Tuesday 20 September 2011

Straightforward and open as possible? Part Three: How to handle a scandal

MetPro and the Mayor's limo at last year's Friern Barnet show

Mrs Angry's FOI regarding the first deployment of MetPro, submitted to Barnet Council on March 3rd, had been intended, as explained previously, as a question for a Residents Forum. In retrospect, it might appear that this - and one or two other awkward questions - may well have marked the beginning of the end of the Forum system as it was, ie a genuine process of consultation with residents, rather than a puppet show for the One Barnet dictatorship.

What the question must have revealed, however, was the fact that there was no contract with MetPro, and that there had been no tender process, and this must have been - or should have been - obvious right from the first week of March. By the first week of April, however, emails reveal that senior officers were still unsure of the circumstances in which MetPro had first been taken on, as we will see a little later.

Despite the lack of evidence of any contract or regulation of the 'arrangement' , MetPro was still retained by the council until the end of the month: incredibly, the emails show that their SIA licensing was also not checked until 'around' the 23rd of March.

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 16:47

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: FW: hendon Town Hall - Security Update

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] I think this covers most of it , its what I sent you before .

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] did a check on the licences on or about the 23rd March.

Hope this helps.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 29 March 2011 17:29

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: hendon Town Hall - Security Update

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

The Security staff based in our buildings were SIA Registered on joining us and copies of

their licences were provided.These are valid for 3 years.

However over the years and as they have changed staff and moved them to different sites it

seems this is not now the case.

Given Metpro's changes in staff I have personally asked [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] the

Head of their security at least three times for assurance that the staff working in our premises

are all licensed and each time he has assured me yes this is the case. The most recent time

being just after Council night when we started to recieve complaints.

It is now only since these concerns over Metpro business have come to light that we have

tried to trace the staff SIA registrations through the SIA web site and have uncovered

several of them unlicensed or with licences that have lapsed.

As the security company are contractors we do take their qualifications very seriously and on

trust as we do with all contractors that send along their staff to work in our premises.

Given the issues with Metpro there may be a requirement to check out the security personnel

from (redacted by Mrs Angry) Security working at Mill Hill Depot and even the (redacted by Mrs Angry)

staff working at NLBP to ensure they are all licensed.

We would hope that when the new corporate security contract comes into force later this


that with contract monitoring by Procurement this type of issue would not arise again.

Yes, that would be a thought. No need to hurry though. Take your time. Nice of you to take on trust whether or not your security employees, dealing with vulnerable residents, are lawfully engaged. Notice no one mentions CRB checks, by the way. And note this is sent as late as March 31st.

Also rather late in the day came this email:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 28 March 2011 15:30

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: MetPro security

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA],

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. Your name is given on the MetPro site as contact for their

use in relation to Children Services.

Can you please send us details of what type of work your area uses MetPro for? In particular

whether this is directly in contact with children? Also do you know when (month and year)

the Children’s Service started using MetPro?

I’d be really grateful for a prompt response but unfortunately I personally won’t be in the

office again except on Thurs. If you wish to discuss this at all then please contact [Redacted

– s40(2) FOIA] with whom I closely work.

Many thanks

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Again, as late as 28th March, someone has thought to query the extent of close contact that MetPro staff had with children. The response came:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 28 March 2011 22:24

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: MetPro security

Importance: High

Hello [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

I was unaware that MetPro had put me on their materials as a reference and would certainly

not have agreed to this if I had been asked.

The section below surprised me - I am not aware that anyone in Children's Service was

involving MetPro in 'developing a future operational model for the enforcement of the

council's duty of care for looking after children.' Whilst working as Contact Team Manager I

was aware that MetPro wanted to develop their role, but not that Children's Service had

expressed interest in them doing so.

(note from Mrs Angry - there follows the MetPro claim from their pdf document):

"In the near future, we will

have officers being

specially trained to work

closely with children and

social workers in a plain

clothes role. They will play

an instrumental part in

developing a future

operational model for the enforcement of the

council’s duty of care for looking after children"


As stated when we spoke on the phone, my knowledge of MetPro was limited to their role in

providing security for high-risk contact arrangements for children in care. It may be that they

had a role with other Children's Services' work - if you want to find out I suggest you contact

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA], the Service Manager for children in care teams, or [Redacted –

s40(2) FOIA], Head of Care for children's social care.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

So: here we have confirmation:

"They provided security for high-risk contact arrangements for children in care"

And yet I was told at the MetPro audit meeting that there was no need for any further inquiry into the potential safeguarding risk that this presented to any children who may have had close contact with MetPro staff who were neither SIA licensed, not CRB checked. Just incredible, isn't it?

The emphasis on urgency over the MetPro issue, in fact, as we learn from these emails was clearly directed at the management of the story, rather than the need fully to investigate the background and wider implications of the issue.

