Wednesday 31 October 2012

Council Tax Feeze - Political Expediency or Storing up Problems for the Future?

Barnet have issued a press release today saying they are considering a council tax freeze for the financial year 2013/14. Originally they were going to put the Council tax up by 5% this year to catch up on the freeze last year but that has now been over-ruled. A council tax freeze may seem like a good idea and it comes on the back of three previous years of council tax freezes. However, a tax freeze this year will mean that amount is lost every year going forward - it's the same principle that Barnet use to accumulate the costs savings they reckon they will make on the One Barnet outsourcing project. If inflation runs at an average of 2.5% over the next ten years that means the Council will miss out on around £35 million of revenue to fund essential services such as adult social care and children's services. The residents perception survey shows clearly that residents are prepare to pay a little extra for certain services (not roads and bins) it is is made clear what it is for.

At a time when it looks like budgets are going to be cut further it seems foolish to allow inflation to erode £35 million of future revenue for the sake of a short term political advantage.

By the way, I was pleased to see that in the cabinet papers they have amended their 'graph of doom/ choices' to show a growth in council tax revenue caused by a rise from business rates/additional dwellings. What a surprise seeing as this is exactly what I suggested when carried out my analysis published here on 1st October. Shame it took a resident to point out the flaws in their logic when all their expensive senior managers and consultants "overlooked" it. Who carried out the review where are the checks and balances.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Joint Letter to Barnet Councillors - Think Again -Halt One Barnet Now

Dear Councillors

In the next few days you will be asked to vote on a motion of no confidence in the Conservative party leader Richard Cornelius.

You will no doubt be asked to express your loyalty to Councillor Cornelius and to defeat the motion.

As local residents we would like to ask you to think very carefully about the consequences of such an action.

We know that many of you are now deeply concerned about the future of the Conservative administration, that you have profound misgivings about the viability of the One Barnet programme, and that you are also concerned by the response of the leader to issues arising from the arrest and consequent charging of your colleague Councillor Brian Coleman, in relation to an alleged assault. The announcement today that the much trumpeted Landmark Library plan has fallen through can only add to your sense of misgiving.

The continuing difficulties felt by residents and traders over the contentious parking policy has caused enormous damage to the relationship of trust between this administration and the residents of Barnet, and now it has become abundantly clear that the massive scale of privatisation of a further £1 billion worth of council services envisaged by the One Barnet project is hugely unpopular not only amongst residents and voters, but within your own ranks.

Last week Andrew Travers, the newly appointed 'interim' Chief Executive of Barnet Council, affirmed to a committee that the 'Joint Venture' model was still very much under consideration, despite the fact that elected members have not been involved in the discussions for such a proposal, and that the leader has stated previously that he was being excluded from such discussions.

Councillors must ask themselves why they are being distanced from policy decisions of such vital significance. Who is in control of this council, councillors or the officers of the senior management team?

Once the £1 billion contracts are signed, of course, elected members will effectively lose all control over almost all of our council services, which will then be in the hands of unaccountable private companies for a period of ten years, with huge financial penalties to the authority, that is to say to residents, should any serious difficulties arise, which they inevitably will.

Councillors must also ask why there never been an independent assessment of the risks posed by the One Barnet programme, and why there has been such a clear failure to mitigate the risk of conflict of interest raised by the exchange of senior officers between the council and the private companies bidding for contracts as part of the One Barnet programme.

Such an apparent lack of regulation might reasonably be said to have compromised the whole procurement process, and to have exposed the authority to legal challenge, a prospect already a clear possibility on the basis of the blatantly inadequate consultation with the residents and stakeholders who will be bearing the full impact of the privatisation of almost all our council services.

Another question that must be addressed is the extraordinary level of cost to local taxpayers of Agilysis/iMPOWER, the consultants who are acting as the One Barnet 'implementation partners' - newly released figures reveal that their bill for September alone cost us nearly half a million pounds, and spending on all consultants, wildly out of control, is now estimated to reach a staggering total of £9.5 million.

Such extravagance with taxpayers' money at a time of austerity, with no return in the form of savings is clearly a reckless indulgence, benefiting no one other than the consultants themselves. In combination with the loss in revenue as a result of the newly privatised parking service, it perfectly illustrates the improbability of the delivery of any of the promised savings from the outsourced profit of the One Barnet programme.

