At last week's contract and performance meeting, the first of its kind in the new administration, our friends from Crapita were called to the table to explain why certain problems were occurring in the course of their management of our council services.
Excuses broadly fell into categories: consequences of times past, and times to come. Times past, in Broken Barnet? The far distant past, the beginning of time itself:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And then God created Crapita. Or at least someone did. A fallen angel, perhaps.
And everything bad in Capitaville dates from the time of darkness, before they arrived, of course, or because of things that have happened since then in the form of Events: unexpected Events. Serpents with apples. Men with no figleaf. Women with no shame. Councillors without ipads, callers without operators, that sort of thing.
Events have also caused all sorts of trouble in paradise for other outsourced services.
Take HBPublic Law, the supposed shared legal enterprise set up with Harrow Council.
No, please: take it, and give us back the good old days, when governance in Barnet and legal services and almost everything you could think of was under the beady eye of Mr Lustig, the former head of Democratic Services, in a time where service was not particularly democratic, in line with Tory policy, but it was at least run efficiently.
Nowadays we rely on a shared legal service, to save us money - ha - and a new Monitoring Officer, Maryellen Salter, the laconic former head of internal audit, who, coincidentally, used to work for our external auditors, Grant Thornton. Ms Salter may be a good auditor: she is not a lawyer.
The lack of legal oversight and knowledge of procedure that has recently become the norm in the governance of Barnet Council was always going to end in disaster: and now it has.
There was a meeting scheduled for last night at the Town Hall, the inaugural meeting of the rather unappealingly named Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee.
Mrs Angry didn't bother to go, being more inclined to stay at home and sit on the sofa eating chocolate, and discussing tents, portable showers and She Wees with Miss Angry (don't ask).
Perhaps this was the wrong choice, or the right choice, but in any event she missed what was perhaps the most extraordinary meeting that has ever taken place, here in Broken Barnet, where extraordinary meetings are the order of the day, most days.
Do look at the footage, and try to suspend your belief in the possibility of proper governance in local government long enough to understand what has now happened in this borough.
This was the committee meeting which discovered, rather in the surrealist manner of a Bunuel film, (no, please don't argue, Jack Cohen ...) that it did not exist. Or it may have been an existential crisis. Or it may have discovered rather that it existed not in the moment, only in the imagination. Hard to tell.
The harsh truth, however, that had to be accommodated, to the evident discomfiture of all present, was that the committee had no constitutional status, no executive powers, no purpose, and no point.
No purpose and no point might well be the motto of many a Barnet council meeting, and indeed the lack of constitutional status or executive power does not seem necessarily to prevent our senior officers from making decisions behind the back of our elected members, as in the case of the Joint Venture model for the 'Re' contract with Crapita, and very possibly the latest 'decision' to outsource even more services.
Whatever goes on behind closed doors in the unminuted meetings of senior management, however, goes unquestioned, whereas the deliberations of councillors must not only be done openly, and transparently, but constitutionally. Yes: double standards, as you should expect, in Broken Barnet.
So let us be quite clear, about where we are now, in these first few weeks of the new term of this Tory administration.
Our elected members are unable to meet to decide on council business, we were told yesterday, such as the senior management's plans for further outsourcing, because the outsourced legal service failed to spot that the new committee system was inherently unconstitutional.
Even if members could meet, many of them are unable to do their work as councillors, such as deciding on further outsourcing proposals, because the IT equipment provided by our now outsourced IT people at Crapita, is so crap, it is not fit for purpose. Members are losing emails, and are sometimes unable to send emails. They have been given ipads with covers that make using them impossible, cannot use Word on them, and they have no phones. The IT support manager from Crapita has cleared off to another client somewhere else, and Crapita have had to bring in temporary advisers - at whose expense, we do not know.
Is such a poor standard of service in the provision of members' equipment acceptable? Is it putting residents' data at risk? Why is there a 60 day limit on retention of emails, and how is this compatible with the requirements of the FOI act?
In the meanwhile, residents trying to use the new Crapita call centre to contact their council have been shown to have been kept at a distance by a clever call deflecting system that masks the real performance of the new providers.
Our council leader appears to be oblivious to the scale of failure all around him, except when it confronts him directly, as it did last night, but was an Event that left him reacting less as the leader of a council with direct authority and with ultimate responsibility for what has happened, but rather more like the disdainful master of Downtown Abbey who has discovered, to his grave disappointment, that the butler has drunk his best claret and slept with all the parlourmaids.
You will note from the footage that the Tory councillors sit quietly, totally fazed by the unwelcome intrusion of Events into the committee room.
Only new boy Gabriel Rozenberg ventures the thought that they might carry on with a pointless meeting, as a talking shop, using their 'collective intelligence'. Oh dear. The boy has much to learn. The only intelligence that was evident in the room came from the Labour side, especially from Pauline Coakley Webb, who wasted no time on any further debate, and castigated those who responsible for such a shambles.
