuss two such critical internal audit reports on such a massive financial project.

I have been asking serious questions at the audit committee for the last two years about the One Barnet programme. This simply reinforces the immense concerns I have about the entire programme and, more importantly, the governance arrangements for the scrutiny of the process. If it transpires that these reports were withheld from the audit committee it must call into question who actually runs this council, Councillors or consultants.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Capita or BT, who is the winner in Barnet? Maybe Neither!

It is not yet clear who has been recommended for the massive NSCSO (back office) contract for One Barnet, but based on the activity on my blog and the search terms used I think I have a pretty clear idea. However, I will not be popping down to Ladbrokes and put on a very large bet.

The reason for my reluctance is that the winner of the evaluation process hasn't yet been formally approved and I think that every hour that passes the greater the likelihood that the wheels are going to come off this out of control undemocratic fantasy increases exponentially.

Electorally, the award of this contract will mean curtains for many Conservative councillors at the next election. It may even hit two of our sitting MPs because of their very close association with the project. Both Councillors and MPs would do well to remember the backlash against Brian Coleman at the GLA elections and against the Conservative candidate in the Brunswick Park By Election.

This is going to be a very interesting 48 hours coming up.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Hello Capita - why don't you pop round for a chat

In Edinburgh where Capita were bidding for a similar outsourcing contract to One Barnet, apparently, Capita consulted with approximately 1,000 Edinburgh city residents as part of the development of their proposals.

My question to Capita is, have you been to talk to anyone in Barnet? If not, I would be delighted to welcome you for a cup of tea and a slice of coffee sponge so we can talk about your proposals for Barnet. There are lots of people in Barnet who think you really ought to have engaged with us before now.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

One Barnet Legal Challenge - Councillors, this is why you must listen to reason

The bloggers of Barnet sent this joint email to every Barnet Councillor today. This blog also contains a video recorded by John Sullivan explaining why his daughter Susan has launched a legal challenge against Barnet Council over its One Barnet programme.

Dear Councillor,

Susan Sullivan is launching a legal action to secure a judicial review of the One Barnet programme.

As concerned Barnet residents, we believe that it is vital for the financial wellbeing of this borough that this programme is halted. We have seen no evidence that justifies the claims of savings, and plenty of evidence that signing 10-year contracts is highly risky. We do not believe that anyone knows where the economy will be in five years, let alone 10 years.

To illustrate the point, in 2007, nobody would have predicted the Credit Crunch, and RBS were embarking on a reckless takeover of ABN AMRO. The markets and the private sector trumpeted this deal as good value for the shareholders of RBS, but it brought the organisation to its knees, and the company would have gone bankrupt had it not been bailed out by the taxpayer.

BT, Capita and EC Harris, who are bidding for the One Barnet contracts, have nothing like the market capitalisation or financial strength that RBS was perceived to have in 2007; it cannot possibly be claimed that there is no risk.

Gambling, speculation and risk are matters that should not be entertained in the provision of services to vulnerable people. Yet they are precisely the values at the centre of the One Barnet programme. As such, we fully support Susan Sullivan in her action.

Her father John Sullivan has been interviewed and gives his reasons for opposing One Barnet and helping his daughter to launch her action.

We urge all Barnet councillors and every resident of Barnet to listen to John, as he eloquently sums up the reasons why One Barnet should be abandoned.

[video URL:]


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

One Barnet Outsourcing - "We do NOT have a mandate" says Tory Councillor

In today's Barnet Press there is an article featuring Councillor Khatri and his concerns about One Barnet Outsourcing. In the article he makes it clear that he does not believe the Conservatives have an electoral mandate to implement the massive outsourcing programme.

"None of the literature we distributed before the election mentioned one iota of this". 

"Nowhere in any campaign literature or leaflets or articles written by councillors was it made clear that they would start a massive outsourcing programme." 

"The local people do not want this and were not consulted hence the vociferous reaction by residents."

Councillor Khatri said that he remains "unconvinced" about the One Barnet outsourcing programme. It is just a shame that this only came out following a leak of an email exchange between Councillor Khatri and Hendon MP Matthew Offord.

I believe that Councillor Khatri is an honourable person, he is a scientist and I am sure he is a man who believes in evidence. He appears to be very uncomfortable about the current One Barnet programme. I wonder how many other Councillors are equally unhappy about this high risk programme but are not prepared to speak out publicly. The council will be making a decision in the next couple of weeks that will commit the council to a huge, high risk contract for the next 10 years. I just hope that the Conservative Councillors who share Councillor Khatri's concerns put the interest of the people they represent above party loyalty and start expressing their concerns publicly.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Guardian in Barnet - Observing the North London Revolution

Over the last couple of weeks, John Harris and John Domokos from the Guardian has been spending time in Barnet talking to people and experiencing the issues we face. Here is his video which makes great viewing. Yet another condemnation of the One Barnet folly.

