Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Hollowed out council - Our Barnet: Not for Sale

Andy Mudd, from APSE

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about yesterday's 'Barnet Council: Not for Sale' conference was not so much the speeches, the discussions, the exchange of information, good as all those things were. It was the fact that it took place at all, and was so well attended. It signifies a shift in the momentum of opposition to our council's lunatic policies, and a change of direction.

The political demise of tedious local politician Brian Coleman was brought about by a groundswell of resentment amongst voters for the extremist policies promoted by him, and his Tory colleagues; resentment engendered by the arrogance of so many of his public statements, and a lack of empathy for the real difficulties endured by the people he had been elected to serve. And his political demise marked a watershed: it proved that the will of residents is, ultimately, the force which decides the course of events, and not the will of councillors, or senior officers.

An informed electorate is able to make intelligent decisions about its own future.

This is why Barnet Council seeks at every turn to keep its residents in almost total ignorance of the reality of the political process here, and puts so much effort into minimising the risk of meaningful engagement with the community, and in restricting the access of the public to any real knowledge of the way in which the council takes decisions, supposedly on our behalf.

Hence, as we have seen this week, the culture of suspicion and paranoia stalking the corridors of North London Business Park: one which has infected the senior management team, panicking at the potential damage already caused by the investigations of local bloggers, and the resulting impact on what was meant to be the well oiled progress of of the One Barnet competitive dialogue. This is why your local bloggers are considered so dangerous, citizens, that their visit last week to NLBP was organised with all the care of a high security exercise, and carefully managed so that any incriminating information had been withheld from out scrutiny.

Make no mistake, what we are saying, have been saying for the last year or so about the incompetence of this council in the running of its current range of procurement and contractual arrangements is having an effect on the tender process.

We are working to inform residents - and Tory councillors - of the reality that our council leadership and senior management does not want them to see, and as we do so, the outsourcing companies themselves are forming their own conclusions about the risks of investing in the One Barnet programme. The faultlines are appearing: within the Tory party, within the tendering companies, and this, we hope is the beginning of the end.

Since the easycouncil/futureshape/One Barnet model was adopted by this council the staff unions have tried to communicate with Tory councillors and senior managers, to be involved in the process, and to offer alternative solutions to the outsourcing of almost all services to the private sector. They have been continually rebuffed. Why? For two reasons: because, for whatever reasons they may have, the senior management team is intent on facilitating the strategic partnership with the multinational companies who have a virtual monopoly on the public sector outsourcing market, and secondly because the Tory councillors are either too lazy properly to inform themselves of the full implications of the scheme, or, frankly, incapable of understanding it. There are, perhaps, one or two councillors who do understand, but do not care.

Why should they care? Leave aside their duty to their electorate: they should care because many of them stand to lose their seats and generous allowances if the One Barnet process goes ahead. All the evidence clearly demonstrates that outsourcing on this scale simply does not achieve the savings they claim necessitates the deal, and worse still, very often leads directly to catastrophic problems with standards of service, requiring higher charges for local tax payers, and very often the return of srvices in house, with again more financial loss to be born by us, the residents, who will take revenge at the next local elections.

Mrs Angry has attended many council meetings where highly detailed reports by Unison and other unions, compiled with a great deal of effort on behalf of anxious staff members facing redundancy, have been submitted for the consideration of committee members - and then ignored. These reports are dismissed without mention, and most probably have not been read. It is an appalling indictment of the arrogance and laziness of our elected representatives.

The conference began with a short extract from the 'Tale of Two Barnets' film: the audience visibly recoiled in disgust, as they always do, at the complacency of Tory Leader Richard Cornelius's comments, and the smugness and empty words of Chief Executive Nick Walkley. Rather to everyone's relief, and a degree of amusement, the film actually stalled in the middle of Walkey's last comment, and we were saved from anymore of his meaningless One Barnet codswallop.

Professor Dexter Whitfield, who is an academic expert in the study of public sector outsourcing, and is very well acquainted with the One Barnet project, explained the commissioning process, and made it clear, as Mrs Angry has so many times remarked, that Barnet Council has failed to address the huge risks associated with the massive scale and detail of the proposed £1 billion deal. The risks, in fact, have been entirely ignored, or at best understated. The business case is seriously flawed, and there has been no real Equalities Impact Assessment, or consideration of the economic and social impact.

25% of all comparable schemes - except of course nothing does compare in terms of scale and scope - have failed. Would you, he asked, buy a car, when there is a 25% chance that one of the wheels will fall off? No.

What is the alternative? There are alternatives, of course, if only our councillors would listen. An in house solution would avoid the risk of failure, and save local services, and local jobs. Why will the Tory councillors not even consider this option?

