Thursday, 5 May 2016

The price of freedom: on the eve of elections, Barnet Tories panic as their Capita run disability pass 'renewal' scheme is exposed

Disabled Barnet residents' Freedom Passes, cancelled by Capita - why? 

Pic courtesy Times Series

It's been six years now, since this blog was launched, and Mrs Angry began to chronicle, in loving detail, the never ending saga of corporate idiocy and grubby politics that delights us rather too much, here in Broken Barnet.

What is it, about this borough, that so many stories that arise here become the focus of not only the local blogosphere, but so much national interest, and media attention? 

Some days it is hard to walk down the street without bumping into yet another documentary film crew, or news team, in search of footage to illustrate the latest act of political extremism perpetrated by our lunatic Tory council. 

Every day, it seems, another cockeyed pilot scheme comes to light that has been adopted by this administration, desperate as always, of course, to be seen as the flagship of Conservative policy, revelling in its own glory, only begetter (or so they would like us to believe) of the 'easycouncil' model of mass outsourcing, the hollowed out, commissioning council.

Here in Broken Barnet we residents are no better than rats in a cage, the objects of experimentation in social engineering, in an ideological laboratory for the latest new preoccupation: a pioneer of any new idea, as long as it is punitive, profitable, and bound to the ideals of Tory Barnet, a factory of dogma forged in the era of Thatcherism, still wheeled around the borough like the relics from an ancient cult, dying slowly on the edge of the known world.

Reflecting, as some of us were, the other night, on the stories that have emerged, over this period, from the MetPro scandal, to the current revelations of the failings of the massive Capita contract, it is hard to imagine anywhere else, in this country, that has produced an unceasing narrative of events so clearly defining the issues which are at the heart of our political landscape. The landscape of Broken Barnet is the story of Broken Britain, painted on a backdrop, for your entertainment. Take your seats.

Forget about all the other tales that have played out on this stage: the mass outsourcing of our public services; the lie that is 'regeneration', acted out in the annexation of the West Hendon estate, sold to developers for £3; a housing policy that introduces criteria of approval based on moral judgement, fast tracking for the deserving poor, but only for housing that can last no longer than five years; the commercial exploitation of even the dead citizens of Broken Barnet by the Crapitorial control of 'Easycrem', the former Hendon Cemetery.

Set aside the the constitutional amendment that censored any heretical reference by residents at local forums to any aspect of council 'policy'; the attempts to destroy our library service; the abandonment of responsibility for meals on wheels - or the shameful story of 'Your Choice Barnet', a business model dreamed up, at our expense, by business consultants, to make profit, as of course they felt they must, from the provision of care to vulnerable adults, which failed, and had to be bailed out by the local taxpayer. 

If you recall, YCB's failure was then addressed by making savings: not from the inflated six figure salaries of senior officers, but by slashing the salary of already desperately low paid care workers by ten percent,  justified by one of those privileged senior officers as being necessary because these workers needed to take 'a haircut'.

All of this, readers, fades into the background, for a while, at least, when we look now, on the eve of another election, here in London, at what is happening in Broken Barnet.

Today it was laid bare, the ugly truth that lies at the heart, if there is one, of Tory Barnet. 

A story that has emerged, piece by piece, only by the courage of those families whose loved ones are being affected, but were too worried about the consequences to speak out: families of disabled residents in this borough, in this capital city, in 2016, whose mobility has been taken away from them not by disability itself, but by the public authority entrusted with the defence of their well being.

Yes: this is  perhaps the most shocking story of all, or at least the one that best demonstrates the sickness that is eating away at the core of our public services, here in Tory Barnet: the story of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme.

For some time now, vital passes have been taken away, sometimes with no notice, from disabled and highly vulnerable adults and young people, whose right to travel free of charge is one protected in law, yet who have been subjected to a humiliating and distressing process, supposedly necessary in order to renew something to which they are entitled anyway until 2020. 

In some cases, disabled residents have been summoned to ' assessments', to check their physical capacity. In a comment left yesterday on the previous post, one woman with mobility problems reports being called to a humiliating and distressing interview in which she was made to walk up stairs, and to a bus stop, watched by an 'assessor', presumably provided by Capita, but whose qualifications are unknown. 

i feel very anxious and very down. If they take it from me, i wont be able to cope financially, as i can only carry a small bag of groceries at a time..certainly not enough to live. I cant afford all the bus fares, i cant walk to the shop to top up..frankly, im terrified. My son will have to give up his job to care for me. I hope i will get the chance to appeal. The letter said, if you get high rate mobility you didnt have to have an interview...but if you can walk to a bus dont get high rate mobility! Its a trick no one can qualify!!

In another case reported today in the local Times, Jenny Fairclough, a teenage pupil with autism - and other serious health problems - has been brave enough to describe the distress she has undergone since losing her pass - see photo above.

It is simply heart breaking to read about this hugely upsetting experience, and know it has happened to countless others, unable to speak out, now having lost their access to public transport, unless they can afford to pay full fares.

Why has this been happening? 

The blame has been put on a change of criteria of eligibility  by London Councils: not true, as the eligibility is statutory. The real reason is easy to guess: in order to create a pretext for removing some residents' right to a pass, and make savings as a result. Savings which may or may not result in reward for the private contractors overseeing the scheme: one of several aspects of this issue which must now be investigated.

Capita is administering this process, on behalf of the council. But they are not doing this on their own initiative, in secret, but with the approval of your Tory councillors.

You may think that there could be nothing more shameful than what they have done: and yet they had no sense of shame, until this matter was forced out into the open, by local bloggers, first the Barnet Eye, and now Mrs Angry.

Only once pressure was put on the council last week, was the process suspended, and a temporary stop to the spurious renewal scheme. 

Yesterday Mrs Angry asked the authority's Monitoring Officer to investigate whether the scheme was in fact lawful, in principle and practice, and was not discriminatory: and now today, after a story in the local press, we hear words of contrition - now that they have been caught out - from a senior commissioning officer at Barnet Council, Jamie Blake

“We understand that freedom passes are a highly valued means of getting around by those who use the scheme, which is why it is important to ensure that only those who are eligible can use them. We would like to apologise for any distress that may have been caused. Residents who have had their pass withdrawn will be contacted by us within the next seven days to discuss their circumstances.” 

Do they really think we will believe this apparent apology 'for any distress' is sincere? 'Ensuring only the eligible can use them ...' As opposed to what? 

Are you suggesting residents who originally received these passes because they had disabilities are now somehow recovered, and fraudulently using a travel pass? 

The eligibility criteria have not changed, but Mr Blake perhaps may think that thousands of disabled residents have somehow become able bodied, whilst forgetting to inform the council. 

Do they think we believe that the senior management of this council had no idea this process was taking place, and that enormous distress was being caused to so many residents and their families? 

Who authorised it, then? 

Either they knew, or Capita was acting without authority - which would be a very serious matter, another very serious matter, on top of all the other troublesome developments which this contract has recently seen. 

But you will notice something else very interesting too. Not one Tory councillor has spoken publicly about this scandalous practice, now revealed for the shameful piece of exploitation that it is. 

Oh: hang on, while writing this late at night, Mrs Angry has just heard from Cllr Sachin Rajput, who is the Tory lead on this matter: 

There is a suspension now in place. As far as future renewals of passes or the issuing of new passes in the future is concerned, this will be the subject of policy review I understand. 

Mrs Angry has pointed out that suspension should have taken place long ago, when concerns were first raised, and anyway such a policy should never have been sanctioned. 

Rather than draw attention to elected members, just before an election, the council has taken put a senior officer in the firing line, and allowed the political culprits to maintain absolute silence. 

In fact we know now, from several sources that at least some members and officers were perfectly aware of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme, and the distress it was causing, and yet no action was taken to stop it. 

Let us repeat the point: action is only being taken now because it has been dragged out into the public domain - on the eve of an election. 

In the meanwhile, while some of the most vulnerable residents of Barnet have lost their vital travel passes, and wait to hear if the council may now graciously restore them - no mention of compensation for financial loss, incidentally - your Tory councillors continue to travel about the borough enjoying the free parking permits which they award themselves, so no need to worry about them, anyway. 

Apparently the only eligibility criteria for this nice little perk is to be a Conservative member (Labour members refuse to take them) and an innate sense of entitlement. No renewal scheme required. 

Well, in the morning, this morning, you have the opportunity to vote in the London elections. 

The Tory candidate for Barnet and Camden is Daniel Thomas, who is also the Deputy Leader of Barnet Council. 

He has refused to comment about the Freedom Pass scandal: but then his entire campaign - probably wisely - appears to have consisted of keeping as low a profile as possible, forming no opinions on any issue of importance, and not expressing the opinions he does not have. 

The Labour candidate and current AM, Andrew Dismore, on the other hand, has written to Tory leader Cornelius, and has said: 

"Disabled residents & their relatives have been “caused exceptional anxiety and distress ... There is now a pattern of systemic failure associated with the Capita contract.” 

Dismore is now calling for an independent external inquiry into Capita, and options for cancelling the contract. He is absolutely right to do so. There is no other option now. 

This week's last, worst, example of the Capitalisation of Broken Barnet has made that perfectly clear. 

When you go to the polling station, please think very carefully about the options you have before you. 

If you want to live in a capital city, in a borough, where, as we have seen all too acutely this week, profit comes before the interests of our most vulnerable residents, those who need housing, support, and care, then go right ahead, and vote for the Conservative candidates. 

But if you still have hopes for a London where community, fairness, dignity, equality and justice have a chance of survival, you have only one choice: give your vote to a Labour Mayor and a Labour Assembly member - to Sadiq Khan, and to Andrew Dismore.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Freedom's just another word: the disabled residents in Barnet, struggling to retain free travel passes issued by Capita

Vanishing Point: or the end of the line, for some residents' Freedom Passes 

*Updated Tuesday: see below

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Angry was on a local bus, travelling home, minding her own business, staring out of the window, when she became distracted from her own preoccupations by what appeared to be a delay at a bus stop, caused by a disagreement between the driver, and someone who was trying to use their travel pass, and move on into the bus. In fact there were two people in front of the driver: a man with a learning disability, and his carer, and it was the carer who was trying to use the pass of the man he was looking after. The pass seemed not to work, and the carer could not understand why that was.

Eventually the driver stopped arguing, and let the pair sit down. Clearly it was upsetting and confusing for the disabled passenger, and it was puzzling to see a bus driver arguing with someone who pretty obviously was entitled to a free pass anyway. 

 This incident made sense at last when Mrs Angry read about problems related to the renewal of Freedom Passes, in the Barnet Eye blog, which has recently featured the plight of two disabled residents who have reportedly had their passes cancelled by the London Borough of Barnet, without any warning - a young man, and a young woman, and Mrs Angry has also heard from other sources deeply worrying tales of similar experiences. 

It is a sign of the times we live in that some of these people are too frightened of the consequences if they are identified in any way for speaking out about this matter. 

The young man quoted in the Barnet Eye blog, whom we shall therefore call 'Mr X', had held a pass for 18 years - he stated:

I asked the ticket inspector what is wrong with my faulty freedom pass card, he said to me, "Have you received the letter from the council?" I replied "Yes". He said to me the freedom pass is stopped, cancelled & it will no be longer used in the Tube lines, buses, Tram, overground & national rail trains so I told him the reason I hold the freedom pass because I have learning difficulties/disabilities. He understood & he said there is nothing he can do because of the stupid selfish Tory government treating the disabled people like garbage by implementing ridiculous policies that affects them like bedroom tax & ruining the welfare system

Since then, I told my mum about it & she called London councils who issued freedom pass cards for disabled & older people, she told them that why my freedom pass is deactivated & blocked. They said to her on the phone it wasn't them (London Councils) who blocked me from using my freedom pass. It was the Barnet council who did it. the expiry of my freedom pass is 31st March 2020. 

... I received the letter from Barnet council, what it said on the letter is that I need to have photo taken which I did recently. On the letter, it said "Are you diagnosed with learning disabilities & SEN (which includes autism which I am high functioning). I ticked "yes" so I posted the letter in the postbox & I received no response from the Barnet council at all. It did not say on the letter that my freedom pass will be stopped working or will soon to expire, it did say not on the letter ... 

The young woman featured yesterday, 'Ms Y', has also had a pass for many years, as her parent explains: 

My disabled daughter received a letter informing her that she now does now does not fit the criteria for a Freedom Pass. She has had it since the age of 10 she is now 19. The letter stated that she had 30 days to appeal. 10 days since receiving the letter, she boards a bus to come home and is informed that her Freedom Pass has been cancelled. Leaving her to panic and have a meltdown. Thankfully I was able to be contacted to collect her and return her home. 

Barnet gave her no notice that the pass had been cancelled and the letter did not state that the pass would be cancelled. 

Surely under Safeguarding the vulnerable Barnet Council have failed. Do Barnet not have a duty of care to their vulnerable people. Are they not picking on the ones with the least understanding and ability to fight their corner, all to save money. 

 How do Barnet Council sleep at night. 

Of course you can probably guess who now issues these passes, can you? Go on. Have a try.

Yes: Barnet Council's private contractors, Capita. 

Well, then. After reading all these reports, and checking with a few other sources, Mrs Angry thought she would brave the council call centre (another 'service' provided by Crapita) and attempt to run the gauntlet of options, designed so as to deter as many callers as possible from reaching any department, and speaking in person to any employee. 

This privatised phone system is a soul destroying labyrinth of dead ends, cut offs, an endless and perplexing choice of options, often ending in recorded messages, and then ... a dead line. Even if you demand of the automated response to speak to an operator, you can never be sure where you are going to end up. 

And unlike the original labyrinth, to reach the Minotaur itself, the monstrous beast of outsourced power skulking in the lair of Capita, there is no ball of string to find your way back: only darkness, and eternal despair. 

First attempt: a recorded message informing those who might want to apply for a new Freedom Pass that they should do so online. Ah. 

Not so useful if you have a disability, and perhaps have trouble using a pc, and need help, or maybe are not able to afford access to a pc. 

But never mind, Mrs Angry! Capita have thought of that! 

A very helpful suggestion next, from the recorded voice. 

Why not visit your local library, if you need help! 

Yes! Those libraries that your Tory councillors, who so happily signed up for these fecking Capita contracts, now have decided to hollow out of library staff, by half, and turn them for much of the time into robot, DIY libraries, unstaffed! 

And don't worry about using an unstaffed library, if you have a learning disability. We are told this will be addressed by leaving a few leaflets for you, with easy to understand instructions, on, you know, how to use a library when there is no one there to help you.

The message, unfortuntately, abruptly ended with a cheery ... Goodbye! 

Back to square one. 

Second attempt, then. This time to the renewal option. 

This time answered by a human being, who gave his name, duly recorded, and confirmed that he worked for Capita. That was about all he could confirm, as it turned out. But what he did not know, he passed on anyway. 

If I had to renew the Freedom Pass of a family member with a disability, was that because of any particular reason? He told Mrs Angry that last year, that is to say up to March 2016, passes were automatically renewed, but for the current year, the criteria for eligibility had changed. 

Oh. Really? In what way? 

It seemed the assessment for eligibility was a lot more vigorous. 

Disability had to have been recognised for more than two years, and the resident had to be known to a certain service. And seen 'regularly' by them. 

How regularly? Every month, apparently. 

Goodness me: something of a challenge, you might think. 

How would someone with a learning disability, for example, be properly informed about all this? 

Well, letters had been sent out from the beginning of the year, from January. Yes, but what if the person had a disability, say, such as autism: how would they cope with a demand for renewal like this? 

Autism? What was that? 

Mrs Angry asked this employee, who confirmed that his job is to deal with the renewal of Freedom Passes, to residents with disabilities , if he did not know what autism was.

He did not. 

Ok. Why had the criteria changed, then? 

That one was easy. It wasn't Barnet's fault, or Capita, it seems. No, no, no. It was London Councils. 

Are you sure? He was. 

Mrs Angry, however, wasn't at all sure. 

So she phoned London Councils. 

A very helpful assistant there was at a loss to understand why anyone would say they had changed the criteria. 

He read out the statutory definition of eligibility: 

People who are blind or partially sighted

People who are profoundly or severely deaf 

People without speech

People who have a disability, or have suffered an injury, which has left them with a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to walk

People who do not have arms or have a long-term loss of the use of both arms 

People who have a learning disability that is defined as 'a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning' 

People who, if they applied for the grant of a licence to drive a motor vehicle under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988, would have their application refused pursuant to section 92 of the Act (physical fitness) otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol. 

Let us repeat this: these people, as described by these definitions, have a statutory right, a right in law, to a Freedom Pass. Councils must obey the law and give passes to those residents in need, and may also grant them on the grounds of other qualifications. And let us make this quite clear, as Mrs Angry was told, quite categorically: 

London Councils have NOT changed the criteria of eligibility. 

So what on earth is going on? 

Why are disabled residents finding out that their passes no longer work in circumstances that to anyone would be embarrassing, and upsetting, but particularly to any vulnerable person, who could potentially be left stranded without access to public transport, alone and confused, and unable to get home? 

Why is the wrong information being given to residents as to the reason for an need for renewal? 

Why have such residents been deprived of a pass, and on what grounds? 

How many residents have suffered distress, and the loss of their passes, when they are entitled to those passes?

Why are changes being made in the way such residents' eligibility is being assessed in Barnet, and in the monitoring and documentation of their disabilities? 

Who authorised these changes, and when? 

Were they approved by councillors, or imposed by Capita? Are they lawful? Do they discriminate, or is the process by which the passes are being 'renewed' itself discriminatory? 

Was any assessment of the risk of such potential discrimination made by the authority, and if so when? 

Oh: and why is renewal considered necessary in the first place, when the passes are meant to be valid until 2020? 

Does Capita think that there is a possibility that someone may have 'recovered' from autism, or Downs Syndrome, has stopped being reliant on the support of the council, and present the outsourced service thereby with the possibility of more contractual savings, and - kerrching - maybe even gainshare payments on those savings? 

Will our Tory councillors take any notice of what appears to be another Capita disaster waiting to unfold, and hold their contractors to account?

There is an irony inherent, of course, in the very nature of this new enterprise, whatever it is: associated as it is with the extension, or withdrawal, of a 'Freedom Pass', to allow residents to travel at ease, without charge, throughout the borough, and beyond. 

In Broken Barnet, as in any totalitarian state, travel and freedom of movement must be controlled, and monitored, and free passes allowed only to those that can prove they are deserving of such benevolence. And the need for control, and subversion, of corporate language means that any scheme with the word 'freedom' in the title is by its very nature, a challenge to the authority of our overseers.

Only the deserving poor, not 'scroungers', those who must be experiencing the worst degree of disability and hardship so as to qualify for a strictly limited indulgence, may have any escape from the rule of profit which underlies every service now handed over to Capita, on behalf of our Tory councillors. 

Has there been a change of policy, in regard to Freedom Passes, in this borough, debated and approved by our Tory administration? 

Or is the problem simply another result of Crapitalism in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, decided upon and enacted by officers and contractors?  

Let's see what we can find out, shall we? 

And in the meanwhile, consider your choice of candidate in next month's elections very carefully: both candidates are promising to protect the Freedom Pass, but Mrs Angry thinks it highly unlikely a hugely privileged old Etonian like Zac Goldsmith really understands, or cares about, the vital role it plays in the lives of ordinary Londoners, and we all know what happened to Boris Johnson's transport pledges, once he was Mayor.

Updated Thursday:

Mrs Angry has written to Tory Cllr Sachin Rajput, Chair of the Adults and Safeguarding Board in Barnet, to ask him what he thought about this scandalous matter. Also copied to Labour leader Cllr Barry Rawlings. 

Other families affected by the pass 'renewal' have contacted Mrs Angry to say they have been waiting weeks for their relative's pass to be processed: we must ask again - what exactly is going on, and why is this necessary in the first place?

New - *Updated Saturday:

Cllr Rajput has replied to Mrs Angry's email to say that the matter has been raised with officers. We shall await the outcome of his enquiry with great interest.

Cllr Rawlings has claimed on twitter that the issue was 'investigated' six weeks ago, and he was told the policy had been 'suspended'. 

The two experiences reported by disabled residents in the Barnet Eye blog, and the information given to Mrs Angry this week by a Capita officer dealing with pass 'renewals', however, suggest that this is unfortunately not the case, and one must now also question why the opposition leader was apparently given such an assurance, as well as the reason this scandalous policy was approved - and by whom - in the first place. 

And the most important question of all: are there in fact any 'renewals' being issued - even on spurious grounds - or is the whole process simply a way of removing passes from disabled residents, thereby making 'savings' for which Capita will gain some reward? 


Mrs Angry has now written to the Monitoring Officer of Barnet Council to ask her to confirm that the 'renewal' process being undertaken by Capita on behalf of the authority is in fact lawful, and not discriminatory. She has replied that she is now looking into the matter.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hands Up, or : Not Our Finest Hour - Crapita is very sorry, several times, at the Audit Committee

Holding his hands up: the man from Crapita says 'sorry' ... 

On reflection, thought Mrs Angry, taking her seat at the front of the public gallery, in readiness for the Audit Committee, it may have been a mistake, when encountering councillor Brian Salinger in Waitrose on Sunday, to enquire if the eye wateringly bright yellow shirt and lurid green trousers he was sporting demonstrated that he had just been auditioning for a role in the chorus of a local pantomime. 

Councillor Salinger, who was, he explained, busy searching the shelves for makeup remover, nodded sympathetically as the treacherous Miss Angry threw into our shopping trolley a pair of earplugs and indicated to the Tory councillor, whilst looking darkly in the direction of her mother, that her purchase was in some way related to her difficult home life. 

But Mrs Angry had quite forgotten, you see, when baiting Cllr Salinger, largely in delayed revenge for his insulting gesture on the steps of the Town Hall a few months ago, see below, that he was Chair of the Audit Committee, to which she had submitted questions for last Tuesday's meeting. Oops. 

Easy enough to forget, because it still seems utterly preposterous that the Tories made Salinger Chair of Audit in the first place, instead of, as has always previously been the case, an opposition member, so as to ensure at least the pretence of independence and probity in the process of audit, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

Tory Chair of the Audit Committee, Councillor Brian Salinger

When Libdem councillor Lord Palmer was the Chair, Audit was the one committee in Barnet which took seriously the role of scrutiny, to any effective degree, or delivered any form of censure in regard of some of the remarkable things that have occurred during the years of preparation for mass outsourcing, and then the contractual 'partnership' that we are obliged to endure with Capita, for ten long years.

Since Palmer's departure to a better place, ie not Heaven, thankfully, but the House of Lords, Audit, if not in the spirit of pantomime, is very definitely part of the business that is show, in Broken Barnet: a political event, not a process of incisive scrutiny. 

Worse still, it is intensely boring, and Mrs Angry rarely bothers to show up - especially now there is no chance of winding up the previous external auditor, and Mrs Angry's blushing admirer, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton, who learnt everything he knows, of course, from her spectacular career in local government audit.

Now we have engaged the favours of new auditors, at BDO - two of whose representatives sat cheerily throughout the meeting, at the end of the table, peering curiously at Mrs Angry, from time to time, in a way which might have suggested that they were mindful of her previous chronicling of external auditors, and were worrying about the fifty shades of possibility that this habit might extend to their own appearance at the table. BDO. Hmm. Plenty of scope for amusement there, readers, rest assured ...

Our council also receives internal audit support from PWC, who could be spotted eagerly reading this blog's posts on the IT crash over the last couple of days  - and may well be sent a Barnet sized consultancy fee, clearly looking, as they are, for professional guidance from Mrs Angry, struggling as they must be to get to grips with the reality of political life, and the eternal defiance of the principle of audit, or indeed scrutiny, in Broken Barnet.

Well: we are now at Year Three, in the new era of Crapita, and it is time for a formal review of their contractual performance. 

Oh dear. 

Such bad timing: just as things fall apart, the centre not holding, and anarchy loosed upon the world, with IT crashes, various cockups, an abundance of conflicts of interest raising their ugly heads; and all while we are being billed astronomical sums of payments over and beyond the agreed core contract fees, those savings we were promised apparently lost in an ocean of extra charges and gainshare rewards.

The information going to the Audit meeting had emerged, therefore, at the worst possible time for Capita: directly after the catastrophic library IT crash. Submitted to this Audit meeting was a report ,coincidentally completed just days before the crash, warning of impending doom on an apocalyptic scale, in regard to the failure of the contractors to create a credible IT disaster recovery programme. Late in the week, as well, emerged another terrible report, this time on 'change management'.

The report made clear that not only had there been a failure to produce an acceptable ITDR programme, Capita had been less than cooperative throughout the time in which the report was being compiled, and unnecessary delays caused as a result.

So there we were, on Tuesday night, arriving in a doubled up committee room, with what Mrs Angry thought must be far too many seats in the public area, as usually no one else turns up for the Audit meetings. Ah, but the seats, apart from two bloggers, veteran attendee Mr Shepherd and a young journalism student from Middlesex Uni, poor boy, were soon largely filled not by members of the public, but a coachload of Crapita personnel, the usual Suits, faceless, nameless, transitory Suits, who come and go, never staying long, in Barnet, creating a trail of havoc in their wake, and leaving someone else to carry the can, before they too move on.

This group of grim faced executives sat behind Mrs Angry, whispering amongst themselves, and scowling at her, one of them tutting furiously when she was commenting, as usual, from the public seating, after severe provocation. Outrageous, of course, expressing an opinion, rather than listening in silence to the corporate bilge extruded from the Crapita machine, staunchly supported by officers who are supposed to be guarding our interests, as residents, but are frequently indistinguishable from the contractual representatives.

The other usual source of irritation at these meetings was, to Mrs Angry's surprise, markedly silent, and subdued, throughout the event. No need to worry about Cllr Salinger, dressed not in his panto outfit, but displaying one of his memorable ties, which for some reason, which cannot possibly have any underlying Freudian explanation, he always likes to dangle in Mrs Angry's face - this time seemingly covered in pictures of one of the Mr Men. Oh: Mr Rush,  'always in a hurry'. Yes. So one would imagine.

He almost resisted all temptations to make political points (but clearly it was a struggle), and tolerated Mrs Angry's cheek with an unusual degree of forebearance. His colleagues on the committee, however, were the greatest surprise. 

That is to say the Tory members, who clearly had no appetite for defending the indefensible, as you will see, throughout the course of the meeting, which now began.

Fellow blogger John Dix, Mr Reasonable had asked to speak to the committee, and submitted a very interesting list of questions, and Mrs Angry had submitted three of her own, just to show willing. 

As usual John's speech was straight to the point, and damning: how had the failures identified in these reports been allowed to happen? He held responsible every councillor who had signed up to the Capita contracts without ensuring an adequate monitoring system was in place. Any further outsourcing, he said, would be reckless.

Mr Reasonable speaks to the Audit Committee

He was of course heard in silence, and left to leave the table, with no questions asked. 

The room was full of unspoken thoughts, and an uncomfortable shuffling and muttering amongst the ranks of Suits, but no comment from the members.

Questions next, and a little more reaction: palpable nervousness now, from officers at the table and in the seats, as the usual evasive answers were thrown back at Mr R and Mrs A - and a sense of deep disapproval from the members of both parties.

Mr Reasonable's first question asked - yet again - for evidence of the savings Capita claims to have made, in order to qualify for gainshare payments. The written response was bla bla bla, evidence was 'reviewed'.

Ok: the Comensura deal, as an example: where is the evidence of actual savings? 


They did not know. Internal audit had not seen the evidence.

As the questions continued, the shifting in seats, and delays before answering became more and more obvious, as was a noticeable increasing emergency, or rather disaster recovery use of the favoured preamble of senior officers: an emphatic 'So ... ' followed by a feeble response that not even a Tory councillor would accept.

Why was the IT disaster recovery deficiency noticed only by internal audit, and not by standard contract monitoring? Written response, some concerns had been raised by something called the 'Business Continuity Function. Hmm.

Supplementary question: the issue had been flagged up, but no one did anything about it?

Silence, and then:

So ... it was on the audit plan.

We know.

Yes. We know what you are thinking, readers. It might seem odd that something awfully wrong relating to DISASTER RECOVERY might be left to simmer slowly on the audit hob, while a fire was raging in the house, but then: this is Broken Barnet, after all.

Another supplementary question asked again, if the recovery problems had been spotted, why the massive library IT failure had occurred.

Silence again. Then an intervention from the new, less unacceptable face of Capita-lism in Barnet, Mr Brett Holtom, whose presence appeared miraculously at the committee table, in an act of corporate spontaneous regeneration, immediately after the library IT crash. 

Far be it for Mrs Angry to suggest that Mr Holtom was chosen for this post as - what is it ... Operations Director, or something - for his shiny faced, quietly genial manner, (although his linkedin page boasts a tribute from a female colleague remarking that he is blessed with a 'charismatic personality'), but it is a sign that Capita is awfully worried about its image in Barnet now, and keen to schmooze the Tory councillors. Signs from the Tory councillors, however, now are that they are beyond schmoozing point.

Mr Holtom tried his best. The library IT was not hosted by the data centre referred to in the ITDR report, he said. Mmm. Doesn't really matter, does it, though, Brett? The technical cause of failure is irrelevant, and what counts is that Capita flunked its responsibility to monitor the library IT, as well as failing to provide a credible IT recovery strategy elsewhere.

Other questions followed, followed by even longer silences. In reference to one, about the banding of systems (and don't ask me, but the issue is not relevant so much as the form of response, so try to keep up) , the supplementary identified a contradictory use of the description 'appropriate', and then 'accurate'.

Which is it, asked Mr Reasonable, quite reasonably: Appropriate? Or accurate? Two very different things.

Another interminable suspension of time, while the men from Crapita, and the senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, attempted to get their tiny heads around the fact that these two terms were not indistinguishable, and tried awfully hard to identify to themselves what the difference might be, from the point of view of those who don't really give a flying f*ck anyway, but were now presented with an occasion on which it might matter.

So ...

Eventually Mr Holtom, skilled as he is, according to himself on Linkedin, in the field of transformation professionalism, and of  course being blessed with all that charisma, managed to think of something positive, if not charismatic, to say, which was nothing to do with the question but something he had said at his first CELS meeting, which Mrs Angry remarked, and please pay attention, that what he had to say was A Mistake, ie explaining that we had now been upgraded to Platinum level of response from Capita International Rescue, Disaster Recovery dept, from Bronze, or Base Metal. 

A mistake because: the councillors knew nothing about this; a mistake because rather comical; and a mistake because everyone then wants to know why we were not on Platinum level to start with, bearing in mind the bucketloads of cash we hand over to you, every month.

Mr Holtom, Capita Operations Director

Q 10 was the most important question of all: 

Given there are no documented ITDR plans;
there have been no tests of the new
capability; and there is no recovery
infrastructure in place or on contract to affect
a successful recovery, does this represent a
breach of contract?


The delays to ITDR had been flagged as a
concern both pre and post audit and have
resulted in contractual discussions which are ongoing.

Oh dear. Mr Reasonable now asked: answer the question - breach of contract ... yes, or no?

A length of silence ensued that was longer than time itself: one in which a new ice age came and went, regime change in North Korea was achieved, the Chilcott Inquiry was released - and even the Inquiry into the Chilcott Inquiry.

Mrs Angry guffawed behind Mr Reasonable's back and then Mr Holtom leaned forward smiling, declaring smoothly, clearly after a great deal of thought, that Capita would not consider it so.

How interesting, though, that the written answer did not deny that there may be a breach of contract. 

There is a crack in the wall, friends and comrades, and it is gaping larger, and larger.

Mrs Angry's first question:

In reference to Item 7 and the ITDR report:
bearing in mind that within days of this
damning report the Library IT system
crashed, and has caused a catastrophic loss
of personal data and data relating to stock,
will the Audit Committee investigate the
circumstances and implications of the failure,
by commissioning another report specifically
focused on the management of the Library IT

A very fulsome response;


And a reference to the previous question by Mr R, which had asked if the ITDR report should not be updated, after the Library IT crash. The written reply had been no, once audit reports are completed, that's your lot, sunshine, and repeated the line about not being linked to the data centre, which has nothing to do with anything, and then a load of bollox about the 'newly restored library system' and  - oh hang on, first use of this term - the 'catastrophic failure' of the library system which has resulted, ha, oh dear, in 'integrity issues' for the database, but, they claimed 'has not involved the loss of personal data'. Oh, and another reference to 'contractual discussions' ...

A supplementary question then: first of all, can we qualify some of the corporate gobbledegook in the previous response? 

'Newly restored library system', 'integrity issues'? No: it is not fully restored, the catalogue is unavailable, book stock not recorded, and data is irretrievably lost, including personal data relating to library members. You say you won't update the report itself, so are you going to commission an independent, forensic investigation into the real causes of the library IT crash?

No, was the answer, again. There will be internal investigation, but no independent analysis. So they must rely on Capita to tell them why Capita cocked up, or even allow them to suggest that they didn't. 

It consequently  emerged that the general consensus from the committee was that the reports should be referred to other committees, that have the power to authorise, the Chair claimed, whatever they like, reports, investigations, whatever ... Performance and Contract Management being the most relevant here, of course. Providing they do any. Management, that is. Always a first time, Mrs Angry, you know.

Next question: Mrs Angry had asked - after such a damning report:

How can residents and taxpayers
place any trust in the ability of either the
Internal Audit Team, or the Audit Committee
to undertake the role of scrutiny in regard to
the Capita contracts, and provide value for
money investment of resources by the
authority on our behalf?

Response (summarised): It is not the role of the Audit Committee to scrutinise contracts. It is not the role of Internal Audit to scrutinise contracts

Well, it is, sort of: but only the risk of impending doom from the failure of such contracts. 

But even then, Mrs Angry was informed, this is not 'an exact science'. 

Dear me, that was a disappointment. Isn't it? Oughtn't it to be?

Mrs Angry assumes then that the approach to audit now, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, is one analagous to say, a reliance on astrology, rather than astronomy. Trying to predict which contract is about to sink beneath the waves, rather than studying the state of the vessel, and its maintenance. Involving the use of diving rods, seances, and - and no, you may not borrow Mrs Angry's crystal ball.

Mrs Angry Predicts: the new approach to Audit, in Broken Barnet

Mrs Angry reminded the Tory councillors that they had promised residents that the contracts would deliver 'better services, for less money', neither of which, as we see now, was true. Why did the Chair of the Committee not demand action, on our behalf as residents and taxpayers, earlier on in the long drawn out process of obtaining the information required from Capita?

Well: if there was an explanation worth remembering from the Chair - Mrs Angry has neither written it down ... nor remembered it.

Last question: 

Regarding the failure of the
library IT system, please explain where the
upfront capital payment of £16 million to
Capita for IT was spent, and why none of it
was used to ensure an adequate system of
monitoring the Library system?

Remember that old story? How we were tricked by our Tory members into thinking we just had to outsource all our services to Crapita, and not consider the in house option, because we simply must have an upfront capital investment of £16 million from them for IT, and then, ha ha, it turned out we, the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet had to pay poor old cash strapped Crapita an upfront capital investment of £16 million? What a laugh. At our expense.

They listed where the dosh supposedly went, including that data centre mentioned in the disaster report, and then said this:

The library system was not included as it was not
identified in the output specification as requiring
upfront investment. However a project was
initiated by the Library service (which is ongoing)
to review the robustness of libraries IT.

Hmm. Robustness: we love that word, here in Broken Barnet. Senior officers are incapable of formulating any sentence without its inclusion, as a sort of talisman, and a declaration of allegiance to an ideal that somehow is never reached, but fondly thought of, even so. Even So.

When was the 'ongoing project' going on, exactly, asked Mrs Angry. Before or after the library IT crash, because if it was before, shouldn't they have spotted trouble brewing? And why wasn't the Library IT included in output specification? Was it, say, because Capita wanted to negotiate the introduction of its own system?

No, they denied that was Capita's intention. Oh, and the ongoing project had ongone since April 2015, but they had prioritised dealing with the People's Network.

Mrs Angry, pushing her luck, asked another question: would it not have been more sensible to review the state of the IT system?

No reply, as supplementaries to supplementaries are forbidden, of course. End of public involvement (officially) and time, uh oh, for Capita to be called to the table.

Up stepped Mr Mark Dally, 'partnership director' for Capita, who chose to appear, rather casually, in the circumstances, in his shirt sleeves, perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, trying to disassociate himself from the Suits.

I hold my hands up, he said, with studied humility.

He was there to give 'additional context' to the cockups under discussion, apparently. 'Additional context': always useful, of course.

Poor Mr Dally: he dillied, he dallied; he dallied and dillied, but, as Marie Lloyd would say:

Who'll put you up when you've lost your bedstead,
And you can't find your way 'ome?

Not Labour's Cllr Geof Cooke, who was straight in with a question about the reasons for the delay in Capita providing full cooperation with the internal audit team. How many IT directors had there been, he asked, and why no continuity?

Who's sorry now? Capita, says their 'Partnership Director' Mr Dally. 

I agree, said Mr Dally.  No shit, wrote Mrs Angry, in her notebook. He agrees

It was not, he said, using a phrase that was a masterly understatement, and yet - clearly the motif, and mantra of the evening  ... It was Not Our Finest Hour

Later on he repeated his act of self abasement, or at least announced, holding his hands up again: 

I'm not happy. 

I apologise.

There had been four directors, he said. One left. Then another one. Then another one. Then one was ill. 

And then there were none.

He mentioned now, or so Mrs Angry seemed to hear, about the 'attrition' of the staff. Shouldn't that be 'contrition', Mr Dally? Maybe my notes are wrong ...

Mrs Angry had a pleasing vision, then, of senior executives at Crapita being compelled to make full confessions, Cultural Revolution style, in group meetings, denouncing themselves to their clients. Could happen. Maybe.

Cllr Cooke asked where data is going to be restored to. The reply was 'Spring Park', or 'Cody Park'. Not so much theme parks, as retirement homes, see, for unwanted information. Or too much information, as we apparently have here, back in Broken Barnet.

Tory councillor Sury Khatri, who is always quick off the mark, of course, expressed himself to be of the opinion, in case we had not noticed, that for Capita, this was Not Their Finest Hour.

By now Mrs Angry was wondering, and musing on twitter, exactly WHEN was Capita's finest hour?

Quite a lot of speculation then, amongst Mrs Angry's followers, as to the answer, but @rovingwhinger thought it might have been between 0200 GMT and 0300 BST, when the clocks went forward. 

She may well be right.

Cllr Khatri was cross because, he said the contracts had been sold to them on the basis that Capita supposedly had all the expertise in IT. 

Mrs Angry was cross too, and reminded Cllr Khatri, from the public seats, that he had voted to approve the contracts, and then almost immediately complained about the lack of information he and his councillors had been given, and was critical of the whole agreement - when it was too late.

After the meeting, walking down the stairs, he said rather sulkily, you always say the same thing to me, about all that business. Yes, said Mrs Angry, because you signed it anyway, with all your doubts - when you knew better. And now you've done the same thing over libraries.

Back to the meeting. Khatri asked where had been the 'due diligence' and said he saw 'failure of management'. He also remarked that he worried about the remaining seven years, and if they would be 'error free'. 

Deputy CEO John Hooton has just watched the box set of Wolf Hall, and now attempted a spot of Tudorbethan, courtly style diplomacy, hoping to evade the Tower of London, and the shadow of the axe, declaring now, in cloak swishing manner: I recognise your sentiment ...

Mr Holtom joined in. He couldn't sit there, he said, with a straight face and say - we will be error free. He said this with a straight face, unfortunately, and Mrs Angry was beside herself with mirth, as a result.

The Chair now spoke and concluded: the auditors have done their job, and now these issues should be referred to the Performance and Contract Management Committee.

Labour's Kathy Levine had already drawn up an opposition amendment suggesting this, so of course now that it was not entirely his idea, and one from the enemy, Salinger was in a dilemma: accept it, and give some credit to the opposition, or trash it, and contradict himself. Difficult. 

But there were more contributions to come, and perhaps the most telling was from Tory Cllr Zinkin, normally a voice of reason, but also inclined to defend group decisions. He raised several serious concerns, that might well have come from an opposition member, and noted, with disapproval, something that has been mentioned here, that the library IT crash was not defined as a failure of a KPI, Key Performance Indicator, which is ludicrous. 

He said that KPIs needed to be re-examined, but, as Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable commented, loudly, his group had blocked and voted down a proposal from Labour to do just that.

The meeting drifted on: councillors of both parties raised objections, and a variety of Suits sat at the table, abashed, or pretending to be.

As we listened to the committee's discussion of the disastrous disaster recovery matter, through the open window, a disembodied voice from the Fire Station next to the Town Hall interrupted with some sort of loudspeaker announcement. Perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, someone's pants were on fire, somewhere in Broken Barnet, and the crew were sliding down the pole, ready to rush out to the engines, as you should do, in any emergency, platinum level or otherwise - unless, of course, you are directly contracted to the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

An agreement was reached between all members that the serious issues raised at the meeting must go to the contract monitoring committee, and to the secret, in camera, shadowy working groups that are reviewing the contracts too. Will this result in any action? Or are they just passing the buck?

Two things were very clear: the Tories know now, that they were sold a pup: a very expensive pup. Services cannot be proved to be better, unless you accept the carefully manicured KPIs, and customer satisfaction surveys, and less money? We are paying out a fortune, over and beyond the core contract fees, whilst seeing our services, like libraries, assaulted by a range of punitive cuts, and carved up ready for yet more outsourcing.

But the other notable change is in the demeanour of the men from Capita: and they are largely men - the Suits. No longer full of misplaced confidence, and swagger: they are in trouble, and they know it. 

Three years into this contract, and yes, the cracks are opening up, as we said they would, not from wishful thinking but a conclusion formed from our own due diligence, and research, from the reports offered by Unison, rejected unread by the same councillors now complaining about the result of their own hasty approval of the contracts - and from the warnings clearly given from the consequences of other cases of mass outsourcing. 

The example of BT in Cornwall demonstrates it is perfectly possible to terminate even the largest of contracts of this sort. The question now is if the Tory members consider it is possible, for political reasons, to retrieve some sort of reform within the terms of the contract, and real commitment to change, or whether the time is coming ... to say: thank you, Capita - and ... goodbye.