Sunday 27 October 2019

Gagging - The questions I would have asked if I wasn't gagged

Since the introduction of the new gagging rules, residents are no longer allowed to make public comments or submit them in writing and are limited to just one question per agenda item. I intend to publish the questions I would have submitted to demonstrate that these questions still need to be asked. Set out below are the questions I would have submitted to the Financial Performance and Contracts Committee on 28 October. Scrutiny is a vital function and without residents questions it is an incomplete process.

Agenda Item 7
  • The leisure budget is overspent by £719,000 because of the on-going problems at Finchley Lido which has now been closed since March. Does this overspend include the £245,520 the council has spent on phase one propping of the roof at the Lido while investigation works take place or is that in addition to the £719,000. What have been the results of the investigative works, what is the likelihood that the Lido will remain closed after December and what are the estimated costs or repairing the roof so that the Lido can reopen?
  • Why were the counter fraud operations overspent by £731,000 before reserve movements?
  • In CSC 0-25 the manpower costs were overspent by £362,000 with 13 agency staff in place. What steps have been taken to reduce the dependence on agency staff and how much will it save if all those agency staff can be converted to permanent staff?
  • The CSG managed budget is £2.36 million overspent. Of that sum, £411,000 was due to the delay in moving out of NLBP to Colindale. Who was at fault for the delay, the contractor or the council and if the contractor, is it possible to recover this cost through contractual penalties?
  • Why are we picking up the bill for the £469,000 shortfall in document solutions service given that this is a service provided by Capita?
  • Is the £690,000 shortfall associated with Brent Cross income shortfall and running costs a one off problem or an early indicator of wider problems with the Brent Cross redevelopment?
  • If the £1 million overspend on the Re projects management fee relates to the fee increase for the deferral in 2017/18 to 2019/20 can you clarify why this wasn’t accrued for in 2017/18?
  • Frontline waste is £1,162,000 overspent. The explanation includes reason such as replacement of the fleet but surely these are capital expenditure, not revenue? The detailed evidence suggests that the rounds reorganisation saved no money whatsoever and in fact appears to have cost an additional £250,000. Given you have already missed the deadline to consolidate services into one depot, that the Oakleigh Road depot is about to undergo a period of major works to address subsidence problems known about from day one and which are likely to increase operating cost, are you sure that the year end forecast is reliable or merely an aspiration?
  • The highways service is currently predicting an underlying overspend £654,000. Given the recent internal audit “No Assurance” rating for Highways and examples where invoices weren’t properly reconciled, work wasn’t properly checked and invoices weren’t certified for payment by the appropriate budget manager, how certain are you that the shortfall will not be considerably more by year end?
  • Given that this financial year, the net forecasted overspend is £9.423m excluding reserve movements and that according to the MTFS the council will have a budget deficit of £118.7 million over the next five years, is Barnet facing the inevitable risk of bankruptcy unless you take radical action to get the finances on a more secure footing?
 Agenda Item 9
  • As the contractual dispute with the main building contractor was resolved in July, why are we not allowed to know the scale of the payment made by the council given it could be up to £5 million and will have to be identified at some stage in the accounts?
Agenda Item 10
  • Given that TPR felt that even after issuing a Warning Notice, they were not confident there would not be further delay without their involvement, they issued an Improvement Notice. What steps is this committee going to take to ensure that Capita’s role as the pension administrator is much more rigorously monitored by the Council?
  • What was the outcome of the Annual Benefits Statement exercise?
  • Why are there no KPI’s for pensions, will KPI’s be implemented as a matter of urgency and does the lack of KPI’s mean that there is no contractual redress against Capita for their catalogue of failures on pensions administration?
  • Given that Accounts Payable operated by Capita has received a "Limited Assurance" rating from Internal Audit, will this committee explain why they chose not to bring Accounts Payable back in-house along with the finance function in April 2019 and will this decision be reconsidered as a matter of urgency?
  • Given that you expect that overall phone and email volumes for the year will be less than 500,000 contacts for the first time since the start of the contract does that reflect the fact that many residents have given up trying to use the telephone system because it is so poor or it is because the strategy of savings opportunities from “telephony service degradation” agreed by the Senior Management Team at the Strategic Commissioning Board, are working?
  • The report on HBPL does not identify if the contract is overspent. Can you confirm that the contract is in line with the budget forecast and if not, by how much is it overspent?
  • Why does the Cambridge Education contract which provides vital services to schools, including 1.1 million school meals, warrant just 8 words of text and does that mean that there are no problems at all with the service provided by Cambridge Education and its subcontractor ISS?
  • In the Barnet Group report it notes that the repairs target is not being met. I understand that the contract with Mears (who carry out the repairs) is being terminated one year early and the service will be brought back in house. What is the risk that the backlog of repairs will increase between now and when the contract is brought back in house in April 2020 and how can that situation be avoided?
Agenda Item 11
  • The forward works programme states that you will set out details of the 6 and 7 year contract reviews at the December meeting. Why has this been left so long given that we are already in year 6 and have you renegotiated the contract to change the terms of reference for the year 7 review which relates to the extension of the RE contract?
It will be interesting to see if any of these questions get asked at the meeting - I suspect not.

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