Wednesday 31 August 2011

Audit Committee - Stifling Public Scrutiny?

Updated 8.00pm see below:

On 6 September the Audit Committee is due to meet. Amongst other things on the agenda is the External Auditors Annual Audit Report along with a formal document known as an ISA 260 report. It also deals with the annual governance statement. Public have the right to submit questions in advance to the committee but you can only ask about items on the agenda.
Barnet council published the meeting papers but carefully omitted these three key reports. So I know that the annual audit report will be discussed but I haven’t got a clue what is in it. Now here comes the catch. On checking with the Council this morning I was told that the deadline for submitting public questions to the Audit Committee is 10.00am tomorrow Thursday 1 September. At 3.54 pm on Wednesday 31 August these papers were published. So I have between now and 10.00am tomorrow morning to read 162 pages and to frame suitable questions.

Is this the way to encourage public participation? NO

Is this the way to stimulate openness and transparency? NO

This is nothing short of a disgrace.

Update: This evening I had a very courteous email from Barnet Council stating the deadline is in fact Friday at 10.00am, not Thursday as I had previously been told and that if I required additional time to review the papers to let them know. I will ensure that my questions to the committee are detailed and probing!

Friday 12 August 2011

Brian Coleman abolishes pay and display parking in Barnet – bloggers call for Cabinet call-in and consultation

Joint statement from Barnet Bloggers

It has been brought to our attention that Councillor Brian Coleman has signed off, using delegated powers, a decision abolishing pay and display parking in the London Borough of Barnet. We believe that this is much too important an issue to be left to just one councillor to use delegated powers, and we call for the cabinet to call the paper in for review by the full cabinet.
The relevant report states that call-in must be done by 15th August. people of Barnet deserve better than to have such important decisions passed without debate. This change affects many residents, businesses and visitors to the Borough. We call on the cabinet to reject this change and follow the example of other Boroughs, where residents, businesses and other impacted organisations are properly consulted, before such changes are approved.

12 August 2011

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Thursday 4 August 2011

MetPro urgent questions for Barnet councillors – survey results

MetPro urgent questions for Barnet councillors – survey results

Five Barnet bloggers who exposed the scandal of Barnet’s Council’s relationship with the MetPro companies emailed nine questions to the 62 Barnet councillors on 13 July 2011. (The questions are printed at the end of this document.)
The questions sought to gauge councillors’ knowledge of the MetPro scandal, and their views on what the bloggers thought were the main issues raised by it. We did this in the wake of a damning internal audit report on the issue. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had paid tribute to the efforts of bloggers in uncovering the MetPro scandal. We thus felt the survey would be useful to Barnet residents, and told councillors we would publish the results.
We know that the vast majority of the councillors received and read the email. We chased up non-response with a second email on 21 July. Not all Labour councillors had replied by that date but we did not email them chasing a response, since Barnet Labour group had by then sent a group response. (Available at:
We have produced two tables to summarise the results of the survey:
Table 1. Response rates by party.
Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions. Several councillors also made comments.

Table 1. Response rates by party

Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions
The Conservative councillors did not respond to the survey. We therefore do not know what they think about the questions asked. A handful of Conservative councillors did reply to our initial email. The replies we received were:
Brian Gordon: I'm not wasting my time answering bloggers.
David Longstaff: Please remove me from your mailing list. As to your ‘urgent’ emails regarding procurement, which I found slightly manipulative, I’ll decide what’s urgent in my life, not you.
Hugh Rayner: I am not going to complete my questionnaire. I am a member of the Audit Committee and have (and will) express my views and opinions in that forum.
Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions

Bloggers comment
The refusal to respond by Barnet’s Conservative group is extremely disappointing. The Coalition government has made a point of talking about empowering local government and about councillors’ accountability to residents. Barnet specifically has been mentioned as a borough that has not done this well lately, and this was a chance for the Conservative administration to start to make amends. They failed.
The response of the Labour and Lib Dem groups shows a better attitude to accountability. They have taken the trouble to tell residents what they think about these issues, and their replies to some of the questions show them agreeing with the reasonable expectation that councillors keep up-to-date with important issues (Q1), seek to affect events (Q7) and read important reports (Q8). It is disappointing that no one has answered that they have approached the Leader of the Council about the issue (Q4); neither, probably, is this only a result of the recent change of leadership. It would have been interesting to see whether Conservative councillors had spoken to the (Conservative) Leader, or whether this was just a matter of parties.

In comments, and in the Labour group response, opposition councillors referred to their wish to have more influence over the Council, and their sense of frustration that the scrutiny process was not working well. We share these frustrations and want an end to Leader and Cabinet government in Barnet which does not work well for local accountability.

The views of the Labour group and the responding Labour councillors and of the Lib Dem councillors on the substantive issues (Qs 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9) coincide with those of the bloggers.

Q2: In our view, the Council should have responded to the MetPro scandal with an independent inquiry that also included consideration of the security aspects of using MetPro. These were not addressed by the internal audit and show no signs of being addressed voluntarily.

Qs 3 and 9: Barnet Council’s Internal Audit needs more resources if it is to do its job properly; this is particularly important given the failings in Barnet Council’s procurement and contract monitoring, exposed by the MetPro internal audit and the Internal Audit Opinion on Barnet for 2010-11. We oppose the recent decision to cut staff from the procurement team, and to outsource procurement.

