Friday, 12 October 2018

Property Acquisitions - It's all about the extras

Over the last year I have been reviewing the properties acquired by Barnet Group. The idea of the acquisitions is sound, to buy properties for people who would otherwise be placed in rented temporary accommodation.  Last year Barnet decided that it would be cheaper to buy those properties in Peterborough, something I blogged about here last year. However they failed to agree this strategy with Peterborough Council who felt that this was putting a strain on their own housing market.
Part of the rationale behind this strategy is that the properties would be acquired and refurbished to a good standard. The cost of this refurbishment was set out in a report to Barnet Cllrs in April 2017 which you can read in full here.   Critically, they include the table below:

As you can see in the table the best case scenario for refurbishment costs and fees was £23,669 and worst case £31,890.  Barnet Homes said that the other costs include:
  • Management of the purchasing process;
  • Agent fees;
  • Survey costs;
  • Independent valuation costs;
  • Legal fees;
  • Costs associated with lease extensions;
  • Refurbishment cost;
  • Management to the refurbishment process. 

In 2017 Barnet Homes acquired a number of properties. I have taken the details and figures from a number of Council Delegated Powers Reports (DPR) for the 42 properties I know about. All I have done is collate that data into a table. Set out below is a table showing the purchases in 2017.

From the table above you can see that the average refurbishment cost is £45,796 which is 43.6% above the worst case scenario. I did raise this with Barnet Homes but they simply said:

"Many of the properties require extensive refurbishment to get them up to the Barnet Homes standard. This can include works to the structure of the property such as new doors and windows, plus works to roofs and guttering as well as asbestos surveys and consequent removal, new heating systems, kitchens, bathrooms, and redecoration". 

My argument is that if properties need that much work then that should be reflected in the purchase price or maybe you should buy different properties especially if these works take a long time to carry out. Also if you are buying this many properties you would have a team to manage this process and have agreed suppliers of kitchens and bathrooms at a discounted price.

Jump forward to 2018 and 77 more properties are being purchased closer to, or in, Barnet. Set out below are details of the properties acquired.

As you can see from the table above the additional costs are now averaging £56,512.  This was explained to me that it automatically includes a lease extension allowance of £15,000 where it is a flat and that some of the properties have an extra bedroom and that adds to the refurbishment costs.  What is troubling is how so many properties can have such a huge additional cost of over £60,000. I did ask about the property that had nearly £80,000 of additional costs on a property costing £315,000 but I was told that this sale has now been discontinued. 

There is a degree of irony as many of the 2018 properties are ex local authority properties. Indeed, at least one property is a former Barnet council house previously sold under right to buy. I googled Zoopla and found interiors of the property from 2013 when it was offered for rent.  You can see them here. OK, it is 5 years on but it is hard to see how it is necessary to spend £37,950 especially as Barnet Council own the freehold.

At the Financial Management and Contracts committee this week I mentioned these costs and asked who was checking. Cllr John Marshall challenged me and asked if I understood why these properties were purchased. Yes of course I do and I welcome the principle of what is being done especially as the latest crop of properties are much closer or in our own community. My problem is who is checking all these extra costs which on the face of it seem excessive and much greater than councillors were led to believe when they signed up to this strategy. So far the extra costs are just over £6 million compared to the best case estimate of  £2.8 million and a worst case scenario of  £3.8 million. That shortfall (compared to the worst case scenario) of £2.2 million could pay for  90+  full time care support staff, or is the equivalent of all the savings from the decimated library service cuts.

Barnet are focused on cutting budgets but I worry that they don't pay enough attention to controlling  costs. 

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Supplier Payments - Time to look in more detail at Barnet Group.

Barnet Council's supplier payments for August were out yesterday. Yet another month when Capita  and Re were paid very little (Capita £282,166.04 & Re £294,200). I wonder if something is afoot; either Capita payments are being held back or it is linked in with the current contract review. Next month will be the crunch month as quarterly payments are due.

Barnet Group were paid £19.27 million in August, not a record amount but if you compare YTD 2018/19 against Aug 2017/18  Barnet Group have received  £9.14 million more than last year, a 19% increase. When you add in the Open Door subsidiary of Barnet Group, the increase compared to last year rises to £15 million or a 31% increase. Given that Barnet are forecasting a £9.5 million overspent this year, and I expect that will rise when we see the quarter 2 figures, they need to start focusing on how money is being spent in the Barnet Group.

Comensura are being replaced as the Interim and Agency Staff contractor and hopefully this will bring the costs under control. In August, Barnet paid them £1.667 million bringing the forecast for year end to just over £19 million a £1.1 million increase compared to last year when we are being told that interim and agency costs are falling - no they are not! Usual graphs and charts below.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Is this the end of Capita in Barnet - Grant Thornton's report is a devastating critique of Capita's dismal performance

Late last year a massive fraud was discovered at Barnet Council. One individual managed to steal over £2 million in 62 separate transactions. I’ll say that again; 62 separate acts of theft, some of which were six figure sums, which took place between July 2016 and December 2017. The individual made requests for payment on fictitious Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). 

Did Barnet’s systems pick up these multiple acts of theft? No, it was actually discovered by the individual’s bank who queried a transaction and contacted the Council on 18th December last year. The individual worked for the Capita joint venture, Re, and the transactions were processed by the outsourced finance department, CSG, also run by Capita.

Having identified very quickly that this was a fraud, Barnet commissioned Grant Thornton to undertake a major review to identify how such a large scale fraud had been able to take place. This project, called Project Rose, was given a budget of “up to” £500,000 and has been on-going ever since. By the end of June the bill was already £225,654. 26 and it looks like significant work has taken place since then. I was made aware of the fraud back in February but nothing was mentioned publicly until April when a major fraud investigation was mentioned at the Audit Committee, although no details were given. The individual who committed the fraud was eventually sent for trial and pleaded guilty on 31 July 2018. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

The Report:
On 17th July members of the Audit Committee were given a draft copy of the Grant Thornton Report in private session. It appears that this was a much briefer version of the report and annexes which have now been released and which you can read here. At the time I asked why the public were not allowed to see this report and was told that the reason was:

“Council officers/the report author determined that Appendix 1 (the Grant Thornton report) should be exempt. Capita has made a request for more time to respond on the accuracy of this document and this was considered”.

