*Update 11th January, see below ...
Ever since the London Borough of Broken Barnet decided to try its hand at the vice game of outsourcing, and pimp the services of the authority to any old punter with a wedge of used fivers, throughout all stages of the act of procurement, the authority has been careful to protect its assets, and titillate prospective clients at the same time, by appearing to follow an outward show of modesty and decorum.
The need to appear respectable and virtuous, in a suitably Victorian tradition of hypocrisy, at the same time as arranging for their employees and residents to be well and truly f*cked by the said outsourcing companies, was reinforced by the unfortunate timing of the MetPro audit, and some very awkward questions raised by all the grubby revelations that ensued from the consequent inquiry.
Wherever the forces of desire collide with someone else's opportunity to make profit, of course, there will inevitably be the accompanying temptations to maximise the potential benefit by coercion, or inducement, and that is why, in the processes of public sector commercial activity, there are supposed to be strict regulations observed by all parties, while the long slow courtship of approaches by large and powerful private companies takes place.
These regulations are supposed to give us, the taxpayers, the reassurance we expect that a policy of transparency, openness, scrutiny, and accountability is in place to protect our best interests, and to empower local communities to take control of the democratic process which is supposed to oversee the administration of their local authorities.
The observance of such regulatory protocols is, unfortunately, as we know all too well here in Broken Barnet, in practice, conveniently ignored whenever some naughty people think they can get away with it.
Here in our borough it seems that every opportunity is seized to evade the gaze of public scrutiny and place obstructions in the way of transparency, and now, placed as we are in the middle of a one billion pound tender process, this obstinate refusal to be accountable has never been more worrying, or more dangerous.
On the 1st of November last year, Mrs Angry submitted the following Freedom of Information request to the London Borough of Barnet:
"In March this year, the council's directors and senior officers proposed creating a register of interests in order to log any potential conflicts of interest relating to procurement and other issues resulting from the One Barnet outsourcing programme. Please tell me when this register was implemented, and give me copies of all entries to the current date."
The One Barnet programme has identified one billion pounds worth of council services to be pimped to private sector companies, and this is being divided into two separate processes, the DRS package valued at £250 million, which began early last year, and the larger £750 million bundle of goodies involving customer services and related interests, which kicked off soon afterwards: you might recall that with ill concealed haste, the OJEU notice for this sell off was published the morning after the night before that was the MetPro Audit meeting, in early June.
The DRS package eventually was focused on the following shortlisted companies:
Mrs Angry understands that surprise, surprise, Capita Symonds and also EC Harris are the lucky two winners from this shortlist, on to the next stage.
The Customer Service sell off was shortlisted to BT (yes, another surprise), Capita (ditto) Serco (yawn) and HCL Axon. CSC and IBM sadly fell by the wayside. Mrs Angry is going to have words with the Broken Barnet racing correspondant about the odds for the lucky winners. No fortunes to be won in this race by rank outsiders, she suspects.
Mrs Angry did not receive a reply to this FOI request within the statutory time limit. As is now deliberate practice with all acute or politically sensitive requests, the response was withheld as long as possible, and released at a time when it is imagined it will do the least damage. Mrs Angry therefore was not surprised to be sent a response more than 14 working days later than the statutory 20 day limit, and of course late on a Friday afternoon, in the run up to Christmas.
The reply contained 18 attachments, copies of declarations of interests by officers, and the following statement.
Please refer to the attached documents. I can confirm that all the declarations of interest have been reviewed by a senior officer who has declared that none were prejudicial. I can confirm that the register was implemented on 31 May 2011.
Refusal notice We have decided to redact the signatures on the disclosed declaration of interests forms because this constitutes the personal data of a third party. In our view such individuals would not reasonably expect their personal details to be publicised under the FOIA and to do so without their consent would constitute ‘unfair processing’ under the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998. In these circumstances we are entitled to refuse to disclose this information under the exemption in section 40(2) of the FOIA. For guidance on this and other provisions of the FOIA please visit www.ico.gov.uk. We have decided to withhold some of the information you have requested by you on XXXXX’s declaration of interest form* which has been redacted because it constitutes the personal data relating to a third party. In our view this individual would not reasonably expect their personal details to be publicised under the FOIA and to do so without their consent would constitute ‘unfair processing’ under the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998. In these circumstances we are entitled to refuse to disclose this information under the exemption in section 40(2) of the FOIA. For guidance on this and other provisions of the FOIA please visit www.ico.gov.uk.
