Saturday, 15 September 2018

Politicising the Environment - A step too far in Barmet

Why save £900,000 a year when you could save £300,000. Ah well that's the politics of Barnet.
On Thursday night Barnet agreed to 'suspend' food waste collections for an indefinite period while they look at how they can meet the 2020 recycling targets. Of course this was just a wheeze so that they can say they haven't scrapped the food waste collection service, but it fools no one.

I have blogged about this back in June and last week when I submitted questions to the committee.  In the supporting papers they said that stopping the food waste collection would save £543,448. This was then revised down in the summary because I have consistently challenged the assumptions they used in calculating the cost of disposing via anaerobic digestion versus incineration. So they are now saying it will save £300,000 a year. Quite a lot, but I looked at the costs and found that £130,000 is spent on collecting food waste from properties with restricted access. If they have to make a saving then focus on the exceptional costs rather than removing the service from everyone. I also had discussions with the anaerobic digestion company. Together we identified a further £68,000 of costs that could be stripped out almost immediately. So that brings the cost down from £300,000 a year to £102,000. If Barnet could boost food recycling rates there would be a very real chance of the service breaking even. I put forward all these arguments but a political decision has been made and logic and common sense is ignored.

Cllr Zinkn got quite angry with me at one stage and suggested that I hadn't read the papers when I suggested their supporting evidence for the environmental benefits of incinerating food waste was poor. One of the reports was a metadata study or one that collates the evidence from a number of  research studies. To me, saying I don't read the papers is the worse insult of all because the one thing I always do is read the evidence. In my questions I had drawn attention to the fact that, yes, it was a metadata study but it was carried out in 2004 and published in 2005. As a result all of the evidence would have come from studies carried out before 2005 and possibly some from the last millennium. As I pointed out in one of my questions, in 2005 the anaerobic digestion industry in the UK was almost entire dominated by digestion of sewage sludge. There were just 2 digesters operating that were for non sewage sludge. In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs. It is a completely different industry today with technology that has moved on dramatically since 2005. Sewage sludge also has very different properties to household food waste.

It is a bit like using a metadata study on the smartphone industry in 2005, before the iphone was invented, on which to base decisions on smartphone usage in 2018. (The Motorola Razr V3 was apparently the bee's knees in 2005).

There are a number of studies which show the environmental benefit of  AD and it is generally recognised as being preferential to incineration. I have set out just one below but it is also important to understand that DEFRA (page 10) also  ranks AD above composting and incineration.

 The senior officer also made some statements about the gate fees (the costs charged for waste disposal) and the sustainability of the anaerobic digestion charges. I had checked with WRAP  who carry out an annual gate fee survey and they seem to bear no similarity to the figures quoted by the officer. I spoke with the AD operator who said they make their money from electricity generation. Wholesale electricity prices are rising and with the uncertain future of the nuclear power industry and the growth in demand for electric cars, the future for wholesale electricity prices looks positive form their perspective. It is also important to bear in mind that the digestate (residue left over at the end of the digestion process) is nutrient rich and is a very attractive alternative to artificial fertilisers typically produced using fossil fuels. All this digestate is sold on long term contracts to farmers.

To cap everything Barnet have refused to participate in a review fully funded by the GLA to look at ways that Barnet could retain this service. It suggests to me, and I suspect many others, that Barnet do not want to expose their figures to scrutiny because it will become apparent that they are not robust.

Barnet have also conflated the withdrawal of the food waste collection with the reorganisation of the refuse collection rounds. Based on the methodology for making the savings, which is to remove the dedicated food waste collector on each vehicle, the food waste decision would make no difference at this time. Cllr Dean Cohen said that the waste collection routes weren't just inefficient because of the move from one depot in Mill Hill to two depots one on Harrow and one at Oakleigh Road but that the routes had been inefficient for years. My question would be if that is true why on earth hasn't this inefficiency been addressed sooner. I am not an expert so I also sought out advice from an expert who understand the rounds in detail and who concurred that the waste round reorganisation could go ahead irrespective of the food waste collection decision.

And then we come to my final point which is why the council ignored a potential £900,000 saving which could be delivered by moving to fortnightly waste collections. 76% of councils in England who have responsibility for waste collection have moved to fortnightly general waste collections. This helps to encourage higher levels of recycling especially when tied in with weekly food and recycling collections and cuts costs. Environmentally and financially it makes most sense. I asked Barnet why they had rejected this option and their response was "The retention of a weekly residual waste collection service was a Conservative manifesto pledge as voted on by the residents of Barnet".  So residents voted  not to save £900,000 even though we are facing a massive financial crisis where Barnet has to make £67 million of cuts in the next three years and this year alone the forecast is for a £9.5 million overspend.

When decisions like this are made it makes me despair of where Barnet is going.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Scrapping Food Waste Collections in Barnet - a Bad Decision

On Thursday Barnet are proposing to scrap separate food waste collections.  You can read the details here. Barnet claim it will save up to £300,000 a year although some of the assumptions look tenuous at best. They also admit that they could save £900,000 by keeping separate food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections, something that 76% of other English Local Authorities have introduced. Barnet's reason for ignoring this larger saving is as follows:

"During the recent local elections, however, the Barnet Conservative manifesto included a commitment that weekly refuse collections will be maintained, and that the proposed Alternate Weekly Collection (AWC) referred to in the November 2017 Environment Committee Business Planning report will not be introduced. Based on the results of the election, this commitment appears to have support from local residents."

I think that is a pretty desperate assumption but this is Barnet.

Barnet are also claiming that the reorganisation of waste collection rounds has been held up by the decision on food waste collection and they are asking the Mayor of London to pay £265,000 in compensation. My argument is that the reorganisation of the waste collection round should have happened a year ago when Barnet moved out of  Mill Hill Depot and split the service between Oakleigh Road and Harrow. Ceasing food waste collection would have meant removing one member of staff from each recycling lorry crew, not changing the route.

This seems like an entirely retrograde step; it's not environmentally friendly and it risks costing us a fortune if the law changes in the future making separate food waste collection a requirement (which seems very likely).

I have submitted a number of questions set out below. I will look forward to seeing what answers I receive.

