The first rule of Broken Barnet is the only rule of Broken Barnet.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it: break it, break it up, pull it apart, burn it down, toss it away - or put it up for sale.
The former Tory administration, of course, has already performed a brilliant hatchet job on the body of our local council services, in giving away as much of it as possible, but one of the characteristics of this type of indulgence in serial capitalism is that once is never enough, and the perpetrators are always looking for new victims.
Or in other words, what is left, to butcher, and display on a slab, on offer on that corporate market stall?
Education is something the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet like to think they are awfully good at delivering, and for which they should take all the credit, and none of the criticism.
It is fair to say there are some very good schools in Barnet, but the best of them, at secondary level, are highly selective, and packed full of middle class pupils from a huge catchment area way beyond the confines of the borough.
And many pupils who live in the borough, and come from less comfortably placed backgrounds struggle to find a place at a good local school.
Having inherited a tradition of well thought of educational establishments, however, is not enough for Barnet Tories. They are not interested in the thought of education for its own sake, just as they hold no interest in the provision of care for its own sake.
The provision of care, as we see in the disastrous 'Your Choice Barnet' enterprise, must be made to make a profit, no matter how distasteful that might seem to many of us - and now education too is to be dragged into the marketplace.
At Monday night's Children's Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, members were asked to consider a report on the 'future delivery' of educational services.
Before the meeting, Mr Reasonable wrote an excellent post exposing the inherent weakness of the claims made in this report, a blatant attempt to force us into a commercialisation of yet another public service:
Already we see the case for an in-house option deliberately misrepresented and minimised, so as to ensure an unbalanced preference for the involvement of the private sector.
Clearly they want to ease the way for oh, let's see, some company like - just off the top of Mrs Angry's head - say, Capita, to take over, and add education to their already bulging bag of services, stuffed in there with such enthusiasm by our doltish Tory councillors, at the behest of the senior management team which has always been the real driver of One Barnet.
Much of the report is frankly rather comical in the absolute lack of awareness - or perhaps disregard - for the clunking way in which the way towards further Capitalisation of Barnet's services is being prepared.
We read, for example, that some market testing has already been carried out:
3.3.2 Initial Market Research
Based on the initial assessment of the options, some assumptions required testing with the market. Due to the sensitive nature of the project it was decided that the most appropriate method of carrying out this research was to invite four industry representative companies to complete a questionnaire and attend a short interview with the aim of answering the following questions:
• Is there a market appetite for this type of contract?
• Is the scope appropriate? If not what could be added or removed?
• Would the role of schools as owners in the model be an issue?
• What level of growth is possible for the services in scope?
• What would be required to ensure a fair procurement process is recognised
Four companies were asked to take part, and three agreed to do so.
Thanks to public questions submitted by residents Barbara and Bob Jacobson, we now know who those three companies were: Babcock, Carillion and erm, who was it now ... name escapes me.
In other words, two patsies and one contender.
And their responses? Mrs Angry's rude remarks in red.
• All respondents agreed that there was a market for this package of services
Well, f*ck me. Who knew?
• All respondents identified the value in providing a single brand for educational services
• Some respondents speculated that some services may be subcontracted or delivered in partnership with co-bidders
• Some respondents identified additional services that could be added into scope including early years and libraries
Ah: libraries - but of course. If you think the Rams regime was a threat to libraries, readers, you need to prepare yourself for what is on the horizon now ...
• It was universally accepted that the role of schools as owners would be feasible. However, the details of this structure would need to be worked out through the procurement process
• All respondents identified that ownership carries risk.
Unless you mean ownership of say, YCB, of course.
If schools take an ownership role they inherently take on some of the responsibility for delivery of these services and some of the risks of failure
• The proportion of ownership was identified as a key factor, as a controlling stake for schools would be unattractive to some respondents. For those that identified a controlling stake would be acceptable it was made clear that the respondents would not guarantee results from a company in which they did not have a majority stake
In other words: give me a majority stake.
• It was suggested that any procurement should be heavily weighted on quality over cost
In other words: the choice of final provider can be supported by ambiguous definitions of 'quality' if the cost is greater than a less popular bidder
• All respondents expressed a preference for competitive dialogue procurement process, as it allows constructive and iterative development of the solution, keeping the process fair and transparent
Fair, and transparent. Remember that.
