I expected to be surprised, but this report really exceeds all expectations.
It is quite frankly a staggering, appalling indictment of the financial and managerial state of this borough: a catalogue of every conceivable act of incompetence you could imagine might take place in the worst run local authorities in the country.
No wonder our Tory councillors and senior officers didn't want any independent inquiry. They must have hoped that by keeping this catastrophic situation confined to the remit of the internal audit committee any recommendations can be managed in such a way that will contain the full impact of the findings. If so, they are gravely mistaken.
There will be a lot of comment on the report in the next few days, no doubt, but in the meanwhile, here are some choice extracts:
The report immediately acknowledges 'serious deficiencies in current procurement arrangements', and rather understates the conclusion that controls have been 'ineffective'.
More than £1.3 million pounds has been paid to no less than THREE successive MetPro companies, over a period of five years, with numerous serious breaches of regulations of all sorts. This was not a single act of maladministration, this was a total systemic failure tolerated by not one individual, but many, whose responsibilities should have ensured it was impossible for these breaches in regulation to continue.
The prevailing political culture in Barnet is directly responsible for the laxity which allowed such breaches to occur and remain uninvestigated for so long. Our Tory councillors cannot plead ignorance: it is their duty to put in place the mechanisms which should effectively scrutinise the financial management of their administration and clearly they have completely failed to undertake this responsibility.
The report continues:
'No procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, in accordance with the Council’s CPR. No written contract between the Council and MetPro could be found. There is no record of an approval and authorisation for the use of MetPro for providing security services. In the absence of a formal procurement exercise, we could not locate the following documents/confirmation for MetPro, which the CPR require:
- Financial viability of the company
- Equal Opportunities Assessment
- Criminal Records Bureau checks
- Confirmation of company’s Public Liability Insurance arrangements
- Confirmation of the company’s Health and Safety registration
- Confirmation on the SIA licence status of the Company Officers
- An agreed specification which outlined the service to be provided
- An agreed schedule of rates for payment of invoices
- A process for monitoring performance of service delivery to establish if the Council was
'Officers cannot on the basis of existing procedures give assurance that this will not happen again, due to the lack of an accurate and complete contract register and effective monitoring arrangements for contracts ...'
'Internal audit cannot give assurance that this non compliance is an isolated incident, due to a lack of an accurate and complete carefully held contracts register ...'
As my last post illustrates, the non compliance over MetPro clearly is NOT an isolated incident.
The report observes 'we cannot rule out fraud' although it states none has been alleged, and no evidence found. Let us look at the facts, as stated by the audit findings:
By September 2010, officers were aware that no contract with MetPro existed, yet they allowed the situation to continue, and to expose residents and staff to risk from the use of such a company.
In the period 2006/7 a procurement exercise had been arranged but 'did not progress. The reasons for this, we are told, are 'unknown.'
After a review in 2009 by Samwell Associates, a need for a security specification was again identified. Comments the report: 'However, to date this procurement exercise has not progressed.'
Why the f*ck not? That a sustained failure to implement such basic systems went unnoticed by all council officers over a period of so many years is surely beyond all credibility?
The report makes an interesting comment in the section dealing with potential fraud: it refers to councillors' Members' Interest forms and declarations and notes rather naively that no one has mentioned a connection to MetPro. I feel totally reassured by this, of course, but might point out to Lord Palmer and his team that the systemic failure of almost every aspect of safeguarding which ought to have been in place in regard to procurement over so many years has left the council wide open to attempted fraud and possible corruption, and I personally believe that there should now be a fuller investigation which would address these issues.
Monroe Palmer should be given credit for doing his best to address the MetPro issue within the constraints of an audit report. There are however significant omissions which must not be overlooked: for example - the data protection issues in relation to the covert filming of residents, including me: a resounding silence on that score. How curious.
Oh, and there is no clear indication as to who, if anyone, should take responsibility for the grossly incompetent sequence of events which lead to this company's five year employment by the authority.
We have a deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer who is paid £1,000 a day to oversee the financial organisation of this borough: I'm guessing he hasn't started packing his One Barnet pencil case yet. I imagine the Commercial Director read the report, adjusted his cufflinks and carried on with business as usual. And probably some lesser ranking officer has already been given his marching orders.
The wider implications of the MetPro scandal are also patently avoided in this report: the easycouncil, futureshaped world of One Barnet has been shown for what it really is - an empty, infantile concept masquerading as a political model, but serving as a process to facilitate the profits of the unregulated private sector. Easycouncil was the much vaunted idea of our local Tory MP Mike Freer: in fact he became leader of Barnet Council in the same year that MetPro was first employed by the borough. There is a fitting symbolic signficance there, at the very least, I think, don't you?
And finally: funnily enough, in Lord Palmer's report, he takes the trouble to thank the council's management and staff for their time and cooperation. Ahem. Monroe, Mr Walkley, Mr Harper - I think there are some other people you might like to say thank you to. Let's not overlook the fact that if it were not for the determined investigation of the bloggers of Broken Barnet, this whole stinking business would never have come to light, would it?
You're welcome. Have a nice day.