Friday 22 April 2016

Hands Up, or : Not Our Finest Hour - Crapita is very sorry, several times, at the Audit Committee

Holding his hands up: the man from Crapita says 'sorry' ... 

On reflection, thought Mrs Angry, taking her seat at the front of the public gallery, in readiness for the Audit Committee, it may have been a mistake, when encountering councillor Brian Salinger in Waitrose on Sunday, to enquire if the eye wateringly bright yellow shirt and lurid green trousers he was sporting demonstrated that he had just been auditioning for a role in the chorus of a local pantomime. 

Councillor Salinger, who was, he explained, busy searching the shelves for makeup remover, nodded sympathetically as the treacherous Miss Angry threw into our shopping trolley a pair of earplugs and indicated to the Tory councillor, whilst looking darkly in the direction of her mother, that her purchase was in some way related to her difficult home life. 

But Mrs Angry had quite forgotten, you see, when baiting Cllr Salinger, largely in delayed revenge for his insulting gesture on the steps of the Town Hall a few months ago, see below, that he was Chair of the Audit Committee, to which she had submitted questions for last Tuesday's meeting. Oops. 

Easy enough to forget, because it still seems utterly preposterous that the Tories made Salinger Chair of Audit in the first place, instead of, as has always previously been the case, an opposition member, so as to ensure at least the pretence of independence and probity in the process of audit, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

Tory Chair of the Audit Committee, Councillor Brian Salinger

When Libdem councillor Lord Palmer was the Chair, Audit was the one committee in Barnet which took seriously the role of scrutiny, to any effective degree, or delivered any form of censure in regard of some of the remarkable things that have occurred during the years of preparation for mass outsourcing, and then the contractual 'partnership' that we are obliged to endure with Capita, for ten long years.

Since Palmer's departure to a better place, ie not Heaven, thankfully, but the House of Lords, Audit, if not in the spirit of pantomime, is very definitely part of the business that is show, in Broken Barnet: a political event, not a process of incisive scrutiny. 

Worse still, it is intensely boring, and Mrs Angry rarely bothers to show up - especially now there is no chance of winding up the previous external auditor, and Mrs Angry's blushing admirer, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton, who learnt everything he knows, of course, from her spectacular career in local government audit.

Now we have engaged the favours of new auditors, at BDO - two of whose representatives sat cheerily throughout the meeting, at the end of the table, peering curiously at Mrs Angry, from time to time, in a way which might have suggested that they were mindful of her previous chronicling of external auditors, and were worrying about the fifty shades of possibility that this habit might extend to their own appearance at the table. BDO. Hmm. Plenty of scope for amusement there, readers, rest assured ...

Our council also receives internal audit support from PWC, who could be spotted eagerly reading this blog's posts on the IT crash over the last couple of days  - and may well be sent a Barnet sized consultancy fee, clearly looking, as they are, for professional guidance from Mrs Angry, struggling as they must be to get to grips with the reality of political life, and the eternal defiance of the principle of audit, or indeed scrutiny, in Broken Barnet.

Well: we are now at Year Three, in the new era of Crapita, and it is time for a formal review of their contractual performance. 

Oh dear. 

Such bad timing: just as things fall apart, the centre not holding, and anarchy loosed upon the world, with IT crashes, various cockups, an abundance of conflicts of interest raising their ugly heads; and all while we are being billed astronomical sums of payments over and beyond the agreed core contract fees, those savings we were promised apparently lost in an ocean of extra charges and gainshare rewards.

The information going to the Audit meeting had emerged, therefore, at the worst possible time for Capita: directly after the catastrophic library IT crash. Submitted to this Audit meeting was a report ,coincidentally completed just days before the crash, warning of impending doom on an apocalyptic scale, in regard to the failure of the contractors to create a credible IT disaster recovery programme. Late in the week, as well, emerged another terrible report, this time on 'change management'.

The report made clear that not only had there been a failure to produce an acceptable ITDR programme, Capita had been less than cooperative throughout the time in which the report was being compiled, and unnecessary delays caused as a result.

