Sunday 16 December 2012

You're wasting your time: Scrutiny - another comedy classic from Broken Barnet: Part Two

Cabinet members Robert Rams and Daniel Thomas attend the Scrutiny committee, flanked left by One Barnet consultants John Newton of iMPOWER, and Amardeep Gill, of Trowers & Hamlin: their companies collected more than £1 million in fees from Barnet taxpayers for last month's invaluable 'advice'.

Julian Silverman asked the committee a very good question, to which of course he received no answer. Why, he demanded, were there no residents on the One Barnet partnership board? No students, no homeless people? No representatives of the community whose services were being procured to Capita, without their consent? 

No answer, but as we discovered later in the meeting, only one councillor - out of sixty three - is to be allowed on the board. It is already being made perfectly clear that the residents of Broken Barnet, and their elected representatives, will play no major role in the brave new world of Crapita Barnet.

Fiona Brickwood spoke next. She informed the committee that she used to work for Texaco as a risk assessor. Captain Cooper looked suddenly interested. She pointed out that most contracts comprised half a ream of paper, not 8,000 pages, and that the contents of the Capita deal were impossible to assess, shrouded as they were in secrecy, and removed from the proper process of scrutiny. Good points, unanswerable, perhaps, and receiving no questions from councillors, as indeed was the case with previous speakers. 

Libdem councillor Lord Palmer now stated his reasons for calling in the Capita decision by Cabinet. 

The One Barnet programme, he said, destroyed the purpose of democracy. It was the complete opposite of localism: and he spoke as someone who, in his 'day job', at Westminster was directly involved in the discussions about this policy.

He talked about the loss of democratic control that will follow the transfer of services to Blackburn, Belfast, Southampton, Swindon ... he said the council was acting prematurely, and on too large a scale, and the decision should be sent back to Cabinet for reconsideration.

Oh dear. At this point, Mrs Angry had a bit of a Will Hay moment:

And talking of wasting your time, and classic comedy moments, to the table now came the Dynamic Duo, Councillor Robert Rams and deputy leader Daniel Thomas. 

To some extent their double act was outshone by another performance, however -  from two old boys sat at the Press table (yet again no representative from any local papers turned up to an important council meeting). Sat on the left, commenting in curmudgeonly fashion throughout the meeting, like Statler and Waldorf, were our friend and veteran agitator Mr Shepherd, and the former Labour councillor Alan Sloam. Mr Shepherd, after last week's storming of the Cabinet committee, detects the scent of revolution in Broken Barnet, and positioned himself in the best seat to view the further undoing of the Tory dictatorship, beaming with pleasure, and taunting the assembled members, greatly annoying former Tory councillor Brian Coleman with his ripostes. Former Councillor Sloam's observations led to his being reminded by the Chair that he is no longer a councillor, and that his comments were superfluous. They carried on regardless.

As little Robert Rams sat at the table, Mrs Angry noticed that the leather soles of his shoes had had non slip rubber stick ons glued to the bottom (Mrs Angry has a particular interest in non slip shoes, at the moment, for good reason). Sadly, thought Mrs Angry, this will not prevent our One Barnet crusader from the slippery slope of a political career on the skids: Rams is no 1 candidate to lose his seat on the council, although, tee hee, he is rumoured to have his sights on a parliamentary nomination. Mmm.

Rams, preposterously, informed the committee that there was widespread admiration for what was happening here in Broken Barnet, what with the flogging off of most of our services to Crapita, and all: the Government, he claimed, has been 'knocking on the door', desperate to find out more about One Barnet, as we are one of the first councils to take this idiotic gamble with local taxpayers' money. Knocking on the door looking for Robert Rams, to grab him by the collar and slap some sense into him, more like, thought Mrs Angry, imagining the scene with no little pleasure. Rams then dared to invoke the name of localism, and claimed One Barnet would better empower residents. 

Erm: no, no, it won't. 

