Monday 23 July 2012

Broken Barnet: where there's muck, but no brass ...

Look at this ....

The eyes and ears of Mrs Angry are everywhere, and she must thank a kind reader for sending her this lovely photo, taken on holiday in the sunny Channel island of Guernsey.

Now most people, when they go on holiday, like to lie on the beach, or by the pool, or maybe go for a healthy walk. Some of Mrs Angry's readers prefer, apparently, to visit landfill sites and take a long hard look at a load of rubbish. Not those of us who live in Broken Barnet, as of course we can get all that sort of thing at home. The reader who sent this photo lives elsewhere, in fact, but she thought we would enjoy this view of a refuse collection lorry, spotted on her trip to Guernsey. Why? Because, as you will notice, this vehicle quite clearly is exhibiting a Barnet logo on the side.

How very peculiar, thought Mrs Angry. No wonder the wheelie bins sometimes take so long to get emptied. Do our dustmen have to travel all the way to Guernsey to dump their loads? Or, and this was rather a nice thought, do our refuse collectors have to take our lorries on holiday once a year, as part of a corporate team building initiative? Like a One Barnet conference for senior officers, in the Sandbanks hotel, but with rather less malodorous content? Or did some poor new driver take the wrong turning at Mill Hill roundabout, and end up on a longer than expected detour? It can happen. Especially if Mrs Angry is map reading.

And then ... she got to thinking, well, who does have the contract for supplying our refuse collection lorries - ha ha , if there is one? Whose lorries do we use? Oh , well: look here. It seems that we pay a company called 'Go Plant Ltd' for such services, and this company is based at the council's Mill Hill Depot. Ah. Mmm. Go Plant.

It seems that in 2008, Go Plant was awarded a contract (yes, just fancy that, a contract, here in Broken Barnet) for ten years, to manage and maintain a fleet of commercial vehicles, ie our refuse vehicles. There was an expectation that a total of 66 new vehicles were to be provided by the lucky winners of the final two bids (one dropped out).

Of course Tory Cabinet councillor Sachin Rajput, with no sense of irony, was complaining, the other night, about how terrible it is to be locked in to such a long term agreement.

Hmm. Could be right, Sach. The good news is that, as in the options laid out for One Barnet, we can extend this particular contract for another five years. Locked in? Yes, but why not give over all control and accountability to a private company for a service so fundamental to the everyday needs of all residents? Mrs Angry can see no problems there, can you? And especially on the scale of £1 billion of tax payers' money.

Ah. But then ... Look at these documents, available from Companies House, in regard to Go Plant.

See the financial statement, year ended March 2011, and the Directors' Report, available within the public domain, courtesy of Companies House records:

"... the business suffered a major event in the form of the discovery of significant accounting irregularities during the closing of the accounting records at March 2011 ... The longstanding financial director was dismissed as a consequence ... It is apparent that the companies earnings were materially overstated for several years due to inappropriate accounting adjustments."

Ah: inappropriate accounting 'adjustments' ... dear me.

The report continues to tell us that 'as as result of the accounting irregularities the business engaged 'forensic' accountants from Pricewaterhouse Cooper to take over & look at the books. Presumably those auditing the company previously had not noticed 'several years' worth of material overstatements.

The accounts for Go Plant then had to be restated, reducing the profit and loss reserves from a surplus of £9,927,000 to a deficit of £8,277,000. The prior year profit of £1,887,000 was restated as a loss of £3,112,000.

After a generous £14.5 million reinvestment by Go Plant's parent company based in Jersey, Beacon Hill, the company has continued in business. But buried in this report is an interesting detail.

"Under the terms of the operating contract of Barnet Council, the company has deposited £1,500,000 which is recorded within cash at bank and at hand. The deposit is payable if the company fails to meets its obligations under the contract. Subsequent to the year ending this deposit has been repaid and replaced by a guarantee."

Oh: really - why? Why have we swopped a deposit of £1.5 million for 'a guarantee'?

This is very interesting, isn't it, citizens?

We have a lot of money invested in this contract. In May, for example, the latest month to be published, the online expenses list reveals we paid Go Plant around £215,000 - £153,000 of that for 'other vehicle costs'.

So: why repay the deposit? How much is a paper guarantee worth? Is this the best way or safeguarding our investment, and our service? Does it represent best value for money for local taxpayers?

And isn't this another example of how risky it can be, to outsource a fundamental council service to the private sector, within the context of such a long term contract, with the private sector so vulnerable to the vagaries of market forces at a time of unprecedented recession, and with so little scrutiny possible of 'commercially sensitive' partnerships?

Which will lead Mrs Angry neatly on to her second post today, to follow later ...


Rog T said...

Oh Dear Mrs Angry, what on earth can this be about? I only read today what a marvellous job our rubbish contractors were doing,according to Councillor Daniel Thomas. He says that Labour have been scaremongering. Maybe you better get in touch with young John and explain to him the error of his ways !

baarnett said...

You have a second post?

That's more than most of get nowadays.

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm, Rog. Not sure I want to think about being in touch with John Thomas on a hot day like this, really not in the mood.

Baarnett: see, I keep doing it.