Please forward the link to your friends.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Council Tax Freeze - Cost and Impact

Last night Richard Cornelius talked about a Council Tax freeze and that this was something everyone wanted. I made it clear during the meeting that a Council tax freeze would cost £40 million over the next ten years (which is almost 2/3 of the outsourcing savings) and asked what other services he was going to cut. Unsurprisingly I did not get a clear response. After the meeting I asked Richard again about the cut and his response was, what else could we do?

Well it may come as a surprise to many people but eight weeks ago there was no plan to introduce a Council tax freeze and indeed Cllr Dan Thomas seemed to be dead against it. The tax freeze came at the prompting of Cllr Brian Coleman when he was chairing the Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 19th September. Thanks to the wonderful work of the Barnet Bugle this exchange was recorded and is on the film below (the key bit starts at 1 minutes 35 seconds in).

Credit: Barnet Bugle

You will notice that Cllr Thomas states that the budget for next year had been set for a 2.5% increase and that a council tax freeze will cost £4 million next year. He says "If you and your committee can recommended where we cut the £4 million from then we can consider that".

So 8 weeks ago we had a strategy to introduce a 2.5% council tax increase next year and now we have a council tax freeze and no other choice and we have to find an extra £4 million of cuts from the budget next year and every year going forward.

This is what is so fundamentally wrong with Barnet politician. They make it up as they go  along, driven by political dogma not common sense. Personally it makes me despair. Playing political point scoring will mean that more services are cut, the most vulnerable in our community are hit hardest, investment in our children's future decimated.

Richard you should hang your head in shame.

Packed house condemns One Barnet

Last night's question time on the One Barnet outsourcing programme must have made Cllr Richard Cornelius feel very uncomfortable. Several hundred residents crammed in to the Greek Cypriot Centre to tell the conservative councillors their concerns about the huge risks and unknown consequences of outsourcing so many core services to the private sector.

There were many telling comments like Andy Mudd, (consultant from APSE) who said that Barnet was probably one of the worst contracting authority he had come across. Jack Cohen talked about being kept in the dark and Richard himself said that he didn't know what was in the contract. A

However, for me the most telling moments were the comments made by residents. Many expressed their concern, alarm and incredulity that the council should be entering into such long and complex contracts without knowing any of the detail. A council employee talked about the problems with the outsourced parking contract. Barnet Homes tenants talked about the problems arising when the outsourced maintenance contractor went bust.  Someone from Somerset also spoke up about the problems at SouthWest One.

I was sat close to conservative councillors David Longstaff and Lisa Rutter and Cllr Rutter looked particularly concerned during the meeting. It may be that she is worried about the lack of details and transparency on One Barnet. It may be that she is happy with the policy but worried just how badly the council have communicated the concept to Barnet residents. It may be that she is entirely comfortable about the whole process. However, I suspect that this morning many conservative councillors will be wondering if embarking on this high risk programme is really worth the risk, risk of it going wrong and risk of them losing their seats at the next election. This isn't going to go away. Barnet residents are asking a lot more awkward questions, the national media are putting Barnet under the microscope and it is receiving widespread coverage.

Many people have shown that there are alternatives to this massive outsourcing but the conservatives' commitment to the policy suggests that they are either bankrupt of ideas or ideologically wedded to the concept irrespective of the evidence. We have a window of two weeks before councillors decide on whether they are going to commit every single Barnet resident to what may be a financial disaster or to call a halt to proceedings.  Conservative councillors, please use your common sense, halt the process and at least take some independent financial advice on the nature of the proposed deal.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tonight - One Barnet - Your chance to get answers!

Tonight is the One Barnet Question Time, your chance to ask our politicians their views on this scheme.
'Our Barnet' Question Time  
7-9pm, Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12. Nearest tube: Woodside Park on the Northern Line (High Barnet branch).  
Cllr Richard Cornelius, Conservative Leader of Barnet Council  
Cllr Alison Moore, Leader of Barnet Labour Group  
Cllr Jack Cohen, Leader of Barnet Liberal Democrats Group  
Andy Mudd, public services expert, Association for Public Service Excellence  
The chair will be BAPS member Barbara Jacobson

If you live in Barnet, please try and attend.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

An Alternative to One Barnet - Mr Reasonable's Eight Point Plan

One Barnet outsourcing is seen as the only answer to the financial woes of Barnet. Cllr Cornelius has repeatedly said there is no alternative. Well I simply don't believe it. I have reviewed Barnet's spending very closely over the last two years and I am convinced further savings can be made. I run my own business and I check every single invoice because I know that money is coming out of my own pocket. I have a very clear idea of what I want to invest in and whether it will give me a realistic return on investment. In large organisations people don't talk about money they talk about budgets, some amorphous concept which has no direct correlation with the person spending it. I believe that is happening in Barnet and that has to change.

