Monday 31 October 2011
Barnet bloggers have received copies of a leaked document headed 'One Barnet Procurement Principles', a report written for a meeting of the council's directors' group on 1st March, 2011.
Ironically, this was the day of the infamous budget meeting at Hendon Town Hall where the use of heavyhanded security measures by the authority's illegally operating security company MetPro caused so much outrage, and was to prove the catalyst for a wide ranging investigation of the council's financial organisation, especially the grossly incompetent procurement, tendering and contractual processes.
As we know now, therefore, when this report was written, there had been no recognition of the council's complete abject failure properly to organise and maintain the private contracts it already has, no understanding of the enormity of the authority's culture of failure, the widescale breach of regulations, and financial mismanagment.
At this meeting, however, agreement was to be made on the principles by which a future marketing of one billion pounds worth of business opportuntities for the private sector should proceed. And despite, or perhaps because of, the staggering level of incompetence which Lord Palmer's audit report uncovered, the very next day after the meeting to which his report was delivered, the package of £750 million pounds worth of services to be outsourced was rushed out, before anyone could stop to question what was happening.
What does this document tell us?
Now that we are being pimped to the gentlemen callers sitting on the sofa in the salon, there are certain house rules, an etiquette, to be observed, in order to preserve the modesty of the madams on the One Barnet management team, if not the working girls and boys being exploited by the authority.
We start with some prurient words about 'dialogue confidentiality'.
'With the number of staff involved in the process,' we are told, 'managing confidentiality will be very difficult.' Oh dear - yes, that would appear to be true, wouldn't it?
There is some discussion about something called 'variant bids'. Put simply, rather than service the outsourcing company clients according to a strict menu of delights, the Barnet madams will allow interesting suggestions from clients, in line with their own idiosyncratic desires. These wishes may or may not be entertained, according to what the manager madams think they can get away with, but will not be dismissed out of hand, in case it puts clients off.
Job creation: we are told that 'some outsourcing contracts require partner organisations to make some contractual commitment to creating new jobs within the location' ... guess what, though, Barnet is not keen on this ... in case it puts clients off.
As we will see, not only do they not care whether new jobs are created, they don't care about where the old jobs remain. But they realise this idea may not be popular with the Tory councillors - 'this may be a key issue for members' - if they even know this is part of the deal ... do you know, Tory councillors? How many local jobs are you destroying with the One Barnet outsourcing? And what effect on our local economy is this all going to have?
The report describes various staffing implications and 'numerous employment issues' ... pensions are a matter of huge concern to all Barnet staff, of course, and they are right to be worried, as Barnet appears keen to hand over risk to new employers.
Ah: delivery locations ... the report tells us that they are not going to restrict the location of future delivery of services to the Barnet area, oh no, because they claim the closer to home that might be, the more expensive the proposal. Wouldn't it be fascinating to see the hard evidence for this claim? And how interesting it will be - customer service centres in Aberdeen, planning offices in Penzance, the possibilities are endless ... and as they tell us, breathing heavily, 'the council should be receptive to any proposal from potential partners' ...
Oh, here is an interesting part of the deal - accommodation ... referring to the council's assets, we are told, 'Whether these are council assets that the provider is permitted to use, or whether it is the provider's own assets, the council will ultimately pay for for their use ...' Er, what?
The council - ie you and me - will pay the clients - ie the private sector companies - for the pleasure of f*cking us, whether they do it at our house, or theirs. Is this how it is supposed to work, procurement?
But there is an even more outrageous suggestion: not only will we be f*cked by the private sector, and charged for it, if they want to bring in other entertainment to join the party in our house, they can: even if the council does not wish a provider to use the accommodation for fun with other parties, we are told there is little they can do - 'even if this is prohibited in the contract terms it would be very difficult to police' - so that's ok then, let them do whatever they want.
Contract terms: oh, long contracts are what the clients want, for their complete satisfaction, and at first they will be very keen, spending lots of money on the new partnership, but we must be aware that after the intial enthusiasm, there are 'many examples of long term partnerships where the commitment and enthusiasm of the provider has waned over the duration of the contract period' ... what a surprise, eh?
