Friday 26 June 2015

Competitive tension, or: providing the right fit - another outsourcing farce in Broken Barnet

Please, Mr Travers: Mrs Angry says our gruel is about to be outsourced through a non competitive tender process, so can I have some more, before the whole service fails, and we are left with nothing to eat?

Goodness me: here is more wonderful news for the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet. Yes, keen as we are to sit back and watch our Tory councillors do as they are told by their own senior management, and surrender almost every last scrap of democratic control of our public services into the sweaty little hands of the outsourcerers, look: another opportunity for the easycouncil marketing of our beloved borough.

Education and school meals services, now. 

A contract was put out to tender in January, with a value that could range from £89 million to a stonking £986 million  (fantasy figures, admittedly) - and three companies put in bids. 

Capita, of course: if only to remind everyone they run the show and should have first go at anything else up for grabs; EC Harris, who - oh - rather surprisingly dropped out, just before the dialogue process began - and Mott McDonald Ltd, trading as Cambridge Education.  

As you can see here, and here,Unison expressed its concern when EC Harris threw in the towel, to be given breathless assurances that there was no need to 'revisit' the business model, a model which, as fellow blogger Mr Reasonable suggests, is fatally flawed:

Barnet has absolutely no common sense, it seems, when it comes to business models for outsourcing. 

Our Tory councillors swallow any old claptrap dreamed up, at our expense, by fee-hungry private consultants, feeding off the public purse, and even when they fail, as in the case of Your Choice Barnet, happily pour more money down the drain to keep it going, while preaching to us about the need for cuts, simply in order to save face, and because of their cockeyed ideological obsession with privatisation.

YCB failed, and had to be bailed out by us, the taxpayers, in an emergency payment, just to keep it going: yet another example of Barnet Tory ideology relying on the subsidy of public money, in order to survive, in defiance of their own philosophy of market values.

That Your Choice Barnet failed is hardly a surprise, based as it is on the stupid and offensive idea that it is possible to make profit from the provision of care to disabled and vulnerable people. Guess what? You can't: but still we pay the price for their hubris, and their unthinking obedience to the rule of the consultants and contractors who now run this borough, and are obliged to keep the whole thing going, profit or not.

Worse still, the already low paid workers doing their best to provide the care to residents who rely on this vital service were targeted to carry the continuing cost of failure: told to accept a 9.5 % cut in pay. As the ineffable 'Strategic Director for Communities' Kate Kennally declared, these workers - rather than senior managers in receipt of six figure salaries, or the cohorts of consultants, of course - 'had to take a haircut'. 

The business case for the latest outsourcing plan is also a load of cobblers, cobbled together in the knowledge that our Tory councillors will approve anything put before them.

As Mr R says:

The problem is that much of the justification for pursuing an outsourced joint venture is predicated on generating a large amount of new income from traded services with other local authorities. In total 71% of the financial improvement is from income growth rather than efficiency savings and of that 60% comes from school meals.

Hmm. School meals. 

Mrs Angry has very unhappy memories of school meals, readers. 

Allow her a moment of indulgence, as she recalls the ordeal of sitting, in compulsory silence, like Oliver Twist, at the long tables of St Vincent's dining hall: girls only allowed half the portion of boys, and no seconds. If you wanted any. No food could be left. The only way to deal with the evil, inedible, boiled vegetables was to drop them onto the floor, or sneak stuff - if you were really desperate - into your pockets. Any kitchen leftovers were taken down to the farm behind the orphanage, for pig swill. The infant Mrs Angry sometimes wondered if the process worked the other way round, and that we were being obliged to eat the food the pigs refused to consume.

Food at St Michael's wasn't much better. Mrs Angry once found a piece of lino in her jelly, on which the vintage, possibly pre-war pattern was clearly discernible. Complaints were not encouraged: indeed at both (Catholic) schools we were obliged, before eating, to give thanks to God for 'these thy gifts which we are about to receive', and reminded, of course, of the starving children around the world who were going without food at all.

Mrs Angry's children were spared the torment of school dinners, and given packed lunches. They were quite happy, seeing the stuff their friends had to eat: including on one memorable occasion when one boy found a worm in his food. Eurgh.

This was all before the influence of another Oliver - ie Jamie - had really kicked in, of course, and the idea that children might like to eat (wormfree) food that was ... well, edible, and nutritious. 

And now schools have to produce such meals, on very tight budgets. It's not really possible to do this easily, and it certainly is well night next to impossible to make a profit from it, yet this latest plan is based on that very principle.

It seems the new tender is based on the belief that it is possible to make a 20% profit margin from the provision of school meals. Mr R, who can count, you know, and do difficult sums reckons at the moment, Barnet manages on a margin of around 2.7%. Ah.

The other day Mrs Angry's spies forwarded copies of the following email sent to schools in the borough in regard to the tender process of education services:

Dear colleague/headteacher

The deadline for receipt of outline solutions was noon on Friday 12th June.  By that deadline an outline solution had been received from Mott Macdonald trading as Cambridge Education.  Capita Business Services Ltd submitted a letter withdrawing from the procurement process, as they had concluded that this particular opportunity did not provide the right fit with their Entrust business model.

Well, well: Capita has withdrawn from the process. 

Even in Capitaville, where there is no profit to be had, there is no incentive. 

This particular opportunity did not provide the right fit with their Entrust business model.

Must have the right fit, mustn't you, for a happy union, and maximum mutual satisfaction?

On Tuesday 16th June, Cambridge Education gave a presentation of their Outline Solution to the evaluation team, which included headteachers, as well as Barnet officers and specialist advisors.  Their submission was subsequently evaluated by the team, who concluded that the submission provided sufficient, credible evidence that continuing dialogue would be likely to result in the submission of a final tender that would meet the needs of the Council and schools. 

Specialist advisors = more overpaid consultants? 

And then:  'The team' concluded there was 'sufficient, credible evidence ... of a tender that would meet the needs of the Council and schools'. 

A happy ending after all, then, in the House of Fun?

