Thursday, 1 March 2012

Friday joke: one year after MetPro, another procurement mess

Can't get the staff, these days, can you? Oh: yes, you can, if you are Barnet Council, & not bothered about the finer points of procurement, contractual compliance etc ...

Getting bored with this now.

Captain Craig Cooper, Commercial Director, here in Broken Barnet: stand to attention.

Remember MetPro? Yep.

Now think about RM Countryside. You know - elephant in the room, last Audit meeting.

No contracts, were there, in either case? Naughty Captain Cooper.

Both cases were brought to the attention of Barnet Council by the Barnet bloggers, if you recall. Still waiting for some expression of gratitude, by the way.

At the last audit committee meeting, where the second of these cases was, yes, an elephant in the room, the Chair. Libdem Councillor Lord Palmer, was assured by Cooper that there were no more non compliant contracts in Barnet, and no further payments going to companies known to have be in non compliant 'arrangements'.

Oh dear.

A few weeks ago, Captain Cooper, Mrs Angry was just wandering up the road, on her way to Waitrose, thinking about this and that, when her attention was drawn, at the top of Long Lane, to some particularly ugly planting being shoved in two flower beds, with undue haste, by some workmen with clearly no grasp of the aesthetic considerations of landscape gardening.

Mrs Angry is a keen gardener herself, and the sight of such horrible planting offended her deeply. She noted with interest that the work was being done by a private company, Iris Gardening Services Ltd. Oh, thought Mrs Angry. No more in house gardening, then for Barnet Council. I wonder how much this company is paid for creating this interesting horticultural display?

When Mrs Angry came home, she remembered to go and look the company up in the online council expenditure listings. They seemed to be in receipt of some rather generous payments, in fact. And then, of course, she tried to find out if the company had some sort of contract which was available for inspection. Any mention anywhere? No.

Eventually she decided it would be necessary to make a Freedom of Information request about this company. For some reason, despite reminders, no acknowledgement was sent, and the response did not arrive within the required period. Never mind, Mrs Angry made a nuisance of herself until something did arrive, a lovely set of spreadsheets detailing payments from 2005 to 2011, which explained that Barnet spends more than £100,000 a year with this company, and which was accompanied by a very, very short reply to the following question:

Please tell me if there is a contract with this company, when it was signed, and send me a copy.

The reply was so short, in fact, that Mrs Angry missed it the first time she looked at the response:

There is no contract in place with this organisation.

No contract. And yet, a year after the MetPro scandal uncovered a pervasive culture of corporate incompetence at Barnet Council, in relation to the management of contracts and procurement here they are, in clear breach of their own regulations, new action plans, and all the rest of the promises they made, still chucking money, lots of money - our money - at a long term supplier of services, but in a casual arrangement, and presumably without being subject to tender.

And look at the types of payments being made. Some rather mysterious, and many of the later ones rather vague in terms of detail. Early payments are more detailed, and most interesting.

  • £195 Kings close asbestos 25/5/2006
  • £1,895 to 'tidy flowerbed' 8.11/2006
  • £495 'frog bin' 18/12/2006
  • many payments for unspecified 'various works' eg £4,220 26/4/2011
  • more than £8,000 worth of payments for 'various works' at Victoria Park paid on 17/03/2011
  • £245 for 'bins & things' 22/3/2010
  • £305 for 'supply various items' 8/3/2011
  • £7,825 for 'Dollis Valley Green Walk signage installation' (wow - lot of money ... was that covered by Boris' handout?)
Oh, and :
  • £47,384 for playground inspections, 2011/12
Wonder what that entailed? About £1,000 a week for that, anyway. Don't the parks staff do that sort of thing?

You will note that the list of payments stops in July 2011.

If Mrs Angry was an empty headed blogger, she might be persuaded by this that within weeks of the MetPro audit in June, the council stopped using this company, or arranged the proper procurement and tendering process which is meant to be in place, prior to the signing of a contract.

Erm, well, no: because the online expenditure for January clearly shows that this company was and is still working for Barnet Council - as Mrs Angry saw for herself only weeks ago. Mrs Angry is unsure, therefore, why her FOI response would appear to have the consequent payments missing.

Mrs Angry is entirely sure, of course, that all of the work paid for was completed properly, and honestly, and that there were more detailed specifications scrutinised and checked by council officers. But if there was no contract ... what measurement of satisfaction for the services and goods supplied was there?

And if officers were monitoring the work, why have none of them pointed out to Captain Cooper that there is no contract? Why has Captain Cooper not checked for himself that no six figure annual payments are being made to any company without a proper contract?

Who has been authorising these payments, and why have the new procedures that exist in these fabulous action plans that the senior management team are always telling us are in place not picked up the continued use of a company with whom the council has a non compliant arrangement?

And last, but not least: what has happened to the concept of member oversight? Who is the Cabinet member responsible for Environment? Step forward our favourite Tory councillor, Brian Coleman. Councillor Coleman normally micro manages everything that comes under his remit, within a millimetre of its life. How can he not have checked to see if if his beloved parks, those greenspaces which are going to deliver him untold riches in revenue from corporate hospitality when he hires them out for private use, are being cared for by a properly tendered service, with a compliant contract?

It's exactly a year now, since the infamous MetPro meeting which led to the uncovering of a staggering depth of failure in the management of contracts and procurement by Barnet Council.

Here we are, in March 2012, deep into the process of two competitive dialogues for the massive One Barnet outsourcing of our council services, and yet again the senior management team have been shown to be simply unable to organise the most basic adminstrative and legal requirements of a fundamental part of the authority's commercial undertakings.

How many more cases of non compliance are there?

Following on recent revelations of undeclared conflicts of interests, the movement of staff to tendering companies, the suspension of staff for allegedly breaching procurement regulations in relation to the formation of a private company, and so many other serious issues of public interest raised by the outsourcing process, it frankly defies belief that the Leader of the Tory group and his cabinet cannot see the need to call a halt, and examine in detail the extent of the whole sorry mess before proceeding any further with the One Barnet folly.

Mrs Angry doubts if any of our dopey Tory councillors understand the meaning of the term fiduciary duty, and they most certainly have no moral sense of responsibility,but perhaps just one or two of them will grasp the disaster that is going to happen if we go any further with this reckless course of private sector outsourcing, without at least first getting our own house of fun in some sort of order.

Mrs Angry is a keen gardener, and a dedicated citizen journalist.

Have a nice weekend, Captain Cooper x


Mr Mustard said...

Prepared to be shocked Mra Angry, on second thoughts you have a high shock capacity now when it comes to Barnet Council, but to handle asbestos you need a proper licence and there is a website one can search for a suitable contractor

and, sit down now, yes you guessed it, IRIS are not listed.

Why do you suppose my moles refer to Craig Cooper as Captain Chaos?

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, indeed, and let's hope the person who may have been lumbered with any removal was not exposed to any contamination.

I've noticed some readers coming from the 'Notomob' website, and one made a comment about the inspection of playgrounds, saying:

"The inspection is a ROSPA inspection and is definatly not a thousand pounds for a site, this has to be done by somebody trained to do an inspection not sure if its yearly or six monthly, our parish council has paid for a councilor to do the course so we now do it in house but I think the cost of someone to do it is about £600~£700.
Any council employee could do it and anyone can see for thereself how a big chunk of £47000 could be saved."

Not sure how accurate this is, but it does seem rather a lot of money, does it not?

baarnett said...

If you were to mention the phrase "fiduciary duty" to Brian Coleman, he would book himself up for doing some, and want an hourly allowance for doing it.