Monday 20 May 2013

Goodbye Broken Barnet: hello Capitaville

As Mrs Angry predicted on Friday, it has been announced today that the second tendering process of the £1 billion One Barnet privatisation programme has come to an end, and that the preferred bidder for up to £250 million worth of our council services is, surprise, surprise - Capita Symonds. 

This means that the vast majority of council services here in Broken Barnet will no longer be delivered by our Tory council, but will be handed over to the grasping, sweaty embrace of outsourcing giant Capita, for their profiteering pleasure, for the next ten years - or even the next fifteen years. 

Direct democratic control of almost every council function you can think of will be lost: in the case of  DRS this will include -

• Regeneration, Strategic Planning and Housing Strategy, Highways Transport
and Regeneration and Highways Strategy

• Building Control, Planning Development Management, Land Charges,
Highways Network Management and Highways Traffic and Development

• Environmental Health, Trading Standards & Licensing, Cemetery and
Crematorium and Registration and Nationality Service.

- all of these functions will be surrended to a private company, which will use you, and me, and every other resident of Barnet, in order to generate wealth for their shareholders, while our services are run according to an agreement which your elected members, your Conservative councillors, will approve without any real scrutiny, just as they did when they rubber stamped the 8,000 NSCSO contract in December.

Once Capita won the larger contract, it was always inevitable that they would be handed the DRS services bundle, and here they are, and here we are, bound, gagged and tied, delivered to our clients as agreed. 

Who agreed, exactly? Was it really our complaisant Tory councillors? No: this was already dictated by the senior management team, of course. 

Are they supposed to be in charge of this process? 

They are not. 

They are supposed to manage the process on behalf of elected members who are supposed to make all the crucial decisions as to the direction and form of the underlying policies. It is a matter of fact, in the case of DRS, that this was not what happened, and that this is the truth has been demonstrated by Mrs Angry.

Let us travel back in time to August of last year. 

Yes, the silly season, especially in Broken Barnet, and a very good time to bury bad news, or to try to get away with something while your boss is away in his holiday home in France, perhaps.

As explained here:

a rather sensational development in the One Barnet story emerged, by accident: while everyone in Broken Barnet was away, or, like Mrs Angry, busy making rhubarb jam and sulking, Ms Pam Wharfe, on behalf of the absent Chief Executive sent a fortnightly newsletter to staff members, casually mentioning that there had been a fundamental change to the business model of the DRS tender.  

We have decided, she said, to form a Joint Venture ...

Unfortunately for Ms Wharfe, it was soon revealed, largely to Mrs Angry's poking her nose in, that this decision had been made by senior management, in secrecy, with no knowledge or involvement by Leader Richard Cornelius, the Cabinet, or any elected member of the council.

Mrs Angry made a Freedom of Information request for details of the meetings in which it was claimed this decision which was not a decision was made, or discussed. 

For eight months the council tried to defy this FOI request, withholding material, and then illegally redacting it, until such a point as the Information Commissioner became infuriated by their deliberate obstruction, hence the position of Barnet on the naughty step, and a period of monitoring by the ICO.

What was revealed by the eventual publication was that the meetings in which all sensitive One Barnet issues were debated by senior officers and private consultants were not minuted.

In short, a body which has no executive powers, ie the Directors' Group, in league with unaccountable directors of a private consultancy, paid, so far, more than £6million of our money in fees, and one of which now employs a member of the Directors' Group, made, in secret, in defiance of  the need for transparency and without any involvement by our elected representatives, a 'decision' which it was not entitled to make.

The material released - after such a long struggle - under FOI shows that, according to the minutes of CDG, the Directors' Group of 10th July 2012 were attended by: 

CEO Nick Walkley,  now departed to Haringey, and serve him right

Kate Kennally, Director of Adult Social Care and Health now bearing the ludicrous title of 'Director of People', 

Jeff Lustig, Director of Corporate Governance, shortly to retire

Maria Christofi, for deputy CEO, now acting interim CEO Andrew Travers, 

Julie Taylor Assistant CEO, and ... 

Pam Wharfe, (very long term) Interim Director of Environment, Planning and Regeneration (now bearing the equally ludicrously title of Director of 'Place')

Also present were a mystery person, name veiled in secrecy still, and a Mr Alex Khaldi from iMPOWER, and a James Mace, (seemingly a typo and meant to be James Mass), also from iMPOWER, but apparently on secondment to Barnet Council.

This group of senior officers and private consultants between them came to an agreement to'consider' the change to a Joint Venture: as the minutes report:

"The group received a paper setting out a proposal to explore forming a Joint Venture (JV) company for the delivery of the DRS contract and some of the associated commercial issues ..."

That was early July, and clearly the proposal was not a new idea, but formally presented at that stage - by mid August the decision had been made, as announced by Ms Wharfe, and accidentally revealed before the Leader of the Council had even been aware of any such plan. 

By the 19th September, incredibly, Richard Cornelius had still not been consulted by his own senior management team, over this fundamental issue, as quoted in my post written after a scrutiny meeting that night:

"Leader Cornelius sat and admitted quietly that he had not seen ANY outline papers relating to a joint venture proposal. He said this not once, not twice, but three times, with an almost disarming simplicity.

