Sunday 31 July 2011

Broken Barnet: End of Life?

One Barnet, end of life, but we have an action plan

They say, don't they, that in London you are never more than a few feet away from a rat?

Yes, more vermin news from Mrs Angry: rats in Tescos, rats in the Town Hall, and now, citizens, rats gnawing at the One Barnet corpse, hidden for an indeterminate length of time in the cellar of the offices of the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

One Barnet has been sick for some time, as we know.

Sadly, we must announce that, at some time in the past few months, surrounded by Tory councillors, CEO Nick Walkley, Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers and other grieving members of the One Barnet corporate family, the life of the former model for local government was ended, assisted, it is rumoured, by an official MetPro emergency response pillow held over the face - and a sequence of embarrassing revelations by local bloggers.

Mad scientist Professor Richard Cornelius has been seen attaching electrodes to the corpse of One Barnet, and waving a lightening conductor out of the window of his laboratory, shaking his fist at the infinityof blue sky thinking still hanging over the stark desolation of the corporate landscape, and praying for stormy weather.

Mrs Angry advises Prof Cornelius to wear some rubber soled shoes.

Mrs Angry was hit by lightening once, has she mentioned it? And it was her choice of footwear which saved her from becoming toast, although, as has been remarked in certain quarters, her brain appears to have been rewired, and she has never been quite the same since.

But where were we? Do stop trying to be funny, Mrs Angry, no one is laughing, and let's face it, you're not really in the mood, are you?

So: desolation, corpses, rats: oh yes - and more rats. Mrs Angry must in fact thank the London Borough of Broken Barnet - and their misuse of the the Freedom of Information system - for enabling her to continue with the suitable motif of rodent infestation this weekend. It's been fun.

Let us return to the evening of the MetPro audit committee meeting. You may recall that the response of the senior management team to the catalogue of financial incompetence unveiled by the report was that a. it was terrible but nothing to do with them and b. all ills would be miraculously cured by a wave of Mr Walkley's magic wand, and An Action Plan.

Yes, CEO Mr Walkley has a magic wand, on contract from Agilysis, agreed by contract - no, sorry, in an arrangement, of a knock down price of what? How much? Really? But the cost is value for money because of the enormous savings it brings to the One Barnet programme. Oh: will bring to the One Barnet programme, at some unknown point in the future. Maybe.

In June, the Barnet Eye blog asked the council about the Procurement Action Plan referred to at the audit meeting. This question was made fairly casually, in a low key email, but: hey presto, the magic wand was waved, and this enquiry was transformed into a Freedom of Information request. Black magic like this has been used by the wizards of Broken Barnet before: you might remember the awkward MetPro questions Mrs Angry submitted to a Residents Forum which were similarly transformed. This is a brilliant spell for those in need of an official twenty working day delay in responding to embarrassing questions, you see.

Time's up, now, though, and now, at a suitably quiet time of the year when most people are away, and the danger of embarrassment is minimised, we have the responses. And the information contained in these responses is truly staggering: far, far worse than anything that could have been predicted. There are further details on the Barnet Eye blog, and Mr Reasonable has cast his own forensic eye over the newly revealed information, barely able to contain his appalled reaction.

The most telling document is the Information Systems "Action Plan". Note that they have put Action Plan in inverted commas, as well they might. Where to start? This report is yet another devastating indictment of incompetence. Some choice excerpts:

On the IT infrastructure:

The lack of an Infrastructure Manager has left the service with no direction and poor management of the 2e2 managed services contract.2e2 contract was put in place to transfer the operational management and risk of core infrastructure to a private provider. 2e2 no longer feel responsible for this and have passed all risks back to the council, on the basis that all equipment has reached EOL.

(EOL: End of life: corporate death - the last taboo in Broken Barnet.)

In which case, as Mr Reasonable has pointed out, why on earth did the Cabinet Resources rubber stamping committee renew the contract with 2e2?

Telephony upgrade:

Front and Back office telephony infrastructure has come to the EOL and will be unsupportable by CISCO from May 2011, unless Barnet make a commitment to the upgrade.

Ah: good - we are being told there is an urgent need to start a tender process for a telephony upgrade (anyone got any ideas - a vital vision, even - as to who might be able to provide this? Off the top of your head?) but we are not told how we have come to this point of urgent need without any prior warning.

Applications support:

Two Team Managers supporting SAP and other business applications, creating confusion in the business and the team around who is responsible for what. Staff and Team Leaders involved in a huge amount of projects with the business not none (sic) of them really know what there (sic) role is on any of these projects.

This report is shockingly badly written: the new One Barnet house style, presumably. 'Not none of them knowing what there role is' must apparently be blamed on 'Lack of ownership of the Logica Contract.' amongst other things. Ah lack of ownership. Hmm.

