Friday, 30 January 2015

Christmas cheer for Capita as they bill Barnet £16.69 million in December

Barnet's supplier payments for December reveal £16.69 million paid to Capita even after two credit notes for a total of £1.5 million. Barnet keep saying these payments are in line with the payments schedule but I am at a loss to see how they can have billed so much in just one month.

It also brings the running total of payments to Capita of £102.9 million a staggering sum and one which I do not believe can be reconciled against the contract that we were all told would save money.

In addition, Comensura, the company that provides agency and interim staff to Barnet billed £2.66 million in December, a vast amount and more than double the average month spend. It includes a single invoice for precisely £1.25 million billed to the Customer Support Group run by Capita. Such a large round figure looks to me like a separate payment not the reconciliation of agency and interim staff invoices. Cllr Mark Shooter raised the issue of Comensura cost back in July and was told they were going down. Well Cllr Shooter they aren't - they are rocketing and something stinks.

I remain concerned that having handed over the running of the council to Capita  no one is actually keeping an eye on just how much money is being spent. Where is the scrutiny, where are the checks and balances who is actually checking Capita and Comensura?

Thousands of lost voters in Barnet at the general election

My son is 17 and will be 18 before the general election. Traditionally a household electoral registration form was sent out in the Autumn identifying those in the household  who were on the electoral register and allowing you to add in someone who was 16 or 17. In September/October 2013 I duly added my son's name to the form. In the Autumn 2014 they changed the system - this is not a Barnet idea, it is a Government change. This form omitted my son's details so I rang Barnet who said they were working through the new system and it would get picked up.

With less than 100 days to the election I rang them again and found that my son's details are not on the register - because he isn't 18 yet and he has to actively register on line with his national insurance number. Is he going to do that without prompting  - definitely not. Does he know where his national insurance number is definitely not.

I wonder how many other teenagers for which this will be their first general election are going to miss out on their vote. Are they told about the need to register their vote at school - no. Have we had any leaflets through the door about it - no.

Expect thousands of teenagers in Barnet and in every other constituency to lose their vote at this election, something which could alter the make up of our next government.

If you have a teenager who hasn't registered to vote and will be 18 by the time of the general election make sure they go here and register.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The latest outsourcing - a case study in political dogma

"Barnet’s Catering Service provides approximately 3.23 million primary schools meals each year and approximately 1.14million secondary meals. The service provides freshly prepared meals cooked mainly on site from fresh ingredients in accordance with Government Food Standards. The service also holds the Soil Association Food for Life Silver Catering Mark which means farm assured meat, free range eggs and some organic foods". It also makes an annual operating profit of £190,470.

Barnet plan to outsource the school meals service as part of a larger package of council educational services including Ed Psych Team, Educational Welfare Services, and the SEN Placements and Performance Team to name just a few. One of the drivers for the council's outsourcing strategy is "the changing educational landscape" in other words the introduction of free school and schools becoming academies.

The business case, unsurprisingly, says that the in-house team should not be allowed to bid because only a private sector organisation has the skills and freedom to make money. Now what I found most alarming is the causal attitude the people who write these business cases take to hard evidence. The business case that justifies outsourcing all these critical services can be read here. As is so often the case in these manufactured documents, they slant the findings to justify their decision. In particular this business case says that the private sector -  a "joint" venture will generate significant new revenues. Currently the schools meals service generates 79% of all the revenues from the proposed services at a profit margin of 2.7% an entirely reasonable margin on a school meals service.

I asked some questions about this at the committee meeting last week and the answers I received were alarming to say the least. The business case suggests that a joint venture would generate £1,847,000 in new income - but this is profit, not gross revenue. The business case suggests that the margin on this business will be 20% so that means they will need to generate £9 million of additional turnover  - a doubling of the current turnover. By generating this additional £1.8  million of profit the business case shows how a joint venture will mean that cuts to the service will not be necessary.

However, the key issue is whether the margin of 20% is a realistic one. For school catering it clearly isn't. So what happens if the margin is 10% - well that means the joint venture will have to generate £18 million of new revenues and if the margin is 5% - still better than just about any other school meal service, they will need to generate an additional £36 million of gross revenues. Now it may be that they can generate the additional from other services but they will have to work incredibly hard if they are to generate £9 million of non schools meal revenues - the equivalent of carrying out the services for four other boroughs the size of Barnet in the first year. The lack of business sense and the unflinching belief in outsourcing everything is terrifying especially when driven by zealots who accept everything they are told without question.

