Friday, 15 June 2012

One Barnet: A Warning from History

Tory councillor Robert Rams has thoughtfully provided Mrs Angry with a supplementary Friday joke, this time not by his favoured medium of twitter, but in the form of his most amusing blog.

(Btw - note to leader Richard Cornelius: Mrs Angry occasionally is obliged to have words with Miss Angry about some of her interesting statements on twitter, especially the ones disrespecting her mother, and casting aspersions on her parenting skills: might be a good thing if you did the same with young Rams. If you know what twitter is, of course. Find a NEET and ask them, otherwise.)

Anyway. Robert is annoyed. What is he annoyed about, Mrs Angry, you must be asking? Well, thank you for asking, I will tell you, because it is just so funny.

He has been to Mill Hill mainline station, and noticed it was strewn with litter. This has so enraged Councillor Rams that he has felt moved to contact the private company in charge, First Capital Connect to complain. This is what he has to say. (I'm not going to provide the link, as I don't want to encourage him to blog and tweet when he should be shining Roger Evans' shoes and swinging his little legs in the empty chair where Brian Coleman used to have his lunchtime snooze.)

"Last week I tweeted whilst waiting at Mill Hill Broadway station about the state of the rubbish outside the station. I wrote to them to complain and below is a copy of the response I received.

They clearly claim to be doing something about it – but this was not evident when I visited.

Customer Relations
First Capital Connect
PO Box 443
Tel: 0845 0264700
Fax: 0845 6769904

Ref: 6593747

Dear Counsellor Rams (sic)

Thank you for contacting us about your experience outside the Mill Hill Broadway station on 8 June 2012. I am sorry that the standards of cleanliness did not meet your expectation and I apologise for this.

I understand that the area outside the station was not clean. Please be advised that we have invested heavily in improving the customer experience. All of our areas have a regular cleaning programme, with dedicated cleaning teams. However, I am sorry that we have let you down on this occasion. I was very disappointed to learn of the conditions that you have described and your comments have been forwarded to the Station Manager for his attention. Your feedback is important to us and highlights those areas we need to focus our attention.

Thank you once again for contacting us to bring this matter to our attention.

Yours sincerely

Manish Molasi
Customer Relations Advisor"

Oh, how Mrs Angry laughed. And then laughed some more.

Robert Rams is upset because of poor standards of service by a private company running a major rail network. He is even more upset because although, he says, the company claims to be doing something about it, it was not evident to him. Oh dear.

Cllr Rams has had an unsatisfactory 'customer experience'. He has tried to complain about it. He has had to write to the company in Plymouth, two hundred miles away. He has a response not from an employee directly responsible for the problem, but from a 'customer relations advisor'.

Councillor Robert Rams: you live in Broken Barnet, but guess what, you have just taken a journey through space and time, into another dimension altogether. It's called One Barnet.

You've been upset by a bit of rubbish outside a station. You've written to the company and what has happened? Fuck all.

Now just try to imagine the world of One Barnet, a couple of years on, a world you and your Tory colleagues want us to live in.

In the world of One Barnet, perhaps you might find yourself with a rather more serious problem.

Your elderly mother's home carer may have failed to arrive, and left her lying incontinently in her bed.

Your child with a learning disability no longer has the educational support he requires.

Actually, forget those examples, as they are already happening, thanks to your administration's balls up of current contracts.

Maybe, say, your grandfather's grave has been kicked over in Hendon cemetery.

Or your council tax bill has overcharged you.

Or your planning application has been messed up.

In fact, you need to remember that at least 70 percent of the services now provided by the council will be provided by profiteering private companies.

Most residents of this borough will question WHY a transnational private company like BT, Serco, or Capita should be allowed to make profit from the services they depend on, and of course there is no real answer.

There is no answer, other than that some time ago, this Conservative council committed itself to the half baked easycouncil agenda, fostered and promoted by private sector friendly senior officers, with the support of one or two ambitious councillors. The rest of the councillors were simply too dopey, or too lazy, to protest.

