Saturday 30 April 2011

£58million problem at Southwest One - Should Barnet be looking more closely at Its Outsourcing Strategy

According to a report on BBC Points West the problems at SouthWestOne, where they have outsourced services to IBM, seem worse that first thought. According to Cllr Ken Maddocks, Leader of Somerset County Council, by tearing up the contract they have with SouthWestOne they could save £58 million. I know I had to do a double take as well. Listen to what conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has to say. I hope that every Barnet Councillor has read the details of what has happened here.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Latest council payments published

The latest set of Barnet Council spending is available to view on line. I have only had a quick look but so far I have found a few items that are quite interesting.

In March MetPro Rapid Response were paid £43,818. At the same time Blue 9 Security were paid £8,490. But what is this, another company called Magenta Security Services who were paid £52,355.52. Now that seems a lot of security in just one month.

Then there is the Council’s implementation partner Agilisys who were paid £215,295.70in March along with various other consultants. Then there is Halliford Associates, the company of the deputy Chief Executive Mr Andrew Travers who was paid £51,000 in the period January to March.

One real oddity is the payment to a company called City Suburban Tree Surgeons Ltd. In the three months January- March 2011 they were paid £527,399.90. That seems a lot of grounds maintenance. Oh and a minor items £7,200 for venue hire at the Holiday Inn Elstree even though there are all those lovely meeting rooms at NLBP.
Finally, there are still an awful lot of redacted payments which we will never be able to scrutinise in detail.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Another £280k for One Barnet Staff

Another day sees yet more staff recruited to manage the One Barnet programme. Today's Delegated Powers Report shows that the Council will recruit another project manager and three support staff at a cost of £140k per annum (excluding on costs) for a fixed term of two year. For a project that won't let a contract for another 18 months, it really seems to be proving an expensive process. It also seems rather strange that at a time when the council are making hundred's of staff redundant yet more One Barnet staff are being recruited. When will someone stand back and start asking some searching questions about the costs and benefits of this entire One Barnet Programme?

Sunday 24 April 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and FOI Responses

Barnet Council have helpfully put a link to their publication scheme on the front page of their website. This lists information which may be of interest to the public. It also details the disclosure log which is a record of Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests that the Council feel are of a wider public interest. Clear there is a difference of opinion on what is of a wider public interest as there are a number of notable absences from the log such as:

• How long it takes to fix a parking meter in Barnet;
• How much is raised in parking charges and how much are parking maintenance costs;
• How many days did a parking meter collect zero funds (one meter took no income for 8 months); and
• How much loss/profit is made by Barnet council on allotments?

There are some interesting disclosures listed which include the £10,035 the Chief Executive was paid as returning officer and that he claimed no expenses in 2009/10. It also revealed that the total paid out for damages claims caused by potholes (including costs) was £168,283 with the largest single claim of £5,414.17 for damage to the gearbox of a Mercedes.

Now we come to the bit that really worries me and that is the discrepancies in some of the FOI answers provided.

First of all is the cost of replacing and upgrading IT equipment. In the published statement it states that “The cost of purchasing the new laptops and tablets is £270k.” Now we know that that cannot be correct because they it also states that they purchased 2,450 new laptops and tablet computers and we also know from a previous FOI request submitted by Barnet Bugle that the cost per laptop including all the add on bits (docking station, ultra slim battery, separate TFT screen, keyboard and a mouse) is approximately £1,500 each. So how do they arrive at a cost of £270k when it is closer to £3.7 million? Beats me.

Maybe the list of away days conveniently stopped before the lovely £15,000 awayday break at the Sandbanks hotel was clocked up.

Now we come to suppliers. The council produces a list of companies with which the council has contracts. A few interesting examples are as follows:

Council states Logica plc contract value £13k. Openly Local says the value for Logica CMG UK Ltd (which I believe is probably one and the same) £1,635,960 – bit of a difference there.