The report version we have now is “7th Draft” so it looks like there have been long and protracted discussions between Capita, Barnet and Grant Thornton as to what the public finally get to see. I did wonder whether the version we would get to see would be watered down. It may well be, but the version we have received paints a vivid picture of a failure of epic proportions. In total, the report and annexes run to 138 pages. What is interesting is that not only does the report look at how the fraud was able to take place, but it goes much further in examining the contractual obligations of Capita to deliver financial controls and where those obligations have failed. This suggests that the pressure is being ramped up on Capita to hand back parts of the contract.

The Findings:
So let’s look at some of the key findings.
The Five Pillars of Control 
Grant Thornton have set out five themes for financial control and then detail how Capita have failed on each one. 

Some of this stuff is a bit technical but some of it is just common sense, for example:
“There was a lack of clarity about both the role of the budget holder and the allocation of budget holder responsibility between Re, CSG Finance and the Council, in respect of regeneration projects and related financial management activity”. This is something I have been raising with the council since the start of the contract. It is a subject that has cropped up in a number of internal audit reports back as far as 2014.
“We noted as part of our review, that due to the lack of a formal scheme of financial authorisation, the CSG Finance Treasury Team could not check that the officer requesting a CHAPS payment for a CPO was an appropriate person to do so. There was a check by CSG Finance Treasury Team against the approval levels for the recorded on Integra,(Capita’s own IT system) but this was not an adequate check in the absence of a formal scheme on which Integra authorisations should have been based”. This is such a basic error that it is shocking when you see it in such a large organisation.
“During the period of the fraud, there were no CHAPS (a faster version of BACS for same day bank transfers) procedures or task checklists in place for those working in CSG Finance Treasury to guide them through the CHAPS approval process. This resulted in the officers loading bank details onto Bankline and authorising and releasing payments who were unclear on their checking and verification responsibilities”.  Just remember we are talking large sums of money here, typically tens of thousands, with the largest being £124,750. It is beyond belief that there were no written procedures or checklists for checking and verifying who  was authorised to request such large sums of money.
“We found that schedules of expected property acquisitions did appear to be held by Regeneration Managers, in some form although this tended to be on non- standardised spreadsheets. Finance officers we interviewed in CSG Finance Treasury and the Business Partner team were not aware of the existence or potential application of these schedules, which could help them monitor the value and timings of large payments, including through the CHAPS process. We would expect lists such as these to be to be used to cross check spending on regeneration cost centres as part of the budget monitoring process”. So they didn’t even check against a list of properties to be acquired to make sure which payment related to that property. That a basic error and not one you expect of a FTSE250 outsourcing company.
“Where payments were processed via CHAPS there has been no direct verification with the supplier/vender (e.g. by telephone) to confirm the bank details are correct. The payee’s bank details were not checked against independent information. This control alone would have prevented the fraud”. Again, a simple common sense check that simply was not undertaken.
"In the cases of reporting to both Growth and Regeneration Oversights Board (GROB) and the Performance and Contract Management Committee, the information is relatively high level and therefore significant onus is placed on CSG finance business partners to challenge the narrative on budget variances provided by budget holders, for the cost centres they are responsible for."  I have attended most of the Performance & Contract Management committees and  there is seldom any real challenge from councillors. Part of the problem is that they are given so much high level information and in ever changing formats that even if the information was available I am not sure they would spot it.
In the absence of this detailed understanding of Re transactions, CSG finance business partners will be unable to effectively challenge the narrative provided by the regeneration manager, weakening the review control that could identify error or fraud. As CSG Finance act on behalf of the Council in this capacity, this in turn exposes the Council to significant risk”. So we have appointed people to act on the Council's behalf and in the residents' best interest but one part of Capita under the CSG contract has failed to challenge another part of Capita under the Re joint venture. These types of conflict were predicted at the outset, now they have come true.
“The current Business Director for Regeneration, with overall responsibility for regeneration projects, had only nine months experience of regeneration and was not directly involved in reviewing the financial management activity of his managers or the Individual, in regard to regeneration budgets and related ledger codes. In its current form this  role is geared more towards commercial account management, focusing on the contractual relationship with the Council and not with detailed functional and technical oversight of the projects themselves”. So we are paying for a skilled team of experts and what we got were inexperienced sales people.
Lack of Oversight:
The report is damning about the attitude of CSG and Re management when it says:
“A number of officers in CSG Finance and Re commented during our meetings that they were aware of control weaknesses (for example, through Internal Audit findings or their own observations) or recognised in hindsight that control weaknesses should have been identified and addressed. This report describes several situations where a higher level of professional scepticism and rigour on the part of senior managers within Re and CSG Finance, could be reasonably expected to have identified and challenged unusual and potentially suspicious transactions – notwithstanding weaknesses in formal controls and CSG Finance when approving journals, payments and system access, and when reviewing budgetary performance. Some of this may be attributable to the turnover of personnel in key roles and the lack of effective knowledge transfer”. This is what I call, “Don’t give a s**t syndrome” something that is not uncommon when people have no direct link with the organisation they are managing. Creating a culture where staff are both engaged and empowered to act when they see problems is what we should aspire to and something that can be delivered.
The report also pins blame on the council itself:
"In our view, there has also been insufficiently close scrutiny and client side management on the part of the Council and the Chief Officers coupled with an over reliance on the limited scope and frequency of work carried out by the Internal Audit service, to highlight issues. This is likely to have contributed to the lack of focus on effective controls". What I want to know is where were Capita’s Internal Audit and Anti Fraud teams as they also have responsibility for these contracts? I have been raising questions on these types of concerns for years at both the Performance & Contract Management Committee and Audit Committee meetings. Consistently my questions and concerns have been ignored, patronised or dismissed by a council that was in denial about any failings of the precious outsourcing contracts. We now know the truth and it is all bad.
How did we arrive at this mess:
To my mind outsourcing the finance function (and most of the others services) was always a reckless decision based on false assumptions. Back in March 2011 when the business case for outsourcing was being considered I specifically asked why Barnet were outsourcing the finance function and they said;
“It is entirely appropriate that the Finance and Revenues & Benefits functions are included in the cluster of services to be outsourced, as this is the option that it is believed will best deliver the desired outcomes for these services. It is true to say that they are already relatively high performing and relatively low cost, however there is potential for improvement to make these services higher performing and lower cost than they already are, and the options appraisal recommends that outsourcing these services is the option that will best enable this desired outcome to be delivered”.
Seven years on and these are definitely not the desired outcomes. I and other bloggers and activists have been highlighting the risks with this contract from day one and the entirely inadequate business case built on assumptions and aspirations that have proved nothing more than exactly that.
In April 2012 I flagged up the financial control risks in the speech I gave to Audit committee which I republished in November 2012 and which can be read here.   Based on the Grant Thornton report it looks like my concerns were entirely justified.  
I have no confidence in senior Councillors who have exhibited hubris and contempt over the years and, as such I think it is time for a complete review of the committee system and the people who chair those committees. We need people who are prepared to challenge officers, to query facts to scrutinise properly, not people who are seeking favour and a special responsibility allowance. We also need to look closely at the Council’s senior management team to see if they are up to the job (Interim Finance Director excepted). We need strong leadership from people who can command respect and engender commitment, something which I  do not see that at present.

