Saturday 9 April 2011

Secrets and Lies

*Update, 16.00 Monday: see below.

What an interesting week it has been, here in the demi-paradise that is Broken Barnet.

A week of high drama.

Mrs Angry becomes a Guardian top London blogger.

Mrs Angry's investigations, and those of other determined parties, into the MetPro scandal strike a chord with the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and after a long series of games, alas, MetPro is shown the door.

Local and national newspapers become interested in the story. Some of them receive interesting phone calls as a result.

Mrs Angry is the target of cyber attacks and peculiar problems with access to this blog. Mrs Angry has interesting discussions with the Metropolitan Police. (Mrs Angry is grateful for the graduate entry requirements that have resulted in helpful police officers with degrees in IT, and thanks them for their assistance).

Denials of the filming of bloggers and residents at the budget council meeting are somewhat undermined by the statement by the London Borough of Broken Barnet that footage taken by MetPro has been destroyed.

Complaints are made in regard to this to the Information Commissioner.

Freedom of Information requests about the MetPro contract are ignored by the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and not answered within the statutory time limit.

A council committee refuses to sanction the filming of council meetings. Only bloggers and hapless residents may be filmed, in Broken Barnet, and then only secretly, without prior notice.

Deputy Borough police commander Neil Seabridge is quoted in a local paper stating:

“I can state categorically that police did not authorise any intrusive surveillance at the council meeting. “Nor did we tell anyone else they could use covert or intrusive surveillance, which is a highly regulated area which requires specific written authority by a police superintendent or above when police initiate it for very specific reasons linked to investigation or prevention of crime. Such a meeting at the town hall would not fall under any of these categories.”

The Ham & High publishes another article about MetPro and Barnet Council in which it is confirmed that, at last, and only after all this unfortunate publicity, MetPro has been shown the door: a council spokesperson is quoted:

"The council has written again to MetPro asking them to immediately remove any reference to Barnet Council from their website, to confirm that the council has at no point authorised filming on our premises and to retract any statement suggesting otherwise. “Given the nature of the termination of this contract we would, and are, as a matter of course conducting a management review of the performance ..."

This means, of course, that, in the time honoured tradition of Broken Barnet, the people ultimately responsible for the whole MetPro fiasco will be investigating themselves.

After another complaint to Labour councillors, Mrs Angry at last receives a reply from the Chief Executive, who tries to explain away her missing emails by blaming a spam filter, which is very odd as this was the first thing his own IT people checked weeks ago. Mrs Angry replied objecting to the failure to inform her of the existance of secret MetPro footage of her and other residents and the failure to inform her before destroying said footage. She also asked why her FOI requests regarding the way in which the contract with MetPro was organised were being ignored, in breach of the statutory time limit. She is awaiting a reply. An apology would be nice, too.

It is rumoured that at the Tory group meeting this week, Tory councillors are banned from speaking to any Barnet bloggers. Allegedly, and most amusingly, this command is issued after fellow blogger Roger Tichborne dared to pass on some secret intelligence from a double agent at the Tory group meeting and told the world that Lynne Hillan returned from her latest holiday with a suntan. In London's equivalent of the people's republic of North Korea, the movements and personal details of the Dear Leader must be at all times shrouded in mystery.

But we digress - also this week: at another council meeting, an outrageous proposal to restrict the right to speak in meetings to the Leader of the council and briefly, the leader of the Labour party, is forwarded to another committee.

Another agenda for another meeting proposes a radical restriction on the rights of residents to put questions to local forums. Mrs Angry, Mr Reasonable, and Mr Mustard have been asking too many awkward questions, and rather than answer awkward questions, here in our borough we naturally prefer to dismantle the whole process by which such questions may be put.

Mrs Angry was most amused to see a senior officer from a particularly significant department of the London Borough of Barnet try to sneak into her list of twitter followers. Sadly, in the interests of transparency, Mrs Angry was obliged to block the officer, and she hopes he will not be too disappointed.

In another move which at least proves that some senior officers in Barnet do have a sense of humour, the word 'democratic' is eliminated from the democratic services department, (most of whose officers have themselves been eliminated), and we are now under the rule of a 'governance' section.

