Friday, 27 April 2012

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.



Mr Mustard said...

Mr Reasonable does know more about the workings of the council than many councillors. Could this be related to the fact that he actually reads the entire audit committee papers and then has a think?

baarnett said...

I am reminded of the well-known (1950s?) Walt Disney film, of lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff, to their certain death.

In 2012, the Barnet Cabinet has no film production assistants out of shot, forcing them forward; they are doing all the cliff-jumping using the immense intellectual talents of their own.