Furthermore, he explained that the proposals had in fact emerged after the bidders had been 'closeted' with senior officers. 
Everyone in the room sat still in astonishment.
I'm every bit as curious as you are, added Richard Cornelius, yes, the same Richard Cornelius who is paid to be leader of the council, and nominally in charge of a £1 billion programme of outsourcing.
After some frantic signals from the blogging side of the room, Cllr Mittra asked the question that had to be asked, the email that Pam Wharfe sent to staff. Mrs Angry twisted round to see her reaction. Keeping her head down, but smiling to herself."

Why does this matter? The matter of the JV itself is of concern, as such an option - which is of greater benefit to the commercial partners - was previously dismissed by the council as being of even higher risk than the strategic partnership approach. This was around the time when an in house option, the most obvious one of all, was dismissed out of hand, with no real consideration. Why is that, do you suppose? 

And why then did senior officers and their consultant partners connive to present the JV at a later stage, without the involvement of the council executive, the leader and Cabinet? We do not know.

After the embarrassment of this disclosure, Cornelius' naive - albeit honest - protests of ignorance were carefully covered by a more discreet veil of damage limiting statements from deputy leader Daniel Thomas, who murmured soothing words about a JV being an option they should now consider - and this has in turn, eventually, evolved seamlessly into an obedient approval by the executive. 

To do otherwise would have created an unprecedented confrontation with senior officers, and called into question the whole process by which the One Barnet programme has been conducted, at a time when - oh dear, the whole process by which the One Barnet programme has been conducted has been called into question by Judicial Review, at the High Court, the appeal for which is, as we write, about to be given a date for hearing. 

This appeal is based, of course, on the premise that the technical reason for dismissal of the application, ie one of being out of time, is unfair, and that the finding of the judge that Barnet Council had failed to consult residents on the One Barnet privatisation plans should overrule the timing issue.

As things stand, almost every one of our council services is about to be handed over to Capita with no mandate from the residents, taxpayers and voters of Barnet, with no proper scrutiny of the proposals by elected representatives - and after a process overseen in secret by a body of senior officers, private consultants and bidders, which is clearly in defiance of all principles of transparency and accountability. 

There are of course, also very serious issues of conflicts of interest which have already been highlighted in relation to this process, as revealed here in this blog. 

At the last Audit meeting, which our usual auditor from Grant Thornton, Mr Paul Hughes, did not attend, for some reason, the questions re officers' interests and declarations, which Mrs Angry had been raising for the last couple of years, were at last addressed. 

Well, no: not addressed, as such: a belated appraisal of the NSCSO process dismissed any real concerns, despite the evidence it found of non compliance with declarations, and the auditors refused to address at all the question of the DRS package, despite its clear and urgent significance. Why?

Readers may draw their own conclusions as to whether the whole One Barnet programme, and the entirely notional, aspirational, 'savings' that we are told will justify our ten to fifteen year bondage has really been promoted for our benefit, as we are so often informed.

*Update Tuesday : 

As Mr Reasonable points out in his post this morning here , which is essential reading, we were promised savings of nearly £20 million from the DRS deal: the tender with Crapita will bring in only around the paltry sum of £5 million, savings generated from inspired ideas such as increasing the number of burials in Broken Barnet (watch out for that Barnet Council van when you cross the road) an amount which could very easily have been found without privatisation - for example without wasting more than the obscene total so far of £6 million - let's repeat that - £6 MILLION  - and rising - on the bills for One Barnet private consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER ...

Capita undoubtedly will have a very profitable time over the next ten years or so, our private consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER most certainly have had and will continue to have a very profitable time.  Senior officers will come and go and continue in their careers here or elsewhere, in the public sector and in the private sector, and our elected representatives? 

If the appeal fails, and we are stuck with the £1 billion deal, and council services are run on a commercial basis, and residents begin to live in the new normal Barnet which will ensue -unaccountable service delivery, call centres in Lancashire, decline in standards, loss of control - they are not going to be awfully happy with their Tory councillors. 

Will they care? Not really. Not immediately, anyway. 

As demonstrated in graphic form by the case of Helen Michael, and the assault on her last September by former Tory Brian Coleman, and the continuing failure of any Tory councillors to condemn such an attack, our Tory councillors have only contempt for the residents who trusted them with the care of this community. 

The actions of Brian Coleman, and the indifference shown by his colleagues, are bad enough in the immediate sense, but they also represent something more profound in the pysyche of this administration, a sickness: a deeply dysfunctional relationship with their electorate, expressed in an abuse of power, a deep seated need to maintain at least the illusion of control at all costs.

Our Conservative councillors facilitated the One Barnet sell off with a shrug, and turned their backs on the duty to scrutinise and direct the process. They don't understand it, don't want to understand it. They don't see why we, the residents should have been consulted anyway, or why we should dare to challenge their policies, or their hypocrisy: what business is it of ours? 

So: goodbye to Broken Barnet - hello to the House of Fun, in Capitaville. 

The gentlemen in the parlour, waiting and sweating on the sofa: they now have exclusive rights to the pleasures on offer in this House. 

Wait for the knock on the door: and if you don't like it? 

Well, you can try fighting back. 

From Barnet, to Storyville, to Capitaville - fighting, the triumph of power over those with no defence - it's the only language they understand: but if you fight back - it's you who'll get the blame.

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