Saturday 30 April 2011

MetPro: Love me tender

One of Mrs Angry's more dedicated readers spends an awful lot of time, it seems, sitting up late at night, reading her blog and brooding darkly on certain recent matters: the never ending tale of wonder that is the MetPro story.

Quite often, this mysterious reader arrives at her blog with a little present for Mrs Angry, a google search that shows up on her stats log with rather touching observations on the theme of 'give MetPro a chance in Barnet', or 'Barnet Council is shit' ... if Mrs Angry was not made of sterner stuff, some of these messages might be misconstrued as a form of harrassment, mightn't they?

Well, obviously, one can sympathise to a large extent with the remark about Barnet Council, but really, I would think that our beloved council has bent over backwards to give MetPro all the chance it needs, wouldn't you? Bent so far backwards, in fact, that it lies sprawled on the floor, legs waving in the air?

Quite a few interesting stories are reaching Mrs Angry's ear, too, about the alleged working practices and history of this company. Lots of admirers out there, it seems.

It is now nearly a month since the Chief Executive of Barnet Council promised there would be an audit committee investigation of the MetPro disaster. We are still waiting to hear any real details of this excuse for an inquiry: no timetable, no terms of reference, nothing. This is simply not good enough: it is a deliberate prevarication - as well as a blatant attempt to minimise the political impact of the issue on the authority.

While this delay continues, we have heard that whereas we were told the authority destroyed the illicit footage of residents, in fact it destroyed only one copy, and not the original. On the advice of the Information Commissioner, therefore, Mrs Angry contacted a senior officer of the LBBarnet last week to ask, as a matter of urgency, for contact details of the company to make further enquiries about this issue - any resident who has been the target of such filming is entitled in law to make a subject access request in regard to the material in question. She received no response from the senior officer, or even a basic acknowledgment. Perhaps emails are being lost again? She then also contacted the person in charge of liquidating the now defunct company, and is still awaiting a response from him too. Oh, and she has made a formal complaint to Barnet in regard to the filming - no acknowledgment again - and she recommends that any other resident affected by this issue might wish to do the same.

Last year, the council's incompetence and lack of IT security standards led to a devastating loss of unencrypted personal data relating to school pupils, (including sensitive material belonging to one of Mrs Angry's kids, thank you very much) from a memory stick stolen from a Barnet laptop, and this was reported to the ICO. Barnet then carried out an internal 'inquiry'.

Can anyone remember what happened? Let me think. 'Lessons were learned'. Some lowly officer probably got the blame, rather than the highly paid senior officer ultimately responsible, or the Cabinet member.

Because this is how we do things in Broken Barnet, isn't it? Remember Iceland: who got the blame there? Not the then leader of the Council, now local Tory MP Mike Freer, who claimed the whole mess was nothing to do with him.

Now it seems that another memory stick, with personal data, in the possession of Barnet Council has, under orders from senior officers, been deliberately destroyed. Was the lesson not learned, after all? Oh, you bad London Borough of Broken Barnet, what are you like?

And talking of Mike Freer: look at this amusing One Barnet style story which is reported on the website - thanks to blogger Vicki Morris for the reference - if you ever wonder what our local MPs get up to all day, it seems that our Mr Mike Freer is keeping himself very busy. He seems to have overlooked the need to raise the MetPro issue with ministers, for some reason. Don't know what he is doing about the Pinkham Way waste proposals. Or any other local matter: oh no, hold on, I believe - like Andrew Harper - he has developed a sudden interest in squatting, moved to urgent action through deep anxiety over the poor old Gaddafi house in Garden Suburb.

And now, bless him, it seems he has found something else to worry about. Ever conscious about budgets, he has for some reason been fretting about .... the number of mobile phones allocated to staff at Whitehall. Hmm. And someone has been told to go and count them all ... Yes, really.

"Ministers' revelations came in response to questions from Conservative MP Mike Freer, who told he wasn't convinced the idea that central procurement could drive down the cost of government had yet been taken "to the heart of government". Freer, who conducted a rationalisation of staff mobile phones in Barnet, when he was the council's leader, said he feared nine different government departments could have nine different contracts. "No one has a handle on the cost of government," he said."

Of course Mr Freer is a outstandingly gifted politician. Awarded the title of Private Eye 'Banker of the Year', in honour of the £27 million pounds plus of our money lost in Iceland -although not by him, as we know. According to an interview in the Guardian last year, he stated:

"I'm not responsible for the operational matters ... That's what you have chief officers for."

Oh, and he is the creative genius who thought up the easycouncil model, which seeks to outsource all our local council services. (easycouncil=futureshape=One Barnet, a withered rose by any other name).

It seems he also sees himself as an expert on procurement, rationalisation, and the tight control of contracts. Interestingly, in 2006, the year he became leader of Barnet Council, the authority began its use of MetPro security services. Which begs some interesting questions. Was it under his instigation, or with his knowledge? What about procurement? Contracts? Tenders? Ah. Of course the audit report will be able to set all our minds at rest about all that, won't it? And some lowly fall guy has probably been earmarked already for the blame, rather than any chief officer or councillor.

Sure, isn't he your man for worrying about the phones, though, Mr Freer?

I'm thinking he must get bucketloads of letters from constituents, here in Finchley and Golders Green, on this very subject: from decent folk unable to sleep at night for anxiety over the telecom arrangements in Whitehall. Wonder if his expertise on this issue was acquired on those BT organised Vital Vision courses in the US he attended at an expense of £5,ooo of our money, a couple of years back? Remember - the man who failed to finish his accountancy and business law degree at Stirling University was able to claim an MBA after that. In what? How to count phones and stuff? Always useful.

Oh no: look - according to the council, quoted in some dusty old blogs by Don't Call Me Dave and Rog T, actually the purpose of these courses were, wait for it -

"to build relationships between leading government decision makers, (and Mike Freer: Ed), research partners, and BT, to develop and test respective visions of the future, focussing specifically on technological, social and business changes. It seeks to enable the shaping of policy, inform new thinking, and suggest "- oh f*ck this for a game of soldiers, you get the picture, citizens ... money well spent, of course.

Well, I hope that former leader Freer, and current leader Lynne Hillan, who has been conspicuously silent on the whole subject, for some reason, and perhaps the previous Chief Executive, Leo Boland, are all invited to give evidence to Lord Palmer's audit committee, and any other councillor or senior officer who may have had anything to do with the MetPro 'arrangement'. Perhaps they can enlighten us as to our procurement policy for security services - how we got mixed up with MetPro, then tangled up in Blue Nine, now matey with Magenta, according to the latest expenditure: three different companies at least - almost as bad as nine different phone companies, eh?

So many awkward questions hanging still, like angels, in the foetid air of Broken Barnet ...

How about some answers?


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Barnet has indeed learned its lesson. Having sold Underhill for just £10,000, it has now granted Saracens a lease of Copthall at £1 a year. How fortunate that the value of the land has been determined to be a few quid under £2 million thereby avoiding the need for referral to the Secretary of State under s.123 Local Government Act 1972.

As for Freer’s educational qualifications, he claimed to have been awarded a “BT Vital Vision executive MBA, Harvard, Stamford and Berkeley US”. To receive an MBA from one of America’s finest universities is a magnificent achievement, but from three? Outstanding!

Mr Mustard said...

and Quadrant Security Group Mrs A, £9,094 on 21 January 2011

Mrs Angry said...

Indeed, DCMD, an intellectual giant. Stirling University was most remiss not to spot the futureshaped genius in its midst.

Quadrant as well, Mr M? How very interesting ...