Thursday 23 August 2012

Joint Venture: Mrs Angry asks John Thomas some questions, and receives some answers

One Barnet: a community possessed

So anyway, about the One Barnet, Joint Venture thing, which does and does not exist, and means different things to different people, and has infected the Tory councillors and senior officers of Broken Barnet like some sort of madness, or talk of witchcraft: what's it all about?

Here in Salem, the good folk are talking of nothing else, and whispering in corners, and pointing fingers. Senior officers are speaking in tongues, having been seduced by demons, and Tory leaders are worshipping false gods. Dear oh dear, Mrs Angry: what to make of it?

Well, Mrs Angry has decided to ask some questions. Today she sent some questions to a couple of councillors and one or two officers. Of course Tory leader Richard Cornelius does not answer Mrs Angry - funnily enough he does respond to Mr Mustard, and one imagines that is because he is a gentleman, and Mrs Angry does not always behave like a lady, and Cllr Cornelius does not approve of such behaviour.

Mrs Angry thought she would try Councillor John Thomas, the deputy leader, and to his credit, he did reply.

Dear Cllr Thomas

I have just read with interest your comments in the Barnet Press regarding the now you see it, now you don't, One Barnet Joint Venture proposal which Ms Pam Wharfe has announced will take the place of the strategic partnership planned for the DRS package of outsourced council services.

You appear to confirm Ms Wharfe's statement that this 'decision' has indeed been made, yet yesterday your leader, Cllr Cornelius flatly denied that any such decision has been made.

Can you explain this contradiction?

With best wishes,

Mrs Angry

So Cllr Thomas replied:

Dear Mrs Angry,

Thank you for your message.

Although the report implies a decision has been made, my comments within it do not.

The Council is considering running its DRS services as a joint venture. We have always had the option of running a JV as made clear in a report to the Cabinet Resources Committee last December. The final decision of whether or not to proceed with one will be taken when the preferred bidder is confirmed further down the process.

With this in mind, I do not agree that my comments present a contradiction - a JV has always been an option therefore I would not be surprised if one were formed. The development and regulatory services in DRS are a relatively new grouping of services to have any element of private sector involvement and so my comment about creating a new model for outsourcing is, I believe, valid.

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Councillor Thomas would not be 'surprised' if a Joint Venture were formed. Well, f*ck me, John Thomas: Mrs Angry wouldn't be all that 'surprised' either, to be absolutely honest.

After this reply, of course, Mrs Angry still had many questions to ask, so she has:

Dear Cllr Thomas,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I am still very confused. If the council is only considering running its DRS services as a joint venture, why did Ms Wharfe inform staff members last week that the decision has been made?

As for JV always being an option, that is really not true: I have seen the relevant reports and it is absolutely clear that although it was one of several possibilities considered in the earliest stages, a strategic partnership was the model approved and used throughout the competitive dialogue process.

Why you have now decided to reject the strategic partnership plan in favour of a Joint Venture is a very interesting question.

If you recall, I asked at a recent Cabinet Resources committee why there had never been a full and independent risk assessment of the One Barnet programme. I received no satisfactory answer.

It is therefore even more alarming to me, as a resident and tax payer, that you are 'considering' an entirely new option, at this late stage, which your own consultants identified as even more risky and more costly than a strategic partnership.

This sudden departure from the original choice of model would seem to indicate some frantic need to placate the anxieties of one of the parties involved in the tender.

More than ever, I would politely suggest, it is time to call a halt to the whole programme and give serious consideration to the option that has never been given any attention, for the reason that it suits the interests of neither the senior management of Barnet Council, nor the private sector companies seeking to make profit from our local services. I refer of course to the in-house option, which would produce the efficiencies you require, whilst protecting local jobs and the local economy. Surely, as you are apparently keen to review the entire basis on which the dialogue process is founded, you are able to at least consider the option now being embraced by so many other authorities who have already been down the road of privatisation, and found out, the hard way, quite what a reckless gamble this really is?

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Let's see if we get an answer, shall we?

It seems pretty clear that the whole One Barnet process is falling apart. The bidders are protecting their own interests, as you might expect: Barnet Council may not have any regard for the risk factors of the massive undertaking they are committing us to but in the real world of commerce, where profit marks the bottom line, and companies are keen to ensure their investments have some security, they can hardly be blamed for looking askance at the shambles of Barnet's own procurement history, and ask themselves why on earth they would bet a total of £1 billion on such a lame horse. The panic amongst certain parties at Barnet at the prospect of losing their suitors is driving them to take desperate steps to retain the interest of bidders. Hence the farce over Joint Ventures, new options, old options, any old option, so long as the dialogue continues.

A fast moving story, bringing us back to the same point: when will they come to their senses?

Oh hell, hold on, there is a reply already. Let me just look.

Dear Mrs Angry,

You're welcome.

No decision has been taken as we have not received final solutions/bids and the dialogues are yet to finish.

I can assure you that a JV has been an option on the table with all bidders since the start of the dialogue process. As the procurement programme has gone on, a potential joint venture has looked more attractive, that is the point of the dialogue; to work on possible solutions with private sector bidders with an open mind so as to fully inform, expand and flesh out options prior to the final bids. Whilst one private sector option may look less attractive than another at the start of the dialogue, it is possible that this view changes through the process having actually had discussions with potential partners.

I'm not aware of any frantic activity at the Council. It appears to me that the dialogues are being conducted in a calm, thorough and professional manner.

We currently have an in-house operation which, given our low back office costs and good value for money ranking within London, is as effecient as it can be. However, we need more savings from and, conversley, investment in the services which I beleive can only realistically be achived by working with the private sector. It is an understatement to say we will never agree on this topic!

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Yes. You are right: we will never agree. Good to see you acknowledge the high standard of service already provided by your own staff. What a shame that you are throwing the money you think you need for further investment on the million pound money pits staffed by our 'implementation partner' consultants, and other pointless expenditure ...

And this is all very well, but there is one question which you are avoiding ...

Hmm. good try, Cllr Thomas, but you have not answered the crucial question.

Why did a member of the senior management team inform staff that the decision had been made?

Mrs Angry

to be updated, perhaps ...


Rog T said...

Thomas contradicts himself. He says the in house operation is as efficient as it can be. He then says we need more savings.

It is interesting he says "which I BELIEVE can only be realistically achieved by working with the private sector". In other words, it is a statement of faith.

If it was a statement of fact they would have looked at a public sector comparator and he would say "we have carried out a rigorous public sector comparator and can definitively say that only this solution will...".

They can't say that because they haven't bothered to check. So Councillor Thomas belief has as much credence as my belief that Elvis Presley is alive and running a chip shop in Burnt Oak and now answers to the name Costas

Mr Mustard said...

Did he really spell conversley (sic) like that Mrs A? Perhaps it is Welsh English? (with apologies to Welsh bloggers)

What a laugh he is. No more efficiency savings from in-house teams. When we have 95 senior managers costing £9m. Lots of room for savings there I would suggest. Possibly about £8m too expensive. £130k paid to Pam must be in jeopardy.

Mrs Angry said...

Rog: yes, everything to do with One Barnet is a statement of faith, an aspiration. If you look at the reports which they use to guarantee 'savings' from the outsourcing exercise it is all a load of balls, figures plucked out of the air, abstract concepts stated as fact: One Barnet is a fairy tale.

Mr M, I have quoted the boy wonder verbatim. Today seems to be the day I get blamed for Tory illiteracy. Not fair.