Thursday, 5 May 2011

Update: Suffolk, Barnet, BT & last year's model

Much to Mrs Angry's surprise, several unexpected themes of this week's blogposts are tangling themselves into some sort of horrible hairball, now regurgitated on the Broken Barnet Town Hall carpet for our closer inspection.

Yesterday I reported the story of Suffolk County Council's panicky election eve u turn on the massive outsourcing agenda claimed by many to be a Tory model for local government, along the lines of the easycouncil, futureshaped, One Barnet twaddle promoted by our own erstwhile leader, now local ToryMP, Mike Freer.

It seems that Barnet and Suffolk, the self styled Tory flagships and pioneers of Contract City, have more in common than I first realised (although Don't Call me Dave, in Not the Barnet Times referred to some of this in a post last year, I see). Mike Freer's connection with the BT 'Vital Visions' programme, for example, as described in earlier blog, 'Love Me Tender', is an experience shared with Suffolk's generously rewarded Chief Executive Andrea Hill.

According to a story in the Daily Mail, on the 8th March, * Ms Hill has attended two BT conferences, in San Francisco and Boston, paid for by BT, and has also accepted hospitality from the company on 14 other occasions. Concern has been raised about such associations as Suffolk has a joint multi million pound venture with BT, a project whose contracted costs are alleged to have gone up by 42%, a state of affairs which apparently led to the resignation of senior council officers.

There is another interesting link between Barnet and Suffolk. Suffolk's 'Director of Organisational Change' is a man called Max Wide. He has been in post since April 2010, and is on long term secondment from BT. Oh: Mr Wide used to have a similar post here in Barnet, also on secondment from BT.

And then of course Leo Boland, our former Chief Executive, now at the GLA, also attended the BT Vital Vision courses, while at Barnet.

None of these links are in any way improper, of course, or in breach of statutory regulation regarding hospitality, all of which has been properly declared by the individuals concerned. But it is surely a reasonable question to ask: what is the purpose of BT's Vital Vision programme? How much influence, for good or bad, does it have on the long term business and administrative lives of our local authorities? Should a major business, which is dependent on large contracts, be able to become so involved in shaping the thinking of political leaders and senior executives?

Here is another reason, then, for us to be so concerned about the lack of scrutiny in Barnet over the placement and monitoring of outsourced contracts. As we have seen from the MetPro scandal, without a robust and transparent system of scrupulous contract tendering and appraisal, there is an unacceptably high risk of failure and too much potential for exploitation by private companies.

The Guardian's Patrick Butler has this evening published an interesting update to the Suffolk story: * reporting that Ms Hill is now on 'gardening leave' from Suffolk County Council, for 'personal reasons'.

If the Tory group running Barnet Council does not read about what has happened in Suffolk and realise what is heading for us here in Barnet, they really must be terminally, irredeemably stupid, and hopelessly incompetent.

We know from Grant Thornton that One Barnet's non existent business plan is completely inadequate, an economic nonsense and totally unworkable. It's time for the Tories to dump the whole ludicrous plan, and get out while there is still time, and a shred of dignity left to cover themselves with. If not, their political careers are over, but more importantly, Barnet really will be broken, and there will be no way of sticking the pieces back together again.

* apologies for link problems, work in progress ...


Jaybird said...

More info here

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Where Don’t Call Me Dave leads, Mrs Angry follows, albeit nearly 5 months later!

The link is:

Mike Freer and Leo Boland flew off on an expensive jolly and had their heads turned by BT who bombarded them with psycho babble and management speak - just the kind of nonsense that impresses small minded people like Freer. Next thing you know, the council announces that it is going to outsource everything to the private sector. BT is just one of many companies to benefit from this.

The officers who draw up the contracts do not have enough experience of the real world to know whether they represents good value or not. They do not have the ability to draw up watertight contracts with escape clauses for poor performance. The councillors refuse to examine the detail of these contracts so they can absolve themselves of blame when it all goes bosoms up. No private company could survive if it operated in this way, but local authorities do not care because it is not their money.

But the real issue here is not the question of proper scrutiny, but rather of independent scrutiny. How can the public rely on the auditors to examine outsourcing contracts when the auditors themselves are the recipients of lucrative consultancy contracts from the very same authorities they are supposed to be auditing? It is all far too incestuous. As they say in Rome: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Mrs Angry said...

Ahem, DCMD, shove off and write your own blog: ah, yes, you are retired at the moment ... no need, I've updated it for you darling ... see, the links don't work, don't know why.

But you are absolutely right: never has it been more necessary to have independent scrutiny of the contract process, and never has it been more unlikely to be applied.

baarnett said...

"Barnet Council ... must be terminally, irredeemably stupid, and hopelessly incompetent."

But we know that!

Rog T said...

You guys are all well behind the game -

- but it is good to give it all a fresh airing

Mrs Angry said...

so competitive, you boy bloggers ... I'm updating the story for you and putting it in a wider context, don't you know ...