Agenda Item 7

  • If Barnet stops separate food waste collections now, what would be the cost of reinstating this service if, at a later date, legislative change requires separate food waste collections?
  • If Barnet mix food waste with general waste how easy would it be to introduce fortnightly general waste collections in the future if financial pressures required this?
  • Please can you clarify whether the Mayor of London has confirmed that he will not take legal actions against Barnet if food waste collections cease?
  • As part of the risk assessment on this decision have you calculated the potential legal cost of any challenge by the Mayor if you do stop food waste collections and if so how much have you estimated this might cost?
  • In Mr Hooton’s letter of 3 September to the Deputy Mayor, he stated that the knock on effects of the decision on food waste collections had prevented the implementation of the new rounds. What evidence is there to support that statement and the demand for compensation given that the biggest driver of round rationalisation was the move from one depot to two, not the cessation of food waste collections?
  • The report makes it clear that £900,000 a year could be saved by retaining weekly food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections. There is also widespread and consistent  evidence that this can be an effective way of boosting recycling rates. Given that 248 out of 326 local authorities (76%) across England with responsibility for waste collections run fortnightly general rubbish rounds for some or all households, what makes Barnet different from the majority of other local councils?
  • Can you confirm that the gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion are £58 per tonne cheaper than sending food waste for incineration and that the reduced gate fee accrued this year will be credited to Barnet in next year’s NLWA levy?
  • At Appendix K the cost savings are stated for the full year 2018-19 at £543,448 yet at Appendix D it states that the savings could be £296,848. Given that the figure  in Appendix K appears to take no account of the reduced gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion it gives an entirely false impression of the potential savings. Can you clarify the basis for this figure and why it differs from the figure provided to me on 22 August?
  • £130,000 of the alleged £296,848 savings relates to the withdrawal of food waste collections on “Restrict Access Rounds”. Can you clarify where those rounds serve, why the food waste collection savings would be so high and whether consideration was given to only ceasing food collection on those rounds rather than the borough wide service?
  • Did Barnet’s legal team review the letter Mr Hooton sent to the Deputy Mayor and did they review the basis of the £265,000 compensation demand made by Mr Hooton?
  • Can you clarify where anaerobic digestions sits in the DEFRA Waste Hierarchy  compared to incineration of food waste and whether that changes if the digestate meets the AD Quality Protocol?
  • What steps have been taken to identify if the current AD operator meets the AD Quality Protocol and if not, how easy it would be to achieve.
  • One of the academic studies cited in the report at Appendix Lii was carried out in 2005. In 2005 there were only 2 Anaerobic Digesters operating in the UK outside the water industry (i.e non sewage sludge). In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs . Given that the industry has changed dramatically since this study was written does it give an accurate representation of the facts? 
  • The academic study at Appendix Li is based on one study in Italy. The study appears to have assumed that AD is followed by composting of the digestate which appears to be a different model compared to the UK AD industry. It also appears to ignore the value of the digestate as a direct replacement for artificial fertiliser. As such are you sure that this study is a suitable example on which to base a decision in the UK?
  • Have the Council taken legal advice as to the likelihood that a revised EU directive on waste (and specifically a revised Article 22 requiring separate food waste collection) might become a condition of a negotiated free trade agreement with the EU?
  • The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended that government should establish separate food waste collection for households and businesses (to enable production of biogas) by 2025. How would Barnet respond to such a requirement?
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the cessation of food waste collections and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

 Agenda Item 8
  • In 2013 Barnet spent a total of £11 million introducing the blue and brown bins, a new fleet of refuse vehicles, advertising and education programme. Before the introduction of this service recycling rates were 33%. If you cease the food waste collections the recycling rate will be 33.6%. What specific initiatives will you implement as a result of ceasing food waste collection that will help Barnet get anywhere close to the target of 50%?
  • Since the new recycling service was introduced in 2013 how much has been spent on encouraging Barnet residents to recycle in the form of: advertising; promotions; leaflets; recycling ambassadors; activities in schools; talks to clubs and voluntary organisations; organised trips to the recycling centre and anaerobic digester etc.?
  • The Action Plan identified at Appendix A seems to lack any tangible activities initiated by Barnet to encourage householders to recycle more. Why has so little emphasis been placed on such an important target group?

 Agenda Item 10
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the reprocurement of the advertising contract and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

July Supplier Payments - Interim & Agency Costs Still Rising

Barnet's latest supplier payments have been published with a total of £58.28 million spent last month. There were very modest payments for Capita (£620k) and Re (£382k) as no quarterly contract payments were made. What is of real concern is the continuing cost of agency and interim staff. Payments to Comensura were £1.5 million in July but I have also seen their payments for August which were published yesterday. All the indications are that the total bill for the year is likely to hit £19m, a million more than last year. Barnet have a massive financial black hole and interim and agency staff costs are just one area that have to be reduced significantly if they are to meet the cost saving targets. If this is an indicator of the ability (or inability) to deliver the other cost cutting measures, I suspect that the financial crisis may hit sooner than we think.

Usual month charts and updates below.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Barnet Senior Salaries July 2018 - Who's Missing

Each month Barnet publish the salaries of senior staff. I screen the list down to those earning more than an MP (£77,379) as that provides a (crude) benchmark as to responsibility of the role.
In July Barnet staff received a 2% pay rise and the list of salaries is below. However what it doesn't identify are the consultants who are working as interim staff paid handsome day rates. How many there are we are not told. What it does do is make you realise that some of these staff are paid hugely compared to the private sector and one questions whether they are actually worth all this money?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Guest Post - Something is Brewing at Larches Community in Edgware

Larches Community are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in Brazen Brewery!  A new beer brewing course from September 2018

London, 1st August 2018: Edgware based charity, Larches Community is launching Brazen Brewery! a craft beer brewing course for people with learning disabilities and autism. We are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in the first course and gain valuable life skills - increased confidence, improved self-esteem, cooperation, initiative, memory retention, giving and receiving instruction, decision making, working as part of a team, having fun and learning how to make some wonderful craft beer!

“We are thrilled to offer three 12 week brewing courses in our first year, teaching people elements of the brewing process.  In years two and three we plan to offer our qualified brewers employment, working in our social enterprise brewery, based in our new building and selling craft beer within our local community.  At the heart of everything we do is Valuing People for Who They Are”
Linda Edwards MBE – CEO, Larches Community.

If you would like more information about Brazen Brewery! please call Charlie O’Sullivan on 020 8905 6333, email: or visit


Larches Community is a registered charity established in 1995 by a group of families to create opportunities for young people and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Larches Community was created out of a deep concern for who would provide a supportive family home with a creative and stimulating life for our children beyond our lifetime. People with a learning disability represent a section of the community that enjoy few privileges, who experience social discrimination and are generally undervalued and underestimated by society. Most are socially excluded, with few opportunities to develop their individuality or to develop and contribute their skills to the community.

We offer a Learning for Life programme where learners gain independent living skills - cooking, budgeting, drama, musical theatre, craft and laughter club which help to develop the individual to tap into their undiscovered potential and soar to new heights.  

