Tuesday 24 December 2013

Mr Reasonable's Christmas Message

Dear Readers

Festive greetings to all readers. 2014 will be an important year in Barnet and I will remain as vigilant as ever in my scrutiny of Barnet Council. This song says it all.

Friday 20 December 2013

Misogyny, arrogance and decision making unfettered by a grasp of the facts - an evening at Barnet Council

Last night's Constitution & Ethics committee demonstrated perfectly how a change to the governance system is an utterly pointless exercise. I spoke out about the proposal to cut speaking time at committees from 5 minutes to 3 minutes and to allocate a total of 30 minutes for both questions and speakers. I made the point that if the council read the consultation results they would see there is an strong appetite for more public engagement but that by restricting time given the public it would have the opposite effect. I also made the point about unintended consequences. Two and a half years ago the same committee made the decision to restrict what questions could be asked at residents Forums. The consequence of that was that far more questions were asked at committees. Squeezing time for questions at committees will simple force the public to ask their questions elsewhere.

The committee then moved on to discuss various aspects of the changes to the governance system and changes that would be required to the constitution as a result. Cllr Melvin Cohen insisted that the title of Committee Chair be changed to Chairman. Objections from Cllr Alison Moore that the title would be offensive to women were dismissed. Indeed Cllr Joan Scannell said "I am a lady and I am not offended" to which Cllr Moore replied I may not be a 'lady' but I am offended. Put to a vote the Conservative group voted through the change through using Cllr Cohen's casting vote. And so it went on, objection from Libdems and Labour out voted by Conservatives. Towards the end of the meeting we came to the subject of public participation. A little debate with Cllr Quigley-Turner ably demonstrating  that he hasn't got a clue how the current system of public questions works. I did shout out at this stage that he didn't know what he was talking about and Cllr Cornelius had to gentle tell him that the point he was making actually didn't happen. So nice to see Cllrs making decisions unfettered by a grasp of the facts.

Yet again Cllr Melvin Cohen used his casting vote to push through the cuts to public engagement after which the meeting drew to an end. The Council say that by moving to a committee system will make it more democratic. Last night's committee showed that the current ruling group will always vote on party lines and a change to a committee system will not change a thing while the ruling group can out vote any dissenting voices. I predict the new system will be a catastrophic disaster, no clarity as to which matters get debated at which committee, lack of clarity about precisely what decisions a committee can make and what will be referred to the all powerful Policy & Resources Committee conflict and rivallry between committees and lots of reports and votes at Council. This is all about jobs for cllrs along with a lot more special allowances for so many more committee Chairpersons.

You can see video extracts of the meeting dealing with public participation here and here thanks to the hard work of Barnet Revel

Sunday 15 December 2013

Capita, conflicts of Interest and money lost in Iceland

Last week I saw a very interesting FOI request on the What Do They Know website submitted by Joel Benjamin. It relates to the advise provided to Barnet by financial advisors regarding the investments in the Icelandic banks. As we all know Barnet took a bath for £27 million and although they have recovered some money there is still money that may take years to return to Barnet's coffers.

Today I read a blog by Joel Benjamin, here, the person who asked this question. The blog links the advice provided to Barnet by a company called Butlers who were subsequently bought out by a Capita subsidiary called Sector. Suddenly the various blocks begin to drop into place and it really does start to raise enormously serious questions about the role of Capita and the issue of conflicts of of interest in the finances of Barnet. Readers may also remember that Capita insisted that the conflict of interest clause in their One Barnet contract was redacted. They stated:

 "This schedule was developed by Capita to address a contract consideration and reflects a detailed approach within Capita to manage conflict of interest considerations.  This forms part of the Capita business systems and therefore was provided in confidence as part of the evaluation process, and should not therefore be disclosed." 

I would like to thank  Joel Benjamin for bringing this matter  to all our attention but I am seriously worried that we will never hear anything . Democracy in Barnet has been outsourced and we are all the poorer for it.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Barnet Group cut care staff wages and advertise for salesman job costing £120k+ per annum

Thanks to an eagle eyed resident who spotted this job ad for the Barnet Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnet Council covering Your Choice Barnet (YCB)and Barnet Homes.
Common sense tells me that the best way to care for people is to employ staff who are well trained and motivated to deal directly with those who require the service. A couple of weeks ago YCB announced they were cutting care staff allowances for working nights, weekends and bank holidays. That doesn't help motivate staff or enhance staff retention and ultimately leads to worse care for recipients when there is a rapid turnover of demotivated staff.
Spending £90,000 a year plus £30,000+ on-costs on a Director to ensure "that all customers enjoy high quality care and support services" doesn't seem to be the right solution. Perhaps the giveaway is in the penultimate  paragraph where it says they are looking for someone who can generate new business -  a salesman in other words. Perhaps a title Director of Sales would be more appropriate - stuff the care follow the money.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

The silence of the Councillors or how to ignore your electors in Jackson Road

Jackson Road is a delightful road of old railway worker cottages in the heart of East Barnet Village. Back in 2011 a planning application was submitted for a 3 storey block of flats behind 69 Jackson Road. Almost two years after that planning application was submitted to the Council  further planning applications have now been made for 3 and 4-storey blocks on the same land.

