Monday 28 November 2022

Looking back almost twelve years - the pledge I made that was never accepted

 I was going through Barnet's supplier payments for October 2022 (£71.7 million) and I cast my mind back to January 2011. At that time the council implemented something called Pledgebank where residents could pledge to carry out some activity on behalf of the council/community. My pledge was as follows:

“I will pledge to give up 4 hours of my time every month to scrutinise and challenge all invoices over £10,000 to help the Council reduce unnecessary spending so long as five other people will make a similar time commitment to sit on the panel and that Barnet Council will genuinely participate in the process and listen to the advice and opinions given.”

Strangely, the council never took me up on my pledge although, rather than decline it, they left it hanging, "undecided" as they put it. You can read about it here.

Why I raise it now is that when costs are so tight and we potentially face serious cuts to services due to the impact of the crazy mini budget of 23 September, every penny spent must be carefully watched and if necessary challenged.

This month, excluding redacted payment, we paid 1,021 suppliers £69.27 million. The top 20 suppliers were paid £48.83 million or 70.5% of the total spent. Looking at individual payments there were a total of 14,811 of which 521 were for £10,000 or more, around 3.5% of the total invoices. Excluding payments to statutory authorities, that number falls further. Maybe now is the time to revisit that pledge?

Barnet also spent just over £2 million on agency staff in October which brings the year end forecast to £18.2 million, up on last year and set to be close to the peak year of 2016/17.

And just to update you on Capita, the running total is now £622.74 million. Scrutiny is more important than ever.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Capita still costing us a fortune

 I was a bit worried that the supplier payments still had not been published for September 2022 so I dropped a quick email to Barnet yesterday. Almost by return, they came back saying thanks for pointing it out but they had been published the figures somewhere else on the website by error and that had now been corrected. Since the finance function has come back in house they have always been helpful and very responsive.

What the figures do reveal is the bill for Capita continues to mount even though the end of the contract is in sight. In September we were billed £5.13 million on the Capita Re contract and £3.39 million on the Capita CSG contract, both chunky numbers.

The running total since the start of the contract is now £618.61 million, £257.73 million more than the contracted value.

It is also important to remember that the contracted value includes the cost for services that have already been brought back in house such as finance so the true cost is even higher.

Other noticeable costs include the running total for agency staff at £8.5 million with a forecast year end cost of £17.1 million.

It is also worth noting that, in the first six months of this year, Barnet have paid out £28.57 million on the Brent Cross project. I remain concerned at the level of risk Barnet is exposed to on this massive redevelopment project.

Listening to what is happening at other local authorities, I think we are in for a serious financial squeeze with the impact of inflation on pay rises, increased energy and construction costs, and contracts which include indexation clauses (such as the Capita contract). Now more than ever it is essential that there is a high level of scrutiny on every pound spent within Barnet. 

As always, I will keep monitoring the spending at Barnet.