Sunday 30 October 2011

Barnet Supplier Payments for September take a quick look

It’s that time of the month again and Barnet Council have published the suppliers payments for September. In total they amount to £28,795,329.82 from over 4,800 separate entries. The usual large payments go to:

GLA: £4,579,494.21
Transport for London: £3,236,734.00
Barnet Homes: £2,243,051.89
Barnet Lighting Services: £1,099,754.61
Catalyst Housing: £1,198,583.77
North London Waste Authority £821,852.00

However there are a few interesting payments which could do with a bit more explanation.

Civica UK Limited who, in the past, have provided services to parking clocked up invoices of £599,725.74 in September. Given that in the whole of last year they billed £353,177.02 then it makes you wonder why Barnet have received such a large bill this month.

Agilisys who are helping the Council to implement One Barnet billed £84,292.00 in September However given the daily rates they charge (£1,350/day for a manager and £995 a day for a consultant) that sum can be clock up quite easily.

Hays HR Services for temporary and interim staff clocked up £574,537.84 in September, which when compared with the £2,638,561.09 for all of last year, again looks high. Perhaps some of the consultants who are now not appearing on the supplier payments schedule are being put through Hays.

Nabarro LLP who are lawyers, clocked up £49,113.10 in fees. I wonder which One Barnet element that relates to?

Penna PLC, consultants who are providing interim staff in the commercial directorate were paid £44,225.00; not bad for one month.

Randstad who are an employment agency were paid £29,108.00 for supplying interim staff for the Deputy Chief Executives department

Simply Performance Management Limited who charged a rather modest £5,750.00. What is interesting is that they specialise in Executive Coaching and it was charged to the Deputy Chief executives Department. I wonder who was the recipient at Barnet Council and will it make them a better manager? Only time (and possibly a few Freedom of Information requests) will tell.

I would urge everyone if the have a few minutes to take a look at the supplier payments lists. This is what the council is spending your money and you can’t whinge about it if you don’t know where it goes.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Incompetence, pedantry or something more sinister?

The new residents forums have perplexed many people in Barnet. The draconian new rules have meant that a number of questions that have been submitted by members of the public have been declined as not meeting the remit of the new rules. Indeed I was subject to one of these refusals for the September forum when I received this response from one of the Governance officers at Barnet Council:

"I confirm receipt of below email. Please note that full Council at its meeting on 17 May 2011 agreed the type of issues to be discussed at Residents Forum meetings as per below in italics. As Issues 3 does not cover public works, I will not be including this on the Issues List".

I heard from a number of other people who had their questions refused so on 19 September I submitted a freedom of information request asking

"For the six residents forums held in June and September 2011 please
could you provide me with the following information:

1 How many questions were submitted by the public.

2 Of the questions submitted, how many were ruled invalid for
failing to meet the new criteria for question submission."

FOI requests are supposed to be answered promptly and within 20 working days as a maximum. Good old Barnet council don't stick to the rules so after some prompting, on 25 October I received a response:

"I can confirm the following:

Chipping Barnet

23 June 2011 – 6 questions and 3 petitions

20 September 2011 – 7 questions and 2 petitions

Finchley and Golders Green

23 June 2011 – 4 questions and 5 petitions

14 September 2011 – 25 questions


23 June 2011 – 5 questions and 4 petitions

12 September 2011 – 17 questions and 1 petition

Part 2

I can confirm that the Council does not hold information for the second

Now I didn't think I'd asked a particularly difficult question. The governance officers who deal with these forums could have answered these question is a matter of minutes. Why it took so long I cannot understand.

What I find so disturbing is the denial that Barnet Council holds any information on how many questions were refused. Is this incompetence, pedantry for not asking exactly the right question, or is it something more sinister. Is this a Stalinist approach to the facts, denying the existence those that are inconvenient.

I have asked for an internal review so we shall have to see what this turns up but I see this response as yet another example of the council's autocratic, controlling and high handed approach to residents.

Monday 24 October 2011

Suffolk on mass outsourcing - "it simply didn't work"

On the BBC today is an interview with the leader of Suffolk County Council. His view on large scale outsourcing was unequivocal. "It simply didn't work". He also made the point that "In trying to do this (outsourcing) so quickly we simply weren't taking the communities along with us".

Now it just so happens that one of the architects of the Suffolk strategy, Max Wilde, was also influential in setting up the One Barnet programme.