The Council are currently reviewing which of the Capita and Re services should be brought back in house. What worries me is that this report has only addressed two functions  - the Finance and Regeneration departments, one in the Re contract and one in the CSG contract. Are the issues identified by Grant Thornton a symptom of a much wider problems across all the functions of the CSG and Re contracts (and for that matter the Cambridge Education contract)? I reckon they probably are. 

Outsourcing has been tried and in Barnet it has failed. We have inadequate services, a culture of denial and procrastination. It is time to draw a veil over this experiment in political ideology and start building a new council structure that will deliver the services we need with the massive budget cuts we still face.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Politicising the Environment - A step too far in Barmet

Why save £900,000 a year when you could save £300,000. Ah well that's the politics of Barnet.
On Thursday night Barnet agreed to 'suspend' food waste collections for an indefinite period while they look at how they can meet the 2020 recycling targets. Of course this was just a wheeze so that they can say they haven't scrapped the food waste collection service, but it fools no one.

I have blogged about this back in June and last week when I submitted questions to the committee.  In the supporting papers they said that stopping the food waste collection would save £543,448. This was then revised down in the summary because I have consistently challenged the assumptions they used in calculating the cost of disposing via anaerobic digestion versus incineration. So they are now saying it will save £300,000 a year. Quite a lot, but I looked at the costs and found that £130,000 is spent on collecting food waste from properties with restricted access. If they have to make a saving then focus on the exceptional costs rather than removing the service from everyone. I also had discussions with the anaerobic digestion company. Together we identified a further £68,000 of costs that could be stripped out almost immediately. So that brings the cost down from £300,000 a year to £102,000. If Barnet could boost food recycling rates there would be a very real chance of the service breaking even. I put forward all these arguments but a political decision has been made and logic and common sense is ignored.

Cllr Zinkn got quite angry with me at one stage and suggested that I hadn't read the papers when I suggested their supporting evidence for the environmental benefits of incinerating food waste was poor. One of the reports was a metadata study or one that collates the evidence from a number of  research studies. To me, saying I don't read the papers is the worse insult of all because the one thing I always do is read the evidence. In my questions I had drawn attention to the fact that, yes, it was a metadata study but it was carried out in 2004 and published in 2005. As a result all of the evidence would have come from studies carried out before 2005 and possibly some from the last millennium. As I pointed out in one of my questions, in 2005 the anaerobic digestion industry in the UK was almost entire dominated by digestion of sewage sludge. There were just 2 digesters operating that were for non sewage sludge. In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs. It is a completely different industry today with technology that has moved on dramatically since 2005. Sewage sludge also has very different properties to household food waste.

It is a bit like using a metadata study on the smartphone industry in 2005, before the iphone was invented, on which to base decisions on smartphone usage in 2018. (The Motorola Razr V3 was apparently the bee's knees in 2005).

There are a number of studies which show the environmental benefit of  AD and it is generally recognised as being preferential to incineration. I have set out just one below but it is also important to understand that DEFRA (page 10) also  ranks AD above composting and incineration.

 The senior officer also made some statements about the gate fees (the costs charged for waste disposal) and the sustainability of the anaerobic digestion charges. I had checked with WRAP  who carry out an annual gate fee survey and they seem to bear no similarity to the figures quoted by the officer. I spoke with the AD operator who said they make their money from electricity generation. Wholesale electricity prices are rising and with the uncertain future of the nuclear power industry and the growth in demand for electric cars, the future for wholesale electricity prices looks positive form their perspective. It is also important to bear in mind that the digestate (residue left over at the end of the digestion process) is nutrient rich and is a very attractive alternative to artificial fertilisers typically produced using fossil fuels. All this digestate is sold on long term contracts to farmers.

To cap everything Barnet have refused to participate in a review fully funded by the GLA to look at ways that Barnet could retain this service. It suggests to me, and I suspect many others, that Barnet do not want to expose their figures to scrutiny because it will become apparent that they are not robust.

Barnet have also conflated the withdrawal of the food waste collection with the reorganisation of the refuse collection rounds. Based on the methodology for making the savings, which is to remove the dedicated food waste collector on each vehicle, the food waste decision would make no difference at this time. Cllr Dean Cohen said that the waste collection routes weren't just inefficient because of the move from one depot in Mill Hill to two depots one on Harrow and one at Oakleigh Road but that the routes had been inefficient for years. My question would be if that is true why on earth hasn't this inefficiency been addressed sooner. I am not an expert so I also sought out advice from an expert who understand the rounds in detail and who concurred that the waste round reorganisation could go ahead irrespective of the food waste collection decision.

And then we come to my final point which is why the council ignored a potential £900,000 saving which could be delivered by moving to fortnightly waste collections. 76% of councils in England who have responsibility for waste collection have moved to fortnightly general waste collections. This helps to encourage higher levels of recycling especially when tied in with weekly food and recycling collections and cuts costs. Environmentally and financially it makes most sense. I asked Barnet why they had rejected this option and their response was "The retention of a weekly residual waste collection service was a Conservative manifesto pledge as voted on by the residents of Barnet".  So residents voted  not to save £900,000 even though we are facing a massive financial crisis where Barnet has to make £67 million of cuts in the next three years and this year alone the forecast is for a £9.5 million overspend.

