Saturday, 28 December 2013

When we get behind closed doors: information, implementation, prevarication - 2013: a year in Broken Barnet: Part One

 2013 began early, in Broken Barnet. 

On the 6th December, 2012, to be precise. 

That was the date of the Cabinet meeting in which our Tory councillors so blithely gave their approval, (albeit under siege conditions in a  small, windowless sideroom as the committee room had been taken over by residents), to the first of two massive contracts with Capita, privatising our council services, and effectively outsourcing our local democracy, right into the hands of commercial interests, and far out of the grasp of our elected representatives. 

This event, therefore, marked not only the end of the corporate year, and the end of the protracted tender process: it signified the end of an era, and the coming of the age of Capitaville.

Our elected representatives, as we shall see, once the deed was done, began quickly to exhibit their hidden misgivings about the whole deal, when it was all too late, some at last daring to complain about the lack of information given to them, and the restricted access to the details of the Capita deal - one councillor even alleging his fellow councillors had been whipped on all matters concerning One Barnet.

A New Year, and a new beginning. But not all of us were to remain in Capitaville. 

Mr Ed Gowan, for example, who had taken a prominent role in the tendering process for the One Barnet privatisation, in his role as Assistant Director of 'Commercial Transformation', left Barnet Council in January to take up a post in February as Managing Consultant with Agilisys, the One Barnet consultants and 'implementation partners'.

Apparently there was no conflict of interest in such a move: just as when Mrs Angry had asked Mr Paul Hughes, our district auditor, about at least two previous similar departures by senior officers, in 2011 and 2012, one to BT, a company bidding for the One Barnet contracts, and one 'interim' consultant going from and to another company benefiting from a major contract ... well, no, he had felt there was no need to investigate the matter. None of these officers had done anything wrong, or were in breach of any regulations: because there were none in place.

And then: at the end of January, shortly after this exit, there was an awfully interesting council meeting, dutifully attended by Mrs Angry. (Although it may have seemed more interesting because she was in attendance under the influence of rather too much champagne. 'Rather too much' meaning slightly beyond the usual daily quota of a champagne socialist, that is.)

Almost prostrate on the committee room floor in a state of shock, and befuddled auditor (in)sensibility, Mrs Angry was bemused to hear that a report was being submitted to the meeting on the definitely interesting issue of ... guess what? 

That thing that had not mattered, in 2011, and 2012, and only mattered now it was too late, in relation to the tender process for a contract that was already decided, rather than the one that was still underway ... 

Yes: how to manage the risk of conflicts of interest by 'clarifying' and revising' the appropriate sections of the Code of Conduct. 

Well, f*ck me, thought Mrs Angry, as the committee room whirled around, like a spinning top, and a flypast of smirking pigs flew past the Town Hall windows.

What a turn about, and what a shame it is too late, and that Mr Paul Hughes, our district auditor, from Grant Thornton, would only look at the tender process for the contract that is already agreed and not the one that is still underway, and that the new improved Code would only take effect after both of the £1 billion contracts had been agreed ... 

Yes: just imagine Mrs Angry's delight at this news. 

She certainly felt completely reassured in both the integrity of all major contracts within the last few years, and the range of competence of the external audit system.

And now One Barnet and the Capita contracts have now been well and truly 'implemented', with the help of consultants from Agilisys and iMPOWER - ah, yes - iMPOWER, who have employed former BT fixer Mr Max Wide for the last couple of years, although he is now on the move again - this time to Bristol Council - whether or not on secondment, as he was in his time at Barnet, and Suffolk, we do not know. (Stand by for a very interesting post on BT coming along soon, by the way ... )

You, fellow citizen, will be thinking we no longer have the great pleasure of throwing wads of our cash into the open laps of these two consultancies, in payment for their unaccountable activities.


As fellow blogger Mr Reasonable established from his question to a Cabinet Resources Committee, by June alone, the total sum paid to these consultants since 2010 was a staggering £7.1 million. This is accompanied, of course, by another whopping bill  to Trowers & Hamlin, for 'legal advice'.