Last week Cornwall County Council voted to halt their own Joint Venture proposals at a late stage in the negotiations, due to the extent of concern felt by councillors and residents over the plans for their large scale privatisation of council services. The Conservative leader lost a vote of no confidence, having shown a determination to proceed with the plans in the face of enormous opposition.

Now here in Barnet you, our elected representatives, face the same choice as your Cornish counterparts - and now is the time for you to have the courage to act.

Please use this opportunity to bring a halt to the One Barnet programme and instigate a fundamental review of a commitment which will place the long term future of our borough, our services, our residents, in the hands of unaccountable private sector companies using us for their own profit.
Please take this last opportunity to stand up for what you know is right, what is the sensible thing to do.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

One Barnet - 447,197 Reasons to Pull the Plug

Barnet's supplier payments for September have just been released and yet again Barnet's Implementation Partner have submitted a huge bill. In September they billed £447,197.21. That is £22,360 every working day of September. Since January 2012 Agilisys have billed over £2.5 million, more in 9 months than Councillor were told in would cost over the entire three year contract. So far this contract alone has cost us £4.2 million and there are numerous other consultants and legal advisors who are merrily billing us with great delight.

Trowers & Hamlins, who are providing legal advice on One Barnet, have also billed £123,259.79 in September or £6,163 per day.  Oh, and welcome to new consultancy supplier Sticky Change Limited who were paid a rather modest £6,539.50 for some consultancy work for the commercial department.

Barnet Councillors keep saying there is no alternative to One Barnet. Frankly I cannot see how we can keep paying out such huge sums to consultants when the two outsourcing contracts still haven't been let. It's a bit like a gambler who, every time they lose their bet, double up on the next bet in the hope of winning back their losses. The council needs to go consultant cold turkey, break this costly addiction and start using common sense to make savings.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Barnet Council, Andrew Travers and the myths propping up One Barnet

Last night was the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee at which the One Barnet outsourcing project was discussed. I was pleased at the probing questions put forward by Cllr Brian Salinger and Cllr Hugh Rayner; they have experience and a dose of common sense. However they seemed to have been fobbed off by vague and rather vacuous responses from acting CEO Andrew Travers and supported by the somewhat bizarre comments of Cllr Rowan Turner who, it appeared, didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

The issue of flexibility is a perennial problem in contracts. Make them too inflexible and every time you make a change it costs you money - that was indeed Cllr Rayner's point. However, making contracts too flexible simply adds costs as the contractor builds in the need to change into their contract price. I have seen it time and time again where clients ask for a load of flexibility and the contractor simply costs it into the price. The more naive client thinks they have a very accommodating contractor but contractors are in business to make money, pure and simple. With the DRS and NSCSO contracts they are extremely complex and simply specifying the service is difficult enough. Identifying and modelling the financial consequences of changes to the contract and building that into a change mechanism is colossally complex and exceptionally difficult to achieve in a workable format. That is where I think this contract will go horribly wrong. For what its worth my experience suggests that the lawyers on both sides will make the contract as tight as possible setting up an adversarial position from the outset.

Joint venture versus supply contract is the next issue that was glossed over. My experience is that JV's can work well when the objectives of the two parties are closely aligned. The classic is when two parties come together to supply services to a third party for profit. in that case both client and contractor share the desire to maximise profit. In Barnet's case the situation is quite different with the majority of the services provided without a direct charge to the end user. So for example you don't get charged when you contact the council but that process has a cost and the customer has no alternative - you can't go to another council to ask them about your council tax bill. As such the council will have an objective about dealing with the enquiry efficiently and resolving the problem whereas the contractor simply wants to deal with the query as quickly and cheaply as possible. In a JV there will be continuing conflict between the two partners and it is for this reason that there is a very high risk that the contractor may end up breaching the agreement, just as has happened at SouthWest One where the JV is suing one of the partners, Somerset County Council.

Length of contract was something Cllr Turner ventured his opinion on. In my experience there is no set length for a contract. It is a balancing act which considers how much time the contractor needs to start making a difference, and how long they need to recoup any capital investment they make in the contract. Some contracts are ten years because that is how long the contractor needs to write off their investment. Other contracts where there is very little capex can be as short as two or three years. However, contractors will always push for as long a contract as possible because they know that the capitalised value of the revenue stream from the contract can help to boost the value/share price of their company. They also know that bidding or re-tendering for contracts is an expensive process and needs to be avoided for as long as possible. From a client perspective the first two years are where the contractor is getting into their stride and hopefully by year three they are performing at their optimum.If the contract term extends significantly belong that time, the issue becomes one of how to keep the contractor motivated - carrot or stick. the problem is if you are locked into a contract the ultimate stick, contract termination is not in the repertoire. You also get issues relating to continuing investment in infrastructure and training which get put on the back burner when there are still five or six years left to run on the contract.

