Monday, 19 September 2011

Quite a lot in the air: MetPro - How to handle a scandal - Part Two

Do you believe in fairies, citizens? Or in One Barnet FOI responses? Mrs Angry does. Read on.

The emails, then.

What we have are only emails that address the point of the FOI, ie an FOI about FOIs about MetPro: got that? And of course we have to rely on the openness and transparency of the senior management team of the London Borough of Broken Barnet in order to believe that these are all the emails which exist on that subject. We do trust the openness and transparency of the senior management team, don't we, citizens? Oh. Alright then.

The next problem is the ludicrous and totally idiosyncratic appplication of redacted names, imposed in order to confuse the issue as much as possible and make it (almost) impossible to follow the sequence of events, or identify who was involved in the management of the council's spin on the MetPro story. Because of course spin is what this is all about: not about culpability,sorry, what's the One Barnet phrase: taking 'ownership' - or even about putting things right, but about damage limitation, and containment. It's whitewash, not transparency.

It's quite amusing to read through the emails (and of course they are not in sequence, hence the length of time it has taken Mrs Angry to read through and piece together) and note the change of attitude in the senior management team, from one of complacency and vague indifference to the initial enquiries about their security arrangements - although already keen to withhold any information from the public domain:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]Sent: 03 March 2011 17:36

To: Lustig, Jeff

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: FOIA - Private security at Council meeting


We have received several requests about the private security personnel present at

Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Whilst I can deal with the majority of the questions, I’m not sure if we hold records relating to

the following enquiries:

• Who were the security staff accountable to?

• Who authorised their presence?

• Why was it deemed necessary to employ the private firm?

Are you aware of any information we hold that would fall within these parts of the requests?

We must respond by the end of March to each request.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


From: Lustig, Jeff

Sent: 07 March 2011 08:12

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]all

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: FOIA - Private security at Council meeting

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA],

Whilst the questions below do not give rise to concern, I would have reservation about

disclosing information as to numbers and deployment of security staff at Council meetings.

The requested details below, if they are held on record, would be kept by [Redacted –

s40(2) FOIA]/ [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]/ [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA].

Jeff Lustig

Director of Corporate Governance

... to, 24th March: from, sigh 'redacted':

I have today spoken with [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] and she would like a meeting on

Monday to meet the deadline for the first info request and because she has concern this

story has the potential to enter the national press.

Who is she? Is it the former leader, or a senior officer in the press/comms team?

by 25th March, emails reveal an even more pressing urgency: (yes from redacted to redacted):

'this has become such a serious, high-profile issue'

even then, however, the gravity of the situation had not quite been grasped by all those tasked with covering it all up: an email sent on March 28th (and from now on just imagine all the redacted bits because I've had enough of them) to an officer in Childrens' Services begins:

You may or may not be aware that there is quite a lot ‘in the air’ at the moment about the council's use of MetPro security ...

Er, yes: quite a lot.

We will return to this email later, as the significance of this belated enquiry is quite staggering.

But back to beginning: initially it is evident that the council was completely unconcerned about any criticism of its handling of the budget meeting, and its reluctance to give specific details about the numbers of MetPro staff used stemmed from the usual Barnet corporate attitude of pointless secrecy, rather than any worries about the terms on which its security company were employed.

By the 8th March, oh dear: someone had submitted an FOI - oh look, it was me ... in fact, citizens, Mrs Angry had, by the third of March, already guessed that there was something badly wrong in the circumstances surrounding the council's use of this company. She can now exclusively reveal that around this time she was sent a range of material from various anonymous sources suggesting that the background to this story required further investigation, and it immediately became clear that any inquiry should begin with the way in which the company was first deployed by the authority.

Mrs Angry was aware that there was a Residents Forum due to take place in the next few days, and decided to ask some questions about the security company, specifically regarding the date when MetPro was first used, by whose authority and asking about the other companies which should also have submitted tenders. She had looked through the authorities own data, available online, and failed to see any reference to a contract, or even a delegated powers report. This alerted her suspicions, and frankly, why council officers had not bothered to look through their own archived documents to check for any relevant material is still a mystery.

Almost immediately Mrs Angry received an email from the officer dealing with the Forum to say that her MetPro question, and two unrelated but equally embarrassing questions had been, without her request or permission, magically transformed into FOIs. This was most peculiar, but was in fact a crafty manoeuvre from a certain senior officer in Corporate Governance, neatly avoiding the necessity to answer Mrs Angry's questions for another twenty working days. In the meanwhile, there was a lot of frantic correspondance flying about North London Business Park, as senior officers attempted to find out what they should already have known:

As it says in the (yes, redacted) emails, here on 8th March:

We’ve had a request under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the security firm we

use for Barnet House and Hendon Town Hall (MetPro).

