Wednesday, 21 May 2014

One Day Till the Voters Decide - Where has the £55 million gone?

Tomorrow is election day and Barnet residents must decide who is worthy of their vote. Over the last week I have been looking back at what has happened over the last four years in order. I wasn't sure which issue to focus on today. Should I look at the seven key principles that should apply to all aspects of public life as set down by the Committee for Standards in Public Life. Have councillors shown: 
That is very much a matter of personal opinion so I'll leave that for you to decide. However, as someone who I respect a great deal said very recently "nothing catches my attention more than finding out people are spending my hard earned money unwisely and without consulting me" so I thought for my last blog before the election I would focus on the money Barnet have handed over to Capita.

According to the Supplier payments system  in the financial year 2013/14 Barnet paid Capita (including the Re joint venture controlled by Capita) £55.3 million. Bear in mind that the contract wasn't even signed until August and didn't commence until September/October so that represents just over 6 months where Capita have been running services. Bearing in mind that the total value of the two contracts should be no more than £36 million per annum (when all the alleged savings are taken into account), I can't understand why we have shelled out £55 million for just six months worth of contract.

So how come Barnet have paid so much? Firstly, Barnet residents have paid millions of pounds to make hundreds of council staff redundant even though councillors repeatedly denied this when questioned about it before the contract was signed. Redundancies impact many people. Directly it impacts the person made redundant especially those who are older and may struggle to get another full time job. It impacts their families - if they are unable to secure a new job quickly it may mean they have to move out of the area to somewhere their housing benefit will give them even the most basic of accommodation. Their children will have to move schools and all of their friends. They will lose the support network of family and friends so vital when you have young children and/or elderly parents and we, as residents, are paying to make that happen.

Then there is the unresolved matter of who funded the capital investment in IT. Barnet paid £16.1 million to Capita to fund investment in IT. The council tried to explain this away by saying this wasn't the council investing in IT it was just bringing forward some of the money it would have to pay to Capita over the next 10 years.  Yet when the council rejected the possibility of investing in an in-house team it was because they had no money for investment.

The council also paid Capita £14.7 million as part of a management fee for Capita to assist the council while awaiting the outcome of the Judicial Review. Cabinet members approved a contract of up to £14.7 million yet one week later the council paid Capita the entire £14.7 million in full. As it transpired the Judicial Review took place quite quickly thereafter and the actual value of work carried out by Capita during this interim period was only £700,000 leaving £14 million paid unnecessarily, in advance, which had to be clawed back against future payment. I blogged about this in October last year.

So when you are standing in the voting booth tomorrow with your pencil poised to make your cross, think very carefully to yourself. 
Will the candidate safeguard my money carefully and responsibly or will they hand it over when asked without understanding what it is for? 
Will they challenge officers and ask for clear evidence? 
Will they scrutinise closely and make sure they are fully satisfied with why so much money is being paid out or will they just roll over and do as they are told? 
These are critical questions and any candidate deserving of our votes should have a very clear view on all these points. Make sure you ask them.

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