No mention of Norwest Holst, £8,204,569; Catalyst, £7,977,334; Dimensions (ADP)Ltd, £3,491,107; Barnet Lighting, £2,527,493; Ridgeland Properties, £2,338,036 and so on and so on. One contract noticeable by its absence is for MetPro – maybe because there wasn’t a contract just, an arrangement.

I would urge all Barnet residents to scrutinise these details very closely because it is our borough where we all live, it is our money they are spending and it is in our name they are acting. We all need to take responsibility to see how the council is run and to shout up if we don’t agree with the decisions taken in our name.

Thursday 21 April 2011

How a £2.5 million project ended up costing £21 million - Why we need to learn the lessons.

This is a complex story that started back in 2003 but has huge relevance for the decisions being made at the moment on outsourcing. It started with an estimate of £2.5 million and today it has clocked up costs of £21 million and that is not the end of it. I have tried to assemble the facts correctly but if they are wrong I apologise. However, trying to get information out of Barnet Council has been exceptionally difficult and some of the information remains locked in exempt reports.

Back in 2003 it was identified that the core financials IT and HR/Payroll systems needed to be replaced. They estimated that the core financial system replacement would cost £2.5 million and that was the figure approved by the Council in March 2004. As they looked into this further they decided that this should now be treated as a business change project not an IT replacement project. Warning bells are starting to ring!
They put it out to tender in 2004 giving bidders three options:
• Option 1: A core financials system without HR/payroll
• Option 3: A HR/payroll system operated by the ‘bureau mechanism’
• Option 2: An enterprise-wide system with HR/payroll module included

Interestingly the Cabinet Resources report of 8 July 2004 states that “the response to Option 1 had been poor with no Best of Breed finance providers bidding for this option. The market response thus played a major role in informing the decision process”. So surprise, surprise the leading providers didn’t want to supply a basic and low cost solution; they wanted to sell their more expensive enterprise wide solutions. This is what happens when you let the market tell you what they want to provide. Sound familiar with what they are saying about the current outsourcing programme?
Right from the start it was clear there were problems. A memorandum from Audit in May 2004 (page 15) said,
“The Council is in the process “of modernising its core systems” with the aim to use the opportunities provided by the new system to modernise working practices.
Overall: at this stage no assurance can be given that the above objective will be achieved in an efficient, effective and economical way. Although a recognised project management methodology (Prince 2) is being used to manage the project, the initial stages of good project management have not been strictly followed and implemented.
In that report it also identified that cost estimates were now £8.3 million which included both internal and external staff costs. The risk register also identified the lack of a business case.
“As Pointed out by the Gateway review team there is a need for the Business Case to be developed by the Core Financials Project, to determine the project costs and viability”.
In July 2004 a business case was prepared and you can read it here (starts at page 26). I have read a few business cases in my time but the brevity of this one is nothing short of indecent. All the details may be locked up in the exempt report, which I have not been allowed to see, but to have 2 pages for costs and benefits without a single number being mentioned leaves me with a feeling that it was not one of the most thorough assessments. I may be wrong in which case, if Barnet Council care to provide me with a copy of the exempt report, I may change my view. However it also notes in the business case that they haven’t concluded negotiations with the suppliers yet. Again this has an all too familiar ring with the current outsourcing project.
So the Cabinet went ahead and authorised a company who we now know to be Logica to install and support the SAP system for five years with the option to extend for a further three years.
One year later in September 2005 the Cabinet ICT committee set out what was the budget in 2004 (someone with a black pen must have missed that). It shows that the capital budget was now £8.16 million and there were anticipated annual costs of £1.1 million with savings from the old system of £662,000.
Now six years later people are still talking about SAP and what else needs to be implemented. Through an FOI request I have been informed that the cost of installation was £7.8 million and the annual payments to Logica amount to £13.2 million. In addition there are a further two years to run on Logica’s support contract.
So what does all this mean?
• We started with a budget of £2.5 million and we ended up with a cost of £21 million.
• We started a process and got a long way down the track before a business case was prepared.
• We gave the market the option to tell us what they wanted to provide.
• The market chose not to provide us with the cheapest option.
• We have been locked into a support contract for 8 years which has consistently run at double or treble the initial estimated costs.
Now the SAP system may be great and it may be delivering all sorts of benefits but it has cost an awful lot of money. It’s a bit like the man who says a Porsche is wonderful value for money but most people can’t afford to run it let alone buy it. We need to learn lessons from the past to make sure we don’t repeat them in the future.