So there we were, on Tuesday night, arriving in a doubled up committee room, with what Mrs Angry thought must be far too many seats in the public area, as usually no one else turns up for the Audit meetings. Ah, but the seats, apart from two bloggers, veteran attendee Mr Shepherd and a young journalism student from Middlesex Uni, poor boy, were soon largely filled not by members of the public, but a coachload of Crapita personnel, the usual Suits, faceless, nameless, transitory Suits, who come and go, never staying long, in Barnet, creating a trail of havoc in their wake, and leaving someone else to carry the can, before they too move on.

This group of grim faced executives sat behind Mrs Angry, whispering amongst themselves, and scowling at her, one of them tutting furiously when she was commenting, as usual, from the public seating, after severe provocation. Outrageous, of course, expressing an opinion, rather than listening in silence to the corporate bilge extruded from the Crapita machine, staunchly supported by officers who are supposed to be guarding our interests, as residents, but are frequently indistinguishable from the contractual representatives.

The other usual source of irritation at these meetings was, to Mrs Angry's surprise, markedly silent, and subdued, throughout the event. No need to worry about Cllr Salinger, dressed not in his panto outfit, but displaying one of his memorable ties, which for some reason, which cannot possibly have any underlying Freudian explanation, he always likes to dangle in Mrs Angry's face - this time seemingly covered in pictures of one of the Mr Men. Oh: Mr Rush,  'always in a hurry'. Yes. So one would imagine.

He almost resisted all temptations to make political points (but clearly it was a struggle), and tolerated Mrs Angry's cheek with an unusual degree of forebearance. His colleagues on the committee, however, were the greatest surprise. 

That is to say the Tory members, who clearly had no appetite for defending the indefensible, as you will see, throughout the course of the meeting, which now began.

Fellow blogger John Dix, Mr Reasonable had asked to speak to the committee, and submitted a very interesting list of questions, and Mrs Angry had submitted three of her own, just to show willing. 

As usual John's speech was straight to the point, and damning: how had the failures identified in these reports been allowed to happen? He held responsible every councillor who had signed up to the Capita contracts without ensuring an adequate monitoring system was in place. Any further outsourcing, he said, would be reckless.

Mr Reasonable speaks to the Audit Committee

He was of course heard in silence, and left to leave the table, with no questions asked. 

The room was full of unspoken thoughts, and an uncomfortable shuffling and muttering amongst the ranks of Suits, but no comment from the members.

Questions next, and a little more reaction: palpable nervousness now, from officers at the table and in the seats, as the usual evasive answers were thrown back at Mr R and Mrs A - and a sense of deep disapproval from the members of both parties.

Mr Reasonable's first question asked - yet again - for evidence of the savings Capita claims to have made, in order to qualify for gainshare payments. The written response was bla bla bla, evidence was 'reviewed'.

Ok: the Comensura deal, as an example: where is the evidence of actual savings? 


They did not know. Internal audit had not seen the evidence.

As the questions continued, the shifting in seats, and delays before answering became more and more obvious, as was a noticeable increasing emergency, or rather disaster recovery use of the favoured preamble of senior officers: an emphatic 'So ... ' followed by a feeble response that not even a Tory councillor would accept.

Why was the IT disaster recovery deficiency noticed only by internal audit, and not by standard contract monitoring? Written response, some concerns had been raised by something called the 'Business Continuity Function. Hmm.

Supplementary question: the issue had been flagged up, but no one did anything about it?

Silence, and then:

So ... it was on the audit plan.

We know.

Yes. We know what you are thinking, readers. It might seem odd that something awfully wrong relating to DISASTER RECOVERY might be left to simmer slowly on the audit hob, while a fire was raging in the house, but then: this is Broken Barnet, after all.

Another supplementary question asked again, if the recovery problems had been spotted, why the massive library IT failure had occurred.

Silence again. Then an intervention from the new, less unacceptable face of Capita-lism in Barnet, Mr Brett Holtom, whose presence appeared miraculously at the committee table, in an act of corporate spontaneous regeneration, immediately after the library IT crash. 