On the 10th of March, Mr P had also submitted several probing FOI questions in regard to the company. His questions are referred to in several emails, including this one, which is notable as it does not redact the name of the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley: look, no red ink!

From: Walkley, Nick

Sent: 31 March 2011 20:21

To: Lustig, Jeff

Cc: Cooper, Craig

Subject: Fw: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting


Can I ask you to lead on a response (which I think can be straightforward and as open as is

possible) and get an email to (Mr P) acknowledging as much tomorrow. I would

suggest we mop up all such queries asap and try to get them all dealt with by close of play


I can confirm I had no role in directing the security planning. My only contact with staff (aside

from niceties) came when I left the chamber to deal with the group trying to enter the public


Can we also clear the FOI pls.

Craig can you prioritise support to this please.


Mrs Angry likes this email. She likes the fact that Mr Walkley has thought about whether or not a response can be straightforward or open, and found that it can, in this case.

She likes the reference to 'mopping up', a military term which must have been welcomed by ex Captain Craig Cooper, who presumably is used to 'mopping up' insurgents, and is now tasked with the rather more challenging mission of dealing with the Taliban of Broken Barnet - the fiendish bloggers, and their FOI missiles.

Oh, then Mr Walkley gets his metaphors in a twist, and refers to 'close of play', with lovely, warm thoughts of cricket on a summer's day, a sense of fair play, probably followed by tea in the pavilion. And is there honey still for tea? No, but if you want any plum jam, for your scones, Mr Walkley, you know who to ask.

Sorry, mind drifting.

(You have to understand that Mrs Angry's easily confused head is whirring with overloaded data at the moment: been having some strange dreams - Sunday night dreamt had to sweep a giant carpet with a small brush because hoovers hadn't been invented, which took up about four hours of sleep to dream - exhausting; last night she dreamt about cutting up reel after reel of sellotape - what's that all about? No, don't tell me.)

Anyway, back to the email. God help me.

The point of this, of course, is to distance Non Stick Nick from any MetPro nastiness, and tell everyone that the unpleasantness at the Town Hall had nothing to do with him. Hmm.

He mentions leaving the chamber 'to deal with the group trying to enter the public gallery'.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a band of rioting, foul mouthed anarchists were hammering on the doors of the council chamber, demanding to be let in, and throwing fire extinguishers around the place, (or perhaps, as admittedly Mrs Angry is often tempted to, drawing a moustache on the portraits of lady mayoresses - and Brian Coleman - on the wall outside).

In fact this group was being ushered into the gallery by the senior police officer in charge, Inspector Roberts, who had instructed Mrs Angry to bring 17 residents from the overflow room in which they were being incarcerated by MetPro. This group was a bunch of middle aged residents, and one sixth former, who were perfectly well behaved, and only wanted to sit and listen to the 'debate'. In defiance of the police decision, they were phyically obstructed from passing through the doors into the gallery, by MetPro - and senior council officers.

There are numerous emails in Mr P's collection written on the same theme by a variety of council officers: MetPro? Before my time. Nothing to do with me. Or: was around, but can't recall anything at all that would be of help, sorry. Or, so and so would know, but she is out of the office. No: she is on maternity leave. No: what a shame, think he's left. Or: I would come to the meeting, but I have a prior appointment. Hmm.

Equally baffling is the trail of lost documents.

No one knows who would know about anything, or who ought to know about anything: the emails, in fact are a real indictment of the staggeringly low standard of administrative oversight and centralised control in Barnet.

As Lord Palmer's MetPro report was to find, the ideological obsession with One Barnet has simply taken precedence over the day to day running of the authority. Not surprising: who can bothered to run any enterprise with any enthusiasm when you are about to flog it and hand it over to someone else?

Everyone laughed when Brian Coleman said he wasn't going to outsource a pile of crap, ie the parking service - he was annoyed because he feels this service has been allowed to decline through lack of proper organisation, and perhaps he has a point, but he has only himself and his Tory colleagues to blame for encouraging the senior management team to become so turned on by the possibilities of outsourcing that they have neglected the more tedious responsibilities of running the authority properly.

But is it simply incompetence and maladminstration which is to blame for the MetPro fiasco, or something more serious? Take a look at these three extracts, all sent on the same day, 5th April:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 13:31

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] ,

We have a file that contains details about a tender for Mill Hill Depot from a number of

security companies and a tender from Metpro c. 2006. We did originally think that we had a

file from Metpro and others but the others refer to another tender entirely i.e. Mill Hill.

I may or not be around but will leave with a colleague we are located on the 1st floor across

the atrium near the Leaders Suite (where [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] is located).

You are welcome to come and see what we have.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 13:32

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


Just spoke to [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] .

She says you need to speak to [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] or [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] in

corporate procurement about this. Apparently there is a file with the tendering process of

Metpro. There were 2/3 other firms who also tendered and MetPro came out the winner.

