Monday, 22 August 2011

Mrs Angry's Visitors

Mrs Angry is eternally fascinated by the rich variety of visitors to the Broken Barnet blog.

Reading through the list of searches which are responsible for guiding some readers in this direction is often very entertaining. The readers, that is, who arrive by accident, usually via google searches.

Recently, for example, apart from the NASA scientists looking for well, never mind, but ending up admiring the sight of Councillor Longstaff's golden a*se, (and who could blame them) Mrs Angry was amused to see a reader in Canada arrive by looking for a Toronto 'escort' with the exact name of a very upright, even rather fearsome Barnet Tory lady councillor of impeccable respectability ( as far as Mrs Angry knows, anyway ...) He must have been rather disappointed to find himself directed to a rambling post about one of the more tedious committees of the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

Many other, rather less amusing visitors are from corporate addresses, and the pattern of their visits tells its own story. It tells us all we need to know, in fact, about what is happening now in the marketing of our borough's business opportunities to the big companies who depend for their profiteering on the supply of services to the public sector.

One day last week, for some reason, various BT corporate addresses spent almost the whole day reading and rereading the Only Connect post on the BT Vital Vision programme, searching for the rather embarrassing document which was discovered by Mrs Angry some months ago, relating to marketing opportunities, and which has now been withdrawn from the web. Funny.

Also funny is the fact that in breach of all council procedures, and the Data Protection Act, Mrs Angry still has had absolutely no further reply whatsoever in regard to her FOI request about BT and hospitality given to any senior officers of the London Borough of Barnet. This is despite the fact that BT have in that period attended a marketing event here connected to the £750 million business tenders on offer. The refusal to comply with this FOI is completely unacceptable, and an indication of the murky waters we are now entering, citizens, is it not?

It is pretty clear, in fact, that, without implying any wrongdoing whatsoever on the behalf of any senior officers of Barnet, in the interests of transparency there should be, must be, as there is for councillors, an open register of interests, gifts and hospitality, so that residents can see for themselves what connections there may be with any companies or individuals who have contact with such officers. This is done in many well run local authorities - properly run authorities - there is absolutely no reason why it should not be done here. And now, not in six months time.

Here in Barnet we are being thrown into an era of unprecedented commercial interest by very large and powerful companies in the acquisition of contracted business opportunities - which means that our senior officers are going to be in circumstances where, for reasons of probity and accountability, it is absolutely essential that we are sure there can be no potential conflicts of interest. How can we be sure, however, if we have no system of open declaration and when even requests made under statutory regulations are blatantly flouted?

Returning to our visitors, though ...

Well ... this week has seen a flurry of interest from Apcoa, the parking company - I can't think why, can you readers? Nothing to do, I suppose, with the sneaky attempt by certain parties to slip the order for the removal of all pay and display facilities through without any fuss during the riots, and while everyone was on holiday?

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for corporate visitors: we have seen Steria, and Synetrix holdings and Capita, a frequent caller, of course. Lots of interest too from someone at Suffolk County Council checking out someone called Max Wide ... now would that be the same Max Wide who BT loans out to local authorities all over the country, from Barnet to, well, Suffolk - and beyond, or another Max Wide? Not sure.

Other very popular searches leading to Broken Barnet are enquiries regarding the case of Ross Knowles, the head of energy procurement at Kent County Council's Laser organisation, who was charged on May 10 with two counts of fraud by abuse of position, and one count of money laundering. Lots of visits connected to this yesterday too, for some reason. This story will be updated in a further post.

Rather amusingly, we have also had a visit from a major missile and defence systems provider: dear oh dear - Mrs Angry wonders if perhaps our Tory councillors and their advisors are becoming a little over assertive in their political ambitions. Does the One Barnet model have a secret WMD programme? Wouldn't be surprised, would you, citizens? Is Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers sharpening his stubby little pencil and writing up a dodgy dossier?

Oh, and talking of our deputy CEO Andrew Travers, and his boss, Nick Walkley: all day long yesterday Capita Business Services were making searches on their names, and landing here and other Barnet blogs. They are particularly fascinated by you, Mr Travers, it seems. Of course Mrs Angry is happy to act as your referee, although this may not work entirely in your favour, she would imagine.

In one way, it is rather surprising that Capita has to go to such lengths to familiarise themselves with our senior officers. After all, our senior officers are, like most senior officers around the country, pretty familiar with them, and both the CEO and his deputy have attended Capita held events in recent times. Last November, for example, our CEO, Nick Walkley attended the 4th annual Capita Conference on the issue of 'Public Sector Transformation' and gave the following presentation:

15.40 Managing Change in a Tough Financial Climate

• The easyCouncil story so far
• Delivering transformation whilst delivering the day job
• Leading and managing in a world of social enterprises and
armchair auditors
• New identities and expectations of the public sector worker

Nick Walkley, Chief Executive, London Borough of Barnet

Hmm: delivering transformation whilst delivering the day job - in other words not getting distracted by things like oh, One Barnet, whilst failing to notice all the things going wrong that hello, were flagged up by, hold on, moving on to his next point, those pesky armchair auditors ...

Yes, and not to be outdone, Mr Walkley's little helper, Andrew Travers, (who also gave a masterly talk to a CIPFA meeting this year: see Mr Mustard's blog today for details ...)

Yes: Andrew will be having his own moment in the Capita spotlight at a conference this November:

New Models of Service Delivery - Opening Up Local Government Services to New Providers

Look , there he is, listed right underneath the keynote speaker Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent secretary at Communities and Local Government. Mrs Angry wonders what his speech will be about? I'm sure the conference will be agog to hear first hand the story of his success at the London Borough of Broken Barnet, the story of MetPro, and the amusing tale of public endorsement (oh: not for Mr Travers, for the Barnet bloggers) from Eric Pickles. I wonder, in fact, what message Sir Bob might have for Andrew from Uncle Eric?

At the moment, by the way, Capita is one of several companies bidding for two huge contracts from Barnet, which are worth together in the region of £1 billion. Yes: one billion.

The DRS contract - Development and Regulatory - is for £275 million for services ranging from Planning to Highways, the second for £750 million: HR, IS - financial services, and procurement. Five companies are known to be bidding for the first package in the first round of the process, due to be complete in mid September. The five are likely to be whittled down to three, before a nine month round begins, after which the lucky winner will be appointed.

You may recall that Barnet rushed this package of tender notices out the very next day after the MetPro Audit committee met to consider the scandalous revelations of incompetence - and worse - in the financial, procurement and contractual management in Barnet. You might think that the way in which this notice was published was completely inappropriate in such circumstances, and you would be right, but there is too much at stake for certain parties for anything to obstruct the dangerous speed at which the One Barnet programme of outsourcing is being facilitated.

Is the externalisation of so many services going to benefit the residents of this borough?

Does this consideration really matter to anyone involved in the process?

A few backbench Tory councillors might have their doubts, but of course they are doing nothing to prevent the programme from rolling on. The senior officers are the ones who run this council, and they are the ones who are pushing One Barnet through, even as the signs from government clearly indicate now that the idea of massive outsourcing has become discredited, and the emphasis on large scale externalisation is being discouraged.

Take a look at this story regarding Capita and another London borough, published in the Local Guardian on 20th July, under the heading:

Concerns over Lambeth Council's £60 million call-centre contract

Councillors and unions have demanded a review of Lambeth’s decision to award a £60m revenue collection and call-centre contract to a company it previously branded “unacceptable”.

Councillor Kingsley Abrahams ‘called-in’ the deal with private service provider Capita earlier this month, claiming the deal would damage the local economy and committed the council to a long term relationship with a company that “in the past, failed to perform satisfactorily for the people of Lambeth”.

Capita was in charge of housing and council tax services in Lambeth between 1997 and 2001, but the service had to be bought in-house after the council declared Capita’s service to be “unacceptable”.

The 10-year deal involves Capita running the council’s revenue collection and call centres, which would move to Southampton.

Lambeth Living, (LL) the council’s housing arm, has opted out of the deal, a move seen by some as a vote of no confidence.

In response to Coun Abrahams’ concerns, the council said Capita was in a far more “robust” position now, and stressed the deal would save £1m a year, as well as delivering better services.

It also said there would be “minimal redundancies”, and Capita would invest £500,000 in training support and apprenticeships.

The council's cabinet member for finance, Councillor Paul McGlone, said: “It is going to cut waiting times on the phone, but it will also allow people to get in touch with the council at times that suit them through new technology, online, or by text.

“So rather than drag up the distant past, we are looking to the future because this is exactly the kind of innovative and value for money approach that residents expect from us, and that Lambeth Council is developing a national reputation for.”

But Unison’s Lambeth branch secretary Jon Rogers said: “I’m not at all convinced the services will be better. Who thinks people based in Southampton are the best placed to help you navigate Lambeth Council?

“Forty-three full-time jobs would disappear to Southampton. A lot spend money in the borough so there would be a knock-on effect for the local economy.

“It seems bizarre the council wants to move jobs out of the borough. All we’re asking is if there’s an option to keep the work in the borough.”

Perhaps it is unfair to refer back to a failure by the company ten years ago: but is this sort of loss of local control of services really the direction we want to go in, here in this borough?

According to the literature published by Barnet for the massive contracts now being fought for, our council is committed to the externalisation programme of One Barnet only in order that they can provide 'citizen-centric' services.

Do we really believe that the best interests of our citizens are being placed at the top of the agenda of those pushing for One Barnet, or is it actually the case that our interests come way behind whatever suits the plans of our ideologically obsessed, if intellectually challenged Tory Cabinet members, and their senior management team - and what will most successfully enhance the profit margins of a small number of very fortunate private sector companies?


Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs Angry,

Once again, your ironic and amusing style almost hides the importance of the issues you raise! Fortunately, it seems that you and our other bloggers are now regularly providing the main stories in the local press. (I bet that is receiving high level attention at this time!)

I'm now back from a good holiday and looking forward to continuing to 'fight the good fight' (I am right, am I not, about your convent education: or is that only a Protestant phrase?)

With such an amount of good work going on in uncovering what is taking place in our name in the Borough, could we develop a strategy to bring this more strongly to public attention? I have some ideas....

All best,


Mrs Angry said...

Well God bless you, Jeffrey: indeed, as you can tell, Mrs Angry's education was delivered by the tender care of the sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, and before that the Sisters of Charity. They are probably rolling in their graves at the very mention. Mrs Angry was responsible for the loss of vocation of dozens of nuns, in her time. But something rubbed off somewhere, and Mrs Angry's holier than thou finger pointing is the result.

Mr Mustard said...

If I were Mr Travers and with Finance about to be out-sourced I don't that I would be feeling that comfortable. His Contract can be terminated at a month's notice ( please, oh pretty please ) and he could be replaced by a proper employee at less than half the money which would mean bumper bonus extra profits for Crapita or whoever gets the contract.

Unless of course there is a devious plan to outsource all of Finance except for the statutory S151 officer and still overpay him even though most duties have gone. That would not surprise me. Have councillors voted for that? No, but non-stick Nick can employ who he wants.

I look forward to seeing what Jeffrey has up his sleeve.