Friday 13 June 2014

When will everything be hunky dory? Contract monitoring and performance, in Capitaville

Awfully confusing, this new committee system, isn't it?

Mrs Angry went to the Town Hall last night to attend what she had thought was to be the new Performance and Monitoring Management Committee. 

She had thoughtfully written and submitted some helpful questions, in order to aid the work of this admirable body, knowing that the Chair would be grateful, as so many of the Tory councillors seem unable to grasp the concept of scrutiny, and formulate their own enquiries.

But as we all sat down, and waited for the meeting to begin, the Chair, Anthony Finn, gave us all a little chat about the purpose of the committee, and it became clear that Mrs Angry was labouring, if that is the right word, under a serious misapprehension.

Oh: no - Anthony Finn is not the Chair, as this term has been abolished, in Broken Barnet, where men are men and women are invisible. 

He is of course a Chairman, and all Chairs from now on will be Chairmen, even if they are not men, but women, except that this does not apply as there are no women as Chairs, as far as Mrs Angry can see, and of course she is only a silly woman, so may have got that wrong too.

We have been told that silly women should not object to being called Chairmen, as sex does not matter. 

Sex probably does not matter at all to most of the Tory councillors in Broken Barnet, to be fair, as most of them are beyond the age of caring, but still: Mrs Angry can see no objection, therefore, to referring to them as Chairwomen, and will do so now until the end of time, or the time they lose control of the council, which apocalyptic ending may come closer than some might have imagined a couple of weeks ago. 

But we digress.

The Chairwoman, Anthony Finn, was very kind to the new councillors and the members of the public, and explained why we were there. No, not to hold our contractors to account, and be mean to them if they are slipping a fast one, but in order to show 'unity', and 'goodwill'.

This neatly matches the view of the new Mayor (oh - is he still Mayor this morning?) Hugh Rayner, who thought the purpose of scrutiny was to make only  'positive' suggestions.

Well, you can see their point, can't you? Yes, we are paying Capita, and NSL, and all the others millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to run our services, and pocket handsome profits at our expenses for their shareholders, but is that any reason to expect them to listen to any concerns we might have at their standard of performance?

Isn't life cruel enough, without insisting that the men (and/or women) from Crapita take part in the democratic process of scrutiny, or what passes for it, in Broken Barnet?

Why not just let them turn up at the committee meeting, and accept their big fat cheques from us, without spoiling the occasion by awkward questions?

The Chief Operating Officer, Mr Chris Naylor, took a slightly different view. He made us all look at a slide on the overhead projector with the ominous heading of JUDGEMENTS.

Scenario 1: concern, but committee satisfied that delivery unit or contractor capable of improving.

Scenario 2: concern, general satisfaction that the delivery unit/contractor is on top of it, but committee wants regular updates.

Scenario 3: committee is concerned with either matters that probably require a change of policy or a fundamental rethink about how we deliver.

Scenario 4: committee realises they are being taken for a bunch of fools, dismisses all senior officers, and consultants, and terminates the contracts with Capita and NSL.

One of those scenarios is Mrs Angry's - probably hard for you to spot.

One of the reasons why Scenario 4 is never going to happen is that our Tory councillors - and some of the Labour ones - still do not quite understand how we got to where we are, living in this shining satellite of the Capita empire. They think it was all the doing of their own masterly political and economic judgement - the unlikeliest scenario of all.

In fact One Barnet, as we know it, was conceived by officers and consultants, and continues to be promoted and developed by officers and consultants. 

Is this for the maximum benefit of the residents and tax payers of this borough? Or is there some other agenda, do you suppose?

We know this to be true, as we saw the evidence ourselves during the tender process for the mass privatisation contracts. 

Remember the way in which a decision was made by officers and consultants to change the model of one of the contract for what is now the ludicrously named 'Re' services to a joint venture? Taken in secret, by a group with no executive power, and in defiance of the democratic process, or the need for transparency and accountability? And worst of all, without the leader of the council, Richard Cornelius, knowing anything about it?

It would appear from reports of this week's policy and resources committee meeting that this kind of process continues. 

It seems somewhere, somehow, a decision has been discussed by senior officers to outsource more services, specifically education and catering, yet the leader, according to those present, seemed to know nothing about it.

Is it right that our elected representatives are being sidelined in this way? Instead of directing policy, with a democratic mandate - however precarious - are they being excluded yet again from the enormous policy decisions which have shaped and continue to shape the way in which our local services are being run? 

