Monday 27 June 2011

Breaking: Andrew Dismore demands action on MetPro

Mrs Angry has just received the following press release from Andrew Dismore, the local Labour candidate for next year's GLA elections.

Andrew Dismore, Labour candidate for the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden, has today submitted to Barnet Council’s District Auditor a request that the auditor conducts a section 8 public interest inquiry into the Council’s contracting arrangements, both generally and with specific reference to the MetPro scandal ( copy reference to auditor attached)

Mr Dismore said:

“Like most Barnet taxpayers and residents, I have been following with growing alarm the revelations concerning both MetPro and the underlying lack of proper contracting procedures more generally that the scandal has identified.

Having been at the Council meeting when the Robocop style of security used by MetPro at the request of the Council first came under criticism, the consequent investigations have revealed a catalogue of catastrophic failures by Barnet Council and its leadership.

This poor contracting and lack of financial control is not a one off, as the Iceland investment fiasco and cost overruns of the Aerodrome Rd bridge confirm.

What is especially worrying, is that the internal audit found there were inadequate systems to ensure the same thing did not happen again. The “One Council” initiative will create dozens of opportunities for more to go wrong too, with consequent mammoth losses to Barnet’s long suffering tax payers, if immediate corrective action is not taken.

I therefore believe it is vital that the external district auditor now uses his powers to conduct a full public interest inquiry into Barnet Council’s contract procedures and I have today written to the auditor, seeking such an intervention on his part”.


As a Barnet Council council tax payer I request Barnet Council’s district auditor to conduct a public interest inquiry into the Council’s procurement processes, with particular reference to the “contract” with MetPro.

After problems at a recent council meeting due to heavy handed security arrangements, local people and journalists stated an investigation into this security company. These investigations revealed major failings both in the company and in the Council’s procurement processes.

There has now been an internal audit of these arrangements, which has found, in summary, that:

  • There were no checks that MetPro was licensed with the Security Industry Authority
  • There were no checks that MetPro staff had undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks
  • There were no checks on MetPro’s insurance and financial status
  • The council had not followed basic contract procedure rules
  • There is no complete register of all corporate contracts
  • Auditors could give no assurance that the same thing wouldn’t happen again

For the full internal audit report see:

Local news coverage of the issue includes:

External audit is an essential element in the process of accountability for public money and makes an important contribution to the stewardship of public resources and the corporate governance of public services.

Under Section 8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, the appointed auditor is required to consider whether to issue a report in the public interest on any significant matter coming to his or her notice in the course of an audit, to bring it to the notice of the audited body and the public.

I would ask that you now consider a public interest investigation under S8, not just into the issue of MetPro, but into the wider issues this case has identified, concerning failings in the Council’s contracting systems, controls and recording mechanisms. Without urgent reform, there is a present risk of repeat in relation to contract letting and indeed there may already be as yet unidentified similar problems with other council contracts.

I await to hear from you.

Andrew Dismore

Barnet Council Tax payer.

Mrs Angry is relieved to see at least one local politician taking action to demand a full investigation into the extremely serious issues that the MetPro scandal has raised. The whole affair has been marked by a shameful silence from all three of our local Tory MPs. Theresa Villiers, Matthew Offord and Mike Freer have all ignored this appalling mess. Why? What a gutless bunch they are.

In the case of Matthew Offord and Mike Freer, of course, both MPs are closely associated with the Tory administration which first employed this illegally operating company. Offord was a Cabinet member and Freer was Leader.

The current Tory administration of Broken Barnet is so fearful of the toxic qualities of the MetPro issue that it has retreated into a state of absolute denial, with councillors told to make no comment, and the only official statement an insultingly dismissive remark from Councillor Daniel Thomas, agreeing only that contract arrangements needed tightening up. Pathetic. We have seen no response from Richard Cornelius, no official statement, no apologies. This is a shabby way to start as Leader, and he ought to be ashamed of himself.

We have also heard absolutely nothing whatsoever from someone who normally has no problem in expressing his opinion on any given subject under the sun: yes, our current London Assembley member, and local Cabinet member, councillor Brian Coleman. You might think that Mr Coleman might like to express some interest in this stinking issue, and tell us what he thinks for example, of the failures in safeguarding which have exposed children and vulnerable people in his constituency to risk from unchecked employees, or what he thinks of the astounding level of financial incompetence Lord Palmer's audit report has revealed. You might also want to ask him how he feels about this company, in its latest incarnation, still operating in his Totteridge ward, despite the data protection breaches which are the subject of investigation by the Information Commissioner.

