Thursday, 10 November 2016

CSG (Capita) 3 year Contract Review

Next Tuesday the Performance and Contract Management Committee meet to rubber stamp a ringing endorsement of the Capita contract. I say that on the basis that even before the committee has met, Barnet has published a press release here which includes the following statement from Cllr Finn:

I’d like to thank members of the cross-party review working group and members of the public who expressed their views. I’m pleased that, three years into the contract with Capita to supply the council’s back office and customer services, this review confirms that it has been a success.  

"With council budgets under significant pressure, the fact that these services are now costing the Barnet taxpayer £6 million less each year to deliver is substantial. But I’m also pleased that Capita is meeting the agreed performance targets in the contract and that user satisfaction is going up.  We have set challenging performance targets and there is more work to be done in certain areas, but so far this has been a good deal for the borough.”

What he doesn't mention is the £25.6 million already paid to Capita for additional services outside the contract nor the £39 million they are going to pay Capita for additional services between now and 2020. That is a total of just under £65 million of additional services payments to Capita which they do not have to tender for but is automatically handed to them.

I have submitted some questions to the committee which are set out below so we will have to see what responses I receive.
  1. In Appendix B it states that “Monitoring of contractual commitments forms part of the regular monitoring undertaken by the Commercial team, in conjunction with the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for each service. Progress is recorded in a tracker spreadsheet”. Have members of this committee received a copy of this tracker spreadsheet and can a copy be made public?
  2. In Appendix B it states that the employee survey carried out is company wide rather than on a contractual basis. Does this mean that there is no staff satisfaction survey specifically for Barnet staff and if so why has this been signed off as complete when it provides Barnet with no specific information about staff satisfaction in the Barnet contract?
  3. In Appendix B it acknowledges that the Leadership Panel is not delivered. Given that the role of the Leadership Panel was seen as a key component of the three year review why has this issue still not been addressed?
  4. Who prepared Appendix C, a Barnet Council employee or a CSG (Capita) employee?
  5. In Appendix C what reassurance have you received that the £25.6 million that you have paid Capita for additional services represents value for money and as stated on page 7 “paying less than we would in the open market” given that all these additional service are automatically given to Capita without any market testing?
  6. What oversight is in place to ensure that the £39 million you are going to pay to Capita for additional services over the next 4 years is value for money?
  7. Why are we paying an additional £9 million on IT when IT is part of the CSG contract and that Barnet paid Capita upfront for capital investment in IT?
  8. Given that we have had 4 different IT directors in 3 years how can we be reassured that this additional spend is essential and that it will not change again when another IT director is appointed?
  9. Why are comparisons quoted as a percentage of total spend when work is volume related not cost related?
  10. On Page 6 of Appendix C what is the relevance of the capital schemes comparison?
  11. On Page 6 of Appendix C there is a comparison with £7.1 million paid to Impower/Agilisys. Given that Councillors authorised a spend of “circa £2 million” for this contract do you think this a suitable basis for comparison?
  12. On transformation project Appendix C states that contractual rate cards are 11% below the rates that would be paid to equivalent companies. What tangible evidence supports that statement?
  13. In Appendix 4 the chart showing in year council tax collection rates appears to show rates are lower in 2015/16 than they were in 2012/13. Is this correct?

Monday, 31 October 2016

Barnet Supplier Payments - Interim & Agency hits £10 million for the first 6 months of 2016/17

Supplier payments for September have just been published here. As usual the key recipients are Capita, GLA and Barnet Group. Comensura who supply agency and interim staff had a relatively modest month in August but came back with a vengeance in September with a bill of more than £2 million. That brings the total for the first 6 months of 2016/17 to just over £10 million and remains on track for hitting £20 million.

I don't know what vehicles Barnet purchased but they spent £230,503.68 with J Toomey Motors which seems rather a lot especially as they also pay Enterprise Car Hire for vehicles.