Now it may be that all these matters have been adequately addressed but, because of the secrecy shrouding this process, we will never know. Only the consultants advising the council, a handful of senior officers and the select members of the cabinet who have actually bothered to read all the information will have any idea whether these critical issues have been adequately addressed (although I doubt that is possible).

Conservative councillors, YOU need to think very carefully now. YOU have a responsibility to inform YOURSELF about the risks this contract poses. YOU need to seek out as much information and satisfy yourself that there are adequate safeguards. Arguing that officers told you it will be alright will simply not stand up  to scrutiny or possibly even legal challenge when this all goes horribly wrong  - which it inevitably will. All of the warning signs are there and you have been offered briefings by independent experts such as APSE.

I strongly urge Conservative Councillors to call a halt to proceedings and at the very least set up an independent scrutiny team to review all of the details of the proposals, to rigorously question senior officers and, if need be, bring in independent consultants to review the process to date. Only when you have addressed all your concerns can you make a rational decision as to whether or not to proceed with One Barnet.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Barnet - Follow Cornwall's Lead and Pull the Plug on One Barnet

Yesterday in Cornwall, the Council made the sensible decision to step back from mass outsourcing of their services (courtesy of the blog of Cllr Andrew Wallis)

The full motion that was debated was as follows:

1) This Council expresses its thanks to all the people who signed the petition and have thereby strongly engaged in the local democratic process.
2) The current proposals (BT) for the Strategic Partnership for Support Services shall not progress to the Invitation to Final Tender (ItT) until after they have been debated and unless approved by a meeting of Cornwall Council.
3) The Chief Executive be requested to investigated fully, as a matter of urgency, all reasonable alternative methods of delivering the Council services covered by the proposals for the said Strategic Partnership, which addresses the need to make efficiency savings and to generate income including; a thin trading JV working with a commercial partner to deliver services outside Cornwall; a shared services project with local NHS and other public services, but without a private sector partner; an employee owned mutual and other in-house options
4) The Council's draft Business Plan 2012-16 be prepared to reflect recommendations 2 and 3 above.
5) The full Council supports the ongoing work by the SIP for Strategic Services
This was voted on, and carried by 93 for, 7 abstentions, and no-one voting against.

This was yet another of the big outsourcing proposals to have the plug pulled and it leaves Barnet as the sole representative of the mass outsourcing ideology.

On 18th October Stephen Hughes the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council said "Essentially I believe the traditional outsourcing model isn’t fit for current circumstances". Well if that is the case why won't Barnet see sense and pull back from this outsourcing madness.

In Barnet, residents have never been given the choice of whether they want mass outsourcing. we have not been allowed to debate it in residents forums and the only scrutiny committee debating the issue was closed. Our voices have been ignored. Tonight at the Business Management Overview & scrutiny Committee a petion will be presented asking for the One Barnet programme to be stopped whilst the implications

As I have said on repeated occasions, I have no ideological opposition to outsourcing per se. Understanding why you want to outsource, what you want to achieve and balancing the risk against the reward, all form part of the assessment as to whether outsourcing is the right move. In Barnet's case no consideration was given to an in house team even though on the benchmark research demonstrated that the in house team worked well. major financial savings have been made with the current staff without a single outsourcing contract being in place because at this time the Council retains the flexibility to make those changes. The level of risk that has been built into the contract based on the number and complexity of the services to be provided, the scale of the contract and the ten year term is immense and will have massive financial consequences for the residents of Barnet if it goes wrong.

Now is the time for all of the backbench Conservative councillors to ask themselves the question is this mass outsourcing in Barnet really worth the risk and I hope the answer is NO!

Monday 15 October 2012

If you live in Barnet the Billion Pound Gamble is a MUST see

On Monday 22nd October at 6pm, the world premiere of a new film, Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble will be shown at the iconic Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. The film has been made by acclaimed US film director Charles Honderick and exposes the chaos being wrought by the policies of Barnet Council.