(*name redacted by Mrs Angry)
I can confirm that 67 declaration forms have been completed by non senior officers. These non senior officers were required to sign a declaration of interests form because their presence was required at the One Barnet outsourcing programme council meetings in order to take notes or were required to meet the bidders in order give a background explanation of the work that they undertake within their service area. I can confirm that all the declarations of interest have been reviewed by a senior officer who has declared that none were prejudicial. We have therefore decided to withhold the declaration forms which have been completed by non senior officers on the grounds that this information constitutes the personal data of a third party. In our view such individuals would not reasonably expect their personal details to be publicised under the FOIA and to do so without their consent would constitute ‘unfair processing’ under the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998. In these circumstances we are entitled to refuse to disclose this information under the exemption in section 40(2) of the FOIA. ..."
Mrs Angry is confused:
Why was the register only implemented at the end of May when the initial stages of the process were already well underway - from April onwards?
More importantly, if the register really was implemented in May, why are all the attached declarations by senior officers only signed so many months later - the majority of them, and all seven of those referring to the DRS package in October? The DRS process includes a 105 working day dialogue which was timetabled to end on the 28th October, and none of the seven DRS forms are dated earlier than the 4th October.
This response claims that 67 officers have signed declarations, but that their identities must remain secret, because of some spurious pretext based on the favourite whipping boy of the London Borough of Barnet: the Data Protection Act.
First of all, what is the definition here of a senior officer? If an officer is senior enough to be entrusted in taking part in a dialogue with commercial partners it is absolutely within the expectations of accountability that they should be seen to be acting properly in this process. This is not a personal or private matter, and quite clearly, in the interests of transparency and public scrutiny, these forms should not be withheld from the public domain.
Now let us look at the individual forms and the curious omissions from the number of forms attached.
One of these forms has two declarations, one of which has been heavily redacted in the FOI response, on the excuse that it relates to a third party, again invoking the DPA. And again, the whole point of transparency and probity is that the right to privacy in this matter is surely overuled by the need for scrutiny? And why redact the whole declaration, rather than the name of the third party?
Mrs Angry is fully confident that all these individuals have acted honestly throughout the tender process, and in fairness it should be acknowledged that any individuals whose names do not appear in the FOI response could conceivably be missing due to error on the part of the parties compiling the response. What would appear to be an inexplicable lateness and selective nature of involvement in the signing of these forms may well be due to someone's administrative incompetence, rather than any individual wrongdoing or conspiracy to obstruct the process of scrutiny. The ultimate responsibility for any conflict of interest, or perception of conflict of interest, lies with the senior management team of the authority, which has a duty to ensure the competent regulation of all council processes. You can read on and decide if you think they are fulfilling this duty.
This is the wording on the declaration forms, which Mrs Angry confesses to finding rather amusing:
"As part of the One Barnet project, the council must ensure complete transparency and probity during the evaluation period. For this reason we have to ensure that all members of the competitive dialogue team do not have any pecuniary or other interests to declare regarding any of the organisations listed below."
According to this FOI response, anyway, only one senior officer has signed declarations in relation to both the DRS and Customer Service packages, and that is Craig Cooper, Commercial Director, 4th October. Andrew 'Blackhole' Travers, the Deputy CEO and Chief Finance Officer has signed only for DRS, 4th October. Funnily enough, forms by the CEO Nick Walkley have not been attached. Why is that? Mrs Angry is perplexed.
Other declarations in regard to the DRS process, and the date of signature:
John Hooton, Assistant Director, Strategic Finance, 4th October.
Martin Cowie, Assistant Director, Planning and Development Management, 4th October
Michael (Mick) Stokes, Assistant Director, Commercial Assurance, 4th October
Rick Mason, Acting Assistant Director, Environmental Health, 4th October
Pam Wharfe, Interim Director, Environment, Planning, & Regulations, 12th October
Customer Service declarations:
Val White, Assistant Director, Children's Services, 18th October
Craig Cooper, as above, 16th September
Ed Gowan, Assistant Director, Commercial Transformation, 11th October
Jacqui McGeachie, Assistant Director for HR, 14th September
Jay Mercer, Deputy Director, Children's Services 18th October
Julie Taylor, Assistant CEO, 14th September
Maria Christofi, Assistant Director, Financial Services, 16th September.
There are two other declarations attached to the FOI response by individuals acting in consultation to LBB in outsourcing projects:
Lynn Witham, who is the MD of 'Parking Associates Ltd', signing on 20th September a form relating to the highly controversial One Barnet Parking Services tender process involving Apcoa, NSL, Mouchel Ltd and On Time Parking. Her form tells us such a declaration is required by any member of the IT evaluation team, yet hers is the only form attached, which is odd. As we know, the lucky winners were NSL, so game over here anyway. Or is it?* Update: see below ...