When the last application was made (November 2011) for a 3-storey block of flats - around 50 objection letters to the plan were received by Council. The Councillors on the area planning granted approval - 10 votes for with 2 abstentions. Not one Councillor voted against the plan - despite the weight of objections.

Cllr Joanna Tambourides, one of the East Barnet ward Councillors, who sat on that planning committee abstained in the vote. Is this the same Councillor who expressed strong objections - along with her ward colleagues Cllrs. Robert Rams and Barry Evangeli - to the Cat Hill development (not actually in their ward)? Yet what is their position on this development? The 3 ward Councillors (CONSERVATIVE) have all been sent an e mail asking for their support against this development . Only Cllr Tambourides replied but when asked as to why the initial planning application had been passed when there were 50 objections from local residents she did not give a reply.
Some residents are wondering why they are being sent letters again from the Council for these plans (Refs: B/05238/13 & B/05234/13) when their original views - listing thirty specific objections - were classed as ‘not relevant’.

In the event that these planning applications are approved - at the proposed height (i.e. >20 metres) - they would overshadow a number of  homes in Jackson Road and Churchmead Close, and effectively cut out sunlight and destroy wildlife. There is also the small matter of the Thames Water main foul water sewer for East Barnet running diagonally below this land, which our local Councillors appeared unaware of.

Residents in the immediate area are urged to object to this development to protect a historical road with architectural merit and to an area which is already over developed. It has residents once again saying, loud and clear: ‘No!’ 

If you are against more major development on or around Jackson Road which is already built up and unable to accommodate any more cars as well spoiling an architectural and historic part of East Barnet, then say no.

Send a letter or e mail  or fill out a form on Barnet Councils web site to -
Barnet Council – Ms Mumtaz Shaikh
Planning Services,
Building 4,
North London Business Park,
Oakleigh Road South,
London,N11 1NP
If writing a letter you need to add your name, address, daytime telephone number and e mail if you have one and quote the Planning application reference –
B/05 234/13.  (four storey block of flats to the rear of 69 Jackson Road.)
B/05 238/13  (three storey block of flats to the rear of 69 Jackson Road)

If you have any further questions please contact Ms. Mumtaz Shaikh , the person from Barnet Council dealing with this, at email -

Jackson Road Neighbourhood Watch enquiries  –   en4@hotmail.co.uk

Jackson Road FaceBook Page  -  The Jackson Roadies

Monday 2 December 2013

Money for consultants and new bin lorries but not for the elderly or disabled?

Barnet's October supplier payments are out and as readers will know I read through them carefully.
The bin lorry saga continues. Last month Barnet put through £2million worth of invoices for the new bin lorries. I requested these invoices under FOI and found that this was only a PART PAYMENT. This month a further £4 million of invoices for the new bin lorries was put through and I understand there may be another £2million  worth of invoices still to appear. Some have said that we had to buy new lorries because the old contract had come to an end. However it is common practice to purchase usable equipment at the end of a contract for a written down value. EU statistics in 2011 showed that the average age of heavy duty vehicle fleets has increased to 11.5 years. People are running their cars longer and to my mind that seems like a sensible strategy so long as the vehicles remain reliable. However the culture in Barnet seems to be spend, spend, spend if there is a budget for it. That is neither frugal nor prudent.

And speaking of spend, spend, spend, our friends at Agilisys received a rather sizable £198,947.40 whose bill for implementing One Barnet is now over £8 million. I would have thought that now the One barnet contract has been let we would have seen an end to this massive spending but clearly that is not the case.

Legal advisors Trowers & Hamlin billed the council £385,648.74 in October, long after the judicial review is at an end, so I wonder what this is for?

And as for Capita or RE Ltd to give them their Barnet DRS trading name, they billed a cool £5,177,323.95 in October. When this contract was being discussed I specifically asked if Capita's bill would be broken down or whether we would simply get a single massive bill for their charges. Well yet again I was misinformed, misled or otherwise deceived into believing there would be complete openness.

With two massive outsourcing contracts in place I had foolishly assumed that the bill for agency and interim staff would have come down. Not in Barnet. In October the Council spent £1.22 million with Comensura  who handle all temporary or agency staff payments yet at the same time hundreds are staff are in the process of being made redundant. This seems utterly wrong.

All of these massive payments need to be set in the context of the cuts that are taking place to adult social care and children's services. Anyone who watched the report from the Task and Finish Group into the changes taking place at Your Choice Barnet cannot failed to have been moved by the plea to reinstate services for those with real needs yet we are still wasting vast amounts of money on professional fees.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Barnet's New Committee System - Jobs for the boys (& girls)

Wednesday was my birthday but rather than spend a pleasant evening with my family sharing a slice of cake, I trudged off to Hendon Town Hall to attended a public consultation meeting on the proposed new committee system that the council wants to introduce next April. Sadly, very few member of the public were there - just 17 along with 9 Councillors and numerous Barnet Council staff members. As is the way with these "public consultations", the whole process was heavily stage managed with no off-script questions and no real debate about why we are changing the system.

