Thursday 28 February 2013

One Barnet Bill Rises Inexorably

Barnet Council's supplier payments  reveals that the cost for One Barnet advice in January 2013  was £456,131.45 or around £22,800 every working day of the month.
Agilisys, the Council's One Barnet Implementation partner, billed £274,283.82. This brings their bill to date to £5.8 million - not bad for a contract that was due to cost 'circa' £2 million and still has 6 months to run. The Council's legal advisors, Trowers & Hamlins, billed £181,847.63 (this excludes charges for advice to the Housing Revenue Account).

Interestingly, if you were to search the supplier payments spreadsheet looking for One Barnet Programme payments, it would show costs are only £65,395.62 including £34,000 of Trowers & Hamlins fees and not a single penny of Agilisys payments. Transparency of One Barnet costs is poor and without that analysis how can the Council fully understand what it is actually costing them? Maybe they just don't want to know.

Friday 15 February 2013

Democracy in Barnet - prognosis poor

Back at the beginning of December when Cllr Richard Cornelius was telling us all not to worry and how the NSCSO contract would be fantastic for all, I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking to see a copy of the contract. As ever I thought I was being reasonable by asking:

"Please provide me with a copy of the contract between Barnet Council and Capita for the NSCSO project. If you cannot supply the complete contract in its entirety, please provided me with all those elements that are not strictly commercially sensitive and have already been disclosed  or about to be disclosed in the public reports and answers to questions considered at scrutiny or cabinet meetings".

I understood that certain elements may have been commercially sensitive but there must be large tracts of the contract which are not. I duly waited for a response and on 3 January 2013 I received a rather strange reply.

"I am writing to inform you that the information you request is not held by London Borough of Barnet. The contractual agreement for the provision of the New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO) has yet to be finalised and signed and therefore no final contract currently exists. The contract is expected to be signed between late January and March 2013. Following this, it is our intention to publish the contract on the council's website having redacted any elements considered to be commercially sensitive."

I have to say that I found the response quite bizzare. We all know that the contract does exist. We have even seen photos of the contract. Having made the recommendation to accept Capita's bid and commenced the Alcatel period the Council are not able to amend the contract, they are simply awaiting signature - subject to the Judicial Review. Unsurprisingly, I asked for an internal review as follows:

"I wish to request a review of my FOI request. I did not ask for the “final contract” merely the contract. A draft contract does exist, I have seen pictures of it and councillors have inspected it so I cannot see how you can say the information is not held".

Twenty working days came and went and I received notification that the Council would need more time to consider my request. Today, some two and a half months after I originally asked for a copy of the contract, I received the findings of my request for a review.

Internal Review
I have undertaken the internal review and the outcome of my review is as follows.
At the time of the response it was understood that the request was for a copy of the finalised NCSCO contract.  As this contract is not yet finalised the view was this information was not held.  This was a reasonable view  to take at that time  Having received the details of your Internal Review the exact nature and scope of your request has been clarified and we can accept that the original response was unintentionally erroneous. I apologise for this misunderstanding.  I confirm that the council does hold the information requested in that there is a draft contract in existence.
 However, the information is wholly exempt from disclosure.
In my recent email to you I stated that there would be a delay in responding to you as there was a need to undertake the public interest test in respect of an exemption.  At that time this was correct as the council were considering the exemption in section 43.  However, upon further consideration, the information requested is exempt by virtue of section 44(1) and section 21 of the Act.
Some information contained in the draft contract has already been made public and is readily accessible.  Therefore it is exempt under section 21 of the Act (information publically available).  The information can be obtained at and following the links to Committee papers and searching under Cabinet meetings.  This is a specific link
 The remaining information is exempt under section 44(1) of the Act.  This section states that information which is prohibited from disclosure under other legislation is exempt under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 44 is an absolute exemption, which means that there is no requirement to undertake a public interest test.
The legislation which prohibits disclosure is the Public Contracts Regulations 2006, Regulation 43.  This states:
(1)Subject to the provisions of these Regulations, a contracting authority shall not disclose information forwarded to it by an economic operator which the economic operator has reasonably designated as confidential.
(2) In this regulation, confidential information includes technical or trade secrets and the confidential aspects of tenders."
The information (the draft contract) was forwarded to Barnet by the economic operator, and it has been reasonably designated by them as confidential.  It is accepted that there must be legitimacy to the claim of confidentiality.  This is met.  The information was provided to the council in confidential circumstances, has the necessary quality of confidence and there is no overriding public interest under the law of confidence to negate the duty.
Advice and Assistance
The Council has a duty to provide advice and assistance to requesters, and the following is provided to you under this duty.
The council intends to publish the signed contract (having redacted any elements considered to be commercially sensitive) on the council's website which is anticipated to be later this year depending upon the outcome of the ongoing Judicial Review challenge. 

