Mrs Angry returned from the marathon MetPro Audit committee meeting late last night feeling feverish and faint, with her head reeling. At first, she blamed this on a. hunger and b.the ordeal by audit which she had just undergone, the effort of listening to so much cynical corporate speak, shameless lies and desperate spin, but today she is still feeling somewhat indisposed, and so you will please excuse her more than usually rambling report, of which this is the first part.
The audit meeting lasted for more than four hours: four long, difficult hours, one long sequence of revelations of incompetence on a scale surely unprecedented in recent corporate history, and entirely matched, it must be acknowledged, by a corresponding level of denial of responsibility by all parties concerned: a sustained performance of some mastery and tactical adroitness.
Since the dawn of time in Broken Barnet, we hear, there has never been an audit meeting so well attended by members of the public - frankly, audit meetings are generally of no interest to anyone except the odd ex Tory councillor with nothing better to do, or someone looking for somewhere to sit out of the rain when the library next door shuts early. Last night was rather different, of course.
Not only was the room packed, we were told that it was the first time that the audit committe has dealt with an inquiry into any one specific issue. There was an intense atmosphere, and an unmistakeable odour of corporate fear: Mrs Angry noted with interest the body language of senior officers -and others - changing throughout the course of the evening. Evidently the recent Voice! Business Associates masterclasses in speaking with confidence, arranged at vast expense for certain senior officers, failed to include a session on how to present yourself in a public meeting discussing a scandalous issue where you have fucked up spectacularly, but want to evade all responsibility and retain your obscenely over paid post ...
Present around the table last night were Tory councillors, Brian Schama, Graham Old, Hugh Rayner, Sury Khatri, and Labour councillors Alex Brodkin and Geoff Cooke. Monroe Palmer is of course the LibDem chair of the committee: for reasons of probity, an audit committee must be chaired by an opposition member - even in Broken Barnet.
The deep significance of the meeting was underlined by the attendance of many members of the senior management team. Senior officers included the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, assistant CE and Chief Finance Officer Andrew Travers, Director of Commerce Craig Cooper, auditor Mary Ellen Salter, Director of Corporate Governance Jeff Lustig, oh, and three representatives of external auditors Grant Thornton.
Where, citizens, was the newly elected Tory Leader of the council, Richard Cornelius?
Where was his deputy, Andrew Harper?
Where were any members of the Tory Cabinet that has its iron grip on the administration of this authority, is intent on pushing through with its reckless agenda of massive outsourcing, yet is reluctant to be associated with the catastrophically, perhaps even criminally incompetent management of finances that lies at the heart of the One Barnet claptrap, and which the MetPro inquiry has uncovered so dramatically in the last few weeks?
Where were any of the politicians who have, in the course of two Tory administrations, presided over the utter shambles of a financial policy that has enabled this mismanagement to continue for so many years?
What a shabby bunch of cowards they are.
Lord Palmer started the proceedings by defining the role of audit, and reminding us that he is an opposition member of the council. In other words, his hands were tied, to a certain extent, but I do want to stress here that it was evident last night that he has conscientiously made every possible effort to undertake this inquiry to the best of his ability, as fairly as he can, and I doubt that any other member of the council could have produced, against all the odds, a report as damning as the one which was presented last night.
He made a point of welcoming the bloggers and other residents attending the meeting, and stressed the importance of citizens engaging in the process of audit, for the purpose of transparency, and hoped that the administration would welcome them too. Hmm.
Question time began: blogger Roger Tichborne asked about the monitoring of a minimum number vendors, which has clearly been completely inadequate in view of the massive total of council spending, and laid the authority open to abuse. Response? Monitoring will be expanded. What a good idea. Supplementary question: er should there not be better corporate guidelines, a constant review policies? Oh: another good idea.
Lord Palmer wanted to express his personal view. He stated that it was clear to him that corporate procurement has simply lost control. And who, thought Mrs Angry, has lost control of corporate procurement?
Q2, by resident Amber Jones, on the question of purchase orders raised prior to the receipt of invoices. Ah. Surely not? Read P26 of the report if you want a lesson in how not to run a business and/or throw taxpayers money at private contractors with no questions asked. But Ms Jones' supplementary question was a killer. She wanted to ask about the possibility of, er attempted fraud.
Lord Palmer stated that he did not know the answer. He remarked that if there was thought to be, it should be reported to the police.
The audit report states that it cannot exclude the possibility of fraud. Lord Palmer's inquiry could not find any explanation or documentation to explain how MetPro first came to start its beautiful friendship with the authority, or who first authorised the use of the company, and who ignored any requirement to legitmise the relationship over so many years: clearly, then, in the view of any reasonable observer, there must now be an urgent, independent investigation, a criminal investigation if appropriate, into the circumstances surrounding the use of this company.