Friday, 15 March 2019

Two Meetings, Some Shocking Discoveries.

Set out below are a few things I learnt at the two Barnet Committee meetings I attended this week. You may find them surprising/shocking.

  • Barnet are moving to brand new offices in Colindale in June but they haven't agreed an exit to the lease at Barnet House which will cost £63,000 a month for the next 156 months,  so we risk leaving the building empty for the next 13 years at a cost of £9.8 million, and that was always in the business case.
  • Barnet are in dispute with the builder of the new Colindale offices and the sum involved is large enough to impact the capital budget - we aren't allowed to know what the exact sum is but my guest would be somewhere around an extra £5+m.
  • Where housing benefit was accidentally overpaid, Capita are allowed to keep an extra £340,000 of the money recovered.
  • Barnet agree with me that they had provided some incorrect figures to Policy & Resources Committee on the FTE headcount of agency staff  - Barnet showed it declining whereas it had actually risen significantly in the last three months. 
  • It is okay to say there is an upward trend in user satisfaction even though the figures have got significantly worse in the last 12 months.
  • If Capita have a large number of vacant posts for services they provide to Barnet we still get charged the same price  - because we only measure outputs and Capita will get penalised (but not as much as they save in salary costs?).
  • We still haven't got a clear picture of all the agency staff costs.
  • East Barnet Library will be turned into a Families Hub for the east of the borough when the library is relocated to the new leisure centre in Victoria Recreation Ground.
  • Barnet surveyed 1.5% of households to understand how many bins they had to collect and subsequently found the small sample wasn't a reflection of the true numbers of bins.
  • Even though for years drivers have been unable to get the large refuse vehicles into restricted access routes they thought they would give it another go - and it failed.
  • Drivers weren't members of the project team that planned the round changes.
  • The new area based collection service means that a significant amount of time is spent getting from the Harrow depot to the point where they actually start collection refuse.

  • They couldn't procure a critical IT system to help with the rounds reorganisation because they left it too late before commencing the procurement process to comply with EU procedure - even though the issue had been known about for 3 years.
  • A significant amount of management time was diverted from services like street cleansing to deal with the new refuse collection rounds.
  • Even though the number of rounds reduced from 41 to 38  Barnet had to hire an additional nine (9) refuse trucks at a cost of £1000/week each and purchased 4 new trucks at a cost of £741,700 +VAT.
  • The new green waste collection round mean staff have to collect an average of 1917 bins per shift.
  • As recently as last week only 28% of rounds on a Monday were completed within an 8 hour shift and over the week 30 rounds took more than 10 hours to complete

  • 17 estates had their twice weekly collections cut to once a week. Discussions have now taken place with managing agents and areas are being identified to store additional bins on the estates.
  • There is no clear definitive comparison between what the refuse service cost before the changes and since the changes so we don't know if they have saved any money.
  • The refuse service is currently forecast to be £1.75 million over budget.
  • Recycling rates are down.

The two meetings left me with no confidence in the operation of the Council and the ability to achieve cost savings. Next financial year - starting in 2 week's time - Barnet has to make £20 million of savings and we will still need to draw down £5.3 million from reserves. I remain concerned that without an accurate picture of how much we are spending on things like agency staff and the refuse reorganisation there is a very real chance the savings won't be achieved.

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