This is how we observe the ideals of localism and transparency, in our borough, and this is how and why, with these and other cunning strategies, we have constructed a cast iron corporate casket to protect the unholy relic that is, citizens, the putrefying black Tory heart of Broken Barnet.

But as this week ends, throughout all the lying, and contradictions, and subterfuge and threats, there still shines an embarrassing truth, the fact that our feckless Tory run council allowed the MetPro disaster to happen, and only took action to disassociate itself when residents and bloggers kicked up enough fuss about it, and outside media interest forced them into action. This scandalous state of affairs poses a set of questions which must be answered, and until these questions are answered honestly, truthfully, and openly, the bloggers in this borough will not stop asking them:

Did MetPro tender for the security contract?

If so, when?

How many other companies tendered for it?

What scrutiny of the tendering companies took place?

What standards of performance were established in the contract between contractors and the council ?

How closely was the contract monitored by the council?

When did the contract with MetPro Rapid response end, and the contract with MetPro Emergency response begin? Was there another tendering process? Likewise with Blue 9.

How many employees of MetPro have SIA licences?
How many were CRB checked? If you do not know, and did not see proof of these qualifications, why not? Why did you allow security employees not displaying licences to work on council premises?

Why did you not inform residents such as myself who were filmed by this company that there was footage in your possession?
Why did you destroy such footage without informing us?

Why are you refusing to answer FOI requests about this contract?

And finally:what does your handling of this contract say about the ability of this council to choose reliable contractors to take on outsourced services, and be properly monitored by the council?

*Update Monday, 16.00: another story in the London Standard http:

illustrates quite how serious this issue is, and tells us that, as Mrs Angry has been suggesting since the very beginning, offences in regard to licences may also have been made.

It is perfectly clear that there is an urgent need of a full independent inquiry into the relationship between Barnet Council and MetPro. Nothing less will suffice, and as someone directly caught up in this business, as well as someone who has been involved in investigating this matter from the very beginning, I think I have the right to demand that such an inquiry is made, and I am sure that anyone else affected by this incredible story will want to do the same.

After our press release last week, the Barnet bloggers have asked to present a letter to tomorrow's full council meeting. I understand this will not be allowed, but you can be sure that we will be attending the meeting anyway.


baarnett said...

Well done, Mrs A.

When the investigative journalists going after the now admitted criminality of New International, they can turn for light relief to the Wonderful World of Barnet Council.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Another excellent piece Mrs A. However, I don’t accept that this is all down to the “putrefying black Tory heart of Broken Barnet.” Do you really believe that your Labour chums, lead by the hopelessly ineffectual Alison Moore, would have handled the Metpro situation any differently? Barnet’s councillors, collectively, have no desire or interest in standing up to Nick Walkley.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD:I don't think for one minute that Labour would have got into this mess in the first place, because I think what has happened is a symptom of the degenerative state of the Barnet Tory party: a party that has become morally bankrupt, lazy, and fatally divided between a leadership of a few intransigent ideologues and a remainder of complacent, powerless party members happy to take their allowances and do nothing for them. It's not Walkley they have to stand up to - it's their own leadership.

Mr Reasonable said...

Well done Mrs Angry. Today's Evening Standard says that actually MetPro didn't hold the appropriate SIA licences - a criminal offence. I think it will be increasingly difficult for Barnet not to hold a full public inquiry into this complete and utter mess. It does not bode well for the wholesale outsourcing of Barnet's services.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, it really is staggering, isn't it, Mr R? Glad to see councillors have at last listened to what I've been telling them for weeks now ... There must be a full, open and honest inquiry: I imagine, however that this will be something that will be resisted in certain quarters. Which reminds me: have we heard from the Leader of the Council, on this issue, since her return from holiday?

baarnett said...

Mrs A: When you wrote:

"What an interesting week it has been, here in the demi-paradise that is Broken Barnet."

it was a casual "static comment" around fixed dates.

You would not have realized that it was going to become a "rolling week" - and tomorrow it will be STILL be "an interesting week", and so on. Into May, into June,...

(And if Lyyne doesn't fall on her sword, does the Ruling Group have an election next month for Leader?

Mrs Angry said...

the old Chinese curse, baarnett, may you live in interesting times. I am writing to Ms Hillan to thank her for providing such a rich supply of material for the bloggers of Barnet.