Friday 17 June 2011

Whodunnit? Questions, so many questions - MetPro Audit Meeting: Part Two

Where was I : oh yes ... fraud. Moving on, then ...

On to Q3, by resident Ron Cohen, about the endemic problem of Directors and and reponsible officers not addressing internal audit recommendations. Lord Palmer took the opportunity in his response to highlight the low priority given by the authority to the need to support an adequately staffed audit team. The enormous size of Barnet's billion pound budget you might imagine would require a well resourced and active team: Barnet has Ms Salter and three officers. Of course a larger and better supported audit section might get in the way, and cause unnecessary obstruction to the expansion of outsourcing, so you can see the advantage of keeping things on a more modest footing.

Q4: fellow blogger Ms Vicki Morris asked what disciplinary measures shoud be taken against Directors and heads of service who appear to have failed to ensure their departments comply with the council's own Contract Procedure Rules?


Well, and this came as a total surprise, of course, there was no news on that score. The response told us that Audit cannot request that disciplinary measures take place. MetPro has taken up a substantial amount of audit time, as it is, did we realise, and has pushed aside other important matters.

This response did not meet with the approval of Ms Morris. She pointed out that the uncovering of the MetPro scandal has shone a light for residents, or to put it another way, given the council a well deserved kick up the backside. She reminded the committee of the council's imposition of a devastating budget of cuts, and compared this to the waste of public money that the MetPro affair has involved. She deeply objected to the complacency of the council's attitude, and reminded them that residents are entitled to know who will take responsibility for the mess?

Lord Palmer stated it was up to the Chief Executive to take any disciplinary proceedings, and that he had been given legal advice that any mention of individuals might compromise any such
future proceedings. He then, significantly perhaps, took the opportunity of musing on the interesting subject of how the MetPro affair began. 'I can see how it happened', he said, recalling the far off days when say, the head of housing and the person who runs facilities at Barnet House, Barbara Langstone House decided they needed some extra security for their premises.
Yes, thought Mrs Angry, and if I was in their shoes, I too would immediately have been struck by the professional bearing and discreet charm of the MetPro company image, and hired them on the spot, no questions asked.

What did mystify Lord Palmer, though, and here he even bent forward to look at Mrs Angry, was the absence of paperwork or explantation of any kind from anyone as to who authorised this arrangement. Who did it? He didn't know.

How very extraordinary, commented Mrs Angry, as she scribbled away.

Which reminds me.

A few weeks ago,not so long after the MetPro scandal had first emerged, sitting at a council meeting, Mrs Angry was struck by the peculiar behaviour of a certain Barnet officer, who spent almost the entire evening standing by the door of the public gallery, staring fixedly through the small window at her. He kept this up throughout the meeting. Mrs Angry would like to have believed that this was due to her limitless powers of attraction, but sadly it rather appeared that he was trying to make his attention noted for some other, less affectionate reason. Last night, in front of a witness at the Town Hall, he tried something similar, arms folded at the top of the stairs. Mrs Angry suggests he desists from this odd behaviour, before it gets him into trouble.

Back to the questions: uh oh, Mrs Angry's turn at the table. Mrs Angry took her place, surrounded by the dinner party from hell. Lord Palmer naughtily observed that he thought he knew her by another name, that she was - sharp intake of breath - a blogger. A vision of the Mc Carthy hearings popped into Mrs Angry's head, for one alarming moment. Are you now, Mrs Angry, or have you ever been, a member of the blogging community of Broken Barnet? I'll take the fifth, Lord Palmer. Move on.

The way in which questioning takes place is that residents must supply questions far in advance of the meeting, in order that the officers have time to come up with a load of old shite in response, cunningly disguised in One Barnet double speak. The answers are not given to you until you sit at the table, and then only verbally. You must listen and quickly formulate your supplementary question, faster than a QC in the High court thinking on his feet in front of a jury. You stumble through your question, which is then largely ignored, and then the Director of Corporate Governance looks for an opportunity to prevent further discussion, in my case apparently kicking Lord Palmer on the shin and telling him question time was over.

Before he could manage this, however, we briefly debated the three questions I had tabled about whether there would be inquiries into the safeguarding and data protection issues, and whether the council had contacted the SIA in regard to MetPro's use of unlicensed employees. Only the third question had been partially answered - contact of some sort had been made on March 14th.

