Monday, 25 May 2015

Barnet Council where are the savings - Who pays for the interim staff?

As I blogged about yesterday, I am challenging Richard Cornelius, Andrew Travers and Capita to show me where are the promised massive savings.

One area where it is difficult to pin down savings is the whole subject of interim staff. Comensura supply interim and agency staff to the Council and in March  billed the council a whopping £1.9 million bringing their grand total for the year to £15,538,090.25.

In 2012/13 Comensura billed £12.5 million, In 2013/14 it rose to £13.8 million and this year, 2014/15 it has jumped again to £15.5 million. One major area of concern I have is that former council staff who used to work for a salary have been made redundant or left the council payroll cutting costs for Capita and then coming back as consultants on much higher rates, paid for out of the Comensura contract.

Perhaps part of the £3 million per annum increase in the Comensura costs is a switch between contracts and if that is the case are we, the Barnet residents seeing the benefits?

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Barnet payments to Capita - £250 to charity if Richard Cornelius can show me the evidence of how Capita are actually making the savings promised

Sorry to raise the issue of payments to Capita yet again but I still cannot reconcile how we can pay so much to Capita for a service that is supposed to be generating savings.

For the financial year 2014/15 Barnet paid Capita via the CSG and Re contracts £51,787,011.34. This should be set against a background of the service costing £53 million before it was outsourced. (Source the business case used at the meeting when the two contracts were awarded to Capita. For further details see this blog

Based on information supplied to me in February (see below) the contracted payments should have been £53,654,000 which is slightly more than what it cost before the service was outsourced. Now I have no corroborating evidence that these payment were ever specified because all the commercially sensitive elements of the contract are redacted and indeed there are numerous clauses relating to incentives and penalties which would have made publishing a single payments schedule almost impossible. What is also important to bear in mind is that in the schedule below it states that £14,933 million was paid for an interim service we we know cost less than £1 million to deliver as the period was less than a month before the main contract started. So what happened to the remaining £14 million?  I would also draw your attention to the lack of additional payments from 2015/16 till the end of the contract. Is this because there will be no additional payments or because Capita haven't billed it yet?

I have asked repeatedly to see the evidence of precisely what we are paying for and a detailed explanation of why the payments are so high. Whilst a few promises of evidence were made when the previous COO was in place, none actually materialised.

If Barnet Council are serious about openness then why not host an open day where they go through the contract in detail so that we can understand exactly what we are paying for. I would have thought it would have made sense for Capita to get involved with this, to work through the contract with interested citizens and to demonstrate clearly how much money they are saving.

So I hereby throw down a challenge to the Chief Executive Mr Travers, to Richard Cornelius and to Capita - host an open day, bring bloggers and critics in and show them what you are doing, how the contract is working in reality what money is being paid to whom and how much is really being saved - evidence is essential.  Indeed a few Conservative councillors might want to come along as well seeing as they voted for this contract. I know some of them privately had serious concerns about the contract but were worried about making those views public.

And to put my money where my mouth is, I will donate £250 to a charity of Richard Cornelius' choice if he makes this contract open day happen.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

£11 million down the drain - Barnet's Blue Bin Failure

Back in 2013, Barnet convinced everyone that a shift to blue bins for recycling was the answer to driving up recycling rates. Previously we had a presorted curb side collection which generated high value waste that could be easily and effectively recycled. Convinced that co-mingled waste was the way to drive up recycling from the then level of 35.99% as reported in council documents, see below, the council spent £11 million buying new blue and brown bins, a huge advertising campaign, people to visit every household telling them about the change and a new fleet of bin lorries to accommodate the new bins.

Roll forward two years and what do we find? After the initial honey moon period, recycling rates are now slightly lower than before the blue bins were introduced see below.

I wonder if Councillor Cohen will be trying to explain why after such a huge £11 million investment we are back to where we started?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Capita Special Projects - The Barnet Moneyspinner

The Capita contract in Barnet was supposed to help save money yet, as reported repeatedly on this blog, Capita get paid significantly more than the contract price. The forthcoming Performance and Contract Management Committee meeting discloses the most recent Capita payments.

I have highlighted all the "special project" payments which in this statement amount to £3.95 million, or almost half the total quarterly payments. It is also important to point out that the Capita contract is automatically updated for inflation. Now in my naive world I though inflation was currently zero but not in Barnet. As a result Capita's CSG bill was increased by £90,912 for the period 1 January 2015 - 31 March 2015.  The Re contract was increased by £94,865.92 for the year.

