Tuesday 30 November 2010

One Barnet - The numbers don't add up!

Last night Mr Reasonable attended the Cabinet meeting to ask a question about the costs and benefits of the One Barnet programme. Having read all of the details (or should I say lack of details) it strikes me that there are some huge gaps in the thinking about One Barnet. Last night I asked if Cabinet members had checked the figures to which I got a charming but evasive response from the Leader. I then asked why none of the figures stated in various documents actually reconcile against one another. I gave the example of the E recruitment programme where the figures in three separate council documents are all different - "so which one is correct" I asked. A very neat pass to the Deputy Chief Executive who looked a little flustered and said he would look into it. Disappointing especially as the next agenda item which was considering the privatisation of a raft of council departments contained a £1.25m error (Page 33 section 6.3). We, the council tax payers of Barnet, are paying a fortune for all these highly paid council officials. We are paying a fortune for a host of assorted and highly paid consultants. Why then can we not get a single, clear and evidence based set of figures on the costs and benefits of One Barnet.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Register of Members' Interests

Having booked my appointment last week, today, I got to inspect the Register of Members' Interests for those six councillors who chose to opt out of the on line version (Cllr Shooter's is now on line). I would love to tell of the startling revelations I discovered but sadly I can't because there weren't any. They were generally rather uninteresting. There were a few records of hospitality but nothing of any great interest. Attendance at a conference with train fare and hotel but it was directly related to the service they oversee, it was a standard class rail fare and normal hotel price. I could not complain at that one. A trip to Morphou but the plane fare and hotel were paid for by Morphou who we are twinned with. A few meals and a bottle of wine as a gift. Given that it all seemed rather normal, what I can't understand is why they all chose to opt out. They may not want to reveal their home addresses but surely people should know where their councillors live. I am mystified.

Friday 19 November 2010

Enormous Financial Errors Update

In between trying to earn a living I have carried out a comparison between the two sets of supplier details. It would appear that approximately 3,120 of the 13,563 entries have been changed in the amended supplier payments list. So the original list that was published wasn't just a bit wrong it was overwhelmingly wrong. Now being a reasonable chap I know people do make mistakes but what I want to know is why did nobody check this before it was first published and is the April to June list also wrong. Is this indicative of an underlying lack of quality control. When the council discuss their budget cuts at the budget meeting in December I sincerely hope someone will have checked the numbers then.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Enormous Financial Errors

Barnet Council very kindly put up on their website a list of supplier payments over £500. Mr Reasonable spent a great deal of time going through those figures and some appeared very strange indeed. I posted some of my analysis following my one to one with Cllr Thomas and had a reply back from one of those suppliers Calco Services who stated that no they had not received £1.3 million they had only received £54k. Concerned that there may be a fraud being attempted Mr Reasonable contacted Barnet Council. This afternoon I have received a note saying the figures were wrong and they have now published a new supplier list. Going thorough the top 104 invoices by value (all £100,000 or more) I find that 32 payment details have been changed. These amount to £11.1million of changes. Frankly I have no confidence in the figures and I defy anyone to make a sound contribution on where budget cut should fall if we are not clear what is being spent. The odd error maybe but so many and of such scale and they would have gone completely unnoticed except for Mr Reasonable's intervention. What a shocker!

Saturday 13 November 2010

My One to One with Cllr Thomas

I was very disappointed that the public consultation was cancelled so it was some comfort that Cllr Thomas agreed to ring me yesterday to listen to my views. I will not report what Cllr Thomas said. I respect his privacy and I do not want to mis quote him but I will share my side of the conversation with him.

My starting point was that before we start salami slicing individual services it is important to look at the structure of Barnet Council and how the Council is run. My view is the council is remote from the views and ambitions of the residents and the splendid isolation of North London Business Park (rental cost £1.7 million in the last six months)simply reinforces that disconnect.

I expressed my concern that there is insufficient control over spending and that is evidenced by some of the invoices coming through on the suppliers list. Barnet publish a magazine called Everyone's A Winner and it is distributed at leisure centres amongst other outlets. Great, except according to the accounts this magazine cost £117,154.69!

Why, at a time when people are being made redundant, have the council spent £397,283.38 on job adverts. Why has the Council spent £5.5 million on agency staff in the last six months including £1,292,856.83 since July with Calco Services. I know there is the debate about flexibility of agency staff and the ability to get rid of them when they are no longer required but I question the scale of usage of agency staff.

I have worked on out sourcing projects for many years and I have seen some organisations who see outsourcing as a way of getting rid of problems rather than facing up to them. I fear this could be the case with Barnet.

This led me on to another issue and that is the role of consultants at the council. According to the suppliers list Barnet has spent £19,052,664.44 in consulting fees the last 6 months. Before we start looking at how we cut front line services like the libraries we need to start making inroads into theses big non-essential costs first. I touched on a number of other areas during our 1 hour discussion but I finished up on the point that the Council needs to start talking and listening to residents; we aren't stupid and we do have a contribution to make. I sincerely hope Cllr Thomas listens and takes on board the views of residents. If not I suspect that they will achieve the worst of all worlds, making hideous cuts to services but failing to realise the savings they are looking for.

Please note that all of the figures I have quoted have been taken from the Barnet Council Vendor Payments over £500. I have tried as far as possible to be accurate in analysing the figures but going through the 25,662 separate entries occasional errors may occur.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Budget Consultation Cancelled at 48 Hrs Notice

I have read today on the Barnet Times website that the public consultation meeting due to be held on Thursday has been cancelled because of a "lack of interest". Apparently only four people had called the council to tell them they were interested in attending. So now we have to register for public meetings in advance? This is both an outrage and an affront to democracy. Given that the had large adverts in both the Barnet Times and Press for two weeks which must have cost several thousand pounds they have now decided before the meeting that they shouldn't bother. Mr Reasonable is incensed having spent the last week going through the 24,664 separate entries of Barnet Council suppliers invoices over £500 between April and September 2010. Do the council want a dialogue on this or do they simply want to push through their own ideas. Democracy has been short changed and unless residents complain the council will simply say residents don't care.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Public Meeting Thursday 11 November 6.30 pm Hendon Town Hall

I missed the Council's advertisment for the public meeting to provide input to proposed budget cuts and only found out today that is taking place next week. I want to make sure that no one misses the opportunity to have their say. If people sit at home on their backsides then they can't come back in 12 months time and moan when services are cut. The meeting on the 11 November (6.30pm-8.30pm at Hendon Town Hall) is your chance to say what you think about the budget cuts, so make sure you are there. If people do not turn up that will be seen as a green light to go ahead with so many cuts to services. Please come along!