At the minute I am hugely worried that the current outsourcing programme is in danger of repeating all the old mistakes and it will end up costing us all a fortune. I have asked questions at numerous committees only to be fobbed off. The first contract being outsourced has an estimated value of between £270 and £290 million. This are not small amounts we are talking about and if these contracts do go wrong the financial consequences could be immense. Please Barnet Council, re-open the debate and open up the books. Give the rate payer of Barnet some comfort that this will not end like another SAP project.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Democracy RIP

Tonight I sat through a very thorough dismantling of democracy in Barnet. Council meeting, number to be reduced,questions on the work of the cabinet eliminated, reduction in the number of opposition motions. Much debate but irrespective of the arguments Conservative group simply put it to the vote and pass what they want. Limited discussion on Delegated Powers Reports. Then on to residents forums. Officers prepared a range of options; someone has carried out research with residents, two people speak and then the Conservative group put up their own proposal. It is an example of control freakery in the extreme. Labour and Libdems fight a losing battle - put to the vote and that's it the conservative group's proposal is accepted. Mr Reasonable confidently predicts that by this time next year residents forums will be gone forever. One of the objectives for the review of residents forums was to make them more cost effective. Well closing them down will certainly achieve that objective!
I simply despair.
I am sure Mrs Angry will give a far more comprehensive witty and lucid report of the meeting but I had to get this off my chest before I go to bed.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

MetPro - Delegated Powers Report confirms a catalogue of errors

A rushed Delegated Powers Report highlights the failure to properly administer the MetPro Contract. Amongst other things the report confirms the following:

- MetPro Emergency Response took over a contract and operated it without the council's knowledge - even though all the bloggers of Barnet, but particularly Mrs Angry, had flagged it up much earlier.

- The report states that MetPro Rapid Response went into liquidation on 15th March 2011 yet they missed all the signs that they were in trouble six months earlier when on 10 August 2010 MetPro were issued a notice for the company to be dissolved by Companies House. At that time the company's correspondence was being directed to the insolvency specialists Bond Partners LLP.

- The report identifies that Blue 9 Security, the company who have taken over from MetPro, are actually cheaper than MetPro - so why on earth wasn't that picked up earlier? Perhaps it could have saved us some of the £1.2 million Barnet are supposed to have paid MetPro.

The Delegated Powers Report suggests this whole process was badly managed yet there will be no public inquiry. The report also states:

Section 5.7 of the council’s Contract Procedure Rules provides the delegated powers for Directors to take decisions on urgent or emergency matters. These decisions can also include the waiver of Contract Procedure Rules where justified. The justification in this case is contained in Section 5.8.2 of Contract Procedure Rules ‘the contract is for works, supplies or services that are required in circumstances of extreme urgency that could not reasonably have been foreseen.’

Strange then that at last night's council meeting the Labour emergency motion to discuss this matter was voted down because it was not urgent. This is a most serious matter, it runs to the heart of how contracts are managed at Barnet. With a massive outsourcing programme already commenced it is critical that the whole process of how contracts are managed needs to be examined now. We need a public inquiry now. An internal audit as is being proposed, will simply look like a cover up.

Friday 8 April 2011

What is the future for Residents' Forums?

The Special Committee(Constitution)are meeting next Thursday (14 April) to consider a number of issues including options for the future of Residents Forums in the borough. There is some market research at the end of the report which was drawn from 2 focus groups and they come to some interesting conclusions.