The Council's research indicates to me that the public are largely disengaged with the council. Only 7% of respondents said they had been to any council meeting and more than two thirds of respondents said they didn't even know who was their Councillor. I spoke previously at the Constitution & Ethics Committee about the lack of engagement and the failure of the proposed new system to address that problem which I blogged about here.

The public where spilt up onto pre-assigned tables each with a council officer acting as a facilitator so that we could discuss four specific questions about the new system. As luck would have it Richard Cornelius briefly joined our table so I took the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions which were:

  1. What are the objectives of the new committee system and 
  2. What are the critical success factors for the new system by which you will measure whether you have achieved your objectives.

Now to me these are two both reasonable and fundamental questions which should be clear at the outset of any project. A few awkward looks and then a reply from Richard, "to involve all the Councillors in the running of the council and to make the Full Council meeting meaningful". Both those answers highlight where the problems lie in the proposed new system.

This new system is all about giving the other 53 non cabinet Councillors something to do, otherwise how could they continue to justify the £1 million spent on Councillor allowances each year. By the way if you are not sure how much your Councillor was paid last year I suggest you take a look here. It is very revealing just how many Conservative Councillors are paid more than basic annual allowance of £10,596.96. In  fact 75% of all Conservative Councillors receive some form of special allowance for additional duties. As for making the council meeting meaningful. that illustrates what a pantomime it currently is run at significant expense.

Several people on my table seemed to think that the skills and experience of Councillors would come to the fore under the new committee system. Sadly I think that will not be allowed to happen under the new system where the ruling group will always want complete control.

I would like to see residents become much more involved and to devolve far more decisions down to a ward level but with the proposed, incredibly complex structure it will successfully exclude almost everyone except Councillors because it will be impossible to attend all the meetings. A chart of the initial draft structure  is set out below:

The chart shown on the evening was slightly different to chart above but it is close enough and there is no electronic version on the new chart available.

Feedback from several of the discussion groups was that there was not enough information upon which to make informed decisions, but no surprise there. We shall have to wait and see what transpires at the next Constitution & Ethics Committee  meeting in December but how they can base anything meaningful on the views of 17 people that will affect the way the council is run for the next five years is beyond me.

Perhaps instead of finding jobs for the boys they could cut the number of Councillors by two thirds and actually make the current system work effectively. At least it would save us around £700,000 a year in Councillor allowances.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

£16.1 million Capital Investment - Is the picture any more transparent?

As you may have read, the Barnet Bloggers sent an open letter to Councillors on Friday asking specifically about the mysterious £16.1 million of capital investment that was originally going to be paid by Capita and which has now been paid by the Council.  Yesterday evening Mr Naylor, the Councils Chief Operating Officer sent a response to us at the request of Councillors Rams and Thomas. The Barnet Bloggers are publishing his response in full, followed by further comments and questions to address some of the issues we feel are left unresolved by his reply:

Dear Mr Dishman, Mr Dix, Ms Musgrove and Mr Tichborne

I refer to your open letter to Councillors dated 8th November 2013.

Cllrs Thomas and Rams have asked me to respond, as your letter raises a number of technical matters that I am well placed to explain. In so doing I hope to put your minds, and those of the many readers of your respective blogs, to rest.

I’m afraid that you have misunderstood the purpose of the publicly published DPR of the 5th August 2013 and as a result have made a number of incorrect inferences about changes to the business model agreed by Cabinet on the 6th December 2012. You will recall that this was the publicly agreed and published key decision which authorised payments to Capita of £320m over the coming ten years. There has been no subsequent change to the business model, no change in Capita’s investment commitments and no change or reversal in policy. The plan remains as it did on the 6th December 2012.

DPR 5th August 2013 did not authorise any payment to Capita.

Starting with the DPR of the 5th August 2013, the purpose of this decision was to authorise the inclusion of Capita’s investment in IT and other infrastructure assets into the Councils capital programme. In this regard we are bound by a range of technical accounting standards. In summary, if assets are to be used by the Council, irrespective of who has paid for them or who controls their day to day use (in this instance Capita) then those assets need to be recorded on the Council’s balance sheet. In order for them to be included in the Council’s balance sheet, they first need to appear in the Council’s capital programme – hence the need for the DPR.

I would draw your attention to paragraphs 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 and the report recommendation at paragraph 10.1.

As you can see, very clearly, this DPR does not concern itself with ‘the authorisation of a payment to Capita’ or the ‘approval of a payment to Capita’ or as your letter puts it ‘the sanctioning of a payment to Capita’. In fact the DPR had nothing what so ever to do with authorising any payment to Capita, it was simply a technical enabling decision to include Capita’s forthcoming investment into our capital programme. Evidently this needed to take place before the contract was signed, but after the judicial review outcome was known which was why it was agreed when it was. There would have been no point including Capita’s potential investment in the Council’s capital programme while ever that eventuality was in doubt.

In short, it’s a red-herring to connect the DPR of 5th August 2013 with any decisions about payments to Capita.