In our 23rd year, the Board has set the most ambitious and challenging strategic goals in our history. We have been granted planning permission by Barnet Council to build a three-story building with a basement on our current site. This development has afforded Larches Community the opportunity to review our offer to people with learning disabilities and autism, refocus our work and transform our services to encourage people with learning disabilities and autism to be the Best They Can Be!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Supplier Payments for June - Agency Costs Still Look High

The supplier payments for June have just been published. This month the big winners are Capita  who billed £10.7 million on the CSG and Re contracts. Comensura billed £1.45 million and looks like we will hit £19 million over the full financial year.

For some reason NSL who administer parking and litter enforcement billed £1.77 million in June which seems excessively high.

PA Consulting also billed another £134,917 this month, on top of the £685,804 they bill last month. One of the invoices this month was for "Supp People Recharge". I wonder what this is for but  as it was billed to adults and communities I wonder if has anything to do with the failed implementation by Capita of the Mosaic case management system that we heard about earlier this month. I shall be asking a few follow up questions I think.

I also wonder what we paid OCS Group £110,161 in June, bringing the first three months billings to £278,541 given that we already have a cleaning contractor, Churchill Contract Services.

The payments to John Graham is for the construction of the two new leisure centres and the Conway Aecom is for highways work.

The latest payments to Capita on the CSG and Re contracts bring the running total to £350.8 million. I still cannot see where the mystical savings are being generated. 

As for the Comensura contract, the current forecast for this financial year is £19.1 million, some £1.2 million higher than last year, at a time when there are supposed to be cuts to interim and agency costs so as to avoid another massive financial overspend.  We were due to have an update of the council's financial performance on 18 September (which was too late in my opinion)  but that meeting has now been postponed another three weeks till 9 October. My very real fear is that by the time we reach October everyone will be throwing their hands up in horror at the overspend but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

As always I will continue to keep a close eye on Barnet's spending.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A look back in time and a tribute to Barnet Bugle

Tonight Barnet are going to be making decisions on which services will be brought back in house and which will be retained by Capita. Casting my mind back to 5 years ago when decisions were being made on the Re Contract I remembered some of those meetings. Luckily for us the late, and very sadly missed, Dan Hope videoed most of the meetings. As the Barnet Bugle, he has provided us with an archive of evidence from those meetings which you can view here. Whilst Dan and I had very different political outlooks we shared one vital, common interest which was about openness and transparency in Barnet. Thanks to Dan we have a record of so many meetings. I thought I would dig out one clip when the Council was discussing the award of the Re contract and ask Richard Cornelius to consider whether ignoring the views of residents was such a good idea and to suggest that this time maybe he should listen a but harder.

One other thing to note was that 5 years ago we were given 5 minutes to speak. Thanks to austerity, democracy has also had to suffer cuts so we now only get 3 minutes. I will make sure my 3 minutes tonight count.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Why Capita's Contract is a rip off for Barnet - Day Four Extra Charges

Over the past few days I have been looking at the gainshare payments. Today I am looking at the extra charges Capita have billed on the Barnet contract.

The first example is a bill for £128,000 for additional electronic data storage. Barnet agreed to pay this amount, set by Capita, "because the electronic storage levels are above the amount agreed in the contract". Now I may be wrong but that sound a great deal given that it is on top of an agreed level in the contract. I would welcome input from any IT experts out there but my own bit of digging suggests that is quite a lot. While I am no fan of Amazon whatsoever I know that their Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a huge and profitable part of their business. I took a look at some of the data rates for storage, both simple data storage and a more flexible file management system and the rates are below.
Now the reason I looked at AWS rates is because that is who Capita are using to store some of Barnet's data on the OpenBarnet data portal. It may be that we are using a huge amount of data storage but remember this is in addition to the storage levels agreed in the contract. That says to me that somebody either horribly underestimated how much data we would be using in the contract or we are being ripped off. Either way we are paying through the nose for it.

The second example is a bill for £247,000 for additional call volumes above the baseline figure. Now when the contract was signed everybody talked about 'channel shift', getting people to use on-line means of contacting the council such as webforms rather than by phone as this would save money.
It may be that the council set over-ambitious targets for the decline in phone calls but then wasn't Capita responsible for implementing 'channel shift'? To help channel shift along  and to cut costs, Capita have introduced something called the 'Virtual Agent' which is the automated telephone service that I am sure many residents have experienced. Because it is automated it shouldn't cost more to run (in terms of additional call centre staff). However, my experience of the automated system is that because it is very difficult to get put through to the right department first time, you end up ringing in multiple times.  However, what I did was look at the performance stats published by Barnet comparing the most recent data with the year 2014/15. Barnet haven't published telephony data for Q4 of 2017/18 yet, so I used Q4 2016/17 to give a complete year of four consecutive quarters.

What that data tells me is that call volumes haven't risen over the last three years but the use of the Virtual Agent has as can be seen in the table below:

So how come Capita want an extra £247,000 for providing a service where call volumes are pretty static but they have reduced the calls answered by an operator by more than a third, saving a fortune in call centre staff . I simply don't see how this charge can be justified.

The third example relates to a bill for £692,759 for dilapidations to North London Business Park Building 4 (NLBP4). Originally the plan was to employ Capita who would use their offices in Coventry, Belfast, Blackburn, Darlington and so on, to house services and we could then trigger the break clause to vacate NLBP4 in late 2015. A good idea in theory but one that didn't happen. LBB staff were moved out and consolidated into Barnet House and NLBP2 but the Capita staff remain located in NLBP4. My thought was, no problem but Capita must be footing the bill. Well actually no they aren't, we are and hence we have been stung with a bill for dilapidations on NLBP4 for nearly £700k.

These three examples alone amount to more than £1 million being paid to Capita which could have been used to provide vital services such as 40+ care staff or refuse/street cleaning staff. I know where I would prefer that money to go.

The Conservatives keep saying how much outsourcing is saving but the evidence is clear that while we are making savings on the core contract, all the extras, all the gainshare, all those special projects at consultancy rates mean that by my reckoning we aren't saving anything especially when you include the millions of pounds making so many council staff redundant, the huge investment we funded in IT and the £11 million of consultants and lawyers fees to get us to a signed contract.

Tomorrow, Councillors will be looking at which services to bring back in house. Unless they have all the information about all these extras, how can they make a properly considered decision? Sadly I suspect the decision has already been made and any opposition will simply be out voted.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off - Day Three - who made the saving?