Local residents are interviewed and explain just how difficult life has become. A family with a child suffering severe disability tells how no appropriate accommodation has been provided for eleven years. Users of day centres explain how cuts to transport have affected them and how they get charged £1.20 for a cup of Nescafe. Local traders tell the tale of how the parking policies have forced them to the brink. Award winning film director Ken Loach explains how outsourcing destroys local economies. A host of experts explain how the One Barnet programme is doomed to failure, it is a Billion Pound Gamble, where private companies will pick up fat cheques, local residents will get shoddy services and local taxpayers will be left to pick up the bill.

The film also features shocking scenes filmed inside the Town Hall as uncaring local councillors dismiss the concerns of residents and laugh as important decisions, which will cause misery for thousands, are passed without proper debate.

The official trailer for the film has been released today and can be viewed on the film website -

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Billion Pound Gamble Press Release

Press Release - 9th October 2012

Award winning Film Director Ken Loach has lambasted Barnet Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme in a scathing attack in a new documentary film "Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble", directed by Charles Honderick. Mr Loach was interviewed exclusively for the film and says:

"A billion pounds, now that’s money you will pay, Barnet residents will pay, and the jobs that will be provided will probably not be in Barnet. A lot of the jobs will go to other boroughs or even outside of Britain altogether."
Mr Loach notes that taxpayers are getting poor value for money as jobs leave the borough, causing poverty, hardship and economic decline.
 "Now that’s a bad deal for Barnet because you want your rates and money put in to go to support your local economy,  to go to support Barnet people & this is not about being narrow & excluding others, this is just commonsense that we need local communities to thrive & the end of that logic, that says the money should go to the cheapest workers is of course that the money goes to those who eat grass first."
As well as Mr Loach, the film features people from all walks of life in Barnet talking about their experiences and looks at all aspects of life in Barnet in 2012, including the relocation of Barnet Football club to Harrow, the closure of Friern Barnet Library, the cost of parking in the High Street and the provision of care services for the disabled and elderly.

Director Charles Honderick said "The film gives a voice to everyone who cares about what is happening in their community. The stories we have heard are stories which should be shared. Some of the things you will see you will find hard to believe can happen in a civilised society".  Mr Honderick continued "As a filmmaker I am honoured to have my work recognised by Ken Loach. He has spent years making films with power and meaning. His wise words are ones we'd be foolish to ignore".

The film has its world premiere at the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley at 6pm on Monday 22nd October 2012. Admission is priced at £1.

You can see the full interview with Mr Loach at the film website  -
Notes to Editors.

1. The world premiere for the film will be shown at The Phoenix Cinema on Monday 22nd October. Doors open at 6pm and the film will be shown at 6.30pm. Entrance costs £1.

2. The film has been directed by USA film director Charles Honderick. The film is a follow up to the acclaimed film  "A Tale of Two Barnets" which has been screened at The House of Commons, The Edinburgh Festival, The Unision National Conference and the TUC centre at Great Russell St. There have also been over 20 local screenings.

3. The film features a new exclusive interview with award winning film director Ken Loach, talking about life, football and outsourcing.

4. The film website is . This is being constantly updated with information, details and clips as we move towards the full screening.

5. The website for "A Tale of Two Barnets" is . This has full details of all press coverage and clips from the film including full interviews with Ken Loach, Richard Cornelius (Leader of Barnet Council) and Nick Walkley (CEO of Barnet Council).

6. Please contact Roger Tichborne on 07754 910425 or by email at for more details

7. Full Transcript of Ken Loach interview #1 -

“Sadly Barnet is becoming the by word for unscrupulous outsourcing of contracts for the council, there have been many campaigns, big campaigns against this and we need to support those campaigns. The amount of outsourcing I am told is to be a Billion pounds come the end of this year.... 
A billion pounds now that’s money you will pay, Barnet residents will pay and the jobs that will be provided will probably not be in Barnet. A lot of the jobs will go to other boroughs or even outside of Britain altogether, now that’s a bad deal for Barnet because you want your rates and money put in to go to support your local economy, to go to support Barnet people & this is not about being narrow & excluding others, this is just common sense that we need local communities to thrive & the end of that logic, that says the money should go to the cheapest workers is of course the money goes to those who eat grass first.
The money goes away to other countries where the workers are far more exploited, so really it is a licence for exploitation, it’s a licence to those who will screw the workforce as hard as they can.
Now that is not a society we want to live in. It is no way to promote job security.
It’s no way for people to be able to look forward to being able to buy a house, have a job which will provide an income to support their family and that’s the kind of society we want.
Not one that gives unscrupulous employers the license to screw the workforce for all their worth.”