The key decision to agree expenditure with Capita was the cabinet decision on the 6th December 2012.

In your letter, you collectively assert that Capita is no longer making the investment in the Council’s IT infrastructure, but instead that the investment is coming from Council reserves. You consider this to be: contrary to the business model approved; by Cabinet in December 2012 and contrary to public pronouncements about the benefits of the contract made at the time and subsequently. I can assure that none of these assertions are correct.

  • The business model agreed by Cabinet established that the Council would pay Capita £320m over the coming 10 years. In simple terms, for this sum the Council would: achieve a very considerable saving on the prevailing cost of the CSG services -£320m over ten years compared to the in-house cost of £390m;
  •  receive investment of £16.1 million in IT and other necessary back office infrastructure; and
  •  receive service performance equal to or better than that currently delivered by the Council.
This overall business model remains unchanged by payments to Capita since the contract was signed.
Payments of the agreed £320m to Capita have been profiled over the ten year contract to maximise savings and service improvements to the Council. In particular, in the first year of the contract, to reduce the cost of capital in Capita’s contract price, £16.1m of the overall £320m was paid on contract award. This is not an additional contribution; it is within the £320m contract sum. Doing so has saved the Council – not Capita – an additional £0.8m. This sum contributed to the additional savings set out in section 9.4 of the published public Cabinet report of November 4th.

All decisions about the profile of payments have been made in accordance with the Council’s publicly published financial regulations.

  • For the avoidance of doubt, the profile of payments to Capita have had:No impact on the Council’s reserves. The investments referred to in the business model continue to be made from within the £320m agreed contract sum. Council Reserves have therefore not been used to fund the investment. Reserves have not gone down by £16.1 million. Tax payers are not now paying for something that they thought was being paid for from the contract price and Capita aren’t receiving additional amounts of investment from the Council. In fact as a result of the profiling of payments, tax payers benefit from additional savings.
  •  No impact on the Council’s balance sheet. The IT and other infrastructure assets that Capita will be purchasing will be recognised as capital assets on the Council’s balance sheet. As stated above, this is the correct accounting treatment for the assets in these circumstances. It is for this reason, and this reason only, that the intended purchase of IT and other infrastructure assets by Capita are captured in the Council’s Capital Programme. Mr Dix has written to me and other colleagues in the Council about the accounting treatment of these assets and I will respond to him separately in due course.
  • For these reasons it is incorrect to state, as you do so in your letter, that “Capita failed to make the promised capital funding…. that in August, in a complete reversal of policy, the Leader sanctioned the payment to Capita of £16.1 million of taxpayers’ money held in the Authorities reserves, in order to cover the cost of the capital investment”. To reiterate this is because:Capita are making the promised investment within the £320m contract sum. In other words the Council/taxpayers will pay Capita £320m over the next ten years. Taxpayers are not paying £16.1m in addition to this amount;
  • The Leader did not sanction a payment of £16.1 million, the relevant Key decision to sanction payments to Capita was the one taken by Cabinet on the 6th December 2012; and
  •  There has been no use of Council reserves to ‘fund this investment’.
There is no change to the original business case.

The original business case set out that one of the benefits of an outsourced option would be that a private sector partner could afford to include capital investment in their overall bid price in a manner that the Council, acting alone could not. For the reasons set out above, this is exactly what has been achieved and it is what is happening. To suggest otherwise is misleading.

As an aside, I don’t recognise your collective point about capped procurement savings. The publicly published contract commits Capita to guarantee the procurement savings already identified by officers in the medium term financial plan. The contract includes a payment by results provision for procurement savings that are identified and delivered by Capita over and above those included within the guarantee – where this is agreed in advance by the Council as the most commercially sensible way to proceed. The contract does not bind the Council to use Capita to deliver procurement savings. Accordingly, in the future, we can make a case by case judgement based on what is most commercially opportune for the Council.

In conclusion, I can advise that there has been no change in policy, and no radical change to the terms of the business model agreed by Cabinet on 6th December 2012. Likewise, there has been no decision to use Reserves for a capital investment payment to Capita other than that set out in the agreed £320m contract sum agreed by Cabinet on 6th December 2012. As all payments to Capita have fallen within the contract price agreed by cabinet I cannot share your conclusion that there has been any breach of council regulations.

I would be very happy to meet with you to discuss the contents of this letter in more detail. Indeed I am due to meet Mr Dishman and Mr Dix next week to discuss a range of other matters and would very happily add this issue to that agenda. By way of this letter, I extend a similar invitation to Ms Musgrove and Mr Tichborne.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, and given that you have all written extensively about these matters on your popular blogs, please could I ask you to publish my response letter in full.

Yours sincerely

Chris Naylor
Chief Operating Officer

The Barnet bloggers have responded to the points made with the following statement:


In December 2012 the Cabinet report which authorised this contract was quite clear when it said: 

Capita’s proposal also includes (within the financial offer described above) approximately £15.3m revenue investment in areas such as information technology (computer hardware and software), and customer services. This investment not only enables Capita to deliver the transformation it is proposing, but also avoids the Council having to find money in the future to fund replacement technology for systems that are at or nearing the end of their useful life”. 

