Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Mr Postman, look and see - if there's a polling card in your bag for me, or - Mr Dismore visits TNT and asks some awkward questions

Mrs Angry brought to your attention, not so long ago, some very worrying evidence that suggested problems and delays in  the processing of electoral registration, and further difficulties posed by the risk of failure in postal deliveries, thanks to Barnet Council's use of TNT to deliver mail, instead of, as was previously the case, the Royal Mail.

Senior council officers have insisted there are no delays in registration, and in contradiction to staff, claimed there have been no 'backlogs' in processing any electoral forms. Yet Mrs Angry received a letter six weeks after sending in her own form, informing her that officers were now 'satisfied' she could be added to the register, sometime in May - hopefully before polling day, which would be nice. 

Whether waiting from March until May, and then only finding Mrs Angry's form after going through 'thousands' of others, after being told to by senior officers is not sign of a backlog is of course not for Mrs Angry to say.

Stories about the unreliability of TNT deliveries abound, and pose a direct threat to the electoral process here in Barnet: we have seen post dumped by the riverside, wrongly delivered electoral material, abandoned bikes, and missing polling cards. 

And then yesterday Labour GLA member Andrew Dismore issued this press release:

Dismore takes to task TNT managers

Andrew Dismore,  Labour London Assembly member and parliamentary candidate for Hendon, met senior TNT managers at their Colindale depot on 12/5/14, to see what they had to say in answer to  the poor performance of TNT since they started deliveries in Hendon at the end of February.

Mr Dismore raised  the many  complaints he had received, including the misdelivery of election poll cards, letters being delivered to one address for the whole street, and dumped mail, as well as security issues when post was left unlocked in bicycle panniers and TNT operatives riding on the pavement.
After the meeting Mr Dismore said:

“The managers were very apologetic and anxious to provide reassurance. They have sophisticated monitoring and tracking systems and equipment, but these systems are only as good as the TNT operatives themselves.

“They are starting from scratch and clearly have had difficulties with the “blind leading the blind” in setting up their rounds. They cannot match the 350 years’ knowledge of the Royal Mail whose experienced posties are aware of all the difficult addresses to find on their walks. No wonder TNT staff end up asking passers by for directions!
“TNT gave clear assurances that they will not be involved in any more deliveries of  sensitive election material for the 22nd May  elections. The problem with  poll cards  arose  as the  result of a long chain of privatisation subcontracting  decisions.  Conservative Barnet Council contracted out the election distribution organisation to a company, FDM, instead of directly using the Royal Mail. FDM in turn contracted to TNT. TNT then decided to further subcontract the delivery back to the Royal Mail, where it should have been in the first place!

“It is no surprise  that things  went wrong, as one day’s deliveries instead of being passed to Royal Mail by TNT went to their own operatives instead. The net result  is that some people  in a key Council election  marginal ward did not receive their poll cards. In what is likely to be a tight election that could change the result, as the Council are refusing to reissue the poll cards that went astray. After the administration problems at the last General Election which affected the result, you would have thought the Council would have learned the lessons, but clearly they haven’t or simply don’t care.

“After recruitment direct from the Job Centre or the Work Programme, in my view part of the problem is that TNT’s 86 Colindale staff are all newly employed, on zero hours contracts without fixed hours and are paid by the hour. They only get a fixed hours contract after a year’s service. 

“The managers say security is a priority and their operatives should not ride their bikes on the pavement, and that this is  a training issue  for them , but this is a  common occurrence- indeed as I left their building I saw this happening!

“TNT are anxious to hear about problems with their service, so if residents have problems or complaints with undelivered or misdirected mail, or see TNT operatives riding on the pavement or leaving post unlocked and unattended, they should  let me know and I will pass the complaints  on.

“At the end of my lengthy visit and discussion with TNT I was also amazed to hear that TNT had invited Hendon’s Conservative MP to meet them to talk about his concerns, but he failed to respond.  Clearly he is not as worried about TNT’s performance as I am.

