Friday 31 May 2013

Another Month Another Massive Consultant's Bill for Barnet

Barnet's supplier payments for April are out after having to look for them buried away under last financial year's figures. The usual suspect are present; Agilisys billed £230,822.34 which brings their running total to £6.55 million. Trowers & Hamlins put in a comparatively modest bill of £60,977.09.

The Barnet Group which includes both Barnet Homes and Your Choice Barnet received just a shade under £7 million but interestingly there was a bill for consultant's fees of £928,003.42 - I will be investigating further.

One unusual recipient of £3,400 in April was The Claddagh Ring - I assume that to be the Pub just down the road from Hendon Town Hall used for a training venue. It seems like quite a significant payment to me.

Another recipient was the Crown Moran Hotel, a very nice venue on Cricklewood Broadway which was paid £3,666.50 for venue hire. I wonder what that was for and was it really necessary to hold it in such an expensive venue.

There was a payment for £54,167 to Parkeon Limited who supply parking meters - I suspect that was for the new credit card parking payment machines which have been introduced and which I used just the other day. It is just a shame that they ripped out perfectly good payment machines in the first place.

Harvest Energy win the prize for the most diverse range of payment headings. They were paid £153,941.39 for services which included: Agency staff, gas, training, equipment and materials, building repairs, printing and software. That will need a bit more digging!

Thursday 30 May 2013

Your Choice Barnet Board Meeting - Is bankrupcy Inevitable?

Last night I attended the Your Choice Barnet (YCB) Board Meeting and came away with a very real fear that this is an organisation in terminal decline.

It was a rather restrained and stage managed affair, which never really got down to the big issues which will impact the future survival of this organisation. YCB are currently proposing cuts to staffing, reduction in staffing skills and have already made massive increases to some charges to meet the financial shortfall they face this year. Barnet Council have up until now paid YCB through a block grant, guaranteeing a revenue stream to fund services. However, as from the start of this financial year in April Barnet Council have been paying on for services actually taken. Now while this may sound fair, it shifts all the risks of non attendance and providing a comprehensive and seemless service onto YCB.

Last night we saw details of which elements of the service are operating at a profit or a loss and the scale of the losses in some services are quite shocking.The biggest problem appears to be the Supported Living which made a loss of £513,042 last year. According to YCB's website supported living:

"Helps people with learning disabilities to live as independently as possible in their own home.
By offering service users support in all areas of living, we help them to enjoy life to the full, both at home and out and about. We encourage people to develop and maintain purposeful and meaningful skills.
It is important to us that people are secure and happy. That's why we ensure people live in neighbourhoods that they like and that meet their needs. We offer 24-hour support where needed."

Valley Way Respite Service also made a loss of  £195,209 and based on the discussions last night this seems to be because the facility is fully booked at weekends but under occupied during the week.

What also came out last night is that YCB are providing services which the Council are not funding. One of these included escort services on coaches, something which I would have thought was essential for the safety and well being for everyone on the coaches.

With the shift this year to payment only for services provided the situation looks incredibly difficult. In a SWOT analysis of the business going forward some of the threats include:
  • More spending cuts to come in 2013/14;
  • Competition in care and support market increasingly fierce - driving down prices;
  • Low morale of staff following on from restructure;
  • Care managers not referring people to YC services seen as too expensive and /or not offering choice; and
  • Continuing local pressure for YCB to back in house and impact on staff/relatives/carers.
 The budget monitoring report has a very serious conclusion when it says:

"YCB is currently a loss making organisation and to ensure its viability in the long term it needs to embark on a cost cutting programme so as to increase financial security. The company has received a £1 million loan to ease its liquidity issues however, it is imperative that if costs are not reduced and income streams not increased, there is a risk of further liquidity crisis in the future. The main source of income for the company is from the Council and as it is now based on usage, there are income and liquidity implications if the company does not work towards increasing centres usage by clients. This risk is greater because the company's costs are largely fixed."