All of this extravagance being in order, we were told, to make savings. Ah.

And the monthly fees continue. 


Well: implementation, of course, is an indefinable state of being. 

Q: When does it start, and when does it end?

A: It lasts as long as you can convince the person signing off the accounts that you are needed.

And the art of continued implementation consultancy, it seems, is in becoming indispensible.  Whilst retaining a cloak of invisibility, of course, so no one knows exactly what you are up to.

Unfortunately for our consultant friends, this cloak loses its powers of disguise, in certain circumstances. 

In May Mrs Angry's tugging at the cloak, assisted by a Freedom of Information request, and the kind assistance of the Information Commissioner, gave us a glimpse of the hidden world of 'implementation'. See:

In August 2012, while Tory leader Richard Cornelius was relaxing in his second home in France, it was revealed that the senior management team, in cahoots with the consultants, had taken it upon themselves to change the model of the second tendered contract from a strategic partnership to a Joint Venture. The councillors, even the leader and Cabinet, knew nothing about this.

This was a hugely controversial, albeit accidental, exposure of the real force behind One Barnet. The senior management team and their allies had made this decision, without consulting elected members, and behind closed doors, as the Corporate Directors Group, a team with no executive powers, and despite the fact that the councillors had rejected a Joint Venture at an early stage, due to the higher risks that such a model presents. 

Mrs Angry had requested the minutes of the CDG meetings, which were refused on the spurious grounds that as they were shortly to be published, they must in the meanwhile remain secret: and that meanwhile lasted eight months, until the ICO lost patience with their prevarication. 

When the gun was held at the corporate head, these minutes were at last released, long after the Judicial Review hearing had taken place, by coincidence - and after determined requests from the ICO, the names of improperly redacted attendees at the meetings were also - eventually - published. These included consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER, their identities hidden, working with senior officers such as the Chief Executive, the current Director of Plaice, Pam Wharfe - and of course Mr Ed Gowan. 


And erm: what did the minutes have to say about the way in which this group of officers and consultants cooked up the Joint Venture decision that they were not entitled to take?

F*ck all, in effect. Except that the curious silence, like the dog that did not bark in the night, Watson, is ultimately the most telling evidence of all.

Because, rather conveniently, when this group convened in order to discuss such things it called itself the 'One Barnet Board', and meetings of the One Barnet Board .... were not minuted. 

So: no transparency, no accountability, no scrutiny.

Decisions made in secret, by a body with no executive powers, and with the unmonitored input of private consultants, being paid millions of pounds in fees from the taxes of local residents.

Were you wondering how we came to leave Broken Barnet, and find ourselves in Capitaville?

Now you know, readers: now you know.

To be continued.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Happy Crapita Christmas

Ah: Christmas in Broken Barnet ... and a few changes, this year, courtesy of your Tory councillors:

Now that we and all our council services have been sold into bondage to the managing board and shareholders of Capita Plc, and Barnet has been 'ReBarneted', with their usual relentless drive for efficiency, our Tory councillors have announced that Christmas itself has been outsourced, and replaced by a rather more productive and profitable activity. 

Oh do stop crying, children, and Councillor Coleman: you have only yourselves to blame. (Especially you, Brian. Christmas Carol: have a read ... think about it ....)

This year, readers, yes, Santa will be coming down your chimneys, as usual, but please do not expect any presents. 

Crapita Santa does things differently, in order to reduce costs, provide a more efficient service, and maximise profits for 'Pole-Axed', the new 'North Pole' Joint Venture.

Residents of Broken Barnet: you will therefore be expected tonight to collect all your most valuable possessions, wrap them up in copies of  your local Town Hall Pravda, 'Barnet First', and hand them over asap, as demonstrated above.
Crapita Santa will redistribute some of your gifts to a few close friends, sell the rest on Ebay - then charge you a call-out fee of £16.1 million for his efforts, plus £10 million consultancy fees for his sleigh designers, and reindeer suppliers.

Merry Xmas, Mr Pindar. 