When decisions like this are made it makes me despair of where Barnet is going.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Scrapping Food Waste Collections in Barnet - a Bad Decision

On Thursday Barnet are proposing to scrap separate food waste collections.  You can read the details here. Barnet claim it will save up to £300,000 a year although some of the assumptions look tenuous at best. They also admit that they could save £900,000 by keeping separate food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections, something that 76% of other English Local Authorities have introduced. Barnet's reason for ignoring this larger saving is as follows:

"During the recent local elections, however, the Barnet Conservative manifesto included a commitment that weekly refuse collections will be maintained, and that the proposed Alternate Weekly Collection (AWC) referred to in the November 2017 Environment Committee Business Planning report will not be introduced. Based on the results of the election, this commitment appears to have support from local residents."

I think that is a pretty desperate assumption but this is Barnet.

Barnet are also claiming that the reorganisation of waste collection rounds has been held up by the decision on food waste collection and they are asking the Mayor of London to pay £265,000 in compensation. My argument is that the reorganisation of the waste collection round should have happened a year ago when Barnet moved out of  Mill Hill Depot and split the service between Oakleigh Road and Harrow. Ceasing food waste collection would have meant removing one member of staff from each recycling lorry crew, not changing the route.

This seems like an entirely retrograde step; it's not environmentally friendly and it risks costing us a fortune if the law changes in the future making separate food waste collection a requirement (which seems very likely).

I have submitted a number of questions set out below. I will look forward to seeing what answers I receive.

Agenda Item 7

  • If Barnet stops separate food waste collections now, what would be the cost of reinstating this service if, at a later date, legislative change requires separate food waste collections?
  • If Barnet mix food waste with general waste how easy would it be to introduce fortnightly general waste collections in the future if financial pressures required this?
  • Please can you clarify whether the Mayor of London has confirmed that he will not take legal actions against Barnet if food waste collections cease?
  • As part of the risk assessment on this decision have you calculated the potential legal cost of any challenge by the Mayor if you do stop food waste collections and if so how much have you estimated this might cost?
  • In Mr Hooton’s letter of 3 September to the Deputy Mayor, he stated that the knock on effects of the decision on food waste collections had prevented the implementation of the new rounds. What evidence is there to support that statement and the demand for compensation given that the biggest driver of round rationalisation was the move from one depot to two, not the cessation of food waste collections?
  • The report makes it clear that £900,000 a year could be saved by retaining weekly food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections. There is also widespread and consistent  evidence that this can be an effective way of boosting recycling rates. Given that 248 out of 326 local authorities (76%) across England with responsibility for waste collections run fortnightly general rubbish rounds for some or all households, what makes Barnet different from the majority of other local councils?
  • Can you confirm that the gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion are £58 per tonne cheaper than sending food waste for incineration and that the reduced gate fee accrued this year will be credited to Barnet in next year’s NLWA levy?
  • At Appendix K the cost savings are stated for the full year 2018-19 at £543,448 yet at Appendix D it states that the savings could be £296,848. Given that the figure  in Appendix K appears to take no account of the reduced gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion it gives an entirely false impression of the potential savings. Can you clarify the basis for this figure and why it differs from the figure provided to me on 22 August?
  • £130,000 of the alleged £296,848 savings relates to the withdrawal of food waste collections on “Restrict Access Rounds”. Can you clarify where those rounds serve, why the food waste collection savings would be so high and whether consideration was given to only ceasing food collection on those rounds rather than the borough wide service?
  • Did Barnet’s legal team review the letter Mr Hooton sent to the Deputy Mayor and did they review the basis of the £265,000 compensation demand made by Mr Hooton?
  • Can you clarify where anaerobic digestions sits in the DEFRA Waste Hierarchy  compared to incineration of food waste and whether that changes if the digestate meets the AD Quality Protocol?
  • What steps have been taken to identify if the current AD operator meets the AD Quality Protocol and if not, how easy it would be to achieve.
  • One of the academic studies cited in the report at Appendix Lii was carried out in 2005. In 2005 there were only 2 Anaerobic Digesters operating in the UK outside the water industry (i.e non sewage sludge). In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs . Given that the industry has changed dramatically since this study was written does it give an accurate representation of the facts? 
  • The academic study at Appendix Li is based on one study in Italy. The study appears to have assumed that AD is followed by composting of the digestate which appears to be a different model compared to the UK AD industry. It also appears to ignore the value of the digestate as a direct replacement for artificial fertiliser. As such are you sure that this study is a suitable example on which to base a decision in the UK?
  • Have the Council taken legal advice as to the likelihood that a revised EU directive on waste (and specifically a revised Article 22 requiring separate food waste collection) might become a condition of a negotiated free trade agreement with the EU?
  • The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended that government should establish separate food waste collection for households and businesses (to enable production of biogas) by 2025. How would Barnet respond to such a requirement?
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the cessation of food waste collections and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

 Agenda Item 8
  • In 2013 Barnet spent a total of £11 million introducing the blue and brown bins, a new fleet of refuse vehicles, advertising and education programme. Before the introduction of this service recycling rates were 33%. If you cease the food waste collections the recycling rate will be 33.6%. What specific initiatives will you implement as a result of ceasing food waste collection that will help Barnet get anywhere close to the target of 50%?
  • Since the new recycling service was introduced in 2013 how much has been spent on encouraging Barnet residents to recycle in the form of: advertising; promotions; leaflets; recycling ambassadors; activities in schools; talks to clubs and voluntary organisations; organised trips to the recycling centre and anaerobic digester etc.?
  • The Action Plan identified at Appendix A seems to lack any tangible activities initiated by Barnet to encourage householders to recycle more. Why has so little emphasis been placed on such an important target group?

 Agenda Item 10
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the reprocurement of the advertising contract and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

July Supplier Payments - Interim & Agency Costs Still Rising

Barnet's latest supplier payments have been published with a total of £58.28 million spent last month. There were very modest payments for Capita (£620k) and Re (£382k) as no quarterly contract payments were made. What is of real concern is the continuing cost of agency and interim staff. Payments to Comensura were £1.5 million in July but I have also seen their payments for August which were published yesterday. All the indications are that the total bill for the year is likely to hit £19m, a million more than last year. Barnet have a massive financial black hole and interim and agency staff costs are just one area that have to be reduced significantly if they are to meet the cost saving targets. If this is an indicator of the ability (or inability) to deliver the other cost cutting measures, I suspect that the financial crisis may hit sooner than we think.

