Tuesday, 17 May 2011

MetPro: the inquiry they don't want you to know about - and isn't an inquiry anyway

Just to follow up on yesterday's post: Mrs Angry's spies tell her that the long promised internal audit committee 'inquiry' into the MetPro scandal is to be quietly wedged into a meeting on the 16th June, alongside the normal business of the agenda, such as items relating to accounts. High priority, as you see.

LibDem councillor Lord Palmer, who chairs this committee, has said that he wants members of the public to be able to contribute to this inquiry, yet, as we have pointed out, no publicity whatever has been given to the date or arrangements for the meeting, no explanation as to the scope and terms of reference, no announcement or press release inviting any residents who may wish to take part either in person or by writing to make themselves known.

Members of the public will receive no information regarding the committee until the papers are published, within days of the meeting itself. And unless you are so short of entertainment that you are regularly in the habit of reading the council's meeting schedules online, you won't know these papers have been published. Which is how they want it, of course, because this is how we engage with residents, in this borough, keeping them in the dark as much as possible, and covering our tracks when we cock things up.

You might feel that any self respecting council might be ashamed to be caught casually using an unlicensed collection of bouncers to spy on residents, and hang around council offices, boasting in publicity of their 'compassionate steel' approach - at an annual cost of £1.2 million pounds of tax payers money.

You might feel the council would be keen to show that it is capable of investigating such a mess with some honesty, competence and credibility. But this is Broken Barnet, where there is no shame in being incompetent and dishonest, and credibility is irrelevant.

Never fear, Mrs Angry is here, and happy to provide you with some pointers, should you wish to take part in this stage managed inquiry. On your behalf she tried to checkout the membership of the audit committee, and track down the names of the officers who belong to the council's own audit team. You might be asking why this team hasn't already spotted the payments to a non contracted private company, but there you go ...

She should tell you that it was not easy to find out these contact details: on the council's website listing of committees, audit is strangely missing, and the only information about officers appears to be three years out of date. But then a nice officer in Corporate Governance said he would try to find the links she needed.

The information, he said, (and here Mrs Angry had to apologise to him for laughing), would normally be available from someone called the 'Transparency and Openness' manager' - (there's another non job for you, eh, Mr Mustard ... )but she is on holiday and therefore ( and I am paraphrasing, obviously, what little transparency and openness Barnet might pretend to have is temporarily unavailable. The officer has also reminded Mrs Angry of an interesting fact: that tonight's annual council meeting will appoint new committee memberships.

Over at the Barnet Eye blog Mr Tichborne reminds us of this too: committee membership, and especially the position of chair of said committees, is where good little councillors get their rewards for toeing the party line and keeping their heads down. If you remember, and it is always worth repeating this, last year the councillors voted in a 54% pay rise for the lucky Chairs. In some cases the committees meet only twice a year, now earning the fortunate individual some £14k of tax payers' money for the privilege. One Barnet: a relentless drive for efficiency, better services for less money - unless you are a Tory councillor.

At tonight's annual council meeting there was to have been a protest organised by the Barnet Alliance Against the Cuts. In view of the sad news of the very serious illness of council leader Lynne Hillan, the protest has been cancelled.

The meeting will proceed as normal, however, and it is important that residents attend. At this meeting the Tory councillors of our borough will be voting through a raft of consitutional 'reforms', as reported in April post ' The Usual Suspects: or how to silence debate in Broken Barnet'.

These indefensibly undemocratic new measures will effectively remove the rights of councillors other than Cabinet members to speak in meetings or submit motions, as well further undermine the rights of members of the public to engage in the democratic process. In a magnificent display of One Barnet censorship, new rules on Residents' Forums will now prevent the discussion of issues other than a small list of council approved topics. Not all bad news, though, if you are a developer and some troublemaking resident objects to your plans, Barnet's Tory councillors are going to let you address the planning meeting ...

And let us not forget the other big change: in order, we are told, 'to facilitate timely decision making', the Cabinet will now have powers to spend up to £2.5 million pounds at a go, no questions asked, rather than be restricted to a trifling £250,000 to £1 million.

Your MetPro loving council, so generous with your money, safe in their hands.


Mr Mustard said...

If I didn't know you better Mrs A I would have thought you were making it up; the "Transparency & Openness Manager" just beggars belief. All Councillors and officers and employees should be transparent and open at all times. I wonder if the job of the manager is make them be or to stop them overdoing it. I will go and find out.
Best regards

Mrs Angry said...

I'm wondering if the post officially exists, but the post holder is on permanent holiday. Possibly in Poole. I'm guessing that there is almost certainly a backlog of work building up. About nine years worth.