• It was identified that scoring should be clear and transparent to ensure no bias to a particular bidder
Mrs Angry is entirely confident that no bias will be given to any particular bidder, of course.
Some other interesting information emerged from the questions put by the Jacobsons. They noted a reference in the report to the use of 'independent external support', and wanted to know who that was, and how much they were being paid.
Goodness me: imagine the surprise when it turned out to be from - no, go on, guess, our favourite consultants, iMPOWER, who have had millions of pounds of local residents hard earned taxes thrown in their laps already during the set up - the iMPLEMENTATION - of the One Barnet scheme.
One Barnet: remember that? The Tories don't refer to this anymore, as it had become something of a toxic brand, before the election, and now must be only slyly nodded at as 'the change programme', or 'alternative delivery of services' or some such claptrap, rather than what it was and is: one of the biggest acts of privatisation of local authority public services in the UK.
Well, One Barnet is well and truly iMPLEMENTED, but there is still more profit to be screwed out of the marketing of our few remaining services, and here they are, with their dear little consultant faces, all keen and shiny and expectant, like puppies in a pet food ad on telly. Or a starving boy in a workhouse. Aww.
Please, Barnet Council, may we have some more? Yes, of course you may.
Take £26,045, for 17 days work.
Nice work, if you can get it. And of course, the response informs us, they got it through 'a competitive tendering exercise that was carried out by the Council's Contract Procedure Rules'. Two bids were received, and iMPOWER were the successful bidder'.
Mrs Angry can reveal that the other bidder was the bROKENBARNET consultancy, which through the course of a competitive dialogue, offered a service providing an unlimited supply of advice, and a generous amount of unsolicited and offensive criticism, at a cost of only £26,044, but the procurement process (run by Crapita) was of course obliged to go for quality, over cost.
The work that we have now coughed up for was, so we were told at the meeting by Ms Val White, Schools, Skills and Learning Lead Commissioner, is for 'commercial modelling' - which conjures up all sorts of thoughts, doesn't it? Oh, and for 'testing some of our hypotheses'.
Mmm. Good idea.
Let's hope the commercial modelling isn't from the same mould as 'Your Choice Barnet', eh? Testing hypotheses, though: that sounds awfully sensible. Except, should we not be learning from the hypotheses that we have already tested in real life, like ... Your Choice Barnet? Which was conceived by ...iMPOWER ...
Tactless, Mrs Angry.
Question 8 by Mr Jacobson was to ask who were the members of the Project Team overseeing the proposals regarding Barnet schools. The response was that there was a Project Board, chaired by Ms White, and attended by 'the Director of Education of Skills' as well as the Customer Services Director and various others. There was, we understood, no conflicts of interest in regard to any previous employees of say, Capita, taking part in the project.
The Director of Education, of course, is one Ian Harrison, who joined Barnet in this post last September. He introduced himself to Barnet schools in a circular, as you can see here:
As Mr Harrison explains, he arrived at Barnet straight from his post as Managing Director of Capita Strategic Children’s Services.
In his introduction he strikes an ominous note:
I am very clear that most schools are now very self-sufficient and require little or no support from the local authority.
Mrs Angry is clear that the writing was on the wall, wasn't it, only days after the Tory leader had signed off the contracts with Capita for so many of our public services, that education was likely to be next?
By 18th September, according to the online minutes of the 'Barnet Partnership for School Improvement' steering group, (good to see from the website that our headteachers are off for their three day annual jolly at the Sandbanks Hotel, btw) ... new Director Mr Harrison was attending discussions with some local school representatives about the future form of the schools partnership:
Neil went through the five options again and reminded the group that Option 5 had been favoured at their previous meeting because there was no loss of control:-
1.Remaining within the council
2.Combining with another authority eg Harrow
3.Becoming a Local Authority Trading Company – which would mean becoming part of a group of companies
4.Subsumed into a private company eg Capita
5.Spinning out to become a stand alone legal entity
Subsumed into a private company eg Capita? *
*Disclaimer: other supersized outsourcing companies are available, in your local private sector marketplace.
Mrs Angry is rather confused. Please help her understand.
We are about to look at the possible outsourcing of educational services in Barnet.
Our procurement is now run by Capita.
Capita was one of those three companies involved in the initial 'market research'.
Capita is likely to want to bid for any contract.