Following consultation with senior officers in the Council, it was agreed that we would proceed to the second phase of dialogue with a single bidder.  It is recognised that this may raise questions about the lack of competitive tension in the process and the subsequent ability of the Council to test best value from the final tender.  However, it is not unusual for competitive dialogue procurements to end up with a single bidder and there are various robust means through which we can test best value.

Oh ffs:

'this may raise questions about the lack of competitive tension in the process ...'

A lack of competitive tension. Yep. That would be the thing, wouldn't it, that is missing, from this competitive process?


Funny, because Tories like competition, don't they? It is the guiding principle of all their market force based economic theories. 

Open up commercial opportunities in the public sector, because 'competition' brings 'choice' and better value for money for the public purse.

No: no, it doesn't, see: here we are, with the perfect example of what a nonsense the whole outsourcing process is, and always will be.

Of course we are making assumptions, aren't we, Mrs Angry? 

We are assuming that the one remaining contender in this 'competition' will, erm ... 'win' the 'competition' and the contract. 

And maybe you can have competitive tension, without a competitor. 

Like sexual tension, without a lover. Or with an imaginary friend. But then, as @lokster71 commented: 'to paraphrase Woody Allen, 'Don't knock it. It's competition with someone you love ...'

Hmm. But ... think I prefer the real thing, don't you, readers?

You know how to outsource, don't you Steve? Just put a notice in the tender supplement of the official journal of the European Union, and blow a load of taxpayers' dosh on a few consultants' bills ...

Still. Just try to imagine the thrill of say ... 

A presidential election in Azerbaijan. 

A Grand National, with one horse running. 

A football final with Manchester United. 

A conversation in an empty room.

The sound of one hand clapping.

All the same, Mrs Angry: We are assured of  'robust means' of ensuring best value for residents. 

We like the word 'robust', in Broken Barnet. It means: something we are not sure about, but has been run by the Monitoring Officer, who reckons, after a bit of chewing the end of his pencil, and thinking hard, that we can probably go ahead.

And in closing:

We have set very clear objectives for this procurement, against which any final tender would be evaluated.  We will work closely with our commercial and legal advisors to develop detailed sub-criteria to strengthen our ability to test any final tender against those objectives.  We will also provide for more dialogue time with the remaining bidder to ensure that their solution does meet the needs of the Council and schools.  The Final Business Case will include a comparison of the final tender against the financial modelling that has previously been carried out for the in-house and social enterprise models.

We are looking forward to working with Cambridge Education during the second phase of dialogue.  However, we are also clear that the final decision on whether or not to award a contract rests with Elected Members and we continue to reserve the right to curtail the procurement process at any time, if we believe that we will not be able to secure the right solution for the Council, schools and residents.

Ooh. Look. We are also clear that the final decision ... rests with Elected Members.

Are we?

Elected Members. You know, those councillors who do as they are told, when it comes to signing off any contract, if it leaves them more time on the golf course, or asleep at the committee table. 

On Wednesday Unison representatives met management to discuss the latest development, and express their deep concern about the process continuing with only one bidder, making it clear to officers that:

...  going ahead with the privatisation talks with just one contractor was clearly wrong. Furthermore we added that to go ahead simply reinforces the feelings of the workforce that the Council is wedded to outsourcing even when the market is clearly saying that there is very little interest. Only outsourcing fundamentalists would argue that Best Value can be achieved under these circumstances. 

They also objected to the interesting fact that it has now been revealed that:

... global giant ISS will be taking over our Catering Services and that they have been involved in the contract talks all along. Unison expressed our disappointment this had not been shared with staff in the recent staff briefing or been shared with councillors on the Children's, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee.   

Not shared with councillors? Surely not?

The Unison response continues:

The confirmation of the news about the subcontractor reinforces our concern that low paid members will be targeted to deliver savings which will now have to be split three ways i.e. Barnet Council, Mott Macdonald & ISS.

As we know, the profit margin in the business case is set at an unattainable level of 20% - which now will have to be shared by three parties. If the real level of profit remains as low as 2.7%, clearly the 'savings' from this latest privatisation will yet again prove to be so minimal as to be virtually non existent.

Unison are quite right to predict that the resultant failure, as in the case of Your Choice Barnet, will be borne not by those who devised the contract, or signed up for it, but by those who will work in these services, on the lowest paid jobs, with the worst terms of conditions. 

And what do our councillors, those Elected Members, have to say about all this? 

F*ck knows. There is a resounding silence, from all sides. One might have hoped to have seen at least some sort of response, commentary, or press release from the Labour leadership, if not the Tories, but if there has been anything, it has escaped Mrs Angry's attention.

Mrs Angry's spies tell her there is state of panic, now, in the House of Fun. Senior managers know perfectly well that this latest outsourcing process is in real trouble. 

Clearly the only thing to do is to call a halt, and either re-advertise the tender, or, as anyone with any sense would do, throw the whole proposals out, and forget about it. 

The easycouncil model, whose history is nothing more than a sequence of unfortunate events - contracts that we are promised will deliver enormous savings, savings whose existence has still to be proven - continues to be hammered frantically into a suitable narrative, one that fits its status as the flagship of outsourcing: the leading privateer in a sea of piracy and plunder. 

Whatever the cost of failure to residents and staff, the programme of privatisation supports a massive industry of those who rely on the process itself for their own benefit: contractors, consultants, managers - and whatever the outcome in terms of deals, or savings, or lack of savings, they will be there, waiting on the cliffs, watching the flagship in trouble - and waiting to see what washes up on the shore.

But it'll be us, the residents, that pick up all the wreckage.

Monday 22 June 2015

The Best of Our Knowledge, or: the outsourcing of trust, in Broken Barnet

*Updated 16th July: 

Barnet Council tries to block the disclosure of the truth behind the depot purchase recommendation, see below ...

Ok. Mrs Angry has, as you can see, fallen off the wagon, given into temptation, and reverted, once again, to a temporary indulgence in the venial sin of bloggery. See previous post. And now look, another lapse. 