Then we have the grossly overbudget multi million SAP IT system, which is useless: why is it useless? Many reasons but here are more:

Team have been working on SAP optimisation, but neither of the managers are clear on who is the Business Owner for SAP, the sponsor for SAP Optimisation or the Project Manager. No structured project documentation exists for this programme.

Ah, ownership problems again. Ownership: being responsible for, being accountable, showing a sense of strategic direction. All qualities missing from the corporate ethos of Broken Barnet.

Information and data management:

Numerous Reports highlight weaknesses in information and data management and IT security. Business Continuity is virtually non‐existent.

How many more breaches of data security will it take before the ICO step in and take further action to sanction this borough for its continued refusal to address its failings in this area?

One Barnet:

No one in the IS team believe they are the lead for the service specification in IT and as such, nothing has started.

Another example of lack of leadership from the senior management of the authority.

Project management:

No formal Project Management in IS exists. The lack of project management means that no one is aware of their role and responsibility on any project. Staff in IT deliver projects as a secondary function, resulting in a lack of understanding by the business on who the IT lead is on their business project. Staff themselves are not aware that they are the assigned PM for some projects and do not follow any methodology to manage delivery.

Again: another failure of senior leadership.

Finally, we find:


Through the report produced by Agilyis and an assessment of how the team is currently working, reported through the ‘Red Book’, it is clear that the IT structure is not fit for purpose.

Not fit for purpose: four little words that should be written in big letters and hung over the gates of North London Business Park.

Here is a question: why is the political administration of Broken Barnet apparently so tolerant of the cuture of incompetence amongst the senior management team it employs, at such a generous rate of reward? As a Tory councillor told Mrs Angry recently, the truth is that it is the senior officers who run this council, and not the politicians. The outsourcing agenda: was that really a politically driven policy, originally, or was it promoted by the senior officers who came to Barnet, primed with the same philosophy of so many others who are now in place in the highest positions in authorities all around the country?

And here is another question, which the Tory leadership of Broken Barnet needs urgently to address: are they here to do the bidding of their officers, and help them to ease the business opportunities for the private sector that One Barnet's outsourcing frenzy will provide, or have they a rather more important duty of care to their electorate, who have been told that the driving principle of One Barnet is to provide 'better services for less money'.

By now even the dopiest of Tory councillors must see that the only part of One Barnet that is being delivered as promised is the commitment to the mass externalisation of services, and already we are forging an intimate relationship with the big companies who feed off public sector business. At the same time we know that no savings have been made, the financial organisation and now, it seems, almost every other aspect of the authority's administration, is not fit for purpose, and yet we are still throwing more money we are told we do not have on the One Barnet programme. Why? The message from central government is clear - that it wants local authorities to pull back from large scale externalisation, because the evidence now of the risks of failure are incontrovertibly damning.

The big contracts with the big companies will soon be set up, and the senior officers who have pushed the outsourcing agenda will then move on, no doubt into fabulous jobs in the private sector, leaving Broken Barnet to its fate. The services outsourced will be terrible, and there will be no savings to residents and taxpayers. Eventually, the majority of externalised functions will have to be brought back in house as we all learn the hard way, because some of us did not, would not, listen to all the warnings, that no one can or should make profit out of public services.

Oh, and briefly returning to the first item of IT Infrastructure: here is an admission to make you gasp:

The Data Centre and Comms Rooms are at significant risk as the A\C is not working correctly, the sprinkler system has been turned off due to a water leak and cables are at risk of being eaten into by Rats.

Those pesky rats again: what did Mrs Angry tell you?

Funnily enough, both the risk and action points have been redacted, no not with with Mr Walkley's magic wand, but by his One Barnet pencil. I cannot imagine why.

To be fair, though, I don't think we need to worry about the rodent problem. Rats leave a sinking ship, and I think it is clear, is it not, citizens, that the One Barnet ship is going down fast, with all hands on board?

One other naval tradition which is being maintained is the duty of the Captain to go down with the ship: the senior management team is standing on deck saluting as the vessel lists and slips into the ocean. Saluting, and refusing to 'take ownership' of the fact that their shameless incompetence is sending the ship and all its passengers to the bottom of the sea. Until the very last seconds, of course, when they will all nip over the side, to a waiting life boat, and bugger off back to dry land, leaving us all to drown.

Still, never mind, citizens: my heart will go on, will yours?

1 comment:

Mr Mustard said...

There is a predictable easy solution to this Mra A; all the senior management and all of the mis-ruling Councillors, the ones that ever bother to turn up that is, will have an offsite conference to form Two Barnet. It will be nice at the Sandbanks during August.