Wednesday, 22 June 2011

MetPro: residents at risk - why is Barnet refusing to act?

Mrs Angry has just looked (through her fingers) at the footage of her turn at the MetPro Audit committee last week, now online courtesy of Roger Tichborne over at t'Barnet Eye blog.

If you are desperate to see the back of Mrs Angry (ha, you and the Tory group and senior management team of the London Borough of Broken Barnet) you can look here - if the link works: and see her trying to wing her way through her supplementary questions.

Watching this played back has been very interesting, noticing many details missed at the time: Mrs Angry particularly enjoyed the urgent need of one of the auditors to drink lots of water, and the other one to grab hold of his face, while the Director of Corporate Governance, normally the master of mandarin like inscrutability, resorts to biting his nails and pulling on his moustache, watching the clock and visibly willing it to move to the time limit. And what is Craig Cooper, Director of Commercial Services, whispering so urgently to the head of Audit?

Listening to the responses again only reinforces my original reaction of disbelief to the reply given to the question of safeguarding. The reply stated that despite the incontrovertible evidence that for five years, children and vulnerable adults have been put at real risk by close and regular contact with unlicensed male security employees who were not subjected to CRB checks, Barnet refuses to hold any inquiry to establish the extent of such a risk, and to ensure that no children or other vulnerable residents came to any harm as a result of this negligence.

The justification for this decision by Barnet is that there have been no reports or complaints of 'inappropriate' dealings by the company's employees.

How can anyone not find this a truly reprehensible position for a local authority to take, in the circumstances?

Barnet has a duty of care to children at risk, or being cared for, and to vulnerable clients, especially in the case of Barbara Langstone House. It is quite clear that they have failed their duty to check the credentials of staff working in close proximity with these groups. According to the company's 'compassionate steel' document, supplied to the committee, employees worked with children at risk, in situations relating to child protection and one photograph shows an employee with close physical contact with one young girl, in a highly inappropriate manner.

Until recently, Barbara Langstone House has had an appalling reputation for crime, anti social behaviour - and persistent drug dealing. Since a new company has been in place, the local police have reported a huge improvement in the hostel. Throughout the period of trouble, the hostel has accommodated young homeless residents, and families too. Again: vulnerable residents have been at risk, and living in extremely difficult circumstances, and there must be closer scrutiny of the impact that the use of security company employees in this period.

Having failed these vulnerable clients once by failing to address the need for safeguarding, Barnet is continuing to fail them, by refusing to investigate any potential case of inappropriate behaviour in the past five years. It is simply not acceptable for the authority to absolve themselves of all retrospective responsibility - by the very nature of being identified as 'vulnerable' these residents cannot be expected to be in a position to report their concerns. How can a small child, already at risk of harm, be asked to take full responsibility for informing the council of any incident? And surely, if any complaint is made years later, when that child is an adult, the authority will be asked to explain why it so obstinately ignored the need to identify the individuals put at risk?

The other response which must be robustly challenged is the assertion that the illicit filming of bloggers and other residents at the budget meeting should not be investigated as it is not the responsibility of the authority. Barnet stated, ridiculously, that as there is no evidence that MetPro was asked to film residents, such an inquiry is unneccessary. The response then contradicts this position by admitting that the company was given no specifications as to the nature of its work for the authority.

Mrs Angry would imagine that the denial of reponsibility in this case has no real basis, and that by failing to monitor the company's activities or even provide any specification for its range of duties, the council has failed to prevent the breach of data protection regulations, and the gross intrusion of privacy that this covert filming represents.

Worse still is an aspect which has perhaps been overlooked, combining the last two concerns: should the authority not investigate the real possibility that the company has regularly filmed and retained images or footage of other residents, including children and vulnerable adults, in the course of their employment?

In any other borough, we might expect our local MPs to take an interest in the wellbeing of residents affected by these issues, and we would hope that they would be demanding an urgent, independent, public inquiry into these unanswered questions. Instead, we have seen our local Tory MPs this week busy themselves with much more important matters.

Hendon MP Matthew Offord has been making a fool of himself - and his dog - by complaining that he is being banned from taking his poor mutt to work at the House of Commons. He invoked the Human Rights Act in relation to this outrage, and then claimed he had been joking. Most amusing.

Finchley and Golders Green MP and BT vital visionary Mike Freer has been busy recently too - worrying himself to distraction over the finer points of Whitehall's mobile phone contracts, and the endemic problem of squatting in - in where? Hampstead Garden Suburb - poor old Saif Gaddafi's had to recarpet the sitting room, apparently. Good man, Mr Freer. Your constituents will be overcome with gratitude for your grip on the issues that really concern them, back here in Broken Barnet.

You can't altogether blame this pair for wanting to disassociate themselves from the toxic matter of the MetPro scandal, of course. Because until the elections last year, Matthew Offord was a prominent member of Barnet Council's Tory Cabinet - oh and Mike 'easycouncil' Freer?

He was the Leader.

Have you ever wondered how Barnet got broken in the first place, citizens?

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