Are the supine Tory councillors who sanctioned the approval of the Capita contracts, and now queue up in secret to tell anyone who wants to listen how they were misled into agreeing them, going to lie down once again and let unelected officers, consultants and commercial partners decide the future course of this borough?

Probably. But let's see.

We hear that Capita want to bid for education and catering - no surprise there. A slight problem is that Capita are in charge of procurement, so there is a conflict of interest. How is that going to be addressed? No one seems to know, as it seems not to have been discussed, with councillors anyway.

Also up for grabs now, it seems, are waste and recycling - yes, the service which Cornelius has made so much of returning in house because it wasn't good enough - and, God help us all - libraries.

But let us return to the contract committee, and how our elected members scrutinised the contracts that are already in place.

The meeting began with public question time. Questions from three bloggers, Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard, and Mr Reasonable, who could not be present, but asked that we put his supplementary questions.

You can read the questions and answers here:

1. Performance Report, Item 3, Customer Experience: 

This report claims that customer satisfaction in regard to the contact centre and website has increased. I simply do not believe this is true, and I am certain that the methods used to assess levels of satisfaction are deliberately designed to obscure the real standard of service. 

The only reason that customer satisfaction is apparently high is because the calls which are being included in the statistics are those that successfully connect to the switchboard. The real picture is being disguised by failing to show the large number of failed calls which are excluded from these statistics. 

Nine months ago, at the first contract monitoring meeting on 10th October last year, a representative from Capita admitted that calls to the council were being 'lost in the wires', but implied this was due to 'teething problems' and would be corrected. At this time, calls to the council were often not connected, and the caller received a message claiming the number was not recognised, or would obtain the engaged tone. 

This was blamed on a high number of calls due to unforeseen circumstances, and we were told it had been resolved by 

On Tuesday 27th May, I needed to contact the borough archives, but discovered a note on the website stating the phoneline was out of order. I do not know why that was the case. I therefore attempted to reach the archives through the switchboard. In the course of an hour, I made 14 calls. 

The first 10 of those 14 calls 5 were met with the 'number not recognised' response, and 5 calls with the engaged tone. When I did at last manage to get through to an operator, 53 minutes later, no one could explain the delay, other than to say that there were not enough lines to deal with the number of calls. When I asked to speak to a manager, I was cut off, and then told it was not possible. A second call also was cut off. I was also told I could not register any dissatisfaction or complaint about the switchboard service with the call centre itself. 

I should add that I have never, when phoning the council, been asked to participate in any satisfaction survey. 

In a response to a question submitted to this committee about the Capita call centre failings in January, six months ago, I was told : 

With regard to calls being 'lost in the wires', s this problem has largely been removed as a result of moving all the Revenues and Benefits calls to the Capita Coventry site and freeing up the existing telephone lines into the Council. and then Any Customer is able to make a complaint about the service using the corporate complaints system and processes even if they do not make part in any of the GovMetric Surveys. 

If a customer contacts us and asks to speak to the Contact Centre manager they will be put through to the Contact Centre Manager (or their deputy) if they are available. Clearly this is demonstrably untrue. 

On Friday 30th May, I was contacted by medical staff urgently trying to contact a Barnet employee in regard to a critically ill family member. They were unable to reach the employee, even in such an emergency, and were distressed by continually obtaining the number not recognised response. I then also failed to contact the switchboard when I made my own attempts. 

My experience is not unique, I have found a similar pattern of response since Capita has been running this service. Number not recognised and engaged tones are very clever devices for preventing the gathering of negative data which would prove Capita is not providing a satisfactory standard of service via the contact centre, as clearly there is no measurement of the number of 'lost' calls that are ignored, and only measurements of speed in the response to those calls that are connected. 

This shabby tactic, along with the inadequate system of minimising complaints from users at the time of such poor service is allowing Capita to appear to meet performance targets and escape penalties from failed KPIs associated with satisfaction levels. 

How many phones lines did the council have before Capita took over? 

Why is the company allowed still to hide the real number of calls which go unanswered in this way? 

Does the Chair realise that failings in the running of call centres and IT provision has led to other authorities terminating contracts with Capita and other major outsourcing companies ? 

How long will the authority allow such a poor service to continue before implementing penalties?

The response was: Mrs Angry's annotations in red -

General Response 

We are aware that there have been a number of issues reported in the first quarter of 2014, in particular relating to Customer Services 

During the first 8 months of the CSG contract there has been a significant level of change across the CSG services and systems including 

• Replacement finance and procurement system 
• Replacement HR, Payroll and Pension system 
• Replacement CRM system and Contact Centre 
• Replacement data centre with full disaster recovery and business continuity capability 
• The build of a new asset management system 
• New project and programme management systems 
• Insight / Business Intelligence capability 

(Mrs Angry has asked for a breakdown of this expenditure)

For Customer Services in particular this has meant the move of the Contact Centre to Coventry in April and introduction of an additional new phone system , parking ICT system and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System. 