Now let's just examine what they have said in a bit more detail. First of all they say that some of the information is readily available. That is partly true there are one or two snippets of information disclosed in response to public questions at cabinet meetings. There are also summaries about the contractor's responses which have been provided to cabinet members. However, at no point do they provide specific contract clauses or even an index of the contract. This, in my opinion, does not in any form whatsoever replace a request to see a contract.

When  it comes to the claim that the information is wholly exempt under legislation I simply do not accept that every single word of the contract is exempt. The response states that the draft contract was forwarded to them by Capita, yet at the cabinet meeting where this was discussed a very nice chap from Trowers & Hamlins said he had written the contract. Capita may have submitted specific commercial elements which I have always accepted may be commercially sensitive but according to Trowers & Hamlins representative they drafted the contract not Capita and therefore the statement is incorrect.

What really undermines Barnet's position is that in one breath they say the whole contract is exempt and then follow this by saying they will publish a redacted version later in the year. In that case why can't they provide me with a redacted version now.

I'll tell you why, because they simple do not want residents to understand anything about this massive outsourcing contract before it is signed. Once it is signed we will be stuck with it for ten years without any option to question any of the clauses. If they persist with this and the DRS contract we will find that all of the Council services will be forever completed shrouded in secrecy. No ability to test what performance measures are in place, or even what the service specification is.

Barnet have failed to consult on this contract and they refused to allow any debate on the contract. A few people have decided that a massive multi billion pound corporation can take control of our borough and we must accept that without question and without any form of public scrutiny. Barnet  have no political mandate for this project and at every step they have sought to maintain complete secrecy. This not not what I understand as democracy.

Some people ask me why I bother to keep asking questions about the way the council is run. My view is that democracy is not fixed in stone, it adapts to its environment. In an environment of secrecy where no one questions what is being done in their name democracy becomes redefined as something inferior and inadequate and accepted as the norm. That is happening in Barnet and unless more people challenge what information we are entitled to see, democracy will continue to shrivel and eventually it will disappear.

Friday 8 February 2013

Is Barnet's data being held to ransom? - One of the risks of Outsourcing

In today's newsletter there is a very disturbing article relating to IT infrastructure provider 2e2who went into administration last week. The administrator has been demanding immediate payment from companies whose data is hosted by 2e2 or risk losing their data. 2e2 are the infrastructure provider for Barnet Council and I am gravely worried that some local residents' data may be affected. Given that Barnet are proposing to hand over all of the Council's data to Capita, hosted away from Barnet, surely Councillors should be learning from the current problems that outsourcing bring significant risks. As ever, in Barnet, political dogma trumps common sense. When will they learn?

I would also question who was monitoring this contract, and why were Barnet using a contractor in such serious financial difficulties. Why wasn't this flagged up earlier. Maybe it is because all the current senior management's focus is on outsourcing these types of services not making sure they are properly delivered.