Barnet Council, wake up and smell the coffee! Stop trying to peddle this discredited One Barnet strategy, stop wasting millions on consultants and start running the council more effectively.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Yet More Financial Advice?

Barnet Council have decided they now need KPMG to give them financial advice. With a call off contract the council "does not expect to spend more than £500,000". Given that last year they spent:
- £538,508.23 on Grant Thornton;
- £202,426.07 on PricewaterhouseCoopers;
- £41,730.00 on Deloitte
as well as £1,000 a day on a chief financial officer I would blooming well hope they don't expect to spend half a million quid on yet more financial advice.

Reading the report it appears that the dreaded One Barnet is the driver for this additional advice. When will the Council give One Barnet the chop, stop wasting money on all these advisors and just focus on delivering great quality services efficiently.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Are We Getting Best Value?

The latest Delegated Powers Report reveals that Barnet Council are extending the contract with a company called Ebase who currently provide a standalone system for electronic forms. The contract is being extended for 6 months at a cost of £12,000 to allow time for a new system, JADU, to be implemented as part of the "Customer Services Transformation Programme" and the introduction of a new council website which has had a particularly long gestation.

According to the supplier payments record Ebase were paid £12,000 on 19 May 2011 Interestingly, the Council paid JADU £90,819 in August alone.

Barnet Council seem to have an endless pot of money to spend on IT systems yet front line services are continuing to be cut. I worry that no one is prepared to challenge the spending on IT so it just keeps going up and up and up and up.

Last financial year the council spent £2,970,628.68 on Hardware Purchases and Maintenance and £2,000,813.82 on IT Services. £5 million but is it money well spent?

Tuesday 18 October 2011

£98k for another interim manager at Barnet Council

Today's crop of Delegate Powers reports shows the appointment of an interim finance manager at a cost of £98,000. Interestingly, although the report is dated yesterday this is in fact a retrospective approval for someone who has been in post since 1 April this year. This interim finance manager will be working on the SAP Optimisation project. For those who aren't up with the jargon SAP is the giant computer system which helps run Barnet Council and which has so far cost over £23 million. On a day when some of the council staff are on strike for trying to protect front line jobs, it seems somewhat ironic that the council is appointing yet another highly paid 'interim' manager on this monster IT project. Perhaps if the council spent a bit less on all the expensive IT systems, consultants and interim managers (Chief financial officer £1,000 a day, Assistant Director HR £140k last year,to name but two) then they wouldn't be needing to make so many cuts to essential services.

Thursday 13 October 2011

The cost of going cashless

In the latest Delegated Powers Report we see that RM Counrtyside Services have been appointed to take out all the 408 current pay and display machines. In addition, they will put in some regular time plate posts to replace the existing low posts. And the cost of this work? £80,244. Now what is interesting is that the council invited three companies to bid but "once the specifications were confirmed and the programmed timetable provided, two of the tenderers withdrew". Given the all the critisism of the Council's procurement performance I would have thought that they would have gone back out to tender. Oh no just award it to RM Countryside - they are "a known and trusted contractor that has worked with L B Barnet
for some time providing consistently high quality work". Are Barnet residents happy that at a time of cuts in essential services, £80,000 is spent to get rid of something many residents actually want? Only in Barnet!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Barnet bloggers respond to Councillor Gordon’s defence of Barnet Council residents’ forums

An open letter to Councillor Gordon from the Barnet Bloggers.

Dear Councillor Gordon,

A letter was published last week in the Press group of newspapers from you concerning the Barnet Alliance for Public Services residents’ forum held on Tuesday 4th October.

We must correct a factual inaccuracy in your letter. The forum was not "private", it was open to all. All Barnet councillors were invited and would have been welcome to attend.

You state that Barnet Council’s own residents’ forums are not in any way hampered by the new rules governing them. Is this your opinion, we wonder, or have you asked the residents who attend? We think they would have a different view.

You state that the forums are "marred occasionally by the irresponsible actions of anti-council agitators". We ask you to withdraw this offensive remark. The undersigned have all attended numerous residents’ forums and have never witnessed an "anti-council agitator".

We have witnessed many local residents who disagree with the policies of the current administration, and we believe their comments are born out of deep concern for the direction of the Council and cannot be in any way construed as "anti-council".

