Sunday, 3 April 2016

The eve of destruction: act now, or wave goodbye to your local library ... and remember to thank your Tory councillors at the ballot box

Updated Monday: a comment by Assembly Member Andrew Dismore:

The Conservative London Assembly candidate Dan Thomas and his fellow Barnet Conservatives are rushing into an untested self-service library system that has performed badly at the only other council where it’s been tried for the whole library service.

“It would be irresponsible to go ahead with the vote for self-service libraries tonight when at the very same time the technology that is supposed to make them work has crashed.

“The pilot self-service library at Edgware hasn’t worked since 6 March and is taking far longer than promised to be fixed. It would be beyond belief for the Conservatives to vote to spend £1.4 million to install this failed system in Barnet’s 13 other libraries.
“The Conservatives are taking unacceptable risks with Barnet’s libraries based on using suspect technology instead of tried and tested human librarians, who also happen to be popular and good at helping people.

“The same system in Peterborough has caused a rapid decline in the number of people borrowing books, which is what libraries are supposed to be for. Even the Barnet Conservatives must know this. It is not too late for them to pull back from the brink of disaster and delay the decision.”


April Fools' day 2016 has come and gone, and this year no jokes from Mrs Angry - she was away, anyway, but had come to the rueful conclusion that there was nothing left, in Broken Barnet, that might offer the opportunity for parody: the state in which we now find ourselves is beyond the measurable scale of absurdity, living as we do, under the rule of Crapita.

In the past, Mrs Angry has railed against the relentless march of privatisation, in our borough's services, and suggested that soon enough, the very air we breathe, and the grass that we walk upon, will be subject to the laws of profit.

Soon enough, satire falls down under the weight of reality, and only weeks ago, for example, Labour councillor Dr Devra Kay had to fight a recommendation put to committee that there should now be a charge for anyone wanting to take a photograph of a wedding group in any of our public parks ...

The other day some online chancer was advertising bottles of Shoreditch air for sale: we can only hope and pray that the business enterprise consultants working for Barnet/Capita didn't spot the advert. The foetid air of Broken Barnet is bound to have some sort of perverse, fetish market value for collectors of corporate atmosphere: a uniquely sulphurous, rotten egg smell, flavoured by the unstoppable process of change and decay, in all around we see.

Earth, air and water: the elemental conquest of Barnet continues - although thanks to this blog, and the tactless questioning of Labour's Cllr Arjun Mittra, Crapita have now been forced to step away from their scurrilous attempt to deprive residents of the most basic means of sustaining something resembling a life in this wretched place. Yes, the removal, now, of water, from residents in the public gallery at council meetings, as revealed in the last post. 

In response to Cllr Mittra, it was admitted that Capita had requested that savings be made on bottled water, and therefore removed all such portable units meant for the use of the public from the Town Hall, and 'installed a mains water machine as an alternative'. 

Let Mrs Angry translate: 'a tap'. 

Which was already in the kitchen, and jealously guarded by Capita, so as to prevent the plebs gaining access. The response claimed jugs of water had been available at public meetings. Not true, at either Full Council, or CELS.

And in its way, this dispute over such a small but essential provision is the perfect metaphor for everything Capita is doing in the course of their invasion of this borough: demanding trophies of war, from the water you drink, to the grass you stand on, with as much gleeful pleasure as the rather greater devastation caused by the heap of profit being mined from their control of our local services. 

Take a look at this question and answer published before tomorrow's crucial Full Council meeting, on the balance of payments of just one of the two massive Capita contracts:

Q6, from Labour's Cllr Phil Cohen:

For each year of the CSG contract so far: 

a) how have Capita performed against the core contract savings target?
b) what penalty payments have been imposed on Capita for under-performance? 

c) what additional payments outside the core contract have been made to Capita for work not included in the core contract? 

d) what additional payments have been made as a result of contract variations?

Response, from Tory leader Richard Cornelius:

a) The savings on the core contract, £69.6 million in total over the ten years, are on track to be achieved. Savings to date, including an estimate to 31 March 2016 are £10.7 million. 

b) Since contract commencement, Capita have paid £387k for underperformance 

c) The council has commissioned work outside the core contract up to 31 December 2015 to a value of £26.1m. 

d) Since contract commencement, contract variation payments have totalled £3.2m. This includes inflation and contract true up post contract commencement.

Well, then. Mrs Angry is not awfully good at maths, you know, but even she can see the ... how would they put it, in Barnet corporate speak ... the direction of travel indicated by these figures.

We are promised around £70 million in savings over 10 years.

That would be, Mrs Angry thinks, counting on her fingers, about £7 million a year handed over by Crapita, in order to be 'on track', no? So by now we should have at least £21 million in savings, or thereabouts.

In three years, though ... we have received only £10 million. 


Oh, and then: hang on. 

As well as apparently being behind by £11 million by now, we have also given Crapita payments outside the core contract, worth £26 million. That right?

And ... contract variations of £3 million? 

So, erm: they've given us about £10 million, in three years, but they've taken nearly £30 million? And incrementally, over the full ten years ... No. That can't be right, can it?