Usual month charts and updates below.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Barnet Senior Salaries July 2018 - Who's Missing

Each month Barnet publish the salaries of senior staff. I screen the list down to those earning more than an MP (£77,379) as that provides a (crude) benchmark as to responsibility of the role.
In July Barnet staff received a 2% pay rise and the list of salaries is below. However what it doesn't identify are the consultants who are working as interim staff paid handsome day rates. How many there are we are not told. What it does do is make you realise that some of these staff are paid hugely compared to the private sector and one questions whether they are actually worth all this money?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Guest Post - Something is Brewing at Larches Community in Edgware

Larches Community are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in Brazen Brewery!  A new beer brewing course from September 2018

London, 1st August 2018: Edgware based charity, Larches Community is launching Brazen Brewery! a craft beer brewing course for people with learning disabilities and autism. We are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in the first course and gain valuable life skills - increased confidence, improved self-esteem, cooperation, initiative, memory retention, giving and receiving instruction, decision making, working as part of a team, having fun and learning how to make some wonderful craft beer!

“We are thrilled to offer three 12 week brewing courses in our first year, teaching people elements of the brewing process.  In years two and three we plan to offer our qualified brewers employment, working in our social enterprise brewery, based in our new building and selling craft beer within our local community.  At the heart of everything we do is Valuing People for Who They Are”
Linda Edwards MBE – CEO, Larches Community.

If you would like more information about Brazen Brewery! please call Charlie O’Sullivan on 020 8905 6333, email: or visit


Larches Community is a registered charity established in 1995 by a group of families to create opportunities for young people and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Larches Community was created out of a deep concern for who would provide a supportive family home with a creative and stimulating life for our children beyond our lifetime. People with a learning disability represent a section of the community that enjoy few privileges, who experience social discrimination and are generally undervalued and underestimated by society. Most are socially excluded, with few opportunities to develop their individuality or to develop and contribute their skills to the community.

We offer a Learning for Life programme where learners gain independent living skills - cooking, budgeting, drama, musical theatre, craft and laughter club which help to develop the individual to tap into their undiscovered potential and soar to new heights.  

In our 23rd year, the Board has set the most ambitious and challenging strategic goals in our history. We have been granted planning permission by Barnet Council to build a three-story building with a basement on our current site. This development has afforded Larches Community the opportunity to review our offer to people with learning disabilities and autism, refocus our work and transform our services to encourage people with learning disabilities and autism to be the Best They Can Be!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Supplier Payments for June - Agency Costs Still Look High

The supplier payments for June have just been published. This month the big winners are Capita  who billed £10.7 million on the CSG and Re contracts. Comensura billed £1.45 million and looks like we will hit £19 million over the full financial year.

For some reason NSL who administer parking and litter enforcement billed £1.77 million in June which seems excessively high.

PA Consulting also billed another £134,917 this month, on top of the £685,804 they bill last month. One of the invoices this month was for "Supp People Recharge". I wonder what this is for but  as it was billed to adults and communities I wonder if has anything to do with the failed implementation by Capita of the Mosaic case management system that we heard about earlier this month. I shall be asking a few follow up questions I think.

I also wonder what we paid OCS Group £110,161 in June, bringing the first three months billings to £278,541 given that we already have a cleaning contractor, Churchill Contract Services.

The payments to John Graham is for the construction of the two new leisure centres and the Conway Aecom is for highways work.

The latest payments to Capita on the CSG and Re contracts bring the running total to £350.8 million. I still cannot see where the mystical savings are being generated. 

As for the Comensura contract, the current forecast for this financial year is £19.1 million, some £1.2 million higher than last year, at a time when there are supposed to be cuts to interim and agency costs so as to avoid another massive financial overspend.  We were due to have an update of the council's financial performance on 18 September (which was too late in my opinion)  but that meeting has now been postponed another three weeks till 9 October. My very real fear is that by the time we reach October everyone will be throwing their hands up in horror at the overspend but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

As always I will continue to keep a close eye on Barnet's spending.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A look back in time and a tribute to Barnet Bugle

Tonight Barnet are going to be making decisions on which services will be brought back in house and which will be retained by Capita. Casting my mind back to 5 years ago when decisions were being made on the Re Contract I remembered some of those meetings. Luckily for us the late, and very sadly missed, Dan Hope videoed most of the meetings. As the Barnet Bugle, he has provided us with an archive of evidence from those meetings which you can view here. Whilst Dan and I had very different political outlooks we shared one vital, common interest which was about openness and transparency in Barnet. Thanks to Dan we have a record of so many meetings. I thought I would dig out one clip when the Council was discussing the award of the Re contract and ask Richard Cornelius to consider whether ignoring the views of residents was such a good idea and to suggest that this time maybe he should listen a but harder.

One other thing to note was that 5 years ago we were given 5 minutes to speak. Thanks to austerity, democracy has also had to suffer cuts so we now only get 3 minutes. I will make sure my 3 minutes tonight count.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Why Capita's Contract is a rip off for Barnet - Day Four Extra Charges

Over the past few days I have been looking at the gainshare payments. Today I am looking at the extra charges Capita have billed on the Barnet contract.

The first example is a bill for £128,000 for additional electronic data storage. Barnet agreed to pay this amount, set by Capita, "because the electronic storage levels are above the amount agreed in the contract". Now I may be wrong but that sound a great deal given that it is on top of an agreed level in the contract. I would welcome input from any IT experts out there but my own bit of digging suggests that is quite a lot. While I am no fan of Amazon whatsoever I know that their Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a huge and profitable part of their business. I took a look at some of the data rates for storage, both simple data storage and a more flexible file management system and the rates are below.
Now the reason I looked at AWS rates is because that is who Capita are using to store some of Barnet's data on the OpenBarnet data portal. It may be that we are using a huge amount of data storage but remember this is in addition to the storage levels agreed in the contract. That says to me that somebody either horribly underestimated how much data we would be using in the contract or we are being ripped off. Either way we are paying through the nose for it.