It went on to say:

 “if the Council chose not to complete this procurement, it would have to:

 • attempt to replicate the investment, technology and other solutions being proposed by Capita in order to drive out the future savings required” 

In September 2013 Barnet paid Capita £15.2 million which Mr Naylor described as follows:

 “Of the total £320m, £16m of this is paid up-front for the capital investment. The remainder of the service charges are paid quarterly in advance. The reason for making an up-front payment to Capita for capital investment, and for payment of service charges quarterly in advance is that the Council’s “cost of money” – i.e. the amount that it pays for access to cash, is considerably cheaper than Capita’s. The Council has internal reserves, and access to the Public Works Loan Board funding which is closely aligned to the Bank of England base rate. So the up-front capital contribution and quarterly in advance payment reduce the overall cost of the contract to the taxpayer. 

In August, the Council made £10.5m payment to Capita which represented the balance of the capital contribution for investment in the services, and £4.7m in respect of the service charge.”

The council have made a decision to fund the investment instead of Capita and from Mr Naylor’s response in October there is a very clear inference that this would come from reserves or borrowing. 

At the audit Committee of 23rd October the council stated: 

 “The council agreed to fund the capital costs up front because the council benefits from a lower interest rates which keeps the overall cost of funding CSG as low as possible. The assets are Capita’s, but Capita is obligated to provide them back to the council upon contract termination for at no further cost” - again implying borrowing or lost interest on reserves. 

Mr Naylor says in his letter of 11 November 2013 that:

 “there has been no change in policy, and no radical change to the terms of the business model agreed by Cabinet on 6th December 2012”. 

Based on the above this would appear to be untrue. 

The Cabinet report of December 2012 was very clear when it said that: 

 “As dialogue has now closed, the Regulations permit that the Council may only request a bidder to clarify, specify or fine tune a tender, but further detailed negotiation is no longer permitted.” 

 Relieving Capita of the obligation to fund £16.1 million of capital investment which impacts the cost of the contract by £800,000 does not appear to fit these criteria. 

Clarification is needed over the specific issue of the origin of the funding source used by the authority to support the £16.1 million.

Mr Naylor asserts in his response that this was not from reserves, yet in his earlier statement he refers to ‘internal reserves’ and the ‘Public Works Loan Board funding’. Was the funding from reserves, or not? Was the funding borrowed, and if so, how much, and does not such an action contradict the position taken by Cabinet member Robert Rams in criticising opposition proposals to borrow money for capital investment? 

Why have our councillors remained so reluctant to address the questions publicly, and why has the Leader of the Council remained silent on an issue of such public concern? 

There are further unanswered questions about the authorisation signed by Leader Richard Cornelius on August 5th. 

Why is a decision, which is not a decision, listed as a ‘non key decision’? Why are there no background papers listed for this document? 

What exactly are the ‘international financial reporting standards’ to which the document refers? 

If this authorisation was merely a technicality, why was it necessary for the Leader to approve it, rather than a senior officer acting under delegated powers? 

Were the backbench Conservative members aware that the funding of the capital investment was not in fact an ‘upfront’ payment from Capita, but to be undertaken by the council? If they were, why have so many statements been made seeming to imply the contrary? 

Is the truth that although the method of funding the investment this way was arranged between Barnet and Capita, for reasons of political sensitivity the Conservative administration has failed properly to explain this to backbench members or the residents of this borough? 

Is it fair to suggest, as the Labour leader Alison Moore commented at last week’s Cabinet meeting, that the way in which the funding has been arranged would appear to involve a ‘sleight of hand’, and is this really compliant with the principles of transparency, accountability and open government, and the duty to protect the best interests of the residents and tax payers of this borough? 

It is clear that there are still many serious outstanding questions left unresolved and for this reason we repeat our call for an immediate investigation into the issue so as to ensure that our elected representatives are fulfilling their roles in the proper scrutiny of the actions of this council.

Stop the building over of community green spaces in Cricklewood

Mr Reasonable is happy to post this press release from the Brent Cross Coalition.

PRESS RELEASE from The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Development1 (BXC Coalition)
 November 11th  for immediate release
Protesters question legality of sale of Cricklewood’s only green space to developers
The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Development has learned that under revised plans to go before Barnet planning committee in January 2014 the green space outside B&Q will be built over in Phase one.  Despite Cricklewood Town Team having popular plans to plant trees and utilise part of the space for a market in the short term, this green space has been parcelled up and sold for high density development as part of the Brent Cross Cricklewood development over a mile away.

The green space on Cricklewood Lane will be covered by a five storey building, right up to the pavement line. Phase one could begin within 3 years.

     View towards the bridge – now                                   View towards the bridge - densely developed

Lesley Turner, Barnet resident and BXC coalition member says "This green space was given to Cricklewood community at the end of the eighties, as compensation or section 106 planning gain, when Food Giant (now B&Q) was built on the site. The Green does not belong to Barnet but to Cricklewood and we have asked Barnet to see the original 106 agreement. We will be challenging Barnet over the legality of the disposal or change of use of this land. 