Hope this helps

Please let me know what you find out and copy me in on any FOI responses about this.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

then another email:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 14:21

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] ,

FYI I’ve just gone to see [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] about this.

Procurement hold a folder that contains a 2006 Metpro tender, along with what first appeared

to be rival tenders for the same work. However, on further inspection, it transpired these

were not in fact rival tenders, but instead related to a completely separate tender process

(security @ Mill Hill depot) with which Metpro had absolutely no involvement.

As such our position is unchanged - we don’t know how many other companies, if any,

tendered for the work given to Metpro, nor do we know the reasons Metpro were chosen. I’m

awaiting responses from Housing and [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] (Health and Safety) on

some enquiries, but don’t expect either will be able to locate any information, so it seems this

position will form the basis of our FOI responses.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Ah: so there WAS a tender from MetPro in 2006, but no other companies submitted any. Has Lord Palmer seen this folder, and this MetPro tender? On the previous day, an email from who knows who, to who knows who, admits that:

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] has confirmed that Corporate Procurement do not hold any

information. He has also confirmed the ‘tender action never resulted in moving to contract

but was shelved prior to contract’.

Ok: shelved prior to contract. Why?

Let's look at the evidence relating back to 2006, and the reason MetPro were taken on in the first place. Here is an email sent on the 6th April, which seems to refer to an incident at Barnet House:

Sent: 06 April 2011 17:32

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: FOI - Metpro

Hi [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA],

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] recollection is that she was the victim of an assault and the

security company at the time were pointless as they “were not allowed to touch people”, she

told [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] and [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] who then set about getting

better security on board with [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] help I believe and Rapid Response

came on board but [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] was not involved in anything beyond that.

After this incident, it was decided that there should be more and 'better' security on hand at Barnet House, and instructions were sent out for a proper tender process, to be overseen in the correct manner.

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 13/01/06 14:01:50

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: Lead on Barnet House Security Contract

Dear Colleagues,

I have now been advised that we are to try and have the new Security Firm in place by the

last week of February 2006 - this really gives us very little time so we need to move quickly

on getting this contract underway.

I need to know which Department will take the lead on behalf of the others?

We need to get all the information regarding your specific needs together in a short


Case. We need to be able to show the benefits of our choice of supplier, and the cost


so look for ways of efficient handling of the 'all' the needs. We also need to determine the

costs from all

the different areas so we can ascertain how much the value of this annual contract will be.

Based on the outcomes we will need 'Head of Service or Cabinet Member' approval and

then we can select the Procurement method, and begin writing up documents. Legal will

need to check details and then this can go out to providers, for a later selection but speed is


Please come back to me as soon as possible.

Many thanks

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA

Three companies were identified. And then something went terribly wrong, didn't it? But no one can remember what happened, or why, or tell us why the priviliged treatment given to MetPro continued for five years.

What a mystery.

So there we have it: MetPro, told in their own words, as it happened. Some of their own words, of course: don't imagine this is the full story. Do you think we will ever find out what really happened? Let's see, shall we?

Just imagine what might have happened, though, if the Chief Executive and Director of Corporate Governance had received the emails sent by Mrs Angry, right after the budget meeting, informing them about the liquidation of the company, and detailing certain other pertinent facts about MetPro. In a twist of fate straight out of some novel by Thomas Hardy, like the confession written by Tess of the D'Urbervilles and posted to her lover, which ended up under the doormat, unread, Mrs Angry's warning also went unread, and the emails sent to Labour councillors went unread, and as a consequence, the story became very public, very soon, followed by the audit investigation, and all the consequent revelations of corporate failure on such a spectacular scale.

The curse of Mrs Angry, see.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Ps: nearly forgot - how could I? Let's finish with this:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 08 April 2011 15:31

To: Lustig, Jeff

Subject: MetPro tweet

Afternoon Jeff,

The below tweet has appeared on Twitter regarding MetPro.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

From: Lustig, Jeff

Sent: 08 April 2011 16:19

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: MetPro tweet

What does it say?

Jeff Lustig

Director of Corporate Governance

London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11

1 NP

Tel: 020 8359 2008

Mobile [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Note to Mr Lustig: why not get on twitter, and join in all the fun? I'll even let you follow me, if it helps.

Mrs Angry x


Mr Mustard said...

Dangerous strategy Mrs A inviting officers to follow you; there might be some unpleasantness between officers and councillors over your favours behind the organic nut counter at Waitrose or with them vying to catch that rat at Tesco to impress you.

What would impress me would be if they got togther and ran the council properly. Looks like I too have been dreaming.

See you later for our artistic entertainment. I doubt that the atmosphere will be very luvvie? ( well with the top table anyway. The audience will be as one )

Mrs Angry said...

Now we are married, Mr Mustard, I shall of course behave in a much more modest and retiring manner, and will not make unsuitable suggestions to council officers, except behind your back. Where's my apron?