Or to put it another way, Mrs Angry has been reminded, in the course of the last few days, why she felt obliged to launch the wretched blog in the first place, unable any longer to stand the culture of greed, decadence, and incompetence in this most rotten of Rotten Boroughs. 

A press release emerged from Barnet Labour last week - yes: just fancy that! - and do you know, readers, it was quite interesting. No, really. Take a look - here 

Interesting, see, not really because of anything the Labour councillors had done, except make a complaint, but because of a very, very interesting discovery by 'local residents'. 

It is generally the case, in Broken Barnet, that interesting discoveries are made by local residents, after all. And local bloggers, of course.

To begin at the beginning.

The story of the proposed waste depot in Oakleigh Road South, N11, is a very peculiar tale, and what we know about now it makes the story even more perplexing.

Barnet Council, in its haste to open up even more sites in the borough for private housing developments, decided some years ago - in 2004 - to close its depot in Mill Hill East, before finalising plans to move to an alternative location. They then proposed to move the depot to Pinkham Way, conveniently just a step over the border in Haringey, on the southern side of the North Circular. Unfortunately for Barnet, this proposal fell through, after a long and loud campaign of protest from residents. 

Oh dear: ten years after the Mill Hill site was sold - now where to move the depot? Erm ... Lots of head scratching, in the offices of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. Hang on, what about the Abbots Way site, in Oakleigh Road South? 

They've already got a skip company operating from there, so they won't mind the addition of more heavy industrial traffic in the area - a load of bin lorries coming to and fro, a bulking facility for decaying food waste & rubbish, a fuel station etc, will they? 

And anyway, the ward it's in has two Labour councillors, oh, and well yes, Tory Lisa Rutter, clinging to her seat - for the time being - by her dainty ex Mayoral fingertips. Expendable. Easy.

No: not so easy. 

The residents living in this area, unsurprisingly, deeply object to this new facility being foisted on them, and have made their concerns known, with no uncertainty. In a statement made by RAAD: Residents Against Abbots Depot, the campaigning group now formed to fight the new depot move, they claim no consultation with residents was made before the decision was formally approved, last December: 

We residents found out about the waste depot moving to our front doors only AFTER the decision was taken, not having received any information about it from Barnet Council at all. 

On the 16th of March 2015 we residents attended a meeting held by Barnet Council and submitted numerous questions on the matter prior to the meeting and in the given time limit. 

The few answers we got from the Council, included information about 8 other sites considered for the waste depot and Council’s reasons for rejection: 

a) Lupa House, Borehamwood: rejected due to ‘significant planning constraints due to existing neighboring residential uses’. 

b) BSA House (Jehovah Witnesses), Mill Hill: rejected because being near ‘residential properties means that any planning application would be complicated by the potential impacts a depot use may have locally’. 

c) Sites in Bunns Lane, Mill Hill: amongst the reasons was the following ‘There are also residential properties in close proximity which raises concerns in relation to operational impacts and vehicular access arrangements’. 

d) Pinkham way which fell through due to resident action against the proposal BUT: 

Abbots Depot Oakleigh Rd South N11 is considered an appropriate site for the waste depot even though the area is densely populated, with a nursery and housing for vulnerable people and the only recreation Park in our area only a few meters away and approximately 20 nursery, primary and secondary schools located nearby. 

The difference between our area and the sites that were rejected due to proximity to ‘residential properties’can be found: 

a) Through the Inglis Consortium website where it is made clear that sites A, B and C are too near the new residential development hencethreatening possible profits 

b)Through the Office of National Statistics where our area’s demographics are documented 

To be specific: 

Our area consists of 52% ethnic minorities of middle to lower income, with little political, financial or social power whatsoever. 

On the other hand Muswell Hill and Mill Hill consists of a 60%+ white British population with a high percentage of ‘AB’ consumers. 


We residents strongly believe that we are being discriminated against because of our social status and ethnic diversity of our neighborhood s and our human rights, are thus being violated: 

a) Our local administration has ignored our right to be consulted before decisions affect us adversely are taken. 

b) We local residents are refused any access to information – our FOI access to relevant documents, surveys etc which might ease our reasonable 

c) Our local administration is raising health and hazard issues concerning the storage of 70.000 litres of diesel on site, near flammable waste, next to several timber merchants in the middle of a highly populated area. 

d) Our quality of life is being undermined as the noise, fumes, increased risk of traffic accidents, air pollution and vermin from the waste (food waste included), willnot allow us to enjoy our family lives and properties. 

e) A leaflet distributed by Barnet Council does not accurately describe all the processes that will be taking place on the proposed waste depot so residents can make an informed decision. In fact it is not even mentioning the word waste. 

Two of our local councillors, Cllr Lisa Rutter, (7th March 2015, Osidge Lane Library) and Cllr Brian Salinger(9th April, Oakleigh Community Church) have cynically admitted that although they support the relocation of the Mill Hill depot to our locality they wouldn't live in the area… 

Our local MP Theresa Villiers supports the relocation of the Mill Hill waste depot in our area even though she supported the Pinkham way campaign in Haringey 

Having no other means left to fight for our rights we kindly request you to look into our matter. We request the 16th December decision is cancelled and a 6 month consultation period taking place prior to any decision made that will affect our lives and health.

Local residents were incensed when these plans were passed by the council, without their participation in any consultation - and after their local Tory councillor Lisa Rutter failed to oppose them, despite their objections. She made a few mildly handwringing observations  at the meeting, and then abstained from the vote - while those in the gallery (well, yes, Mrs Angry) yelled 'vote against it, then'  - when Rutter knew full well that the proposals would go through on the casting vote of the Tory Mayor.

Her chances of being re-elected, in an area which has seen an incremental change in voting from Tory to Labour at the last two elections are now ... minimal. A petition has been lauched calling for her to resign. 

But the depot will go ahead. At no little expense to the taxpayers of Broken Barnet. At vast expense, in fact, in these times of austerity: £13.5 million, to be exact. 