The request is for:

[the date] the company providing security cover for the Town Hall and other council

requirements was first engaged, and by whom? How many other companies tendered for the


It’s a bit of a long shot but I understand you’re involved with the forthcoming corporate

security contract – do you know if we hold information relating to hiring MetPro? Or do you

know which service is likely to hold such information?


I understand from [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] that she provided you with some of the

responses to the FOI in question.

With regard to how long have MetPro been supplying services to LBB this is again before my

time at Barnet.

What I have managed to ascertain is that they were brought on board when Barnet House

was refurbished and the introduction of the current set up for public enquiries brought their

services to the main ground floor reception, this was at the behest of the then Project

Managers for LBB all of whom are no longer employed here.

The new Corporate Security Contract is indeed being put together through Corporate


Metpro have been contacted with regard to this occurring and with advice from our own HR

relating to TUPE, however no response to any letters from Corporate Procurement has to

date been received!!

I am currently in throws (sic) of attempting to find out their Directors and request a meeting face to

face regarding the Corporate Security Contract.

Sorry I cannot be of more assistance.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Ah: interesting ... no one seems to know how MetPro came to be used, and no one really cares: worse still, someone involved in the new Corporate Security Contract doesn't know, and has not bothered to find out, even though MetPro have not replied to correspondance in relation to the new contract. Hmm.

On the 31st of March, Mrs Angry was told that her magic MetPro FOI was not going to be answered within the statutory period after all: here is the email - yes, I have redacted his name - and isn't it funny that this email was not included in the FOI responses sent to Mr P. Wonder how many other forgotten ones there are?

Dear (Mrs Angry),
Unfortunately we are unable to respond at present to your enquiry regarding the company providing security cover at the Town Hall. I am still collating this information. I apologise on behalf of the council for not meeting the 20 working day statutory period. I hope to be able to respond tomorrow to this part of your request.
Yours sincerely,

In Mr P's collection of FOI emails there is reference to what happened the next day:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 01 April 2011 16:29

To: Lustig, Jeff

Subject: FW: Metpro FOIs - call from ( my name, NOT redacted)


I have just taken a call from [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] about her request.

Her response was due yesterday, but unfortunately this is one where we’re awaiting

information from the services, which hopefully we’ll get on Monday.

I informed [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] that hopefully we will be able to respond on Monday,

but she was not satisfied with this and asked me to pass on to my line manager that she will

be complaining to the ICO if she doesn’t receive a response by 5pm today, hence this email

to you.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

She is too impatient and a flipping nuisance, I think is the subtext here, possibly. Mrs Angry should point out, however, that in almost every instance she can think of, where she has not received a response to an FOI in the statutory period, ie almost always, she has been told a. the information is still being collated, and b. she will get a response the next day - which never happens.

By the 5th April, Mrs Angry's admittedly limited patience with the varying excuses from the FOI officer had run out, and she informed him:

Mr X: thank you. I am sorry to say that I am more likely to believe that there are fairies living at the bottom of my garden than accept the reasons for the delay in questions regarding MetPro, and I am afraid it is now a matter for the ICO.
Yours sincerely,
Mrs Angry

Not until the 15th of April, was any response forthcoming,and then she received this fulsome reply:


The company were first engaged by the council in 2006. After searching the council’s records I confirm we have not located any other information falling within your request.

By early April, the FOI emails reveal that there were now several FOI requests,from other unnamed bloggers and residents present at the meeting, and at least one press enquiry:

Sent: 29 March 2011 14:12

To: Lustig, Jeff

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: FOI FOR REVIEW - Security at Council Meeting 1 March 2011


We have received eight requests under the FOIA (and one press enquiry) concerning

Metpro. We had a meeting yesterday to discuss the various issues arising from the requests.

Attending were [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] , [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] , [Redacted –

s40(2) FOIA] , [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA], [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] and myself.

Following the meeting and in light of information gathered from services I’ve prepared the

below response to the first of the FOI requests, due today.

In your email of 7 March you said you would have reservation about disclosing information as

to numbers and deployment of security staff at Council meetings. There is an exemption

under section 38 FOIA which applies when disclosure would be likely to prejudice the safety

of any individual; however I’m not sure it can be applied here. The number of security staff at

the Council meeting is already public knowledge, as is the number of police officers, following

a council press release in early March.