In his talk to the Barnet Alliance this week, Professor Whitfield mentioned a study of other major 'strategic partnerships' which so clearly, emphatically demonstrated just what a catastrophic course of action Cllr Rams and his Tory colleagues have set us on with the unprecedented scale of outsourcing included in the One Barnet programme.

Professor Whitfield's One Barnet analysis - yes, and another view of the back of Mrs Angry's head, always preferable to the front, of course.

Mrs Angry decided to take a closer look at these failed partnerships. A warning from history, if you like.

Bedfordshire County Council, for example. In 2005, this authority was obliged to pay HBS £7.7 million pounds of residents' money so as to be able to terminate what should have been a twelve year contract with the company to provide council services. Problems arose over the implementation of a SAP system. The contract ran for only four years.

According to an article in 'Computer Weekly':

The council threatened to terminate the contract in July unless HBS rectified "contractor defaults" by 15 August. Rather than become embroiled in legal action, both sides settled on 14 August.

HBS transferred 547 staff to the council, including 44 who worked on the SAP system and 33 who worked at the contact centre. Many of the support staff for the finance, social services and education departments also worked on IT services.

The council and HBS have issued contradictory statements on the settlement. HBS said, "Bedfordshire accepted that HBS was never in breach of contract."

But the council said, "The council considers and is so advised that HBS was in breach of a number of its obligations under the services agreement."

West Berkshire: this was a contract with Amey.

According to a report in the 'Risk Management website, around the same time as the Bedfordshire failure:

West Berks Ends 10-Year Contract After 3 Years

Amey and West Berkshire Council have agreed to terminate a ten-year IT partnership deal, three years into the deal.

Amey will make a payment of £3m so that West Berkshire can complete its IT investments.

Tony Barry, group director of strategic development for Amey, said, “Amey has made ... a major contribution to the development of council services. It has become clear, however, that the original objectives for the partnership, set by both the council and Amey, cannot easily be realised. The settlement is therefore in our collective best interests.”

Look at this story, as reported on the 'Newbury Today' website, in 2005:

WEST Berkshire councillors have agreed to be gagged for a year – preventing them from speaking about the collapse of the authority's private contract with Amey unless they use answers pre-approved by the firm.
The confidentiality clause is part of Amey's divorce settlement from the authority, to be signed tomorrow (Thursday).
It prevents the elected politicians giving their honest opinion to voters for 12 months.
Amey, trying to limit damage to its commercial reputation, originally pushed for the free speech ban to last four years.
Council spokesman Keith Ulyatt refused to confirm the existence of the order when first quizzed earlier this week.
However West Berkshire's Unison representative David Pearson said: “I am happy to say it exists.
“Members have been given a question and answer sheet and have been asked to respond according to that.
“I'm not going to reveal the detail of it because it is confidential but I'm not going to deny its existence.”
When the authority was asked again, council leader Graham Jones (Con, Lambourn) admitted: “There is a clause in the draft agreement that covers public announcements and there is a question and answer sheet agreed by both Amey and the council in support of that.
“It is normal in an amicable settlement to agree public statements jointly.”
Amey would not comment on the agreement with West Berkshire Council because it will not be signed until today (Thursday).
Around 400 staff transferred from the council to Amey in 2002 in the country's largest privatisation of administrative staff.
Problems with the contract emerged last October, but Amey said it would be “very surprised” if it left West Berkshire.
However last week it handed over around £4.5 million, on top of £6 million already invested, to do just that.


Over now to Essex County Council. In 2009, look what happened: as reported in 'Public Finance' in their relationship with BT, one of the two favoured, shortlisted companies vying for a massive hand out of our council services:

Essex faces damages claim after terminating BT contract

Essex County Council is facing a claim for ‘substantial’ damages after terminating an IT contract with BT worth at least £250m.

