Saturday 30 June 2012

One Barnet - The Programme that Keeps on Costing

I must be slipping. I read through the the papers for last week's Cabinet Resources Committee and missed a very interesting statement tucked away on page 144. (Page 16 of this download section). At 9.17.8 it says,

"To ensure the adequate funding of this enhanced programme of change, £10m is being added to the Transformation Reserve. Cabinet Resources Committee are asked to approve the expenditure of £6.140m of this within 2012/13, to fund the initiatives described above. The table below provides a breakdown of the predicted use of this money. The requested sum includes the totality of funding required for the three enabling projects and the Health Integration and Demand Management project. It also includes the funding for the development of Outline Business Cases for the other projects, and the funding of the programme management office through the year".

Put simply, what it appears to be saying is that Barnet need another £10 million to fund "an enhanced change programme". Interestingly the table below suggests that actually they need another £11 million of which £6.14 million needs to be drawn down this financial year. Personally I find this pretty scary. The One Barnet implementation budget was forecast at £9.4 million. They are now asking for another £10 or £11 million over the next three years. We don't know what that  money is going to be spent on. It just has to be authorised for senior officers to spend. Will a large chunk of this be spent on consultants and lawyers - probably!

Having watched the Barnet Bugle's video of the CRC meeting it appears that Cllr Harper refers to page 143 of the report and asks an officer to spell out the savings which are stated as £16 million.  He fails to draw attention to the additonal £10 million requirement on the next page, a very convenient oversight.

The reality is that One Barnet is in fact a load of smoke an mirrors. Most of the savings that have been made so far are simply old fashioned cuts. Staff made redundant, services reduced, the vulnerable made to pay more. Not one penny has been saved by the One Barnet Outsourcing project yet because it is almost a year overdue and will not come into force until the next financial year.

I would love to have a debate with Councillors about the One Barnet programme. I would love to see some of the details behind all of these figures. I would like to see a breakdown of the costs so far. Not in the secret state of Barnet where the citizens cannot be trusted with any of this information.

BT and Capita (oh and EC Harris) must be laughing their socks off.

Thanks to anonymous for the tip off!

Friday 29 June 2012

One Barnet Bill Continues to Rise

Reading through the Barnet Council supplier payments for May the usual suspects appear on the payments list. The BarnetGroup which includes Barnet Homes and adult social care received £4.6 million, Greater London Authority also received  £4.6 million, Veolia Water received £1.5 million but these are elements which we have no choice in paying. However, when I look down the list  I see a few suppliers where we do have a choice as to whether we should be paying for their services.

Agilisys, the One Barnet implementation partner clocked up another £180,532.68 in fees in May along with Trowers & Hamlins who are providing legal advice to the council, billing £165,575.69 for the month of May.  Together that is over a third of a million pounds just in May. Not all of Trowers & Hamlins may have been spent directly on One Barnet projects  but I suspect it was a significant proportion. However, due to the secrecy and lack of scrutiny that surrounds the entire One Barnet project we will never know.

Someone kindly left an anonymous comment that the implementation handover for One Barnet outsourcing now looks like is will be May next year, some five months after it was originally scheduled. With fees being clocked up at the rate of £300k per month that could mean another £1.5 million of fees clocked up just because the project is running late. This project was budgeted to cost £9.4 million to implement but with another year to go what will the final bill be? £10 million, £15million, £20 million? The residents of Barnet are not allowed to know, we can't ask questions about it and speaking to some Councillors they just don't know either.

 If I was a Barnet Councillor I would be demanding that senior officers provide a detailed monthly briefing paper on One Barnet, published on line for every council taxpayer to see, to understand just how much money is being poured down this black hole and how much longer this is going to continue. 

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Barnet Councillors should read this blog

I follow the blog of Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger not because I am a Conservative but because he has been outspoken on the subject of the massive outsourcing failures at Southwest One. His blog today reveals what Capita and BT bid when they were competing against IBM. At the same time the local paper in Somerset reveals the Conservative council are now spending between £3 and £5 million on highly paid consultants to take over the jobs of staff made redundant.The article uses phases like "Delivery Agents" and "Change Programmes" and it all has a horrible similarity to what is happening in Barnet.    Reading this blog should be mandatory reading for every single Barnet Councillor to illustrate just how badly wrong outsourcing contracts can go. Does anyone in Barnet believe that Capita BT or EC Harris will deliver value for money. I think the jury is out on that one.

To Richard Cornelius, please do some digging, give Mr Liddell-Grainger a call and find out more about his experience of outsourcing. Get his views as a fellow Conservative. If you are still confident that the One Barnet programme makes sense then tell the public why. However if you are terrified by what he tells you then for goodness sake bring this mad-capped scheme to a halt before it bankrupts Barnet.