The second example is a bill for £247,000 for additional call volumes above the baseline figure. Now when the contract was signed everybody talked about 'channel shift', getting people to use on-line means of contacting the council such as webforms rather than by phone as this would save money.
It may be that the council set over-ambitious targets for the decline in phone calls but then wasn't Capita responsible for implementing 'channel shift'? To help channel shift along  and to cut costs, Capita have introduced something called the 'Virtual Agent' which is the automated telephone service that I am sure many residents have experienced. Because it is automated it shouldn't cost more to run (in terms of additional call centre staff). However, my experience of the automated system is that because it is very difficult to get put through to the right department first time, you end up ringing in multiple times.  However, what I did was look at the performance stats published by Barnet comparing the most recent data with the year 2014/15. Barnet haven't published telephony data for Q4 of 2017/18 yet, so I used Q4 2016/17 to give a complete year of four consecutive quarters.

What that data tells me is that call volumes haven't risen over the last three years but the use of the Virtual Agent has as can be seen in the table below:

So how come Capita want an extra £247,000 for providing a service where call volumes are pretty static but they have reduced the calls answered by an operator by more than a third, saving a fortune in call centre staff . I simply don't see how this charge can be justified.

The third example relates to a bill for £692,759 for dilapidations to North London Business Park Building 4 (NLBP4). Originally the plan was to employ Capita who would use their offices in Coventry, Belfast, Blackburn, Darlington and so on, to house services and we could then trigger the break clause to vacate NLBP4 in late 2015. A good idea in theory but one that didn't happen. LBB staff were moved out and consolidated into Barnet House and NLBP2 but the Capita staff remain located in NLBP4. My thought was, no problem but Capita must be footing the bill. Well actually no they aren't, we are and hence we have been stung with a bill for dilapidations on NLBP4 for nearly £700k.

These three examples alone amount to more than £1 million being paid to Capita which could have been used to provide vital services such as 40+ care staff or refuse/street cleaning staff. I know where I would prefer that money to go.

The Conservatives keep saying how much outsourcing is saving but the evidence is clear that while we are making savings on the core contract, all the extras, all the gainshare, all those special projects at consultancy rates mean that by my reckoning we aren't saving anything especially when you include the millions of pounds making so many council staff redundant, the huge investment we funded in IT and the £11 million of consultants and lawyers fees to get us to a signed contract.

Tomorrow, Councillors will be looking at which services to bring back in house. Unless they have all the information about all these extras, how can they make a properly considered decision? Sadly I suspect the decision has already been made and any opposition will simply be out voted.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off - Day Three - who made the saving?

For the last couple of days I have set out details of gainshare payments on the Capita contract in Barnet. There are numerous payments and I have just picked out a selection. Today I have included a couple of other examples where the issue relates to who generated the saving and was any value added to warrant a gainshare payment.

The first is an example of where it looks like all the benefit was generated by a Barnet Council officer yet Capita are still able to claim the gainshare. Up till 2012 (pre Capita) Barnet were full members of the not for profit London Housing Consortium (LHC) set up to provide "effective procurement solutions for local authorities, housing associations, schools and other public sector bodies".  In 2015 it was decided that Barnet should rejoin the LHC as an associate member; you don't get as big a share of any rebates but there is no liability for any losses nor is their a membership fee.  At the time Barnet were about to embark on two construction projects, Monkfrith School and the refurbishment of Barnet House with a value of £5.3 million. The report was submitted as a delegated powers report and signed off by the Council's Commercial Director, not a Capita employee. The rebates from LHC are small as a percentage but when you are dealing with large projects it all mounts up. As a result of our membership Barnet received a rebate from LHC of  £47,797.32. Not a fortune but that is enough to fund two care staff. Problem is Capita say they are entitled to a gainshare so we end up handing back 31% or £14,817.17.

The second is where Barnet's bank withdrew from the local authority market so there had to be a new contract. The new contract was less expensive so yes there is a saving. However the paperwork states clearly that "procurement support has been delivered from within the LBB Core Team". Now we pay for the core procurement service in the core contract payment. Nevertheless Capita say this is a gainshare so Barnet pay them £35,381.25 - enough for a social worker.

The third example is focused around the assumption that costs always rise. Barnet tendered their interpreter and translation service. Assumptions were made about volumes and by looking at historic prices. When the current bids came in lower than the historic prices, charged Capita claimed a gainshare of £22,155.91.  What I was also aware of was that there has been a lot of downward pressure on translator and interpreter pricing.  I have used translations services in the past and have been told that prices are at best static and in many cases falling, obviously depending on skill level and language. The problem with the Capita contract is that if market prices fall, Capita see the benefit in additional gainshare.

Tomorrow I will be looking at the "extras", additional charges made by Capita which in my opinion are excessive.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off - Day Two

Yesterday I blogged about three gainshare payments which you can read here. Today I have three more examples of why the idea of gainshare seems at odds with the principles of public money being used for public service.

(Just in case anyone isn't aware, "Gainshare" is a contractual mechanism by which Capita is entitled to a share in savings they make for Barnet).

Example 1 - the Double Bubble Trick
For the last four years I have been complaining about the gainshare Capita has claimed on the Interim and Agency contract with Comensura. I remain convinced that we have been ripped off to the tune of several million pounds and it formed the basis on my objection to the accounts both in 2014 and last year. Interim and agency costs have risen alarmingly since 2011/12 :

In 2016/17 we paid a gainshare on the Comensura contract of approximately £1.3 million. Last year there was a big push to reduce the number of interim and agency staff as can be seen in the chart above. So imagine my surprise when I saw a gainshare claim for £250,000 for "HR Agency Transfer". When I queried this payment I was told that "this relates to work undertaken by HR to convert agency workers onto permanent contracts thereby helping to reduce agency spend and stabilise workforce, which led to a cost reduction of circa £800k per annum".  So for the last four years Capita have claimed  millions in gainshare on agency costs as more and more agency staff are used and then they get another £250,000 gainshare for helping to convert those agency staff to back to full time employees. I have no confidence that the £800,000 saving figure is real, but as is the way with all gainshare payments, Capita put in a claim of forecast savings and then carry out a "true up" at the end of the year when the actual savings are reconciled against the initial claim. To me this just seems plain wrong, especially as part of the switch from agency to full time staff has been driven by HMRC's clampdown on IR35 tax avoidance which has forced a large number of interim staff across the public sector to change their employment status.

