Sunday 17 February 2013
Now you see it, now you don't: the Crapita contract that does and does not exist
This did not happen, and this contract is not a contract
Mrs Angry suggests we take a short adjournment from the Caebrwyn blog libel case, and leave behind the magisterial splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice, to return momentarily to the feverish swamp of our beloved Broken Barnet, where, in her absence, a miracle has taken place.
Perhaps not so much a miracle, in fact, as a sleight of hand: a trick, by the white gloved hands of the master magicians at Barnet Council. Look what they had up their sleeves ...
Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable has witnessed this wonderful transformation, and indeed, it was by his invocation, that it took place at all. Take a look at his post, published on Friday:
This refers, of course, to the strange tale of the 8,000 page NSCSO customer services contract with Capita plc, in which up to £750 million worth of our local public services have been given in bondage for at least ten years, maybe fifteen, to this giant outsourcing company, to use for its private pleasure and profit - at our expense.
In fact this gentlemen's agreement, between our Tory council and Crapita, lasciviously brokered, at the cost of £50,000 a day, by One Barnet private consultants, has come to a somewhat ungracious and undignified impasse, while our Tory masters sit on their hands, fuming, and wait for a judgement by the High Court on the merits of a Judical Review.
Many dissident residents, activists and bloggers, including Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable, were present at the council meeting where the Tory cabinet had convened to rubber stamp the contract with Capita for the NSCSO contract. The councillors were forced by an occupation of the assembled residents, activists and bloggers to halt their meeting and readjourn to a small sideroom, where they sat ridiculously, in denial, and under siege, and proceeding with all haste to give their formal approval to the deal.
It had become apparent by this stage that no councillor had read the contract, and almost none of them had any idea of the outline of the proposals, let alone the details, but this lack of scrutiny did not prevent them from supporting the agreement.
Mr Reasonable thought it was clearly necessary to obtain a copy of the contract. In December, therefore, he submitted a Freedom of Information request for the full contract, if necessary, with redactions for the purpose of protecting 'commercial sensitivity'.
In January he received an astonishing reply. The information he had requested, he was told, was not held.
In other words, the contract, as such, did not exist.
Mr Reasonable was awfully confused.
He thought that not only did this contract exist, he had seen it with his own blogging eyes.
He thought that he had seen a photograph of the contract.
He had: Mrs Angry had taken a photograph of the contract as it was being hurried out of the Town Hall, after a meeting, by the man from Agilisys* and the man from Trowers & Hamlin: carried tenderly between them, like something very precious.
*Update: speaking of Agilisys, here is some interesting news ... this private company of consultants, whose services have been so essential for the implementation of One Barnet, a company which has billed Barnet taxpayers for millions and millions of pounds, far in excess of the original estimate, has a new Managing Consultant, Ed Gowan. Just started this month. Couldn't start last month, because Mr Gowan was still working for the London Borough of Broken Barnet, as Assistant Director of Commercial Transformation. No, this is not in breach of any council policy on potential conflicts of interest: the new Code of Conduct will only be in place in April, after the conclusion of the One Barnet tender process. See here:
But back to the FOI request.
Mr Reasonable pointed out that the contract could not now be altered and was merely awaiting the final signature. He appealed against the decision to withhold the contract. Two and a half months after he had submitted his FOI request he was given the following reply:
I have undertaken the internal review and the outcome of my review is as follows. At the time of the response it was understood that the request was for a copy of the finalised NCSCO contract. As this contract is not yet finalised the view was this information was not held. This was a reasonable view to take at that time Having received the details of your Internal Review the exact nature and scope of your request has been clarified and we can accept that the original response was unintentionally erroneous. I apologise for this misunderstanding. I confirm that the council does hold the information requested in that there is a draft contract in existence.
However, the information is wholly exempt from disclosure.
Mr Reasonable was still confused: the contract exists, but does not exist. How can a thing be and not be? Is it one thing or another, or both? Mrs Angry is not at all confused by this. Having had a Catholic education, she knows that it is possible to be one thing and many others at the same time. She once got into terrible trouble in fact, for saying she understood the concept of the Holy Trinity, which is, she was told, quite impossible, being a divine mystery, and to state that you understood this is the sin of spiritual pride. One Barnet is also a divine mystery, one imagines, and understanding it must necessarily be a sin of the most grievous sort.
Barnet Council are now refusing to forward a copy of the contract on the grounds of material being already publicly available, and because of other information that Capita considers to be 'confidential'. When they say other information, of course, they mean the entire contract.
But as Mr Reasonable explains, there is barely any useful material relating to the contents of the Capita contract in the public domain.
The response claims that the council will publish a redacted copy of the contract 'later in the year'. As he most reasonably asks, why then may he not have a redacted copy now?
We may not do so because it it not ours to reason why.
It is our place to do or die. And to follow blindly into the valley of death that is One Barnet.
No one could put it better than Mr Reasonable at the end of his post:
"Some people ask me why I bother to keep asking questions about the way the council is run. My view is that democracy is not fixed in stone, it adapts to its environment. In an environment of secrecy where no one questions what is being done in their name democracy becomes redefined as something inferior and inadequate and accepted as the norm. That is happening in Barnet and unless more people challenge what information we are entitled to see, democracy will continue to shrivel and eventually it will disappear."
In other words: Broken Barnet is the new normal. Power in the hands of unaccountable councillors and unelected officers - and consultants - and public sector services handed over without consent to private sector profiteers.
Without consent, but not without protest.
And here, if you want to know, is the reason Mrs Angry will be returning to Court 14 tomorrow to continue to witness the ordeal by trial of a courageous fellow blogger, who is refusing to be bullied into silence on the issues we should all be protesting about, if we do not want to lose our right to scrutinise our elected representatives, and our right to speak out if we feel that this is happening.
Democracy is a fragile thing: it needs your protection.
Let's not watch it disappear.