Tuesday 21 September 2010

Audit committee - oops we lost £2m!

Tonight's Audit Committee was both disappointing and disturbing. Mr Reasonable had tabled two questions, one about Future Shape and one about very expensive computers for councillors, neither of which got a written answer nor a reasonable verbal response. The proceedings were dull, Barnet Times reporter looked very bored and then got up an left the meeting before we had got to any of the juicy business. Future Shape was glossed over, "yes in an ideal world we should have done a business cased but we are going to do one now" Mr Travers reiterated that they had only spent £810,000 on consultants last year and it would be £1.5 million this year. What irritates me is that he failed to mention all the senior staff they have appointed in the name of future shape including setting up a new commercial directorate that will cost an additional £500,000 a year. What about the budget of "up to £500,000" for legal advice on how to set up Local Asset Back Vehicles (the structure for flogging off local assets). What about the Implementation Partner Contract that we aren't allowed to know the cost of other than it is "in excess of £500,000). None of that got mentioned. Several Councillors expressed concern that they still didn't really understand what was being proposed and that there was a lack of detail. They were promised that by the next meeting in December there will be more details.

Then a rather interesting point, a number of people have been allowed to join the Barnet Pension scheme who were previously council employees but have been transferred to other employers. The example given was some of the non teaching staff at Middlesex University. Now what is supposed to happen is that the council then claim these pension payments back from an organisation called the Higher Education Funding Council from England. The problem is that Barnet forgot to make the claims and as a result we didn't recover the £2 million we were entitled to. You can't backdate these claims so that money we didn't claim is lost forever. Chairman says well its lost and we can't reclaim it but it is a systemic failure. Why didn't the auditors pick it up? Up pipes one of the Grant Thornton chaps. "Yes but we did identify it in the 2006/07 audit but nobody picked it up. Sharp intake of breath! Serious matter!

Finally onto the matter on computers. The Council have splashed out £106,000 on buying new tablet computers for Councillors. That's £1682 per councillor. I had asked if anybody bothered to check what councillors actually use their computers for to see if they need one of these very high spec tablets. Cllr Palmer decided that actually it was all about the inconvenience of log in and how he wanted an apology from the IT department. Yes but what about these expensive tablet computers. Well they were expensive and probably over specified but it was easier for everyone to have the same machine even if it cost more. I reckon they have wasted £50,000 and more fundamentally did they need to buy these 1700 of expensive machines for all of the council staff. We then have to leave the room so they can talk about the procurement process which we the residents have to pay for. Overall, a hugely disappointing waste of time and a clear indication that the council will do whatever it wants and there is no one there to stop them.


  1. Thanks for this - completely shocking, however I am grateful that you went.

  2. Have you seen this invitation 7th October 2010

    6.00pm at the Conference Area, Building 2, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP

    ‘A New Relationship with Citizens’

    Nick Walkley "seek your views on the Council’s budget for 2011/12 and what our priorities should be, and how we can deliver services differently as we seek to make substantial savings."


    The invite is missing from the Barnet Council website

  3. Thanks Anonymous.Greatly appreciated! I shall be there in a positive frame of mind looking to work with the council for the benefit of the community!

  4. Just thought others should be made aware that the Barnet public has a right to see the detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, books and bills that relate to the audited accounts of the recent financial year 2009/2010.

    It is a criminal offence for a council employee to obstruct anybody exercising their legal right to see these records for themselves.


    I wanted to know to whom at Barnet I should put my request to see various invoices and when did the 20 working day period to view the audited accounts begin. I’ve been told that there was an advert placed on 8th July that gave 3rd September as the day that the public could challenge the accounts. The public has 20 working days to view these accounts, so if the 3rd September was the correct date this time period runs out this Thursday 30th September.

    Rather strange that the pdf of the accounts was created on 20th September, went to audit committee on 21st Sept, yet available to public from 3rd Sept?


  5. Very curious how we are supposed to ask questions about a document we haven't yet seen. The GT audit report says they received no public questions by 3rd September. What a surprise! The whole thing stinks.

  6. Apologies as I haven’t been clear. Although the 4th September date to ask the auditors questions has been missed, the residents have a right for twenty working days to see the detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, books and bills that relate to the accounts of the recent financial year. Barnet would probably not like its residents to see the contracts invoices etc but they are legally obliged, it’s a criminal offence not to.

    This blog link explains:

    audit commission act 1998 section 15:


    (1)At each audit under this Act, other than an audit of accounts of a health service body, any persons interested may—

    (a)inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them, and

    (b)make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents.

    audit commission act 1998 section 14:


    (3)A person who has the custody of any such document and—

    (a)obstructs a person in the exercise of a right under this section to inspect or make copies of the document, or

    (b)refuses to give copies of the document to a person entitled under this section to obtain them,

    is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

  7. This means that Barnet have to place an advert 14 days before the audited accounts are available to give 20 working days in which residents can inspect all the records, contracts etc. I don’t think they have done that