Last Night's Chipping Barnet Residents Forum

Last night's Chipping Barnet Residents forum was one of the better attended for some time. One topic took up a large part of the forum and it related to the proposed introduction of three crossings in Russell Lane. For some reason Barnet Council want to install three crossing through the green central part of Russell Lane but based on the opposition last night there appears to be no support. What seemed to upset residents most of all was the complete lack of consultation on the matter. One attendee told the forum that he had only received notification just before coming out to the forum with a closing date next week. The owner of the fish and chip shop on Russell Lane had some detailed plans. The Chair, Cllr Kate Salinger asked where he had found the plans. "They were given to me by my Councillor", the newly elected Cllr Andreas Ioannidis. Nice to see he is off to a quick start. He told the meeting that he had carried out a survey and 87% of residents questioned were opposed to proposals.

What seemed to perplex most people was that this proposal seems to have been fast tracked without community support yet other schemes where there is both support and evidence of accidents have been ignored. A lady, who spoke at the Forum last year and asked for a crossing to be installed on Brunswick Park Road after her daughter was knocked down, voiced her concern that her request had been completely ignored whilst this one was being pushed through with undue haste.

Cllr Kate Salinger asserted her authority and requested that the consultation be extended to 20 July, that more people should be consulted, that no decision should be taken before the next Environment Sub Committee in October and that the consultation details should be put on the councils consultation website (if people can actually find it).

A request for another crossing was noted and it then came on to Mr Reasonable's questions. One question asking when the Council was going to discuss One Barnet with residents was censored - no surprise there. My first question asked if the pavement along East Barnet Road could be jet washed. London is spending billions smartening up the place for the Olympics so why can't East Barnet Road have a bit of a wash and brush up. I will see if it actually happens. My second question related to Church Farm Pool. The Council responded that they have no plans to make this pool more accessible to the disabled and less able. Use Finchley or Copthall was the response. Sadly it is my view that the Council are simply letting Church Farm  pool fall into such a poor state of repair that they can then close it down. The long awaited leisure strategy could influence what happens to the pool but it has become a One Barnet project and kicked into the long grass. Cllr Brian Salinger said I was being unfair and that earlier this year Councillors had had an interesting discussion about what is actually defined as leisure. I reminded him that I have been asking about the progress of the leisure strategy for the last three years and to be told they are discussing what leisure is now does not fill me with confidence that it will ever be produced. I also reminded Cllr  B Salinger that it might help if the council actually involved the residents in some of these discussions. It simply illustrates the arrogance of the council that resident's views aren't necessary.

The last question related to parking on the pavement in a narrow cul de sac. What came out during the discussion that there is a list of roads in Barnet where parking wardens are supposed to turn a blind eye to parking on the pavement. However, the highways manager who is now responsible for parking said that this was not the way to go about things so watch out if you park on a pavement. 

Overall a most unsatisfactory meeting made slightly more bearable by the able Chairmanship of Cllr Kate Salinger.

Monday 25 June 2012

Barnet Councillor Allowances - Value for Money?

Last week I blogged that the 2010/11 Councillors allowances had at last been released but that 2011/12 were not yet available. Well this morning I tried again and they are now available here. What is striking is just how many non Cabinet members are still drawing allowances in excess of £20,000. For example Dean Cohen received £24,257.10 and that was before he was elevated to the Cabinet. Cllrs Davey and Finn also received just over £24,000 whilst Cllrs Perry, Prentice, Rayner, Scanell and A Tambourides all earned just under £26,000. Cabinet members received around £28,000 with the deputy leader and leader earning more. In total Councillor allowances are over £1 million a year.

Now the public needs to think about this hard. According to the Office of National Statistics the average earning of people employed is £467 per week which equates to about £25,000 per annum. So some Councillors are drawing a full time salary for the work they do.  My question to ratepayers is does this represent value for money? I must make the point that one Councillor continues to draw less than they are entitled to. Well done Brian Salinger.

Friday 22 June 2012

A very busy Friday - Councillor allowances for 2010/11 published at last!

Yet another FOI response today! This time the Councillors allowances, which have taken a year to be disclosed, have now been published here. Although a link to the 2011/12 allowances  also appear on the Council's website the link does not appear to work. Let's hope we don't have to wait a year for them to appear.

The power of a blog!

I have been waiting since 22 November to get a response to a Freedom of Information request. Chaser emails, reminders and a telephone conversation all failed to elicit a response so on Tuesday this week I blogged about this problem. Surprise, surprise, today I received a response telling me the information was not held. Thanks to the person at Barnet Council who reads my blog and got this resolved. I hope that Mr Mustard has as much success getting his year old request dealt with!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

One Barnet Outsourcing Is destorying the Council - Yet more evidence

Today I received an email from Barnet Council.

Dear Mr Dix,
Thank you for your request for a review (of an Information Request) received on 18 April 2012.

I apologise on behalf of the council for the delay in acknowledging your request. Due to an error on our case management system your email requesting an internal review was not picked up until late last week.
I am however sorry to that you are unhappy with the council’s response to your request for the following information:

Please provide me with the Members Allowances paid for the year 2010-11.