It's a Wonderful Life, here in Capitaville.

To console those of us who have had a difficult year, and maybe hope for something better in the next one, here is some melancholy music from Judy Garland, to make you feel even worse.

Best wishes to all readers, followers, friends, in real life - or what passes for it - and especially virtual: you are all lovely people:

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas ... 

Mrs Angry x


Friday, 20 December 2013

Friday joke: I'm a lady - or: sex and democracy in Broken Barnet: a wholesome tale of discipline, bondage, gagging and restraint

 Tory Councillor Joan Scannell: I am a lady, and I am not offended

There was a meeting last night of Barnet's Constitution and Ethics Committee, which was not attended by Mrs Angry, but is reported by Mr Reasonable here: 

The title of the post says it all, really.

You may be surprised to learn that our Tory councillors feel obliged to debate any issues to do with the constitution, let alone ethical matters, and indeed it represents a real challenge for them, used as they are to acting entirely according to their own selfish, blindly ill informed impulses, but they have made some of their most memorable decisions here, such as the proposal by Councillor Melvin Cohen to silence residents at their own Forums, and forbid them from even mentioning any reference to council policy, let alone criticise such matters.

This decision led Barnet Council all the way to the High Court, and a Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme of outsourcing, which has delivered us into the sweaty embrace of Capita plc, for the next ten years. The refusal  by our Tory councillors to allow debate of the programme, and their failure to consult over such a momentous move was found to be in breach of the law. The JR was lost on a matter of timing,  but the Judge's findings on consultation was absolutely clear.

Our boneheaded councillors have learnt nothing from this experience and last night, again led by Cohen, actually voted to cut public participation in committee meetings: all questions and all addresses to committees must now be shoved into a mere half hour of token debate, in an attempt once more to silence any debate, and restrict the involvement of the people whose challenge of council policy is so dangerous.

You may recall the preposterous boasting recently in the Guardian by Mr Chris Naylor, Chief Financial Officer, that 'the default mode of Barnet Council is open government'. 

This claim was somewhat undermined by the extensive, or even, you might say, manic redacting of the Capita contracts, whose publication we had been promised as proof of a new era of transparency and love between the council and the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet.

Sadly, Mr Naylor, open government cannot function if the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet are excluded from the very process of engagement, and what passes for democracy in this borough. You might need to explain the fundamental principles to Councillor Cohen and his squirming accomplices in the war against free speech.

But there was more innovation from Melvin Cohen last night. Not satisfied with his anti-democratic move to prevent any robust challenge from residents within the committee room, he had another task in mind: putting the women back in their place.

As Mrs Angry has often observed, the mindset of our Tory councillors in Barnet is fixed firmly in the past, the glory days of the seventies and eighties, when life was so much more simple, and Conservative values were as they should be: more or less interchangeable with the present day agenda of UKIP: anti lots of things: Abroad, THE UNIONS, Red Tape, oh, and Womens Lib. Feminism and political correctness had not been invented then, of course, and all that sort of stuff has passed by the empty heads of our elected members, as you may observe in any meeting where they give in to their swivel eyed loon views on such subjects.

True, Barnet Tories are still in mourning for their beloved lost MP and PM, Margaret Thatcher, who was, oh dear, a Woman. But then, she was not really a Woman, having, like Elizabeth Ist, a weak and feeble body,  but the heart and stomach of a king, and, under the tailored skirt ... wielding an enormous strap-on of eyewateringly uncompromising policies.

Last night Councillor Cohen, who perhaps of all the Tory councillors ought to be the most grateful that in the real world outside Broken Barnet we no longer live according to the rule of bigotry and outdated stereotypes, announced last night that he wished to change the title of committee Chair back to 'Chairman'.

Despite all opposition, Cohen used his casting vote to ensure that this proposal is now adopted.

According to Mr Reasonable:  

"Objections from Cllr Alison Moore that the title would be offensive to women were dismissed. Indeed Cllr Joan Scannell said "I am a lady and I am not offended" to which Cllr Moore replied I may not be a 'lady' but I am offended". 