Which brings us to the sensitive subject of contract failure ... what happens when the relationship breaks down? Traditionally, we are told, contracts are arranged with a bond undertaken by the provider to cover the cost, should failure require the council to take the service back in house, or give it to a new provider. Ah, but guess what, our management team does not want our gentlemen on the sofa to be put off by that unromantic thought: they want the council to set aside a bit of money by themselves, with an insurance policy, to see us through, should that happen. I certainly would trust them with the selection of a suitable policy, wouldn't you?
Various recommendations are made at the end of the report: oh hello - they suggest 'a conflict of interest register be established in order to register any potential conflict of interest issues' .. was that proposal implemented, we wonder, and if so, how did this not prevent the apparent inaccuracies in Mrs Angry's FOI on this very subject?
Variant bids should be allowed ... no requirement to create new jobs ... no requirement to buy back support services ... no requirement for services to be located locally ... private companies should be allowed to use council accommodation for their other clients ... they want ten year contracts, oh: and someone needs to phone up gocompare.com to see if they can get a quote for one billion f*cking pounds worth of outsourced council services being sold off to the profiteering private sector, but being cocked up and left with a catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale as yet unseen in the entire history of corporate life in the United Kingdom.
That's all. Nothing to worry about.
By the way, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, who may be struggling to understand the implications of all this: it means you have been well and truly shafted, and so have we, and at the next election you can all wave goodbye to those allowances you steal from us on the pretence that you are in office to protect the best interests of our borough.
Please come to your senses and call a halt to this programme now, before it really is too late.
If you are a Barnet employee, and you have read this, you will perhaps see now, if you didn't know already, that the interests of staff have been betrayed by the senior management of this borough, while they continue to protect and expand the number of highly paid senior posts - and consultants fees. If you are not a union member, now is the time to join and fight to save your job.
If you are a Barnet resident, you probably didn't understand the hugely significant implications of outsourcing, and what it will mean for services in this borough that you and your family have always taken for granted. In fact, and this won't make you feel any better, the vast majority of the councillors of this borough don't understand either, and the Tory councillors have supported the plans without any real interest or urge to challenge the adoption of the massive One Barnet programme. Now is the time to contact your elected representatives and give them hell. This is your prerogative, as the tax payer and voter who pays their very generous allowances.
You can contact your councillor by the methods explained here:
http://barnetfutureshape.blogspot.com/2011/10/barnet-council-secret-documents-one.html Part Two will be available tomorrow.
An open invitation from Councillor David Longstaffe and colleagues to his Halloween fundraising fun event, on behalf of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association.
All money raised to go towards the re elect Brian Coleman campaign appeal.
Please give generously.
Donations also gratefully received.
Saturday 29 October 2011
Brian Coleman, AM, FRSA, Tory GLA candidate for Barnet and Camden
Oh look: more fun with Freedom of Information requests that have been extracted, painfully, and slowly, like rotten teeth, from the London Borough of Broken Barnet: see - here is a timely press release from Andrew Dismore, Labour candidate for the GLA in regard to the actitivies (or lack of them) of our current London assembly member, Brian Coleman.
Coleman falls down on the job – again!
Andrew Dismore, Labour’s candidate for the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden has today published the response to his freedom of information request to Barnet council, concerning sitting GLA member Brian Coleman’s lack of correspondence with the Council on key issues. ( attached below)
Mr Dismore said:
“Yet again, after all the previous FoI responses, we see that Mr Coleman has fallen down on the job. He has not written a single letter with representations to the Council over such key issues as housing policy and housing benefit cuts, the regenerations, or the closure of libraries and youth services. Just what is he doing for the salary and allowances he receives as a Councillor and Assembly member? Time and again, the response to FoI requests has been the same: he seems to be a complete stranger to pen and paper or computer keyboard. People of Barnet and Camden have been let down by Mr Coleman’s failure to stand up for them on these vitally important issues.”
FoI request and reply from Barnet council:
Dear Mr Dismore
I am writing regarding your request, received by the London Borough of Barnet (the Council) on 11 August 2011 for access to the following information:
“Copies of all correspondence sent to and received from Cllr Brian Coleman AM for Barnet and Camden on the following issues in his capacity as both AM and as a Barnet Councillor:
1. Housing policy with respect to affordable and social homes provision in the Borough
2. the impact of housing benefit cuts on Barnet residents
3. the regeneration schemes for West Hendon, Grahame Park, Spur rd/Stonegrove
4. the Cricklewood/Brent Cross regeneration scheme
5. proposed library closures
6. youth facilities in the Borough
I would like 1 to 4 to cover the period since May 2008; and 5 and 6 for the last 18 months.”
