Sunday 5 June 2011

MetPro, Magenta, Blue 9 - more awkward questions

A couple of weeks ago Mrs Angry asked Barnet Council the following question:

In the process of researching the use of security companies by the local
authority, I have noted that as well as MetPro Rapid/Emergency Response, Barnet has employed the Blue 9 and Magenta companies over a period of years dating back at least as far as 2006. Looking at the online disclosure log, I see that in response to an enquiry regarding private companies who have contracts with Barnet, neither Blue 9 nor Magenta are listed. Can you confirm that there has been no contract in place with either of these companies since 2006, or, if such a contract exits, the date of the commencement of such a contract?

For some reason, the press officers of Broken Barnet were reluctant to answer Mrs Angry's innocent enquiry and bounced it up to their boss, Mrs Angry's No 1 fan, Mr Chris Palmer, Assistant Director of Communications. (It maybe that the press team find the subject too confusing, because in an earlier statement to the Ham & High, published on April 9th, a council spokesperson referred to terminating the council's contract with MetPro on March 31st, when oh dear, of course we know there was not any contract to terminate. Easy mistake to make, no doubt.) As it turned out, Mr Chris Palmer was reluctant to answer Mrs Angry's questions too, and kicked the enquiry over to Customer Services. Customer services were - guess what - reluctant to answer this, but hooray - on Friday, Mrs Angry received this reply, an exemplary piece of One Barnet spin.

Dear Mrs Angry,

There is a contract with Blue 9 Security for Burnt Oak Library that
commenced in July 2010. Blue 9 has been contracted with Customer Services since September 2008 but they have been through a competitive procurement process since then.

The Council's contractual arrangement with Magenta Security involves the use of site specific Assignment Instructions which specify the exact services required at an agreed price. These have been in place since at least June 2007.

Hmm. So: Blue 9 has a contract - no, a contractual arrangement ( a purchase order, maybe?) for working but only at Burnt Oak library (dangerous work, lending books in a Labour ward) and only since July 2010. It's been working for Customer services - (ok, but where else, exactly?) - since September 2008, and some sort of competitive procurement process took place at an unspecified time "since then" ... well, when exactly? Why so vague? And why after the company's services were first used? Oh, and for how many years exactly has Blue 9 been used by Barnet?

So the council has a contractual 'arrangement' with Magenta too, but not an actual contract? Clever use of words. So no tender process, then? And only in place since at least (what - not sure?) - June 2007, they say, even though there is hard evidence that Magenta has been used by Barnet since at least 2005? Look at at the archived document readily available online, for example, referring to Magenta as being responsible for security at the Barbara Langstone House hostel in North Finchley, when the installation of CCTV was being debated, dated 25th July 2005.

According to Barnet's online expenditure listings, in March this year alone, Magenta were paid a total of £52,355.52 - compare this to our hard done by friends MetPro, who scraped by on a measly £43,818. Interesting, isn't it?

Oh, and let's take a closer look at this document, a delegated powers report, No 1315, published on the 12th April, signed by Mr Craig Cooper, Commercial Director, nearly two weeks after MetPro were belatedly kicked out and replaced by Blue 9. It refers to the council's existing contract with Blue 9, yet under the entry 'relevant previous decisions' there is a blank. Here too is an admission of the risk management issues relating to security provision which our council appears to have completely ignored throughout the duration of its use of MetPro:

2. CORPORATE PRIORITIES AND POLICY CONSIDERATIONS 2.1 The Corporate Plan commits the Council to delivering ‘A successful London suburb’. A key principle is to keep Barnet a safe place. The provision of security services has this as a sole aim. 3. RISK MANAGEMENT ISSUES 3.1 A risk is associated with not having security reception and guarding duties at Council premises, as it will affect the ability to provide some services at these locations. It could also, potentially, pose a risk to both the public and employees if an incident occurred that was not dealt with in a professional manner.

Touchingly, the council shows a new interest in checking that the security employees it uses to film residents and boss them around at council meetings are not criminals, or working illegally: and, more good news, it seems they have just noticed Blue 9 are cheaper too!

8.5 Blue 9 Security Ltd stepped into the sites vacated by MetPro Emergency Response Ltd. Blue 9 was, previously, known to the Council and currently provides security services. As the successful bidder in the last three competitive tenders initiated by the Council they have offered competitive rates. All relative operatives are Security Industry Authority (SIA) registered and have satisfactory Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks. The rate paid for the provision of security services at the, relevant, sites, on an interim basis is, also, more competitive than was being paid to the MetPro organisation.

And here is another interesting thing. According to the council's key decisions for its Forward Plan, as detailed on 16th May, the Cabinet and Resources committee were due, on the 24th May to consider the following item: 'Security Service Provision in Council Properties'. Under the column 'decision requested' there is a mysterious blank. This item, and an accompanying report by the head of Procurement, appears to have disappeared without trace: can any helpful reader suggest why that might be?

Despite early assurances that the Audit Committee charged with scrutinising the MetPro affair would have the scope to consider issues such as the other security 'arrangements', Mrs Angry has been informed that this will not now be the case. Such matters, as well as any comments that members of the public might like to make, will be addressed only after the committee's report is published, which you might agree is very clever, from the point of view of sitting on any inconvenient truths the council wish to contain, but deeply regrettable from the position of those of us who believe in the principles of transparency, accountability and all the lipserving claptrap that this council pretends to hold dear, but for which, in reality, it holds nothing but contempt.

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