Set out below is my eight point plan of how I would make savings in Barnet and it is something on which I would welcome an open debate - because it is only through dialogue that we can change things in Barnet.

1.       Management restructure  with the objective of creating a more responsive, flatter management structure. Objective to take out at least £1 million of management costs above and beyond the current proposed restructure. - Mr Mustard illustrated in a post recently how the number of senior managers have rocketed in the last two years from 57 to 95. The restructuring proposals brings that down to 49 but that is in a commissioning model where there are very few staff to manage. I reckon there are further senior posts to go and when you add the 23% pension contributions to the high salaries, the £1 million target looks deliverable.

2.       Immediately halt the use  all external consultants unless specifically authorised by the leader. Objective to cut at least £2 million a year from the budget. - This year to the end of September Barnet have spent £2.52 million on one firm of consultants alone and last month they billed £447,000. Barnet has become consultant dependent to make all their decision for them and that is an exceptionally dangerous and expensive approach to running an organisation. A £2million saving is definitely deliverable.

3.       Adult social care – set up a project team to look how efficiencies can be generated at council funded care homes  focusing on staff scheduling and energy management. Objective to share savings made with care home providers and reduce costs to the council by at least 3% (£2.4 million). - 55% of Barnet's entire budget is spent on adult social care and children's services. In 2011/12 Barnet paid invoices to the value of £78.8 million on adult social services. That isn't for social workers salaries, simple what was paid out to other organisations for providing adult social care. Your Choice Barnet are looking at a £700,000 deficit next year due to difficulties in scheduling staff  as efficiently as possible. Energy costs are a significant care home overhead. By getting all the other care providers in Barnet to work more closely together on areas such as staff scheduling, training, food and energy purchasing I believe the target saving of £2.4 million is deliverable without any impact on the quality of care provided.

4.       Set up a procurement panel  of officers, members and residents to review monthly spending with all invoices over £5,000 to be scrutinised by the panel. Objective to weed out non essential spending with a target of saving at least £1.5 million per annum. - This is something I suggested almost two years ago via the Pledgebank website, an offer that was never taken up. Once you have a panel who start to challenge spending much more vigorously I am convinced this level of saving is more than deliverable. There needs to be an open mind on strategies like shifting to open source software which would save Barnet a fortune on Microsoft licences for all their computers.

5.       Review the top ten contracts to see if they can be renegotiated downwards/ retendered at a lower price or brought back in house at a lower cost.  Objective to save 3% off top 10 contracts. - Many of the contracts have inflation clauses built in which automatically push up costs every year. This is something that should be aggressively challenged. For example where the supplier costs are mainly labour and pay has been frozen for their staff, the inflation factor simply upgrades their profit element,

6.       Set up a project team to the review the number of agency and interim staff with the objective of reducing agency/interim staff costs by at least 10%. - In 2011/12 Barnet spent £7.7 million on Agency Staff and Interims. A number of public sector bodies have made significant savings in exactly this way so £770,000 appears deliverable

7.       Review  office accommodation studies already carried out with the objective of further rationalising space and identifying the minimum space required then develop an exit strategy from  North London Business Park (NLBP) as quickly as possible. In the mean time initiate an energy reduction plan to cut energy consumption at NLBP and Barnet House.  - Based on last year's invoices I estimate we paid just over £5 million in rent and service charges for NLBP offices. This is something that needs to be addressed urgently with a target of reducing rental payments by at least £1 million per annum.

8.       Open discussions via London Councils and GLA representative to cap the ever increasing charges made by TFL (Transport Trading Limited). Barnet paid Transport Trading Limited £13.1 million last year. - This is in addition to the sum we pay TFL via the GLA precept. As I understand the situation most of this money pays for the Freedom Pass. With Boris having just announced fare rises of 4.2% today it looks like this will filter straight back to us for the Freedom Pass payments (I have the detailed mechanism by which Barnet is billed for Freedom Passes but it is too lengthy to go into here but happy to share it with anyone who is interested). If we could secure a freeze in payments next year that would generate savings of £550,000 per annum.