We are also concerned by the description you give of the appropriate way to deal with residents and taxpayers. The phrase "with firm chairmanship, those individuals are fairly swiftly subdued" has highly oppressive overtones and clearly implies that residents are not welcome to express views at odds with the chair.

We would like to remind you, Cllr Gordon, that the forums exist for residents’ benefit, not for that of the chair.

We would also like to remind you of the circumstances in which you became chair, when it became necessary to instigate an investigation into the behaviour of the previous Conservative incumbent.

We remind you that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has praised the concerned citizens of Barnet for their efforts in exposing the shambles that your administration allowed to develop in the Council’s purchasing department.

We are pleased that you have drawn attention to the next set of Council residents’ forums. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your comments with you and your colleagues at these events.


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

As a footnote, I would add that I, along with several other Barnet Bloggers, attended the meeting where the rules on Residents Forums were changed. The Conservative group ignored the independent research the council commissioned; they ignored represntations from the public and they ignore the options put forward by the council officers. Sadly we have no official record of this meeting as the Council refuses to publish minutes of meetings that propose changes to the constitution.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Alternative Residents’ Forum - Cllr Gordon Seems a Bit Upset

I read in today’s Barnet Press a letter from Cllr Gordon talking about the “private forum” held on Tuesday. Firstly Cllr Gordon, it wasn’t private. It was open to the public and the press and I’m sure they can reassure you that no one was asked for the ID before being allowed to enter. Cllr Gordon believes that the Hendon forum is free from constraints and that a wide range of matters were discussed. Well that certainly wasn’t the case at the Chipping Barnet Forum where one of my questions requiring a simple yes or no answer was disallowed and where a number of people expressed concerns that we were not allowed to discuss matters of “Council Policy”. I was most interested in his comment that, “With firm chairmanship those individuals (people who he calls anti council agitators) are fairly swiftly subdued”. Frankly that sounds more like something Gaddafi would have said rather than an elected councillor. He notes that “it is unfortunate that they cannot find something for constructive to do with their spare time”. So we should just sit and accept everything Cllr Gordon tells us because of course he is a Councillor and he is always right.
Well Cllr Gordon, I can tell you that there are lots of unhappy residents of Barnet who are fed up being told what is best for them by a bunch of councillors who are both arrogant and out of touch with what many local people are saying. Ignore them at your peril!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The People Speak – Last Night’s Alternative Residents’ Forum

They say a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Judging by what I heard last night, Barnet is in severe decline driven in large part by ideological commitment to One Barnet. I will not go into great detail about what was said last night as all five of the Barnet Bloggers were present and I’m sure they will give a more accurate record of the meeting. However, what struck me most were the stories from people who have vulnerable relatives hit hard by the changes to the way support is delivered.

To their credit there were a number of Labour Councillors in attendance last night. They sat and listened, but there were no Conservative councillors and the Liberal Democrats sent their apologies. Ok, so some of the Conservative councillors were up in Manchester at their conference but I can’t believe they were all there. With no council committee meetings scheduled last night I would have thought a few representatives of the ruling group might have shown their face.

Last night showed me that there are a lot of angry people in Barnet and they are getting organised. Barnet councillors may say that residents care about pavements and bins but most people either have a child or an elderly parent or relative or next door neighbour that depends on council services. No one in Barnet will be unaffected, directly or indirectly, by the changes that are taking place and the consequences they bring. Should we be targeting the most vulnerable, often on the lowest incomes, to make sure that people living in their millionaire houses in Totteridge and Hampstead Garden Suburb can enjoy lower council tax bills.

Barnet Councillors and, in particular, the cabinet members who make all the decisions in Barnet, need to start listening to the people to whom they are accountable. Stop wasting millions of pounds on this ideological madness called One Barnet and start focusing on delivering what people need.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Barnet bloggers look forward to meeting Cllr Thomas to discuss Barnet council’s priorities

Dear Councillor Thomas,

We, bloggers of Barnet, are most pleased that in your recent YouTube broadcast you express yourself keen to engage with local residents and discuss ways to improve Barnet.

As you are no doubt aware, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles recently commended the bloggers of Barnet for their great work exposing the MetPro scandal. The subsequent investigation has highlighted all manner of problems with Barnet Council's procurement procedures which we are promised will now be rectified.

Since we are all motivated by the desire to help you improve Barnet still further, we are pleased to invite you for a live, televised discussion, to be broadcast on, at a time to suit you.

