Saturday 28 April 2012

Mrs Angry's Party Political Broadcast

Mrs Angry has returned, dripping wet, but full of cheer, from today's pop-up people's library in Friern Barnet.

Despite the rain, the event was just as well attended as the previous two occasions, and BBC One Show spent the morning filming the activities and interviewing campaigners for an item to be shown on Friday night.

three men in waxed jackets: the Barnet Bugle, Barnet Eye, Andrew Dismore
the people's library

Also present was our Labour candidate for the GLA elections, Andrew Dismore, who has always actively supported the campaign to save the library, and indeed Mrs Angry last spoke to him outside the library on the day of the occupation. Andrew made a brief speech, asking for support from not just Labour voters, but every resident who is, like all of us, unable to stomach the thought of another four years of Brian Coleman.

Andrew Dismore asks for your vote

This is going to be a very interesting week, here in Broken Barnet, and Camden, for residents, and for the current Assembly member.

Never before, Mrs Angry would guess, has there been a more unpopular candidate standing for the Conservative party in London.

Coleman has managed to alienate huge swathes of the electorate just by, well, just as a natural result of being himself. Of course he was himself in the previous two GLA elections, but not quite so much himself as he is now, and this is where it has all gone so awfully wrong.

Being Brian Coleman, in the last couple of years, has been an undertaking that has now gone well beyond the bounds of well, frankly pretty outrageous behaviour, into new, unchartered territories of folly and self indulgence. Seemingly unable to foresee the consequences of his own actions, and indeed, with no evident signs of any emotional intelligence, Brian has delivered himself into the place where he is now, detested by huge numbers of constituents, a laughing stock - vulnerable.

Truly vulnerable, not one of 'these people', the residents for whose needs he so clearly has nothing but contempt, but out in the wilderness, with no dignity left, no real friends, his own colleagues secretly praying for his downfall.

With perfect timing, the local press abounds with Coleman stories: the complaint made to the council by a resident who claims he swore at him at a recent council meeting. The allegation that he, the architect of the infamous new parking scheme misused his own free permit in order to avoid the payment system every resident is now obliged to use. The outrage by Finchley traders' representative Helen Michael, who has campaigned with magnificent determination against the catastrophic parking policy he has foisted on this borough. The long letter in the Ham & High from various local organisations listing their objections to his remaining in office.

Helen Michael is now being targeted by Barnet Council - under orders from, well - who knows - for daring to distribute a poster which links Coleman to the 'murder' of Barnet's high streets.

the poster which Brian doesn't like. Ahh. Shame.

Someone complained to the police about this poster, but the police have found no reason to pursue any investigation, and have not intervened, other than to advise Ms Michael to list the necessary publishing details on the poster. Despite this, Barnet Council has summoned Helen to a meeting to 'discuss' her actions in relation to the poster. Ms Michael is not bowing to any pressure to stop her campaign, and Mrs Angry salutes her courage, and indefatigability. Brian: boy, have you picked on the wrong woman this time ....

Rumour has it, incidentally, that last night a certain sweet shop in High Barnet was visited by a certain Assembly member keen to know why the shop was exhibiting a poster with his picture on it. Rumour has it that ... well, oh dear, never mind, but believe me, Mrs Angry is still laughing about it ... One down, how many hundreds to go, Brian?

Do you still need any persuasion as to why Brian Coleman does not deserve to be returned to his seat on the London Assembly?

If so, Mrs Angry suggests you pay a visit to Mr John Baldy's website, where he is carefully listing 101 reasons why this must not be allowed to happen. He has reached number 80, at the time of writing.

There has never been a better oppportunity for freeing the citizens of Broken Barnet from the curse of Brian Coleman.

But please, do not sit back and take this for granted. Brian Coleman still has a weapon at his disposal: the apathy and complacency of voters who may feel it is not necessary for them to stand up and be counted, and make the effort to visit the polling station on May 3rd.

Don't think Coleman's defeat is a foregone conclusion. It isn't.

Although there is a huge groundswell of anger and opposition to him, this feeling has to be expressed through the ballot box, or it is a complete waste of time. Unless you want another four years of Coleman, do your duty, and make sure you vote him out.

There is only one way of making sure this happens: vote for who you like, for Mayor, but on the yellow form, please: make sure you vote for Andrew Dismore. Dismore is the only candidate who can defeat him - a vote for anyone else will restore Coleman to his seat. You may not be a Labour supporter - but you need to vote tactically at this election, and do the right thing for us all.

Andrew Dismore on his soap box in Friern Barnet making final plea for votes from The Barnet Bugle Ltd on Vimeo.

In Mrs Angry's view, Andrew Dismore deserves to be elected because he is a decent man, and will be a conscientious, hard working representative of the people he serves. Serving the electorate is not an aspiration we can easily associate with the present Assembly member, a man who will not engage in debate with residents, or take part in political hustings. It's time for a change.

lucky Andrew Dismore: officially endorsed by a very wet Mrs Angry

We all know people who need to be persuaded to make the effort to go and vote. Many people will imagine that everyone else will sort it out, and that their vote doesn't matter. It does.