      In total I estimate my plan could save in the region of  £9.5 million per annum, more than the One Barnet DRS and NSCSO savings. These proposals could be implemented any time and from my perspective I don't know why they haven't been implemented already. There is much talk about the need to make savings but frankly I see plenty of savings to be made without a penny being spent on expensive consultants. You just need a lot more attention to detail and a desire to drive out efficiencies. The Councillors and officers need to spend  a lot less time on the mad cap high risk One Barnet Outsourcing and a lot more time running the council efficiently.

Party Dogma 1 - Common Sense 0 - Barnet Heads for Disaster After One Barnet Vote

Last night demonstrated to me why local government needs radical reform. A motion of no confidence in the leader was all about the Barnet Council's obsession with handing over the running of council services to a private company.

Sadly there was very little factual discussion very little analysis of the key facts, very little evidence. There was, however, a great deal of offensive, unpleasant party politics. Cllr Dan Thomas had the bare faced cheek to say that the One Barnet scrutiny process has been open and transparent. Having asked numerous questions over the last two years I have never had a straight answer and any tangible evidence had always been hidden behind the cloak of "commercial sensitivity". Cllr Cornelius blamed the EU; Cllr Marshall blamed the last labour government; the unions got blamed for protecting their member's jobs.

I just wish they would stop blaming other people and look at themselves for a minute. How many members have read all of the papers, how many members have been to speak to councillors in Somerset or Essex or Liverpool or Edinburgh where they might have actually informed themselves and drawn their own conclusions. I tried to ask a question recently as to whether councillors had spoken to councillors in Somerset to talk about SouthWest One  where Somerset County Council is being sued by their private sector outsourcing partner but my question was banned. Councillors seem happy to be spoon fed what officers and external consultants tell them. Their naivety is sometimes breathtaking. Last night Cllr Marshall said that we are safe because we have a contract! What planet is he living on. Luckily he was immediately followed by Lord Palmer who speaks with authority and common sense are who showed Cllr Marshall what utter rubbish he was talking.

The constant mantra last night was there is no alternative. Not true and later today I will publish the Mr Reasonable One Barnet alternative.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

One Barnet Scrutiny - Too Little Too Late

In a late addition to the Council papers for tonight's meeting there is a paper setting out the additional scrutiny meetings that will review the DRS and NSCSO One Barnet contract decision. Sadly this has come two years too late and two additional scrutiny meetings for each is simple not enough on a contract valued at £1 billion over ten years. Hopefully the replacement of Brian Coleman as Chair of the Budget and Performance Overview & Scrutiny Committee will at least allow a modicum of debate. However, by this stage the decision will have already been taken by senior officers and external consultants and these meetings will simply be a rubber stamping exercise.

Based on the questions and answers for tonight's Council meeting it looks like Richard Cornelius is still going to try and press ahead with this highly risky and discredited process even though the evidence suggesting it is likely to be a failure is overwhelming. He says in response to one question (q37) that there are lots of other local authorities who have outsourced  services and that is perfectly correct. However, there is no other Local Authority that has successfully outsourced so many services together on the scale of One Barnet and that is why it is so risky.

Tomorrow I will publish an 8 point plan to deliver exactly the same savings as the two outsourcing contracts but without any of the associated risks - just prudent management. That will show that with a little more common sense and without the help of expensive consultants there most definitely is a plan B.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Barnet's Decision Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a big day in Barnet. No, I know Brian Coleman made his court appearance today but tomorrow is the full council meeting and the vote of no confidence in Richard Cornelius. It all hinges on the One Barnet Outsourcing programme. All the evidence shows that this consultant driven project is very high risk and would outsource democracy for the next ten years. Even Brian Coleman has spoken out against One Barnet.

There are other alternatives and I would be delighted to share my 8 point savings plan with Richard. Pulling the plug on One Barnet and getting all the key stakeholders involved in working together to deliver the savings that are required could make so many problems disappear. It would show that Richard is prepared to be his own man and not do as he is told by the senior officers. It would help to re-engage residents and show them that the Council is genuinely willing to listen to the electorate.

However, failure to pull the plug before the vote tomorrow night will show a contempt for residents, a willingness to trust consultants over the views of many and the denial of evidence from numerous failed outsourcing projects. More importantly it will ratchet up the pressure even further, it will split the Conservative group and it will guarantee that the Conservatives lose control of the council in 2014. Richard, please think carefully and do the right thing. Pull the plug on One Barnet.

Friday, 2 November 2012

BT Saves money - by bring outsourced services back in house. One Barnet credibility exhausted!