The row between the council and the telecoms giant comes as Essex moves forward with controversial proposals to contract out ‘any or all’ of its services in an outsourcing deal worth up to £5.4bn.

Essex signed the ten-year contract with BT’s Syntegra subsidiary in 2002, with 130 council staff and 200 third-party contracts transferred to the company.

The strategic partnership contract, valued at £25m a year when it was signed, extended well beyond basic IT services.

A 2003 report on the deal by IT industry analyst Gartner highlighted the central elements as transformation projects to re-engineer internal processes and customer services, and the plans to identify opportunities to provide services to other councils. Transformation projects included the introduction of new payroll and human resources systems.

But the two partners could face each other in court after Essex axed the contract this week.

Neither side would confirm whether the deal had a break clause, but the Gartner report reveals that it had ‘one formal break point that allows it to be terminated in the seventh year’ – 2009 – as well as provision for a two-year extension.

A BT spokesman said the council had ‘unlawfully terminated our contract’. He added: ‘Having discussed the position with our lawyers, we can confirm we will be seeking substantial damages.’

A council spokeswoman countered that the deal had been terminated because the council was ‘determined to deliver better services at a better price for Essex taxpayers’.

Trade union Unison, which opposes the outsourcing plans, seized on the contract dispute as evidence that the council could not hold its own with ‘the big boys of the private sector’, as it staged a lobby of councillors on February 10.

But the council spokeswoman denied that the row with BT raised question marks over the outsourcing plan.

Essex would ‘act decisively when we judge that any contract is not delivering value for money’, she said. ‘We won’t lock ourselves into anything we can’t get out of.’

And finally, here is the current favourite to win the biggest prize from One Barnet, Capita, in trouble with Sefton Council, as detailed in the Liverpool Daily Post, on November 25th, 2011:

SEFTON Council last night confirmed plans to tear up a £65m contract outsourcing swathes of the authority’s services to the private sector.

Capita Symonds had provided the council’s technical services remit – such as road maintenance, engineering, property management and regeneration – since 2008.

But town hall chiefs are to now activate an escape clause which will see up to 140 staff transferred back to the council.

Council leaders claimed the contract was not delivering the savings which were anticipated when the deal was stuck.

Ironically it came as 10 of the region’s NHS hospital trusts decided to appoint Capita as their private sector partner to run their payroll departments in a £27m deal.

Capita said it was “naturally disappointed” with the decision, which will see the 10-year contract terminated in September 2013.

A council spokesman said: “After significant reduction in funding and activity as a result of Government savings targets, the contract, in the opinion of the council, is no longer the appropriate vehicle to address the future challenges.”

Capita was awarded the contract to deliver the borough’s technical services after forecasting it would save 5.5% of Sefton’s predicted cost of doing the work in-house.

The engineering giant said it would invest £7.39m in people, processes and new technology and create 100 new jobs within the first five years.

But Sefton Unison union leader Glen Williams last night said the firm had failed to meet its promises.

Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: bearing in mind the cock up that your administration has made of procurement, privatisation and contractual arrangements in the last few years, please: do you really, really think we are in any state to take on the reckless, manically over ambitious expectations of the One Barnet programme?

Well, do you?

Councillor Rams, and all his Tory colleagues, who have so far refused properly to inform themselves about the catastrophic One Barnet gamble to which they and the senior management team of Broken Barnet have so enthusiastically committed us, perhaps might like to read these reports, and consider the reality of a future in which this borough is in bondage to one of these companies on a level beyond the ambition of any previous local authority.

Before it is too late.

To make it easy for even a Tory councillor to understand, here is a helpful summary, courtesy of Mr Reasonable:


baarnett said...

Remember, Mrs A, that failure can bring good fortune. I see today that the ex-boss of Kent Council received a £420,000 pay-off. That may make Mr Walkley a little whistful.

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm: perhaps this is the way forward, Baarnett. Such a move may well be worth every penny, in the long run ...