Seems a lot of dosh, doesn't it? Hmm. Seemed a lot at the time, but: that was then, and this is now, and now it seems: oh dear - we may have paid slightly over the odds for the site. 

When we say 'slightly over the odds', of course, we mean only by a margin of, well, around, £12,750,000

Yes. That's right. £12, 750 million of your money, my money, our money. 

Let Mrs Angry explain. 

The proposal to buy the same site for £13.5 million was agreed at full council last December. At the time much criticism was made of what seemed to be an exorbitant price, based on a former valuation of £8 million, 8 or so years ago. 

But what was not known then was that six months earlier a company had bought the very same site ... for only £750, 000. Yep. Only £750,000

Yet officers of the council had informed Labour councillor Geof Cooke, on the 19th May 2015, that: 

 ‘To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14’. 

Dear me. It seems 'the best of our knowledge' is a definition that fails to include the most basic search of Land Registry records, acessible to anyone within a few minutes to spare. 

Accessible, it should be said, to everyone: including Tory councillors - and Labour councillors, to be fair. 

Mrs Angry is beginning to wonder if perhaps something is awry in the newly outsourced planning services, here in the London Borough of Broken Barnet: newly outsourced to Capita, of course.

Planning officers, as we saw at the time of the Inquiry into the West Hendon compulsory purchases at least, are apparently unaware of the existence of some of the most obvious sources of information, such as the authority's own local archives, and all other material and resources available to document the history and heritage of sites targeted for development. 

And now it seems planning officers are not familiar with the process of checking the ownership of properties and land via the Land Registry. Or is it, as we shall see has now become the excuse of certain Tory councillors, the fault of officers specifically tasked with the role of valuation?

Nor is any councillor familiar with the notion of looking things up on the Land Registry, it would appear - either Tory or Labour. But then there is a quaint tradition, in this borough, of tame councillors in power and in (what passes for) opposition never to challenge the word of an officer, in case it upsets them, and makes them cry. 

This charming practice, a hangover from the good old days when officers were gentlemen, and allowed to perform their duties without being dragged into the political intrigues of our elected representatives, is no longer appropriate. 

Although less senior officers should not be held responsible for the political pressures forced upon them by their own senior managers, or indeed the political administration, the harsh truth is that this authority, and the outsourcing process is run entirely by senior management, and yes, actually: they should be held to account, with ruthless insistence - even if it does make them cry - or at least shift slightly uncomfortably in their seats at the committee table. 

Indeed Mrs Angry has noted a new tendency to some of the more recently appointed senior officers to speak to councillors with a certain amount of arrogance, almost as if, readers, almost as if ... they really did think that they were running the council, and not our elected representatives. 

It is also true to say that since the Capita contracts began, less and less democratic oversight is given to the massive decisions being made, both in terms of general policy, and on the lesser scale of issues such as planning. 

Officers are gaining more and more power to make those decisions, and councillors are being increasingly alienated from the process of governance. 

 Well: we all make mistakes, don't we? 

And £13.5 million is neither here nor there, is it? 

Funnily enough, this is about the value of the land given away by our Tory councillors to Barratts to develop the West Hendon estate. 

One can only admire the consistency with which they make these distributions of largesse, at the expense of the taxpayers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

And here we are, throwing another £12 million or so at a purchase of land, an act of generosity which neatly ignores the fact that, for example, our library service is about to be destroyed on the pretext of an austerity budget cut of £2.85 million. How many times does that go into £13.5 million? Erm. Oh, someone work it out.

Oh yes, and let us not forget that this site, costing us this exorbitant amount of our hard earned dosh, may only be available for five or ten years, as it is likely to be needed as railway sidings for the Cross Rail 2 extension to New Southgate.

And about that £750,000. 

The company which bought the site? A company called Cergold. That is to say a company owned by the Comer brothers, who happen to be the landlords of ... Barnet Council, being the owners of North London Business Park, where the council's offices have been for some years, although now due to move - at further expense - to Grahame Park. 

The Comer brothers were also the developers of Princess Park Manor, the former county asylum, now turned into a number of luxurious properties: and in fact run a hugely successful company, with assets worth an estimated £2 billion. Not bad for a couple of plasterers from Galway. The boys done good: read all about it herewhere we learn their abiding principle, and the reason for their success - hard physical slog in the early days, and then astute investment in the right sort of potential development: buy cheap, sell high - acquire low value land in the right location, at the right time, build on it - and then wait for the profits to roll in. 

Why have they bought this site? Who knows. Who knew? We don't know. Someone might. If so, they haven't explained it yet. Why did Barnet/Capita officers not know the site had already been bought, or part of it, (none of this is clear) when they told councillors last year and this year that there were no changes to the freehold or leasehold site? How can such a lack of due diligence be anything other than incompetence? 

The residents objecting to the Abbots Road depot went last Saturday to Councillor Lisa Rutter's surgery at Osidge Library. 

She was accompanied by deputy Tory group leader Daniel Thomas, for some reason. Thomas is a councillor in Finchley, so clearly was in attendance in support of Rutter, as deputy leader, rather than just casually dropping in. 

Also in attendance, incidentally, were police officers: the Tory councillors claimed that they had not requested police to be there, so it is something of a mystery as to why they turned up to monitor a few elderly citizens in flat caps and rainmacs, exercising their democratic right to lobby their elected representatives.

Also mysterious, almost delphic in its cryptic tone, was the response given by Cllr Thomas in response to a question from residents about the depot: a response minuted by a representative at the meeting: 

Q: Why was £13.5 million spent on acquiring the proposed Abbots Waste Depot site, when the same piece of land was sold the previous year for £750k ?

Daniel Thomas:  £13.5 million was the market value provided by the District Valuer. No one knows the circumstances of the sale for £750k.

Well, well. The 'district valuer', so not a valuation by Capita, then? 

Mrs Angry has asked Councillor Daniel Thomas to confirm the implication of his reported remark at the Osidge meeting, and that he blamed Capita for what appears to be a massive overspend on this site.  