I suppose the Tories imagine that by sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes and humming very loudly, all this unpleasantness will somehow melt away, and all will be forgotten.

How wrong can you be?

In Broken Barnet, if you are a Tory, you can be very, very wrong indeed, can't you, citizens?


Mrs Angry said...

oh,and by the way, Mr Dismore: it wasn't the local press or the Standard who unearthed the MetPro mess and the financial incompetence which underpinned the whole squalid business: it was the citizen journalists and armchair bloggers of Broken Barnet.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Madame Colère

Allow me to explain what will happen next. The external auditor can either decide that there is no case to answer, or he can launch an investigation. In the case of the former, he earns zippo. With the latter he can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees depending on how long he can string out the process.

At the end of any investigation, he will issue a scathing report. Barnet will declare that lessons have been learnt and everything will carry on the same as before until the next scandal is uncovered.

Whilst there is no question that a proper inquiry should be undertaken (preferably by the Police), this does smack of political opportunism. Would Mr Dismore have called for an audit investigation if Labour were in power? The reality is that had Labour been in office, the same scandal would have taken place because, as most of us know, it is the officers who run the council, not the councillors. I am not an apologist for the councillors, but it is hard to see how they are to blame for what occurred. They were entitled to trust officers to observe contract procedure rules and check the status of the company employed.

The mistake by the Conservative councillors has been in their dithering response once the details of the scandal came to light and the subsequent attempted cover up. That is not a matter which the External Auditor can comment upon. But anyone who thinks that a Labour Administration would have handled this any differently is away with the fairies.

Mrs Angry said...

Alors, Ne m'Appelle Pas Dave: I don't think anyone runs this council with any degree of competence: the senior officers live in their own world, the councillors are completely out of touch with any form of reality,neither tribe understands the other and all the real work is done by ordinary officers. There is such a thing as member oversight, but apparently not when some cock up occurs and someone has to take responsibility. I don't agree that the MetPro mess up would have happened in any but a Tory administration: the company was taken on due to a commitment to outsourcing the security arrangements rather than keep the service in house. Only this dopey lot of Tories could possibly think having a load of blackshirted bouncers on the Town Hall doors was a suitable way of greeting residents attending meetings. It perfectly reflects their antagonistic attitude to the people they are suppposed to represent: one of distrust, fear and contempt.

baarnett said...

"... the internal audit found there were inadequate systems to ensure the same thing did not happen again."

I believe it was worse than that. It probably HAS happened again. MetPro was 'accidently' discovered - and of course, by the BLOOGERS, not the press - but there was nothing 'special' about the company. There might well be other companies over the last five years in a similar position. There has been so little auditing, we simply don't know.

Ne pas m'appeler david: Of course it is political opportunism by Mr Dismore - but it's none the worse for that! I agree that Mr Plod might well become involved, but there is also a lot to be said for keeping the matter in the public eye generally, as he is doing.

"allemagne dix points", as Rodney would say.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm baarnett it was indeed the bloogers who discovered the story, but I think instead of using the word accidental you of course meant by a process of dedicated investigation, no?

Mrs Angry said...

and I forgot to say that there most definitely ARE other 'arrangements' which are not properly regulated or subject to full contracts.

Incredibly the dep CE claimed he did not know how many there might be: unbelievable and if this was true, completely unacceptable.

Take a look at my post on MetPro, Magenta and Blue 9. Oh, and if you look at Barnet's expenditure for Oct to Dec, why are there negative entries following payments to Magenta, on 14/10 and 18/11? Mrs Angry is mathematically challenged but it seems a bit odd to her: can any kind accountantcy minded reader explain?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

For reasons of accuracy, I should correct my above comments. The auditor has a third option. He can decide that there is a case to answer but that the cost of investigating it would be disproportionate to any possible outcome and he will therefore take no action. Given that any investigation is entirely at the auditor’s discretion and he is entirely unaccountable to the council and taxpayers, how likely is it that he would spurn the chance to earn a huge fee?

There is also a question as to impartiality due to the auditor’s effective complicity by failing to detect the problem in the first instance.

The question remains as to the benefit of an external audit. It will take years to complete and is conducted in private - so the matter will not remain in the public eye. As others have commented, the bigger - and arguably more important - questions of fraud and public safety have yet to be addressed. The auditor does not have the power to investigate these aspects.

Mrs Angry said...

The issues of fraud, safeguarding and data protection breaches have not been addressed and until they are, we will continue to keep raising the matter at every opportunity. To do otherwise is not an option.