Lia Colacicco Mapesbury resident and member of the BXC coalition added “Cricklewood Town Team identified that Cricklewood needs a landmark at its centre, and a town square.  The Green Isle is our only public space, used for the Silk Road festival and other community events and now it will be snatched from us.  This piece of land is totally unrelated to the BXC development a couple of miles away, but has been wrapped up with it to gain outline planning permission.  It is a generic piece of land to the developers, but means everything to us and needs to be unwrapped from BXC, or become the subject of a land swap. The site might not be pretty now, but look at how Mapesbury Dell has been transformed.
Once excavated it would be a real asset to the community as a plaza or other open space. 

Fiona Colgan from the Groves Community Action Group said "my neighbours and I have written to our councillors and MP to strongly oppose the plan to build on our only local green space.  Accommodation in the Groves is very high density and Cricklewood Lane gets very congested and polluted so this green space is particularly important to us but it's clear that everyone in Cricklewood would benefit if this land was retained as our 'town green’ at the heart of our community.  I think Barnet needs to explain why the green space in front of B&Q wasn’t included in its calculations of green space2. Those of us who live in this part of the borough often feel overlooked by Barnet who do not seem to realise that we need green space as much as those who live in the wealthier, leafier parts of the borough to the North.

The Coalition group urges people to attend the public consultation4  this week and has started an online petition to save the Green Isle www.brentcrosscoalition.com/savethegreen


Contact for information
Lia Colacicco 07710 460 155

Notes for editors
1. The “Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan” comprises twelve residents’ associations plus the Federation of Residents’ Associations in Barnet (representing the 12 largest residents’ associations in Barnet), Brent Cyclists, the North West London Light Railway (NWLLR) group, Brent Friends of the Earth (FoE), Barnet & Enfield FoE, Camden FoE, Sarah Teather (MP for Brent Central), Dawn Butler, (former MP for Brent South), Labour and LibDem Councillors from Brent and Camden, Navin Shah (London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow), Darren Johnson (London Assembly Member), Jean Lambert (London MEP), Brent Green Party, Barnet Green Party, Brent and Barnet Trades Union Councils, and Bestway Group.
The Coalition blog is at www.brentcrosscoalition.blogspot.com

2. Consultation on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 November from 11am to 8pm at Hendon Leisure Centre, Marble Drive, NW2 1XQ.

Comments need to be sent to nicola.capeli@barnet.gov.uk by 6th December (giving your name and address).



Monday 11 November 2013

Moral Bankruptcy - Is it becoming the new norm?

The current government keeps talking about the need for austerity cuts. Nobody wants waste but we seem to have reached a point where actions, which in the past would have been deemed immoral are now considered necessary in the name of austerity. I have read numerous accounts of people who have been "sanctioned" by their local job centre resulting in the loss of benefit, frequently for very minor or trivial reasons. These people end up losing benefit and face incredible hardship and as a result are dependent of food banks to eat. While I am a great believer in the principle that if you can work you should, I know of people who, for example, have mental health problems being persecuted for failing to meet every single requirement of the system. We used to have Remploy factories where people could take work that was appropriate for their skills but they have all been closed. The Office of National Statistics says there are approximately 2.5 million unemployed people but when you look in more depth at the figures you find that there are almost 9 million economically inactive people aged 16-64 in the UK. There are still huge numbers of applicants chasing every job yet people seem to be expected to get a job immediately and if they don't they are labelled "shirkers". Persecution of the poor and unemployed seems relentless.

But what I have seen in the last few days is even worst; an all out attacked of the most disadvantaged in our society.On Friday, I read with incredulity, that in Barnet, social workers working in Learning Disabilities have been set a series of targets including one which requires each social worker to make savings of £42,000 on service user care packages they assess this year.

This is going too far. I understand that the cost of social care is high but I have no problem paying my taxes to fund this because that is the sort of society I want to live in, one which is fair, equitable and which cares for those who need it. Yet as the same time as I see demands for these savings, I see the massive Trans National Corporations like Amazon, Google and Vodafone getting away with paying little or no tax, making limited contribution to our society. I met a chap not that long ago who had used very skilled and expensive accountants to help him avoid a tax bill of £50 million. I would stress that he had done absolutely nothing illegal but that his money had allowed him to secure the brains of the best people to help him use completely legal ways to avoid paying that tax. My view was this was morally wrong but I was seen as an eccentric for challenging why he had not paid the tax.

In Britain we have to decide whether we want a decent society and be prepared to pay for it or accept that the weak may suffer but that is ok because it is cheaper. Maybe I'm old fashioned, maybe I am eccentric but I believe that to some extent over the last 15 years and certainly in the last three year we have lost our moral compass. We face the slippery slope of accepting the iniquitous in the name of austerity and I am terrified as where it will end. My late father was brought up in abject poverty, his father having been killed in the first world war. He used to recount to me how tough times were and how for a period he was put into care because his mother could not afford to feed or clothe them. He believed that he had fought in the second world war for a fairer society where that type of inequality would never be seen again. With the growth in food banks, with cuts in services to the most vulnerable, with wages being cut thanks to outsourcing, with housing becoming completely unaffordable, I fear we will see those desperate times again.