For the last couple of days I have set out details of gainshare payments on the Capita contract in Barnet. There are numerous payments and I have just picked out a selection. Today I have included a couple of other examples where the issue relates to who generated the saving and was any value added to warrant a gainshare payment.

The first is an example of where it looks like all the benefit was generated by a Barnet Council officer yet Capita are still able to claim the gainshare. Up till 2012 (pre Capita) Barnet were full members of the not for profit London Housing Consortium (LHC) set up to provide "effective procurement solutions for local authorities, housing associations, schools and other public sector bodies".  In 2015 it was decided that Barnet should rejoin the LHC as an associate member; you don't get as big a share of any rebates but there is no liability for any losses nor is their a membership fee.  At the time Barnet were about to embark on two construction projects, Monkfrith School and the refurbishment of Barnet House with a value of £5.3 million. The report was submitted as a delegated powers report and signed off by the Council's Commercial Director, not a Capita employee. The rebates from LHC are small as a percentage but when you are dealing with large projects it all mounts up. As a result of our membership Barnet received a rebate from LHC of  £47,797.32. Not a fortune but that is enough to fund two care staff. Problem is Capita say they are entitled to a gainshare so we end up handing back 31% or £14,817.17.

The second is where Barnet's bank withdrew from the local authority market so there had to be a new contract. The new contract was less expensive so yes there is a saving. However the paperwork states clearly that "procurement support has been delivered from within the LBB Core Team". Now we pay for the core procurement service in the core contract payment. Nevertheless Capita say this is a gainshare so Barnet pay them £35,381.25 - enough for a social worker.

The third example is focused around the assumption that costs always rise. Barnet tendered their interpreter and translation service. Assumptions were made about volumes and by looking at historic prices. When the current bids came in lower than the historic prices, charged Capita claimed a gainshare of £22,155.91.  What I was also aware of was that there has been a lot of downward pressure on translator and interpreter pricing.  I have used translations services in the past and have been told that prices are at best static and in many cases falling, obviously depending on skill level and language. The problem with the Capita contract is that if market prices fall, Capita see the benefit in additional gainshare.

Tomorrow I will be looking at the "extras", additional charges made by Capita which in my opinion are excessive.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off - Day Two

Yesterday I blogged about three gainshare payments which you can read here. Today I have three more examples of why the idea of gainshare seems at odds with the principles of public money being used for public service.

(Just in case anyone isn't aware, "Gainshare" is a contractual mechanism by which Capita is entitled to a share in savings they make for Barnet).

Example 1 - the Double Bubble Trick
For the last four years I have been complaining about the gainshare Capita has claimed on the Interim and Agency contract with Comensura. I remain convinced that we have been ripped off to the tune of several million pounds and it formed the basis on my objection to the accounts both in 2014 and last year. Interim and agency costs have risen alarmingly since 2011/12 :

In 2016/17 we paid a gainshare on the Comensura contract of approximately £1.3 million. Last year there was a big push to reduce the number of interim and agency staff as can be seen in the chart above. So imagine my surprise when I saw a gainshare claim for £250,000 for "HR Agency Transfer". When I queried this payment I was told that "this relates to work undertaken by HR to convert agency workers onto permanent contracts thereby helping to reduce agency spend and stabilise workforce, which led to a cost reduction of circa £800k per annum".  So for the last four years Capita have claimed  millions in gainshare on agency costs as more and more agency staff are used and then they get another £250,000 gainshare for helping to convert those agency staff to back to full time employees. I have no confidence that the £800,000 saving figure is real, but as is the way with all gainshare payments, Capita put in a claim of forecast savings and then carry out a "true up" at the end of the year when the actual savings are reconciled against the initial claim. To me this just seems plain wrong, especially as part of the switch from agency to full time staff has been driven by HMRC's clampdown on IR35 tax avoidance which has forced a large number of interim staff across the public sector to change their employment status.

Example Two - Pile up the costs and still claim the saving
If you are a single person in a property you can apply for a single persons discount (SPD) of 25% on your council tax bill. Capita get a gainshare for reducing the number of people claiming this discount. What they can also claim is the costs of carrying out the work. In 2017/18 Capita submitted a gainshare bill for £174,117.77 for the SPD reduction. When I asked for the supporting evidence I was surprised.  The gainshare is calculated based on the "total payments collected above the baseline". This was £315,000. However, the cost of carrying out the work to achieve that saving was  £127,000  giving a net saving of  £188,000 on which we paid 25% gainshare, equivalent to £47,000. Now bear in mind that Capita can charge their staff out at consultancy rates as set out here to carry out this work and on which they also make a very sizeable mark up. So from an increased council tax income of £315,000, Barnet actually gets to keep just £138,000.

Examples Three/Four/Five - It's all about the budget
There are a number of gainshare claims which are all broadly similar. Capita ask what is the budget for a service.They then tender the service and where it come in below the budget, Capita take a gainshare on the difference.
One example is for Family Systemic Training. Capita asked for Barnet's budget which Barnet said was £30,000. Capita tendered the training and picked the lowest price bid at a price of £11,400. Capita said fantastic we have saved you £18,600 so with a gainshare of 31% they billed and were paid a gainshare of £5,766. So for a service that cost £11,400 we ended up paying £17,166. In my world that is plain wrong.
A similar situation arose when tendering a tree policy consultation. The council set a budget, there was a tender on the council's own etender portal, the bid came in much lower than the budget so Capita picked up 31% of the difference.
The third example of budget driven gainshare is on document storage. Previously archive boxes were stored at the archive section of the Mill Hill Depot which has now been flogged off for housing. Barnet House and NLBP are tight for space so Barnet needed to make use of an external storage provider. Capita, asked for Barnet's budget for storage and were told it was a round £500,000. Capita went to Stor-a-file who offered them a price forecast to be £359,296 over the next five years, including an initial free 6 month period. Capita said woohoo that's a saving of  £140k or £28,200 a year so we are entitled to £11,280 of that each year. In addition, they claimed (I believe incorrectly) an additional gainshare on the 6 month free period. In total the gainshare fees over the next five years is £68,370 just because an officer set the budget too high. So instead of paying £359,296 which is the actual cost the supplier charges, we are paying £427,666.
Maybe now you can understand why I compare this gainshare process to BBC Rogue Traders and why we must take back control of this money spinner from Capita.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Why Capita's Gainshare is Such a Rip Off

I have just finished carrying out my inspection of Barnet's accounts. In particular, I have reviewed every single one of Capita and Re's 256 invoices. Some are clear in representing what we agreed in the contract but others, especially the gainshare invoices, frankly make me shudder at how anyone could have signed them off.