Local unions recently sponsored a report on the One Barnet programme by the well regarded independent body APSE. Councillors were invited to a series of briefings in order to debate the findings. Of course almost none of the Tories bothered to go. Have any of them read the report? A few maybe.

Attending the One Barnet conference was the writer of the APSE report, Mr Andy Mudd. He began with a rather amused reference to the previous day's tweetings, by a local Tory councillor, on the subject of his findings. This proved, at least, that one Tory had read the report, anyway.
albeit seemingly with his eyes shut.

Yes goldenboy Tory councillor David Longstaff, who is, believe it or not, Cabinet member for ha ha, 'Safety and Resident Engagement' had belatedly decided to cast his expert eye over the report. Cllr Longstaff came into local government as a respite from the demands of showbiz, you know. His roles, from playing a mad monk, a beige man in IKEA, and a drunken elf have prepared him well, clearly, for a political life, or what passes for it, in the inversion of democracy that is the mark of the Tory administration of Broken Barnet. He is a classically trained actor, of course, and many of us will recall with great pleasure his Bottom, in the Dream, for example. Whose dream? Mine. No that was a nightmare, Mrs Angry. Do focus: this is a serious subject. Outsourcing.

To whet our appetites for yesterday's conference, on Friday, Cllr Longstaff decided to post his interesting views on the subject on twitter, in a series of frankly rather bizarre tweets, over the course of a couple of hours or more:

"APSE is a not for profit organisation”… bet the salaries are good. (Not quite adding up to the millions you Tories are wasting on One Barnet consultants and senior management, Cllr Longstaff)

So far it’s all about MetPro and RM Countryside (Yeah: how about that, then? Any comment?)

“elected members of the Council are perfectly entitled to develop and pursue their vision for the authority” That’s good to know.

Executive summary over…. APSE, not surprisingly, have little confidence in Barnet’s capabilities.

The APSE document is examining several hand-picked contracts - who picked them? (Oh dear)

Even when officers have followed the rules, the report finds possible faults. (Yes, because you lot have failed to monitor the situation with any degree of competence)

Did @barnet_unison tender for this procurement and contract report? (oh please)

Connaught have gone bust… and it's the Council have made some serious errors. (Erm yes: in giving them the business and failing to monitor standards).

APSE, between the lines, criticise all staff on all levels - they never do anything right. Would APSE suggest we sack the staff? (A total distortion of the findings: it is not the ordinary staff, but the failure of management, which is the ultimate responsibility of your administration - and have you not heard of member oversight?)

APSE... If the council staff aren’t good enough and the private companies aren’t good enough… who’s left? (Council staff are good enough, if you give them the chance)

Even though the Liverpool model is completely different, it is used as an argument against Barnet’s thin client model (Oh reread the report you nincompoop)

The street lighting section is quite illuminating (Mrs Angry has copyright on all lighting jokes, and used them all before)

Now on to Greenwich Leisure… more staff failures (erm no, ultimately your political failures)

1471 Battle of Barnet contract not procured in accordance with the rules. (at this point Mrs Angry became rather concerned and asked Cllr Longstaff if he was feeling well, recommending a cup of chamomile tea and a bit of a lie down).

The report heading is ‘Procurement and Contract Management’, but…

It’s odd how the APSE report doesn’t balance with any good contract management
examples…. Are there none? (NO)

European Services Strategy Unit… they don’t think much of the staff’s abilities either (They are not criticising ordinary staff, but senior management - and you and your colleagues)

Would APSE give us their considered opinion on how to deal with the ‘Graph of Doom’? (They would, they do, and they did - try and keep up. Read on for a recap.)

Cllr Longstaff's interpretation of the APSE report is entertaining, of course, if half baked, and fairly typical of the average Tory councillor's grasp of reality. Yes, thsi does mean we are all f*cked.

Andy Mudd's talk was very interesting indeed. He told us we have to separate the One Barnet programme from the cuts issue. There is a general funding crisis in local government, on an unprecedented scale. This is an issue and an argument for central government. However: in Barnet our Tory councillors are using this issue as a reason to justify the One Barnet programme. This is nonsense, of course, as the model was first promoted by the delightful Mike Freer, fresh from his BT Vital Vision conversion, years ago, way before the current crisis.

We are told One Barnet is needed to produce savings - but as Andy Rudd pointed out, all research - not just by APSE but by bodies like Deloitte and the Sudit Commission - shows that outsourcing does not produce savings. Apart from what has happened in the public sector, in other local authorities, he gave as a persuasive example the experience in the retail sector ten years ago, when big supermarkets such as Sainsburys and ASDA outsourced back office services, such as IT. They all failed.

