Wednesday, 7 November 2012

An Alternative to One Barnet - Mr Reasonable's Eight Point Plan

One Barnet outsourcing is seen as the only answer to the financial woes of Barnet. Cllr Cornelius has repeatedly said there is no alternative. Well I simply don't believe it. I have reviewed Barnet's spending very closely over the last two years and I am convinced further savings can be made. I run my own business and I check every single invoice because I know that money is coming out of my own pocket. I have a very clear idea of what I want to invest in and whether it will give me a realistic return on investment. In large organisations people don't talk about money they talk about budgets, some amorphous concept which has no direct correlation with the person spending it. I believe that is happening in Barnet and that has to change.

Set out below is my eight point plan of how I would make savings in Barnet and it is something on which I would welcome an open debate - because it is only through dialogue that we can change things in Barnet.

1.       Management restructure  with the objective of creating a more responsive, flatter management structure. Objective to take out at least £1 million of management costs above and beyond the current proposed restructure. - Mr Mustard illustrated in a post recently how the number of senior managers have rocketed in the last two years from 57 to 95. The restructuring proposals brings that down to 49 but that is in a commissioning model where there are very few staff to manage. I reckon there are further senior posts to go and when you add the 23% pension contributions to the high salaries, the £1 million target looks deliverable.

2.       Immediately halt the use  all external consultants unless specifically authorised by the leader. Objective to cut at least £2 million a year from the budget. - This year to the end of September Barnet have spent £2.52 million on one firm of consultants alone and last month they billed £447,000. Barnet has become consultant dependent to make all their decision for them and that is an exceptionally dangerous and expensive approach to running an organisation. A £2million saving is definitely deliverable.

3.       Adult social care – set up a project team to look how efficiencies can be generated at council funded care homes  focusing on staff scheduling and energy management. Objective to share savings made with care home providers and reduce costs to the council by at least 3% (£2.4 million). - 55% of Barnet's entire budget is spent on adult social care and children's services. In 2011/12 Barnet paid invoices to the value of £78.8 million on adult social services. That isn't for social workers salaries, simple what was paid out to other organisations for providing adult social care. Your Choice Barnet are looking at a £700,000 deficit next year due to difficulties in scheduling staff  as efficiently as possible. Energy costs are a significant care home overhead. By getting all the other care providers in Barnet to work more closely together on areas such as staff scheduling, training, food and energy purchasing I believe the target saving of £2.4 million is deliverable without any impact on the quality of care provided.

4.       Set up a procurement panel  of officers, members and residents to review monthly spending with all invoices over £5,000 to be scrutinised by the panel. Objective to weed out non essential spending with a target of saving at least £1.5 million per annum. - This is something I suggested almost two years ago via the Pledgebank website, an offer that was never taken up. Once you have a panel who start to challenge spending much more vigorously I am convinced this level of saving is more than deliverable. There needs to be an open mind on strategies like shifting to open source software which would save Barnet a fortune on Microsoft licences for all their computers.

5.       Review the top ten contracts to see if they can be renegotiated downwards/ retendered at a lower price or brought back in house at a lower cost.  Objective to save 3% off top 10 contracts. - Many of the contracts have inflation clauses built in which automatically push up costs every year. This is something that should be aggressively challenged. For example where the supplier costs are mainly labour and pay has been frozen for their staff, the inflation factor simply upgrades their profit element,

6.       Set up a project team to the review the number of agency and interim staff with the objective of reducing agency/interim staff costs by at least 10%. - In 2011/12 Barnet spent £7.7 million on Agency Staff and Interims. A number of public sector bodies have made significant savings in exactly this way so £770,000 appears deliverable

7.       Review  office accommodation studies already carried out with the objective of further rationalising space and identifying the minimum space required then develop an exit strategy from  North London Business Park (NLBP) as quickly as possible. In the mean time initiate an energy reduction plan to cut energy consumption at NLBP and Barnet House.  - Based on last year's invoices I estimate we paid just over £5 million in rent and service charges for NLBP offices. This is something that needs to be addressed urgently with a target of reducing rental payments by at least £1 million per annum.

