Friday 30 November 2012

Under scrutiny/About last night: Mrs Angry writes to the Tory councillors. Again.

The 8,000 page Capita contract - or half of it - is carried out of the Town Hall

*Extended post, Sunday: see below
Dear Councillors

Last night I attended the scrutiny committee which met to discuss the recommendation by officers that Barnet should accept the bid from Capita for a ten year contract to run a substantial proportion of our council services.

As you will know, there were more that sixty questions tabled from members of the public in relation to these proposals. These questions were wide ranging in scope and detail and in fact performed the process of scrutiny rather more effectively than any efforts made by your colleagues on this committee over the last two years.

It became perfectly clear last night from the nature of the questions posed by you, the elected members and representatives of the Conservative group, that you have absolutely no idea of the full significance of the programme you intend to endorse, and indeed have only just begun to raise questions which, if you have been doing your job properly, you would have asked at the very beginning of the competitive dialogue, not now, at this hopelessly late point, when we are teetering on the brink of disaster.

What do you think the role of scrutiny is? Councillor Rayner asked this question, last night. Should you not have defined this role rather earlier in the process? Whatever it is, you have failed in your duty to perform this function, and in this failure you have betrayed the best interests of the residents of this borough.

You will have noticed last night that the senior officers of the council who have, to use Councillor Coleman's memorable comparison, driven the juggernaut that is One Barnet, sat complacently listening to all the last minute concerns which were raised, with no sense of alarm. This is because they know you have been driven like lambs to the slaughter, straight into the abbatoir, and you have allowed yourselves to be completely duped by the promises of consultants, senior management, and of course the encouraging words of the outsourcing companies.

Councillor Rayner made the most astonishing comment last night, taking my point about the millions of pounds that have been spent on one consultancy alone, and remarking that he thought it was money well spent. If you really believe that paying half a million pounds a month to a company facilitating the implementation of a scheme whose premise is allegedly to save millions of pounds, but which, as many other similar projects have shown, is highly unlikely to deliver the promises it makes, then you really are irredeemably stupid.

Councillor Thomas made a lot of outrageous claims last night, speaking very quickly, possibly in the hope that you would not have time to listen to what he was saying, and query the veracity of his arguments. He referred in positive terms, for example, to Capita partnerships in Birmingham and Southampton. When Councillor Mittra invited him to expand upon his endorsement of the Birmingham scheme, he was unable - or reluctant - to do so. Perhaps this is why, and what he did not tell you:

In regards to Southampton: please look at this council report, where you will find the following observations:

"... performance in Capita Property Services was poor and client satisfaction was below the mean.” 

During the financial year 2010/2011 the number and range of issues that arose between service departments and Capita Property Services increased. 
A significant number of these were escalated within the dispute resolution procedure to the highest levels within the partnership.

When asked why there had been no in house comparator commissioned as part of the outsourcing programme, Councillor Robert Rams tried to persuade us that indeed there had been one, and referred us all to what was in fact the original options appraisal, which ruled out this possibility and refused to include it as an alternative to private sector partnership.

This means, in simple terms, that you have never been given the choice of reviewing the way in which you currently run council services and finding ways of making it more efficient.

Effectively Councillor Rams and his cabinet colleagues are saying that the Conservative councillors have made a mess of running the council, and are incapable of making improvements, so we must invite a private company to come along and make profit out of your incompetence.

I refer you again to the example of procurement which, Councillor Thomas glibly asserted last night, can be run so much better by Capita.

Ask yourselves who was responsible for allowing such a monumental failure in the management of procurement and contracts, and why they have retained their positions while ordinary council employees now face the loss of their jobs.

If senior management had properly run the procurement and contractual obligations of the authority, countless millions of pounds of our money would not have been wasted, and even now, these savings can be made by the authority without handing over the business - and profits - to Capita.

One of the surreal features of last night's meeting was the inordinate amount of time that was spent discussing how services may be brought back in house in ten years time - or earlier, when the fundamental flaws of this contract become apparent.

This is absurd: absurd because you need to ask this, at such a late point, absurd because if that happens, there will be no way of bringing services back, and absurd because in ten years time - in two years time, you will not be in power, and most of you will have lost your seats.

You have a choice now: keep quiet, let the Cabinet agree this disastrous proposal - or fight back.

Here is your last chance to redeem yourselves in the eyes of the residents of this borough. 
Don't let us down.
Mrs Angry

 Updated Sunday:

There is not much point in reporting the performance that was enacted in place of what is meant to be scrutiny by our elected members at this meeting.

Public question time was the usual farce: carefully focused questions answered evasively in the written responses, followed by supplementary questions at the table rebuffed by the Chair, batted away like annoying bluebottles at a barbecue. 

Mrs Angry's questions fared not much better, although she managed to have some fun with the council officers present, in particular Mr Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat when asked about the discrepancy between the value of the Capita contract, as stated in the OJEU in June 2011, and in the information given to the press once the Capita bid was chosen. 

Mrs Angry, always keen to laugh at her own jokes, worked up a tease about money  disappearing into a black hole:


... wasted, wasted, Mrs Angry ... Travers shuffled about, and fumbled around with an iinteresting  explanation, ie £320 million for ten years, £750 million for fifteen ...

Cllrs Thomas, Rams, Mr Gill from Trowers & Hamlin, legal advisers,  AD Ed Gowan

 Captain Cooper

A further question about mitigating the risk of conflict of interest regarding senior officers who may now leave and take a post with one of the companies involved in the competitive dialogue resulted in more shuffling from Mr Travers, and Captain Craig Cooper, both of whom sat throughout the meeting like Laurel and Hardy, making rather comical faces but otherwise entirely unfazed by the process, as of course once public question time had finished, there was nothing to fear from the toothless scrutiny of the committee. 

There was no coherent response regarding mitigation of this risk, just a stumbling, make it up as you go reply from Travers saying any officer giving in notice would be expected, or required (it wasn't clear which) to tell them what he or she was doing so they could removed him from the dialogue. Mmm.
The last question from Mrs Angry was regarding the role of councillors, to which the written response had been that elected members always made the decisions. LOL. In which case, asked Mrs Angry, innocently, how did you explain the curious case of the Joint Venture, now proposed -( or is it?) - for the next package of outsourced services, a departure from policy which was decided by senior officers before members had heard anything about it? 

The Chair, Anthony Finn, interrupted Mrs Angry at this point, and in typical Barnet Tory chauvinist style, tried to suggest to her, as a silly woman,  that she should ask a better question, one of his, which he thought was an improvement on hers. It was not, and Mrs Angry was hard pressed to find the words to thank Cllr Finn for his attempt to formulate her question, but stated she could probably manage on her own. 

Finn later made a snide, patronising remark to Cllr Alison Moore, leader of the Labour group, that she should speak up, as, he sniggered, 'some people' wanted to hear her - following in the wake of a charming suggestion by Cllr John Marshall to residents complaining that they could not hear him speak that they should 'clean their ears out'. This, citizens, is how our Tory councillors extend respect to their opposition colleagues and electors.

Councillor John Marshall

Oh, and talking of the Director of Commerce, Craig Cooper: a little bird tells Mrs Angry that Cap'n Cooper is indeed ex army (army procurement!), from a military family, and in fact the great, great nephew of General Allenby - yes, you know: famous for, amongst other things, his conduct during the retreat from Mons, in the first world war. 

During the meeting Mrs Angry found herself what the General would have made of his descendent's tactics, as seen throughout the theatre of war that is the One Barnet campaign.

Perhaps Allenby might have suggested a tactical retreat, to save the greater part of the campaign. 

Because interestingly, in the course of an appearance on the BBC's Politics Show today, (Sunday), Tory leader Richard Cornelius made a remark which appeared to imply a less than certain commitment to the One Barnet programme, as we know it, in particular the second package. Referring constantly to the outsourcing programme relating to only 'back office' services, he also stated that planning, included in the DRS bundle, only might be going to be outsourced. Really?

Are the Tories getting cold feet over the second dialogue process, the one which senior management and their consultants are so keen to turn into an even more risky Joint Venture? 

Does this apparent uncertainty have any connection with the unexpected departure of CEO Nick Walkley? 

Are the Tory cabinet members going to sacrifice DRS as a sop to their mutinous backbenchers, in exchange for pushing ahead with the larger NSCSO bundle, which Cornelius would probably love to dump, but feels too much face (and money on consultancy fees) would be lost if they did? 

Or is the whole thing doomed anyway, and they know it?

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Panto season in Broken Barnet: Capita, Prince Charming, and the Ugly Sisters

Well then: it's Panto season, isn't it? So Mrs Angry thought we should get in the mood.  

Let's take the focus off our Tory councillors for a short while, shall we, and turn in entirely the other direction - look: behind you ... 

See: our wicked would be stepmother Capita is waiting on the doorstep, while our foolish, besotted father Richard Cornelius breaks the news to his broken hearted children of his reckless marriage, and tells us to make up the best beds in the house for the ugly sisters, yes: Agilisys/iMPOWER, who now have their big feet firmly planted, not in any glass slippers, but in our once happy home, here in Broken Barnet.

Agilisys and iMPOWER

Perhaps we could learn to love our new stepmother better, if we became better acquainted.

Let's look at some of the pictures in Capita's family album, shall we? Capita has a very large family album, because, frankly, she has put it about a bit, in her time.

Remember Birmingham, Stepmother? Yes, you do: don't be coy.

Let's remind ourselves of the article in Computer Weekly, in June last year: 

This was when 'Service Birmingham', the Joint Venture between Birmingham CC and Capita, decided that outsourcing needed to go a step further, and that jobs should be offshored to India, despite the further redundancies that would ensue, and the rather awkward situation where soon to be axed staff would have to train workers about to take their jobs from them.

Read the article, if you don't believe me, Tory councillors.

The offshoring of British jobs story became even more interesting, and more widespread this August:

And it seems that this was not the only controversial activity by Service Birmingham to hit the papers: see here, a story from August 2011 ...

Where next?

Step-Mama Capita also had a bit of a thing going on in Sefton, at one time, where at the beginning of their romance, she promised her suitors untold riches, according to this story in the Liverpool Daily Post:

In 2008, Capita had promised a saving of 5.5% in costs for technical services, as well as an investment of £7.39 million. Oh dear: by November 2011, Sefton had had enough and decided to back out of the deal. This retreat, in fact, cannot be arranged until September 2013.
Poor Capita. Another unhappy affair appears to be revealed here in the case of Southampton council, where, as a committee report published eleven months ago explained:

"... performance in Capita Property Services was poor and client satisfaction was below the mean.” 

During the financial year 2010/2011 the number and range of issues that arose between service departments and Capita Property Services increased. 

A significant number of these were escalated within the dispute resolution procedure to the highest levels within the partnership. 

As a result the perception within the service areas and key stakeholders within the Council of the performance of the property service gave rise to a number of areas of concern."

More detail here:

Up in Edinburgh, if you remember, the love affair with Capita ended before it began, when the City Council came to its senses, and commissioned an independent risk assessment and extensive consultation with stakeholders, after which the authority concluded that the Capita plan had "potential to expose the Council to significant risks and potential unforeseen consequences, both financially and operationally" - and that they should pursue an in house solution, just as Cornwall County Council is doing now, after similarly rejecting an outsourcing partnership with BT. In both cases political sensitivities also played a major part, of course. 

In Broken Barnet, we have only political insensitivity, and insensibility, so this should not prove to be too much of a problem for the ardour of our new partner.

What would Cinderella be without Prince Charming? Yes: even in this cut price panto, we have one. Step forward, slapping his thigh, the CEO of Capita, Mr Paul Pindar. 

Prince Charming, Paul Pindar

For playing his part, Paul earns a package of salary and benefits worth around a cool £1.6 million a year. A couple of years ago, after passing by a group of employees leafleting a Capita office in Victoria, Mr Pindar returned to admonish them for complaining about his high level of reward, pointing out that he only earned £14, 500 a week. That he received a less than warm reception for this piece of information may be explained that the Cinderella grade workers had just rejected an offer of 1% rise on their miserly rate of £6.11 an hour.

Mr Pindar has commented that he thinks the coalition government should be outsourcing more - well, he would say that, wouldn't he, boys and girls? 

Sadly government policy now is firmly set against dependence on large scale outsourcing schemes, and more in favour of a wider and more pragmatic range of approaches to delivering services. As usual, of course, Barnet Tories are one step behind, and reading from last year's script.

Here in Broken Barnet , however, the audience has written their own ending to the tale of Cinderella. 

We don't want a Prince Charming, here in Broken Barnet, do we, citizens?

Oh no we don't. No - really, we don't.

And we want no ugly sisters, or wicked step mothers. 

We want a fair wage for a fair job. 

And an invitation to the ball for everyone. 

Tell your councillors how you feel: the Cabinet members who want the wicked stepmother to move in, and banish Cinderella to the kitchen:

(Councillor Robert Rams, playing Buttons)

and their timid colleagues, who are playing the part of the mice, rather too well