The Bobster, as Barnet Eye refers to him, gets very vengeful when people object to his wildly inaccurate statements of this nature, where black is white, and wrong is right - he had a hissy fit at the table during the meeting, when he thought either Statler or Waldorf had accused him of lying. 'I won't have the public accuse councillors of lying', he squeaked ... Well then: Mrs Angry would suggest, Robert, if you object to such accusations,  that you make more of an effort not to say things which are patently untrue. One Barnet will quite clearly not empower residents, but remove any real democratic control and place it in the sweaty palms of Capita, and it is clearly not compatible with the principles of localism.

John Thomas took his turn: saying nothing at all, at great length, in an interminable stream of platitudes, and as observed by Mrs Angry's son remarked last week, overhearing the footage of the reconvened Cabinet meeting, sounding exactly like Rob Brydon on 'Would I lie to you?' ... 

Time for Labour group leader Alison Moore to present her reasons for the call in. She soldiered on, through all the tired arguments, which we have all heard a hundred times, and which are simply the obvious truth, but of no interest to the Tory councillors, who have decided to ignore the truth and support the lie that is One Barnet. Mrs Angry cast a sideway's look at Brian Coleman, who was watching Alison Moore blankly, his mouth hanging open, eyes vacant.

Mr Gill, the representative of One Barnet's legal advisers, Trowers and Hamlin, spoke now, in response to points raised by members. He assured the assembled members of the council, and members of the public, that the authority had fulfilled its obligations in regard to consultation over One Barnet. Good, thought Mrs Angry. That means the Judicial Reviews are entirely unnecessary. Can't think why an eminent team of lawyers are now pursuing this line of action with such great relish. What were they thinking?

Another question for Mr Gill, from Lord Palmer. Is it true that the contract could be broken at any point?

Yes, said Mr Gill. 

Ah: but then he qualified his assertion. 

With six months notice. And under some circumstances. Erm, which might involve compensation to Crapita. Aha.

What a shame, mused a member of the public, that we no longer have the power to surcharge councillors ...

Chair Hugh Rayner tried to ask the legal adviser a question at this point. Unfortunately, he could not remember the name of the company. Mrs Angry despaired: really? The Chair of the scrutiny committee does not even know the name of the legal advisers on whom the £750 million pound contract depends for verification? 

We were then informed that the Capita contract was rather like scripture: it can be translated as you wish. Oh, thought Mrs Angry: scripture, but as written by the devil, perhaps?

Councillor Dan Thomas was talking. Or rather, interestingly, in the eyes of Mrs Angry, anyway, he was stammering, rather than talking: repeating the same words nervously, as if padding out the empty meaning of his sentences, in the empty rhetoric of One Barnet propaganda. The deputy leader's boundless confidence appears to have been dramatically diminished, over the last couple of meetings - since the notification of judicial review application was received. 

I can't see much changing, he said, absurdly, of the wholescale handover of all the NSCSO services to Capita. Again: really? 

Rams took over now. He listed the many - well, one or two, benefits of this contract ... for example, on a ward by ward basis - it could happen that the data, as provided by Capita, might suggest that a police station should be moved ... Mrs Angry was unable to restrain herself at this point, and pointed out loudly that thanks to Ram's boss Boris, the Mayor of London, all but one police station in Barnet will shortly be closed.

Labour's Kathy Mc Guirk spoke now. Thomas would do well to remember, she suggested, that this is a local authority, providing public services, not Barnet plc. 

Daniel Thomas, stammering again, was keen to down play the imminent benefits of One Barnet: he referred to 'teething problems'  ... you wouldn't expect it to happen overnight, he asked, Would you

The man from Trowers and Hamlin was asked if his company has had any previous contract failures with Capita. Mrs Angry leaned forward to watch his response. No, apparently not. Interesting. 

All evidence would suggest, however, that in its extremely well rewarded dealings with Broken Barnet, Trowers and Hamlin may just have allied itself to a long and very embarrassing failure, and one which may well be played out very publicly, over a long period of time.

Apart from the two opposition councillors who had called in the Capita decision to the Scrutiny committee last night, none of the members present made any contribution to the meeting. The Tories sat in mute obedience, clearly misunderstanding or perhaps more accurately deliberately ignoring the principle and purpose of scrutiny. Maureen Braun looked on, sleepily. Andrew Strongolou sat sulkily. Even John Marshall, the imperious Tory whip, remained subdued. 

All the Tories, except for Brian Salinger, who abstained, voted dutifully to negate the purpose of the call in, but it was clear they knew they are backing a loser. Thomas, as Deputy Leader, must know the whole business is a disaster, and the next election lost. 

Only a fool would carry on defending the indefensible.  And so: Let me take over, whispered Robert Rams to his Cabinet colleague, as John Thomas was floundering in the face of some awkward questions from Palmer and Alison Moore. Yes, citizens of Broken Barnet: One Barnet, the juggernaut driven by senior officers, and Robert Rams with his hand on the gear stick. We are well and truly f*cked.

Or no: in fact it is our Tory councillors who are hurtling towards oblivion. The struggle to retain control of our borough's future has moved to another battleground now, and the process of legal challenge will decide whether or not the give away of our public services is lawful, and may proceed.

Next week here in the Barnet blogosphere, we will be welcoming our would be new best friends to our borough with a special Crapita Christmas celebration. Do call in for some minced lies, mulled whine, and corporate santa's get out clause ...

Update: speaking of Corporate Santa's get out Clause: let us now launch our Merry Crapita Christmas week with this amusing correspondence Mrs Angry has read between a leading member of Barnet Alliance, and Mr Paul Pindar, CEO of Capita:

Dear Mr Pindar, 

We understand that Barnet council's Cabinet have decided to award your company, Capita, a contract worth £750 million, to run some of our services for a period of 10 years. 

We are a community organisation in the borough of Barnet, and we would like to meet with you in order to share with you some of our concerns, the concerns of many residents in Barnet, regarding this contract. We will be grateful if you can meet with us at your HQ on Thursday 20 December from 5 pm on. 

Sincerely, Tirza Waisel, Coordinator Barnet Alliance for Public Services 

Ho ho ho: here came a reply from Mr Pindar himself ... are you shivering, citizens of Broken Barnet? Can you feel the icy chill of Capita's icicle like fingers reaching round your necks?

Mr Pindar sent his regrets:

Dear Tirza 

Thank you for your invitation to meet with Barnet Alliance for Public Services on 20 December. 

Unfortunately it is not appropriate for us to meet at this stage as we are still in a procurement process with the Council. The Council is best placed to respond to your concerns at this time. 

In the run up to submitting our bid proposal to the Council, we undertook extensive consultation with a wide spectrum of local groups and individuals in the borough. Their views helped to inform our proposals and we would anticipate proactively continuing our engagement with local residents regarding their service requirements once the procurement process is complete. 

Kind regards. Paul Pindar 

Chief Executive Capita plc 

Tirza replied: 

Dear Mr Pindar, 

Thanks for your reply, and the information about the consultations you undertook. This is very interesting, as none of us in Barnet Alliance had heard about your consultations from any of the many thousands of residents we have been talking with in the past year (we have many thousands of signatures on our petition, so I know roughly how many residents our members and activists have spoken with). 

We would greatly appreciate it if you would forward to us the names of the groups you consulted and the dates of the consultations, as this may help inform us, as we will become your customers if the contract does indeed go ahead. I am looking forward to receiving further information about the above mentioned. Our invitation for a meeting is still standing, so please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Sincerely, Tirza Waisel

Here then, is the first Crapita Christmas story: how interesting ...

... we undertook extensive consultation with a wide spectrum of local groups and individuals in the borough ...

And we look forward to the evidence of this 'extensive consultation' being produced in court.

Merry Xmas, Mr Pindar.

See you on Thursday ... Mrs Angry x

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