This should have massive alarm bells ringing at Barnet Council but I get the impression that actually they just don't care. Last night one of the board members asked if someone from Barnet Council could attend the next board meeting to give an indication of how much budget they had. I felt like shouting out "Why the hell aren't they here now", but I know the answer already. Barnet Council have very neatly shifted all responsibility for adult social care to someone else and washed their hands of the problems that will arise.

YCB see taking the service back in house as a threat - I see it as an inevitable conclusion and the sooner it happens the better. Prolonging the financial misery will inevitably impact on service users carers/relatives and the care staff all of whom will suffer from cuts in services, pay rates.

At the end of the meeting last night carers, relatives and services users wanted to express their views but the curtain came down on this tragedy and the actors flounced out. This is  a situation which needs to be addressed now, today, and unless it is the most vulnerable in our society will pay the price.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Your Choice Barnet - 66% price hike for the most vulnerable.

Your Choice Barnet was set up as a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) to provide adult social care for some of the most vulnerable people residents in Barnet. The purpose of the "arms length" organisation is to separate out the delivery of services from the funding of services. In so doing it has very neatly allowed Barnet Council to wash its hands regarding the provision of care services and to find a very underhand way to cut social care budgets.

John Sullivan wrote on Friday that a friend of his had seen their monthly charges from Your Choice Barnet (YCB) rise from £672/month to £1,120/month since April -  a 66.6% increase. This is not because the person was having more service or because wage costs have risen 66.6% but because the business plan that was written when YCB was being suggested was fundamentally flawed. They assumed at the time that they would be generating income from lots of new customers something which anyone with an ounce of common sense would have challenged as high implausible. Indeed Barnet Unison analysed the report in detail and found serious shortcomings which undermined the credibility of the entire scheme. But as ever in Barnet, a few political dogmatists ignored the obvious and pressed ahead with YCB.

Two years on and the entire scheme is falling apart. Staff are being made redundant meaning worse care will be given to service users, and charges are rocketing. And very neatly Barnet Council are standing on the sidelines saying "Not us Guv. Take it up with YCB". Well on Wednesday evening it is every residents opportunity to show your disgust with YCB as there is a lobby organised of their quarterly board meeting.

Wednesday 29 May, Committee Room 2, 1st Floor, Barnet House. The meeting starts at 6.00pm so get there at 5.30pm to make sure you get a seat.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

New Recycling Bins a £3.7million mess

A few years ago Barnet introduced new blue boxes for recycled cardboard and plastic bottles. These were the really effective boxes that did not have a lid just a net which let the rain in and made the cardboard go soggy.  Well Barnet are moving to a new system in October called co mingled waste. The rationale behind this is that people will be more inclined to recycle waste if they can chuck it all into one bin and someone else does the sorting. The jury is out on this and I have read a number of studies which suggest that contaminated waste from just one bin can ruin the contents of an entire recycling lorry meaning it all has to go off to landfill.

Anyway, in order for us all to carry out this recycling Barnet Council are going to have to buy new blue recycling bins, not like the old boxes but the same size as a standard wheely bin. This was explained to those brave souls who went to the Chipping Barnet residents forum back in January. The cost of buying these 125,000 blue bins is £3,251,840 and is detailed in a delegated powers report which you can read here. This is in addition to the £440,510 that Barnet is spending on new food bins and food caddies (I don't know why we can keep putting the food waste peeling etc into the green bins as we do now?) which you can read about here.

Now when it comes to the blue bins, the winning bid was actually £399,784 MORE expensive than the lowest bid but the formula they use (and which I think is a pile of unrecycled rubbish) means that the difference in cost scores between the two bids is only 3.74. However, on the "technical features" of the bin, whatever they may be, count for a difference of 10 points between the highest and lowest bids. Now just to be clear the technical features do not affect the guarantee on the bin, both score the full marks. By using this bonkers scoring system it means that a bin which will cost rate payers another £400,000 wins because it has superior "technical features". It a bin for goodness sake!

Yet again we see a waste of money by someone following a bonkers procurement system that guarantees we end up always paying over the odds. Come on Richard Cornelius. You keep saying what a problem procurement is. Tell me why you are wasting an extra £400k on bins with superior technical features instead of saving money.