The Director of Education, who is directly involved in the process of forming the review of options and the choice to be made on the future of our educational services has come straight from a managerial post with Capita's education section.
How does this not represent a massive, tangled web of conflict of interest?
Without implying any personal wrongdoing or intentions at all by Mr Harrison, of course, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude these circumstances raise a serious question of, at the very least, the perception of a major conflict of interest, and this really should not be tolerated in any authority with a robust risk strategy, let alone any standards of probity.
Mrs Angry: this is Broken Barnet.
Sorry. Forgot where we were, for one moment.
Back to the questions: around the possibility of a Joint Venture - remember when our senior management team announced 'We have decided on a Joint Venture', and remodelled the DRS/ Re contract, without consulting the Tory leader? Awfully fond of JVs, the outsourcerers, see, because more risk ends up on the shoulders of the Barnet taxpayers ...
Barbara asked for clarification on the degree of satisfaction that would be considered acceptable from residents on such a proposal but received no clear answer, but more babble from Ms White on the lines of something to do with partnership boards. Eh? Asking for a response to the question she asked, and objecting to receiving the wrong answer, she was tersely cut off by Chairwoman Reuben Thompstone.
It's the answer you've been given, he snapped.
Ms White, like most senior officers at times of stress, was by now resorting to her default corporate language setting.
This language, in fact, is an interesting patois, found only in low lying outsourcing regions, and high levels of contract management, used as a form of communication between senior officers, and private sector executives, a type of secret code between peers, like Cockney rhyming slang, polari, or rogues cant.
Like all such phraseology, it is meant to signal warning to others, and build a sense of camaraderie, but more importantly, it confuses the enemy, and acts as cover for real intent.
There are certain phrases that are used, over and over again, like prayer, or as invocations against the threat of discovery.
Direction of travel. Overarching. Mystical references to journeys, and landscapes. Mrs Angry particularly likes the latter: conjuring up a view of Broken Barnet not as the primeval swamp it has become, but a rural idyll, with nymphs and shepherds (or at least Mr Shepherd) frolicking in the arcadian fields, untainted by the incursion of the industrial revolution, and its bastard child, the rise of capitalism.
So, as our officers would say, do say, at the beginning of every utterance they make at meetings:
We are on a journey with schools. F*ck knows where we are going, although ... I think we can guess, can't we, readers? But this journey, you know, is through a landscape, and: the landscape is changing.
Et in arcadia ego.
As for consultation, the council will be 'teasing out' the views of residents.
Of course Mrs Angry rather enjoys teasing people, if she is particularly fond of them, although prone to be upset if anyone does it to her, which is silly.
So: please: no teasing, thank you, senior officers of Broken Barnet, and Crapita. In or out.
Let's have some grown up, full blown, full on consultation: no need to be shy. We are consenting adults, alone in the privacy of our own borough. No one's looking. Well, actually, yes they are: but don't let that put you off ... oh. Oh dear. Never mind. We still love you: really we do. There, there.
More of the secret language of corporate claptrappery followed, courtesy of Ms White.
There were of course key drivers to the 'project'. Awfully important, but Mrs Angry was bored, and forgot to write them down. And a relentless focus on educational outcomes. I know, that sounds rather Dotheboys School, but it refers to the 'relentless drive for efficiency' which is - oh, hang on, was the leitmotif, the raison d'etre, of One Barnet. Bit old hat now, isn't it, as well as - well: not true?
Then we heard that, ah yes, good: one of the drivers was financial, of course, and all sorts of complex factors, but our senior officers were pretty sure there were ways we can harness this in the new landscape.
Hmm. Mrs Angry, whose dinner had consisted of half a banana and two old sweets found in the bottom of her bag, had a vision of herds of lovely wild horses running free across the nuclear wasteland of Capitaville, being rounded up by a stern faced Mr Harrison, and Ms White, dressed in a fetching rhinestone cowgirl outfit. A charming scene.
Wake up, Mrs Angry, from your crapitorial reverie: now we hear of worrying plans to put all our resources into a critical mass ... Sounds rather Boson Higgs, doesn't it, readers?
There is, we learn next, a strong appetite in Barnet to work with us. Us, who? You? Quantify appetite, in this context? Oh, and these potential punters are all desperate for more information.
What is the ask, they want to know, said Ms White, as Mrs Angry, and Mr and Mrs Jacobson wept, in the public seating.