We are processing your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). Under the FOIA and the EIR you were entitled to receive a response within 20 working days of receipt of your request. Please accept my apology on behalf of the Council for failing to meet this deadline. My response to your request is below.
I can confirm that the Council does not hold the requested information.Hmm. I am afraid I must disagree with you, Andrew. Brian Coleman has a keen interest in housing. Mrs Angry has been checking her blog: remember the council meeting of 20th October, last year? According to her report:
"And now here comes Coleman with his contribution: this time he lets loose on those housing benefit scroungers who all want to live in Belgravia and Mayfair and expect the state to pay. I have to agree with you there, though, Brian, expecting to have your accommodation subsidised by anyone is appalling, isn't it? Eh? And then, with one bound, he is spouting off on the subject of creating slums. Slums like Graham Park. If there are any slum conditions in Grahame Park, you unspeakably objectionable man, I suggest that you remember who has created them. A slum is not a building: a slum is a neglected building."
And it is unfair to say he is a stranger to the computer keyboard.
As the picure above demonstrates, Brian is always sat at his pc, keen to interact with his constituents. Sometimes he even has his eyes open.
Many lucky people have had a cheery reply - or even a phone call - from Councillor Coleman to their emails inviting his comments on a wide range of issues. He has such a number of these annoying communications, in fact, that he is very often obliged to inform the sender that they should remove him from their mailing list - a man of Mr Coleman's eminent status simply cannot be expected to deal with this sort of nonsense, can he?
Some correspondents, as we know, have even been troubling Brian recently with their dreadful whinging about housing problems. Ms Sharada Osman, a single mother of a six year old boy with special needs, worrying about how she is going to pay her extortionate rent rise for her two bedroomed flat, confided the details of her circumstances to Brian Coleman and was thrilled to receive a reply from him, sitting at his desk in his own low rent charity two bedroomed flat, low rent fixed at exactly half of what she struggles to pay, telling her to live in the real world and not expect the system to sort her life out. 'This correspondence is now closed', he then informed her.
And that is why, Mr Dismore, there is no need for Councillor Coleman to raise such matters with Barnet Council. In his own unique way, he is perfectly capable of dealing with such concerns himself, a One Barnet, one stop shop, ever conscious of the One Barnet mantra: a relentless drive for efficiency.
Relentless, certainly. Efficient? Make your own minds up and tell him next May.
Or maybe send him an email and tell him now. Go on: Mrs Angry dares you:
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 28 October 2011
Whenever Mrs Angry feels fed up, and wants to stuff blogging, and run away, far far away from Broken Barnet, which is very often, something drops into her lap which simply has to be written about, and here we go again, then, for your edification: several things, in fact, which simply have to be written about.
If you recall, in recent weeks the Barnet bloggers have issued an open letter to our number one fan, Uncle Eric Pickles, in regard to the continual abuse of the Freedom of Information Act by Barnet Council. This protest was made after months of increasingly obstructive responses to FOIs made by bloggers - and other residents - in regard to issues of political sensitivity.
Ridiculously, in a statement to website Publicservice.co.uk, Tory councillor and deputy leader, Daniel 'John' Thomas, responded to this letter by claiming:
"Barnet was one of the first councils in the country to publish all spending over £500 and we are committed to open government as well as responding to freedom of information requests in a timely manner."
The article continues:
"Thomas said one of the bloggers had submitted a total of 175 FoI requests between April and September of 2011. This meant a total nearing £40,000 was spent by the council responding to this one individual, based on a typical cost of £225 in dealing with each request."
Aha. Now Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal, yes ... the identity of the blogger so accused was .... wait for it, no, not her, far too lazy, it was .... Mr Mustard ...
.... oh, you knew. Ok. He'll probably sue Mrs Angry now, though, for outing him. (Wait until I tell them about the fishnet tights, & the silk stockings, Mr Mustard).