We will now conduct an internal review.  The review will be independent and impartial, will reconsider the merits of the case, and will identify any errors in the handling of your request.

We aim to complete internal reviews promptly and in any event within 20 working days from receipt of a complaint.  In exceptional cases we may take longer, but we will not exceed 40 working days.  This is in line with guidance issued by the Information Commissioner. In these circumstances however, we will aim to complete the internal review 10 working days from today.

Quoting guidance from the Information Commissioner is a bit rich considering they ignored my request for an internal review for 8 weeks. It is also shocking that more than a year after the financial year end I had to submit an FOI request to try (but fail) to see Councillors expenses that still have not been published. However, this pales into insignificance compared to the 7 month battle I have had to get a response to another FOI request. I have emailed, telephoned, I have tried to be reasonable, some would say overly reasonable. The Council resolutely ignores my request.

It is clear to me that Barnet Council are utterly out of control and I blame it all on the fixation with One Barnet Outsourcing.  A year ago I spoke at an audit committee meeting where I made it clear that senior management had taken their eye off the ball to focus on One Barnet. Here is yet more evidence that the problem is just getting worse and worse.

I would again make a plea to Cllr Richard Cornelius. Pause this One Barnet Outsourcing programme now, get your managers refocused on doing what they should be doing which is running the day to day business of the Council properly. The Council has spent millions on consultants but complying with the law seems to elude them.

I am increasingly if the opinion that the destructive nature of this One Barnet programme will leave such a mess that both Capita and BT will either end up charging a fortune or they will simply walk away from this basket case. Frankly it is turning into a lose lose situation. Cllr Cornelius please take control of this mess before the One Barnet Zealots destroy this Council once and for all.

Friday 15 June 2012

Barnet Council stick up two fingers to residents at Planning & Environment Committee

Sadly, last night, after  a passionate speech by Cllr Jack Cohen, Conservative Councillors nodded through yet another erosion of democracy in Barnet. I have to yet again thank the Barnet Bugle for their excellent coverage of the decision which you can see here. I got the distinct impression that some Conservative Councillors were uncomfortable with the proposal especially Cllr Maureen Braun who seemed to agree with just about everything Cllr Cohen had said. We were promised that this is a trial and that it can be reversed in six months time. However as Cllr Rawlings pointed out, reducing the number of meetings from three to two was supposed to be a trial and not attempt has been made to reverse that decision. I would also point out that in 6 months time the planning service will be privatised to either EC Harris (not likely) or Capita (very likely) and getting them to change the procedure will be virtually impossible because it will mean an increase in contract cost.

Planning has many similarities to the parking fiasco we have experienced over the last 12 months. This will affect all residents alike including many Conservative voters. I suspect there will be some very difficult Councillor surgeries coming up when residents are told they no longer have a right to speak at meetings by the very same Conservative Councillors who voted in favour of this change.

Watching the video of last night's meeting it became quite clear to me that the person running the meeting was the Senior Officer and that Councillors had to do as they were told. The Senior Officer had the cheek to say that because some other authorities are less democratic than Barnet (but he wasn't allowed to say which ones because the benchmarking was 'confidential') that was a good reason for Barnet to be less democratic. That is the logic of the madhouse!

The officer also said that reducing democracy was necessary to make the service "fit for purpose". Frankly I think that Barnet Councillors who voted for this decision are not fit for purpose and I sincerely hope they get voted out at the next election.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

What price democracy in Barnet - £40,000 a year?

Barnet Council, in its wisdom, decided a year ago to reduce the number of planning meetings from three to two. Previously they were split by the three parliamentary constituencies but in order to save money they were reduced this down to two meetings East and West of the Borough. This has resulted in some meetings running over. To address the problem, rather than go back to three meetings, the Council has proposed that for a planning application to be referred to the committee, five people have to object rather than the current three people. The council have identified that this may save up to £40,000 a year in reduced officer and Councillors time (I thought Councillors were paid a fixed allowance irrespective of how many meetings they attended.) The problem is that with many planning applications the council informs residents of only those immediately adjacent properties meaning that often very few people know about the application.

I attended a planning meeting recently where two planning applications recommended for approval by officers were refused by the committee. This reflects the fact that most Councillors live in their local communities and are much more in touch with what is and what is not appropriate.

In 2010/11 planning application fees generated income for the Council of £1.58 million and when One Barnet Outsourcing is implemented they are forecasting that will rise by another £237,000 per annum. Trying to save £40,000 by reducing residents' right to speak at meetings seems both inappropriate  and ill judged. 

I urge every resident who has ever been affected by a planning application to write to their Councillors asking them to reconsider this stupid proposal. If this proposal goes through it will illustrate - yet again - that actually the Council is prepared to sacrifice the rights of residents all for the sake of £40,000 a year.