We also paid HB Law £631,202.21 for legal fees and disbursements and £948,884.11 to recently outsourced education services operated by Cambridge Education. I wonder how much those outsourced services are saving?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Barnet Council - Agency and interim staff commission could have saved library staff

I have written a number of blogs about the amount Barnet Council spend on Agency and Interim staff as published in their monthly supplier payments. "Does it matter?" you may say. Well from my perspective yes it does.

The commission payments on the agency costs are significant and numerous.We pay a commission to the originating employment agency, a commission to Comensura, one to Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation through which the Comensura contract was let,  and a gainshare payment to Capita.

This year it looks like spend on agency costs will exceed £20 million. I reckon that we are paying at least 10% and probably closer to 15% (or higher), so between £2 million and £3 million in commission. That is money that generates no benefit - simply profit for all the intermediaries between the member of staff and Barnet Council.

In addition, there are a significant number of interim and agency staff who are paid at consultancy day rates significantly above the typical salary for that post. Lastly, there is the cost of having to go through a series of different people each time the interim moves on, something which I raised at the Performance and Contract management evidence session and something which even Conservative councillors agreed was a problem.

So why raise this again now? Well this week 46% of Barnet's librarians have been told they are being made redundant to save around £2.5 million, a sum very similar to the commission being paid on agency staff. This demonstrates to me that Barnet Council have completely lost the plot when it comes to setting spending priorities.

In the past I have been told that the reason for the increasing agency spend is because of the inability to recruit social workers. While that may be part of the problem, scrutiny of the evidence suggests that use of agency staff is endemic across several departments. In the latest detailed analysis of the Comensura spend in July 2016 £419,000 was spent on agency and interim staff in the Commissioning department and £227,000 was in Streetscene.

The graph on the right illustrates just how much agency and interim spend has grown since the concept of One Barnet was dreamed up. The spend doubled between 2010/11 and 2015/16 and is set to grow further this financial year at a time when more and more staff are being made redundant and that just doesn't make economic sense.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Barnet's Monthly spend - Agency costs look like hitting £20 million this financial year

Barnet's July supplier payments have been published here and it is generally a light month with total spending at just £29.9 million. The one payment that does jump out is Comensura who supply the council with agency and interim staff. In July they were paid £1.86 million and this brings the total for the first four months of this financial year to £6.9 million. On that basis it looks like Barnet will hit £20 million for spend on interims and agency staff this financial year. This is completely unacceptable given that we are paying commission and agency fees on all of those payments.  If we are paying 10% commission on this agency spend - and I suspect it is significantly higher - then the commission alone is is almost as much as the Council are planning to save by destroying our library service. Not only that but the lack of continuity by employing an never ending stream of interims and agency staff leads to inefficiencies and the same mistakes being repeated time and again. I have questioned Conservative councillors about this on numerous occasions and they entirely complacent on the matter. Having outsourced so many services it seems ridiculous that so much is being spent on temporary staff.  Richard Cornelius is the leader of the council and the buck stops with him. He has to get a grip on this massive problem.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Barnet Pay £17.5 Million to Capita in June

On Monday night I gave evidence at the Performance and Contract management working group which is undertaking a 3 year review of the Capita CSG contract. One of the areas I covered was the increasing cost of the Capita contract specifically in areas such as special projects and contract variations.
The evidence I gave  included the table below:

This shows that we have spend £33.44 million more on the CSG contract than was originally envisaged. (It doesn't include the spending on the other Capita contract, Re). I was encouraged to hear  Cllr Zinkin say that this was an area they were looking into having heard my concern expressed about this previously.

However, yesterday the supplier payments for June were published and guess who was a massive recipient?  Yes Capita!

On the two contracts, CSG and Re, Capita were paid £17.5 million in June so, by the looks of it, a lot more special projects and contract variations.