The article is reproduced below:

"2e2, the datacentre service provider and systems integrator that went into administration in January, is asking its customers for nearly £1m in funding if they want uninterrupted services and access to their datacentre facilities.
The stricken datacentre company’s administrators have asked for a total estimated funding of £960,000. 

While administrators have asked 2e2's 20 enterprise-level users to pay most of the datacentre costs, smaller businesses are being asked to pay £4,000 plus VAT.
In a warning letter to customers, the administrators from FTI Consulting said: “In the event that you do not provide a commitment to pay by 5pm on Friday 8 February 2013, we may be unable to continue to provide services to you with immediate effect.”
The funding will be used to meet the costs of operating and maintaining the datacentre infrastructure and key IT professionals to ensure smooth migration of the data and systems, the administrators said.
If customers do not pay, “We will be unable to maintain the datacentre infrastructure and we will have no alternative, other than to cease all operations without any managed wind-down of those operations,” it warned.

"We will have no alternative" FTI Consulting
The administrators have also made 2e2's UK staff redundant and closed services such as flexible resourcing, business application services, unified communications and field support services.
When 2e2 went into administration, many customers wanted to gain access to their data immediately to migrate the data and applications to another service provider.
“The levels of data held in the companies’ datacentres are such that this process could take up to 16 weeks and we will need to ensure that the integrity of third-party data and security is maintained,” the administrators wrote.
They calculated the £960k funding to cover employee costs, utilities, carriers, rent, rates, administration and other central expenses, including legal costs and administrators’ fees."

Guest Blog - 'Scepticism and Opposition' to One Barnet In a Tory Heartland

Mr Reasonable is happy to replicate a guest blog from Barbara Jacobson of BAPS on the presentation of One Barnet at the recent HGS Residents Association meeting. This bear out my experience, that when informed of the details of One Barnet outsourcing, people with an ounce of common sense, from whatever political persuasion, see it as a recipe for disaster.

Meeting of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association
The advertisement for Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association open meeting on 5 February reads  ‘OneBarnet’,  ‘Deputy Leader to speak: outsourcing explained’ , ‘An opportunity to learn what is being outsourced and why recycling is being brought in-house’,  ‘Cllr Daniel Thomas, a Suburb resident and Barnet deputy leader, will speak’ ; we might have added ‘at long last’.  For more than two years Cllr Thomas has been one of the two Cabinet members leading the One Barnet Programme, pushing it ahead without consulting or informing the residents, and refusing to listen to the more than 8000 who have been informed by BAPS and have signed the petition for a referendum.

Elsewhere it was said that the meeting would be ‘factual, not political’. Another aspiration not achieved. At the meeting Cllr Thomas declared that he is a politician and wants to be re-elected, so perhaps it was with the election of 2014 in mind that he accepted the invitation to appear before this small gathering of his neighbours (about 40 residents of the Suburb and 10 residents from other parts of the borough) in the hope and expectation that they would approve of his version of the OBP. It was not to be.

 Cllr Thomas started confidently, extolling the excellence of Barnet’s public services – the third most efficient in London’, with one of the ‘most low-cost back-office’ operations – yet stating the need to save money because of the cuts in central government funding. That might have been deemed to be factual, but the explanation of ‘transforming the council’, of a ‘new relationship with citizens’, that Barnet was moving to a commissioning model, and the way in which the savings would be made – privatization – was purely political.

He explained that the next wave of outsourcing, the DRS, would be a joint venture (JV), that it was a ‘new concept to put these services out’, and would give the council more control –not, presumably, more control than full ownership, only more control than complete privatization. The JV would also provide scope for the council to make money, as other councils would come to Barnet to do their planning work. Current staff were not trained to be commercial, so are being replaced with people who are. He admitted that work on the JV was and would remain on hold until after the judicial review of the NSCSO contract.