Morality versus austerity, there has to be another way.

Friday 8 November 2013

£16.1 million paid to Capita - still no answers from Barnet Council

The scandal of the £16.1 million paid to Capita continues without a clear response from the Council. Set out below is a joint letter from the Barnet Bloggers asking Councillors for answers:

Dear Councillors
Throughout the history of the One Barnet outsourcing programme, statements by the leader of Barnet council, Cabinet members, Conservative councillors and the senior management team have all maintained that as a fundamental commitment to the NSCSO contract Capita would make a large ‘upfront’ capital investment.
The necessity of this investment by a private sector partner was given as the reason why the authority refused even to consider an in-house option as an alternative to privatisation of council services.
If an in-house option had been adopted, not only would many local jobs have been saved, all efficiencies made through better management of such functions as procurement would have been retained by the authority, as opposed to a limited amount capped in the contractual agreement with Capita. By ignoring this option, it is arguable that the statutory duty of the authority to make the best use of taxpayers' money may have been breached.
We have now learnt that not only has Capita failed to make the promised capital funding but that in August, in a complete reversal of  policy, the Leader of the Council sanctioned the payment to Capita of £16.1 million of taxpayers’ money held in the authority’s reserves, in order to cover the cost of the capital investment.
We believe that not only have the leadership, Conservative members and senior management team of Barnet Council promoted the need for privatisation, and the contract with Capita, on a totally false premise, they have continued to mislead residents by misrepresenting the facts, and maintaining that capital investment is to be given by the company, rather than admitting that money has been taken from the authority's reserves and paid to Capita for this purpose.
After the Cabinet meeting of 6th December 2012 which approved the contract with Capita, Councillor Cornelius made this claim in a statement published on the BBC London news website
Council leader Richard Cornelius said the combination of a saving to the taxpayer of a million pounds a month and an £8m investment in technology by Capita made it a "very, very good deal for the Barnet taxpayer".
This misrepresentation of the truth has continued even after the payment £16.1 million was formally authorised by the Leader of the council.
The business model approved by Cabinet on 6th December 2012 stated clearly that this investment was to come from Capita: how can it be lawful, therefore, that having approved the contract on this basis, we now find the reverse is true, and that taxpayers are paying for the investment?
If there is any financial argument for such a fundamental change, why has the authority not been open and transparent about this new agreement, and sought approval through the appropriate procedures?
The authorisation to add £16.1 million to the capital programme in order to pay for the capital investment was made on 5th August this year by Councillor Richard Cornelius, in an action defined as a 'non key' decision.
According to the council's own constitution, key decisions are those that are 'significant in financial terms or in their effect on communities comprising two or more wards'.
Clearly the decision to remove £16.1 million from reserve funds in this way most certainly is a key decision, and departs in the most fundamental way from the business model approved in December.
Quite incredibly, on 6th August, the day on which the contracts were signed, and the very next day after the leader signed off the £16.1 million to cover the capital investment, Barnet Council issued a press release: 

in which it is stated:
"Capita will also make an £8 million pound investment in technology to improve council back office services".
What is that statement, other than a deliberate misrepresentation of an unpalatable truth?
We note that the explanation of the NSCSO contract on the council's own website, updated after 5th August, continues to maintain falsely that an upfront investment will come from Capita: see here -
Capita will make an upfront investment which will provide improved Information Technology and telephone support to improve council back office services.
In regard to the approval of 5th August, the constitution says:
When key decisions are to be discussed or made, notification is published at least 28 days before. If these decisions are to be discussed with council officers at a meeting of the Executive, this will generally be open for the public to attend, except where personal or confidential matters are being discussed. The Executive has to make decisions that are in line with the Council’s overall policies and budget. If it wishes to make a decision that is outside the budget or policy framework, this must be referred to the full Council to decide.
Unless the change of policy, and a radical change to the terms of the business model represented by the decision to use reserve funds for a capital investment payment to Capita has been formally agreed through the relevant constitutional procedures, therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the payment may well be unlawful, and as residents, taxpayers and citizen journalists in Barnet we object in the strongest terms to what would appear to be a serious breach of the regulations that are supposed to protect our best interests, and we ask you to instigate an immediate investigation into the issues we have raised.
Derek Dishman
John Dix
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne
(Citizen Barnet has left the borough)

Monday 4 November 2013

Did Barnet pay £2 million for the new recycling bin lorries?

Barnet's Supplier payments for September are out. No large payments to Capita this month but having being paid over £30 million in the last couple of months I think they have had more than enough already.

Following a relatively modest billing £106,001.10 in July and £120,801.60 in August, Agilisys bounced back with a £292,640.83 in September. Given we now have Capita running Barnet I find it puzzling why we are still spending more than a quarter of a million pounds a month on consultants to implement One Barnet.