I would like to ask you about your reported comments at the meeting at Osidge Library on Saturday, in regard to the waste depot proposal. 

Can you confirm that you said, as minuted, that the responsibility for the £13.5 million expenditure of taxpayers' money on a site that was sold for only £750,000 last year was entirely that of the district valuer, ie Capita? 

 And do you think this represents good value for money, for those taxpayers, in terms of the purchase of the site, and in terms of the standard of service by your contractual partners Capita?

Just as this post was going to be published without a response, an email from Cllr Thomas landed in Mrs Angry's in box, as follows:

"I’m aware that a conversation I had with some campaigners two weekends ago appears to have been inaccurately reported to third parties.  Incidentally, I saw no minutes being taken by any of the four people Cllr Rutter and I met with.  It is interesting that amongst comments attributed to me, left out was a campaigner’s lack of objection when, after complaining her school had to take on a bulge class, I responded it was just as well the council was receiving £millions from the Mill Hill redevelopment which will help build more classrooms across the borough.  Relocation of the depot will help make this huge capital receipt possible even after the costs of a new depot are taken into account, not to mention the benefit of new homes and a new school.  

The district valuer is not ‘responsible’ for council expenditure but can be consulted for advice on land transactions.  If their advice was that £750k reflected open market value we clearly would not be paying the sum we intend, remembering that the purchase is subject to planning permission for a depot being granted.  It is the value of the land as a depot site which is relevant to the council.

The previous ‘£750k transaction’ does not represent open market value which is obvious given the size, scarcity and availability of such plots.  It is also the case that the parties involved in that transaction were connected and so further demonstrates it was not an ‘open market’ purchase and cannot be reliably used as an indicator of value. 

I’m therefore happy that, yet again, Barnet Council is acting in the best interests of taxpayers.  I’m also very happy with the high quality services provided by Capita, which also represent good value for money and allow us to redirect decreasing revenue budgets from the back office to front line services. 

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Deputy Leader of the Council" 

This response, of course, raises more questions than ever: Mrs Angry has replied with just two for now. 

You say that the district valuer - ie Capita - can be consulted for advice on land transactions. Was the district valuer consulted, or not? 

And why did officers state quite clearly to Cllr Cooke on the 19th May this year: 

'To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14'?

And here, just in, is his response: 

Cllr Cooke has recently received a response to his questions including the one below.  No doubt he/Barnet Labour will publish the responses to their questions on their ‘complaint’ webpage, but in advance of that I can exclusively reveal to you that, one and a half hours after Cllr Cooke received the response you quote below, he was sent an update to clarify there was indeed a transaction in June 2014.

The council’s monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and confirmed it was robust.  I’ve been advised the district valuer was consulted on this transaction.

Hmm. But we still don't know why councillors were not informed of the true state of play when the decision to approve the £13.5 million payment was made, do we?

 Mrs Angry has replied:

I am of course sure that the residents of Barnet will have all concerns put to rest by the assurance that the authority's own Monitoring Officer found the process was 'robust'. 

Failing that, it might be an awfully good idea if we have an independent, external investigation to ensure that the process was not only 'robust', but is fully transparent, and made accountable to those residents and taxpayers who will have to foot the bill.

We need to establish why misleading information was given to councillors, and why the district valuer provided a market value that differs so vastly from the price Barnet paid for their own stake in this site.

If Capita are at fault in any way, this would raise the most serious questions about the contract performance, and would require a full account to local taxpayers as to why such a large payment has been made necessary by the taxpayers of this borough for the acquisition of this site.

Now here is another interesting story.

As reported recently, by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, now that Barnet Council has decided to vacate the offices at NLBP, it appears that the Comer brothers, through another company of theirs called Hindale Limited, are to make an application to its former tenants for a massive development on the site, of 1600 new houses:

And it seems in order for this application to proceed as smoothly as possible, reports Mr Reasonable:

'Hindale will pay Barnet £105,364 for officers' time to prepare a site development brief and to provide pre application advice to inform the preparation of the planning application for the site ...'

Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that the planning application 'informed' by Barnet/Capita officers will then go on to receive a recommendation to grant approval by, erm ... Barnet/Capita officers. None whatever.

Mrs Angry imagines that, however, we can rely on our obedient Tory councillors to rubber stamp the application, should they, by some chance, look with favour on the application their officers have helped to 'inform'. 

Barnet Tory councillors look with favour on any private development put be before them, on an ideological basis: the easycouncil mantra of Barnet Tories - private sector good, public sector bad. 

And Mrs Angry is fully confident that we will be told there will be all sorts of 'Chinese walls' and 'protocols' to assure us there is absolutely no conflict of interest between officers acting as both advisers and scrutineers of a planning application, just as there was apparently no conflict of interest inherent in Capita acting in the management of the 'regeneration' of West Hendon, and the valuation of the compulsory purchase properties.

Are you satisfied by that assurance, readers? 

There is no suggestion of any underhand activity by developers, or indeed that there is any connection between the Abbots depot purchase, and the NLBP proposals. Although the two sites are less than half a mile apart, that is probably coincidental: their companies as we know, invest in land all the time, as part of their modus operandi.

And if the Comer brothers managed to get a stake in the depot site for £750K, good for them: that may well mean they displayed a rather more acute business acumen than our own senior management team, and our contractual partners. Perhaps they should be providing pre application advice for us, rather than the other way round. 

But what is of concern is the multiplicity of roles that our outsourcing partners are now taking in the management of private development, here in Barnet, and the risk this raises of conflict of interest, and the lowering of standards of service - the loss of trust in due process - and the real risk of even greater cost to taxpayers, at time when the budget for essential public services are being so ruthlessly slashed.

To put this all in context: the other reason residents went to Osidge library, a week or so ago, and put questions to their local councillor - and Councillor Thomas - was in regard to the appalling proposals now threatening our library service with destruction.  

These terrible plans include options to close many branches, shrink them in size by 93%, or even remove staff from libraries, and leave them as 'open' branches, not only de-professionalised, but totally unsupervised: in essence a few books on a shelf, the conception of some fool who has never used a public library in his life, and cares even less about the survival of a library service in any recognisable form. 