Andy Rudd referred to Barnet's appalling history of incompetence, only revealed in the last year by your local bloggers, in procurement, its failure to manage contracts and tendering. This must, he said, raise very serious worries about our ability to enter any large scale programme of outsourcing.

He then tackled the subject of the Graph of Doom. It is an exaggeration, he said, but it will come true if central goverment fails to get its act together and allocate the proper resources needed for social care.

We need to cut costs locally, but how is this to be achieved? Not by One Barnet, or what he referred to as the 'hollowed out council'; there is an alternative direction - another way.

Outsourcing cannot deliver savings because of the need for the private companies taken into partnership to make profit out of our local services. An in house solution can deliver savings, with better efficiency and other strategies: . Optimise the resources you already have: get the best out of the workforce you already have - they are the people with the developed skills, the experience - make the changes yourself for the full benefit to return to the community, rather than to the shareholders of private companies.

It was a honest analysis: not entirely what you might have expected him to say, perhaps: and all the better for it.

Very interesting indeed, thought Mrs Angry, as she exited the room temporarily, en route to the loo. The local Unison secretary, leaning against the frame of the door, looked at her sternly, and suggested that he should escort her to the ladies.

Oh, how we laughed.

Continued: Part Two: A Lovely Silver Box ...

After a short break, it was time for an address from fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, John Dix.

John told why he cared so much about opposing the One Barnet plan - he is a resident of East Barnet, and he loves it, thinks our borough is a wonderful place, but feels it is being ruined by the present Tory administration. About One Barnet: what is it? What does it mean to people? He has been wondering how to explain the concept in simple terms.

He produced a small silver box. It made Mrs Angry think fondly back to the days of Harry Corbett, and Sooty. Where was Sooty? No, Mrs Angry, she reminded herself, if you recall, Robert Rams and all his other glove puppet Tory councillor chums had refused to attend the conference, for fear they might hear something they might not like.

Anyway, izzy wizzy, let's get busy:

Look, said Mr Reasonable - I have a lovely silver box.

It is the One Barnet box.

If we open up the One Barnet box, what do we find?

Mr R opened it and - oh, inside it was all black. We have, said Mr R, a Big Black Hole. (No, not Andrew 'Blackhole' Travers, our Chief Finance Officer, although, small and precious as he is, he probably would have fitted inside).

What do we put into this One Barnet Big Black Hole? He produced a number of small pieces of paper with the names of council services on them, and put them into the box. Procurement, planning, highways, environmental health, even cemeteries ... all in the lovely shiny box, and into the black hole. Before we close the lid - look , a big fat cheque. Bye bye. Now we give the shiny box to Capita, BT, or EC Harris. And then we have no idea what happens to the One Barnet box, because such information - like any information in Broken Barnet that your local authority does not want you to see - such information will become 'commercially sensitive' ...

John Dix has been working in outsourcing for 25 years. He told us that in his opinion, the business plan for One Barnet is so naive it could have been written by his 15 year old son - all aspirations and wishes - £1 billion proposal based on something so flimsy. We live in a democratic society, yet once the 10 - 15 year contract starts, our community and our elected representatives will lose almost all power to influence the delivery of local services.

As to the shiny One Barnet box: do we really even know how big it is? Is it the size of a filing cabinet, or is it the size of this room?

The size of One Barnet is in fact so immense that it is hard to grasp, he said, and the complexity of administration will require an army of lawyers to oversee. He warned about higher charges, which we will inevitably pay. He talked about the absolutely enormous bill we are paying to Barnet's implementation partners, Agilysis - ultimately he thinks the bill for consultancy fees will total a terrifying sum of £25 million. Yes: £25 million pounds.

And for what? For promised savings which are aspirational but not achievable. Look at the evidence from other outsourcing projects. Look at the economic impact on the community, the loss of jobs - remember that 60% of Barnet's staff live in the borough.

The One Barnet proposal is like a visit to a casino, he said, to the Salon Privé ... if things go wrong, and the gamble fails, the results will make the Icelandic bank fiasco look like peanuts. The naivete of our Tory councillors is immense. He begged them to stop, reflect, and reconsider: please - stop this madness now.

more to follow


Anonymous said...

Couldn't Cllr Langstoff get anybody else to join his 'twitter storm' on Friday? A man of many parts....all of them faulty....

Rog T said...

Isnn't it Andy Mudd?

Mrs Angry said...

Oh dear: yes - must amend - Mr Rudd is my plumber! Martin Rudd, Mill Hill - there: expect a discount on the next service now.