In terms of Capita's performance, I also submitted some charts on telephone performance over the last 12 month. Whilst the average figures say they are meeting the target of answering calls within 20 seconds, I like to look into the detail of the figures. Some calls are automated where you say the name of the person you want to speak to and these calls are all classified as meeting the service level target at 100%. However, this offsets some poor performance on other calls.The charts below are for three specific service areas and shows, on a monthly basis, what percentage of calls are answered within the agreed target and how many calls are abandoned - that is residents give up after waiting too long for their call to be answered.

This shows that over the last year calls to Housing Benefit have only been answered within the agreed service level target once and that over the year more than 6,400 calls have been abandoned.

Calls regarding Council Tax have only hit the agreed service level target twice in the last year and more than 8000 calls have been abandoned.

Finally, in terms of Adult Social Care, the 20 second target is never hit and almost 4,800 calls were abandoned.  That is exceptionally worrying but worse, I seem to be the only person who is highlighting this problem. (Calls for April, May and June were not recorded in the performance figures).

I made the point to the working group that staff turnover and the failure to retain staff is a major contributing factor to both meeting these targets and to ensuring residents are getting the best quality service from knowledgeable and experienced staff. This runs throughout the contracts not just on answering telephones yet Barnet do not measure Capita against staff turnover Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), something which I hope they will address as part of this review.

I have also submitted my evidence on the 324 contractual commitments that were made by Capita which you can read (or not) here and have asked the working group to make sure that someone actually checks to see if they have been honoured.

I hope that the working group really scrutinise the CSG contract performance and, as I said at the meeting, several hundred hard working Barnet Council employees were made redundant to implement this contract. We owe it to those people to at least check that the promises made are being delivered.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Lack of transparency on the NLBP Redevelopment ignores residents' concerns

Guest Blog
Set out below is a guest blog from the residents of Weirdale and Asbourne Avenue next to the North London Business Park.

"The London Borough of Barnet are on a mission, to build on every conceivable piece of land including back gardens with little thought or consideration to local residents, the infrastructure, environment or the community it serves.

This is not a new strategy but it is strategy about to go in to overdrive with the proposed redevelopment of the North London Business Park (NLBP) by Comer Homes.

Despite significant opposition to the original plans by hundreds of local residents and without keeping residents informed the council march on with their close colleagues at Comer Homes and friendly management consultants Capita. All parties have done a great job in NOT keeping the community informed. Barnet’s philosophy on consultation seems to be a tick box exercise - information regarding the development and planning process has been very difficult to find and decipher, with residents not informed of a key event and decision.  As a lay person it seems Barnet want to intentionally exclude the public’s involvement and right comment in order to push through this development with minimal intrusion.

Comer Homes are no different, they started with fancy brochures and a consultation process that took place right at the beginning but I for one have never heard from the developer again despite signing up for regular updates,

Whilst we accept progress and understand the need for additional housing in the borough there is a way of doing so without so many controversial measures. The plans for the NLBP are a complete contradiction to previous Conservative views. Proposing residential Tower blocks at a time where most have or are being brought down in London is nonsensical.

The independent charity Policy Exchange clearly advised Councils and Government back in 2013 that, "High-rise blocks should be knocked down and replaced with terraced homes to help tackle social problems and remove 'no-go' areas"

"The report by Policy Exchange claims terraced streets and low-rise flats could achieve the same density of housing as high rise."

How much of the housing will be affordable or in sustainable areas with a quality of life? This is currently a brown field site which has had some recreational playing fields yet the proposal is to turn the site in to a housing estate with a disproportionate amount of high rise buildings. It’s should not just be about building homes but also what they look like and the surroundings they exist in but this type of outlook only appears in developer’s brochures.

In reality the Developers in this case Comer Homes are looking to maximise their return from the land they purchased many years ago and it is the Councils role, elected by the people for the people to ensure that developers don’t get the best return on their investment but that the local community get the best additions to housing and services in their borough.