(Just in case anyone isn't aware, "Gainshare" is a contractual mechanism by which Capita is entitled to a share in savings they make for Barnet).

The way I described it to a friend is that it was a bit like an episode of BBC Rogue Traders - you know they haven't done anything illegal but you definitely feel your granny has been right royally ripped off. The reason why this is important right now is because next week Barnet are going to be deciding which services should be brought back in house and which should be left with Capita. Procurement and the gainshare payments arising are one of those services currently identified as being left with Capita.

Over the next few days I will give you some examples of Capita invoice with which I have concerns. The first is an initiative to move people with Learning Difficulties (LD) or  Mental Health (MH) issues from supported living or residential care homes to the private rented sector. Now clearly there is a drive to cut adult social care costs but these projects always give me some real concerns and I am aware that there have been some problems when this type of move has taken place.  Set out below is the "Project Overview and Savings Methodology" provided by Capita.

Four users were identified and moved into the private rented sector. I haven't seen any details as to how the individuals felt about this move and whether it met their needs but this is of course all about the money. Over 3 years the savings achieved are at £197,203. Some may say that is a positive move as costs have to be brought under control.

So now here comes the rub. Capita said we have saved you £197,203 we are entitled to a gainshare of £67,138 (34%) and that is what Barnet have paid. This makes me very uncomfortable because it turns vulnerable people into a commodity on which a profit can be earned. This isn't about effective procurement, it is about cutting a service to make money. It also worries me that making inroads into the adult social care budget will be difficult if Capita are going to keep taking a massive slug of the savings on every initiative.

A second example is a procurement exercise for the  Domestic Violence Unit covering:

  • Independent Domestic Violence Advisors;
  • Refuge Provision;
  • Support Service for Perpetrators and Victims of Domestic Violence;
  • Risk Assessors; and 
  • Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC). 

Capita carried out tender exercise and compared the new prices to what Barnet previously paid. Much of the detail is redacted but critically Capita claimed a gainshare of £47,102.80. Last year the payment was disputed because it was thought that Domestic Violence was funded from grant money and Capita can't claim gainshare on grant money. However, this year it was agreed that Barnet had funded the service and as such were stuck with the bill for £47k. Again, what seems to be missing from the process is the issue of quality and user satisfaction with vulnerable people being a source of profit for Capita.  What I also struggle with is whether this is the type of work we are already paying for from a procurement service included in the core contract; my view is that it is, but apparently not.

A third example today is on court costs. Capita receive a gainshare paid at 20% of court costs collected above a baseline.  The baseline was set at £871,000 and last year the total court costs collected was £1,242,495.  Capita therefore received a gainshare payment of (£1,242,495 less £871,000) x 20% = £74,299. The point I made is that by having a fixed sum as a baseline,  as court cost rise over time or if there is a year when there is more legal action, Barnet will end up paying a fortune in gainshare, not because Capita have recovered a higher proportion of court costs but simply because the overall bill was higher.

There will be more examples to come tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Capita Day Rates - Disclosure at Last

Capita have billed many millions in extra charges on the Barnet CSG contract. A significant chunk of those charges are for "Special Projects" charged at pre agreed day rates - in 2016-17 alone Special Projects cost £16.8 million as reported here

The contract stated quite clearly that these rates should be disclosed after three years but when I asked for them it came as no surprise that my request was refused. After going through the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and having to appeal their initial ruling they eventually upheld my appeal. Today was the deadline for Barnet to provide the information and last night it was sent to me. Set out below are the Day Rates as stated in the original contract signed in 2013 but rates may have risen since that time, especially as Capita have an indexation clause within the contract. I will leave you to judge whether you think these rates are reasonable and whether, for a number of roles, utilising a council employee might have been cheaper. It is interesting to note the day rates of the Legacy One Barnet Project Managers (Table 4) as they may be a reflection of the rates we were paying pre Capita and compare those to the day rates being charged by Capita.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Internal Audit Give Barnet Limited Assurance Rating - it goes from bad to worse

The forthcoming Audit Committee papers have been published and it doesn't make for pleasant reading. All the reports are all here  In particular the Internal Audit Opinion is damning with only a limited Assurance rating, something the Council has not received since 2010/11. It includes statements like:

  • There has been a weakening of the organisation’s control framework, with an increasing number of findings which demonstrate weaknesses and non-compliance in the framework of governance, risk management and control;
  • An increasing number of high risk and medium risk findings relate to the financial management practices in place at the Council, specifically those around income and expenditure monitoring;
  • Roles, responsibilities and reporting lines were not consistently defined or understood, leading to gaps in delivery and oversight;
  • Data quality and integrity issues were noted across some areas at the Council, particularly regarding Pensions, HR, Section 106 and CILs. In the absence of strong data management and analysis, governance is weakened because the ability of senior staff and Members to scrutinise performance is reduced.
  • Statutory and internal deadlines for activity were met, increasing the Council’s potential liability for additional fees and charges, and legal sanctions and reducing the extent to which its own enforcement activity can be carried out;
  • We noted issues with the performance of key employment checks including DBS and right to work checks, which could lead to fines, legal action and reputational damage;
  • Key health and safety checks relating to water safety were not carried out in line with required statutory timescales;
There are many more. I have already submitted my questions as set out below. We will, as always, 
have to wait and see if any of them actually get answered. I'm not hopeful but they are questions that must be asked.
  1. Who decided that Appendix 1 should be exempt and was it at the request of an officer, a member or Capita?
  2. You are stating Appendix 1 is exempt under paragraph 3, Part I, Schedule 12A Local Government Act 1972 which relates to financial or business affairs yet this report is about a failure of that financial or business performance. As such publishing the report may inform decisions being taken on the 19 July at the Policy and Resources committee. Please could you provide a copy of the public interest test that was undertaken before deciding that this report should be exempt?
  3. Given that all of these events outlined in the report happened on the CEO’s watch, that the CEO is a Board Director of Re and that the CEO was the S151 Officer when the Capita and Re contracts were being decided, how can the CEO ensure that he is perceived as the right person to lead the council going forward?
  4. Given that Grant Thornton were the Council’s external auditors when the CSG and Re contracts were let and that they may have reviewed the financial controls at that time or during the 2013/14 or 2014/15 audit, to what extent do you think this might be perceived as a conflict of interest and were any other accountancy companies considered to carry out this work?
  5. The report states “We also noted a decrease in the extent to which staff were willing to engage with audit requests and provide deliverables in a timely manner. This led to prolonged periods of engagement in the case of some audits and an increase in audit delivery costs.” Were there any particular departments or delivery units where this was more prevalent and what would you say was the cause of this unwillingness to engage with Internal Audit?
  6. It appears that a culture of ignoring the central guidance has developed with individual departments making their own decisions. What has caused this culture to develop and how do you think that culture can be changed?
  7. As all of the items listed in this report have been flagged before in quarterly reports, it cannot come as a great surprise to you that the council has been given a limited assurance rating. What reassurance can you provide to me that this will get better given the senior management team when these events occurred are still in place?
  8. The report states “There are significant weaknesses and noncompliance in the framework of governance, risk management and control which put the achievement of organisational objectives at risk” To what extent do you think this committee has to accept some of the blame for this situation and if so what do you think this committee could do better in the future?
  9. The governance statement appendix B mentions best practice. Best practice suggests that “the audit committee chair should not be, expressly, a member of the executive. A non-executive chair is important in order to promote the objectivity of the audit committee and to enhance its standing in the eyes of the public”. Given that Cllr Finn is, or was until recently, the Chief Whip of the Conservative Group, please provide evidence as to how you believe there is a genuine separation from the Executive, that is both clear and perceived to be clear by residents, opposition and independent members?
  10. Can you please clarify if monitoring CSG and Re for fraud is within the terms of reference of the CAFT team. What discussions have taken place with Capita’s own internal audit/investigation team about this situation, why did they not identify this fraud and to what extent should or could CAFT take responsibility for investigating CSG and Re going forward?