These cuts, on such a barbaric scale, are being proposed by our Tory councillors on the pretext of austerity, of course: an economic necessity they still like to blame on Labour financial incompetence, and extravagance, rather than the self indulgence of bankers, or world recession. Neither financial incompetence, nor extravagance is ever the responsibility, in their eyes, of any Conservative administration.

Yet here we are again, in Broken Barnet, where our Tory councillors have given away public land worth £12 million to private developers for £3, and blown another £13.5 million on a site that would appear to have been acquired for only £750,000 ... 

Incompetence, or extravagance? Unacceptable, either way. 

Don't let the Tories fool you. 

It is not a question of how much money we have: it is always a question of what they choose to spend our money on - and what they choose to spend our money on is entirely at the whim of their half baked, swivel eyed lunatic ideology: here in Barnet our Tory administration, the bastard child of Thatcherite materialism, reduces everything to the measure of profit, and and the best interests of private enterprise. 

That they were elected to office to represent me and you, and that the senior officers they employ are meant to safeguard our rights and our investment is of no importance. 

The only thing to do is to refuse to tolerate their insufferable regime. The fight continues, after all, and after all: what else can you do?

*Updated 16th July

Mrs Angry decided last month to find out exactly what was the truth behind the recommended purchase of the Abbots Road Depot, and submitted a Freedom of Information request on this matter. This response has now been sent: 

Dear Mrs Angry 

Thank you for your request for information received on 16 June 2015 for the following information: 

"Please send me copies of any correspondence, notes, record of discussions, or telephone calls by Barnet officers, since May 2014 up to the present date, in regard to the issue of establishing the identity of the ownership of the Abbots Depot site in Oakleigh Road South. This is to include any proof of checks made via the Land Registry site, and the date on which such checks were made..." 

We are processing this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 

I can confirm that the Council holds information of the description specified in your request. The Act requires us to respond to request promptly and in any case within 20 working days from the date we received your request. However we consider that some of the information is exempt and we need further time to carry out the public interest. This is where we need to balance the public interest in disclosing the information against the public interest in withholding it. 

We estimate that it will take an additional 10 days to take a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies. 

Therefore, we will respond by 29 July 2015. 

Hmm. Well. "Therefore", Mrs Angry has replied:

Dear Ms X:

I have checked with the ICO guidelines, and it clearly states the following, if you are claiming extra time to consider exemption on the grounds of 'public interest':

"To claim this extra time, you must:

contact the requester in writing within the standard time for compliance;

specify which exemption(s) you are seeking to rely on; and

give an estimate of when you will have completed the public interest test".

You have not specified which exemption(s) you are seeking to rely on. Kindly do so now.

The ICO also states:

"You must bear in mind that the principle behind the Act is to release information unless there is a good reason not to. To justify withholding information, the public interest in maintaining the exemption would have to outweigh the public interest in disclosure".

It is self evident that it is most certainly in the public interest for the residents and taxpayers of this borough to know why their elected representatives were not properly informed before being asked to approve a £12 million* purchase of land previously sold for £750,000, and for those residents and taxpayers to see that due diligence was undertaken before officers of the council/ Capita recommended the purchase.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

*Correction: actually no less than £13.5 million ...

If the Council does hold the information Mrs Angry has requested, then surely it is a good idea to publish it, to demonstrate that a process of due diligence was in place, and to explain why councillors were not aware of the £750,000 purchase before approving the Council's signing off of £13.5 million for the same piece of land? Redactions will be made of the names of any non senior officer involved in the matter, so what is the problem?

Unless, of course ... no. Surely not, Mrs Angry. 

Is there ... is there something they do not wish us to know? 

Because of course, in the long, dark history of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, it has been proven, over and over again, that the uncovering of the very thing that they do not wish us to know is always, in the end, quite definitely in the public interest. 

And political embarrassment, or spurious excuses of 'commercial sensitivity' are not grounds for withholding information which we have a statutory right to scrutinise.

We must keep demanding the truth is put in the public domain - and Mrs Angry intends to make sure that that is exactly what happens. 

Thursday 18 June 2015

Sacred Ground, and a Savage Beauty: a return to West Hendon

Mrs Angry has written a lot about the West Hendon 'regeneration', over the last year or so. 

In the last week she was obliged to update an earlier post:

.... about the massive bomb that fell in this area, in February 1941, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, causing many deaths, and widespread destruction: an issue that is central to the controversial Barratt's development that is now being imposed on this area, right on the fringes of the beautiful Welsh Harp. 

This development had been originally intended as a genuine act of regeneration, for the benefit of the residents of the council estate, but under the direction of the Tory council, here in Broken Barnet, has become something utterly different, a travesty of the idea of regeneration:  a profit driven luxury development on public land given away, in secret, to the developers for the token sum of £3. And those residents duped into agreeing the regeneration on the basis of being given new homes, and a better quality of life? They are being driven out of West Hendon: in some cases out of the borough.

The issue of the wartime bombing is central to the story of the new development because at the planning stage, and even at the time of the Inquiry into the compulsory purchase of properties in the way of the next phase of the development, the council, Capita and Barratts have tried to deny the historical significance of the site. 

That significance is as a place of memorial to those who lost their lives in the incident - and those missing victims who still remain, in what lies beneath the monstrous buildings now reaching into the skies above West Hendon. 

And Barnet, Barratts, and Capita do not really want people to remember this, or acknowledge that they are building on what a relative of one of the victims reminded us in the last few days was always considered to be 'sacred ground'. 

Last week Mrs Angry received an email from Barnet Council rather belatedly objecting to the use of the only photograph of the bomb damage, and, rather impertinently, even the use of her own photos of certain documentation in the local archives, documentation curiously ignored by planning officers in their haste to write a report recommending approval of the building plans. Mrs Angry, of course, told them to feck off, and prove copyright, but has had no response, as yet.