Anyway: the idea that such a ludicrous sum of money has been spent on his requests has been well and truly trounced in his own blog, and everywhere else. But let us remember that this accusation coincided with another lunge at poor Mr Mustard by the authority: one of his requests was refused around this time on the totally spurious grounds of being 'vexatious' and therefore not an enquiry that need be answered.
What was his vexatious question?
1) What are the names of the project manager for the SAP Optimisation project and the One Barnet programme manager. Are they employees or contractors ? If they are employees please provide the salary range of their posts and if they are contractors please tell me which contractor supplied them and the daily rate of charge ?
2) Do Logica provide any in-house consultants and if so how many, provide the names of the consultants and their daily charge rates ?
3) What is your main job title please [directed towards a council employee]?
(SAP is the highly controversial IT system bought by Barnet which has been fraught with problems and grossly over budget: this was a perfectly valid enquiry for someone to make, therefore, and clearly in the public interest.) The response to this request was as follows:
(i) Compliance would create a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction
- this was, he was told, on the basis of the number of previous requests he had made, then
(ii) The request has the effect of harassing council staff
Whilst the council recognises that elected members and senior officers will be subject to legitimate public scrutiny, this is not necessarily the case with non-senior officers. In our view the effect of your requests, when viewed in its wider context, is that non-senior officers are likely to feel deliberately targeted and victimised.
Refusal under s40(2)
Although the council is not obliged to process this request because it is vexatious, if it were to process it then much of the information would be exempt under the exemption in section 40(2) FOIA.
This exemption applies where disclosure of third-party personal data would be likely to breach one or more of the data protection principles contained in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). You have requested the names of individuals working for the council in non-senior positions and the job-title of a named individual. This information is their personal data protected by the DPA. In our view disclosing this information would be likely to breach the first data protection principle.
This appears to address the innocent question made in relation to the job title of an officer answering a FOI request - again a perfectly valid question, as there has been a lot of confusion as to the process by which such responses are made, and whose responsibility it should be.
Thomas' statement is clearly nonsense, and merely illustrates the extent of panic amongst the Tory cabinet in regard to the level of scrutiny posed by the citizen journalists, particularly at this most sensitive time of tendering for the £1 billion outsourcing packages.
Mrs Angry then decided to respond to this clear indication from the council that FOI requests were unwelcome by immediately submitting some FOI requests about FOI requests. She sent a cheery greeting to Mr Jeff Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance, and asked him for the following:
A copy of any correspondence between Councillor Daniel Thomas and any council officer within the last four weeks regarding the number and cost of any FOI requests.
Oh look: here this morning arrived a reply, and without having to threaten to report anyone to the ICO: well done, Mr Lustig, and Cllr Thomas, on a sterling example of the One Barnet drive for relentless efficiency.
Mrs Angry has been sent copies of a very brief exchange between an unknown officer in the Chief Executive's service, and Councillor Thomas, and an enquiry from the online editor of the website in question. The document is a masterpiece of redaction, crazed black marker pen scribbles over any name, except for some reason one blogger.
It is clear from the emails that it was a senior officer in the Chief Executive's service who took the initiative to respond to an enquiry on September 26th by the editor of Publicservice.co.uk. This unknown officer had already drafted a response to run by Thomas before he had even been informed of the query, and all he did was ok the draft the next day saying 'Fine with me thanks' ... no input by him at all, in other words.
Oh: and unknown senior officer in the Chief Executive's service, Mrs Angry notes the statement begins: 'I don't agree with the picture Miss Morris chooses to portray at all ...' Actually, in this instance, Mrs Angry was to blame for the letter, and you owe Miss Morris, aka Citizen Barnet, an apology, I think, for naming her anyway, and so soon after Mr Walkley had to apologise to Mrs Angry for another breach of the DPA in not redacting her name in the MetPro email FOIs ... tut tut...
But here we have an interesting example, do we not, of unknown officers doing the political work of councillors? Is this allowed? Or are our Tory councillors just so lazy and dopey that they cannot write their own statements to the press? I think I may have just answered my own question.