It was originally envisaged that these projects would be completed over a 12 month period. But due to the delays as a result of the JR and the need to deliver benefits and savings in the budget cycle originally planned by the Council, this was compacted to 6 months. 

This will be a common theme in the variety of excuses that Capita uses to deflect attention from any criticism of its performance: blame the JR, and those dreadful residents who dared to use their lawful right to challenge the contracts which a High Court Judge ruled had not been the subject of consultation with ... those dreadful residents ...

For the Contact Centre and Customer Services, the compacted timescale and the scale of change have combined with a number of other events which have highlighted capacity issues for calls coming in the Council and resulted in some callers getting the engaged or unobtainable tones mainly in the first quarter of 2014. 

These events include:

• The introduction of a new Parking ICT system by the Council requiring new processes and training in the contact centre and period of planned downtime that inevitably resulted in backlogs of enquiries and requests in the contact centre 
• Council Tax Annual billing taking place at the same time as the contact centre go live in April 
• The annual schools admissions applications process at the start of 2014 
• The elections in May 2014 

Ah: events, dear boy, events. Another excuse: Capita might well be expected to have anticipated that events can and due occur, as part of the normal process of government, yet despite their experience in contractual obligations elsewhere, appear to have not prepared for any such challenges here ...

We would obviously have preferred to avoid these overlaps but in order to deliver within the 6 month timeframe this was not possible. 3 The number of calls presented to the contact centre during the quarter (January to March 2014) shows that 237,760 calls have been handled and of those taking the GovMetric survey satisfaction levels are 69.61%.

Calls Presented 249,760
Calls Handled 237,816
Number of calls abandoned 11,944
Percentage of calls answered 95.22%
Customer Satisfaction levels at the
end of the period March 14 69.61%

Hmm ... calls presented. Does that include calls prevented, by capping software, or by putting our a 'number not recognised' system, do you suppose, readers? I think not.

This is an improvement on the same period in the previous year (January to March 2013) where more than twice as many calls were abandoned and the recorded satisfaction level was only 43%:

Calls Presented 255,496
Calls Handled 232,231
Number of calls abandoned 23,265
Percentage of calls answered 90.89%
Customer Satisfaction levels at the
end of the period March 13 43%

Call volumes are up generally following the addition of new services including into the contact centre (such a libraries), the new Waste and Recycling rollout at the end of 2013 and the introduction of the Council Tax Support scheme which has meant 23,000 residents now pay something towards their Council Tax where they didn’t previously pay anything or paid less.

 The call statistics show that 551,207 calls were taken in the period September 12 to April 13 and 683,555 calls were received in the same period this year. So we are handling more calls than before as more people are getting through. But demand is still on some occasions out stripping capacity, particularly in the new quarter 1. We are taking a number of actions to reduce and smooth demand on the Contact Centre, these include: 

• The introduction of 60 more telephone lines to add to the 180 in place at the start of the contract 

see later: it transpired in the course of the meeting that we used to have 60 more lines anyway!

• We are looking at splitting out the main contact centre numbers so 4 that some calls can be diverted via our new network links 

• A more phased issue of Council Tax Enforcement notices to spread calls 

• Better planning for one off campaigns 

• We are moving the Revenues and Benefits agents onto the new telephony solution removing their demand from the 180 lines coming into the Council.

Should have thought about all that before you started, and since complaints began.

 The action taken to implement 60 additional phone lines at Capita cost is a direct result of the Council and Capita recognising that these issues, which pre-dated the CSG contract, were impacting service and required action to resolve. 

You mean the direct result of people like me kicking up a fuss, and demonstrating the fundamentally  flawed service, and by the way, only since you've been running the call centre has the 'not recognised' system been used in this way - it is not fair to yet again blame 'legacy' issues for the failure.

Answers to the Specific questions raised are shown below 

How many phones lines did the council have before Capita took over? 

Answer: The Council had 180 phone lines when Capita took over and this has been the case since Q4 in 2012/2013 when the lines were reduced by the Council from 240 to 180 as part of the Customer Services Transformation and planned channel shift. In recognition of the issues we are currently experiencing with calls, we are in the process of adding an additional 60 telephony lines to the 180 that already existed. 