Jasmin Parsons and West Hendon councillor Devra Kay, marking the location of the bombing. (Please do not look at the image shown of the destruction, until copyright has been established).

Time to take some more photographs perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, so yesterday she went for a lovely walk (or rather hobble, due to her bad back, don't you know) around the estate, and the Welsh Harp, in the company of the redoutable Jasmin Parsons, who has lived there for thirty five years, and campaigned so fiercely for the community she is seeing torn apart, and razed to the ground.

Mrs Angry has nothing but the greatest respect - and affection - for Jasmin: a truly admirable champion of that community: courageous, determined - and a good hearted woman, whose strength of character belies her own vulnerability, and the sometimes unimaginably challenging experiences of her own life.

Arriving at Perryfields, and the entrance to Tyrrel Way, there was a chaotic scene - the noise was incredible: lorries and cement mixers with engines running, moving and reversing in a madly unchoreographed sequence, blocking the road: noisy, dirty, and dangerous.

Unbearable for only a few minutes: what it is like to live in this night and day, for years on end, is impossible to comprehend. As Mr Reasonable pointed out this week: the terms of the contract would appear to being openly flouted. Except now residents are being told the work that is driving them to despair after hours, and at weekends is necessary because it is 'urgent'. So shut up, and put up.

And it is the final insult, for the tenants and leaseholders forced to endure this torment, knowing that in absolute denial of all promises made to them by the Tory councillors who so cleverly delivered the hugely profitable 'regeneration' of West Hendon into the hands of Barratts - they have no chance of living in the new housing. They have no right to live there. They cannot afford to live there. Their homes are being knocked down, tenants 'decanted' to other 'regeneration' sites, 'temporary people', already living the reality of a nation soon to be freed from the tyranny of human rights legislation. 

The right to respect for your home, and private life? You have no right to a home, in Broken Barnet, for sure, and if you live in a 'regeneration' area: your right to respect for that home, and your private life is not applicable, of course.

For the last few weeks residents have claimed they have had to put up with this continual noise, dirt and traffic at times when the contract clearly specifies work should not be taking place at all, ie in the evening, Saturday and Sunday. Constant complaints have been made, to no avail. It would appear that the developers are in something of a hurry, for whatever reason there might be. Urgency in the sense of time being money, no doubt.

Certainly since Mrs Angry last visited the site, some parts are almost unrecognisable. Where once the car park was, the site of the now lost memorial to the victims of the bombing: there stands a grim building, reminiscent of a state penitentiary, overlooking the squalid backyards of former shops on the Edgware Road, now closed, dying slowly over the years in ironic, treacherous denial of the very concept of regeneration. Or perhaps more of an assisted death, through the tender mercies of Barnet Council, and Barratts.

This is where the few tenants who have managed to retain secure tenancies are to be housed. The lucky ones: kept in check, safely outside the footprint of the private development, and of course not allowed any sight of the Welsh Harp, as that must be a privilege reserved for those who can afford to buy a view. How else to teach aspiration, either Tory or New Labour version, without such corrective discipline?

Looming horribly over the site, as you can see from Mrs Angry's photos, is the lift shaft of one of the two monstrous tower blocks that Barnet approved as suitable architecture right slap bang next to the oasis of beauty, and Site of Special Scientific Interest, that is the Welsh Harp. Twenty four storeys were marked out. There are two more to go. And the twin tower due to accompany this blot on the landscape is going to be even taller: thirty two floors.

*Updated: Jasmin has reminded Mrs Angry that there will eventually be no less than FOUR tower blocks - the other two supposed to be 19 and 21 storeys respectively - although some fear the heights may be extended beyond this.

And if you think this is not a blot on the landscape, look at the photo at the beginning of this post, and see how tower number one blights the skyline, thrusting defiantly at the clouds, at even such a distance from the site.

Off we went, Jasmin and Mrs Angry, keeping well clear of the lorries and mess, and skirting round the side of the estate, onto the remaining part of York Memorial Park, which is marked for further expansion of the development, and the further encroachment on the site of the bombing. 

The land here is still uneven, in an interesting and suggestive way: and the discovery of some sort of old drainage cover hidden in the grass, not far from the trees still remaining from the old boundary by the water's edge, led one to wonder just what else an archaeological survey of the area might find.

Round the fringe of the Harp, trying to follow the former pathway, now neglected and reclaimed by nature, lost under a carpet of grass and a temporary rebellion of wildflowers, visited by darting, electric blue damsel flies, and the happy droning of busy bees, barely audible as the noise of work on the buildings, the hammering of corporate profit, carried on relentlessly above us. 

Jasmin pointed out where there had once been housing accommodation for the elderly - just as there was once a nursery. All the stages of life supported on site, as she said: the foundations of a community. All taken away, shut down, all to be developed. Community has no place in West Hendon now.

We passed under the shadow of the Barratt billboards, boasting of the benefits of their annexation of West Hendon: yes, the 'regeneration', the 'enhanced' town centre: the 'preservation' of the Welsh Harp. No mention of the ruthless destruction of, yes, that word again - a community, of course.

As we walked on towards Cool Oak Bridge, the view across the Harp was intensely beautiful: dozens of swans kept their distance, guardedly, gliding slowly towards us, in the relative peace of the further side of the water.

But what have we here, on this side of the bridge, squatting on the waterside, or rather the Waterside, proudly protecting a nest of potentially rather ugly ducklings, unlikely to make the transformation into beautiful swans? Yes: a Barratt showroom.

And no, Mrs Angry and Jasmin could not resist the temptation.

In past the smiling receptionists, and round the corner straight into the aspirational heaven that is Barratt's Hendon Waterside. Oh boy. Certainly heaven for Mrs Angry, who as a child was always getting into trouble when visiting friends and family with her mother, wandering off and looking in all the cupboards. Still inclined to take a peek inside bathroom cabinets, and goodness me, how revealing that can be. (Some people seem to be unaware of sell by dates, and their effect on the efficiency of certain products ...) But we digress.