It's less than a hundred years since the majority of citizens were given the right to vote - for women this right was something which was particularly hard won, by brave women of the type we see in Helen Michael, and those involved in the nascent pro democracy movement here in Broken Barnet.

Please make sure that everyone you know exercises their democratic right and votes this Thursday, and helps to do their duty, by removing Brian Coleman from office, and replacing him with someone who deserves the honour of serving our community.

four more years of this?

Nah. Come on: step up & vote him out on May 3rd.

*Update Monday:

Mr John Baldy has now completed the complilation of his 101 reasons to #sackbrian coleman, and has thoughtfully provided a useful index for easy reference:

Please take a look, and pass on the word. It has clearly been a labour of ... well, a kind of love. A love of justice, liberty and democracy.

Mr Baldy is now officially a hero of the downtrodden classes of Broken Barnet, and receives Mrs Angry's highest commendation.

Now make sure you do your duty, go out on Thursday, vote for Andrew Dismore, and the residents of Barnet and Camden of the troublesome burden of Brian Coleman.

thanks to Julia Hines for most of the photos

Friday 27 April 2012

Cut and Dice, Part Three

Cllr Khatri asked a question. It was a stupid question.

It was not the most stupid question of the evening.

Councillor Old's questions, as it happens, were in a class of their own, and demonstrated how completely out of touch with events he is - and indeed how ill informed the average backbench Tory councillor is.

Tory councillors in Barnet ask lots of stupid questions at committee meetings, in fact: this is usually because they cannot be bothered to read the reports, and so, in order to look as if they give a shit, and are masters of their game, and know what's what, they will skim the pages, note something that looks vaguely incorrect, or questionable, and use it to form a question and help them to appear on the ball, and in charge, and fulfilling the role of scrutiny. This practise does not fool Mrs Angry, who is not completely averse to pulling the same trick herself, in some circumstances.

Usually this sort of question will be something really trivial, such as a typo: a misspelt word, a missing word. Councillor Andrew Harper gets very annoyed by mistakes that cast doubt on his own status, for example: he once kicked up the most enormous fuss at a meeting over a page in a report on some sensitive issue which happened to have incorrectly named his title at the time. Back then, Cllr Harper was deputy leader, with naked aspirations to become Leader. As we know now, sadly, since then his portfolio has rather diminished in size.

Item 8 on the Agenda was the Internal Audit Progress Report 2011-12 Quarter 3 & 4.

Some heads of service were there to report to the committee, or at least to answer any questions they may have had. Some heads of service. Some left the dirty work to underlings, (or blamed underlings who were not present), and neatly escaped their moment in the firing line.

First up was Paul Bragg, from Highways, who was there in place of Mrs Angry and Councillor Coleman's favourite interim director, Ms Pam Wharfe.

Poor Mr Bragg had a hard time, quite unfairly, having to defend an action that was entirely the responsibility of more senior officers. There was a dispute over the management of two contracts, worth a mere £30 million, which was merged at some point, although there was apparently no audit trail to produce the evidence for this merger. Labours' Cllr Cooke was exasperated by this situation, and kept at the issue, like a dog with a bone. Why was there no audit trail? What happened to the missing minutes?

Indeed: what did happen to the missing minutes?

Bill Murphy next sat in the seat of shame. Libraries have limited assurance now. Why is this? Bill referred to the political difficulties associated with libraries in BarnetBill thought it would be good if libraries were taken under the One Barnet process. Yes, volunteered Mrs Angry, to Mr Reasonable, that'll help ... .... and then came an interesting admission from Mr Murphy. The capital cost of the new library that has been theoretically promised by Rams - they don't know what it will be, apparently. So how can it be that the closure of Friern Barnet Library was deemed necessary, in order to pay for a theoretical 'landmark' library that does not exist, even in the planning stages?

Next up Jay Mercer, from Childrens Services. And here was a truly shocking revelation, courtesy of Craig Cooper. There has been a serious concern raised over the issue of secure passwords on the system used to access information about child protection cases. In short, the system is not sufficiently secure, which raises all sorts of safeguarding issues. Yet this report was incorrectly signed off, seemingly without being checked by the Director, ie Cooper. He deftly shifted the responsibility for this to a less senior officer.

Lord Palmer lost his temper.

He pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that he had read his way through the bundle of reports, and therefore so should Cooper, the head of service. He really was very cross. And so he should be.

It was with some ill concealed fury that he dismissed Cooper's half hearted attempt at explanation and curtly moved the meeting on.

Palmer is undoubtedly the best Chair of any of the committees: unfailingly courteous, thoughtful, and fair, to members, officers and the public: the fact that he expressed such disapproval so publicly, and with such force, is significant. If only someone had been so forceful with the senior management team at an earlier stage in the sequence of unfortunate events that have created the massive outsourcing folly that is One Barnet, we might not be facing the bleak future we now see looming on the horizon.