As was observed at the committee, this reduction in lines was cynically explained by some as the authority seeking to make the outsourcing option appear to offer improvement.

Why is the company allowed still to hide the real number of calls which go unanswered in this way? 

Answer: They have not, the number of calls made to and handled by the CSG contact centre and all Council Delivery Units is provided monthly to the Council as part of standard reporting required under the contract. This includes full statistics on the number of calls presented to the contact centre, the speed of response, the number of calls handled and the number abandoned. These have also been summarised in the response above. 

Presented to, again: so, the successful calls that are not blocked by 'number not recognised'?

Does the Chair realise that failings in the running of call centres and IT provision has led to other authorities terminating contracts with Capita and other major outsourcing companies? & How long will the authority allow such a poor service to continue before implementing penalties? 

Answer: There are many reasons for terminating contracts and are indicative of the fact that the relationship between provider and customer has irretrievably broken down. In this case, all parties recognise that there has been an issue with performance in Quarter 1 and actions has been taken to correct this. The Council and Capita are now working together to ensure that there are improved mechanisms in place. 

A happy ending. Ah ... feel better? How much do we owe you?

So, up to the table to ask a supplementary question. Impossible to take up all the points now annotated above, so Mrs Angry limited herself to expressing the hope that members understood why the example of the call centre was so crucial, bearing in mind the fact that many contract terminations involved performance failure in regard to such services. 

Next an observation that the councillors had been hoodwinked into approving the Capita contracts, and now were being hoodwinked again into accepting data which wrongly suggested that Capita was providing a satisfactory standard of service, by masking the problem of those callers who cannot connect to the call centre, and receive a bogus number not recognised message, or engaged tone, instead of being put in a queueing system.

Is this not systematic and fundamentally dishonest way of presenting data for the purposes of performance scrutiny?

If Capita is failing to present the real picture of how it deals with calls to the council, a function that we can easily test ourselves, mystery shoppers as we are, what else are they hiding? 

Will the members of this committee undertake what Mr Naylor told us is the function of the committee, to hold our contractual partners to account?

Well: the Chairwoman said he wasn't sure about the words 'hoodwinked', and dishonest. Mrs Angry pointed out no individual was being accused of such activity, but that the system itself of measuring performance was exactly that: dishonest. What else can you call a deliberate method of preventing the collation of negative data from resident at busy times, by not counting their calls, and giving them a message implying they have rung the wrong number?

What should happen, as even the Chairwoman agreed, is that there should be a 'your call is valuable to us' message, and information about your place in a queue. But then that would show up badly in the data, and poor Capita would fail its KPIs.

Mr Reasonable had asked a question on the same subject:

On the corporate performance report can you clarify how many attempts to call the council resulted in an engaged tone or a number unobtainable tone and can you confirm that in those cases the call would be unable to register their satisfaction with the service undermining the credibility of the results?

Can you clarify if Capita has the technology to introduce an engaged tone or number not recognised tone when the number of calls waiting reaches a specified limit and on how many occasions has this technology been used since Capita took over responsibility for CSG?

Answer: Mrs Angry's annotations in red - and no doubt Mr Reasonable will be offering his own views elsewhere ....

The telephony platform does not allow us to identify exactly how many callers coming in via the Council’s 180 telephone lines may have received an engaged or unobtainable tones as these are generated by the public switched network when all lines into Barnet are busy. This has always been the case with the inherited systems. 

Oh dear. Does not allow us to identify how many ... so you are not able to give the committee really accurate data regarding the true state of the performance of the call centre, are you? And inherited systems, again. Didn't we give you £16m quid to deal with this sort of stuff?

The back office calls relating to Council Tax enforcement specifically (as opposed to benefits and other Council tax general enquiries and notifications) were not previously in the Contact Centre. Following persistent complaints that callers could not get through these calls were moved into the Contact Centre in Coventry, with the Council’s agreement, at the end of 2013. 

As a result more callers are getting through than ever before, as reflected in the volumes above, but during peak periods this still results in queues and as a result many callers then call alternative lines or numbers in attempt to reach the service but actually only block other lines. it is technically possible to cap the number of calls hitting the telephone lines and this has always been the case with both the inherited phone system as well as the new telephone platform put in place in Coventry. This does not however result in the engaged or unobtainable tone being given as this only occurs when the Council’s 180 lines have no spare capacity. 

All very unclear. What triggers the 'number not recognised' message, then, if not your capping software package?

The facility to cap calls then has been used on 3 days since CSG started running the Contact Centre (13, 19 and 23 May). 

What is your excuse, then, for the experience I had on the 27th and 30th May?