Seems to Mrs Angry the only ones with an appetite for dumping our educational services are excited about this only as a result of enticement (one of Mrs Angry's favourite words, although something she is clearly very bad at), enticement by those evangelists, keen to lobby for a new and almost certainly commercial provision.
If it ain't broke ...
Time to discuss the report and whether of not to approve it. Labour's Anne Hutton raised the point about the need to consider in-house provision - an option strangely ruled out at an early stage in the previous outsourcing, and not favoured in this one.
Then, by some miracle, Tory Dan Thomas agreed to add the option to the motion being agreed for future consideration.
Showing a display of insight rarely seen amongst our Tory members, or clairvoyance on a scale usually only entrusted to the far seeing eye of Mrs Angry, he said he sensed there was some cynicism about how an in-house option was being treated. There was, he said, no harm in us looking into it.
Yes, thought Mrs Angry, nor was there with the two previous contracts, and why did you not speak up then?
Still, we must encourage our young Tories when they show some sign of latent intelligence, so - well done, Cllr Thomas.
Ian Harrison, Director of Education, and Tom Pike
Some question now about the involvement of the unions, as of course many jobs are at stake here. Mr Harrison said that there had been a joint negotiation meeting two weeks ago. In fact it emerged that there had been a one sided briefing, which did not amount to a dialogue, and then, rather perplexingly as the meeting came to a close it became apparent that Unison secretary John Burgess, who had expected to be invited to make some comments to the committee, was overlooked.
John Burgess is a man of immense integrity, and courage: a hardworking union leader who has continued for years now, against all the odds, to battle for the protection of workers facing redundancy in the face of an attitude from the Tory council ranging from indifference to one of active obstruction, exemplified by the loss of facility time earlier this year. He and his union reports, usually compiled with great care by local government experts and academics, are continually overlooked. It't not hard to see why.
Never fear: Mrs Angry happens to have a copy of what he would have said, if he had been invited to the table, like a grown up:
Thank you for allowing me to address this committe on behalf of the joint trade unions. You will have seen the UNISON report on the proposals before you tonight.
We have tried to keep it brief and succinct in order to allow the reader to understand the critical issues and concerns we have with this report.
We have reason to be concerned when we read a business case which recommends outsourcing based on growth.
I refer of course to Your Choice Barnet, which is an example of what happens when the financial experts advising the council get it wrong.
Before I start I would like to add a caveat.
The Trade Unions have not been provided with the detailed financial evidence behind many of the assumptions made in this report.
I am assuming all members of this committee have seen this evidence.
In the interests of transparency please can this information be shared in order we are able to understand the rationale behind the recommendations of the report.
Without this information the report reads as biased & ideologically driven. It fails to acknowledge or recognise the hard work of loyal council workers.
In house services have consistently had to deal with year on year cuts and increased demand & yet still provide first class service to residents.
This resilience in the face of diminishing resources is simply not recognised in the flawed Scoring Matrix in Appendix B.
The issues facing members of the committe are:
- Dwindling financial support as a result of the cuts to local government.
- The need to develop a service delivery model which can sustain & grow in order to maintain excellent services for our community.
Councillors: you have a live example of a thriving innovative in house service which has won business from both public and private sector in and out of this borough and is even providing services in the House of Commons.
I am referring to the Catering Service.
In the report at paragraph 1.35 it states the 'in -house model would have less capacity for growing traded services'.
This is simply not true, the service has been doing just that for many years.
The Catering service is already operating within a competitive business environment yet has managed to increase the number of schools wanting to purchase the in house service.
The Catering service is a genuine traded service which has operated as a true business for many years returning significant profit to the council every year.
Why would the Council want to share any of the profits this service generates with another partner?
Councillors, I am speaking to you, as you are the Employer.
How can you ignore a success story just because it is an in house service? If an in house service can achieve the success Catering has delivered, why can't Education and Skills services?
336 council staff are watching and waiting to see what you do next.
Another 1600 staff are also watching.
There is a view within the workforce that the Council doesn't really value the staff.
This is reinforced every time a service delivery model proposal disregards the in house option and recommends outsourcing.
Staff working in Libraries, Street Scene Services and Early Years Children's Centres are all watching and waiting to hear how you deal with this latest outsourcing proposal.
Senior officers advise, but you Councillors decide.