Wednesday 17 February 2016

Contract Variations - The One Barnet moneyspinner predicted by by so many including a Tory Councillor

Back in 2012 I remember attending a critical meeting in the run up to the decision to award the CSG contract to Capita. What was so memorable was how Cllr Hugh Rayner actually vocalised what everyone was thinking - when you have a contract how do you avoid being ripped off by the supplier with contract variations.

"I let out contracts myself to various customers and what I learnt in the contract is the word change or variance, because I know they are tied into me for the contract and this where I make all my profit and make up for the low price at the beginning"

A response was given saying we have to be robust.... blah blah blah, yet everyone at the time knew that this is exactly what was going to happen.

Thanks to the Barnet Bugle who recorded the meeting and this particular statement from Cllr Rayner

Since the start of the contract there have been a number of variations but buried in the papers of the latest Performance and Contract Monitoring committee there is a schedule of the contract variations to date. The report notes that nine contract variations were approved during the quarter. Six have a financial impact accounting for an increased cost of £1,933,025. 

But look a bit closer in a separate appendix  (p69) and that is a net figure offset by some savings. One of the largest contract variations  was as follows:

Contractual third party contracts true up in line with clause 7 of the contract and update Schedule 24 with final list of suppliers and the charges paid Financial impact of the life of the contract £9.7 million

Well that's fine you may say they are making savings as well but actually some of these are savings linked to fewer staff having to be made redundant at the time of handover because so many had already left the council and from reduced pension contributions. Indeed the largest offset was an amendment to schedule 1 and 4 to reflect the return of the Repairs and Maintenance budget for the Civic Estate to the Council in line with all other managed budgets which amounted to £6.5 million.

You may recall but back in 2014 I drew attention to one such contract variation to do with calls for libraries being directed to the Coventry call centre instead of direct to the libraries at a cost of £453,000 for the first two years of the contract. I estimated that this worked out at just over £8 per call which seems pretty expensive to me especially as so many of the calls were unresolved.

The rights and wrong of the various contract amendments is almost irrelevant. The key issue is that this contract is proving more expensive than originally envisaged because of contract variations and that extra money we now have to pay could have funded other services such as the meals on wheels or reduced the cuts to the library service. As I keep saying "Show me the savings"

Thursday 11 February 2016

Guest Blog - Barnet's Sham Consultation on Parks and Open Spaces

Mr Reasonable was sent this information from a concerned resident in Barnet who feels that the Parks and Open Spaces consultation is a sham. Having heard about their experience I can only agree.

Guest Blog
I attended the Finchley & Golders Green residents' forum and picked up a leaflet "Your environment, your views" which is about the Consultation on our parks and open spaces. At the bottom of this leaflet it has "For a paper copy of the questionnaire, please call 020 8359 4642". 

I phoned the above number. The person who answered said they were Regeneration. I checked that I had phoned the above number (it is displayed on my phone and I had) and also told him what number I had phoned. My understanding is that this number has been automatically redirected. He said it was nothing to do with them and I was put back to the switchboard who then put me through to Street Scene. The woman who answered knew nothing about the consultation and kept asking me if it was a survey, to which I replied it was not, but a consultation. She said it was all dealt with by the "back office" and when I kept asking where the "back office" was she said at NLBP. I asked if there was somewhere in Barnet or Finchley I could pick up a copy. I was put on hold and when she returned she said I could send an email to I said that would require a computer - what about the people who do not have access to a computer to which there was no acceptable reply. She then asked if there was anything else she could help me with! She said I would be automatically directed to a satisfaction survey (I think that was what it was) but the phone just continued going 'beep, beep, beep,....(was that because I was obviously not satisfied?) All this took 19 min 34 sec with no chance of my getting a paper copy of the consultation.

I find the on-line questionnaire procedure very negative. Before I begin to fill in a questionnaire I like to know what all the questions are but with the on-line questionnaire this is not possible as you cannot move to the next screen until information is put into the required fields. Additionally, in many cases the information put into each individual field cannot be displayed on the screen at the same time because only about 2 1/2 lines are and you have to use the scroll bar to see other lines but again only about 2 1/2 lines at a time . Also I would like my own copy of my responses. Additionally, I would like to be able to review the completed questionnaire with my responses so I can amend them before I submit it but Barnet Council questionnaires do not have this facility.