In each case the limitation was only applied for Council Tax calls when demand peaked following the issue of enforcement notices and was only put in place for one day. The impact of this will be considered by the Committee in the Quarter 1 report to be presented later in year. 

At this time the callers could have been faced with a significantly long wait and so instead of hanging on, they would have heard the message “All our operators are busy, please accept our apologies and try again later”, the aim is that callers will call back later at a quieter time and we avoid other lines being overwhelmed. In future we are examining the use of call back facilities to replace this mechanism. 

You already get that, when engaged messages occur, except that, as I found, the call back does not work.

The only other limitations on the calls coming into the contact centre or into the Council and it’s wider services (including non CSG Delivery Units) 6 is the number of lines available and the availability of the person or service being called and not by any technical configuration of the systems , once this capacity has been reached the caller gets the engaged or number unobtainable tone as stated above. 

Where is your explanation, then for the more frequent 'number not recognised'?

 Line capacity has been impacted recently by the addition of a number of seasonal events and annual campaigns listed below: 

• The introduction of a new Parking ICT system by the Council requiring new processes and training in the contact centre and period of planned downtime that inevitably resulted in backlogs of enquiries and requests in the contact centre 

• Council Tax Annual billing taking place at the same time as the contact centre go live in April • The annual schools admissions applications process at the start of 2014 

• The elections in May 2014 In recognition of the call issues, we are currently experiencing we in the process of adding an additional 60 telephony lines to the 180 that already existed. The GovMetric Customer satisfaction survey is only offered at the end of call when the caller has been successfully connected. This was the same method employed when the council ran the services. 

This should be offered to all callers but is dependent on the agent asking the caller if they are willing to undertake a survey and that caller agreeing to do it. CSG closely monitor the level of referral to the surveys within the contact centre and run various schemes to incentivise staff to do this. This is an addition to any customers who wish to undertake the survey at the face to face locations or on the Councils web site. 

Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. I have never been asked to take part, nor has anyone I know, and worse still, if you ask to complain, you are either cut off, or refused access to a manager.

The Council also undertakes some mystery shopping activities to check and report on the quality of the services received when calling the CSG contact centre.

The only mystery is why on earth you expect that to give us any sense of reassurance.

So: supplementary question - can you confirm that Capita is using a software package for telephone capping, and do you use it elsewhere, and do the councillors think this is an acceptable practice?

Fudged response, of course, and an attempt to persuade us that Barnet has always had this capability,and a repetition that capping was used only on three days. What then do they call the constant default mode of 'number not recognised?  The truth is that only since Capita took over have calls received this message.  

Another question from Mrs A on her pet subject: the peculiar matter of the Highways expenditure.

In regard to the 100% out turn relating to the carriage and footway programmes: how is this possible when Colindale Ward received no funding at all in the last year, and was therefore unable to benefit from any work associated with this programme?

The KPI for the delivery of the annual planned maintenance programme relates to whether schemes in the approved programme started and finished within programmed dates and not whether schemes were undertaken in all wards within the Borough. All schemes in that time period started by the due date resulting in the 100% figure. The overall programme of projects will not always include projects from all wards. The Colindale ward does have approved 2014-2015 planned maintenance schemes pending but in terms of timing we need to ensure that important excavation works to install electricity, gas, water and telecommunications in the highway, needed for the new development works, are completed prior to undertaking resurfacing works. Our best estimate at this stage is that the carriageway resurfacing schemes on Colindale Avenue and Grahame Park Way will take place in the Autumn.

Oh, said Mrs Angry, so no work was planned at all for the past year, in Colindale? How odd. And not what the local councillors thought. Can you explain this?

Mrs Angry's friend from Crapita, Mr Alan Parfitt, who is in charge of Re, came to the table and Re-plied, with the help of Mr Declan Hoare, but in such a way as to say nothing at all, which is really the only response you can make, in the circumstances.

Last question - oh dear - about the former Hendon Crematorium, now the Easycrem Post-Life Leisure Facililty, run by Crapita, and sadly not yet bringing in the bucketloads of cash promised by the many opportunities from Post-Life life in Broken Barnet, as detailed in the DRS/Re contract.


Noting the delay to the building work at Hendon Crematorium, and the regrettable impact on income for Capita from the death and bereavement of residents of this borough, has the income shortfall led to any added pressure to obtain revenue from other sources, such as in the recently revealed and highly offensive removal of memorial benches as a prelude to new 'developments' and charges?