Example Two - Pile up the costs and still claim the saving
If you are a single person in a property you can apply for a single persons discount (SPD) of 25% on your council tax bill. Capita get a gainshare for reducing the number of people claiming this discount. What they can also claim is the costs of carrying out the work. In 2017/18 Capita submitted a gainshare bill for £174,117.77 for the SPD reduction. When I asked for the supporting evidence I was surprised.  The gainshare is calculated based on the "total payments collected above the baseline". This was £315,000. However, the cost of carrying out the work to achieve that saving was  £127,000  giving a net saving of  £188,000 on which we paid 25% gainshare, equivalent to £47,000. Now bear in mind that Capita can charge their staff out at consultancy rates as set out here to carry out this work and on which they also make a very sizeable mark up. So from an increased council tax income of £315,000, Barnet actually gets to keep just £138,000.

Examples Three/Four/Five - It's all about the budget
There are a number of gainshare claims which are all broadly similar. Capita ask what is the budget for a service.They then tender the service and where it come in below the budget, Capita take a gainshare on the difference.
One example is for Family Systemic Training. Capita asked for Barnet's budget which Barnet said was £30,000. Capita tendered the training and picked the lowest price bid at a price of £11,400. Capita said fantastic we have saved you £18,600 so with a gainshare of 31% they billed and were paid a gainshare of £5,766. So for a service that cost £11,400 we ended up paying £17,166. In my world that is plain wrong.
A similar situation arose when tendering a tree policy consultation. The council set a budget, there was a tender on the council's own etender portal, the bid came in much lower than the budget so Capita picked up 31% of the difference.
The third example of budget driven gainshare is on document storage. Previously archive boxes were stored at the archive section of the Mill Hill Depot which has now been flogged off for housing. Barnet House and NLBP are tight for space so Barnet needed to make use of an external storage provider. Capita, asked for Barnet's budget for storage and were told it was a round £500,000. Capita went to Stor-a-file who offered them a price forecast to be £359,296 over the next five years, including an initial free 6 month period. Capita said woohoo that's a saving of  £140k or £28,200 a year so we are entitled to £11,280 of that each year. In addition, they claimed (I believe incorrectly) an additional gainshare on the 6 month free period. In total the gainshare fees over the next five years is £68,370 just because an officer set the budget too high. So instead of paying £359,296 which is the actual cost the supplier charges, we are paying £427,666.
Maybe now you can understand why I compare this gainshare process to BBC Rogue Traders and why we must take back control of this money spinner from Capita.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off

I have just finished carrying out my inspection of Barnet's accounts. In particular, I have reviewed every single one of Capita and Re's 256 invoices. Some are clear in representing what we agreed in the contract but others, especially the gainshare invoices, frankly make me shudder at how anyone could have signed them off.

(Just in case anyone isn't aware, "Gainshare" is a contractual mechanism by which Capita is entitled to a share in savings they make for Barnet).

The way I described it to a friend is that it was a bit like an episode of BBC Rogue Traders - you know they haven't done anything illegal but you definitely feel your granny has been right royally ripped off. The reason why this is important right now is because next week Barnet are going to be deciding which services should be brought back in house and which should be left with Capita. Procurement and the gainshare payments arising are one of those services currently identified as being left with Capita.

Over the next few days I will give you some examples of Capita invoice with which I have concerns. The first is an initiative to move people with Learning Difficulties (LD) or  Mental Health (MH) issues from supported living or residential care homes to the private rented sector. Now clearly there is a drive to cut adult social care costs but these projects always give me some real concerns and I am aware that there have been some problems when this type of move has taken place.  Set out below is the "Project Overview and Savings Methodology" provided by Capita.

Four users were identified and moved into the private rented sector. I haven't seen any details as to how the individuals felt about this move and whether it met their needs but this is of course all about the money. Over 3 years the savings achieved are at £197,203. Some may say that is a positive move as costs have to be brought under control.

So now here comes the rub. Capita said we have saved you £197,203 we are entitled to a gainshare of £67,138 (34%) and that is what Barnet have paid. This makes me very uncomfortable because it turns vulnerable people into a commodity on which a profit can be earned. This isn't about effective procurement, it is about cutting a service to make money. It also worries me that making inroads into the adult social care budget will be difficult if Capita are going to keep taking a massive slug of the savings on every initiative.

A second example is a procurement exercise for the  Domestic Violence Unit covering:

  • Independent Domestic Violence Advisors;
  • Refuge Provision;
  • Support Service for Perpetrators and Victims of Domestic Violence;
  • Risk Assessors; and 
  • Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC). 

Capita carried out tender exercise and compared the new prices to what Barnet previously paid. Much of the detail is redacted but critically Capita claimed a gainshare of £47,102.80. Last year the payment was disputed because it was thought that Domestic Violence was funded from grant money and Capita can't claim gainshare on grant money. However, this year it was agreed that Barnet had funded the service and as such were stuck with the bill for £47k. Again, what seems to be missing from the process is the issue of quality and user satisfaction with vulnerable people being a source of profit for Capita.  What I also struggle with is whether this is the type of work we are already paying for from a procurement service included in the core contract; my view is that it is, but apparently not.

A third example today is on court costs. Capita receive a gainshare paid at 20% of court costs collected above a baseline.  The baseline was set at £871,000 and last year the total court costs collected was £1,242,495.  Capita therefore received a gainshare payment of (£1,242,495 less £871,000) x 20% = £74,299. The point I made is that by having a fixed sum as a baseline,  as court cost rise over time or if there is a year when there is more legal action, Barnet will end up paying a fortune in gainshare, not because Capita have recovered a higher proportion of court costs but simply because the overall bill was higher.