Your Choice Barnet was, in effect, outsourced to Barnet Homes - an arms length management organisation - with a business plan predicated on growing revenues, something it completely failed to do. This has resulted in staff  pay cuts of 9.5% along with with to services. It looks like the educational services are set to repeat exactly the same mistakes.

Barnet Libraries Consultation: A Sham

A Joint Letter from the Barnet Bloggers to the Leader of Barnet Council

Barnet Bloggers are appalled by reported plans to outsource libraries and make them available to commercial exploitation by companies such as Starbucks and Waterstones. The real purpose of proposals to cut and shut libraries in Barnet is now clear.

In April 2013, a High Court ruling found that Barnet Council had failed in its obligation properly to consult residents over the imposition of the whole scale privatisation of local public services, known then as ‘One Barnet’.

The Judicial Review which had reached this conclusion found that legal challenge had been brought too late, and therefore the two massive contracts with Capita, agreed by the Conservative administration, are now in place for a period of at least ten years.

After narrowly being returned to power the new administration has, as predicted, rushed ahead with new plans to outsource most of the remaining services, at the same time as launching plans to impose devastating cuts in budget.

As a result, we now face devastating plans to slash the funding of our library service by a staggering 60%, a disproportionate and punitive amount which is clearly agreed as a means of preparing the argument for yet another act of privatisation.
Councillors have been presented with a report with three equally damaging options for the future of Barnet Libraries, and residents encouraged to take part in what we believe to be a deeply flawed and subjective consultation process, one which an independent report has described as not fit for purpose:

Now we are faced with new information which, if true, would suggest that far from learning the lessons of the Judicial Review, the authority’s latest consultation process, as well as being deliberately designed to minimise opposition to the three options, is itself a complete irrelevance, and that the outcome of the council’s consideration of the three options is already agreed in principle, if not in detail.
And if this is dialogue is typical of the way in which potential business partners negotiate with the authority, it would also raise serious and wider questions over the integrity of the procurement process in Barnet, past and present.

Whatever the opinions of residents, it seems that there will be closure and sale of library buildings, and the outsourcing of our library service, engineered so as to provide opportunities for commercial exploitation by private contractors.

Such an outcome would be simply unacceptable, and indeed would be an unlawful decision taken in complete disregard of the democratic process.
We ask Councillor Richard Cornelius, leader of the Conservative administration, immediately to halt the discredited consultation currently in place, remove the library proposals from the budget cuts about to be imposed, and to launch an independent investigation into the alleged subversion of the due process of democratic engagement that should decide the governance of our borough, and hold the authority to account in a way that is fair, and transparent.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Notes for editors/background:
In April 2013, a High Court ruling found that Barnet Council had failed in its obligation properly to consult residents over the imposition of the whole scale privatisation of local public services, known then as ‘One Barnet’.

The Judicial Review which had reached this conclusion found that legal challenge had been brought too late, and therefore the two massive contracts with Capita, agreed by the Conservative administration, are now in place for a period of at least ten years.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Barnet Spend on Interims & Agency Staff Continues to Rise

Supplier payments for November are out and yet again the fallacies of savings are cast into doubt. Back in July I blogged about a question Cllr Mark Shooter had asked at the full council meeting relating to the spend on interim and agency staff. The Council response implied large savings had been made but I knew the figures were utterly misleading and when Cllr Shooter queried the figures the answer was laughable.

Question 5 Councillor Mark Shooter
What was the trend in the last quarter of 2013/14 with regards to the council’s spend on agency

Answer by the Leader
There was a 12% reduction in agency staffing expenditure. Agency staff costs incurred during
2013/14 was £3.276m lower than in 2012/13.

Supplementary Question
Can the Leader confirm that these figures are correct?

Supplementary Answer
By one definition, these figures are correct. However, overall, they do not give the full picture and this will be communicated in writing.