One Barnet may be a juggernaut heading on a collision course, but some people are still jumping on board. A new member of the senior management team, Lesley Meeks, spoke up now on the subject of 'Procurement Controls and Management Action Plan'.

Of course, we have no procurement controls, or effective management, but we like Action Plans , here in Broken Barnet, as long as we are not required to demonstrate that they work.

We decide we need them, then we think about them, then we pay an consultant a lot of money to help us think more about them, then we write a report, then we submit the report to a committee, and as long as no one reads it, it will be approved on the nod, and then we put it to one side and ignore it, but tell audit that we are travelling in the right direction with it, and then three years later we admit it is a load of shite ... and then we come up with a new Action Plan. Easy, as in easycouncil. We may not get anywhere we want to go, but if the perpetual movement keeps a few overpaid senior officers in their (interim) posts it has all been worthwhile.

Ms Meeks is new in her possibly interim post, but is confident that all is, well you know, travelling in the right direction. Hold on - we haven't had any overarching principles yet tonight ... But work is erm, ongoing. Good. Data is being cleansed. Nice. Oh, and data will be cut and diced. Or was that cut and sliced? Mrs Angry was distracted by the thought of pineapples, which are always a bugger to prepare, aren't they? And mangoes, so slippery. Blue sky thinking: risk management - buy ready sliced, from M&S. Or ready diced, better for fruit salads. Yes, Mrs Angry's mind was wandering freely at this point: three hours on, and she had easily exceeded her audit tolerance limitations.

But look: here comes a brilliant idea from Ms Meeks, incorporating another favourite One Barnet concept: taking ownership.

This is a term which means someone theoretically will have specific responsibilities for something, which is pretty groundbreaking stuff, isn't it? It used to be called 'a job'. You were paid to do something. Ah, I know what you are thinking: what happened if you do not do your 'job'? Well, come on, this is One Barnet. These days, if you are senior enough, and paid enough, you just blame someone else, on a lower level, and get them into trouble. Or you get paid off and taken out via the backdoor.

Ms Meeks had more good news. It may be a year since, with the assistance of the bloggers of Broken Barnet, they first identified the boundless empire of irregular, non compliant contracts with private companies, and yes, they still don't know how many there are, and have had to get permission to carry on using huge numbers of some more they have just identified, but hey ho, she has a cunning plan. Apart from giving ownership of things to people, they are going to have a 'mechanism' for all vendors to be loaded onto a system. They will also have a signing off process. Stuff like that. And it has only taken them a year to come up with these brilliant ideas.

Mrs Angry has a suggestion for Ms Meeks. She has ownership for this suggestion, but is willing to pass it over. Why not get a big notebook, and write down a list of vendors, and then get a red pen from the stationery cupboard, and go through the list and tick off the ones that you have a contract for, and then tell the ones without contracts that you think it is a good idea, and actually a legal requirement, for them to regularise their casual arrangements, whereby they tell you how much money they want for unknown services or goods, and you just hand it over?

Ah, but Captain Cooper has something to say.

He tries to persuade the committee that the continual stream of newly discovered non compliant contracts are really only in relation to care packages, which are - change of tone - 'sensitive'. (This is rubbish, of course, as the dodgy 'contracts' which were waivered recently were for all sorts of services.)

Wiping a tear from his eye, Cooper tells us that in some cases, clients have lived in their care homes for 25 years, you know ... and he implies that if Barnet was to try to regularise these arrangements, the homes would be so incensed, they would drag the poor old residents out of their beds and cruelly throw them out onto the street, there and then, and of course this would be a dreadful thing, and Captain Cooper and all of us would have that on our consciences. We wouldn't want that, would we?

Mrs Angry was overcome with remorse at ever raising any criticism of the lack of contractual controls. See, Mrs Angry, what a a terrible thing you have done. She bowed her head in shame. Thank God for Captain Cooper, and his thoughtful disregard for European rules on procurement.

Ah, except, Captain Insensible, this is the one issue which really does set Mrs Angry blazing with fury.

When Barnet Council placed her father in the care home from hell, one which consequently was closed for more than a year pending a safeguarding adults investigation by, no, not Barnet but Harrow Council, they were not in the slightest bit concerned about the state of standards, or the effect on residents.

True, the council's liason officer was scared of upsetting the management of the home, but only because they did not want to lose a source of relatively cheap placements. A contract would have ensured some basic standards of care, and monitored the provision of value for money. It would have held the home to some requirement to be accountable. The lack of any regularisation of such care has most definitely, in my view enabled the widespread practices of neglect and abuse that is prevalent in care homes, as we have been reminded this week.

This is the real cost of outsourcing, and the private provision of care, and services which affect so many residents in need. Without the safeguards determined by procurement regulations and proper compliance with those regulations, the human cost is intolerable.