Mrs Angry, being so numerically challenged, has commissioned a report on these figures from a private consultancy (and is now paying herself a six figure gainshare payment as a reward, of course). Barnet's favourite advisers at iMPOWER weren't available, sadly, so she had to look elsewhere.

And the conclusion of mICAWBER & Co, Plc:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

Yep. More or less in line with Mrs Angry's assessment. Thank you. Cheque for £19, 19s and 6d, in the post.

Ah, but, Mrs Angry, Cllr Cornelius may be right. We may be 'on track', with the savings & all. It may be that most of those savings will be presented further into the contract. You know: what with cost savings initiatives like ... cutting down on the supply of water to residents, and so on. 

Oh dear. Oh no.


Singlehandedly, with your unquenchable thirst, and your impertinent provocation, you have brought the Crapita contract into the red, and knocked the whole One Barnet outsourcing programme (are we still allowed to call it that?) off track.

And you are being grossly unfair to Capita. They have, after all, handed back £387,000 for what is coyly referred to as 'underperformance'.

Underperformance. Always disappointing, isn't it, ladies? And it is only fair that we, the residents of Broken Barnet are allowed to give Capita these nominal slaps on the wrist, even if grossly outweighed by the balance of payments going in the other direction.

One must assume that the 'underperformance' is related to KPIs - 'Key Performance Indicators' - that have been breached. Now then: are these KPIs fair and accurate assessments of the general standard of performance? Well: Mrs Angry's suspicions on this score (ha) are raised by one rather surprising admission, also in the Q&A for tomorrow's Full Council: from Labour's Cllr Alon Or-Bach, Q 56:

Has Capita failed any Key Performance Indicators by the recent Barnet Library IT server failures?

Reply from Tory leader Richard Cornelius:

The Key Performance Indicator covers the availability of whole council systems and systems critical to the council’s safeguarding duties, rather than those which operate in an individual service. Capita have not failed a KPI but other contractual remedies are in place that allows the council to seek compensation for any costs associated with bringing the system back into operation and losses incurred by the council.

Quite extraordinary: a failure on the scale of the IT crash, a month old and still continuing, with two years of data lost, a loss of revenue, and incurring untold problems which can only even begin to be assessed if and when a new system is working - none of this qualifies as a failure of performance?

Oh, and incidentally, here is a mystery: it seems Labour members were apparently informed at the beginning of last week, that the system was back, and that data not irretrievably lost anyway! Perhaps it was Barnet Council's idea for an April Fool, because clearly this news has not reached the branches where staff are still struggling without access to data, and have reportedly been told the system would not be back until the 18th of the month, at best, as attempts are made to install an updated version of Vubis...

Capita may cough up some money to pay for, for example, the use of the agency staff that will be necessary over the next few months, to make good the damage this crash has caused: (they'll need to use expensive agency staff, of course, because the council will have sacked half the workforce by then) but no doubt we, the long suffering taxpayers will hand it back in some other new hidden charge. 

What is important here is the issue of the contract itself, and what this failure says about the state of the 'partnership', or rather the ten year bondage into which our clueless Tory councillors have sold us, and our local services.

If an IT failure of this proportion can occur, and data put at risk so easily, as well as causing so much disruption, and loss of income, what reliance can we put on Capita's handling of all their other responsibilities? The possible risks are enormous, and potentially catastrophic.

As to the library issue: ah, yes: the significance of tomorrow night's Full Council is that this is where the terrible library proposals are due to be rubber stamped by our Tory members, despite the unforeseen crisis currently engulfing the library service, the lessons of which cannot even begin to be calculated while it still continues, especially the enormous risk level posed by the planned introduction of the so called 'open' libraries which will effectively be rooms in Capita managed buildings, with some books and a few PCs - but no staff on the premises. 

The pilot scheme for this system came to a crashing halt, of course, when the system failed: underlying the problems and potential consequences of an entire service dependent on such technology, in the place of the 46% of library staff who will be sacked if these plans are passed.

The dangers of such a cockeyed scheme have been written about endlessly, here and elsewhere. Mrs Angry has demonstrated, as reported in the previous post, that the evidence put before members in regard to this model being an alleged 'standard approach' and so popular in 'Scandinavia' was wrong, and this ought to have struck a warning note for any sensible authority about to endorse a system that has never been used in any context comparable to the one proposed here.

A popular Scandinavian model: unlike the 'open' library

Apart from this research by Mrs Angry and her contacts, Barnet Unison have this week issued a press release once more highlighting the high level of risk posed by adopting a programme that has not been shown to be safe, or appropriate for use in the context proposed in our borough: 

Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

 Barnet Council has used the examples of Denmark, Leeds and Peterborough to support their plan to replace Library workers with unstaffed libraries (Open+). Barnet UNISON exposed how the Danish use of unstaffed library opening differed from the Barnet plan.

The UK precedents also do not support the Council. In Leeds, Farsley Library uses Open+ technology to enable unstaffed opening hours. Unlike Barnet no cuts were made to staffed hours.  Farsley is in a quiet and leafy part of Leeds. Under 18s as well as adults with a record of anti-social behaviour in libraries could not in theory enter the building during unstaffed hours.  Less than 10% of local users availed themselves of the unstaffed opening hours and there were problems with the technology which prevented access to the site. After running the experiment for over a year no decision has been made. This is hardly an endorsement of unstaffed libraries.