8.       Open discussions via London Councils and GLA representative to cap the ever increasing charges made by TFL (Transport Trading Limited). Barnet paid Transport Trading Limited £13.1 million last year. - This is in addition to the sum we pay TFL via the GLA precept. As I understand the situation most of this money pays for the Freedom Pass. With Boris having just announced fare rises of 4.2% today it looks like this will filter straight back to us for the Freedom Pass payments (I have the detailed mechanism by which Barnet is billed for Freedom Passes but it is too lengthy to go into here but happy to share it with anyone who is interested). If we could secure a freeze in payments next year that would generate savings of £550,000 per annum.

      In total I estimate my plan could save in the region of  £9.5 million per annum, more than the One Barnet DRS and NSCSO savings. These proposals could be implemented any time and from my perspective I don't know why they haven't been implemented already. There is much talk about the need to make savings but frankly I see plenty of savings to be made without a penny being spent on expensive consultants. You just need a lot more attention to detail and a desire to drive out efficiencies. The Councillors and officers need to spend  a lot less time on the mad cap high risk One Barnet Outsourcing and a lot more time running the council efficiently.


  1. I am with you all the way Mr Reasonable.

    We have, along with Mrs Angry, spent a lot of time at North London Business Park. What amazes and annoys me every time I go there is the vast number of people coming and going from the building at all times of the day. Have they all really got good business reasons to be floating about? The wastage on temps will be huge and there is also a huge pool of casuals who are paid via the council payroll.

  2. Totally agree with this and there are so many other ways to reduce procurement costs also. One of which is to stop using the same "suppliers" for things like office equipment / supplies, personal protective equipment, paper, etc etc. There are plenty of companies / manufacturers that would jump at the chance to supply such things at a far cheaper price if given the opportunity. Half the time these things are cheaper to buy in bulk at places like Makro, Costco and even Tesco! (Other supermarkets / cash and carry warehouses are of course available) this is something that could be done every year, rather like searching for car insurance.

    Related to this is the fact that contract negotiation is a lost art among senior managers at LBB. The extortionate amount paid to Comer Homes just for parking spaces being a case in point.

    Another hidden cost of LBB's parsimony in buying the appalling Tablet PC's and ancillary equipment, is the staff time taken up with all the things that go wrong with them. I can honestly say that even now, at least half an hour to an hour per person, per week is wasted on IT related problems. I also put forward a proposal to move to Open Source software, over three years ago... It's utterly ridiculous to pay licence fees to companies like for example, Symantec for their Norton Antivirus software, when there are vastly superior options available for free or a pittance.

    And Mr M; as for people "coming and going." I'm sure you understand that work is not just something that happens at a desk in front of a computer screen or at the end of a phone. I personally am in and out several times a day for site visits and site meetings. There are all sorts of jobs based at NLBP, don't lump all of us in with senior managers, who stride purposefully around to attend pointless meetings, whilst trying to look important. Some of us actually have real work to do.

    As for casual and temporary staff, I can only speak for my department and the people I work with but on a local level they are currently only brought in to deal with very specific projects. When this work is completed, they move on. This is a more efficient way of dealing with the inevitable peaks and troughs during the year. Surely this is better than taking on a permanent staff member who sits around twiddling their thumbs half the time? I don't want to come across as some sort of "Tory Boy" because I'm most emphatically not but let's have some common sense and give the real staff a bit of credit please!

    As for simple cost saving measures, none of the staff can see why these aren't being made already but the suspicion is that these are being held back so that whichever private company takes over can use them instead and the DRS senior managers can then say, "look how efficient and wonderful the private sector is, saving us all this money so quickly."

    Been there; seen it; had it done.

  3. Hi LBB, you are right, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Worst of all the staff at Barnet probably have most if not all the solutions but I get the impression that if you are a consultant paid £1250 a day whatever you say is taken as gospel whereas if you are an employee and really understand the job your views are completely ignored. The issue about casual and interim staff may well be true in your department and you are absolutely right that you don't want permanent staff twiddling their thumbs but when I see 6832 invoices for agency and interim staff costing £7.7 million I don't get a feeling that this is for very specific projects. One of the biggest problems you get in a large organisation where so many staff are temps is that there is no consistency, new staff have to be constantly re briefed and for those requiring it have to be CRB checked. I would investigate recruiting a pool of casual staff, known to Barnet and already pre-screened. That might also help to reduce the £146,000 bill for CRB checks.