Here in Broken Barnet, the result of failure in areas like procurement appear to matter to those responsible only in virtual terms, as theoretical risks, or at the very worst, presenting a couple of hours of discomfort in an audit committee meeting.

It might be better for all of us if the most highly paid senior officers in the country remembered that their failures have real consequences for the residents of this borough, and will continue to do so for years, long after they have cleared off out of here, probably into very nice positions in the private sector. As to the Tory councillors: perhaps one day soon, before it really is too late, they will step up and, yes, take ownership of the trust placed with them by the electors of this borough, this constituency, and stop the reckless dismantling of our council services being pushed through with such determination by the senior management team.

But oh, Mrs Angry, that's never going to happen, is it?

Cut and Dice ... Audit meeting, Part Two

Captain Cooper, back, far left, looking bored, auditor Paul Hughes, far right, losing the will to live

The Audit meeting began with two questions to the committee by blogger Mr Reasonable, who, although not as experienced and gifted an auditor as Mrs Angry, is quite good at adding up, and taking away, checking things to see it they are correct, and looking disgusted when he follows the trail of yet another bare faced act of deceipt, or demonstration of gross incompetence, by the senior officers and Tory councillors of Broken Barnet.

He had asked:

With only 7 of the 20 systems audits providing satisfactory assurance and 11 providing only limited assurance, does the Audit Committee Chairman believe that this is an acceptable

The response was bla bla bla, direction of travel bla bla bla, we are not complacent, direction of travel. Bla bla bla.

Mr Reasonable sighed and tried his supplementary question. He noted that there were many promises of action to be taken which were yet to be implemented: he asked the Chair if he believed the heads of service saw such implementation as a priority. Captain Cooper, head of service, gripped his chin defensively and stared across the table.

Lord Palmer agreed that some things, such as training were not being laid out quickly enough. In fact, as reported yesterday, the required training in the necessary areas of procurement is, incredibly, not being laid out at all.

Next question:

As Audit Committee Chairman do you understand that some residents will be shocked at the continuing problems with Contract Management, that after 12 months this still only receives a limited assurance opinion and what actions are open to you as Committee Chairman to ensure
that in 12 months time we are not faced with yet another limited assurance opinion?

Guess what the response was?

... The direction of travel has continued to improve, however it is recognised that the time originally estimated to affect change in culture was understated.

Ah: a bonus there - 'direction of travel' and a reference to 'culture' which, as we know, in Broken Barnet refers not to matters of learning, or artistic endeavour, which have no material value, but is a term used to excuse any spectacular and sustained failure by management and leadership and protect the perpetrators from any responsibility for their actions. Hence at last year's infamous MetPro Audit, the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, was able to explain the total lack of control over procurement and contractual matters as due to 'culture' and not his fault, or that of any senior officer. Or Cabinet member. Or leader.

How do you affect culture? Mrs Angry is not sure. It must involve some sort of soul searching, meditation and yes, this was mentioned later, an 'holistic' approach to making everything better.

Last year Walkley's holistic approach was presented in the form of an 'action plan' which, we were assured, would cure all ills and bring new life to the ailing body of Barnet's commercial enterprises. Mr Reasonable pointed out that this action plan simply is not working, as he had predicted, and was it not time for a new plan entirely?

The Chair thought that we need to look on the problem as an annual project, with service areas examined individually. After the June committee meeting, however, if certain areas were still not progressing he would like - and here a steely glint appeared in his eye - to 'invite' the relevant Cabinet members to come to the committee and address these concerns.

Captain Cooper looked in horror at the Chair and started twiddling frantically with his pen.

In fact, it seemed last night that Captain Cooper has taken over from Mr Paul Hughes in the competition for the most displacement activity performed in one council meeting.

This frantic fidgeting fits uneasily with his otherwise controlled and wary image - he is the sort of metrosexual, overly well groomed man who wouldn't look entirely out of place in the window of Austin Reed, or maybe John Lewis. I'm trying to avoid the use of the word dummy, as I don't want to keep repeating the same jokes.

His so far unsuccessful attempt to take hold of the complexities of procurement and contractual management might suggest that he would in fact be much happier standing in the window of Austin Reed, or John Lewis, or perhaps walking the floor: Captain Peacock rather than Captain Insensible. Mrs Angry sat watching him last night, wondering what regiment he served in when he was in the army. French Foreign Legion? Too sweaty. Catering corps? Too intellectually demanding.

Yes, back to the meeting. Bribery was the item up next. Good news.

There is none in Broken Barnet - no, really - stop laughing in the back. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, and when you are asked to investigate say, the use of an illegally operating company over a number of years allowed, despite the acknowledgement that there should be a tender process and a contract, to continue having money thrown at it, well, just say there is no need for an investigation - simple.

And of course there has been no attempt at bribery, or the use of any sort of reward to any individual or individuals involved in the current competitive dialogue process, or any allegations of any such attempts, and therefore no investigation has been instigated.