Are you happy with the draft response?

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


“How many members of MetPro Rapid Response staff were on duty at the council meeting

on the evening of 1 March 2011”


“How much did these MetPro Rapid Response staff on duty at the council meeting cost

Barnet Council”

£411 (plus VAT)

“How many of these Met Pro Rapid Response staff were SIA licensed”

We have been assured by MetPro that all staff are appropriately licensed and checked.

“Given the huge police presence at the meeting why was it deemed necessary that such an

intimidating private security forced was required.”

Following events at meetings of other London borough councils officers from the council

consulted with the police before deciding it was necessary to additional security staff for the

meeting of 1 March 2011.

and then:

-Original Message-----

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 29 March 2011 16:21

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: Metpro security - mtg notes

Please see the attached notes of yesterday’s meeting.

Specific action points to complete responses:

1. [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] - to send form of words previously used along lines of given

what happened at other authorities and commitment to hold mtg in public at time and location

announced for [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] (d)

2. [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – please send what if anything you find in terms of written

instructions to staff.

3. [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – please send details of aborted tender process in 2006 as

per my e-mail yesterday

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – has drafted the [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] response (with

deadline today) and sent to [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] with reference to his concern on

releasing security info

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – noting the additional info e-mailed today from Hsg and on the

invoice situation I will use to draft the remaining responses on Thurs am.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – I will send such draft responses as I think may be problematical

to you for clearance (ie those really referring to the contract situation) but not the simpler


It would seem that once we have 1-3 above it is only the (Mr P) request that remains


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 31 March 2011 12:11

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: MetPro security - position statement

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] ,

I really wanted to tie this up in a bow as finished but I’ve got as close as can be.

I have drafted responses for the following and your [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] one and

saved them here figuring helpful to work on them in the general folder but can be

moved/copied to the individual folder when done:

I:\Information Governance\FOI\Case Work\Requests in Progress\Metpro general docs\Draft


o [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] - deadline past. I’ve typo corrected your draft. Was

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] sending other wording or is that irrelevant?

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] - deadline past. Simple could go.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – deadline today. Simple could go.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – got a week. Only CAFT officers cost question and

nos/[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] issue

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – got ages. Simple could go.

The following are not drafted and I think need MAM to clear:

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] – deadline today. awaiting contract info. Of course don’t

overlook her many other questions.

o (MrP) – got a week. Complex contract questions. What next?

Obviously all probably waiting on Jeff L verdict to an extent.

Good luck with finalising!

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] end 26

Did you note the reference to the aborted tender process in 2006? Hmm. More of that in the next post. Here is a good place to finalise, stop and tie this up in a nice bow, for now, I think.

To be continued ...


Mr Mustard said...

With typical Barnet sloppiness Mrs A, and with a blogger's eye for detail, I would like to point out that the report presented to the Audit committee said that MetPro were first used in July 2005 so the reference in the council email to 2006 is wrong.

Mrs Angry said...

I think the truth is, Mr Mustard, that they simply cannot be sure of the date, because the proper documentation, if it ever existed, has disappeared, as if by magic, and some people appear to be suffering from a convenient loss of memory.

There are many interesting conclusions to be drawn from these emails: more on this tomorrow.

Mrs Angry said...

PS apologies for sloppy layout: this material driving me nuts and is very difficult to sort through. Why am I bothering? Don't know really. Should stick to making jam, probably.

darkstar said...

Just de-lurking to say a big thank you for your blog - please don't give up now - I look forward to the day that heads roll at Barnet council over the contemptuous way they have treated the people of Barnet. I am so glad there are people like yourself with such tenacity and single-mindedness - your blog is now part of my daily diet (along with the shenanigans over at Pinkham Way). I only wish Private Eye got stuck in a bit more as well. Thank You.

Mrs Angry said...

Well, it's my pleasure, Darkstar: no, really it is. Usually. Feeling a bit weary, is all. Thank you for your kind words, which have cheered me up a bit.

Part Three soon: bit like waiting for the next installment of Little Dorrit, isn't it? Coming up: the death of little Nell/all credibility in One Barnet. Get out your hankies.

Mrs Angry said...

May I point out to myself that little Nell was in the Old Curiousity shop, not Little Dorrit, and perhaps, Mrs Angry, you should go back to bed for more sleep as your brain is clearly not in gear yet?