A good example of where this is NOT happening is at the North end of the NLBP site where plans are being agreed in outline to allow Emergency and Pedestrian access to the site via  Ashbourne Ave / Weirdale Ave. Now this access point has been closed / restricted for generations. The only access ever allowed was pedestrian access for those who worked on the site many years ago via a manned gate.

Since then the number of cars in the area has increased significantly and whilst the roads continue to be relatively quiet compared to main thoroughfares the sheer number of vehicles has forced many residents to invest in off street parking. Whilst this has helped the fact remains that most days and especially at weekends and evenings it is a difficult road to navigate with parked cars everywhere. So the idea of emergency vehicles plus additional cars parking in Ashbourne Ave / Weirdale Ave so that people can use the pedestrian access as a short cut is a ridiculous and dangerous suggestion and NOT in the current residents/ public’s interest and only in the interest of the developer.

There is a reasonable assumption that the Council should always remain completely independent. In Barnet there is a strong opinion amongst many residents that there is an unhealthy and not in the public interest relationship that has developed between Barnet Council, the Developer Comer Homes and the Consultants Capita. This relationship needs to be independently investigated before the NLBP plans are considered further. There is a significant conflict of interest between the three parties who share office space at the NLBP, in fact it is my understanding that Comer are the Councils landlords currently on the NLBP site.

The Residents associations won’t go quietly and are prepared to turn to the law if necessary to ensure that the development of the site is in the best interest of the people living in the vicinity of the NLBP.

The residents surrounding the NLBP are tired of being pushed around by the council who are happy to trade with developers as if there is no impact to local residents.

The local MP Theresa Villiers and Councilor Lisa Rutter are supportive of the residents’ concerns,

The Conservative MP said: “I will fight these plans. I accept the need for new homes but eight storey blocks of flats are completely unacceptable.

“That kind of development would be wholly out of character with the local area; it would disrupt traffic; and put real pressure on local services. If housing is to be built on this site, it must be far less dense in order to avoid impacting on surrounding streets.

“I also strongly oppose any proposed access through Weirdale or Ashbourne Avenue,  Villiers, as well as Councilor Lisa Rutter, have demanded urgent meetings with the council and developers to set out their strong oppositions to the plans."

For further information email

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

My Take on Brexit - Why Labour needs to stop in-fighting and come up with a credible industrial and employment strategy

As a Remainer I was desperately disappointed at the Brexit vote, but we are where we are and we have to get on with it. However, the issue that strikes me most now is how Labour have failed to address the issues that clearly resulted in so many Labour supporters outside London voting for Brexit and how there seems to be no clear strategy for moving forward.

In the run up to the referendum, the debate was entirely sterile, arguing around tightly defined topics with no real thought about how to plan for a new model that would provide an engaging vision of the future Britain within the EU.

If I start with immigration, part of the issue, as I see it, is the large number manual unskilled and semi skilled jobs that have attracted so many EU migrants. The root of this problem, from my perspective, is the failure of the UK education system to train up the UK workforce appropriately and the consistent failure of UK Governments to develop an industrial strategy that encourages the growth of skilled and semi skilled employment.

The Work Foundation generates some fascinating statistics about both employment and under employment and the skill levels of our workforce. The push for growth in the University sector suggests that by 2024 there will be 5 million more people with higher education qualifications yet only 2 million growth high skilled jobs. At the same time there are no signs of any growth in those people holding NVQ3 qualifications. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in 2014, 58.8% of graduates had jobs which did not require a degree. It strike me that some of these semi skilled and trades jobs are being filled by EU migrants simply because we haven’t trained enough UK staff with the correct skills to fill them. We have created the vacuum which EU migrants have filled. That is not their fault - they are fulfilling a need.

To my mind you can look at the situation we are in in two ways; welcome EU migrants and let the underskilled and underemployed continue to resent our EU and see vindication in the Brexit vote or set out a much more comprehensive plan to reskill our national workforce giving them a better chance to compete for those semi skilled and skilled jobs, something that will be essential if we opt for the "Norwegian" option/EEA membership which will still require free movement of labour.