This article is reported in tonight's Evening Standard

Watch out, outsourcing companies. Telecoms giant BT says it is cutting costs and saving money by — wait for it — stopping outsourcing and getting its own staff to do these tasks instead.
“We think we can run a number of things more efficiently ourselves,” says chief executive Ian Livingston. An example is that BT has brought its “facilities management capability” in-house, which requires about 1500 staff. That step has removed about 10% of the cost base. Might that be the margin that the outsourcing company was taking before?

So in house can be cheaper and more cost effective than outsourcing. I hope that BT has the good grace to withdraw from One Barnet forthwith.

Brian Coleman is right about One Barnet!

Here is a joint follow up letter to councillors reflecting on the statement made by Brian Coleman yesterday.

Dear Councillor,
We wrote to you recently about the impending vote on the motion of no confidence in Leader Richard Cornelius.  We observed that there was a rising tide of concern in your ranks about the One Barnet programme of outsourcing, and we asked you to act to halt the negotiations for the privatisation of £1 billion worth of our council services.  Now your former colleague Brian Coleman, who has been a senior member of the Cabinet and exerted considerable influence within the party, has chosen to speak out against One Barnet in the strongest terms, calling for its immediate rejection.

In his statement in the Barnet Press, Councillor Coleman refers to the proposed outsourcing as ‘an officer-driven juggernaut’ backed up by a ‘revolving door of endless consultants’ with a ‘promise of savings’. By implication, Cllr Coleman does not believe that One Barnet will deliver those savings.

He proposes:
‘The council needs to dump this flawed scheme and introduce a proper strategy which assesses where services belong, whether that is the private sector, shared services with other boroughs, the voluntary sector or indeed occasionally in-house - a mixed economy is what is needed.’

We would give far more weight than Cllr Coleman to considering the in-house option fully as services are reviewed, but we are glad that he is prepared to voice publicly the idea that large-scale privatisation of services is not the answer to all our prayers. He is not alone in this; many senior Conservative politicians in local government are saying the same. 

He also says of his erstwhile colleagues:
‘I don't know any councillors who agree we should privatise the planning department.’
We invite those of you for whom this is true to speak out! We ask again: who controls the Council, senior officers or the elected Councillors?

We are pleased to see that at last a Conservative councillor is voicing in public the concerns that many of you have about One Barnet, especially since he has had to put aside loyalty to Richard Cornelius in order to do it. (Although, as he points out, Cllr Cornelius had become convinced that One Barnet will save money, he too was angered by the covert moves senior officers took towards adopting a Joint Venture for the DRS outsourcing.) 

Cllr Coleman has also put on record the consternation that many of you felt when Nick Walkley pressed the button on his ejector seat out of the Barnet cockpit. Of course, we have many differences with Cllr Coleman. For example, his suggestion that Conservative councillors have gone along with the One Barnet proposals because the unions had their own separate objections to them seems far-fetched. We find it hard to believe that the Conservative philosophy has as shallow a basis as knee-jerk hostility to anything the unions say. 

Notwithstanding that, and our very many differences with Cllr Coleman over the years, there is an indisputable truth in much of what he is now saying about One Barnet. It is only a pity that someone did not speak out publicly before! 

A glance at what is happening with the parking contract recently outsourced to NSL shows the dangers ahead if the Council plunges ahead with One Barnet. 

The parking contract has been in place for six months and NSL have still not got over their teething troubles; this contract was for £15 million over five years. If you scale up from a £3 million a year mess to £100 million a year how much havoc will be wrought in the lives of residents?

Opening his article, Cllr Coleman says:
‘Something has happened in the last few months in Barnet. Residents have been taking an interest in the way Barnet Council is proposing to operate in future, the so-called One Barnet scheme.’
He is right, residents are very interested in that, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Of course, like you, residents are concerned about the fate – for that is what it is – of their council services, and of the money they have paid out in taxes to secure them.

We hardly need to remind you that residents will also take an interest in who was in charge when their services were handed over wholesale to two large companies, and tied up in 10-year contracts. We all know who they will blame when the service delivery falls short of the high standards they have experienced up till now, or when there are contractual wrangles about service levels with the contractors BT, Capita et al.

Cllr Coleman suggests that Barnet Conservative councillors are behaving like lemmings heading for a cliff. That is not a very positive image but we have to believe that his comments do have some valuable insights and that there must be some truth in them that demand your urgent consideration.
We ask you now then to follow the instinct of your own common sense, stop behaving like lemmings, and abandon the reckless One Barnet programme before it is too late.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne