Monday 5 September 2011

Call Me Madam: Procurement in Broken Barnet

Procurement the One Barnet way: new action plan prepares the way for outsourcing

Are you looking for business?

Come to the London Borough of Broken Barnet. We'll see you right. No need to stand on ceremony here. We do business on a nod and a wink, know what I mean? Or -damn - we did, until those feckin' bloggers went and spoilt everything for everyone. Remember the MetPro Audit committee, back in June?

Tomorrow night, citizens of Broken Barnet, on the 6th of September, there will be another Audit Committee meeting, the first to follow the watershed moment of the MetPro meeting, which uncovered such a terrible 'cultural' failure across the financial management, or mismanagement of our borough.

There are several important issues to be considered tomorrow night. Unfortunately, some of the reports which are supposed to precede this meeting, should you wish to table a question, have been delayed, and if it were not for the protest of fellow blogger Mr Reasonableto the CEO, would probably not have appeared at all in time for the submission deadline. As it is, almost no time has been given for the proper consideration of the reports before the meeting.

This is yet another example of the contempt shown in this borough for the concept of consultation and engagement with the community as a natural part of the processs of local democracy - almost no time for a proper consideration of the lengthy reports, and the hugely significant issues contained within them. Either this is a deliberate strategy by the senior management team, or it demonstrates that without the experienced staff members made redundant earler this year, the authority simply cannot manage to produce reports at the required time.

The MetPro Audit report highlighted many failures in procedure, and in particular the shocking lack of regulation of the authority's procurement procedures. One of the reports going to the meeting next week is due to address these failings.

Item 8 on the agenda is

'Procurement Controls and Monitoring Plan Progress Report August 2011'.

This report reminds us sniffily that a review of these procedures was deemed necessary due to,, oh dear: 'deficiencies' noted at the last meeting. Ah: deficiencies, that would be the word.

If you remember, despite the catastrophic scale of failure in almost every process of financial transaction you could think of, no senior officer was required to do the honourable thing and resign, because it was no one's fault, or rather they didn't want to admit just what a big cock up it was, and so it was all blamed on a vague 'cultural' failure, and we were told all would be put right by, erm, an action plan.

Not just any old action plan, of course, such as Mrs Angry would write, you know, along the lines of, say: PULL YOUR FUCKING FINGER OUT AND DO THINGS PROPERLY, BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WE PAY YOU A LOT OF MONEY TO DO, no no ... an action plan 'to mitigate the risks associated with existing non compliant contracts'. Aha.

Question: Mrs Angry, what is a non compliant contract?

Answer: Thank you for asking. It is not a contract at all.

A non compliant contract is actually a casual 'arrangement' between two consenting parties, carefree swinging, rather than the holy bonds of corporate matrimony: a tradition which has existed perfectly happily, Broken Barnet style, until we prurient bloggers started poking our noses into the MetPro scandal and demonstrated the need for a far reaching audit investigation by Councillor Lord Palmer and his committee. This investigation discovered that the procurement and contractual processes in Barnet were in an appalling, shameful state: with widespread breaches of regulations, and all apparently unnoticed by the senior management team.

Question: Mrs Angry, how many of these contracts which are not contracts are there in the records of the London Borough of Broken Barnet?

Answer: This report tells us that 'early work' on the contract register which the report required the council to create, somewhat belatedly, suggests that 20% of all contracts are 'non compliant'. Being of a cynical nature (oh: you hadn't noticed?) Mrs Angry imagines that is quite possible that once the intitial stage is passed, ie the morning after the audit meeting, the percentage rate will increase somewhat, once all the crumpled bits of incriminating paper, agreements scribbled on an old envelope or the back of a till receipt from Costa in Whetstone, are fished back out of the back of the radiator, behind the stationery cupboard, and so on.

The report tells us:

"For the purposes of preparing the corporate contracts register, the highest threshold test has been used to define a compliant contract: “a contract that is signed/sealed by both parties is in existence and its location is known and it is available for scrutiny”.

Marvellous. Wonder how much the fee was to the feckin genius whose consultation work enabled Barnet to come up with that definition? Shame no one thought about it pre MetPro, ain't it? But if a compliant contract is that casual, how bad is a non compliant contract, and surely we don't have many of those, here in Barnet?

"Legally, however, an enforceable contract can, in principle, be demonstrated to be in place between the Council and its suppliers in the absence of a signed agreement." (Crumpled bits of paper stuffed down the back of the radiator, behind the stationery cupboard, and so on).

We are then told about Adult Social Care contracts, and by the way, did we know that the full EU set of rules do not apply to this category. That is lucky for Barnet, as it happens, because we are being softened up for some bad news, a couple of paragraphs later. Not to worry though: yes, the care contracts of the elderly have some exemption under EU law:

"however Public Bodies are then required to be open and transparent and fair in its procurement activity. The Council is satisfied that it has adequate arrangements in place to demonstrate this."

Unfortunately, past experience has taught Mrs Angry not to be satisfied with the council's definition of satisfactory, as our senior officers and Tory councillors are very easily pleased, and the Broken Barnet benchmark for satisfaction is so low to the ground you will get a crick in your neck looking for it.

Sandwiched in between this and the revelations to come, though, is hidden a passing reference to single source contracts ...

"A number of contracts can only be “procured” using one provider. An example of this would be IT maintenance contracts where you can only engage with the software/hardware provider limiting the ability to undertake open and competitive competition, further limiting any opportunity to negotiate the costs associated with such arrangements ..."

Hmm. Mr Mustard and Mr Reasonable: can you think of one or two large single source 'contracts' or convenient 'arrangements' which are only procured with one provider, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, when actually lots of other companies could easily provide the same service? Mrs Angry can. Isn't that odd, citizens? And no, we are not referring to MetPro.

Returning to Adult Care, we are told:

"Of the 402 contracts that did not meet the compliance test, there are 28 with no traceable contract document, 35 are expired contracts, 240 contracts are in place but have yet to be signed by either party, and a further 99 contracts have been signed by the provider but not by the Council. As detailed in paragraph 9.4 there are a number of provisions relating to procurement practice within the Adult Social Care market, namely to achieve flexibility and to accommodate vulnerable adults immediate, and sometimes urgent, needs."

Yes, you did read that correctly. The excuse for such laxity is that it is in some way due to the need to provide 'choice', that old Tory lie usually meaning choice for an authority to opt out of responsibility.

The care of more than four hundred vulnerable elderly residents has been arranged and paid for with no proper contractual procedure.

Here are some further details:

"Residential care and nursing care 304 non compliant contracts relate to this category, the majority of which the contract documents have been signed by neither party. Immediate action taken to secure full signatures on unsigned contracts for the intermediate period, with the intention to procure a framework agreement effective from 1st April 2013 with -

Day Care - Future day care provision will be the subject of public consultation in quarter 4 2011/12. Interim contracts will be put in place by November 2011 for all day care services currently out of contract which includes 17 out of the 28 contracts with no traceable contract relating to spot purchased day care.

Supported LivingUnsigned contracts will be re-issued for signature in September 2011. A full tender for a framework agreement is planned to commence by December 2011 as a platform to control costs and quality, with interim extension of contracts.

Home and Community Support- a full tender for a framework agreement is in place. The contract documents have been signed by the providers however are awaiting legal execution by the council and thus are determined as non compliant in the strict definition of the term. For the 7 home care contracts for which there is no traceable contract documentation, interim contracts will be issued to be in place by November 2011.

Voluntary Sector / Housing Related Support interim contracts are in place with most providers pending re-commissioning during 2011-12 and outstanding contracts are expected to be signed by end October 2011."

You will of course be wondering how on earth any responsible local authority could allow such a total mess to have evolved in the management of social care. I'm afraid I have no answer: there is no justification for such incompetence.

Let's move on to safeguarding, another area which the MetPro scandal exposed as shamefully unregulated in the most astonishingly sensitive services.

Safeguarding for contracted care and support:

"Despite the absence of formal signed contracts procedures are in place to ensure safeguarding of vulnerable adults."

That's ok then, isn't it?

Is it?

Chief Executives Service: There are 2 contracts that failed the compliance test – Media Purchasing and Print and Delivery. Print and Delivery is currently out to tender and there will be a cross Council tender for Media Purchasing later this year.

Hmm. Interesting: how did that happen, we wonder?

Ah - here's a good one:

Deputy Chief Executives Office: Of the 2 non compliant contracts, 1 is out to quote at present and the other will be made compliant by utilising an existing London wide framework agreement.

Yes, yes: but what are they, and why aren't you telling us?

We can only speculate.

Are they for supplying the Deputy CEO, Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, with his One Barnet pencils?

Or for more elocution lessons, so he can talk proper, when applying for a new job?

Perhaps it's for new seats for his all friends and former colleagues arriving from the LDA to help him count the paperclips?

Don't be shy, just tell us. You know: in the interests of transparency & all that stuff.

More trouble: just look at these extracts -

Children’s Service - Non-compliance for Special Educational Need (SEN) and children in care placements:

For children in care placement providers, 3 providers are not yet confirmed signatories to the pan London Care Placements framework.

Children’s Service: Other SEN and complex needs related expenditure: There are a number of services provided for children with special educational need and/or disabilities commissioned from schools, NHS providers and the voluntary sector e.g. therapies, after school activities, home tutors. The majority of this spend is currently non compliant.

Children’s Service: Children, young people and family support services and schools services (e.g., school catering): Two significant contracts, one delivering support services for young people and one delivering workforce development expired in March 2011 ...

Just extraordinary: again, the care of our most vulnerable residents, children with disabilities and special needs have been organised in casual arrangements that fail to comply with accepted standards of contractual agreement.

Moving on: ah ...

Commercial: There are a number of compliance issues, 31 in total of which 30 are IS related. Actions required to make these complaint are: 15 IS contracts are single source contracts for individual maintenance agreements; 3 contracts will be novating over to an existing IS contract; 3 will be going out to tender and a timeframe is currently in development; The remaining 9 contracts are currently to tender; and The remaining non IS related contract is currently being prepared by Legal Services.

Better late than never, eh, Captain Cooper? At ease. Oh: you already are, I see. Hmm.

and then we have, at the very heart of the council management:

Corporate Governance: even here, 2 contracts failed the compliance test, Counsel Contract, and External Legal Advice - Insurance claims: dear, dear, that's not very good, is it?

and finally ...

Environmental Planning and Regeneration: 26 non compliant contracts, of these 1 requires a Delegated Powers Report (DPR) for an expired contract, 11 require DPR to formalise ongoing arrangements, 3 will be incorporated into existing available framework agreements, 3 will be incorporated into existing East Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO) Framework agreements, 1 is out to tender at the moment, 1 requires a DPR for an interim arrangement as procurement is already underway and 4 require DPR’s for an interim period and will require framework agreements to be set up going forward and the remaining 1 contract is being investigated by Legal Services at present. This leaves one remaining contract which is currently being reviewed by contracts to establish needs going forward.
26 non compliant contracts? Tut tut, Councillor Coleman: on your watch? What happened to member oversight? Still, you like signing Delegated Powers Reports, don't you, especially during the summer holidays ... see if Andrew Travers will lend you one of his pencils.

There is another important council meeting tonight(6.30 start): the Business management overview and scrutiny committee. Yes, it sounds awfully dull, but look, there isn't much scrutiny left in Broken Barnet, so let's take advantage of it. And as it happens, at tonight' meeting, Labour and Libdem councillors have called in the sneaky attempt, during the week of the riots, by one Brian Coleman to sign off the order for the removal of pay and display parking cash facilities in Barnet.

And while we are thinking about council meetings, please be aware that the next round of the newly censored Residents Forums is coming up:

20 September 2011Chipping Barnet Area Environment Sub-CommitteeOrdinaryAll Saints Arts Centre, 122 Oakleigh Road North, London N2020:00:00
20 September 2011Chipping Barnet Residents ForumOrdinaryAll Saints Arts Centre, 122 Oakleigh Road North, London N2018:00:00
14 September 2011Finchley & Golders Green Residents ForumOrdinaryTrinity Church, 15 Nether Street, Finchley, N12 7NN18:00:00
14 September 2011Finchley & Golders Green Area Environment Sub-CommitteeOrdinaryTrinity Church, 15 Nether Street, Finchley, N12 7NN20:00:00
12 September 2011Hendon Residents ForumOrdinaryCopthall School (Main Hall), Pursley Road, Mill Hill18:00:00
12 September 2011Hendon Area Environment Sub-CommitteeOrdinaryCopthall School (Main Hall), Pursley Road, Mill Hill

If you care about the future of local democracy, and object to the bullying self interest of our Tory council, please make the effort to attend, and to send in questions before the meetings.

Rather amusingly, the current advertisement for the Forums in the local press states that questions for these Forums must be submitted by the 22nd June. Mrs Angry assumes that much as our Tory councillors and senior officers would like to prevent any issues whatsoever being raised at the Forums, thus ensuring that the meetings last only ten minutes, and proceed in total and obedient silence from the awestruck residents, we imagine that this must be a mistake, and that we should send in any questions as soon as possible.

Oh, and er, please note that the Chipping Barnet Forum will be held in a new venue: the All Saints Arts Centre, run by our favourite man of the cloth, Father Adrian Benjamin. Make sure you bring a banner.

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