I would be very interested to understand what other residents believe should be the role of Residents' Forums and how they might be developed to enhance the feeling of democratic engagement in the borough.

Better still email Barnet Council and request to speak at the meeting. The link to make a request to speak is on the same page as the agenda items but make sure you get your request in no later than 10 am on Monday morning to make sure it is on time.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Goodbye MetPro - Hello Blue 9 Security

MetPro have gone and, according to the Barnet Times report today, they have been replaced by a company called Blue 9 Security Limited. I find it interesting that according to their latest set of accounts dated 13 July 2010, Blue 9 Security Limited’s registered address was Building 6, North London Business Park, right on the doorstep of Barnet Council. Their registered address is now, according to Companies House, the same as their accountants over in Stanmore. Their website seems surprisingly blank but cached views suggest they are indeed supplying Barnet Council and there is an endorsement from Terry Campbell at Barnet Council saying they have been providing services for three years. According to the openly local website they have received over £155,000 from Barnet Council in the last financial year. According to Linkedin the managing director, Mr William MacGowan served as a Police Officer in Scotland for 17 years. I am sure many people will be pleased to hear that they are also a member of the SIA Approved Contractor Scheme so hopefully we can expect a good standard of service.

MetPro FOI Responses

Following my experience on the evening of the council meeting on the 1st March I immediately submitted some FOI questions regarding MetPro. Yesterday, and overdue, I received responses from Barnet. Yes, there were 7 MetPro staff present and they charged £411 plus VAT for that evening.
No real answer as to why they were needed in addition to all the police officers present.

"The Council has for some time had security arrangements in place at Hendon Town Hall. The numbers of officers on duty at any given time is assessed according to requirements".

However on the matter of how many of the security guards were SIA Licensed the Council's response is interesting. They state,

"We were assured by the company that all staff are SIA licensed".

I asked this question for a very specific reason. My understanding of the SIA conditions of licence is that SIA licensed staff MUST "wear the licence where it can be seen at all times when engaging in designated licenseable activity".

If you look on the SIA website, all pictures of security staff show them with their licence on display. If this condition is not met the licence can be revoked or suspended. Although the council say they were "assured that all staff are SIA Licensed" did they have any proof and did anyone from the council check? Given that MetPro were not a member of the SIA Approved Contractor Scheme perhaps someone should have checked that:

a) Staff were SIA Licensed and that
b) MetPro were conforming to SIA regulations.

This is an exceptionally serious matter and receiving an "assurance" seems less than adequate from a risk management perspective.

If the council failed to check on this matter it doesn't bode well when they start contracting out the Development and Regulatory Services, a number of which are governed by specific legislation.

Overall a very bad business.

Monday 4 April 2011

Call for a public inquiry into the relationship between MetPro and Barnet Council

The following press release has been issued today by a number of prominent bloggers and concerned citizens in Barnet regarding the role of MetPro, Barnet's own private army. Mr Reasonable wholeheartedly supports the demands for a full public enquiry into the council’s relationship with MetPro Rapid Response / MetPro Emergency Response.

Press release — 4 April 2011

Call for a public inquiry into the relationship between MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response and Barnet Council

Barnet Council has been engaging private security firms MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response to control residents’ access to council meetings, in particular the council meeting on 1 March 2011. One of the company directors claims the company has also monitored blogs by Barnet residents, and filmed Barnet residents at Council meetings.

Despite holding contracts worth several hundred thousand pounds with Barnet Council, MetPro Rapid Response collapsed recently owing around £400,000, including £245,000 to HM Revenue & Customs. The firm is now in the hands of liquidators; however, MetPro Emergency Response, a company recently set up by the same company directors associated with MetPro Rapid Response, continued for a while to be employed by Barnet after the collapse of MetPro Rapid Response.

As well as providing security for Council meetings, these firms provided security at several council locations, including some housing vulnerable people.

At the meeting on 1 March, it appears that MetPro security staff did not wear visible identification, breaching Security Industry Authority (SIA) regulations, whilst working for Barnet.