One Barnet DRS Contract - A huge over dependence on new business

Looking back at the original DRS business case as published in March 2011, the rationale for undertaking this outsourcing programme was to save costs. Two years on and we now have the bid from Capita. On the face of it it looks amazing. Capita will save the council £39.1 million over the 10 years of the contract but when you look in more detail it is clear that 86% of those savings are actually generated through increased revenues not cutting costs.

That means that Capita will have to go and sell services provided by council staff to other local authorities like Harrow, Brent and Enfield. Now this is something we have seen before especially in the SouthWest One contract. In that case the additional sales never materialised and the joint venture contract ended up in very expensive litigation. The additional workload is huge to generate this extra revenue yet the overall numbers of staff remain the same. We already know that there are not enough planning staff and that is why we have had to subcontract out the planning requirement for the Brent Cross development so how on earth are they going to deal with this huge increase in forecast workload. Staffing levels in Planning, Environmental Health, Building Control and Regeneration are all going to be cut.

It also means that Barnet residents will end  up paying more, especially for services like burials and cremations and a share of that increased charge will go back to Capita.  In the business case report that you can read here, they talk about generating additional income from "Pre-purchased graves, extended opening hours and additional cremation activities". Interestingly, the number of Cemetery and Crematorium staff are scheduled to increase by 80%. Given that it costs £8,447 for a non LBB resident to be buried in Barnet (almost double the cost of a Barnet resident), I am not sure how many additional burials they are going to generate. They may wish to generate a lot more out of borough cremations but that will mean that local residents will have to wait longer for their loved ones to be cremated unless they choose an early morning or late night slot which personally I find utterly disrespectful and unacceptable.

Set out below is a comparison of what was in the original business case and what we have been presented with now. What I want to know is how come the original business case was so wrong and just how risky is it to be dependent on so much additional growth in selling services to other local authorities. But we will never know because we are not allowed to know any of the real details and, as Lord Justice Underhill was so clear in saying, we were never consulted about this contract.

DRS Business Case  28 March 2011
Capita Tender
Change since original Business Case
Cost Reductions
-£14.4 m
Revenue Growth
Total  Savings

 This looks incredibly risky but you can be guaranteed that our councillors will simply accept what they are told by council officers and the highly paid anonymous consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER because that's all they ever do. If the Council are so confident in the figures then be open and transparent and let us have a detailed investigation, let us undertake a proper sensitivity analysis (not the feeble attempt shown in the business case report) to see what happens if these additional sales fail to materialise. Will that happen? Not in Barnet where democracy has been outsourced.

Monday 20 May 2013

One Barnet DRS Contract - Another Disastrous Decision

Today, Barnet Council have announced they have selected Capita as the winner of the Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) contract. This is the second large contract to be awarded to Capita and now gives them control over most of what the Council actually delivers. Just for those of you who are still unaware of what this contract includes it is the following (as set out in the original tender notice):