And councillors, who are also subject to the new bribery act, are in Broken Barnet entirely honourable, declare their interests entirely in line with statutory and local requirements, and do not need to be investigated.

Mmm. Captain Cooper was asked by Councillor Rayner about bribery in relation to contracts, which of course does not happen, has never happened, and will never happen. Oh, no, actually he could think of one case four years ago, but that was before his time. And when Rayner stated that of course this contractor would no longer be used by the council, Cooper appeared, rather incredibly, to be unsure, seemingly not in the slightest bit bothered, and he said with a shrug that these things were decided on a case by case basis ...

Mr Paul Hughes and his colleague from Grant Thornton stared at the floor, like Laurel and Hardy in a particularly downbeat moment. Mrs Angry shook her head in disbelief.

Item 7 was about risk management, or to be exact - Internal Audit, Risk Management and Corporate Anti-Fraud Team (CAFT) Annual Plan for 2012-13.

Mr Reasonable had arranged to speak to the item with a five minute address. His attack on the complacency of the council towards the enormous risks presented by One Barnet and the massive outsourcing was simply brilliant: everyone in the room listened carefully, some with clear discomfort, and others with open admiration. In short, as usual he raised the sort of points and asked the sort of questions which the councillors should have been asking, but did not.

It was painfully clear last night that yet again, the majority of councillors who are paid generously to take part in the committee process simply cannot be bothered properly to inform themselves of the full details and implications of the issues they decide or scrutinise. Some of them are intellectually incapable: others are too lazy to read the reports and think through the consequences of the policies they endorse.

There was, said Mr R, an enormous gap in this plan, one which represents a significant risk, at a time of radical change, as we move so many services over to the private sector, yet the reports bear only passing reference to the One Barnet programme.

CAFT is silent on the subject. But who is going to ask about the future of audit rights and responsibilities, for example, under the new contractual arrangements?

What about procurement: will Internal Audit have right of access when the new One Barnet contracts are working?

If say, Capita (and at this point, Mrs Angry noted with interest, Mr Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance briefly exhibited a rare look of, yes, amusement ...) if Capita wins the contract, and has operations all over the country, and perhaps overseas too, what about the logistics of maintaining proper scrutiny and input into the audit and other processes?

Have any of them examined how they are going to interact with the outsourced service providers?

What about Grant Thornton: have you given any advice?

Why is there no report on this issue?

The audit committee was sitting in isolation, and in the meanwhile, there was a clear and worrying failure to plan for the future.

Councillor Schama agreed with Mr Reasonable. We must retain complete control of these processes, he declared. Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable stared at him. Too late, we both mouthed in his direction. Because it is: far too late, for the Tory backbenchers now to get cold feet and start laying down conditions they should have put in place way, way before now. They really have no grasp of what they have done, what they have failed to do, and what will happen as a result of their laziness, irresponsiblity and lack of interest.

Once the public realises the full extent of what they have done, and the impact of outsourcing begins to hit home, many of the doltish Tory councillors who have endorsed the policy will find themselves voted out of office anyway. The mood of residents is bad now: imagine what it will be when the council services are being run by unaccountable private companies.

If you are reading this, doltish Tory councillors, Mrs Angry has something for you to consider.

She can exclusively reveal that the company most likely to win the most services is reported to have come third in the scoring for quality, when the relevant assessments were made. This means that all the assurances made by the council that quality of service for residents is so vital is a load of shite, and that the obsession with unacheivable 'savings' has won yet again over the duty to protect us from a clearly unavoidable deterioration in standards of care. And when that happens, as it will, there will be nothing, effectively, that you or I or any councillor will be able to do about it.

Returning to the item, Cllr Schama, watched by an increasingly rattled Maryellen Salter, head of internal audit, asked - do we have the resources in place to protect the borough?

Lord Palmer also was worried by the lack of resources, although he was pleased that audit now had the extra support from PWC to assist them.

The head of internal audit and Captain Cooper made unconvincing responses, in their different ways, Ms Salter stoutly defensive of her work, Cooper mouthing platitudes. Schama asked Grant Thornton to comment.

Mr Hughes thought he was 'sufficiently comfortable' that assurances were in place, but provision within contracts must be addressed at this stage, and resourcing kept under review. Mrs Angry thought that in audit speak this probably meant FFS sort out the contracts properly, you fecking eejits and maybe, go on, have a bit of a plan for resourcing, and DON'T COCK THIS UP LIKE YOU HAVE WITH EVERYTHING ELSE ... but perhaps she was being over imaginative.


Cut and dice: Mrs Angry audits the auditors. Eventually. Part One.

Sigh. I do not want to write this. It's bad enough I had to sit through it all, and now I have to think about it again, and that is just too much. And I have a headache, thanks to Mr Gerrard Roots, curator of the now closed Church Farmhouse Museum, and fellow blogger Mr Mustard both plying me with drink last night. But here you go.