There will be more examples to come tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Capita Day Rates - Disclosure at Last

Capita have billed many millions in extra charges on the Barnet CSG contract. A significant chunk of those charges are for "Special Projects" charged at pre agreed day rates - in 2016-17 alone Special Projects cost £16.8 million as reported here

The contract stated quite clearly that these rates should be disclosed after three years but when I asked for them it came as no surprise that my request was refused. After going through the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and having to appeal their initial ruling they eventually upheld my appeal. Today was the deadline for Barnet to provide the information and last night it was sent to me. Set out below are the Day Rates as stated in the original contract signed in 2013 but rates may have risen since that time, especially as Capita have an indexation clause within the contract. I will leave you to judge whether you think these rates are reasonable and whether, for a number of roles, utilising a council employee might have been cheaper. It is interesting to note the day rates of the Legacy One Barnet Project Managers (Table 4) as they may be a reflection of the rates we were paying pre Capita and compare those to the day rates being charged by Capita.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Internal Audit Give Barnet Limited Assurance Rating - it goes from bad to worse

The forthcoming Audit Committee papers have been published and it doesn't make for pleasant reading. All the reports are all here  In particular the Internal Audit Opinion is damning with only a limited Assurance rating, something the Council has not received since 2010/11. It includes statements like:

  • There has been a weakening of the organisation’s control framework, with an increasing number of findings which demonstrate weaknesses and non-compliance in the framework of governance, risk management and control;
  • An increasing number of high risk and medium risk findings relate to the financial management practices in place at the Council, specifically those around income and expenditure monitoring;
  • Roles, responsibilities and reporting lines were not consistently defined or understood, leading to gaps in delivery and oversight;
  • Data quality and integrity issues were noted across some areas at the Council, particularly regarding Pensions, HR, Section 106 and CILs. In the absence of strong data management and analysis, governance is weakened because the ability of senior staff and Members to scrutinise performance is reduced.
  • Statutory and internal deadlines for activity were met, increasing the Council’s potential liability for additional fees and charges, and legal sanctions and reducing the extent to which its own enforcement activity can be carried out;
  • We noted issues with the performance of key employment checks including DBS and right to work checks, which could lead to fines, legal action and reputational damage;
  • Key health and safety checks relating to water safety were not carried out in line with required statutory timescales;
There are many more. I have already submitted my questions as set out below. We will, as always, 
have to wait and see if any of them actually get answered. I'm not hopeful but they are questions that must be asked.
  1. Who decided that Appendix 1 should be exempt and was it at the request of an officer, a member or Capita?
  2. You are stating Appendix 1 is exempt under paragraph 3, Part I, Schedule 12A Local Government Act 1972 which relates to financial or business affairs yet this report is about a failure of that financial or business performance. As such publishing the report may inform decisions being taken on the 19 July at the Policy and Resources committee. Please could you provide a copy of the public interest test that was undertaken before deciding that this report should be exempt?
  3. Given that all of these events outlined in the report happened on the CEO’s watch, that the CEO is a Board Director of Re and that the CEO was the S151 Officer when the Capita and Re contracts were being decided, how can the CEO ensure that he is perceived as the right person to lead the council going forward?
  4. Given that Grant Thornton were the Council’s external auditors when the CSG and Re contracts were let and that they may have reviewed the financial controls at that time or during the 2013/14 or 2014/15 audit, to what extent do you think this might be perceived as a conflict of interest and were any other accountancy companies considered to carry out this work?
  5. The report states “We also noted a decrease in the extent to which staff were willing to engage with audit requests and provide deliverables in a timely manner. This led to prolonged periods of engagement in the case of some audits and an increase in audit delivery costs.” Were there any particular departments or delivery units where this was more prevalent and what would you say was the cause of this unwillingness to engage with Internal Audit?
  6. It appears that a culture of ignoring the central guidance has developed with individual departments making their own decisions. What has caused this culture to develop and how do you think that culture can be changed?
  7. As all of the items listed in this report have been flagged before in quarterly reports, it cannot come as a great surprise to you that the council has been given a limited assurance rating. What reassurance can you provide to me that this will get better given the senior management team when these events occurred are still in place?
  8. The report states “There are significant weaknesses and noncompliance in the framework of governance, risk management and control which put the achievement of organisational objectives at risk” To what extent do you think this committee has to accept some of the blame for this situation and if so what do you think this committee could do better in the future?
  9. The governance statement appendix B mentions best practice. Best practice suggests that “the audit committee chair should not be, expressly, a member of the executive. A non-executive chair is important in order to promote the objectivity of the audit committee and to enhance its standing in the eyes of the public”. Given that Cllr Finn is, or was until recently, the Chief Whip of the Conservative Group, please provide evidence as to how you believe there is a genuine separation from the Executive, that is both clear and perceived to be clear by residents, opposition and independent members?
  10. Can you please clarify if monitoring CSG and Re for fraud is within the terms of reference of the CAFT team. What discussions have taken place with Capita’s own internal audit/investigation team about this situation, why did they not identify this fraud and to what extent should or could CAFT take responsibility for investigating CSG and Re going forward?

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Supplier payments for May - Interim & Agency staff costs rising again

Just a short post today about Barnet's supplier payments for May.

Not much in terms of payments for Capita and Re this month as they tend to be paid quarterly so just £802,823.71 for Capita and £1,094,439.69 for Re. Comensura spend is on the up, with a total of £1,925,781.97 for may alone. Although it is to early to be certain, based on the first two months of this year the forecast looks like it might get back to the 2016/17 level of £20 million.

A few of interesting invoices that I did note were as follows:

  • PA Consulting billed £685,804. The majority was for "IT & Comms". Given that I thought IT & Comms was the responsibility of  Capita, it is surprising we have such a large bill from another consultancy.
  • We paid £13,940 to Comer Business & Innovation Centre. It may not sound like much but it is for space at NLBP. This tell me there isn't enough space in Building 2 at NLBP which make me worry about what is going to happen when Barnet relocate to a much smaller building at Colindale. I would also point out that although we were supposed to have vacated Building 4 at NLBP we are still paying for Capita to rent some of that space. Surely we should have looked to see if there was any spare space in Building 4 which we are already paying for first?
  • We paid Saracens £28,398 for "rent". I am guessing this relates to the use of their stadium for the election count but it does seem rather a lot of money to pay for one night's usage.
  • Assurance spent £308.33 at Pinks florists; that's quite a lot of flowers.

Coming up in the next week will be details of the year end audit and my findings from the inspection of the accounts. Keep reading and I will keep blogging.