"Services furnished by business, professional and specialist organisations. Land management services.Architectural, engineering and planning services. Technical planning services. Urban planning and landscape architectural services. Architectural services for buildings. Miscellaneous building structures. Housing services. Development of residential real estate. Feasibility study, advisory service, analysis. Project and design preparation, estimation of costs. Draft plans (systems and integration). Calculation of costs, monitoring of costs. Approval plans, working drawings and specifications. Determining and listing of quantities in construction. Supervision of building work. Supervision of project and documentation. Architectural, engineering and surveying services. Architectural and building-surveying services. Construction management services. Funeral and related services. Funeral services. Cemetery services and cremation services. Cemetery services.Cemetery maintenance services. Cremation services. Work environment services. Civic-amenity services. Car park management services. Civic betterment and community facility support services. Facility related sanitation services. Disinfecting and exterminating services. Pest-control services. Rat-disinfestation services. Fumigation services. Services related to noise pollution. Noise control services. Noise pollution protection services. Noise pollution monitoring services. Noise pollution advisory services. Environmental institution building or planning.Environmental issues consultancy services. Environmental planning. Urban environmental development planning. Environmental services. Environmental management. Environmental impact assessment other than for construction. Risk or hazard assessment other than for construction. Environmental standards other than for construction. Environmental indicators analysis other than for construction. Environmental Impact Assessment EIA services other than for construction. Environmental monitoring other than for construction. Highways engineering services. Highways consultancy services. Administrative housing services. General public services.Administration services. Engineering design services for the construction of civil engineering works. Quantity surveying services for civil engineering works. Health and safety services. Health and safety consultancy services. Advisory and consultative engineering services. Building services. Building-fabric consultancy services. Building consultancy services. Building services consultancy services. Building surveying services.Building-inspection services. Infrastructure works consultancy services. Structural engineering consultancy services. Environmental engineering consultancy services. Noise-control consultancy services. Environmental impact assessment for construction. Risk or hazard assessment for construction. Environmental standards for construction. Environmental indicators analysis for construction. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) services for construction. Environmental monitoring for construction. Commissioning of public lighting installations. Structures and parts of structures. Structures and parts. Miscellaneous structures. Parts of structures. Road traffic-control equipment. Traffic control services. Traffic monitoring services. Records management. Road transport services. Public road transport services. Support services for land transport. The London Borough of Barnet is looking for a Strategic Partner (SP), single bidder or consortium, to transform the delivery of its Development and Regulatory Services. The London Borough of Barnet wishes to work with the SP to provide a joined-up environmental regulation, design and management function that will develop and maintain the quality of the built environment and help to ensure the health and well being of our citizens. The services in scope are as follows: Strategic Services:
— Regeneration,
— Strategic planning and housing strategy,
— Highways transport and regeneration,
— Highways strategy operational services:
—— Building control and structures,
—— Planning development management,
—— Land charges,
— Highways network management,
— Highways traffic and development public health, consumer and regulatory services,
— Environmental health,

— Trading standards & licensing,
— Cemetery & crematorium".

(The registration and nationality services were originally included but have subsequently been excluded from the contract)

The services will be run as a joint venture - but we forbidden from knowing what that means or how it is structured and the contract will run for 10 years. We have been told it will save £3.9 million a year and that staffing will be kept at "broadly the current level" whatever that means. However everything associated with this contract is shrouded in secrecy because it is "commercially sensitive".

The residents of Barnet were never consulted on this matter (Justice Underhill says so) and we are unlikely to ever know the details. Ten people have now awarded two contracts worth around £500 million with the potential for significantly more and we, as residents, have no say.

And were these services terrible when the outsourcing was first envisaged. No, actually they were highly rated and efficient but that is no what this process is all about. It is about political dogma. George Osborne will be able to claim a whole load more private sector jobs have been created because every job outsourced to the private sector is claimed as a new private sector job forgetting that it is a job lost in the public sector. Now you will know next time the Conservatives claim they have created a million new private sector jobs exactly where they came from.

What gets to me most of all is the calibre of the politicians making these decisions, or as Brian Coleman put it "Young boys who are keen but don’t have the time because they are busy building their careers or relationships, or sad old pensioners who just won’t go away". All the analysis has been left to faceless consultants whose names we are not allowed to know, who have no connection with the borough and who won't be around when it all goes wrong.

This is not democracy and it is wrong.

Friday 17 May 2013

Consultation Complacency in Barnet

Barnet Council have a very expensive website bolt on called Consultation Hub which is run by a company called Delib. On the website there are a number of consultations including one for the Council's Street Trading Policy. Because of the way I am, I like to read documents upon which my opinion is being canvassed - how else can someone give their opinion? Well three weeks ago I wanted to read the draft street trading policy so clicked on the link and low and behold I was presented with the Council's draft policy on film classification. Being the polite public minded citizen I emailed the address on the website to inform them of the faulty link and asking for them to rectify the fault. No acknowledgement or response to my email. This Tuesday, more than two weeks after the first email, I tried again and the link was still wrong so I emailed again. Again, no acknowledgement or response. Yesterday morning I looked again and still the wrong link is in place so I rang them and spoke to a lady who said she would "inform a manager". This evening it is still giving a link to the film classification policy instead of street trading.

