Tuesday 6 December 2011

Everything in the garden is lovely: another audit whitewash

Greedily she engorged without restraint,

And knew not eating death;

On Thursday night there is a meeting of the Barnet Audit Committee, chaired by Libdem Councillor Lord Palmer, and graced with the presence of our beloved external auditors, Grant Thornton.

At this point, no doubt, Mrs Angry really ought to declare an interest.

Now that she is an audit expert of international, if not global renown, she has been headhunted by Grant Thornton, you know, for a position with the company: Mr Mustard is of the opinion that she is about to be offered a partnership, in fact: probably a long term interim consultancy as head of armchair auditing?

Oh - for some of Mrs Angry's more gullible readers, yes - you know who you are, the ones who really did think she was going to give a speech to the Tory conference a few weeks ago: THIS IS A JOKE. GT probably will be headhunting Mrs Angry by the end of the week, but are more likely to be demanding her head on a plate, served with a green salad, rather than courting her many talents.

It is certainly true, though, that only this week two local government specialists at GT have followed Mrs Angry on twitter, keen to learn at her knees and from her unique expertise, oh and pick up some tips re audit as well - well, really, of course, they are only trying to curry favour with Mrs Angry's dear friend Eric Pickles. Little do they know that we leave all that sort of thing at the office, don't we Eric? Other fish to fry: dinner at the Savoy, tea dances at the Ritz. Weekends at the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole.

Mrs Angry: stop trying to be funny, and remember this is a serious blog about audit.


The meeting on Thursday promises to be a very interesting one, by the way, as on the agenda are three very important items;

Item 6: the Annual Audit Letter from Grant Thornton.

Item 8: Internal Audit Report for the second quarter

Item 10: Procurement Controls and Management Plan Progress Report

Yep. Item 6 is a lovely letter from Grant Thornton. I won't bore you with the details. In essence it says:

Dear London Borough of Broken Barnet,

Everything in the garden is lovely.

Nothing is broken, and never has been, but improvements have been made to things which other people said were broken, but we didn't spot.

It's been a good year for the roses.

Please pay us £400,000.

lots of love,

Grant Thornton x

Here is a letter in response, from Mrs Angry.

Dear Grant Thornton,

I am sorry to have to inform you that everything in the garden of Broken Barnet is most certainly not at all lovely.

The London Borough of Broken Barnet is no longer the Garden of Eden you seem to want to see.

If you open your eyes, you will find that there is a serpent in paradise, and that serpent is the bearer of temptation and sin.

Eden is burning.

With best wishes,

Mrs Angry

After the staggeringly complacent letter from the external auditors, there follows a similarly rosy 'progress' report on the subject of procurement.

If you recall, when the MetPro scandal was exposed by Barnet bloggers earlier this year, below the surface of the immediate issue was revealed to be an entire lost world of prehistoric procurement, tendering, contractual and payment practices ... eventually it was officially admitted that a further 600 council 'contracts' with private service providers - including those meant to safeguard the care of the most vulnerable of residents, ie children with special needs and elderly people in residential care, were in fact non compliant 'arrangements'.

All of this has been covered with a layer of promises to make redress, and action plans for this that and the other, and the report going to council is full of blustering jargon about what has and has not been 'embedded' and where is the 'direction of travel', but the hard truth is that six months after the MetPro Audit, despite all the promises - the whole system is evidently still in a state of utter chaos.

As revealed earlier today, the Barnet bloggers have discovered at least one major instance of apparent non compliance on a scale even larger than MetPro, and these questions must now be asked:

How much more is there, and how can we possibly go forward with a one billion pound outsourcing programme with our commercial processes in tatters?

Where is the assurance for residents that there are any real controls in place to protect their interests?

Or is everything being rushed through to suit the best interests of the fat cat companies vying for our business?

At the beginning of Thursday's meeting there is a public question time. The Barnet bloggers have tabled a series of questions on some very sensitive subjects, which may prove to be rather uncomfortable for those on the other side of the table.

Just as a taster, here is Mrs Angry's contribution:

1.What controls and procedures does Barnet Council have in place to manage the risks of conflicts of interest - and the perception of conflicts of interest - inherent in the appointment and secondment of Senior Officers to and from organisations with which the Council has, has had or is likely to have, commercial relationships?
2.Has Internal Audit evaluated and evidenced the operation of these controls?
3.Is the Committee satisfied that all conflicts (and perceived conflicts) of interests are registered and open to inspection (by at least the Committee) and that, for conflicted individuals, a transparent system of recusal/disqualification is in operation?

4.Is the Committee aware of a recent case involving a senior officer who has recently taken up a post with one of the four shortlisted companies competing for £750 million of council services due to be outsourced to the private sector, having reportedly taken part in the tender process involving the same companies? Can the committee confirm that this case has been evaluated and found to represent no conflict of interest or breach of any regulations relating to the procurement of council contracts? If so, in view of the public interest issues raised, and of the need to be open and transparent in regard to such procedures, can the committe explain why this does not represent any conflict of interest or breach of regulations?

... should be an interesting evening, I think, don't you?


Mr Mustard said...

No wonder they time limit the questions Mrs A. Your questions are too good. Mr Reasonable has also weighed in with a few I believe. Should set the time for what we expect from the Audit Committe. Some audit with real teeth.

Recusal! - blimey. Good of you to continue with my free education.

Would a councillor notice such a word in the middle of a committee report? I think that you could put this in the middle of a report "You are a useless individual and you should go home to bed without any supper" and they would all vote for it.

Mrs Angry said...

well, yes, you know, what can I say? Audit is my thing: accountancy, financial consultancy. Just comes naturally.
(Actually I borrowed Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers' copy of the Dummy's Guide to Audit and Counting Paperclips. He hasn't noticed it's gone missing yet.)
I was amused by Cllr Rams wondering the other day why any blogger would want to 'troll' as he put it, through boring documents: this underlines how our lazy councillors view the reports they are supposed to read but clearly can't be bothered to.

Rog T said...

Re Rams comments. We don't want to. We're lumbered because the people who get paid to can't be bothered. We do it for free out of a sense of public spiritedness in the hope of injecting some sanity and reason into the process.

Sadly after writing a blog for 3 1/2 years about these idiots, the only exciting words Baarnett will find on my blog contain four letters.

As for Rams, he's what the ancient Norseman may refer to as a Typpio (excuse the spelling)