Statements made by directors of the company regarding the scope of their work for Barnet have been contradicted by executive officers of Barnet Council.

The full facts regarding Barnet Council’s contract/s with MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response must be revealed to the public. We need to know about the use of data collected by the company (with full consideration for data protection and human rights implications). We need Barnet Council to reveal the extent of the MetPro companies’ activities on behalf of the Council. Residents and Council staff have a right to know what activities their Council undertake. They have a right to expect the Council only to engage firms with a proven track record for such activities and to monitor such, ensuring, for example, that they comply with legislation, eg, SIA regulations.

The only way that trust can be restored in Barnet Council, following the MetPro debacle, is to hold a full public inquiry. We the undersigned call on Nick Walkley, CEO of Barnet Council, and Lynne Hillan, Council Leader, to immediately engage an independent investigator, enjoying the confidence of Barnet residents, to look into the relationship between MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response and Barnet Council. We demand to know what Barnet Council asked MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response to do and what Barnet Council has done with any information about residents it has had access to as a result of MetPro’s work.

Alexander Clayman (N12)
Derek Dishman (EN5)
Adam Langleben (HA8)
Vicki Morris (NW9)
Theresa Musgrove (N3)
Maria Nash (EN4)
Julian Silverman (N12)
Roger Tichborne (NW7)
Adele Winston (EN5)

Saturday 2 April 2011

Another Consultant at Barnet Council

The eagle eyed Mr Mustard has passed on some very useful information to me. I have trawled through the supplier payments but this is one I missed. A company called Renouval Limited was paid £44,325 between July and September 2010 and £31,248 between October and December. The director of this company is a Mr Chris Palmer. Could this be the same Mr Chris Palmer, who is communications advisor at Barnet Council. How many more of the senior management people at Barnet are self employed consultants?

Friday 1 April 2011

Democracy Costs Barnet Ratepayers £137,343

Reading today's batch of delegated powers reports there is one that really worries me. It relates to a planning application to extend the Edgwarebury Cemetery that was dealt with back in 2009. According to the report at the time officers recommended that the application be passed but councillors voted for the application to be refused. The applicant took Barnet to appeal and won. They have now lodged a claim for costs of £137,343. Barnet are recommending paying out £82,500 immediately to minimise interest charges while they haggle about the balance. Now this is the hard part for me. Part of me thinks that those councillors who refused the application have cost us a packet by ignoring officers advice. However part of me also thinks that councillors were simply reflecting local residents' concern about an infringement of the green belt. It is a real dilemma and calls into question what role local people should have in the planning process. This is something very close to my heart. What really worries me is that this will now make councillors even more reluctant to disagree with officers and sometimes that is a really important stance they should take. I also worry that with reforms of the planning system coming soon it will make it even harder for communities to get their views heard when controversial schemes are considered. I think this is a topic that really needs further debate. Comments please.

Normal Service Resumed

Sadly my sponsorship deal with a major supermarket was a cruel hoax and I have been told my poverty pie recipe is just a tad too unpalatable. So I have decided that it is back to normal blogging for me.

Mr Reasonable's Kitchen

Times are tough in Barnet and I have been thinking of new ideas to generate revenue. It has been a hard decision but I have decided that my culinary skills have been undervalued. Following receipt of an email this morning, I am pleased to confirm that, as of tomorrow, my blog will be renamed Mr Reasonable’s Kitchen where I will share my famous tasty and economical recipes. To generate income I have been lucky to secure sponsorship from a major supermarket operator who, at this stage, wishes to remain anonymous. In addition, I will also be moving my blog behind a paywall where for a very reasonable £5 a week you will be able to view my finest recipes. Tomorrow’s first recipe is one of my all time favourites, Poverty Pie, a delicious potato and onion pie feeding a family of four for less than 30p a portion. Current readers will be able to access my first week’s recipes for free, just type in the code FILTHYLUCRE when prompted.