Moving on then, to Mrs Angry's second FOI: on the thorny subject (Mrs Angry's speciality) of the declarations of gifts, hospitality and interests by senior officers. As we have reported, here in the through the looking glass world of Broken Barnet, transparency is a one way process, and a special tinted One Barnet glaze prevents the eyes of prurient enquirers from peering into the secret world of our overpaid senior officers. Our councillors may be required to declare if they have shares in Capita, or have been given lunch by Serco, and these details must in theory at least be recorded and open to public scrutiny. In the case of senior officers, the public does not have the right of open access to such information.
Earlier in the summer, Mrs Angry submitted an FOI request in regard to any senior officers who have accepted hospitality from or attended events or training provided by BT. This is particularly relevant in Barnet as BT are one of the four companies shortlisted for a huge, multi million pound package of services due to be flogged off by our council. There have already been known cases of senior officers in the past with connections to BT, either attending the controversial 'Vital Vision' programme, like former leader and now Tory MP Mike Freer and fromer CEO Leo Boland, or being sent to Barnet on long term secondment from BT, like the ubiquitous Mr Max Wide.
This FOI was never answered. First of all it was delayed, on the pretext of helpfully suggesting Mrs Angry might like to know about former senior officers and then, after complaining about the lack of response to Labour leader Alison Moore, a reply was eventually sent claiming a reply would not be given as Mrs Angry had asked about former senior officers and this would take the request beyond the cost limit! Brilliant!
Undeterred, after seeing BT had joined three other lucky companies on the short list for tendering, Mrs Angry asked for information regarding any declarations in relation to these companies.
Please give all details of any senior officers currently employed by or acting as consultants to the London Borough of Barnet who have accepted hospitality from, or attended any event or training course organised by, the following companies:
The response stated: "In your email of 3 October 2011, you confirmed that you wanted the information for all persons listed in the corporate management chart that is- the Chief Executive, Directors and Deputy Directors."
I can confirm that the council holds the following information which falls within the scope of your request:
- The Chief Executive - Mr Walkley visited the British Telecoms Research Labs in Suffolk in January 2010. During the visit, he had a buffet lunch and coffee. Mr Walkley was accompanied by Mr Travers, Mr. Grice and Mr. Palmer who also had lunch and coffee.
- Mr. Evans, Assistant Director for Strategy and Policy attended a networking event for London councils in September 2011. This event was organised by Capita Consulting.
Hmm. Coffee, eh? Sure about that? No dessert? Mr Mustard: can we afford to FOI that? No? Wonder if Andrea Hill was there, handing round petit fours from Fortnum & Mason?
Mr Richard Grice, in fact, we hear, is leaving Barnet today, just off to work for BT, which is nice. Of course Mrs Angry is happy to correct this if it is a misapprehension.
Note that no dates are given in the above. One might expect dates, surely? And Mr Evans attended what event exactly? I think we are entitled to know, in the interests of transparency, as this coincides with the period in which Capita is involved in the One Barnet tender process, don't you?
Oh, and one last thing ... what do you make of these events, as follows:
Barnet's CEO Mr Nick Walkley is listed as a participant in an event hosted by the Localis thinktank, in conjunction with Capita Symonds: 'Is efficiency enough?' which took place in Birmingham on the 13th September.
Mr Walkley is also listed as a speaker at Capita's 4th national conference 'Improvement and Efficiency in the Public Sector' in London on 21st January 2010.
Has this been omitted because someone thinks Capita Symonds is absolutely nothing to do with Capita? Well, according to Capita Symonds' website:
Capita Symonds is a wholly owned division of The Capita Group Plc.
Or did Mr Walkley decide to have a duvet day on both occasions and bunk off what admittedly sounds like two deeply tedious events? Mrs Angry is happy to pass on the explanation for this apparent omission from the FOI response to the citizens of Broken Barnet, should there be one. Mrs Angry did ask the officer to confirm that the entries were complete, but this issue was not addressed in the email sent in response to this and other enquiries.
Anyway, £1,000 a day consultant, deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer (no, really) Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers must be looking forward to his own participation as a speaker at a Capita conference on the 29th of November ...
As we know from corporate life here in Broken Barnet, Mr Walkley is an expert on improvement and efficiency, expecially in the management of response to FOI requests, and Mr Travers is an expert on service delivery, as seen in the MetPro audit, counting paperclips, and staring out of the window. He is also well practised in giving bloggers interesting looks at council meetings.