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Supplier payments for May - Interim & Agency staff costs rising again

Just a short post today about Barnet's supplier payments for May.

Not much in terms of payments for Capita and Re this month as they tend to be paid quarterly so just £802,823.71 for Capita and £1,094,439.69 for Re. Comensura spend is on the up, with a total of £1,925,781.97 for may alone. Although it is to early to be certain, based on the first two months of this year the forecast looks like it might get back to the 2016/17 level of £20 million.

A few of interesting invoices that I did note were as follows:

  • PA Consulting billed £685,804. The majority was for "IT & Comms". Given that I thought IT & Comms was the responsibility of  Capita, it is surprising we have such a large bill from another consultancy.
  • We paid £13,940 to Comer Business & Innovation Centre. It may not sound like much but it is for space at NLBP. This tell me there isn't enough space in Building 2 at NLBP which make me worry about what is going to happen when Barnet relocate to a much smaller building at Colindale. I would also point out that although we were supposed to have vacated Building 4 at NLBP we are still paying for Capita to rent some of that space. Surely we should have looked to see if there was any spare space in Building 4 which we are already paying for first?
  • We paid Saracens £28,398 for "rent". I am guessing this relates to the use of their stadium for the election count but it does seem rather a lot of money to pay for one night's usage.
  • Assurance spent £308.33 at Pinks florists; that's quite a lot of flowers.

Coming up in the next week will be details of the year end audit and my findings from the inspection of the accounts. Keep reading and I will keep blogging.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Barnet - An Organisation In Denial

This sums up my feelings after last night's Financial Performance and Contracts Committee.

I had asked 34 questions and fellow blogger Roger Tichborne had asked another three yet most of  the answers were crafted to tell us nothing about what we had asked. Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard were also there to document the goings on but I think all four bloggers found the meeting entirely unsatisfactory.

Residents need to be aware of what a financial mess Barnet Council are in but the use of words in the reports discussed last night would have created a different perspective. Overspends were "reduced" not by cutting the amount spent but by topping up from reserves. In total last year we used £21 million from reserves to balance the budget, something which clearly isn't sustainable.

One of the serious problems occurred in the Capita run joint venture Re. Last year the external auditor identified a problem with £4.6 million of guaranteed income from Re that had not been paid. At that Audit meeting the S151 Officer who is the head of finance reassured everyone that the money would be recoverable. I had my doubts when the Capita partnership manager called the amount "disputed". I asked again about this money and whether it was going to be recovered at the performance and contract management committee  on 27 February just 4 weeks before year end. The reply from the council then was “The benefit to the council of additional income under the RE contract is guaranteed and does not, therefore, impact on RE’s budget performance” Four weeks later at year end and following legal advice they decided that it wasn't recoverable and it was written off. I don't doubt that writing it off is the right thing to do but what makes me so cross is that for nine months the council was in denial that it was a problem. We were also told that another £2.6 million of contractual liability had to be paid to Re and that it been "omitted from the forecast in error" but corrected before year end. Well technically that may be true but it wasn't corrected 4 weeks before year end. This tells me two things. One: take everything Barnet says with a massive pinch of salt and Two: we have a contract with Re which seems unenforceable and is costing Barnet a fortune. Set out below shows the impact of these late amendments on the accounts.

On gainshare, the nice little earner for Capita, we were promised back in January that this would be dealt with by this committee. Six months on and it is now being passed around a number of committees like a toxic pass the parcel. In my previous blog I gave one example of the sleight of hand which is the gainshare process. However the argument from Barnet Tories has always been that we may pay Capita for gainshare but we are saving money. I have always disputed this and last night I asked a question as to whether the savings were real. The wording of the response tells you everything you need to know about this process which assesses "contractually compliant savings". What that means is that who ever wrote the contract made it very easy for Capita to claim gainshare whether or not they provided any added value to the procurement process. I have a very serious example of where Capita have claimed a gainshare which I suspect most people will find morally wrong but because the contract allowed it Capita have claimed it and Barnet have paid it.

On the rest of the CSG contract Capita are failing on a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) but it doesn't matter because it doesn't count as a contract fail. 
If I was Richard Cornelius I would be taking legal advice as to whether we had grounds to sue the lawyers who acted for Barnet when this contract was being drafted because it is so heavily weighted in Capita's favour. I did suggest back in 2013 that Barnet should get a third party lawyer to review the contracts but as always that was dismissed. It may be a decision Barnet are now regretting.

At the end of last night's meeting I felt that I had just wasted 2 hours of my life. A meeting of complacency, and casual indifference with few questions from Tory members. Mr Mustard's tweet summed it up:

Set out below is the speech I gave, sadly falling on deaf ears.

"Narrative too positive – needs to reflect true picture"
"Doesn’t highlight use of reserves. With this the £4 million overspend changes to an underlying variation of £8.5 million"
"CSG narrative not full picture  been told the true picture is much higher overspend"
"Family services net variance wrong"
"Satisfaction with website artificially inflated especially planning"
"Figures don’t match those published by NHS digital"
"Problems with payments Council owed £2 million"

Not my words but those of the Strategic Commission Board on 6 February discussing papers coming to this committee. I asked Richard Cornelius if he was aware of these issues before the year end – he said no he wasn’t but that they should have been reported.

You as a committee can only scrutinise what you are given and if you aren’t given a clear picture you can’t make the right decisions. I do not think you got a clear picture then and I am worried you aren’t getting a clear picture now. I’ve submitted 34 questions yet many of the answers show an organisation in denial, scared to be honest. We are in a financial mess and you all need to be honest as to how it is going to be addressed.

Back in February I asked you a specific question about the Re guaranteed income and you said “The benefit to the council of additional income under the RE contract is guaranteed and does not, therefore, impact on RE’s budget performance. Performance against the guarantee will be reconciled and published as part of the annual accounts process”. Yet now we find that was wrong.

In January former Audit Committee Chair Hugh Rayner said they were referring Gainshare to this committee. I asked about this in February and you said "Both referrals to PCM committee from Audit Committee (on benefits realisation and gainshare) will be formally noted at this PCM committee, and then scheduled into the forward plan. Now you are saying that it has been pushed to Policy and Resources and will be brought to the appropriate committee in due course". This smacks of pass the parcel.

I have not one ounce of confidence in this committee and will not do so until you start answering straight questions with straight answers. Get a grip, stop spinning and start sorting out this mess.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Are we on the brink of victory or will it be a missed opportunity - The future of Capita in Barnet

On Friday, Barnet made an admission, a big admission; an admission that Capita is not delivering for Barnet. For me that comes as no surprise. I have been concerned about the scale and complexity of this contract since 2011 when the first clear contractual details emerged.
Sadly they are leaving a number of services with Capita that are either; under-performing; costing a fortune; or where Capita add little or no value. 

Set out below are a few examples of why they are mistaken in leaving these services with Capita.

In terms of procurement, Barnet will have to pay Capita £14.3 million over the next 5 years in “Gainshare” where they get a share of any savings, yet most of the “savings” could have been secured through standard framework contracts available to all local authorities. In addition, some savings are calculated against a budget. Imaging walking into a shop to buy a new vacuum cleaner. The shop keeper says "what's your budget" and you say "£200". The shopkeeper offers you a vacuum cleaner priced at £100. "There you go", says the shopkeeper "that will be £133".  But it only cost £100. "Ah yes", says the shopkeeper "but your budget was £200. I saved you £100 so I'm entitled to a third of the saving plus the cost of the cleaner". I know that sounds nonsensical but I have an almost identical example of this sharp practice from last year's Capita invoices but sadly the sums involved were significantly greater.

This department has had significant problems. In terms of "transactional services" I am not sure what they mean precisely but if you look at the last audit report accounts payable, run by Capita received only limited assurance (which is poor) with problems in
  • "Potential Duplicate payments (high risk) – Control design"
  • "BACs Reconciliation (high risk) – Control operating effectiveness"
  • "Policies, Procedures and Process notes (medium risk) – Control design"
Revs & Bens:
Barnet have been charged an additional £521,000  in the last two years for the “extra caseload” in Revenue & Benefits. That’s on top of the core fee we already pay. What you also need to recall was that back in 2012 the in-house Revs & Bens team were rated the second highest performing in London as rated by the DWP.

This area has had on going problems and it has been recognised that the Capita Integra system has significant problems. Prior to Capita, the council had invested in SAP a sophisticated system that integrates many different functions within one system and is used by some of the very largest organisations - expensive but good.

Last year we were charged an extra £189,823 for printing - that is on top of the core fee.

HR Payroll:
There have been lost of errors with the payroll. In 2016/17 Capita had to repay £187,630 in service credits (a sort of fine) specifically for failings in payroll accuracy.

Pensions Administration:
There have been repeated problems with Pensions administration which culminated last year in Barnet being fined by the Pensions Regulator for the failings in pension administration. The Pensions Board have raised serious concerns about Pensions Administration.

Customer Service:
On customer service Capita charged Barnet £416,000 last year for “excess customer service volume”.  Capita set a baseline figure in the contract and anything over that we get charged extra. There is currently a plan currently to try and get these volumes down by cutting Face to Face services and to create "savings opportunities from telephony service degradation". That is something I find shocking but it shows how the tightly drawn contract with Capita forces these bizarre actions to get the extra costs down.

Planning and Planning Enforcement:
This is an area where so many residents are unhappy especially as Re not only assess planning applications but also generate income from planning advice. Enforcement has been very poor although that is now receiving close attention. When I attended the Re four year review almost every representation from members of the public were complaints about Planning or Planning enforcement.

Licensing also creates potential conflicts of interest and I saw a case recently where licensing had earned a fee to advise a license applicant but Environmental Health, another part of Re were opposing the application. As for Environmental Health and Trading Standards my view is that these are well outside the core skills of Capita. Former Barnet employees brought the skills, they do a good job so why pay a fee to Capita for no real added value.

So given all that information I am at a loss why Barnet are content to leave all these services with Capita. 

Over the next few days I will set out why taking a much more strategic view as to how the services could be restructured  would not only save money but could also deliver a better service for residents.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Financial Performance in Barnet - Some very serious questions

Next Monday is the first meeting of the newly restructured Financial Performance and Contracts Committee. You can view the committee papers here but I warn you they are a long read. This committee last met on 27 February, 4 weeks before year end. At that point no significant mention was made of the poor financial performance. Four months is far too long to wait for a committee dealing with such important matters. Maybe it was because Barnet or Capita were too ashamed of the results.

CSG run by Capita had a dismal performance including failing 18 contract indicators. But not to worry. The footnote makes it clear that although they had all these failures, none of them count as a contract failure so that's Capita off the hook. I absolutely despair of Barnet's ability to enforce performance on these contracts.
Capita run Re also turned in an appalling financial performance. At the committee meeting on 27 February they showed a net overspend of £285,000. By financial year end, 4 weeks later that had increased to £6.7 million. Someone somewhere was not doing their job to have such a massive change in financial performance in the last 4 weeks of the financial year. I would also draw your attention as to how they change the format between reports to make comparison a bit more confusing.

Of critical importance at this meeting is the dire financial situation and what it means for Barnet residents. This financial year Barnet has to make an additional £9.5 million of savings. That is on top of the £9.9 million of savings they have already budgeted (but may fail to achieve). What is worse is that while the reports detail the failings there is no clear indication of how these problems will be resolved. The reports also uses positive narrative and spin to make the situation less serious than it really is, a worrying approach if councillors aren't super vigilant in interpreting what they are being told. Last year Barnet had to use £21 million from reserves and balances to fund the overspend, a situation which is entirely unsustainable but I see no prospect of how they are going to close the  budget gap this year.

Set out below are questions I have submitted to the committee. As always I have low expectations of whether they will be adequately answered. I will update you after the meeting.

  1. On 27 February 4 weeks before year end this committee was made aware of an overspend after adjustments from reserves of £4.232 million. In 4 weeks that overspend almost doubled to £7.885 million. Why was there such a serious under reporting of the financial position at the last meeting?
  2. Given that this committee was not alerted to the scale of the  financial overspends at the 27 February meeting, 4 weeks before year end, and only discovered in May when the year-end accounts were being closed, how confident are you that this report provides you with an accurate picture of current financial performance?
  3. Do you think that the net draw on reserves and balances for 2017/18 of £21.148m is either acceptable or sustainable and what steps are you going to take to ensure this huge draw on reserves and balances does not occur again this year.
  4. 1.2.3 implies that the Policy and Resources committee were aware and approved of all the drawdown on reserves and balances which they were not at their meeting on 13 February, 6 weeks before year end. Do you think the wording of this section should be changed to reflect the fact that such a large shortfall was only identified after year end accounts were closed.
  5. In the report it states that the overspend was reduced following drawdown from reserves. This is entirely misleading as the overspend was not reduced. Should the report be corrected to say the overspend was offset following drawdown from reserves as that is a more accurate description of the situation.
  6. At this meeting in February most of the budget overspends were identified with one significant exception which is the Re budget. In February the Re budget outturn was forecast at £611,000 with reserve movements of £241,000. On that basis paragraph 1.2.18 entirely misrepresents the situation by saying that the budget was overspent by £3.954 million. Can you confirm that the budget was overspent by £6.7 million of which only £290,000 was identified at 27 February.
  7. Of the two overspend items in the Re budget, is the £4.5 million guaranteed income the same element that was identified by the external auditor last year and on which the Audit committee were given solid reassurances by the Director of Resources that they would be recovered?
  8. Will you be asking the Director of Resources why they gave such a reassurance last year that has failed to materialise?
  9. Please can you explain why it took from July last year until after year end before this committee were made aware that this amount was not recoverable?
  10. Please can you clarify specifically what you mean by the sum being “accounted for within the HRA budget” given that this sum is not reflected in the HRA budget outturn at Table 3?
  11. Can you clarify specifically what the legal advice said as to why the “guaranteed income” should not be included in the General Fund revenue account?
  12. If the other major Re overspend of £2.647 million was a contractual liability, why was it not recognised in the performance figures sooner so that other budgets could be adjusted before year end to reflect the liability?
  13. At 1.2.23 the report states that “net pressure” is £9.5 million. Can you confirm that this is in addition to the planned savings already forecast of  £9.932 million meaning that total savings required this year are £19.432 million?
  14. Given that we are three months into this financial year what is the latest update on the realisation of this £19.432 million of savings?
  15. How confident are you that the narrative in this report is balanced and that it provides a true picture of performance?
  16. At 1.6 in the report it states that six performance indicators were not met yet at  1.7 the report states that Cambridge Education only failed to meet one contract indicator. Does that mean that the commissioning and corporate plan indicators are not the contractual responsibility of Cambridge Education?
  17. The report identifies indicators not met but no reassurance is provided as to how they will be met in the future. How can we be sure that these indicators will have been met when they are next reviewed?
  18. At 1.8 no mention is made of the massive financial fraud that took place last year and which it appears was able to take place as a result of failing in the internal financial controls which are the responsibility of CSG. Can you tell me why this was not included in the report?
  19. The report states that “a review of internal financial controls was undertaken and improvement implemented”. Is this the Grant Thornton Project Rose study, and if so when were these improvements implemented and will the report either be made public or circulated to members of this committee in private session/ “blue papers”.
  20. The report notes that a gainshare working group was set up to review the application and reporting of procurement gainshare. Please can you provide me with more details as follows: what are their terms of reference; who attends the working group; how many times have they met so far; do they publish minutes; what is the timescale for producing a defined output; do Capita attend these meetings; will you be taking public evidence; and will the findings be made public?
  21. How confident are you that the gainshare savings stated are real and specifically as a result of Capita expertise or could they have been achieved using standard framework contracts available to local authorities?
  22. When I checked on the 23 May 2018, the contracts register for 2018/19 was on line and showed  that 112 contracts had expired before the start of the 2018/19 financial year. On 23 June 2018 the data set had been removed from the Barnet Open data portal. What is going on, it the contract register being maintained up to date, how many contracts are currently being used that have expired?
  23. For 2017/18 I understood that the in-year Council Tax and NNDR collection rate were guaranteed at 98.0%. On that basis why is the in-year council tax collection rate shown as only 96.02%  and only 96.89%  for NNDR and will CSG be making up the shortfall?
  24. There are a large number of KPI’s not being met or performance is worsening yet the report does not appear to identify what steps are being taken to ensure they situation improves. How can we have any confidence that these matters are being adequately addressed and that this time next year the situation will have improved?
  25. Do you think it would be helpful to inform committee members that the caseload charges over and above the core fee for 2017/18 were £190,953 and that CSG customer service volume excess charges were £247,000?
  26. Given that the council has now introduced monthly financial reporting can you include in the terms of reference that the quarterly financial reports must reflect a rolling quarter’s data i.e. the three months figures immediately prior to the committee meeting as a way on ensuring you get the most timely and accurate information.
  27. When the report says the CFO’s report will give a “broad look” at financial performance it creates ambiguity and risks failing to provide you with important detailed information.  Given the content of the report are listed do you agree that the term “broad look” should be deleted and include the words “and any other information the committee deems important for the monitoring of financial performance”?
  28. Do you think it would be advisable to add in the following phase: “The report must be provided in a consistent format which not only allows immediate transparency but facilitates the easy identification of trends in performance over a period of time”?
  29. Will this report include details of the Budget Recovery Plan, progress on non-essential discretionary spend controls and any SPIRs that have been frozen?
  30. Will the report give details of the Capita contract negotiations – even if they are provided in private session/within confidential “blue” papers?
  31. Given that staffing and agency costs are a major source of budget overspends surely this committee should receive details of  staffing, incl. headcount, FTE, agency and sickness absence as these are financial performance issues not policy issues?
  32. For the avoidance of doubt, who is the Chief Finance Officer as there is no such post in the LBB senior management structure; are they a Capita employee, the Head of Finance or the Director of Resources/S151 Officer.
  33. Will the S151 Officer attend these meetings?
  34. Why are we waiting until September to get a report on agency spend when it represents such a major cost to the council given that we will be half way through the financial year at that stage and have less opportunity to act on the findings before year end?