As part of the Commercial Development Plan within the contract, Re has committed to bring forward a number of business cases designed to enhance and improve Hendon Cemetery & Crematorium; bringing back into use the derelict buildings at the front of the site and providing a range of new services and options to the bereaved, that are befitting of a modern cemetery and crematorium. 

As well as meeting the changing needs and requirements of our customers, these proposals will of course generate additional income for the Council, but are not related to the delays to the building work. 

The Council had prior to the commencement of the Re contract identified the need to manage the proliferation of unauthorised benches in the cemetery, about which we had received a number of complaints and so this exercise is not related to the contract with Re or established with the intention of it being an income generation measure. 

Burial and memorial space within the cemetery & crematorium is now limited and so it is necessary to look at areas where people have placed their own bench without purchasing a lease to do so, in order that those wishing to purchase a plot still have the opportunity to do so.

So Crapita is now claiming - and bear in mind the reason for the removal of the benches changes in every story about it - that residents are actually walking into the cemetery grounds with their own benches, and plonking them down, willy nilly, just like that, and this is nothing to do with Crapita's plans to extort more money from bereaved families?

I can't even be bothered to write whatever reply the man from Crapita, avoiding eye contact with Mrs Angry, came out with, before she informed him of her view that the whole thing was grossly distasteful. 

Question time over, and of course no members items had been allowed, on the grounds that members had missed the deadline, even though that was because the committee itself had not been endorsed until after the deadline ... 

The meeting then sank into a lull, of vague mutterings over reports, and no real challenge over performance, just as the Chairwoman had wanted, in fact.

Mrs Angry's notes dwindled to a few, now incomprehensible jottings: incentivising residents (this is the new leitmotif of what used to be called One Barnet, but must never be referred to as such, any more) ...the elasticity of demand - (f*ck knows what that was all about, and here Mrs Angry began worrying about the fact that Mr Mustard, on arrival, had carefully placed a tin of vaseline on the bloggers' table) ... adopting rosebeds ... in-flight transformation projects ... intelligent bins  - deeply worrying, you might think, that we live in a borough where the blue wheelie bins are smarter than the average true blue Tory councillor, is it not?

To be fair, the intellectual capacity of the Tory group - and no, I'm not looking at you, Cllr Seal - has been enlarged by the addition of new Cllr Gabriel Rozenberg, whose relentlessly stern and hyper-analytical contributions floated over the heads of the rest of the people sat around the committe table. Cllr Rozenberg will need to dumb down to the understanding of the average nine year old, if he is to engage in any significant way with the democratic process, here in Broken Barnet.

And yet here is the curious thing: just when the meeting promised to fizzle out into a pointless exercise of rubber stamping, goodwill, and unity, it was the two Tory councillors, Seal and Rozenberg who picked up the issue of the call centre, and did something quite extraordinary: they - well, kind of,  held Capita to account, and demanded action. No, really.

Danny Seal may not have the cool eyed intellect of his colleague Cllr Rozenberg, but in his newly reborn zeal for the role of councillor, has decided a. to turn up to meetings and b. to speak up at meetings. This is an encouraging move in the right direction, at least.Good boy, Danny Seal: and here is a commendation from Mrs Angry, for your effort.

He referred to the question raised by Mrs Angry, and wanted the woman from Crapita to know that it simply was not acceptable that residents should constantly receive the number not recognised message, and he wanted it looked into. There is, he said, enough technology out there to deal with the problem.

The woman from Crapita repeated the response given to Mrs Angry, about 'smoothing', and anticipating campaigns, and of course putting in another 60 lines - and aha: but of course it had emerged that there had originally been 240 lines anyway - really incredible, is it not, that they need to be forced into reinstating this, simply because they have been caught out blocking surplus numbers of callers?

Cllr Rozenberg supported the call for more detailed information from Capita in relation to call centre performance. Mrs Angry, he commented, had done us a favour, by provoking such a detailed response to her question. Indeed, but the point is, it should be the members of the committee who elicit this sort of information, and let us hope that that is exactly what will occur, in the course of a new, non hoodwinked scrutiny committee.

A minor mistake in one of the reports was spotted and amended. The Chairwoman looked teasingly across at Labour's Geof Cooke:  

You normally pick up on these things, he tutted. Cllr Cooke nodded.  

I do apologise, Chair (sic, tssk) ... but my allowance has been cut ... 

Much tittering, then.

A reference to the spiteful move by Tories to vote for the removal of some opposition  allowances, simply because the Labour group refused to be bribed into a pairing agreement. Another consequence would appear to be the refusal to allow the members' items for the committee, even on the grounds of urgency, and at the discretion of the Chairwoman. 