“I will be raising the issue of TNT at the next London Assembly Mayor’s Question Time as the Mayor who welcomed Dutch company TNT to the capital must get involved in ensuring the service is delivered properly and securely.”
The frankly ludicrous situation described in the press release regarding the devolved chain of contractual arrangements for delivery of the electoral post is a simple demonstration of what goes so horribly wrong when a service is privatised, and standards plummet: a perfect metaphor, in fact, for the reckless gamble our Tory councillors have taken in the massive One Barnet privatisation - you know, the 'change programme' that must not be named, or even referred to, in their own feeble election 'manifesto' for fear of - fear of what, actually? 

If Barnet Tories are so proud of what they have done, pimping our council to Crapita, and laying us out, the living and the dead,  to be screwed by them for every penny of profit, well - why not be out and proud about it? 

Is it because already, as we have seen in the disgraceful Crematorium affair, and the cock ups with council tax, payroll, taxcodes, and the phone lines, residents are beginning to see the real impact of private profit on the local services on which they depend? 

Too toxic a thought to associate with your local Conservative councillor, who approved the whole sell off, without even reading the £1 billion contracts? Best to maintain a discreet silence, in the circumstances.

One Barnet: a love that dare not speak its name, in the run up to election 2014.

It seems an extraordinary thing for the council to refuse to re-issue lost polling cards, in view of the proven failings of the delivery system. But then this election is being overseen by a new Returning Officer, and a new Monitoring Officer, in place of the previously safe hands of Jeff Lustig, who had overseen many elections and whose experience was invaluable. 

That said, there were unforeseen difficulties that arose in the last general and local elections, even under the beady eye of the previous regime - and if there are any issues that arise this time as a result of postal failures or delays in registration, one must hope that the council is held to account. 

If any such issues are identified, presumably there will be formal complaints to the Electoral Commission, and, one would hope, an urgent investigation. 

Indeed, some might feel there should be an investigation before the election.


Red Sonia said...

Hopefully all the unexpected publicity - if dine with the information that you don't actually NEED a card to vote - will result in more people voting!

Here where we have ine-third of council wards up for grabs (including mine) I have received a card for the European election but not one for the ward election, though others in my area have cards.

Is it just politically active bolshie people like me who don't get cards?

Mrs Angry said...

I haven't received any polling card,nor have my two kids, although I did get a letter from the officer in charge of electoral services, telling me graciously that having thought about it for six weeks, we would be added to the register sometime this month. The dangers of not using the Royal Mail for such sensitive material are pretty clear, but then God knows our Royal Mail post now turns up in a right state half the time.

jennifer said...

"The dangers of not using the Royal Mail for such sensitive material are pretty clear, but then God knows our Royal Mail post now turns up in a right state half the time."
Mrs Angry you just said exactly as it is. Royal mail have just as many problems, more in fact,I myself stood by an open unsecured royal mail delivery trolley in west london last week. It contained hundreds of personal mail and amazon packages which I could have easily taken had I of been so bad-minded. After 10 mins of being in shock of this free for all money making opportunity I decided to leave and the Royal mail postie had still not returned and was nowhere in sight.

Furthermore TNT can not be held responsible for
1. Our mail service being privatised.
2. The fact that JCP, GI group and work programme done pre screening interview training and CRB checks for TNT recruitment and yet some of their posties are not up to the job.
TNT have created 500 jobs in London alone so far, in a country where we are all supposedly desperate for jobs, yet a small percentage of those employed think they can breach security rules and procedures and get away with it. This is a societal problem not TNT's.

I am confident that TNT take serious disciplinary action when employees do not stick to there rules etc.

Big publicity stunt or royal mail!!!!

Mrs Angry said...

Mmm, well, Jennifer, thank you for your comment: you seem remarkably well informed - do you work for TNT, by any chance? I did notice a tell tale blog visit yesterday.

The only problems with the Royal Mail recently that I have noted have happened since privatisation, and I am quite sure are the result of a target driven race for 'competitiveness' in a market that should not exist. I deeply object to the privatisation of services that should be publicly owned and run for the benefit of all, not sold off for the profiteering chancers who make a killing on the sale of national assets, in this case hugely underpriced.

Now that Royal Mail are subject to market forces and commercial pressures it is clear that standards of delivery will fall: our local post is now quite often going to the wrong address, or arriving damaged as the postman hurries to shove the post through the box. Why? Because of the change of culture in the management of what should be a reliable and trustworthy service, not a profit making enterprise.

