Wednesday 5 December 2012

One Barnet: a briefing on pertinent points, Richard Cornelius style

Two press releases today: the first from John Burgess, the Barnet Unison branch secretary who has worked so hard, and fought so desperately, against the privatisation of council services, and the loss of hundreds of council employees' jobs:

 "On Thursday 6 December Barnet Cabinet Committee will decide on whether to outsource approximately 540 Barnet Council jobs to multinational company Capita.
The Committee will be voting to export local jobs to Banstead, Belfast, Blackburn, Bromley, Carlisle, Darwen, Sheffield, Swindon, Southampton.
UNISON has raised serious concerns about the economic implications about losing local jobs and the knock on impact on local residents and small businesses.
UNISON is also concerned about the deliverability of the financial savings and the implications for council tax and other services.
UNISON has published numerous examples of how these too good to be true’ deals often fail to deliver.
The Council claims to have learnt lessons of other Councils however the reality is very different. At a recent Scrutiny Committee, literally days before the decision to recommend Capita was announced, two Conservative Councillors on the Committee said:

"When the visits were carried out who went on them and what did they learn from them? None of that is contained in here, six pages is desk top research. What members here are looking for are, what have you learnt from meeting up with councils face to face?

Another said:

"In fairness all we have here is a list of visits it doesn't say whether they were for one hour, one day, one week, it doesn't say when they were there, it doesn't say what benefit we got from them, it doesn't say who went, how detailed whether it was one person or a team, it's so sketchy it's absolutely useless, I'm afraid ..."

John Burgess, Branch Secretary said: 

"The Cabinet Committee are going to  rubberstamp this decision which Unison believes is a bad deal for tax payers of Barnet. The Council is gambling on a high risk strategy which has not worked elsewhere. Other councils are bringing services back in house in order to have more control over their spend. In the last month we have learnt from figures published via the Councils website that in total, the bill for One Barnet Advice in October alone was £1,099, 413.22 or £47,800 every single working day. This is political dogma gone mad".
Barnet and Camden Assembly member Andrew Dismore has also issued a statement:

He has written to all backbench Conservative councillors in Barnet, asking them to think again about their support for One Barnet:

 “The future of public services in Barnet is in the hands of the backbench Conservative councillors. We know there is considerable disquiet amongst them. They know they have no mandate for this wholesale privatisation. I urge them to have the courage to stand up against this crazy plan, which will cause so much damage."

Ironically, of course, even the former Assembly Member, former Conservative Brian Coleman, has spoken out against the folly of the One Barnet programme. 

Cross party consensus on an issue of such significance is unheard of - but this is unlikely to have any influence on the determination of the Tories political leadership to support One Barnet unto the very end.

After the equivocal performance of Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius on Sunday's Politics Show, some of us may have wondered about the future direction of the one billion pound One Barnet programme of outsourcing. 

Ok, the deal with Capita is all sewn up, and will be rubber stamped by our quisling Cabinet members tomorrow night, but Richard was keen to play down the significance of what he was doing. 

Jabbing his finger, rather impotently, in what Mrs Angry's mother would have said was a very rude way, our leader claimed that 'only' back office functions of the council were being outsourced. Things which, he said, no one would notice. Planning? Well, he said, that only might be privatised ... oh, we thought, back here in Broken Barnet, but planning was part of the second outsourcing package, the DRS bundle ... is it true, then, that the Tories were thinking of dumping this part of the One Barnet programme? 

No - no it was not true.

Look at this statement by Cornelius, now being sent to any resident who dares question the wisdom of the massive outsourcing of council services: Mrs Angry's comments in red ...

"Thank you for your e-mail.   I am making the assumption that it is the elements of the One Barnet programme that include outsourcing that you are referring to.

The One Barnet programme is the council’s change programme and goes far beyond a simple outsourcing.  

'A simple outsourcing': that is to say, a one billion programme of privatisation, the biggest ever attempted in the UK ... but oh dear: One Barnet is now a toxic brand, and associated exclusively with delivering profit into the hands of rapacious private sector companies, so we must try to pretend it is something much more wholesome and beneficial.