A couple of payments which did catch my eye are for just over £2 million pounds payable to Go Plant Ltd who supply refuse vehicles to the Council and are based at the Brittacy Hill depot at Mill Hill.. The payments are for "Equipment and Materials Purchase" and attributed to the Environment and Operations department. I am investigating this further but I wonder if this is to pay for the lovely new recycling bin lorries. If it is, it will take the total bill for the new recycling system to just under £6 million.

Barnet still paid over £1 million for temporary staff in September which seems shocking given we have Capita in place.

Sunday 3 November 2013

What does Capita's service delivery model in Barnet look like?

The Service Delivery Model sets out how Capita will deliver their services under the development and regulatory contract. This is what it looks like in the published contract.

Is this openness and transparency?

Thursday 31 October 2013

Barnet's spin on the meaning of Transparency

Today Barnet Council published the Development and Regulatory Services contract more than two months after I requested it under the Freedom of information Act. Whilst pleased that the council had published the contract the level of redaction is huge and to make matters worse they have scanned in the redacted document. This means that you cannot search the document electronically and it makes the file size colossal. In total the DRS contract files amount to 749 MB with 4 files over 100MB each. That makes them pretty inaccessible to people with slow or capped internet connections.

The council have provided me with 17 pages of reasons for the redactions - which gives you a sense of just how many redactions there are. You can download them here. Capita have also set out all the clauses they want redacted which are set out below. For example schedule 28 sets out how Capita would manage conflicts of interest something which surely we should be allowed to read. But no, Capita believe we shouldn't read this because:

"This schedule was developed by Capita to address a contract consideration and reflects a detailed approach within Capita to manage conflict of interest considerations.  This forms part of the Capita business systems and therefore was provided in confidence as part of the evaluation process, and should not therefore be disclosed." 

So it is confidential how they manage conflicts of interest because they wrote it. And what does Barnet do? They roll over and accept what Capita says. Read all of Capita's comments below and then ask whose interest this contract is in. It certainly is't the residents of Barnet.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Barnet residents - Who will really benefit from a change in the governance system?

Last night was the Constitution Ethics and Probity Committee a rather grandiose title for a navel gazing talking shop. One of the key agenda items was the proposed change to the governance system. "Cabinet bad committee good" seems to be the mantra but I am suspicious of their motives. The Council have proposed a new committee system which seems exceptionally complex and impenetrable. It will keep residents in the dark but maybe that is just the way that Councillors and officers like it. I spoke to the meeting but I got the impression that the decisions are made, the mindset fixed. There will be a public consultation meeting on 20th November 7pm at Hendon Town Hall so please try and get along if you can. If your voice isn't heard they will assume what they are doing has everyone's agreement. PLEASE NOTE. Yet again the council requires you to register in advance if you wish to attend this public meeting. Click on this link to register.
Set out below is my address to the committee:

"You set out on this review with four key principles in mind:
  •       Transparency;
  •          Accountability
  •          Inclusivity and engagement and
  •          Durability and flexibility

  You have before you a proposed structure with 18 committees, 6 subcommittees, 4 boards and a panel. That is a perfect recipe for obfuscation, deniability, exclusivity. I also suspect that with Barnet’s population rising to around 400,000 before this system can be changed again, it will also lack durability.

92% of citizen panel respondents have not attended any council meeting in the last 12 months and only 7% fully understand how the governance arrangements work. Shockingly 68% of respondents don’t even know who their councillor is. That suggests to me you have a major problem and from what I can see it is a problem you have either chosen to ignore or completely failed to recognise. The proposed structure will simply make the governance landscape even more confusing and inaccessible to the public. Based on the feedback I have received the council is body that imposes and dictates to residents not something which is there to listen and respond to residents. But I believe there is an alternative.

You have developed a system where committees are differentiated by function but it appears  that no consideration has been given to differentiation by location. What I mean by that is bringing the committee system closer to the people who it is there to represent and creating a structure that actively encourages engagement between councillors and the electorate. For example you could have developed a structure where a very limited number of strategic or statutory matters are considered at an authority level with as many other matters as possible dealt with at a local level, either groups of wards or along parliamentary constituency boundaries. Local decisions could be dealt with at a local level including planning and licensing with local councillors getting much more involved. By making issues more relevant for local people at a local level that should encourage increased engagement. Budgets could be devolved giving a much greater financial incentive for local people to get  involved with the way their council is run.  It would certainly make local councillors much more accountable. The views and recommendations from each local committee could then be integrated back into the council to give a strategic view and assist in clear decision making. That integration could be in the proposed Policy and Resources committee or some other strategic committee run by representatives of the local committees.

I know that this is the first stage in the process and that further consultation will take place but you are not giving people a real choice because you haven’t identified the all the options and therefore any views will be formulated within a framework that has already been set by you.

Ultimately the question is what is the change in governance system really for? Is it to make the system more efficient. Probably not because for all its failings the cabinet system is efficient. Is it to give every councillor a job, probably because with so many committees, sub committees, panels and boards I’m sure every one of the 63 councillors will have a committee role. Will it make the council more transparent or encourage engagement – definitely not.

As the saying goes plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, and that is what you are presenting us with tonight, change without really changing anything. Please consider a much more local structure as one of the options".