Some concession had been made, however, at the last minute, after much protest, and one imagines some encouragement from certain senior officers, in regard to another Capita cockup: the complete mess they have made of the provision of IT services to new councillors - problems with the new ipads, being locked out of emails, delays in giving out phones, the absence of any project manager to deal with these issues. 

The woman from Crapita was called back once more to the committee table, once more to defend her company's failings, and do a bit more 'smoothing'.

We absolutely do have an action plan, she informed the deeply unimpressed councillors.

Ah: an action plan. Good. That'll help, what with the smoothing and all. And we all like action plans, don't we?

One to one training. Home visits. Ah: so it is all the fault of obtuse new councillors, is it, not your useless IT provision?

When, asked the Chairwoman, would everything be hunky dunky. Or is it hunky dory? He thought about this for a moment. Yes: hunky dory: in Barnetspeak - still pretty bad, but not so bad that people will keep bothering me about it, and I can ignore the whole matter.

It's already in hand, he was assured.

Chris Naylor looked less than convinced. In fact ... yes, he was a bit ... cross with the woman from Capita. 

He said the failures were deeply embarrassing, and unacceptable. It was important she understood the seriousness of that.

The woman from Capita left the table in a less than happy mood.

Good, thought Mrs Angry. 

It's been a nice meeting, commented the Chairwoman, oblivious to the real state of play, and clearly assured of the hunkydoriness of everything brought to the table for discussion.

But there really is a wind of change blowing through the stale air of the committee rooms of Broken Barnet. Look:

When you have even Tory councillors flexing their muscles, at last, and senior officers openly criticising Capita, there can be no other conclusion than this: the honeymoon is over, for One Barnet, and the new reality of the now tenuous grip on power by Barnet Tories means every elected member must up their game, and do what they have been elected to do: no more dozing through meetings, or sitting back and let our new masters have their wicked way with us, unrestrained.

A message to our friends at Capita: if you ever thought that coming to Barnet was a good idea, and an easy ride, you may need to review that assessment. No amount of 'smoothing' is going to prevent a continual act of scrutiny from residents, bloggers, and heavens to betsy, even our elected members: who would have thought it?

Watch out.


Anonymous said...

The Most Disturbing part of what I Read is !!! That they Crapita Have there Eyes on Education !!!!! Oh what a thought , Brain washing a whole Generation of our children , hey here's a name for them crap-dets , they can Even have a Crapita song !!! To sing in Adulation of there Crapita Masters !!!

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, it's a horrifying thought, Crapita running education services. Or anything else. But what worries me the most is putting libraries out to tender. The Tories clearly have no interest or understanding of culture, heritage or the arts, and will jump at the chance of offloading the terrible burden of so many libraries.

Anonymous said...

I am very, very certain that BT would be more than happy to produce a FREE OF CHARGE business report detailing the EXACT number of historic calls over the past year or so, which could then be compared to the "presented" figures provided by Crapita. BT of course hold all the necessary volume data on their exchange servers.

Then, with a few simple business strategy parameters thrown in by the Council, such as whether they anticipate demand to increase, decrease, additional services, loss of services, and various timescale options etc. etc. an 'accurate' assessment may be made. In fact, just simply adding an additional 60 lines based upon historical precedent would be extremely bad business practice and implies possible inept management compounding the original loss of the 60 lines in the first place.

Of course, it is considerably cheaper to simply reactivate the 60 existing lines rather than contract BT to physically install even more NEW lines. Although, in the meantime Crapita would of course be making considerable savings upon line installation, line activation, line rental, software configuration and of course additional operator costs, while additionally keeping the annoying public at bay. And while I am ironically certain it has absolutely nothing to do with the continual aiding of Crapita by effectively extending the "smoothing" of the transitional period and saving themselves even more money, it does beg the question whether 60 new lines is in fact an adequate enough number and whether Crapita could actually cope. After all, a physical line installation takes some time, whereas line reactivation by comparison happens pretty much overnight..... so why the delay?

Can Crapita actually cope?

And, if this business plan does not already exist, then it ought to and the Council should have a copy.

Mrs Angry said...

Very interesting, Anon, thank you. I also have the lingering suspicion that any costs caused by the necessary 'smoothing' and 'action plans' as a result of the clearly unwelcome fuss over lost calls will be charged to us in some way, through lost 'savings' or some other such method.

Before the contracts began, we were warned that this is how things are likely to be: all hanging on the subjective interpretation of contractual requirements, and the management of data in the context of performance scrutiny.