He repeated the well-rehearsed lines: how much adult and children’s services cost, how much the Capita contract would save, what a small proportion of the budget the NSCSO is, that risks were mitigated by a parent-company guarantee, that the contracts would be monitored and could be benchmarked if necessary, that without these measures council tax would have to be increased by 38 per cent – again failing to say ‘over ten years’. He said bringing recycling back in-house was proof that the Cabinet was not ideologically driven. But, contradicting himself again, he said that the One Barnet Programme was a [central] government pilot. He and Cllr Andrew Harper, in attendance as the HGS ward councillor, seemed surprised to be met with nothing but scepticism and opposition.

The newly informed residents questioned the validity of the monitoring system, the risks of and lack of competition inherent in a 10-year contract, the probability of failure, the way the ‘customer services’ would work, whether procurement was being outsourced (the councilor had neglected to itemize the services, just referring to them as ‘back office’), whether councilors should have lower allowances or were needed at all. These residents told the councillors that monitoring and KPIs allowed companies to ‘game the system’ – that is, assess their own performance as compliant even when it was not – and that no private supplier of public services had delivered the savings it promised. They countered Cllr Thomas’s claim that NSL was delivering on budget, and told him about the 60% parking-ticket-appeal success rate, which he and Cllr Harper said they would have to look into. The residents were not impressed by Cllr Thomas’s explanation that private companies made savings over what he had said were the very efficient Barnet services by paying their staff less and giving them fewer benefits but offering them better career opportunities. They exposed the inconsistency in his saying Capita had up-to-date software and systems for running Barnet affairs but somehow need to invest £13 million of Barnet money in IT, which Capita would then own. They did not accept that financial penalties for failures and the possibilities of renegotiating aspects of the contract after four years were sufficient safeguards, pointing out that the council would be tied up in legal arguments by Capita to counter any penalties.  They suggested it would have been better just to hire top managers from the private sector to run council services more efficiently than to contract out. Cllr Thomas’s explanations of why the council couldn’t run the public services as well as a private company sounded like he just thought the job was too difficult for him.

Cllr Harper said monitoring would also result from feedback by individual residents. He was asked how much impact those individual’s voices would have when the Cabinet ignored a petition signed by more than 8000 residents. Cllr Thomas trotted out his ‘that’s only 2 per cent’ of residents line, and the dismissive ‘people will sign opposing petitions’; does a politician really think he’s scoring points by suggesting that his electorate are so stupid? We countered that the 8000 was not a result of canvassing the entire borough, that BAPS was trying to get only 7000 signatures. We could have added, 8000 is a lot more than the 11 Cabinet members solely responsible for the OBP.

Cllr Harper’s other contribution was to say that the Tories had frozen council tax, a comment that was almost jeered.

In reply to a question about Capita’s appearance on the Barnet website, Cllr Thomas said that Capita had started working with the council after the decision in December to award the contract. There was no opportunity to ask whether the parties should have waited until signing the contract before this work began.

The foregoing is, of course, a summary, not a verbatim account (except where quotation marks are used), so comments are not attributed to individuals. There were no voices supporting Cllr Thomas’s presentation. While there’s no knowing what the silent minority thought,  on their way out, the residents were offered the Barnet Spring March leaflet, and I think only one declined it.

It is interesting that the Cllrs Thomas and Harper did not initiate this event, and that elsewhere in the borough Tory councilors have not appeared before their constituents to explain the OBP. After this showing, they will probably be even more reluctant to do so.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Friern Barnet Library - "This is what community looks like"

Yesterday was a triumph for community over Council. With the help of the occupiers, the community have been enabled to put their plans into action and take over the wonderful Friern Barnet Library. There was a great sense of warmth and community spirit that so much has been achieved in spite of the Council. There was a very moving poem and some passionate speeches. Set out below are some photos of the event. However, we must not forget that qualified and experienced librarians are being made redundant in Barnet. Libraries are still under threat!
Friern Barnet Library T Shirt

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Cllr Barry Rawlings
Add caption

Keith Martin
Any ideas for a caption?

Bookworm cake
Handing over the keys
Phoenix being interviewed by ITV

A brace of bloggers