Councillor Scannell is of course the sort of woman that Barnet Tories prefer. She is allowed to chair the odd meeting, with a quavering voice, and usually wearing a curious outfit that looks like a velvet housecoat, as if she had been interrupted while doing a spot of dusting, or cleaning behind the fridge, looking very anxious, and uncertain of how to proceed. She lacks authority, because she knows she has none.

There are no young women in their party, only women of a certain age and beyond, preferably married to a Tory councillors, and these women are required to be submissive and loyal, and do as they are told by the men, who consist of a bunch of reactionary old codgers, and a bunch of reactionary wet behind the ears boys. 

Only once has a woman stepped bravely out of line, sort of, when Kate Salinger famously dared not to oppose, but to abstain, from the outrageous vote to award themselves big fat rises in their allowances, a proposal sneaked in at the last minute, yes, to avoid debate, and at the same meeting where residents were warned of the forthcoming storm of austerity measures, and swingeing cuts in budget. 

In the name of what Brian Coleman described with relish as 'discipline', Kate was punished and humiliated by an immediate public stripping of all her positions by her colleagues, and left the council chamber in tears, as they looked on, unashamed, and unmoved. She was helped down the stairs by a female Labour councillor.

The position of women in any society tells you all you need to know about the health of its democracy: in a borough in which the Tory party uses its power to stifle debate, impose injustice, and sell its citizens into bondage to the private sector for the profit of others, what more can you expect than that they should seek to humiliate women, and force them back onto their knees? In Barnet, the politics of gender are as the politics of the market place: to win you must dominate, and rule, rather than negotiate, and consult. Women are like the electorate - to be used, and fucked, and kept under restraint.

Except of course - Barnet's Tories may try to rewrite history, and cling on to their sense of dominance, and neo sexist attitudes. 

They have failed to grasp that they are themselves history.

Barnet Labour leader Alison Moore

pic Barnet Today

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Daft arrest: the last word? Caebrwyn returns to the High Court

Jacqui Thompson outside the High Court, after permission to appeal was denied

Welsh blogger Jacqui Thompson - who writes as @Caebrwyn - went to the High Court yesterday for a brief hearing of an application for permission to appeal the decision of Judge Tugendhat earlier this year in regard to the libel case regarding Mark James, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. 

As you may recall, Mr James was in charge of the council meeting in 2011 in which Mrs Thompson was arrested for the 'crime' of daring to film a few minutes of the proceedings, from the public gallery, with her phone. She was put in handcuffs, taken to a police station and kept in a cell for several hours until she agreed not to repeat her attempt to do what Eric Pickles urges citizens to do: to take an active interest in the actions and decision making processes of their local authorities, report their activities and hold them to account.

Mr James had then made comments to another blog about Mrs Thompson, which became th subject of her libel claim, met by a counter claim by Mr James.

Mrs Angry wrote extensively about the original hearings, which you can read about  here, and in the posts immediately before it ...


Judge Tugendhat's findings were pretty damning: he dismissed her claims, and concluded that she had "engaged in an unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation targeted against Mr James and other Council officers".

Yesterday Lord Justice Clarke found no reason to overturn this opinion, although written permission has already been granted to challenge one aspect of the finding, regarding a post alleging the use of a 'slush fund' for legal action.

Jacqui has now issued the following statement:

Just in case anyone is unaware of what transpired yesterday in London at the Court of Appeal, I was refused permission on all further grounds of appeal. I was present along with my husband and of course my legal team. The legal team representing Mr James and the council also took part.

Aside from the one ground relating to Mr James' counterclaim, which remains ongoing, there is the matter of the costs and damages which have to be resolved. This currently stands at approximately £190,000 for the claim, £41,000 for the counterclaim and £25,000 damages.

I will now have to live with the trial judgement and deal with the consequences, financial and otherwise but I will never accept nor agree with the findings. Yesterday's hearing was yet another devastating blow.

My purpose and motivation for writing this blog has always been, and always will be a means to scrutinise the local authority and to share issues which I feel are important and which would otherwise perhaps remain unreported.