Is it too much to expect that the phone number I rang from the flyer would have someone who could have taken my address and posted a paper copy of the questionnaire to me - taking about 2 minutes of mine and their time? 

Why is there not an option to download a copy of the paper questionnaire so people could then either write in their replies and post it back or be able to draft their replies and then input them into the on-line questionnaire. I believe this should be available for all consultations and would require little effort by the "back office". (There could be two options - one environmentally friendly / screen user friendly option listing all the questions with no spaces for replies and another with blank spaces for replies) Even this option would make this questionnaire available to more residents. There might be some in a household who are okay to use a computer and do the on-line survey and others who are not and having someone else print a paper copy for them would allow them to complete the consultation too. If they do not have their own computer, it should be possible to go to their local library, if they continue to exist, and have a librarian print one off for them.

I like to have time to think about my responses and perhaps amend them later. This is not the same as saving part of the on-line questionnaire for later as you cannot even use 'Print Screen' to get a printout because of only 2 1/2 lines displayed in many instances - the easiest way is to copy and paste each reply into a word file, print it out with blank spaces so you can write the questions in later or if there is lots of info to copy and paste these too. Hence my much greater preference for a paper copy than the present on-line survey.

Is it possible to reply to a consultation by writing a letter or an email? I have wondered if this is okay or not but cannot find any information one way or the other. Sometimes there are other things that you want to add that do not come under any of the questions but would be under the umbrella of the consultation. Or you just want to write prose and not be restricted by questions requiring certain responses. If this is also an option it should be clearly stated on the consultation web page - if it is not, it should clearly state that only on-line questionnaire responses will be accepted.. 

On the council website under the agenda for the Finchley & Golders Green Residents Forum there is Appendix 1 - Draft Parks and Open Spaces Consultation (link below). Any councillors who have read this will be under the impression that the consultation is more readily available than it actually is.

At the bottom of this page is this statement:
I note that this is also an appendix to the Hendon Residents' Forum but not the Chipping Barnet forum in January.

On 22nd Jan I went to North Finchley Library and asked for a copy but they knew nothing about it. I was able to direct them to the engage Barnet website so they could see what I was asking about but there was nothing on there about copies being available from the library. 

This consultation is about parks and open spaces. Many people who use parks and open spaces would have no idea that this consultation is running. A couple of months ago the laminated notices "Your Park - Keep It Green" with a photo of volunteers working in a park settling was placed at most of the entrances to my local park, Victoria Park. Why has something similar not been placed at the park's entrances regarding this consultation? 

We all know that these consultations are just window dressing - Barnet Council will sell them or use them for other uses than a park or open space. But if more people know about and have greater access to the consultation there will be a greater response.

Kind regards,

Concerned Resident 

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Dinner at the Haven

As I mentioned in my previous blog there was a payment of £1,552.11 in the December supplier payments which was for "Equipment and Material Purchases" by the Assurance Department. Yesterday I received the  response  to my FOI request to understand what this payment was for. It turns out this was for  a Town Twinning Dinner at Haven Bar & Bistro, Whetstone with a delegation from the Council’s Twin Town of Morphou, Cyprus. Expenditure was from the Town Twinning Budget and payment was authorised by the Mayor’s Secretary. This dinner formed part of a schedule of events with the Morphou Delegation.

My main concern is that it was labelled as ''Equipment and Material Purchases" as I think that is misleading to say the least but the question does arise should we have spent this money at all. Some may say it is a relatively trifling amount and is something we should do to maintain friendships with Morphou. Others might say that at a time when we are cutting meals on wheels adult social care and children's services this is a rather inappropriate payment and maybe it should be sponsored by a local company or supplier to the council. 

Whatever your view at least we all know what it cost and it looks like they all had a jolly time - the bill is below: