Wednesday 31 July 2019

It's Official - I've Been Gagged. Why Capita's dismal performance must not be discussed

Last night Barnet Conservatives voted in favour of restricting public participation at council committee meetings. Cllr Melvin Cohen proposed the motion stating that the £42,000 a year they spend dealing with residents questions is money wasted. The report was factually incorrect stating the period in question was 5 months when it was in fact 6 months and over stating the number of questions asked by 100. But in Barnet facts don't matter, just say something often enough and people will believe it.

Cllr Cohen said that in Barnet they were far too generous in the time they gave to residents to ask questions and make comments so they had benchmarked themselves against the worst councils and were happy that the very restrained new rules were acceptable. Cllr Cohen said this would be a chance for more residents to ask questions. How he arrived at this twisted take on reality is beyond the logic of any sane person. The old rules allowed as many questions as could be dealt with in 30 minutes each person submitting a question got their chance for a supplementary question and only when everyone had asked one question would a second question from an individual be allowed. The new rule is one resident one question per agenda item. More than two residents asking about the same agenda item and their questions will be rejected - first come first served.  So when we get an agenda item about libraries across the borough which may be affected in different ways only two questions will be allowed. Same for the any budget cuts. There might be 20 different areas in the budget that residents want to ask about but 2 questions will be the limit. In terms of making a public comment, previously residents were allowed to speak for 3 minutes and had to give notice on which agenda item they wished to talk about. That has now been banned. You can submit a comment in writing of 100 words but you can't speak at the committee and most importantly councillors cannot question he speaker. It is also important to note that the comment counts toward one of the two questions per agenda item so if two residents submit their 100 word comments ahead of you then no questions will be allowed.

So why have Barnet Tories taken such desperate measures to gag Barnet's engaged and questioning residents. The truth is simple. Barnet residents scrutinise what the council does; they ask probing and difficult questions, they can see through spin and flim flam and they aren't willing to settle for a badly run council.

It is true that I ask a lot of questions. Like my fellow bloggers Broken Barnet,  Mr Mustard, Barnet Eye,  and Brent Cross Coalition, and engaged resident, Barbara Jacobson,  we all challenge Barnet and for very good reasons.

Yes there was one meeting where 158 questions were submitted but it was an exception. Eleven different residents submitted questions which included items such as:

  • The review of the Capita contracts - a unanimous committee decision had asked officers to prepare a business case for a range of options to bring services back in house. The reason for so many questions is that  residents were rightly concerned that officers had ignored the request and pressed ahead with their own plan and no business case.
  • The Brent Cross Cricklewood funding and delivery strategy - Brent Cross is a vast project which will disrupt many locals. The transport strategy has not been well thought through and Barnet have had to go to government with a begging bowl for a bail as we were on the hook for the construction cost of the Thameslink station after Hammersons scaled back their expansion plans. Residents were rightly concerned about the risks of the scheme.
  • The annual procurement plan which set out spending commitments that had not been discussed or approved by committees.
  • The medium term financial strategy - which set out the need for £68 million of budget cuts over the next 5 years.
  • The strategic performance report - which showed the 5 consecutive year of overspend on the outsourced legal contract.
None of the items were insignificant but the Capita contract review did attract the majority of the questions. If I look at another meeting cited in the report, the Audit Committee where 68 questions were submitted, again there was a very good reason for that situation. This was the first Audit Committee where the findings of the investigation carried out by Grant Thornton into the £2 million fraud were heard in a report published by the Chief Executive. The Grant Thornton report was a damning indictment of Capita's failures to enforce even the most basic of financial controls that allowed the fraud to take place. It was also critical of Barnet Council's poor scrutiny process so it is hardly surprising that residents had lots of questions. Another item on that same agenda related to the internal audit rating of "No Assurance", the worst possible rating, on the interim and agency contract administered by Capita. You can read the report here but it makes shocking reading.

Set out below is a chart showing all the questions asked during the period mentioned in the report and the issues that were raised at each of those meetings.

Now you may start to see a common theme developing and that is about the dismal performance of Capita and how they have failed to deliver in Barnet. That is not just me saying they have failed but the Council's own senior officers who commission services from Capita.

I spend a lot of time reviewing Capita's performance and how much they charge and that by its very nature generates a lot of questions. Take for example the performance of Capita on Pensions Administration. This has been a disaster with fines from The Pension Regulator and just last month the serving of a Draft Improvement Notice, which if Capita fail to deliver, could result in a £50,000 fine. Just 2 weeks ago Internal Audit gave Pensions Administration a "Limited Assurance" rating.

Yesterday, after some chasing, Capita published their Customer Service performance figures for the last nine months. What this showed is the abysmal performance of call answering in Barnet. Some calls receive an automated response which can prove exceptionally difficult to get through. However there are two areas where performance has been consistently bad throughout the term of the contract, call to Council Tax and calls to Housing Benefits. Set out below is a chart showing how many calls are answered within the 60 seconds service level agreement target (the red line). The target is 80%. The other element shows how many calls were abandoned - people who hung up after a prolonged wait to get through. The maximum queue time for calls to be answered in May was 50 minutes and 48 minutes in June - those are for the people who didn't hang up.

What the chart above illustrates is that in the last 15 months Capita have only met the target of 80% of calls answered within 60 seconds twice and in 6 of the months the figure was below 50%. What is also shocking is the number of abandoned calls which in March 2019 hit 2191. Now to be clear that isn't all calls to the Council just those calling about Council Tax.

Calls to Housing Benefit are equally poor again only just meeting the service level agreement target in 2 out of the last 15 months (they failed in every single quarter) and with large volumes of abandoned calls.

Indeed in the most recent quarter April - June 2019 there were 12,288 abandoned calls and the 80% target level was not met for any single service area. It is clear to me that Capita's performance is not getting better and to many it seems to be getting worse, even after 6  years of running the contract.

We can't escape the other massive issue and that is the cost of the Capita contract. In the first 6 years of the contract we have paid almost £146 million more than the original contract sum.

Capita's failure to perform and Barnet Conservatives ideological support of outsourcing mean that they hate people questioning both Capita's performance and their own failure to manage the contract adequately. In any other business Capita would have been sacked long ago but not in Barnet.

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of other things the council does that are just as bad and not directly linked to Capita. The downsizing of the libraries, the failings of children's services which have taken 2 years to recover, the on-going budget cuts, but one way or other they all link back to Capita and the culture it has imposed on the operation of the Council. Complacency and arrogance, a focus on money not service, a silo based culture where secrecy is the default and a disregard for residents seem to have become norm in Barnet.

Several, Conservative Cllrs have asked me why I bother asking so many questions and my response is because they don't ask enough or even any questions. If scrutiny was in good shape I wouldn't spend hours reading reports, preparing questions and travelling all the way over to Hendon to speak for three minutes when I could be at home with my family. I am sure the same is true for all the other people who regularly question the Council. Unlike Cllrs, we don't get paid for all the time we devote to making the council better.

Last night's decision to gag residents was simply a further reflection of this poisonous culture that have invaded what was a well run and respected Council. It has lost loyalty and trust and that will not change until there is a change of regime and a realisation that the culture of the council is inappropriate for a public service organisation.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Not good enough - the verdict from Barnet's Audit Committee

Barnet's Internal Auditor has given the council a "Limited Assurance" rating for the second year running, something which was discussed at last week's Audit Committee. We had a new chairman, Cllr Rohit Grover. I have never seen him at an Audit Committee before but he assured members that he had listened to the tapes of previous meetings and was aware of what had been discussed.

We had the 30 minutes of comments and questions from myself and @BrokenBarnet.  you can read the questions here. One of @BrokenBarnet's questions was linked to the limited assurance rating given to the Capita run Pensions Administration  and related to an error in the  qualification age of Barnet pensioners.  The response to the question was that following a review it was found that 1,880 members had an incorrect normal retirement age. Now this represents nearly 20% of the total pension membership and could have financial consequences on the pension fund. The records were amended on 11 April but we were told that on 1 April that there were only 953 live errors. This is an issue that was subsequently picked up at the Pension Board and raises serious questions about whether Capita have really got to the bottom of the data quality problems.

The speech I gave is at the bottom of this blog but I focused on the Code of Governance and how the culture of the council seems to have a blindspot when it comes to scrutiny and challenge of Capita, a theme that recurred throughout the three hours of the meeting.

When discussing the Chief Executive's report Cllr Arjun Mittra questioned the change in public participation rules that will be ratified by the council on 30 July and asked the External Auditor for their opinion. The response was both surprising and very positive. The External Auditor reminded members of the principles of public scrutiny introduced by Lord Pickles and said that this is the only council where  you have a strong armchair auditor presence and that he positively welcome members of the public telling him of their concerns. He said they wanted to know about these things, real nuggets of information they can follow up on. It sounded like a ringing endorsement of the public questions and comments to me but whether Conservative Councillors will listen is another matter. This is the second time in a week that Lord Pickles presence has been felt in Barnet, the previous time as reported here by Broken Barnet.

Normally the co-opted members of the audit committee sit in silence but at this meeting both spoke out regarding the limited assurance rating given to the Council. Richard Harbord who is a former Council Chief Executive and a regular contributor to 151 website which focuses on local authority finance, said he was surprised a council such as Barnet should have received a Limited Assurance rating two years running and that a lot of work would be necessary to turn the situation around. He also said there was a there was a period when scant regard was being paid to internal audit reports, something I have been saying for several years. I just wish Mr Harbord had expressed those views in audit meetings before now. The other co-opted  member Geraldine Chadwick also noted that she was disappointed how few individual "Substantial" ratings (a good rating) the council had gained in the year (just two) and that she would have expected Barnet to have received more.

A senior person from Capita was present at the meeting and was asked to come and explain the poor performance of the pensions administration. Yet again we had someone who is new to the company, he has been with Capita since January, so distanced himself from the historical problems but promised that things would get better. He said that for a number of years the focus in Capita "had been on financial metrics", that they must refocus on staff, that staff salaries "were probably substandard" and that they wanted to lift the standard and professionalism of their staff. This is a staggering admission of failure and while it is good that they have at last admitted their failings, it provides little comfort given that we are six years into this awful contract. When Cllr Kathy Levine asked about the difficulties of communication between payroll and pensions (which are highly dependent on each other for information) the man from Capita said there was "a culture of silence in Capita", again another shocking admission. He talked about Capita's transformational journey but that provides me wit little comfort as they are changing their company on our time. It is also important to point out that we pay Capita millions each year to help with the "transformation" of Barnet. I serious worry that they can't deliver transformation in Barnet adequately if they are so focused on transforming their own organisation.

Interestingly Cllr Laithe Jajeh challenged the man from Capita saying that every meeting he had attended for audit he had heard promises from Capita staff  but that "things just hadn't been good enough at all"   He said it takes up a significant amount of time dealing with missed deadlines and promises that haven't been delivered, that time and time again deadlines are missed and how could he have confidence they would be delivered this time. Cllr Jajeh also talked about the progress with Capita being one step forward one step and sometimes two steps back. He also talked about Capita giving the council false hope. All I will say is well done Cllr Jajeh for saying what everyone knows to be true but other Conservative Councillors are afraid to say. Capita is without a doubt a classic example of emperors new clothes and for once we were hearing a Conservative councillor calling it as it is.

Ironically the man from Capita said "what we have now is a transparent relationship". Transparent to whom, certainly not the public in Barnet.

My Speech to the Committee

“Further improvements are required to improve the adequacy and effectiveness of governance and control compliance”
 “Gaps in delivery or governance oversight”
“As in the previous year, governance issues were noted across a number of audits,”
Those quotes comes from your internal auditor yet when I read The Code of Corporate Governance it seems to have been written about a completely different borough. 
Apparently, “Shared values that are integrated into the culture of the organisation, and are reflected in behaviour and policy, are hallmarks of good governance”. When I read the Internal Audit report it suggests the hallmarks of weak and inadequate governance.  Shared values are not integrated into the culture of the organisation. In fact the culture of the organisation is seriously flawed. It is a culture that refuses to recognise and address failure and now wants to prevent any form of public scrutiny especially when it comes to Capita.
Capita consistently fail to perform,  even when given second, third, and fourth chances. If council staff behaved like this they would be sacked yet Capita appear exempt from censure.
The governance statement says you will set appropriate KPI’s yet you admit that Capita have failed some critical KPI’s every year since the contract started 6 years ago.
It says you are “Ensuring that there are structures in place to encourage public participation”. Laughable when, from 31 July, you intend to gag residents and prevent them from participating and scrutinising the council. No one will be allowed to comment in person at this committee and I can ask only one question per agenda item unless a couple of people get in first in which case any questions I submit will be rejected.
So why is the Code of Corporate Governance so out of line with what the Internal Auditor is saying in their reports?
Maybe because there is a blind spot in this council when it come Capita, a cataract that blurs their failures, their underperformance and their cavalier attitude.  A comforting haze means you cannot or maybe do not want to see  who is to blame for the failures around you like the massive fraud, the pensions admin chaos, the failure of Highways. They hold a status that appears to be untouchable and defies most of the objectives within this document. Governance statement? No. A cut and paste job that bear no relation to what is happening in Barnet. Please do your jobs and start challenging the quality of governance in Barnet or we risk much greater problems in the future.

Saturday 6 July 2019

Who cares?

UPDATED 30 October 2021: 
I originally wrote a blog about the Apthorp Care Centre back in July 2019 (see below) setting out the failure of the operator to deliver a safe service to residents. This is a centre that was contracted out yet when the service failed it was simply handed back. Since then Barnet Council's 100% owned Arms Length Management Organisation, Barnet Group have been running the centre. In recent months the centre has been found to have a number of building problems (even though the building is less than 20 years old) and so the Council has decided to close the building indefinitely while building works are undertaken and make all of the care staff redundant. I have just been to a demonstration outside the centre where some of the redundant care workers were present. 

This whole situation seems mad. NHS trusts up and down the country are saying that the cannot discharge elderly people out of hospital because of the lack of care workers either to provide in-home care or into care homes that are short staffed. From what I understand Barnet Group are saying they cannot upgrade Apthorp in phases, for example, doing one wing at a time so have to close the entire care home, all 120 beds. Something just doesn't seem right here. It smells very badly and makes we wonder what the long term use of this building is planned. It is also important to note that Barnet do not own this building that they are spending so much money repairing - it is owned by Catalyst the company to whom the care homes were outsourced. Back in 2019 I was asking why the operator was not being more closely monitored and it seems Barnet Council weren't monitoring the building either. When they took the contract back from Fremantle in 2019 they should have also reviewed the state of repair and held Fremantle responsible for any failings to maintain it properly but apparently did not happen. Questions need to be asked how such a disastrous position could have been reached in such a modern building.

 Staff today were calling for a Public Inquiry into what has happened at Apthorp Care Centre and they are absolutely right. Something here stinks. 93 care workers have been made redundant at a time of care worker shortages and very frail and elderly residents have been moved out of their home and the people they know and who care for them removed. At the same time Barnet residents are being landed with a massive repair bill for a building we don't own. We need answers.

Post from 2019:
Back in January the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published a damning report about a local care home, Apthorp Care Centre which is located near the bottom of Oakhill Park in East Barnet. The CQC gave the home an inadequate rating and a number of the specific details were quite shocking, including:
  • No Registered Manager in post;
  • Bathrooms were dirty and this exposed people to the risk of harm due to poor infection control practice;
  • All the showers were out of use due to legionella in the water system and yet five of the seven baths were being used for equipment storage;
  • Breaches of five regulations relating to person-centre care, safe care and treatment, premises and equipment, staffing and governance;
  • Medicines were not administered in a systemic manner and not managed in a safe way;
  • Risks to people were not appropriately mitigated and risk assessments were not always followed.
A quote from the Report:

"We  found bathrooms and toilets were dirty and being used inappropriately for storage. We saw two shared toilets had faeces visible on the outside of the toilet bowls. The flooring in some bathrooms was damaged meaning that they could not be effectively cleaned and posed an infection control risk. Where they were not damaged the floors were dirty and water stained. The showers in the home were currently out of use as they were being refitted following legionella being found in the water systems. The manager told us people were being supported to have washes and baths until the shower heads were replaced. Seven of the baths checked were dry and dusty. They were all dirty and one contained a dry, stained tissue underneath the bath chair. Five of the baths were being used to store equipment, some of which were Christmas decorations which staff told us had been brought down from the loft two days before our inspection. However, other items stored in bathrooms included clothing, bed linen, shopping trollies, people's clothing and wheelchairs. The cluttered nature of bathrooms meant they could not be effectively cleaned."

What is also important to understand is that this care home is run for Barnet Council by Fremantle and in 2018/19 Barnet paid Fremantle £3.99 million to provide care for Barnet residents. I was aware that Barnet has a system that is supposed to monitor these contracts so on 25 February I submitted the following questions in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request:

  • In the years 2017 and 2018 how many time did Barnet Councils' Care Quality Advisors visit Apthorp Care Centre (Nurserymans Road, London N11 1EQ)?
  • Please provide me with copies of the monitoring reports of all the visits to Apthorp Care Centre in 2017 and 2018.
  • Please provide me with copies of all the monthly reports setting out provider risks and concerns which are circulated to the DASS and to the DU's Leadership team for 2017 and 2018.
  • Please provide me with details of the support Care Quality Advisors provided to Apthorp Care Centre through best practice support and supporting staff development in 2017 and 2018.

After just over a month, the initial response to my FOI was for Barnet to refuse to answer any of the questions, something which I found astonishing and so I immediately requested an internal review. That was on the 28 March. The deadline came and went and no review was forthcoming. Trying to speak to anyone at Barnet Council proved incredibly difficult and after 11 calls I eventually got through to someone. I had also spoken to my local councillor, Felix Byers, who had emailed the FOI department, but when I spoke with them they said they had no record of his email. Barnet said they would fast track the internal review but again that was an empty promise. Eventually on 20 June, after threats to go to the Information Commissioner, I received  a response. Two questions were answered and two were again refused. What the answers did reveal was that:

There was no log of visits from Care Quality Advisors in 2017: "We do not maintain an accurate records of all visits by Care Quality Advisors to Apthorp Care Centre as far back as 2017 but we have a record of 21 care reviews of residents that were carried out in 2017". They speak as if 2017 was a long time ago which again I find staggering.

In 2018: "there were 2 Contract Monitoring visits, 16 visits from Care Quality Advisors, 12 resident care reviews and 21 visits from the Enhanced Care Homes Team. The Enhanced Care Homes Team is commissioned by Barnet CCG and works in partnership with the Care Quality Team in the Adults and Health Directorate to support care homes in the borough." 

Even though there were a large number of visits (51) to this care home the shortcomings they indicate were clearly still present when the CQC made their inspection, suggesting little or no remedial action had been taken. There is absolutely no point in having monitoring regime if no actions or changes in behaviour and performance are forthcoming. Given that Barnet were paying Fremantle a shade under £4 million per annum, why didn't Barnet bang the table and demand improvements with the threat of withdrawing the contract to ensure problems were remedied.

Another quote from the report:
"When people were permanent residents at the home their medicines were supplied by a local pharmacist with printed medicine administration records (MAR). The files where MAR were stored were chaotic and held information that was not relevant to the administration of medicines, for example, reminders to put menus out were also in this file. The files also contained old information and some MAR were loose and not kept with the other MAR for that person. Staff had not recorded incoming medicines on the MAR. Furthermore, some entries were handwritten by care workers into MAR charts and this was not always legible or easy to read. The detail of how to support people to take their medicines was not always completed, which meant people did not always get the support they needed. For example, we saw a care worker gave one person a tablet then walked away before checking the person had actually swallowed their medicine. There was no information to inform this care worker about how to support this person to take their medicines properly."

The other question they answered were the details of care support provided by Care Quality Advisors in 2018 (as they don't have records for 2017). This included:
  • The Care Quality Advisors undertook regular visits to the home which included updating of risk assessment as well as supporting and monitoring the homes improvement plan. Once the provider concerns process has been invoked full risk assessments are completed and mitigating actions monitored through a regular action plan including staff support and development.
  • The Care Quality Advisors reviewed and recommended improvements in regard to the homes policies, procedures, care plans and fluid charts.
  • Workshops were provided by the Care Quality Advisors on effective care planning and evaluation.
  • Care Quality advisors liaised with Environmental Health colleagues in regard to Legionella issues at the home.
  • There were 12 care reviews of residents to ensure their care needs are being met by the home.
  • Contract monitoring visits were undertaken to monitor performance.
  • Joint work was carried out with NHS colleagues including pharmacists to improve medicines management
  • The Enhanced Health in Care Homes team delivered seven "Significant 7" programme training sessions, with 24 follow up visits reviewing and case tracking residents to monitor the success of the intervention. Significant 7 is a programme which supports staff to identify signs of deterioration in a resident at an early stage, allowing preventive action to be taken and reduce hospital admissions. The team also supported Apthorp to adopt the use of a ‘red bag’ to support smoother hospital discharges.
This reinforces the impression that although the problems were identified and some support was provided, the situation had still not changed by the time the CQC carried out their unannounced visit on 11 December. This suggests that there were no sanctions or effective enforcement in place, especially from the Contract Monitoring staff. I specifically wanted to see copies of the Care Quality Advisor reports so that I could understand how these concerns were being portrayed and what follow up actions were required.

If this was a restaurant that received a zero hygiene rating there would be a report which sets out the issues for immediate remedy, a clearly defined timetable for remedial action to take place and a deadline for a follow up inspection. All logical steps to ensure a problem is resolved. If the matters are not resolved there is the ultimate sanction of a closure notice. This suggests that while our local takeaways are adequately regulated to ensure our health is safeguarded, the care our elderly friends and relatives receive is at the mercy of a more passive, lax monitoring regime. I am continuing to pursue Barnet for the disclosure of these reports as without them we have no clear idea how the monitoring regime is managed and that means residents in any of the other 100+ care homes in Barnet could also be at risk.

Since the appalling CQC report Fremantle have decided to hand back the management of the three homes they managed on behalf of Barnet. The Barnet Group (which is 100% owned by Barnet Council) will take over the management of the homes and I understand the staff are in the process of being TUPE'd back to Barnet. It is good that the management of these homes will now be much more closely regulated but yet again it is a case of the public sector picking up an outsourcer's failure.

On the final item in my FOI request, copies of  monthly reports setting out provider risks and concerns which is circulated to the DASS (Director of Adult Social Services) and to the DU's (Delivery Unit's) Leadership team, Barnet are still refusing. I have reluctantly agreed to drop this request as I suspect it is devastatingly bad, flagging up the potential risk of other care home providers going bust. In April this year Four Seasons, one of Britain's largest care home providers, went into administration affecting 17,000 residents and patients. Between January 2016 and April 2019 there was a net reduction of 901 care homes in the UK with consolidation of beds into larger homes. A recent report in The Gazette suggest 1 in 4 care homes are financially unstable. In Barnet we have over 100 care homes and as such it is vital that we understand the risks of collapse.