I have always acted with good faith and personal integrity and written this blog with the honest belief and opinion that everything I have said is true to my best knowledge. I have not made unwarranted personal attacks on individuals; my intention has been to highlight failings within a public body where I believe it is necessary and to try and bring some transparency and accountability to my local council for the benefit of residents and taxpayers.

As for the litigation itself, as I have said, some issues are yet to be resolved so it would be inappropriate to comment yet.

My heartfelt thanks, as ever, goes to my legal team, and of course to my family and friends, well wishers and supporters.

The future of the blog? Business as usual.

Mrs Angry was present for some of hearing, turning up rather late, thanks to chaos on this end of the Northern Line - and it was a very short hearing anyway. 

It was easy to find the court: a familiar trail, being the same room where the One Barnet appeal had been heard, and indeed there was a distinct sense of  déjà vu in the proceedings, both in terms of the dismissal of Jacqui's case, and in the sense of the impossibility of success in reversing the judgement of any hearing before their lordships, the ultimate representatives of the law, who exist in a dimension far removed from the world in which most of us now live.

At the original hearing, Jacqui Thompson was presented as pursuing a vindictive, personalised campaign against Mark James. Her defence, that she was in fact seeking to hold the actions of the authority to account, failed to convince Judge Tugendhat.

Jacqui has now expressed her intention to continue with what she sees as her duty: to scrutinise the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council. 

And since the trial several very important issues relating to the authority have continued to present some very acute questions, most of them as yet unanswered. 

The Towy church matter, for example. Mrs Angry understands that the Information Commissioner is shortly due to decide on the question of Carmarthenshire County Council's refusal to respond to FOI requests for correspondance between the evangelical Church and the authority over a controversial grant and land deal.

But more significant perhaps is the matter of Mark James' indemnity from the council, which covered his legal costs in relation to the action against Mrs Thompson, and his pension payments, currently under investigation by the Welsh Audit Office, shortly to publish its findings on the matter, while the council itself has now decided, "without conceding that it is intrinsically unlawful, that the pay supplement policy be withdrawn on procedural grounds." 
Another story covered by Caebrwyn that is increasingly a matter of some concern is the close relationship between Carmarthenshire County Council and the Scarlets rugby team.

At a time when radical cuts are being made in the authority's budget, including grants supporting  leisure and sport, extensive financial support - reportedly up to £20 million in aid - has been made available to the Scarlets. 

See here, today's BBC Wales coverage of the issue:

It seems to defy belief that such a massive amount of public funding would be made available in this way at any time, but in these times of austerity, and the prospect of further cuts in services in the years ahead, to continue with such seemingly unlimited generosity is highly questionable.

Updated Wednesday:

It is reported in 'Wales Online' this morning here that Councillor Sian Caiach, who is almost unique in having the courage to challenge the actions of the current administration in Carmarthenshire, has now made a formal complaint to the European Union regarding allegations about the level of public money given to the Scarlets. If such funding is found to amount to 'state aid', it would be held to be 'anti-competitive' and the team would be required to return it. With interest.

What will happen in the matter of the libel indemnity and pension payments to Mr James should the Audit Office find that they were indeed unlawful is unclear: will he have to repay the money? We do not know.

What we do know is that Jacqui Thompson has no indemnity against costs or damages, as her insurance cover was withdrawn in the light of the severity of Judge Tugendhat's findings. She now faces the loss of her home, in order to pay the costs of the case and the compensation owed to Mr James.

Of course one of the worrying but less understood implications of the new press regulatory Charter is that  even if successful in a court case, a judge will be able to award costs against any publisher who has decided not to register as a member. Some argue, indeed, that the Charter positively encourages such a move. For good or bad now, it seems, bloggers, and any other small publisher without significant financial resources,  may well be bullied into signing up, whether they want to or not, for fear of the consequences.

Many lessons for bloggers in this cautionary tale from South Wales: and yet - lessons for others too, which may not be apparent quite yet. All eyes on Carmarthenshire, then, in the New Year.