Up to now, our councillors have failed to examine the detail of the contracts: they no longer have the luxury of being so relaxed about their duties, I think. The devil, as we know, is in the detail, and no more so than in this case.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to my contribution above that hindsight is a wonderful thing. So is oversight and foresight. Therefore, whomever in the Council is responsible for strategic forward planning, actually had the benefit of hindsight and thus should have easily foreseen the current telephony problems for it impossible to receive the volume of calls without sufficient line capacity, regardless of efficiency.

Quite clearly they failed miserably on all three counts...... even with benefit of hindsight. Proper oversight does not appear to be happening at all, or else the lines would have 'instantly' been reactivated. So, who is this person, or persons who lack all three essential qualities and have spectacularly failed, and why one assumes are they still being employed at tax payers expense? If they can't get something basic as a phone system working properly, then what other much more critical areas are they additionally failing us on?

Using hindsight, a little foresight and above all immediate oversight, surely they should go?

Anonymous said...

Thank you too Mrs A. I am also certain that if someone rang BT asking to reactivate 60 existing council lines, further asking for BT to email the bill (which needs paying up front)and if the council were to immediately bacs payment upon receipt then the lines could be operational in just a few days. And while the council may use another provider the principle is the same. The lines are activated and tested at the exchange as viable, then an engineer attends and tests activation with the end user. Simples.

Bottom line, the paperwork takes longer than the physics and the paperwork could be done in less than a day.

Any inertia is totally with the end user who may not have the infrasture in place.... be that staff, hardware, software or the willingness to commit.

Questions should be asked.

Mrs Angry said...

Hold on: Anon, 11.48 and Anon 12.43 - are you the same Anon, or what? Please do not confuse Mrs Angry, in her own comments thread. It is against the rules.

Anon 12:43 - bacs? What?

Anon 11:48: "what other much more critical areas are they failing us on" - this was the point I was trying to make at the meeting.

The call centre is an absolutely critical measurement of performance because it is the interface (sorry, awful term) between residents and the council, but of course connectivity issues will affect business communication too, and poses a reputational risk to the authority.

The call centre is also of great interest because it is easily tested, and an indication of how the contractors may or may not be committing themselves to performing in less obvious areas.

What the dear councillors need to do, if they are willing, and capable, is to look closely at the KPIs, and benchmarking, and satisfy themselves that the way in which they are designed does not disguise a reality of poor standards that go unmeasured.

Red Sonia said...

If a council is doing its job well, calls to their call centres drop. if they are doing badly, they increase. If they are making a total mess, calls go unanswered.

No doubt Crapita has a formula that says that if calls go unanswered it means they are "cutting waste".

Mrs Angry said...

I'm not sure that Barnet Tories really care whether residents can get through to complain about poor services: they regard the opinion of residents as of no importance, which is why they were so gobsmacked when they got a kick up the *rse at the elections, and several of the key Tories lost their seats.

Now that they are in such a precarious position, and further elections look very likely, their wandering minds may well be more focused on keeping voters happy, and perhaps we can expect to see a firmer hand taken with Crapita.

Red Sonia said...

No, there will be a (secret) clause that says any councillor who shows a firm hand will have it chopped off!

Mrs Angry said...

Mmm, in fact, Red Sonia, there is a (not any longer) secret clause in the contract that obliges Barnet to tell everyone how successful the whole enterprise is. Awkward. Especially if it isn't ...ssshhh ... ISN'T A SUCCESS ... how embarrassing will that be?

Red Sonia said...

Isn't it interesting that, by and large, a councillor's Register of Interests is so rarely a register of his or her REAL interests.

According to ours (which, by the way, is online so you don't have to make a special trip to consult) our councillors who own land don't have any, none of our councillors invest in the stock market or own other properties and none of them are ever taken to lunch by developers with whom they are seen in lical (expensive) hostelries!

HighHorse said...

I read the comments above and the blog with interest as I have spent some time offering to help our council with ideas on how to develop and commercialise the libraries. You may know there are numerous plans being implemented in councils to make a change - most of which do not involve outsourcing. See examples including social enterprises, Eco Computers taking over some of Lewisham libraries and bringing in other services to help supplement existing.
Loads of sites now rely entirely on volunteers - Ventnor on the IoW is one example but libraries found in the country have been operating this way for years.
My point is, there are so many things that can be done with our beloved libraries that outsourcing them to anyone, never mind this bunch, will be the end of the service and not just 'as we know it'.
My kids & I love the library and use then every week be they East Barnet, High Barnet, Osidge etc - they're all brilliant but we will lose them if we outsource.
I want to help - but just try to persuade Chris Naylor.....