In Peterborough the introduction of Open+ was used to cut staff hours.  But Peterborough seems to have paid more attention to public safety as

“A decision was made to recruit four open+ assistants to maintain a presence in four library sites where it was felt that extra safeguarding measures were needed during open+ hours”

The job description for the post states

“The primary role of this post is to oversee the use of the library during unstaffed hours”

This raises the following questions: When is an unstaffed library not an unstaffed library?  And why not have kept existing staff on site who could have provided in depth and wider service?

Barnet Council’s response to concerns over safety in unstaffed libraries is for a

 “CCTV operator able to mobilise roving security to respond to any incident with the aim of a response time of 30 minutes”

 (Barnet’s Future Library Service – Appendix A: Future of Barnet Libraries p35)

 This is an inadequate measure, unable to provide swift and sufficient reaction to situations such as:

·        Medical emergencies

·        Electrical failures

·        Burst water pipes

·        Verbal and physical assault

·        Emergency evacuations

It is hoped that the Council’s continuing desire to press on with unstaffed opening is due to a lack of information rather than disregard for the safety of library users. Barnet UNISON calls on the Council to reconsider this plan and to engage in meaningful discussion on the issues with all stakeholders in our Library Service.

Will our Tory councillors read this, and stop to think? Are they capable of thinking for themselves, or will they just do as they are told by their own senior management team, and as advised by the private consultants who lurk in the shadows, following their own agenda, unaccountable to no one, but acting at the expense of Barnet residents?

No, as usual the Tories will stick their fingers in their ears, and repeat the same mantra about the need for savings, and obediently vote through the cuts, even though as another Unison report that they will ignore explains, the economic argument simply does not stack up: 

Flawed economics

The reconfiguration costs are likely to exceed the estimated costs and the rental
income is likely to be less than that forecast, causing serious a financial problem for
Library services. The £6.7m cost is likely to rise to £7.25m if the Council continues
the search for an alternative management provider. Only £0.400m has been spent
on Phase 1, leaving about £6.8m yet to be spent, which could be used to
enhance Library services.

It is also noted that: 

"28 of the 39 risks identified in the risk register relate to technology-enabled opening


This report is reasoned and evidence based, like every carefully compiled document put before Barnet Council by the union throughout the entire history of the outsourcing process. Almost every major prediction has proven accurate, but on every occasion such reports are presented to a committee, it is rejected out of hand. 

Ok. Now is the time, readers, if ever there was a time, a last chance, for you to contact the Tory members and tell them, before tomorrow night's meeting, and before it is too late to save Barnet Libraries. 

If our Tory members had any sense, they would, in the light of the recent IT failure, at the very least postpone the decision on the library plans.

To go ahead now will expose them to a real risk of legal challenge, on several grounds, which for tactical reasons Mrs Angry will not expound upon here. In addition, one might question the advisability of the authority which closed down Residents Forums on the pretext of a potential breach of purdah, proceeding with the endorsement of such controversial plans, at this point ...

Time to let the Conservative members know how you feel about your library service: you can email them now, simply by checking their addresses here

Here is the email address for Tory leader Richard Cornelius:

Chair of the Library committee, Tory Reuben Thompstone:

Oh, and do be sure to contact Councillor Daniel Thomas, who is not only deputy Leader, but a member of the library committee, and yet has dismissed opposition to his party's cuts on the grounds that libraries are not used by most residents. You might have something to say about that, readers. His contact details are below.

The True Blue Tory councillor, and would be Assembly Member, said at the last CELS meeting that he thought the library cuts plans were good, apparently thrilled by the concession that it will now be any child under 15 who will be banned from the new unstaffed libraries, rather than any child under the age, that is to say all children under the age of 16. 

Do let Cllr Thomas know what you think about all this, especially as he is standing for election to the London Assembly, and will be very interested to know your voting intentions next month.

And you can come tomorrow to a lobby at the Town Hall, in the Burroughs, at 6.20 pm, before and probably during the meeting, in order to exercise your democratic right - while it still exists - to protest against these iniquitous plans.


Anonymous said...

I was in Childs Hill Library last week. A young teenage boy was looking for a sci-fi book. The librarian searced for the book but there was no copy in CH, so she then phoned ALL the Barnet libraries (due to the IT crash she could not use the system) and asked the librarians to look for the book. Eventually she found it and then gave the boy directions on which bus he could catch to get there.

This shows exactly what we will lose under the crazy new system being implemented by the Barnet tories.

Mrs Angry said...

I could weep with fury when I think of the terrible thing that the barbarians who run this Tory administration have done, by approving the cuts, and the imposition of unstaffed, shrunken 'libraries'.

The impact on the levels of literacy on the children of this borough will be immeasurable, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.

I would like to think some of the Tory members are secretly rather ashamed of themselves, but I think we all know that shame is not an emotion any of them are capable of feeling.