Q5: We believe that there are many more problems to be discovered in Barnet Council purchasing and we are submitting a number of FoI requests to uncover some of them, and continuing our own investigations.

Q6: We are opposed to the One Barnet Programme (OBP) and call on the Council to abandon it. We doubt that the advertised savings will materialise and we are alarmed at the cost of implementing the Programme and that Barnet Council is giving up control over vast, important areas of its services. But, in any case, we strongly believe that the Programme should be halted at least until Barnet Council’s outsourcing and procurement practices are improved substantially.

The questions
1. Are you aware of the issues concerning the MetPro security companies and Barnet Council?

2. Are you satisfied that the Council has managed the issue properly?

3. Do you agree with Lord Palmer that Barnet Council’s Internal Audit is under resourced?

4. Have you spoken to the Leader of the Council about your views on the MetPro scandal?

5. Besides the MetPro scandal, do you believe that there are other serious problems with purchasing in Barnet Council?

6. Do you think a halt should be called to the One Barnet Programme while investigations continue and basic procedures in procurement and contract monitoring are improved?

7. Do you think councillors have a responsibility to prevent such scandals arising in future?

8. Have you read the internal audit report into the MetPro scandal?

9. Are you happy with the decision to remove nine staff from Barnet Council’s procurement team?

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

4 August 2011

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Mega-Relationship Outsourcing - Is it a flawed strategy?

As I'm sure many of you know, Mr Reasonable has major concerns with Barnet Council's outsourcing strategy. Not opposed to the principle of outsourcing, my main issue is that the Council are putting all their eggs in one basket by letting very large contracts to single operators. Now my experience tells me that this is a risky strategy but it was interesting to read that some of the larger outsourcing contracts in the private sector have been going wrong and that it is causing companies to rethink the mega outsourcing contract strategy. The article appears in the Economist

Amongst other examples it gives are as follows: "There has been an uptick in legal disputes over outsourcing. EDS, an IT company, had to pay BSkyB, a media company, £318m ($469m) in damages. The two firms spent an estimated £70m on legal fees and were tied up in court for five months". In another case, "Boeing, America’s biggest aeroplane-maker, decided to follow the example of car firms and hire contractors to do most of the grunt work on its new 787 Dreamliner. The result was a nightmare. Some of the parts did not fit together. Some of the dozens of sub-contractors failed to deliver their components on time, despite having sub-contracted their work to sub-sub-contractors. Boeing had to take over some of the sub-contractors to prevent them from collapsing. If the Dreamliner starts rolling off the production line towards the end of this year, as Boeing promises, it will be billions over budget and three years behind schedule".

What the article goes on to say is that "Companies are rethinking outsourcing, rather than jettisoning it. They are dumping huge long-term deals in favour of smaller, less rigid ones. The annualised value of “mega-relationships” worth $100m or more a year fell by 62% this year compared with last. Companies are forming relationships with several outsourcers, rather than putting all their eggs in few baskets. They are signing shorter contracts, too. But still, they need to think harder about what is their core business, and what is peripheral".

Now this is in the Economist, not some radical left wing publication. It also makes tons of common sense. Barnet Council are proposing to enter into two large contracts, one for £250 million and one for £750 million which will last for between 10 and 15 years.So why on earth does Barnet Council insist on sticking to a strategy which the private sector is rejecting and has been proven unsuccessful.

Sadly I think the answer is that consultants who are pushing this process along have a vested interest in making it as complex as possible so that their contracts continue to generate large slug of fees. Also some officers and councillors will lose credibility if this policy is stopped. But rather a loss of face now than a loss of million of pounds when it all goes wrong.

Monday 1 August 2011

Hokey Cokey at the Commercial Directorate

On 1 July Barnet Council issued a delegated powers report (DPR1327) which had the subject heading "Redundancies within Commercial Services". As ever, the real details were hidden in the exempt report which us council taxpayers are forbidden from seeing. However, the general thrust of the public report was about a reorganisation of Commercial Services, how people would be chosen for redundancy, redundancy costs and so on. It also mentioned "Freezing external recruitment until redeployees have had the opportunity to apply for posts". OK. Now jump forward exactly one month and today I see a new Delegated Powers Report has been published, DPR 1383 seeking approval to appoint Penna Consulting at a cost of £14,500 to "assist with the recruitment to vacant senior posts within the Commercial Directorate" and quoting DPR 1327 as the approval for the restructuring of the Commercial Directorate.

I had to do a double take at this stage. The report on 1st July talked all about redundancy and the need to make savings and 1 month later they want to spend £14,500 on recruitment consultants to employ new staff. On top of this it is important to understand that the Commercial Directorate was only set up a year ago at an annual cost of £900,000 per annum. The report does say that Penna are offering them a good deal at this price. Well I'm not surprised they gave a discount given that (according to the supplier payments over £500) Barnet Council spent £306,566.21 with Penna Consulting last year.

So where are we? In, out,in, out. Sounds like the hokey cokey to me. Actually this is tragic because it says to me that every action taken in Barnet has become a knee jerk reaction, no long term view, no clear vision, no clear strategy, just firefighting and that worries the hell out of me!