Mrs Angry was informed, incredibly, that neither safeguarding nor the data protection issues were to be the subject of any other inquiry, although, of course, she was assured, in theory, the council was free to carry out further reviews.

"My questions", said Mrs Angry, winging it (and thanks to Mr Mustard for supplying an audio tape, as I was about to pass out at this point, and now I can't remember anything that came out of my big mouth) "were about the human impact of these failings ... Saying you are free to hold a review is not answering the questions raised about the possibility of real risk to children, and vulnerable adults ... there should surely be an inquiry, and independent inquiry, to establish the historical impact of your lack of care, and your negligence, in failing to scrutinise the people who had contact with these children and quite clearly they did have contact - ... as to the second point and the response to the data protection issue, this is simply to wash your hands of it, whereas the audit report clearly shows the trail of responsibility to you and the many acts of incompetence which led to a failure to manage what should have been a contract with MetPro ..."

'I agree,' said Lord Palmer.

'Oh', said Mrs Angry. Mrs Angry looked at Palmer, Palmer looked at Mrs Angry.

'Thank you', said Mrs Angry.

Palmer said he thought she was asking the Chair ' if he was critical of the contract with MetPro, of their access to children and vulnerable people, that without a contract and recognition with the SIA and all the other things you said ... and I hope all the officers would agree that it was wrong and inappropriate ...'

But there will be no inquiry in regard to the retrospective risk to children and vulnerable adults because there have been no complaints about 'inappropriate use' of MetPro. Mrs Angry pointed out that a child or vulnerable adult can hardly formulate a formal complaint - and at this point the Director of Corporate Governance stepped in and stopped any further debate.

Lord Palmer welcomed all the points that have been made, and the 'fuss' made by the public - by bloggers, and he for one was grateful for it. You're welcome, Lord Palmer. I'd like to say it's been a pleasure, but it's been bloody difficult, actually, doing the work that council officers and councillors are paid to do on behalf of the residents of this borough. And how amusing to think that all of this would never have come to light were it not for the determination of the Tory leadership to keep the bloggers of Barnet from attending and reporting a council meeting, all those weeks ago.

Mrs Angry thought about that this morning, as she was - ha - interviewed by Patrick Butler for a piece in the Guardian about the curious phenomenon of the bloggers of Broken Barnet: take a look -

Oh foolish Tory councillors, see where it all leads, when you try to stifle debate, and suppress the accoountability of the democratic process, in that idiotic way of yours?

More to come in Part Three ...

*just seen this article too in the Public Finance journal ( thanks to visitors from auditors Grant Thornton for leaving an audit trail in my stats to follow this link):


Mr Mustard said...

The Haute de la Garenne home closed in the 80's and the matter only came to light 30 years later. I don't think the Officers of Barnet Council will be able to sleep peacefully in their beds for some years, assuming they have any sort of social conscience.
No complaint doesn't mean no problem, now does it.
If I spent my time complaining about everything Barnet Council does wrong I would do nothing else.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

How can Lord Palmer say that it should be up to the Chief Executive to instigate disciplinary proceedings? It is the Chief Executive who is responsible for this debacle. Is Mr Walkley going to smack himself on the bottom and send himself to bed without any supper? Walkley must be sacked, and the whole One Barnet project put on hold unless and until the council can demonstrate that external contractors can be properly controlled and held accountable for their actions.

Mrs Angry said...

Mr Mustard: yes, it is appalling enough that children especially have had their safety compromised by Barnet's lack of competence in safguarding, and fulfilling the most basic requirements such as CRB checks (and this is possibly not confined to the MetPro case)... to now refuse to examine retrospectively the impact that this failure may have had is quite unacceptable. We are talking about children who were at risk or looked after: who could be more vulnerable? Who in their right minds thinks that an a young child in such circumstances has the ability to report any incident of abuse or inappropriate behaviour?
DCMD: I think the blame must be shared by more than one individual, and if no one is held accountable this will be utterly unacceptable. Senior officers demand salaries consistent with private sector levels but want to be exempt from the responsibility such a high rate of reward reflects. In the private sector such incompetence would mean they were kicked out immediately. Of course the reason most of these individuals are in the public sector, albeit on nicely arranged private contracts, is because they can't hack it in the real world.