TNT is subject to exactly the same commercial pressures, but without the experience and infrastructure of the Royal Mail. Clearly it is not able to give an assurance of reliability and security for sensitive mail, and in my view, until such a time as it can guarantee these standards, most certainly local authorities should not be entrusting this company with sensitive material.

John S said...

Be careful Mrs Angry we don't want another case of Jennifer's ear, although Jennifer is giving us an earful of why TNT is good and Royal Mail bad.

The reality being service delivery quality by Royal Mail is getting worse by the month,but there is no privatised public service that gives us a better deal than we had before privatisation.

Whilst the quality of service from Royal Mail is reducing from a high level, the TNT disaster is in the process of denying many people the democratic right to vote.

I note with interest that Jennifer was not at all concerned with this challenge to our democratic rights, when defending the indefensible.

TNT are a disaster area end of story

jennifer said...

No I do not work for TNT, this is all public information that is relevant to what I do.

So what is the problem here exactly?

Royal mail allowing this to happen?

Council's who gave out the contract?

TNT for being new to this side of the business?

Mrs Angry said...

What do you do, Jennifer, that makes this relevant? Interested to know.

Also interested to hear why you want to defend TNT, and point the finger at the Royal Mail.

TNT clearly should not be given the responsibility of delivering sensitive mail, electoral material, when it cannot deliver the standard of service that is necessary.

Anonymous said...

The appalling Government sell off of Royal Mail was a "get rich quick" scheme which offered no value to taxpayers.
A number of revelations have exposed the Government's incompetence during the privatisation of Royal Mail in October last year. It was revealed last month that 21 banks initially valued Royal Mail at over £3.9billion with one bank valued the company at £8.67billion. In the end, the 60 per cent stake in Royal Mail sold for £3.3billion.

Almost half the share allocation of sixteen "priority" investors - who the Government intended to have a long-term stake in the company - had been sold off within a few weeks of the IPO at a substantial profit. At the end of January 2014 only six of these priority investors remained among the largest shareholders with only a 12% collective stake.
The process the Government put in place to sell off Royal Mail did not deliver best value for the taxpayer and the Government should have considered whether "alternative methods of accessing equity markets" would have achieved better value
"Taxpayer interest" was not clearly prioritised in the role of the independent corporate finance adviser (Lazard & Co) who was incentivised just to achieve a sale
The timing of the sale was "inflexible and took place under conditions of considerable uncertainty" and "gave limited time for Royal Mail to demonstrate a profitable track record"
Although three highly valuable "surplus" London properties (sites at Mount Pleasant, Nine Elms and Paddington) were disclosed in the company's prospectus, the NAO believes that "the basis on which Royal Mail was sold did not fully recover the value of these sites". Furthermore, the Government could have included arrangements to "claw back" a share of the sale proceeds of such surplus assets but they decided not to pursue this.
As usual, a highly profitable excercise for those with wealth to make even more wealth trousered from the poor old tax payer and doubtless even more money moved offshore avoiding tax.

But don't worry not only are "we all in it together", there is of course the "trickle down effect".

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, well, this is where I have to admit that my understanding of the role of audit is perhaps flawed, as it seems to me that ultimately all the largest financial scandals, nationally and locally, somehow entirely slip through the scrutiny of the external audit process. Even when such failings are identified - and often it would appear the most glaring cockups go unremarked - well ... nothing happens. Hard for the ordinary citizen to have any faith in the integrity of government with such an impotent system.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I hear of the "trickle down effect", I always think the offending mouthpiece is using some form of catheter tube metaphor.

When of course they are, as they are politely taking the piss!!

When the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, I would more liken it to the "siphon up effect".

Siphon it up and siphon it off. Offshore that is.

Mrs Angry said...

Thank you, Anon 19.50, for that lovely metaphor, apt, although reviving traumatic memories of childbirth and near death experiences. Cheered me up no end.

But yes: mug the country for all you can, and sell everything off in a giant car boot sale, to which only your best friends have entry. Then they give you a donation to your party, and you give them a knighthood. May not understand audit, but have a handle on that old game.