To be honest I know not many people care what will become the council's street trading policy but if the council are going to consult then please do it properly.

If three separate contacts with the council can't get them to link it to the right document then frankly that suggests that the council don't give a sh*t about what people think - which probably is the case.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Your Chance to Inspect Barnet's Accounts

Once a year Barnet residents get a chance to inspect the Council's accounts. Now I would suggest people don't get their hopes up too much. Last year the Council placed as many obstacles as possible in the way of a few residents carrying out their legal right to inspect how Barnet spends OUR money. Notice has been published today in the Barnet Press that residents can inspect the accounts between Monday 3 June and Friday 28 June. You cannot just turn up, you have to book an appointment and I suggest you send details of what you want to inspect in advance. To book your appointment you have to send your request to the following email address: I am sure you may see some of the Barnet Bloggers in attendance. You will also be able to ask questions of the external auditor Paul Hughes of Grant Thornton on Monday 1st July. Again you have to book an appointment in advance with Mr Hughes. His email address is

Please see the details of what you can ask and how on the Council's website.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Sandbanks Hotel time again - £17,000 for a conference

Oh dear. It comes around every year. The time when the poor old head teachers of Barnet need to get away and do their professional development by the seaside. Barnet have just signed off authorisation for the annual conference at the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole, in October here. Barnet Council says that the £17,000 cost of this residential conference is funded by the schools who pay for places but frankly, given the cuts that are being made currently and the news today that Danegrove School is struggling to raise money to pay for essential play equipment, it does seem rather profligate. Lots of private business stopped resident conferences years ago, hosting these types of events closer to home and avoiding the cost of overnight accommodation. There are plenty of venues in North London with day delegate rates of around £50-£55 per person and that would be keeping money in the local economy. In a time of austerity is it right to spend so much on a conference? I don't think so.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Mr Cornelius, where is your moral compass?

Set out below is an open letter to Richard Cornelius. Why is it that, yet again in Barnet, it is members of the public who have to set the moral compass for those in leadership positions. Failing to act swiftly tells us a great deal about the people who are supposed to run Barnet on our behalf.

Dear Mr Cornelius

On Friday 3 May Councillor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to the charge of common assault by beating of Helen Michael, in the High Road in North Finchley. Evidence from CCTV was shown in court and proved incontrovertibly that this incident was nothing less than an utterly indefensible act of aggression. It resulted from Councillor Coleman being caught parking in a loading bay, trying to evade the hugely controversial parking payment scheme he had imposed on residents in this borough.

Despite the fact that he has now been convicted of a criminal act of assault, Barnet Council has refused to comment, absurdly claiming that this is unnecessary as the attack did not take place while the Councillor was on council business.

Indeed local Tory members, including leader Richard Cornelius, openly continued to support their fellow member after he was charged, and were privately informing others that the story of the assault was false. Councillor Coleman was suspended from the party only after intervention from Conservative Central Office. Since the conviction, local Conservatives have issued no statement.

By his own actions Councillor Coleman has shown himself to be unfit for public office: such bullying behaviour, dishonesty and hypocrisy are not acceptable in an elected representative of the community. We demand therefore that he stand down from his seat in Totteridge, and that the Conservative Party expel him from membership.

We call on Richard Cornelius, as leader of Barnet Council, and on behalf of the Conservative Party in this borough, to apologise to Ms Michael, and to dissociate himself and his colleagues from this appalling incident. To remain silent is not an option: to remain silent is to condone an act of violence against a woman, and this was and must always be absolutely unacceptable.


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Judicial Review - Maria Nash is granted legal aid for her appeal

Great news today is that Maria Nash has been granted legal aid to fund her appeal of the Judicial Review. If this were a frivolous case it would never have got out of the starting blocks but clearly legal aid have seen the merits of this case and the judgement as a good enough reason not only to fund the case itself but now to fund the appeal.

On Monday Richard Cornelius asked Maria Nash not to appeal the decision. Maybe that's because there is a good chance the ruling will be overturned. Time will tell.