Immediately facing potential buyers is an display, in lovely silver gilt framing, of a collection of rather obscure classic Roman images. Puzzling, at first: but then it occurs that someone with a gcse in history might just have thought about being on the Edgware Road, ie Watling Street, and the Roman allusions a suitable sort of history to impress the punters, rather than the social history of the working class community of West Hendon, and the soon to be forgotten story of the Welsh Harp. Or perhaps images of colonialism and empire are more sympathetic to the eye of a corporate sales team.

But move on, into the first, tiny bedroom. Oh: this is the master bedroom, looking onto the water.

Now, see: this is what property developers think will entice buyers desperate to secure a Barratt home in West Hendon. No, not the proximity of kebab shops, and greasy spoon cafes, and tyre fitters. Leave behind the grubby reality of the Edgware Road, and come with Mrs Angry, if you please ... to this bucolic idyll, where you will live in rooms that are filled with light, cream coloured luxury, and lovely new things. 

They are selling a dream: the wet dream of some senior sales director, who thinks there will be plenty of buyers desperate for the sort of lifestyle suggested by this fantasy, as demonstrated by what Mrs Angry is reliably informed is an example of 'showhouse narrative'. Hmm. 

Shiny and new, this dream, smooth as ... silk: milky white, and translucent, an ejaculation of money, all over the carpets, the walls, the preposterously becushioned beds, behind which a fragemented mirror offers a glimpse of pleasures that might just be yours, if you can afford it. 

If you want the full picture, and an all in one mirror, of course, you would have to pay extra, and upgrade to a penthouse flat.

Or, alternatively, if you really enjoy seeing someone being well and truly f*cked, you could nip round to what remains of the council estate, and see what Barnet and their partners have done to the residents of West Hendon. Free of charge. 

Quite what has been going on, in this showhome, in the mind of the in house set dressers is something of a mystery. On one of the beds there is a discarded dress, sunglasses and a designer knock off handbag that might have come from Primark: on the bedside table a man's watch - and his wallet. The watch didn't look the sort to have anything engraved on it. We are always interested in that sort of detail, aren't we, readers? And the wallet ...  was empty. Maybe she helped herself, when he was in the ensuite bathroom.

A reasonable conclusion was that whatever had just happened in the room was a commercial transaction. Well - why not? Everything has a price, these days. 

This is not a place for love, or desire, or family life: at the Housing Inquiry we heard the Barnet/Capita planning officer tell the Inspector that 'child yield' in this development - as in all local regeneration schemes, funnily enough - would be insignificant. The school we were told was part of the deal may never be necessary, as a result. How convenient.

No doubt any sexually active couples living in Hendon Waterside will subject to a cultural revolution style discouragement from our Tory masters in regard to procreation, and become obliged to sell up, and move on, should too many unsanctioned children issue forth from their unions.

Still - look: some nice things on the dressing table. Mrs Angry helped herself to a squirt of the Jo Malone cologne, on the way out. And took her fountain pen, and notebook, to write a little note, to leave, in the absence of a visitors' book. 

Wonder if they've found it yet?

In the kitchen-living room there were more pointers for those who might be feeling aspirationally inclined to buying one of the flats. 

Ralph Lauren tableware. Earl Grey tea in the cupboards.

In the fridge, champagne, bottles of Italian mineral water, olives, hazelnut infused honey. Haagen Daz in the freezer.

And on the table, most comical of all, a familiar looking book, with a holographic cover. Mrs Angry was beside herself with laughter, by now. 

A copy of 'Savage Beauty', homage to the designer genius of Alexander McQueen, currently the subject of a stunningly good exhibition at the V&A:

Miss Angry was also beside herself with amusement, and exhibiting a certain degree of fury, when she saw the photos, being a student at Central Saint Martins, which produced Mc Queen, and where she is taught by some of his former tutors, one or two of which have published their own books about him. 

Miss A pointed out that not only was McQueen brought up in social housing, the removal of which, in the act of social cleansing which has taken place in West Hendon, has made way for this development, his subversive, brilliant mind would have despised everything represented by this unspeakably vulgar showhouse. 

Give me time and I'll give you a revolution - Alexander McQueen.

The breathless aspirational aesthetic of a Barratt showhome may disappoint the educated eye, but step back outside into the natural world, the part that has not yet been conquered by corporate ambition, and still you find a savage beauty that defies the grasping hand of profit.

Jasmin and Mrs Angry scarpered from the showhome, leaving a trail of muddy footprints on the milky white carpets, and wandered across the bridge onto the sandy paths and the rural backwaters of the Harp's open spaces and wooded areas, populated by willow, and ash, and oak. 

At the water's edge another damsel fly hovered in mid air, mating with a female. The swans came over to us, a pair proudly guarding a dozen fluffy babies. It was a blissful scene, in the sultry late afternoon sun, glinting on the shallow depths of the Harp's borders.

On closer inspection, however, it was apparent that both adult swans had fishing wire - and presumably a hook - caught in their beaks. 

A suitable metaphor on which to end the day.

Once the Victorian working man and woman came here, in droves, on a day trip, to take a walk in the country air, and enjoy the pleasures of the Welsh Harp Music Hall, maybe to listen to Annie Adams sing of 'the Jolliest Place that's Out', or Albert Chevalier offering the 'Coster's Serenade': 

Eight months ago and things is still the same,
You're known about 'ere by your maiden name,
I'm getting chivied by my pals cos why?
Nightly I warbles for your reply.

Summer 'as gone, and its a freezin' now, 
Still love's a burnin' in my 'eart I vow;
Just as it did that 'appy night in May
Down at the Welsh 'Arp, which is 'Endon Way

Summer is gone, before it has ever arrived, this year, in West Hendon. The pleasure grounds of the working man are now co-opted into the corporate fantasies of private enterprise, and the love that burned in the honest heart of the nineteenth century costermonger has been abandoned in favour of a beautifully coordinated act of meaningless copulation between the sheets of a Barratt's showhouse bed.

This is Broken Barnet. That was West Hendon. 

That is all there is to say.