While accepting the refusal I have asked that Councillors on the Adults & Safeguarding Committee be given copies of the reports under "Blue Papers" (not available to the public) so that they can understand the risks if they have not already been made aware of them.

This is a shocking story which has taken months and a great deal of persistence to uncover. It also highlights the shortcomings of the FOI system where often the first response is to refuse and how, even when councillors are involved, it still does not guarantee the answers will be forthcoming in a timely manner. Barnet are planning to close down questioning in committees and stop residents from making public comments in person. Residents provide an invaluable level of scrutiny yet it is something Barnet believes can be resolved through FOI's and talking to councillors.My own experience suggests that is a false assumption.  I will be pushing for this tragic case to be discussed at the next Adults & Safeguarding Committee and I will be asking to speak.

Mr Reasonable will not be gagged. If you believe Barnet are stifling public scrutiny please sign this petition

Monday 1 July 2019

Barnet Council Plan to Gag Residents

Last week the Constitution and General Purposes Committee proposed significant changes to the public participation rules. Currently, up to 30 minutes is set aside at the start of each committee meeting for public comments and questions. You have to submit the questions by 10am 3 working days in advance of the committee meeting and you also have to specify which agenda item on which you wish to make a public comment.  At the meeting the resident gets 3 minutes to make their public comment and they can then be questioned by committee members. Questions are taken in strict rotation so everyone who has asked a question gets a chance to ask a supplementary question. Even if the questioners do not get the chance to ask a supplementary question there is a written response to their original question. This provides a useful audit trail when matters arise in the future.

Last week all those rules were changed.  Following ratification at the forthcoming full council meeting on 30 July public participation will be dramatically reduced. The Council's proposals are as follows:

Questions and comments should be amalgamated. The number of words for each question/comment should be limited at 100 and must be submitted in writing by 10am 3 working days in advance of the committee meeting.
Residents may raise one question/comment on an agenda item. The question/comment must relate to the substantive matter to be determined by the committee. No more than two questions from residents will be allowed per agenda item taken in the order of receipt by the Governance Service.
These changes means the public will no longer be able to address the committee in person and councillors will not be able to ask the member of public about their comment. When reports run to many pages, summarising a single question or comment in 100 words will severely restrict what people can say. Residents will only be able to make one comment or one question on an agenda item but if more than two residents ask a question or make a comment on an agenda item, no other questions or comments will be accepted. 
Barnet say this is about saving money and giving more opportunities to residents. It will do neither especially, if residents are forced to submit multiple FOI requests to get important answers. It seems clear that Barnet do not like residents scrutinising decisions such as the Council's £22.9 million loan to Saracens Rugby to build a new stand at their stadium or asking questions about the £2 million fraud carried out by a Capita employee which went undiscovered for more than a year. Capita's performance in areas such as Highways and Pensions Administration have been dismal but public scrutiny of their performance and why they are being allowed to continue to provide such a poor service will now be all but eliminated.
The Council are also making major cuts to services such as libraries and are changing the rules to force disabled people who receive in-home care packages to move into residential care simply because it is cheaper. The ability to question these changes will be dramatically reduced, allowing the council to rubber stamp decisions without any meaningful engagement with the public.
Barnet residents have a right and a need to scrutinise the Council and these changes will eliminate that scrutiny. I admit I do ask quite a few questions but that is simply because I believe committees are failing to provide adequate scrutiny. Conservative councillors keep saying the questions are political. The questions I ask are almost always about money and performance. With £20 million of budget cuts this year and a further £47 million of cuts over the next four years it is important that Councillors at least listen to the concerns of residents.
If you think the Council's proposals are wrong, please sign the petition here or go an visit your local Conservative Councillor before the Council meeting on 30 July. Details of all their councillors' surgeries are on the Barnet Council website but I have summarised them here for your convenience.