Monday, 15 September 2014

Barnet Council's Clap-o-Meter tactics to push through more outsourcing

Over the years Barnet Council have produced some highly suspect and biased reports to support their political ideology of outsourcing the entire council. The One Barnet Business Case reports are the most obvious examples and I blogged about the DSG report back in March 2011. In that business case there was a lack of evidence to support many of the assumptions and a series of what I can only describe as entirely untruthful statements about investment and who was going to make it. At that time they said that all of the investment was going to be made by the outsourcing company and the only exception would be the cremators at Hendon Crematorium. Roll on two years and Barnet Council sign a cheque for investment for £16.1 million for all of the investment.

With the election out of the way, the council zealots now have another four years to push through their commissioning council agenda, one dictated entirely by political dogma and lacking in both financial rigour and common sense. Tonight we see yet another of these  fallacious reports which is supposed to dupe any stupid, ignorant, lazy or unquestioning councillors on the committee. Luckily, I think (hope) that today we have some rather sharper councillors who aren't going to put up with this utter tripe and who are going to ask some probing and challenging questions.

I have read an excellent report by Dexter Whitfield which sets out those deficiencies concisely and I would urge as many people as possible to read it here. However, I believe that the report will not be allowed to be taken at the meeting nor are the unions who represent the staff that will be impacted by the decision allowed to speak.  Barnet Council don't believe is balance, in evidence or in alternative view points so any report which seeks to challenge the Council's view point must be suppressed. This means that council officers employed by Capita are promoting another outsourcing project of whom the most likely winner will be Capita. No conflict there then.

I have included one example from the council report  that incensed me as follows:

"The in house option is the representation of the service continuing to operate broadly as now, but on the basis that budgets are to be reduced significantly. This option would therefore require significant service reductions to meet budget targets."... "The in house model cannot meet all the objectives for this service, as the level of service cannot be preserved and it would not actively involve schools in the development process."
The report then lists out the potential risks of an in house team as follows (my comments in red):
  • Limited experience in trading outside the Borough - but what if there aren't any buyers outside the borough. We have seen this with the Your Choice Barnet (YCB) contract which having been outsourced on the basis of winning external business is in massive financial difficulties because there are no external buyers of the service
  • Limited ability to generate new income - but the successful schools catering service run by an in-house team already makes a profit of £190,000 a year which is ploughed back into Barnet coffers
  • Over time, non-DSG services will be reduced to a statutory minimum, with potential impact on services to schools and on children and young people - and who says that won't happen with an outsourced provider exactly as is happening with YCB
  • Less ability and freedom to innovate - an entirely groundless and unsubstantiated assumption based on a prejudiced view of "public bad private good"
  • Delivering savings will limit the capacity to generate income - again an entirely unsubstantiated and false statement. The in-house team have already had to cope with budget cuts every year for the last four years and at the same time generate £9.1 million of income per annum.
  • Potential gradual reduction in strategic influence * - and the asterisk denotes a footnote which say this applies to a "number" (and in my opinion all) of the options
  • Redundancies will be required, the cost of which are retained in house - and all the staff redundancies paid when the two main contracts were let to Capita were paid  for in full by the Council so again an entirely misleading and erroneous statement
  • Cannot secure additional private funding - so what happened to Invest-to-Save?
  • No sharing of risk with schools or third party - who says the schools can't share some of the risk?
The council have also fiddled the option evaluation scoring scheme so as to load it against the in-house option. No one is answerable for the scores given, and as far as I can see they are entirely made up and without substantiation, simply a personal view of the officers involved.
Set out below is the scoring chart:
Strategic direction is given 30% of the marks whereas performance - what they actually deliver -get only 20% of the marks. This illustrates perfectly how dogma trumps how the service is actually delivered and why the officers are completely out of touch with reality.

Don't let anyone believe that just because there are lots of numbers it is a scientific or rational mechanism. It isn't. I would liken it to Hughie Green's Clap-o-Meter - unscientific, driven entirely by the amount of noise made by the audience and for amusement only.  (Any resemblance between Hughie Green and Richard Cornelius is entirely coincidental). I hope that at the meeting tonight the Labour Councillors make plenty of noise, and ensure this report is consigned to the rejects bin where it belongs.


  1. I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry with rage, when I read this part of the report:

    "3.3.2 Initial Market Research
    Based on the initial assessment of the options, some assumptions required testing
    with the market. Due to the sensitive nature of the project it was decided that the
    most appropriate method of carrying out this research was to invite four industry
    representative companies to complete a questionnaire and attend a short interview
    with the aim of answering the following questions:
    • Is there a market appetite for this type of contract?
    • Is the scope appropriate? If not what could be added or removed?
    • Would the role of schools as owners in the model be an issue?
    • What level of growth is possible for the services in scope?
    • What would be required to ensure a fair procurement process is recognised
    as such?"

    Guess what the industry representatives said?

    "• All respondents agreed that there was a market for this package of services
    • All respondents identified the value in providing a single brand for educational
    services ... "

    etc etc etc - who would have thought it?

    And, as you mention, yet another massive commercial exercise by Barnet, with a clear risk of conflict of interest: simply risible.

  2. What upsets me most is how the councillors fall for this guff. Their naivety never fails to amaze me.

  3. Having been to the meeting last night, I can only heartily agree. Writing post now.