Mrs Angry arrived early for last night's Audit committee meeting, and therefore wandered into the library next door to the Town Hall, where she - please take note, Councillor Rams, this is how it works - where she looked at some books, and a display on Charles Dickens and his connections with the borough, which reminded her that while she was at the Dickens Exhibition at the Museum of London, the other day, (very good, go and see) she had thought with a pang of regret how nice it would have been to have an exhibition on the same theme here, in Broken Barnet, if only the Church Farmhouse Museum had not been shut & put up for sale by well, by you Robert Rams, in fact.

Yes I know that is a long sentence but I can't be bothered with punctuation this morning. Except: damn, I can't quite help myself.

Anyway, then, Robert Rams ... then: Mrs Angry borrowed a book. No, really - it's quite the thing, you know, reading. You must try it some time, before all the libraries are closed & Amazon runs out of books. What did she borrow? Nothing by Mills & Boon, your favourite publishers, because she still has a copy of 'Beth and the Barbariian', from the pop up People's Library ( on again tomorrow for all interested*see below) to linger over.

Beth looked at Uzziah. He was wearing the black silk pantaloons and black leather bolero he'd worn the first day she'd arrived, though without the cummerband this time. (Mrs Angry likes a man in black silk pantaloons, don't you ladies? Shame about the cummerband, though.) Uzziah looked deep into her eyes, his glittering black eyes showing how much he desired her. Not that she didn't know that already. She could feel the evidence brushing against her thighs.

Goodness me. Clearly he did bring his cummerband after all.

But anyway: no, as Mrs Angry has no heart, and does not believe in happy ever afters, she has given up on love and romance and turned to reading more worthy literature. And knitting. And she found an interesting book last night on - get this, Robert Rams - on the subject of listening. 'Sinister Resonance', the mediumship of the listener, by David Toop. The idea being that sound is a form of haunting, a ghost, a presence, something that is, and is not, of this world.

Difficult concept, listening, and hearing, especially here in Broken Barnet, where our elected representatives keep their hands over their ears, and the only discernible sound is the whimpering of the world ending, as the One Barnet apocalypse draws ever near.

As she left the library, two interesting things caught Mrs Angry's wandering attention. She spotted the dandy like figure of Barnet's commercial director, Captain Craig Cooper, the genius who has presided, and still presides, over what passes for our procurement and contractual processes, here in Broken Barnet, staring up at Hendon Library and pointing things out to a companion. Mrs Angry's heart sunk: he had the air of a suburban estate agent showing a new property to a potential buyer. Is Captain Insensible now thinking about flogging off this library too? Or has he just found the bill for it stuck down the back of his filing cabinet, along with the one for North London Business Park, as noted in last night's audit?

As she left the library, Mrs Angry noted, above the door, a latin inscription.

"Non minima pars eruditionis est bonos nosse libros"

Not the least part of erudition is to be acquainted with good books, see, Robert? Not sure what the latin for not the least part of philistinism is to prefer to shut libraries and museums and sell them for development rather than value them as repositories of learning and culture, but no doubt there is a motto somewhere that will fit nicely above the door, when you flog off the next one.

Ok, I have put it off as much as possible. The Audit meeting, then.

Who did we have? Chair, Libdem councillor Lord Palmer. Only one opposition councillor, Geff Cooke. Tories: Hugh Rayner, bit late, looking for somewhere to park, probably. No permit anymore, as you know. Remind us why, Hugh? Given back to Mr Lustig? Did you say sorry? Tut, bad boy. You too, Brian? No? Who is this in the film, then? Your twin brother, the bad one, the one that Lynton Crosby keeps in the cellar? Mmm.

Please remember you are here to present an audit, Mrs Angry, and be serious. Yes. So also there were Tory Cllr Khatri and Mayor Elect Brian Schama. And there, right there, at the far end of the room, gazing fondly at Mrs Angry ... the external auditor, from Grant Thornton, Mr Paul Hughes.

Mr Paul Hughes is an old colleague of Mrs Angry's, of course: in fact, she has taught him everything there is to know about audit, although he does not like to admit it. She has also taught him, or so it appeared from last night, to stop fidgeting with his pens at public meetings, which can be something of a distraction, as you can imagine.

Mr Hughes, it would appear, has been receiving advice from Rupert and James Murdoch's body language coach on how to behave when attending a crucially important committee and trying to look relaxed, not at all cross and entirely innocent of any blame.

So - no funny business with his pens, as far as Mrs Angry could tell, anyway, although he did leave the room half way through the meeting. And he was wearing a rather striking, and slightly disturbingly flesh pink tie, which came in for some sly fondling during the more awkward parts of the evening's entertainment.

Oh look: it's lunchtime. Will stop there for now. More later: warning - may contain audit content.

* People's Library 11-1pm tomorrow, outside Friern Barnet Library - and rumour has it the BBC's One Show is coming too ... please come and support the Barnet fightback against our idiotic Tory council. I might even give back Beth & the Barbarian, if you do. Form a queue, ladies.