Have a nice weekend.
Thursday 27 October 2011
This evening I sat and watched a Panorama film about the eviction of travellers at Dale Farm. I watched it in the grip of mounting fury, and disgust. After it finished, in fact, I went out into the garden to breathe in the cold night air and calm down, because I was so enraged, and upset.
The film concentrated on the effects of the eviction process on the women of Dale Farm. It was explained that the men did not want to be filmed, because of the necessity to remain anonymous in their working lives. Being recognised as a member of the travelling community is not advantageous to the prospects of commercial success in the greater Basildon area.
That the film centred on the women was significant. It shifted the focus of the dispute from the fighting, and the efforts of outside activists, to the reality of family life, of a way of life lived on the margins of conventional society, and a culture shaped from centuries of displacement, now left with nowhere to go, and nowhere to stay.
One of the girls on the site, Shannon Egan, spoke of the distress she felt about the prospect of eviction from her home. 'It's like a stinging bee flying around my heart, and stinging me in the middle of it', she whispered.
People mock when you use the word culture in relation to Irish travellers. It might just be acceptable to acknowledge that Romany gypsies have traditions and a language, and recognisable customs: the word traveller, and what it signifies, is misunderstood and used as a term of abuse. Oral traditions of minority cultures are necessarily hidden from outsiders, and then lost without record. This is what the dominant culture wants: call it social progress, when it is done by stages, with education and council housing, or maybe call it ethnic cleansing, when it is done with twenty million pounds worth of bailiffs, and court orders, hundreds of riot police, and a day or two of pitched battle, ending with women and children shaking with fear as they watch their homes burning down.
The leading figure in tonight's film was Mamie, a travelling woman of great spirit, and a woman to be respected and admired for her defiance, endurance and dignity in the face of such shameless, pointless bullying.
Mamie told us that eviction was nothing new to her: she was one of those driven from Twin Oaks, the Borehamwood site mentioned in a previous post, here by the same bunch of bailiffs, Constant & Co, who make handsome profits from the ruthless dismembering of travelling people's sites.
At the end of the film Mamie sat hunched in a chair and spoke quietly of her conclusions about the future for her people. She said that travelling people would never have rights. She said 'people don't want to see us as human beings', but would only ever see them as 'dirty gypsies'.
She was only speaking the truth. Go on any comments forum tonight,and even twitter, and you will read the most repellant remarks about gypsies and travellers. Some total stranger with a revolting history of hugely offensive tweets has even felt moved to contact me to announce he has cracked open the champagne to toast Basildon Council. Thanks for letting me know. I hope you received my message, and took my advice.
No other ethnic minority is expected to be the butt of such abuse, and it is only a measure of how far deep rooted such bigotry lies that nothing is done to prevent it.
One of the local residents whose land adjoined the site was shown in the film using raw sewage, fire and a shot gun to intimidate the travellers. After the gun incident the police at last took him away, but then released him without charge. He came home and talked about bringing in a tank.
In the previous post I mentioned the local priest, Father Mason, and he was shown in the film giving communion and his personal support to the travellers, whose religious tradition is another mainstay of the culture no one wants to recognise. This is perfectly in line with five hundred years of English protestant contempt for Catholicism, of course, and how amusing it is to compare and contrast the passionate, tribal faith of the travellers to the feeble, bloodless respectability of the Church of England, as seen this week in the trembling clerics of St Paul's, wringing their hands over all the unsold postcards and Christopher Wren pencil cases in the cathedral shop.
As the Panorama film showed the leaving of Dale Farm, when the remaining travelling families gathered themselves together and left together, peacefully, with heads held high, one young girl addressed the camera and called out that she was not ashamed to be a traveller: she was proud of it. And so she should be.
The women of Dale Farm reminded me so much of some of the women in my family, my mother and my aunts: their unstoppable spirit, their faith, their outspoken defiance, and their fearlessness. I think maybe I know where it comes from.
The Irish people are natural born survivors: they have to be. Irish travellers have survived right on the edge of society until now: now they are being pushed over the edge. You can choose to stand by and keep quiet and let that happen, or you can challenge your own prejudices and speak out.
This is me speaking out.