We are sure that there are many subjects about which we could have an interesting and informative discussion.

As public spirited citizens we are willing to meet all the costs of staging this event and broadcasting it live on the internet. We also guarantee to afford it maximum publicity and coverage through our blogs.

We are happy to discuss any topic and suggest that if you let us know in advance the topics you want to cover, we will do our homework so as to ensure a fruitful discussion.

We would be happy to broadcast either from the Barnet Council offices at North London Business Park or a venue chosen by us.

Subjects we think you might be interested to discuss are: One Barnet, Cabinet Members’ allowances, executive pay, waste within the council, the number of highly paid contractors working for Barnet, cost overruns on projects such as Aerodrome Road, CPZ charges, Icelandic investments, overdevelopment and the strain it puts on infrastructure.

We look forward to hearing your response.

Best wishes,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Saturday 1 October 2011

Barnet’ s budget consultation – A lottery of the future?

Good old Barnet Council. They really must be worried if the latest consultation wheeze is anything to go by. First of all you have to find the consultation page on the Council’s website not an easy thing to do so I have embedded a link here ensure readers can take a look at this wonder.

First we have Councillor Thomas with a professionally made video with lots of lovely chart telling like Private Fraser in Dad’s Army, “We’re all doomed,”. Take a careful look at the chart they show. The first one shows spending on Overseas Aid rising and Barnet spending falling. What’s the subtle message there Cllr Thomas? He then shows us another graph which seems to suggest that by 2022/23 adult social care and children's services will be consuming the entire council budget. Well I’m sorry but I simply don’t buy this one. Frankly I think this government will have been kicked out long before that happens. Also I don’t believe that council tax will not rise over the next ten years. It one of those clever little chart that are meant to frighten people without actually conveying any sense of reality.

So now we move on to the survey. Although I would absolutely not claim to be an expert I have carried out a few consumer surveys in my time. My golden rule is don’t ask a question unless you can do something with the results. What we are presented with is a list of 28 activities and then asked

Which of the following services are most important to YOU?
Which services do you think are the most important for the council and it partners to focus on FOR BARNET AS A WHOLE?

You are only allowed to pick 8 out of the 28 listed. It's a bit like picking your lottery numbers and hoping they come up. The list of activities is set out below.

1. Community safety services (tackling anti-social behaviour & crime)
2. Council owned leisure facilities
3. Doorstep recycling
4. Environmental health service
5. Fostering, adoption and children in care
6. Housing advice and housing benefits
7. Keeping vulnerable adults safe
8. Library service
9. Nursery and early years services
10. Parking services
11. Parks, playgrounds and open spaces
12. Planning and building control
13. Primary education (5- 11 yrs)
14. Provision for public space CCTV
15. Recycling facilities
16. Refuse collection
17. Repair of roads and pavements
18. Secondary education (11 - 18 yrs)
19. Street cleaning
20. Street lighting
21. Support for adults with a learning disability
22. Support for adults with a physical disability
23. Support for adults with mental health problems
24. Support for children with disabilities and special needs
25. Support to family carers of adults
26. Support to older people with care needs
27. Trading standards, consumer advice & licensing
28. Youth activities

Now let me see which ones are important to me? How do you prioritise secondary education over environmental health for example or how about fostering or refuse collection. And where do I think the "council’s focus for Barnet as a whole" should be? Support for adults with a learning disability, or repairs of roads and pavements.

The next question asks if there are any service areas you think the Council need to improve on.

The last question asks if you have used any of the services. Interestingly it appears to omit provision of public space CCTV, refuse collection, repairs of roads and maintenance, street cleaning and street lighting.

Now my question is what are earth are they going to do with this data. Are they seriously suggesting that if not enough people identify support to older people with care needs that they will stop providing it.

Perhaps if the council spent a lot less money on expensive lawyers and consultants dreaming yet more bizarre ways to “re-engineer the council”, hugely expensive IT systems, over paid senior officers on consultancy contracts and focused on running all of these services better we wouldn’t need to be answering such ridiculous questions.

If Barnet want to consult then let’s do it properly and based on informed decisions not some harebrained, petty, little on line survey.

Take it seriously Barnet and host open discussion sessions around the borough. If you can spend £30k of the pledgebank website (success 1 pledge)then surely you should invest a little in some decent consultation.