Thursday 26 April 2012

The Road to Hell, or: The Direction of Travel - another Audit meeting

The direction of travel: where we are now

As anyone who has followed the course of events here in Broken Barnet over the last year or so will know, in the aftermath of the MetPro scandal, the state of procurement, contractual procedures and other financial systems used by our hapless council were found to be in a state of almost total collapse, with no control over the management of the administration's commercial relationships with private service providers. Many millions of tax payers' money has been paid to these companies without contracts, tendering processes, or proper payment arrangements. Remember the One Barnet motto? Better services for less money? Just tell me, Mr Walkley, and members of the Tory Cabinet - how the fuck would you know?

The scale of the incompetence uncovered by the Metpro audit is hard to explain: an undertaking to assess the number of irregular relationships was made last year, but as consequent events have shown, it really would have been much simpler to have compiled a list of arrangements which were properly compliant. This list, Mrs Angry imagines, could have been written on the back of a used envelope. Probably a used brown envelope, rescued from the back of someone's trouser pocket.

Over the last year, the Barnet bloggers have continued to point out numbers of non compliant contracts still being used by Barnet Council, and still it goes on - you may remember that Mrs Angry asked questions about this very subject at a Cabinet Resources meeting only the other week, at which our Tory councillors approved the necessary waivers needed to continue some of these cosy irregular arrangements - why? Because to sort the mess out would endanger the speedy progress of the £1 billion massive outsourcing scam which is being imposed on this borough.

In case you do not understand this programme, it means that every service the council provides will be handed over to global companies like BT or Capita to make profit from. This means services ranging from care of your disabled child, your elderly mother, or perhaps, as in my case, your deceased relatives in Hendon Cemetery.

Do I sound angry? I am really angry, for once - no joking.

You might reasonably think, I would suggest, that a senior management team and political leadership which has allowed the procurement mess to occur and has singularly failed to put it right in over a year simply is incapable of overseeing the sell off of all our council services to the private sector. And if you thought that, you would be right.

At last week's Full Council meeting, Mrs Angry was struck by a more than usually evident display of exasperation by Libdem councillor Lord Palmer, who twice expressed anger over the council's clear lack of committment to complying properly with its duties in relation to procurement and the audit process. Pretty strong, coming from the man who is in fact, Chair of the Audit Committee.

There is another Barnet Audit Committee meeting tonight, and the contents of the reports going to the meeting explain why Monroe Palmer is feeling quite so exasperated.

Mr Reasonable has written about the items for discussion in some detail here and Mrs Angry has taken a look at the agenda too.

Look at the list of services which still have limited assurance - including parking, contract management, libraries and facilities management.

Contract management officers, for example, have still not received management training. As we learn:

• All officers interviewed confirmed that they had not received contract management training in the past two years;

• Officers queried about contract variations were unclear about the specific Contract Procedure Rules (CPR) requirements for variations confirming a need for development / training in this area.

• Officers interviewed for 5 of 6 contracts confirmed the lack of a formal contract risk log, documenting risks relating to contractor delivery and performance. This was consistent with a review of the JCAD risk register (the Council’s risk management system) which did not consistently reflect risks relating to performance and delivery by therelevant contractor. In particular, there was no documented risk in JCAD for review and assessment linked to the
decision to cease monthly progress meetings (including KPI discussion) for the one contractor with an annual value of £30m.

• Officers interviewed for 5 of the 6 contracts confirmed that there were no formal documented business continuity plans to address delivery failure by the contractor (although some officers stated that informal business continuity arrangements existed)

• There was not always formal record of meetings held reflecting KPI output and discussions, and resulting actions that were agreed within the meetings;

• The management and the officer responsible for the administration of the EPR contracts register confirmed that central EPR processes for identifying contract management arrangements in the contracts register and reviewing for compliance were planned but had not been implemented;

• Central EPR processes for using the contracts register for the timely assistance of contract managers in initiating procurement for terminating contracts were planned but had not been developed, this had however been partly mitigated by the Council-wide work on the central contracts register and Forward Plan that resulted;

• The documentation of formal procedures/protocols for the administration of the EPR contracts register was planned but had not been completed;

• Arrangements for identifying variations to contracts needed to be developed and implemented; and

• Instances where noted where purchase orders were not raised prior to the invoice.

What else?

Oh good news, they are going to shut the stable door now that the horses have safely bolted to pastures new, and introduce a bribery policy. Good, well done.

Erm - a few housekeeping issues ... someone forgot to pay the rent. For the council. At NLBP - for some of the of the offices they use.

Or, oh dear, sign the lease.

Easily done.

Priority 1 recommendations

Management should liaise with the leaseholder to authorise and sign the lease for Building 1 Lower Ground Floor.

Management should review all leases to identify any unbilled amounts, and liaise with the leaseholder to calculate a final amount payable.

and agreed action dates

Management Response
All necessary authorities are now in place for Officers to complete the outstanding lease.
To be implemented by June 2012

Good idea, says Mrs Angry. Or: Mr Walkley, Mr Travers and Mr Cooper could all hold hands hide behind the sofa when the rent man comes calling.