In November Comensura billed Barnet a massive £1,630,620.33 bringing the running total for the financial year to date to £9,554,145.16 and running slightly ahead of the same period last year. What I want to understand is why, 15 months into a massive outsourcing contract, are we still spending so much on agency and interim staff. I also want to know why Capita were paid in advance over £360,000 in Gainshare payments for supposedly anticipated  agency staff savings which do not appear to have materialised and  what steps are being taken to recover that money with interest from Capita. At a time when further outsourcing is being planned it seems ridiculous that we are spending so much money on agency staff.

Other major payments in November were Capita who were paid a shade under £2 million, Barnet Lighting, our flawed and financially disastrous Street Lighting PFI was paid £451,028.56 particularly galling when having replaced all the lights to make them brighter they then dimmed over 90% of the street lights to save on electricity.  Barnet's car parking contractor NSL were paid £561,615.28.

We were also charged £143,750.84 by Facultatieve Technologies Ltd. This company installs and repairs crematoria, so this appears to be yet another bill for Hendon Crematorium where we have already been charged £856,081 in the last 18 months.

We also saw the reappearance of an old favourite this month. Impower Consulting, the partners with Agilisys in the One Barnet programme were paid £27,290.75. Perhaps they are trying to sort out the mess they left behind given that so many of the council staff involved with the project have left the council.

As ever I shall be keeping a close eye on Barnet's spending in 2015.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Barnet pay Capita £5.35 million in October

Barnet Supplier payments for October are out and the usual suspect feature large.

Capita were paid £5,353,300.61 on both the CSG contract and the Re contract. I still cannot understand how we can be paying so much money to Capita when this contract is supposed to be saving us money.

To add insult to injury, Specialist Computer Centres were paid £380,007.32 for software licenses and support. That is in addition to the £16.1 million we paid up front to Capita to install new computer systems.

Comensura who provide agency and interim staff were paid £982,152.64 in October, a huge amount given that so many staff have been made redundant and the latest plans are to make a further 2,500 staff redundant leaving only 332 staff to run the whole of Barnet.

North London Waste Authority were paid £1,887,386  which again seems a great deal considering the council spent £11 million last year to introduce the new Blue Bins.

Barnet Lighting Services, the street lighting PFI was paid £510,195.76 a shocking waste of money when you understand that the key driver was to improve street lighting yet 26,000 of the 28,150 street lights have been dimmed.

Conway Aecom who carry out road repairs were paid £977,453.13 in October. I don't know if it was them who resurfaced Crescent Road in East Barnet but whoever did it di a lousy job with recessed gratings and manhole covers meaning that when you drive down the road it is a bit like going down a cobbled lane. With a "thin client" where contractors monitor themselves poor service is perhaps an inevitability.

Eversheds, the lawyers were paid £167,029.83 so plenty of money for them but not for the libraries.

Almost 4 years ago in January 2011 I entered a pledge on the Barnet Council Pledgebank website which was as follows:

“I will pledge to give up 4 hours of my time every month to scrutinise and challenge all invoices over £10,000 to help the Council reduce unnecessary spending so long as five other people will make a similar time commitment to sit on the panel and that Barnet Council will genuinely participate in the process and listen to the advice and opinions given.”

The pledge still holds good - someone needs to scrutinize the payments if we are to drive down costs.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

What Barnet Tories said about Libraries in their manifesto just 6 months ago

With the massive cuts to Barnet's library services I thought it would be interesting to see what they said just before the election earlier this year. Take a look for yourself here but this is what they said about Libraries in their manifesto:

Barnet’s Libraries are in good shape.
We have:

  • Kept Barnet’s libraries open – neighbouring Brent closed half theirs.
  • Established two community libraries.
  • Provided all libraries with free wifi.
  • Installed RFID technology e.g. self-service kiosks in many of our libraries

We will:

  • Pledge not to sell the Friern Barnet library building.
  • Deliver improvements to library buildings where required and have new buildings planned e.g. Finchley Church End library.
  • Examine the potential for libraries to expand their offer and become community spaces.
  • Look at community involvement and assist local people to actively support their libraries.

Yet six month on they are planning to decimate the libraries. Where was that in their manifesto? Just like the second phase of outsourcing they are planning, it was silent on the subject. They said that out libraries are in good shape - so why do they want to turn them into large living rooms just 20 ft by 27 ft?

It just shows that you should never believe anything a politician tells you. I was at the East Barnet Library consultation on Friday and the level of mistrust in the Council was off the scale. No one believes a word the Council says any more.