And then this afternoon the Chief Executive wrote to all councillors:
You will be aware that the Annual Council meeting on 2 June has given rise to a number of issues which have implications for the conduct of Council business. It was for that reason that I instructed Hugh Peart, in conjunction with the Monitoring Officer, to conduct an urgent review of the status of the Council’s decision-making arrangements. Mr Peart is the Director of Legal and Governance Services for Harrow Council and leads the shared legal service, HB Law.
I informed the Group Leaders and Councillor Jack Cohen of the review on Friday.
Yesterday afternoon Mr Peart informed me of his view that the proportionality report agreed by Council was flawed and could not form the basis of sound decision-making. I accordingly informed Members of this at the scheduled meeting of Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee last night. Members of the committee decided not to proceed with an informal meeting.
I subsequently asked Mr Peart to confirm his view by obtaining external legal advice. He has now obtained the advice of James Gaudie QC. Mr Gaudie has confirmed Mr Peart’s view that the proportionality report agreed at Council was flawed. Mr Gaudie further advises that the Council should put this right at the first opportunity. He does, however, go on to say that it is open to the Council to continue with scheduled committees in the meantime, and that decisions taken would be valid. I will consult with the Group Leaders on whether scheduled meetings should continue on this basis. In the meantime, I have asked that this evening’s Licensing Committee is postponed.
The current position is deeply regrettable and I apologise sincerely to all Members. The move to a committee system was always going to be challenging but the change has not been implemented as efficiently as Members, or indeed residents, should expect from the Council.
It is important that there is a clear understanding of how this situation has arisen and what action, if any, should be taken. I shall therefore be appointing an external reviewer to conduct an urgent investigation into the processes leading to the reports presented to Annual Council on 2 June. This will be published at the earliest opportunity.
So: Mr Peart, from HBLaw spotted, after he was asked to look, after the Event, that there was a flaw in the report which went to full council, did he?
Why did no one from HBLaw spot it before it went to full council? Was he not asked to look at that point?
Who is paying for the external advice, which HBLaw cannot provide?
On what basis does Mr Gaudie cheerfully reassure us today that decisions made are, after all, valid? Why was his advice not sought before now?
Who will conduct this 'external' review? The external auditor?
Even as all the governance of this borough unravels, the Monitoring Officer is dealing with a complaint, referred back to her by the external auditors, over allegations of disproportionate expenditure by one Cabinet member on his own ward in the run up to the elections, and now look: she is also obliged to consider a complaint about the Mayor, who is under pressure to resign, over allegations about his behaviour as a landlord, and a claim that he has failed to make the necessary declarations at committee meetings dealing with housing policy.
Apart from that, Mrs Angry, anything much going on?
Nope. Business as usual. Or rather, there is no business at all, and here in Barnet, the incompetence and moral bankruptcy of this most decadent of all Tory administrations, once a flagship council, a pioneer of outsourcing - well, now look: the laughing stock of everyone in local government.
The pantomime entertainment of the Mayor making full council meeting perfectly illustrates the state of decline into which this council has sunk.
The heirs of Alderman Roberts' daughter, the small town businessmen, and building society managers, the jewellers and the out of work actors: they can think of no higher achievement than the wearing of the ruffled shirt, fox furs and chain of office of Mayor. It still represents to those who never achieved the success they felt they deserved in their working lives, a sense of arrival, and status.
Not for them the heavy burden of civic duty, the reading of reports, and contracts, and the asking of difficult questions: they want an easy life, and a buffet, and to hell with the rest.
They sit back, and allow the senior officers they employ to direct policy, instead of making the council run with efficiency, and that is how we now find ourselves in this sorry mess.
If Rayner is forced to resign, there will be a by election in Hale, and no amount of jiggery pokery with numbers on committees will save our Tory friends from the fate which awaits them: the real possibility of loss of control of this council
In truth, they already have lost control, and they know it. Even without a possible by election, their desperate attempts to keep it all together, and cling on to power will have to continue all the way through the next four years. They will never be able to relax for one moment, as each committee attendance must be carefully managed, and no absence allowed.
The dynamics of the Tory group, in the absence of their dark totemic figure of Brian Coleman, and the clownish antics of Robert Rams, are fatally compromised now: left without any leadership, or driving force, however negative in impulse.
The end of days is not in the meltdown of corporate efficiency, or the arrival of Crapita: it is in the lost soul of Conservative values, believing in nothing but itself, and its own comfort, while those without protection from their rapine values fall by the wayside, unnoticed and unmourned.
Barnet is still broken: it's more broken than ever. How we put it back together again: that is the question.
We won't know until we try, though, will we?