*Updated: Met Pro story in Private Eye, see below ...
It is now a year since the greedy little Tory councillors of Broken Barnet tried to grab themselves an enormous pay rise: do you remember? Remember too, how they all toed the line, and voted for the rise, except Councillor Kate Salinger, who dared to abstain, and was then subjected to a pathetic, vindictive punishment and deprived of her committee memberships by her cowardly Tory colleagues? It was not exactly their finest hour, was it?
At the time, they tried to persuade their residents and taxpayers that the pay rises, coming as they did while the council was finalising its agenda of devastating budget cuts and tranches of staff redundancies, would be justified by a new system of performance appraisal for councillors.
Funnily enough, this new appraisal system has never materialised. I can't imagine why, can you?
Of course, as you may recall, the bloggers of Barnet kicked up something of a fuss about this shameless act of self gratification, and the then leader of the Tory group was forced into a humiliating u-turn, although eight lucky councillors still managed to be rewarded for their 'loyalty' by being given 54% rises in their allowances for chairing various council committees. In one case, the committee in question meets only twice a year: a rate of pay, then, almost on a par with Andrew Travers, Barnet's deputy CEO. Yes, go on, let's not miss an opportunity to remind everyone: Mr Travers gets £1,000 per day. How many hours of, say, sheltered housing warden care would that pay for, can anyone tell me? Or how much support by an educational psychologist for children with special needs? Or how many elocution lessons for senior officers in the Deputy CEO's department?
Last month, Mrs Angry decided to ask for information about the attendance rate figures of councillors in Broken Barnet. She foolishly imagined that, oh dear, in the interests of transparency, and as in other boroughs, this information would be readily available in a convenient tabular form. Ha: then she woke up and remembered that she lives in the borough of Broken Barnet, and this awful reality was brought home to Mrs Angry by a response from the council, refusing to answer her FOI request - and inviting her instead to trawl through every single council meeting that has taken place in the last year or so, and to work out who should have been there, and then deduce from the attendance noted in each separate set of minutes which of our councillors actually bothered to turn up.
This is a particularly good example of the ways in which the Tory administration of the London Borough of Barnet honour the principles of transparency, accountability, and all the other ideals which support the concept of localism, and the empowerment of local communities.
Well, never mind: Mrs Angry has decided to step into the breach, and offer her services, in the spirit of the Big Society, with her own system of appraisal. As part of this personal audit, there will be a new series of posts focusing on individual councillors, and goodness me, ladies and gentlemen, this promises to be awfully amusing. Prepare for some fun, at their expense: well, this will make a refreshing change from their having fun at our expense, won't it?
In the meanwhile, let us keep a watchful eye on the antics of the real masters of the universe, here in Broken Barnet: our fabulously rewarded senior management team, who continue in post, even after all the revelations of the MetPro scandal, proving the point that the principle of accountability only applies to ordinary council officers - the ones that do all the real work, on modest salaries, and all of whom are now subject to the prospect of redundancy in the 'relentless drive for efficiency' of the One Barnet programme.
If any of these officers fail to carry out their duties, they know they will be dismissed, or at the very least face disciplinary proceedings. The men and women who lead the administration, of course, are exempt from any such fate, and will carry on regardless, post MetPro - or quietly disappear with a nice pay off, courtesy of local tax payers.
But here is an extraordinary thing. Fellow blogger Mr Mustard has just published details of the 'action plan' which senior council officers attending the MetPro audit meeting assured us all would address the mind blowingly awful catalogue of corporate incompetence which the report had uncovered.
Under the section headed: 'Overarching Actions' (why do I find that so funny?) we find a remarkably innnovative suggestion:
"Action: Establish compliance with corporate systems as key measure of senior officer performance.
Tasks: Include a 2011/12 personal objective of compliance with all corporate governance systems and procedures for Directors, Assistant Directors and Heads of Service.
Measure of success: Inclusion of specific objective for 2011/12 and monitoring at 6 & 12 month appraisal"
Now when Mrs Angry was present at the MetPro audit meeting, she thought she heard a reference to the idea that senior officers should perhaps have some sort of performance appraisal.
To be absolutely truthful, Mrs Angry, who does suffer from an intermittent hearing problem, actually thought she must have misunderstood, and spent a long time later re-reading this page in her notebook, as she just could not believe that this was correct: that senior officers working for Barnet on astronomically high salaries, and responsible for the administration of a billion pound budget are not already subject to a system of appraisal, as a matter of course, in the performance of their duties. Is this not incredible?
Not only are senior officers evading responsibility for any blame for MetPro, unlike the vast majority of ordinary council officers, the competence and 'efficiency' of their work is not evaluated or sunject to scrutiny. No wonder MetPro got away with it for so long: their case was symptomatic of the senior management's own world view: pay someone to do a job, ask no questions and leave them to get on with it.
But now some of us are asking questions, on behalf of the residents and tax payers of Broken Barnet.
Oh, and interestingly, this proposal has been drawn up by Ms Jacquie McGeachie, head of Human Resources at Barnet. Mrs McGeachie is yet another consultant employed by us via her own company. Blogger Mr Reasonable recently made an FOI request about the payments to Ms Mc Geachie's company. Here is the response:
"I confirm payments have been made to Jacquie McGeachie HR Consulting Limited in the last two years as below:
01.04.2010 - 31.03.2011 140,803.28
01.04.2011 - 28.06.2011 17,250.00
This information is redacted from the monthly published expenditure over £500 as the data contains `personal information'."
Please note the excuse for redacting the information from the online expenditure: an excuse increasingly used by the council, in direct proportion to the increasing interest in the expediture details from local bloggers, and which yet again serves to underline the deep seated aversion that this Tory administration has to the principle of transparency. Why should any individual, whether it is a hiphop artiste or the head of HR, be exempt from inclusion in information which ought to be in the public domain, especially if this expenditure is with a company? These people are being paid with our money, and we have a right to know the details, so that we - yes, you know, Eric, as armchair auditors - can see what sort of 'value for money' we are receiving.
The MetPro affair has many implications beyond the immediate story, scandalous as it is. Looking back at that fateful budget meeting in March where it all started, isn't it rather amusing to consider that it was an attempt by the council - the Tory leadership, and senior council officers -to prevent the filming of the meeting, and the attendance in the public gallery of bloggers and residents, that started all the trouble?
In other words, it was Barnet's culture of contempt for the democratic process, and any duty to be accountable to its electorate, that drove it to use an illegally operating team of bouncers to keep them out of the debate and under control, their behaviour filmed and documented as if they were criminals, rather than ordinary citizens wanting to watch their elected representatives in action. But this incident was also to prove their own undoing: just look at the consequences ...
MetPro was a symptom, not the disease, but what a fitting symbol it presents, citizens, for everything that is rotten in the state of Broken Barnet.
*Update: talking of something rotten - oh look ... just fancy that: the lead story in the latest Private Eye's 'Rotten Boroughs' section is all about MetPro - headed 'Black Shirts in Barnet' ...