Except, ha ha, don't be silly, Mrs Angry: as the leaseholders are the Comer Brothers, no need to worry. They are good landlords, as we know.

What else ... oh dear, Councillor Coleman, yet again your relentless drive for efficiency is slipping up over the implementation of your popular new parking scheme: look here -

• There is not currently a formal service level agreement between the Customer Service Organisation (CSO) and the Parking Service.

• Within our audit sample there were instances where the daily cash-up reconciliation were not independently checked and evidenced as such.

• There are currently unexplained differences between the parking system and SAP income reconciliations which have not been followed up promptly or resolved.

Unexplained differences? Dear me.

Perhaps the most serious observation from these reports is this conclusion on the subject of procurement controls:

A further five medium priority issues were noted in the work performed against the Procurement Controls and Monitoring Action Plan. These are summarised below:

• New contracts: 20% of our sample of new contracts tested could not be verified as compliant with CPRs. This was because the contracts could not be obtained/located.

• Existing contracts: 10% of our sample of contracts tested were still non-compliant, despite being recorded as compliant. Additionally, 80% of contracts within our sample were waived in order to become compliant. Whilst the option to waive is in accordance with the CPRs, this should be used as an exception to the rule; the Council should consider whether the CPRs provide the necessary framework to enable compliance, however training should start to address knowledge gaps across services.

• New vendors: In 80% of the sample of cases we tested there was not an appropriate level of
authorisation evidenced and recorded on the new vendor form. Of these, 62% were not authorised through the correct form, rather this was achieved by email.

• Corporate Oversight: There are limitations with the reporting in place for the completeness of the contracts register, meaning management cannot easily assess their data spend for the current financial year, it currently covers 3 year historical spend but doesn’t indicate where there is current spend. Additionally, there are still some contracts not added to the corporate repository for contracts without valid reasons.

So, there you go.

Apart from that, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton, my pen twiddling external auditor friend, everything in the Garden is fecking wonderful, as usual.

Any comments?

Probably not.

Mr Reasonable has submitted two questions to the committee tonight. One is addressed to the Chair himself:

ITEM 16 - Internal Audit Report Contract Procedure Rules – April 2012

2. As Audit Committee Chairman do you understand that some residents will be shocked at the
continuing problems with Contract Management, that after 12 months this still only receives a
limited assurance opinion and what actions are open to you as Committee Chairman to ensure
that in 12 months time we are not faced with yet another limited assurance opinion?


The Audit Committee have been monitoring improvement within Procurement since the Internal Audit Annual Report as far back as June 2011. Through-out that period it has been reported through internal audit and management that there has been progress against those recommendations raised. The direction of travel has continued to improve, however it is recognised that the time originally estimated to affect change in culture was understated. As the Committee has accepted the action plan as being adequate to address the concerns raised in June 2011 we welcome the Council continuing its improvement work, however we ask that further satisfactory assurances are obtained for those ‘amber’ ratings for the June 2012 Audit Committee.

So as Committee Chairman I cannot ensure that these procurement problems will not reoccur. My role and the role of this Committee is to highlight problems and promote solutions to those problems. Our role is not the administration of Barnet Council, nor are we its Public Relations officers.

The 'direction of travel' is a phrase which recurrs throughout these council reports. In One Barnet speak it refers to the uncomfortable fact that this council not only does not know where it is going, it has no idea where it is now, or where it has been in the past. In short, it does not know its arse from its elbow, and cares even less.

It is clear that as an opposition councillor, Palmer feels a deep sense of frustration and no doubt some fury over the continuing mess illustrated by the findings of these reports. As he says, his role and his sphere of influence is limited. It is the responsibility of the senior management team, and, ultimately - in theory anyway - the Tory leadership to get a grip on this appalling state of affairs, once and for all. Are they capable of doing so? Do they even want to?

As a report revealed yesterday see here Barnet Council is now top of the national list for highly paid senior council officers. Chief Executive Nick Walkley earns a cool £200,000 plus £50,000 in pension payments, and the man in charge of our finances, deputy CEO Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers earnt £206,000 last year.

Do you, citizens of Broken Barnet, think that they deserve such high reward, in the light of what we read in these reports? Do you think that this senior management team is capable of overseeing a billion pounds procurement package, when they have still not sorted out the mess of council procurement that they had not even noticed, until the Barnet bloggers pointed it out to them?

Do you trust the competence and integrity of the Tory councillors who are sitting back and allowing this situation to continue?

If you are happy with the way things are now, here in Broken Barnet, you will no doubt be flocking to the polling stations in a week's time to register your support for Brian Coleman and the Conservative candidates on the GLA.

If you have any regard for the future of this borough, however, you will be supporting Andrew Dismore next Thursday, kicking Brian Coleman out of his seat, and sending a clear message to the treacherous fools running this council: we have had enough, and we are not putting up with it anymore.