In January this year Sir Michael Wilshaw roundly condemned the Further Education sector yet it is clear that government funding to this sector has been cut repeatedly, creating and perpetuating the shortcomings of the FE sector  An example of this is the skills shortage in the construction sector. Indeed back in January David Thomas of Barratt Developments described the skills shortage as “the number one challenge for housebuilders”. With a strong, vibrant FE sector producing skills workers for sectors that need them we could be filling that vacuum not making it worse.

I was discussing this with my sister, a retired teacher. Before retiring she was responsible for for NVQ courses at her secondary school. At its peak they were running 23 separate NVQ courses giving children recognised and  desirable qualifications and a direct gateway into good quality jobs. Change of government, change of policy and those courses disappeared denying many children an opportunity to succeed, an opportunity to enter a career path, an opportunity to earn and contribute to society.

There is also a massive problem of underemployment, people who are in part time work but who would like to work more. Again the Work Foundation provide statistics on this:

The table below summarises the main findings.
2015 - Q4 
Unemployment rate (%)
Under-employment rate (%)
 Young (16-24)
That suggests there is still a lot of slack in the economy. Short term underemployment has become entrenched as long term underemployment because the government has failed to address and allowed employers to exploit it with zero hours contracts. It may give employers some flexibility but it is a devastating waste of resources, especially young people who could be contributing so much more to the economy and reduce the burden on the social security budget.

To my mind we should be stimulating the economy to take up that slack, to take people out of low pay and benefits and to give them spending power that will in turn help stimulate growth. But this takes us to the second area where politicians have failed.

If you look at the Government’s Industrial Strategy page it sums up  that we don’t really have a proper strategy, just a few initiatives which don’t seem to address the underlying issues of British industry in a cogent and coordinated fashion. We need a coherent long term plan which sets out a clear path to growth and fuller employment with decent skilled and well paid jobs served by a well trained and well paid staff. Both Chuka Umumma and Vince Cable talked about the "deafening silence" of this government's industrial strategy

From a personal perspective, at a very micro level, I was pitching for a contract in Australia. To get round the red tape necessary to compete in the Australian market I rang up the UKTI team, a Government department to help exporters, and asked if they could help answer a fewer questions relating to employment and contract legislation. Having been put through to the Australia desk I was told they only supported defense contract bids. So no help there. As it turned out I won the tender but with no help whatsoever from this government. Maybe I was just unlucky but I suspect that departmental cutbacks and a lack of clear strategy were contributing factors to the lack of support.

The Tories have demonstrated over the last 6 years that they have no ability to deliver a new vision for Britain, just short term gimmicks and knee jerk reactions that have culminated in this disastrous situation we are now faced with. The Tory party are at war with themselves and that is all they are focused on at the minute.I have no belief that they will ever take a long term view about our economy and our role in th world market. It is all about short term tactics and point scoring off one another.

However, seem no better. If all those Labour MP’s were to stop messing about calling for votes of no confidence in Corbyn and actually come up with a clear plan of what Britain could look like, how we could rebalance the economy and generate well paid skilled jobs for well trained UK residents, then the issue of migration, and our lack of confidence in the EU would drop away much as it did in the early 2000's when the economy was storming along, would become much less of an issue. Indeed, they might actually start to win over a much greater majority of the electorate. Ignoring what 17 million people have said is pointless because it means you will never get re-elected. What we need are solutions that address those concerns but in a constructive and positive manner that benefits everyone not in-fighting that benefits no one.

Bill Clinton coined the phase, "It's the economy stupid" and that holds good today as it ever did. The Brexit vote has just made that more difficult but now more than ever Labour has to come up with a strong and credible industrial and employment strategy that will help get people back into good quality well paid jobs.