We are, for instance, bringing recycling in-house to work closely with the existing in-house waste service (at a time when the majority of London authorities have already outsourced waste collection). We are doing this because we believe this will give the residents of Barnet the best possible service. 

We are doing this because we changed our mind at the last minute, in a blind panic over the reaction of back bench councillors and residents to the mass sell off of council services.

Similarly we are working with a local charity  ...

aww ...a charity: look we are caring Conservatives ...

... to support residents by providing help and advice to families with multiple problems.  We believe this low level early intervention can support families with problems before they become families in crisis.  The principle of the programme is to identify and set up the most effective and efficient means of delivering a service to the residents of the borough.  This can take many different forms.  Sometimes this involves the outsourcing of services.  In many situations, it does not.  

Oh - hang on: are you sure ... 'in many situations, it does not'? What? And erm, this approach is government policy, which generally you ignore, unless it suits your own bonkers agenda ...

As part of the programme, we are currently running two major procurement processes.

The first, for the ‘New Support and Customer Services Organisation’ contract (NSCSO), will outsource the following council services:

·                Customer services;
·                Finance;
·                Human Resources;
·                Procurement;
·                Estates;
·                Information Services;
·                Revenue and Benefits; and
·                Corporate Programmes.

The second, for the ‘Development and Regulatory Services’ contract (DRS), will outsource the following council services:

·                Regeneration;
·                Planning;

         Aha: planning ... that's funny, Councill Cornelius, because when you were on the telly on Sunday, you weren't at all sure that planning would be outsourced ... only 'back office functions' and planning only 'might' be outsourced ... hey, Richard, you weren't ... you weren't being deliberately evasive, were you?

·                Building Control;
·                Environmental Health;
·                Land Charges;
·                Management of Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium;
·                Highways; and
·                Trading Standards and Licensing.

The NSCSO contract will be a Strategic Partnership outsourcing contract.  The benefits and risks of this were outlined in an Options Appraisal in March 2011.

The DRS contract is now planned to be outsourced as a Joint Venture,

 Whoah, hold on ... this is news ...the Joint Venture, the decision by senior management, and in which you claimed, not so long ago, to have had absolutely no involvement is now after all going ahead. Well, well.

... of which the Council would be a shareholder.  Previously, we had planned to outsource the DRS contract as a Strategic Partnership.  As we explored the offers from bidders during the procurement process,
Whoa again ... 'as we explored the offers from bidders ... we? You mean, as your senior officers cooked up a deal behind the back of elected members, without their knowledge or consent ...

... it became clear that a Joint Venture would provide the Council with more control and potential for increased income, given the nature of the services and the opportunities that we believe are available for growth.  Again, the benefits and risks of all options were outlined in a formal Options Appraisal and Business Case.  

And bearing in mind that you refused to allow any independent risk assessments of One Barnet, and withheld the internal risk register from scrutiny until obtained, via the ICO, after ten months of obstruction, this really does suggest that switching blindly at the last minute to Joint Venture is the act of a totally reckless and irresponsible political administration.

I, and my fellow Cabinet Members, have received repeated briefings and information as we took the decision to adopt the Joint Venture approach.

You only found out about the Joint Venture decision already taken, quite outrageously, by unelected senior officers thanks to the revelations of the local blogosphere, and you stated categorically at this point that you knew nothing about it. Any subsequent briefings have occurred since that time, and your reaction has been to roll over and let the senior management team screw you, before they screw us. Do you expect us to thank you?

The One Barnet programme has been subject to an ongoing audit process.  This has included 6 internal audits, and 2 external audits.  The findings of these have been reported to the Audit Committee in line with standard Council procedure.  

Hmm. Some findings may have been reported to the Audit Committee. Have they been acted upon satisfactorily? 

Why was the Risk Register never presented to the Audit Committee?

In addition to this, external reviews of the NSCSO and DRS projects have been undertaken, and their findings acted upon.

Who undertook these reviews? Were they independent bodies, or private consultants?

The NSCSO and DRS projects will mean that external bodies deliver a number of Council services. 

A number? You mean 70% of all council services. That's a very big number, Richard.

The required levels of service delivery (which meet or exceed those currently obtained by the Council) are stipulated in the contracts.  If standards are not met, the Council will (in line with the contract) withhold part of its payment to the service provider.  Ongoing poor service delivery would lead to increasingly severe penalties. 

If you have bothered to read the small, print, Councillor Cornelius, and not relied on the 'briefings' of senior officers and private consultants, you would see that the penalties are capped, and dealing with ongoing poor service delivery will not only lead to severe difficulties for residents, but will be extremely difficult to rectify. See all the other examples around the country, if you need evidence of just how hard this will be.

In extreme cases, this would lead to the Council taking over control of services (at the service provider’s cost) and ultimately being able to terminate the contract.

Erm, no, actually: three assertions which are misleading, Councillor Cornelius. Perhaps you have misunderstood . Those briefings must have been awfully dull, and difficult to follow. 

If the council has to take back control of any services, which is more likely than not, this will cost us a fortune, and present an enormous logistical problem - how will we do this, when we have got rid of the staff and expertise necessary to provide these services? And yes: extreme cases, only - define 'extreme' ...?

At the service provider's cost? In some cases, if there is disagreement over service delivery, we will have to continue paying the provider's expected 'returns' ie profits, even though they no longer provide the service.

Being able to terminate the contract? After protracted legal challenges, unlimited further expense to local tax payers, and a prolonged and very serious impact on the users of these sub standard services - the residents, tax payers  - and voters - of Broken Barnet.

Clearly, strong contract management is required to support such contracts.  To this end, the Council has restructured its senior management, and is recruiting experienced contract managers.  This is not resulting in a net increase in Council staffing costs.

Strong contract management.

Mrs Angry has her head in her hands.

The same senior officers who presided over the almighty cock up of procurement in this borough are still in post. Responsibility goes right to the top - or at least it should in any well run authority. In case you had not twigged this, Mrs Angry is, on balance, not entirely persuaded that Barnet is a well run authority.

Within the new model, complaints will be managed in a more consistent and effective way through the improvements being made to our customer services function.  Residents and members will be able to track the progress of issues online ... 

Online. Yet again a privatised service, like parking payment, delivered in such a way that excludes significant sections of the service users, ie the elderly and disadvantaged who do not have online access.

 ... and the NSCSO partner will be incentivised to deliver against targets (such as the proportion of problems dealt with in a single phone call, and overall customer satisfaction).  

'Incentivised'? How? With a box of maltesers for the telephone operator in Blackburn who answers the most calls for the lowest hourly pay? 

Councillors will be able to oversee and intervene in the management of complaints in exactly the same way as currently but will have more up to date, detailed and relevant information available to them.  They will also be able to hold the service providers to account through Executive and Scrutiny Committees, as they currently do with in-house services.

Oh please. Half of them can't be bothered to open up their emails as it is.
They will also be able to hold the service provider to account at dedicated meetings, whose purpose is to review performance and set future objectives.

Why did your own Tory councillors have to have this explained to them as late as last week's scrutiny meeting, and why did they seem so unconvinced by the argument?

As a result of the NSCSO contract, we anticipate that there will be a reduction of 46 posts (all figures are ‘full-time equivalents’ and rounded to the nearest full post) by December 2013 and 176 by March 2023.  203 posts will be relocated outside of the Borough by the end of December 2013.  

You are also playing down the reality of job losses, and the effects this will have on the lives of council employees, and the local economy. Around three hundred members of staff are currently worrying about the loss of their livelihoods. 

It is expected that at the end of December 2013 265 posts will continue to be based within Barnet (147 by March 2023).  As the DRS contract is still being negotiated, I am afraid I am not able to provide equivalent figures.

How very convenient. Why not ask for a briefing on the projected figure for DRS now, so that you are properly informed?
The Council is committed to delivering services to the public using the most effective and efficient means.  In many cases, this is not through private sector provision.  As is discussed above, we recently decided to ‘in source’ some Waste services, as we believe that this is the best option in those specific circumstances.  Outsourcing is not, however, a new departure for the Council.  We have, for example, routinely used the private sector to provide social care services for many years.  Equally, some services used by large numbers of residents (such as our gyms) have been externalised for some time.

Oh yes. Never had any problems with these areas, have we?

 In response to the specific questions you raised about the content of the NSCSO and DRS contracts:

Well I didn't, but you are giving everyone this answer anyway:

·                The NSCSO provider has factored into its costs the need to update computer systems to continue to provide the required level of services over the life of the contract. Where new legislation requires significant change or investment then there are mechanisms for sharing these costs – which the Council would have borne in full if it ran the IT service in-house.

·                The NSCSO provider is committed to a presumption that the costs of change can be accommodated by business as usual activity unless they can demonstrate that the current resources deployed cannot deliver the necessary work.  A detailed change control process then requires the provider to propose a reprioritisation of activity in order that the change can be carried out without any additional cost to the Council.  Finally, if neither of the preceding options delivers an acceptable way forward, the partner can propose a price to enact the change.  However the Council has access to the costing model upon which the original service price was based, and this can be used to make sure that the new price, or cost of change, is not out of line with the build-up of the original price.  There are a range of other measures in the contracts that protect us in these circumstances, such as benchmarking and our ability to audit in detail the costs being charged to the partnership.

What the f*ck does all that mean? Go on, explain it to us, in your own words ...

While I have not read every element of the draft NSCSO and DRS contracts myself ...
Why not? We are paying you to take responsibility for this £750 million sell off, are we not?

I am happy to confirm that I have been briefed on their pertinent points regularly during their development by the Council officers and external legal and commercial experts we have employed to develop them. 

Oh God help us: briefings? See above.

Clearly, should Cabinet not approve the signing of the NSCSO and DRS contracts, we would be required to identify alternative savings to ensure that the Council stayed on-budget.
Right: you mean like consider the in house option your senior management team wouldn't let you review.

By way of illustrating of the scale of the impact on the Council, the annual savings we will receive from the NSCSO contract equate to the aggregate of our yearly spend on Waste, Refuse, Park and Green Spaces contracts.  Equally, the savings we envisage from DRS would roughly equate to our spend on Recycling.  It is my belief that outsourcing these services, with the concomitant guarantees we will receive to financial savings and service improvements is a preferable option to the ongoing ‘salami slicing’ of in-house services.

If anyone is going to get their salami sliced, Richard, it is most likely to be you. Better borrow a codpiece from Matthew Offord.

When the NSCSO and DRS contracts go live, the role of Councillors will remain substantially unchanged.  Executive committees will continue to make key decisions, while Overview and Scrutiny and Audit committees will hold officers and private-sector service providers to account.  There is no direct link to these projects and members’ allowances.

What a shame: because when this deal falls apart, as it inevitably will, your allowances should be frozen, and you should all be held personally liable, via surcharges, for committing us to this reckless contract with no proper scrutiny by elected members, no process of consultation with residents, and absolutely no mandate for this policy from the electors whom you represent. 

In the guise of a consensual relationship, Councillor Cornelius, you and your friends have forced One Barnet on us, while we were sleeping, and didn't know what you were doing.

Please don't think this is the end of the story, however: we're wide awake now, and fighting back ...  and will continue to do so, until justice is served.


Mr Mustard said...

Now there is a word I haven't seen for a while, concomitant.

Cornelius the Concomitant has a certain ring to it.

I think it means Richard the Reckless.

Mrs Angry said...

no,according to Mrs Angry's dictionary, a concomitant guarantee is a legal term, meaning (not a) guarantee at all, a total fantasy, written in invisible ink on the ill wind that is blowing through Broken Barnet ...