Martin Cresswell, in relation to the DRS package. Mr Cresswell is - oh, goodness me, CEO of Impower, sorry -iMPOWER (who have been visiting this blog today). You remember Impower: Mr Max Wide, our ubiquituous friend of Barnet and BT, and Suffolk CC, so busy, and now he works for ... Impower! Look at how the good news of his arrival was announced on their website:
Max Wide joins iMPOWER
Max Wide joins iMPOWER
iMPOWER Consulting is delighted to announce the appointment of Max Wide as a Director within the firm. Max is recognised as one of the 30 most influential people in local government. His background as a consultant and as a Director in both public and private sector organisations, means he is highly qualified to strengthen iMPOWER’s reputation in the market for leading edge, high quality, tailored solutions to suit each clients’ needs.
Max will be helping many existing and new clients to re-shape their organisations at what is a critical time for the public sector, when delivering reduced costs at a time when the need and demand for public services is increasing, requires new and innovative approaches from leaders.
I am delighted that Max is joining iMPOWER, his appointment underlines our commitment to local government, and I look forward to the contribution he will make in helping our clients to be innovative and deliver sustainable public services in the future.Martin Cresswell, Chief Executive
So. Anyone else missing from the declaration forms, that you can think of?
Hmm. Cast your minds back to the last audit meeting,
1.What controls and procedures does Barnet Council have in place to manage the risks of conflicts of interest - and the perception of conflicts of interest - inherent in the appointment and secondment of Senior Officers to and from organisations with which the Council has, has had or is likely to have, commercial relationships?
"Barnet Council's pre-employment recruitment process requires that all selected candidates complete a Code of Conduct-Declaration of Interest questionnaire. Secondees sign a three-way secondment agreement between the individual, Barnet Council and the seconding organisation which will be specific to the requirements of the particular post. All senior individuals working on One Barnet projects sign a declaration of interest form for each One Barnet project for which they are involved in the procurement. In addition, anyone involved in the procurement must sign a Competitive Dialogue Confidentiality Agreement specific to One Barnet."
Mrs Angry's questions were responded to by the Chair, Lord Palmer, with his own concerns about the issue, as one would hope. What has happened in the meanwhile? F*ck knows.
What does cause Mrs Angry further concern and puzzlement is the fact that the released declaration forms do not include anything signed by a Mr Richard Grice, a senior officer with the borough who left the council to work with BT, one of the four short listed companies tendering for the £750 million customer service package. Mr Grice's signature appears on a draft 'output specification' submitted to a Business and Performance Overview and Scrutiny committee on the 22nd of September. Mr Grice left Barnet on October 28th to start his new job as head of 'Citizens Services' at BT.
Mrs Angry is sure that Mr Grice has always acted entirely properly in regard to his responsibilities at Barnet, but clearly it is reasonable to question why there is apparently no declaration of interest form, and to ask how a senior officer was allowed to continue to take part in the negotiations with BT at a date so close to starting his employment with one of the tendering companies.
It is not enough to expect us to take on trust the honesty and probity of the processes of our local authority - in the interest of transparency all such processes must be open and accountable. I hope you will agree that in the case of the One Barnet outsourcing programme it is clear that the system of regulating the potential conflict of interests is dangerously inadequate and in need of urgent investigation.
There are much wider implications here, of course. With such apparent laxity over the regulation of the outsourcing programme, one has to question why there is such haste and lack of care in the supervision of this process. You might wonder what our elected representatives think of it all.
As it happens, Mrs Angry has a message for the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: if you really cannot see that you have been hoodwinked into approving the One Barnet programme for the benefit not of residents, or even on an ideological basis, but in order to deliver a lucrative prize into the hands of globally dominant private sector companies, then really you are too stupid for words, and it is a wonder to Mrs Angry that you manage to get yourself dressed in the morning, let alone take part in the administration of one of the largest budgets in any UK local authority.
Mrs Angry also has a message for Richard Cornelius, the leader of the council. Leadership, Councillor Cornelius, is about being in charge, and showing initiative. Your council, and your borough has been hijacked by forces beyond the control of the democratic process. Instead of honouring the spirit of localism and empowering the community you represent, and defending the best interests of residents of this borough, you have sat back and allowed us to be used in the most grotesque fashion for the perverse satisfaction of the private sector. Your political career is finished, and sadly, you will only be remembered with fury by the residents of this borough when the effects of mass privatisation begin to affect the lives of their families.
And lastly, to the outsourcing companies who are on the losing side of the tender process - and we know you read all the Barnet blogs with great interest - you might like to look back through the One Barnet keyhole too, now that you have been shown the door.
It's amazing what you can see, you know, from this distance.
*Update Wednesday 11th January:
Mrs Angry's spies tell her that in fact the clock is starting on what is known as the 'Alcatel' period in regard to the award of the parking contract. This is a compulsory waiting time before a contract is signed with the lucky winning company, to give the other companies - see above: Apcoa, Mouchel Ltd and On Time Parking, and perhaps others involved in the tendering a chance to seek redress if dissatisfied in some way with the manner in which the process has been managed. Goodness me, and rumour has it that, oh dear, there may be trouble ahead ... watch this space.