Dear Mr Cornelius,
As you may know, I write a local blog, 'Broken Barnet', as 'Mrs Angry'. Yesterday, at the CIPFA conference, Mr Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was kind enough to refer to 'Mrs Angry' and my fellow bloggers in relation to the MetPro scandal, and the widespread financial incompetence of the London Borough of Barnet which was consequently uncovered by Lord Palmer's audit committee as a result of our investigations.
As Mr Pickles observed:
"I was shocked by a recent case in Barnet. The council had hired a private security firm, MetPro, which included “keeping an eye” on the local armchair auditors and activist bloggers - at a cost of over a million pounds.
The contract had been awarded without a tendering exercise, without a written contract, and no proper invoicing.
An internal audit showed there “serious deficiencies in current procurement arrangements”, and there were no guarantees that against a repeat of such practices.
Irony of ironies - this misuse of public money was uncovered thanks to the determination of local bloggers and activists…
Including Barnet Eye. Mr Mustard. And Mrs Angry. (As she had every right to be)
Exactly the same people MetPro snooped upon.
I’ve got news for Barnet. Liveblogging from council meetings. Microjournalism. Call it what you like.
It’s here to stay.”
Last night, for some reason, you saw fit to make a statement regarding Mr Pickles' remarks, commenting:
"Something seems to have got lost in translation here. At no point has Barnet Council ever paid £1 million to snoop on anyone. We will be in contact with Eric Pickles' office."
I imagine that, as I write, Mr Pickles is cowering under his desk, whimpering with anxiety over the arrival of your communication, but in the meanwhile, may I point out to you the following:
The Secretary of State did not say Barnet paid £1 million to snoop on anyone. He stated, correctly, that you hired a security firm at a cost of over a million pounds.
Over a five year period, in the absence of any tender process, contract monitoring, or system of regulated payments, the Tory administration of Barnet Council handed £1.3 million of taxpayers money to MetPro, a firm that was acting illegally by using unlicensed employees, and worse still, had not undergone CRB checks. It was the council's incompetence and persistent failure to ask for this accreditation which was directly responsible for residents, including young children in child protection cases and vulnerable adults, being put at risk, an issue which the council now refuses to investigate further on the pretext that 'no complaints' have been received about 'inappropriate dealings'.
Amongst the other activities which this company undertook was indeed the appalling breach of privacy referred to - the 'snooping' that your senior council officers also refuse to address - the covert filming of residents, including myself. The only excuse you can have for not knowing that this company was using such methods was again the continued negligence of the administration, which failed to set any specification of duties or subject the company to proper scrutiny.
The only reason this scandalous state of affairs has come to light, not to mention the catastrophic scale of financial incompetence which the resulting audit revealed, was as a result of the determined investigation of the bloggers in this borough.
You appear not to have understood the full implications of the MetPro affair: For your benefit, then, let me 'translate'.
In my view, you should be hanging your head in shame, and contemplating the depth of ignominy to which the Tory administration of this borough has sunk.
In the year since your party regained control of this council, you and your colleagues have caused deep embarrassment to the Conservative Party not only by the grasping attempt to increase your own allowances at a time of budget restraint for everyone else, but by flying in the face of the concept of 'localism' and accountabilty to the community you are supposed to serve, and taking a hatchet to our council constitution so as to prevent a free debate of policy in council meetings and residents' forums.
The MetPro scandal is symptomatic of the culture of contempt that your party has for the residents of this borough, and what has happened is entirely the fault of the self interested, repressive and lazy administration which the Tories in this borough have instigated.
For a secretary of state publicly to criticise a Conservative council in such terms as Mr Pickles used yesterday is unprecedented, and for this to happen to the 'easycouncil' which once liked to style itself as a 'flagship' of Tory policy is simply incredible.
Not once has any member of your administration acknowledged the work done by the bloggers of this borough to expose this appalling scandal, or attempted to apologise to those of us who have been affected by MetPro's 'snooping'. There has been a notable conspiracy of silence, in fact, from all Tory councillors - and a grossly ill timed redoubling of the speed of the One Barnet agenda of mass outsourcing.
On the day following the MetPro audit, despite the terrible indictment of the report into the authority's financial mismanagement, a tender notice for £750 million of business opportunities for the private sector was rushed out, and today, companies are attending an event hosted by the council to encourage interest in your obsessive commitment to externalised services. This is an initiative being abandoned by councils all over the country, but here in Barnet your party is insisting on risking the well being of our community, and a billion pounds of tax payers' money, on a widely discredited policy that will certainly bring profits to the fortunate bidders - but disaster to the residents dependent on the services they will be paid to provide.
You have only been Leader of Barnet Council for a short while: with leadership comes responsibility. It is time you stepped up, put the interests of the electors before the ideological idiocies of One Barnet, and called a halt to the programme, before it is too late.
*Update: oh hello: Mrs Angry, guest blogger for the Guardian: http://t.co/WOvoQa8