In total that is an annual uplift £458,000. Now given that Barnet last year cut council tax by 1%, that additional £458,000 has to be paid for by a cut to another budget and that is the one of the key reasons why freezing or cutting council tax is such a short sighted strategy.

We have also been charged an extra £702,317 for "additional service provider costs". I thought the contract price was supposed to be guaranteed but as with complex contracts of this nature, and as Cllr Hugh Rayner pointed out, contract variations are where contractors makes their money.

It is also interesting to note that we ended up paying £14,268 for occupational health assessments for just 2 months, a cost which was minimal before the Capita contract.

And guess what, the Conservative councillors who voted for this Capita contract never seem to ask a single question about what we are paying.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Barnet financial year end shows a bumper year for Capita and Comensura

Today sees the publication of March 2015 supplier payments and marks the end of the financial year. Unsurprisingly Capita have picked up a large chunk of revenue. In total in 2014-15 Capita have been paid £51,787,011.34. According to my reckoning we shouldn't be paying more than £36.56 million plus inflation which as we know at the minute is zero %.

The other beneficiary is Comensura who supply interim and agency staff to Barnet. In March they billed the council a whopping £1.9 million bringing their grand total for the year to £15,538,090.25. This is without a doubt a contract entirely out of control rising inexorably at a time when agency costs should be plummeting. Not one Conservative councillor has done anything to rein this contract in. Indeed Cllr Shooter foolishly planted a question back in July last year about how the Comensura contract was declining. Sadly he was told a whopping great lie.

In 2012/13 Comensura billed £12.5 million, In 2013/14 it rose to £13.8 million and this year, 2014/15 it has jumped again to £15.5 million. Instead of cutting libraries Barnet should get a grip of this contract and start saving money.

More updates on the financial year end to follow.

Please read why Barnet Council workers are on strike today & tomorrow

Saturday, 21 March 2015

FOI refusals in Barnet - Hiding behind Capita

Since Barnet Council changed its website, some information sources have been completely inaccessible or have dead links that lead nowhere. In particular it has been impossible to look at previous Freedom of Information requests and the responses provided. If you click on the link on the website it  takes you to a page where you can fill in an FOI form but not see previous requests.  I drew this to the attention of the Council who promised to get it fixed but, as with so much the Council says, it was an empty promise.

Looking via Google at cached searches I managed to find the previous FOI's and one in particular caught my eye. It asked for Information relating to Fixed Telecommunications and Internet Services, an issue that has been the source of problems in the past.

So what was Barnet's response?

I am writing to inform you that the requested information is not held by London Borough of Barnet (the council). The council has outsourced its IT services to Capita under a 10 year contract. Information about the outsourcing can be found on the following page of our website:

I then looked at another FOI request which related to IT training. It was a detailed question and clear expressed concerns about money being wasted. So what was Barnet Council's response - yes you guessed it:

I can confirm that the requested information is not held by London Borough Barnet (the council). The council outsourced its IT services to Capita as part of the Customer and Support Group (CSG) contract. Details of the contract can be found on the following page of our website:

The same answer is given for  FOI requests about Servers,  IT maintenance and ICT strategy, although a request about printers does get an answer even though it acknowledges the contract is provided by Capita.

This represents a major problem and undermines genuine transparency about costs of operating ICT. The council maintain that they have signed a ten year contract with Capita and therefore they don't need to worry about costs. That seems mad to me given that the cost of ICT equipment has plummeted over the past 10 years and may continue to change, develop and be sourced at a lower costs over the next ten years. Without the public being allowed to question how much  is being spent on this very expensive cost centre, we don't know whether or not Capita and making excessive profits from this area of their contract payments.

Prior to Barnet contracting with Capita, the Council would have had to answer these questions and indeed they were asked and the answers showed what a complete mess the Council's IT department was in back in July 2011 

Now I'm not the only one who thinks hiding behind a contractor is wrong. The Information Commissioner Office (ICO) has written a report specifically on this subject Transparency in Outsourcing: A Roadmap which says:

"We do feel there is a strong case for designating outsourced services as falling under FOIA when they are of significant monetary value and long duration: for example, those over £5 million in value or continuing over 5 years or where the contractor solely derives its revenue from public sector contracts". That would definitely apply to Capita's contracts with Barnet.

With the Children's, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding already in the process of being outsourced (see the tender here), there will be virtually no services that are not provided by a contractor and everything will be hidden behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality.