Sunday, 10 March 2019

Questions for the Financial Performance & Contracts Committee

How would feel knowing that the outsourced company responsible for managing Highways repairs and maintenance has 25% of posts vacant and are struggling to recruit? Is that why the highways in Barnet are so poor?  We still don't have clarity on agency staff costs and appears to have some very expensive interim staff on six figure salaries. The Council's relocation to the brand new office block in Colindale is late and they are in dispute with the contractor over costs. How much will this new building cost and how easy will it be to get to the new offices if you live in the East of the borough? Just some of the topics on which I have asked questions. As ever, I will have to wait and see if I get straight and direct answers to my questions.

  1. 1.2 says that a £3.685m contribution to reserves from the Capita contract settlement. What happened to the other £0.435 million that formed part of the settlement, when was it paid and where is the record of the payment given that it is not shown as a credit in the monthly expenditure figures?  
  2. What was the reason for the underspend of the forecast NLWA levy?
  3. At 1.9 the report states that the average interest rate for the £304.08m of long term debt is 3.86%. How much of the long term debt is in Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans, what is the interest rate on those LOBO’s and what steps have been taken to follow in Birmingham and other authorities’ footsteps to extricate themselves from LOBO’s and replace them with lower cost PWLB funding at a lower cost?
  4. Re para 2.1.10, please can you explain in more detail why there is presently a backlog in raising invoices for income due to the service and why CSG is a significant debtor which could result in debt write offs being written back to the service?
  5. How much of the £293,000 overspend in HR is due to the high cost of interim agency staff in senior positions and please can you clarify how many agency/interim staff in HR are costing the council more than £100,000 per annum?
  6. Re para 2.1.20 please can you clarify on which specific retained income lines the £1.346m shortfall has occurred?
  7. Can you clarify specifically how the housing benefit overpayments occurred in the first place, are the repayments anticipated or actual, and will the gainshare be paid before or after the repayments have been recouped?
  8. When you say that the misclassification of income between the General Fund and the HRA has been resolved in 2019/20 and going forward, does this mean that the authority will receive this income going forward or that the income has been reclassified so that we definitely know we won’t receive the income?
  9. Can you clarify how you can reconcile Table 2 which shows an overspend on Streetscene of £1.147 million with Table 6 that shows Environment are still on budget to save £1.915 million and does this mean that additional cuts will have to be made from elsewhere in Environment to make up for the overspend on Streetscene?
  10. Given that a significant debtor is Hammerson PLC owing over £1 million, that all of the invoices required more information and that two of these invoices are more  than a year overdue, has all the requested information been provided and what steps will be taken to seek immediate payment?
  11. Given that Barratt have failed to respond on 8 out of 10 invoices with a value of £600,000 what steps are you taking to recover this money immediately?
  12. Why do the agency staff cost figures not tie into the actual staff cost invoices even taking into account when the invoices were paid?
  13. Why does the average cost of employing agency staff vary by so much from month to month especially in Commissioning Group given there is so very little difference in the number of FTE staff employed?
  14. Given that the agency costs do not include interim and agency staff employed outside Matrix contract, can you quantify what the additional spend is through agencies such as Hampton’s Resourcing and Gatenby Sanderson, and what is the headcount for those agencies?
  15. At point 1.11 it lists 8 areas where benefits were built into the new contract. Can you clarify why those benefits were not build into the Comensura contract either from the start or when a new contract was awarded to Comensura in 2016?
  16. How much do you believe these 8 benefits built into the new contract will save Barnet per annum?
  17. The report fails to identify why recruitment and retention is a problem. What has Re done to understand the causes of the problem, for example have Re undertaken Barnet staff satisfaction surveys, how many exit interviews have been carried out and what were the findings, is it a morale problem, is it a pay and benefits problem? Without knowing what is the cause of the problem how can any mitigation proposals have any chance of success?
  18. Will the lower salary and pension costs arising from so many vacancies be reflected in lower charges made by Re to Barnet?
  19. At 1.35 the report states “Capita has not hit the targets for satisfaction, but there have been incremental improvements in most areas”. However, the report identifies that in 7 out of 10 satisfaction criteria the performance/direction of travel has actually worsened since last year. As such how can the statement “incremental improvements in most areas” be true?
  20. Given that none of the satisfaction KPIs have been met since contract commencement 5 years ago can you please explain what is the point of having KPI’s and what signal does this send to Capita about prolonged non compliance?
  21. Seven different bus routes stop in close proximity to Barnet House and the Northern Line stop at Totteridge & Whetstone 5 minute’s walk from Barnet House make it very accessible to residents. How accessible will the new offices at Colindale be to residents in the East of the borough who have housing queries or want to inspect a planning application in person?
  22. After June 2020 where will the family services in the be located in the East of the Borough and what reassurances can you give that funding for a permanent East Hub will be allocated?
  23. Given that last week I was told that an exit from the Barnet House lease had not yet been agreed, why wasn’t this identified as a risk in the report at section 1.16.7 and what is the scale of the financial risk – i.e. how many months will we have to keep paying rent for Barnet House once it has been vacated?
  24. What is the scale of the financial risk of not being able to vacate NLBP4 by June 2019?
  25. Have you carried out any staff surveys to understand how many staff feel about the move to Colindale, how many staff will find the move difficult in terms of travelling/commuting and what estimates have been made on change in staff retention as a result of the move?
  26. Please can you clarify when (i.e. June 2019) you will have certainty on the scale of the financial risk of the contractual dispute with the building contractor so that it can be incorporated into the budget?


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