Far be it for Mrs Angry to suggest that Mr Holtom was chosen for this post as - what is it ... Operations Director, or something - for his shiny faced, quietly genial manner, (although his linkedin page boasts a tribute from a female colleague remarking that he is blessed with a 'charismatic personality'), but it is a sign that Capita is awfully worried about its image in Barnet now, and keen to schmooze the Tory councillors. Signs from the Tory councillors, however, now are that they are beyond schmoozing point.

Mr Holtom tried his best. The library IT was not hosted by the data centre referred to in the ITDR report, he said. Mmm. Doesn't really matter, does it, though, Brett? The technical cause of failure is irrelevant, and what counts is that Capita flunked its responsibility to monitor the library IT, as well as failing to provide a credible IT recovery strategy elsewhere.

Other questions followed, followed by even longer silences. In reference to one, about the banding of systems (and don't ask me, but the issue is not relevant so much as the form of response, so try to keep up) , the supplementary identified a contradictory use of the description 'appropriate', and then 'accurate'.

Which is it, asked Mr Reasonable, quite reasonably: Appropriate? Or accurate? Two very different things.

Another interminable suspension of time, while the men from Crapita, and the senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, attempted to get their tiny heads around the fact that these two terms were not indistinguishable, and tried awfully hard to identify to themselves what the difference might be, from the point of view of those who don't really give a flying f*ck anyway, but were now presented with an occasion on which it might matter.

So ...

Eventually Mr Holtom, skilled as he is, according to himself on Linkedin, in the field of transformation professionalism, and of  course being blessed with all that charisma, managed to think of something positive, if not charismatic, to say, which was nothing to do with the question but something he had said at his first CELS meeting, which Mrs Angry remarked, and please pay attention, that what he had to say was A Mistake, ie explaining that we had now been upgraded to Platinum level of response from Capita International Rescue, Disaster Recovery dept, from Bronze, or Base Metal. 

A mistake because: the councillors knew nothing about this; a mistake because rather comical; and a mistake because everyone then wants to know why we were not on Platinum level to start with, bearing in mind the bucketloads of cash we hand over to you, every month.

Mr Holtom, Capita Operations Director

Q 10 was the most important question of all: 

Given there are no documented ITDR plans;
there have been no tests of the new
capability; and there is no recovery
infrastructure in place or on contract to affect
a successful recovery, does this represent a
breach of contract?


The delays to ITDR had been flagged as a
concern both pre and post audit and have
resulted in contractual discussions which are ongoing.

Oh dear. Mr Reasonable now asked: answer the question - breach of contract ... yes, or no?

A length of silence ensued that was longer than time itself: one in which a new ice age came and went, regime change in North Korea was achieved, the Chilcott Inquiry was released - and even the Inquiry into the Chilcott Inquiry.

Mrs Angry guffawed behind Mr Reasonable's back and then Mr Holtom leaned forward smiling, declaring smoothly, clearly after a great deal of thought, that Capita would not consider it so.

How interesting, though, that the written answer did not deny that there may be a breach of contract. 

There is a crack in the wall, friends and comrades, and it is gaping larger, and larger.

Mrs Angry's first question:

In reference to Item 7 and the ITDR report:
bearing in mind that within days of this
damning report the Library IT system
crashed, and has caused a catastrophic loss
of personal data and data relating to stock,
will the Audit Committee investigate the
circumstances and implications of the failure,
by commissioning another report specifically
focused on the management of the Library IT

A very fulsome response;


And a reference to the previous question by Mr R, which had asked if the ITDR report should not be updated, after the Library IT crash. The written reply had been no, once audit reports are completed, that's your lot, sunshine, and repeated the line about not being linked to the data centre, which has nothing to do with anything, and then a load of bollox about the 'newly restored library system' and  - oh hang on, first use of this term - the 'catastrophic failure' of the library system which has resulted, ha, oh dear, in 'integrity issues' for the database, but, they claimed 'has not involved the loss of personal data'. Oh, and another reference to 'contractual discussions' ...

A supplementary question then: first of all, can we qualify some of the corporate gobbledegook in the previous response? 

'Newly restored library system', 'integrity issues'? No: it is not fully restored, the catalogue is unavailable, book stock not recorded, and data is irretrievably lost, including personal data relating to library members. You say you won't update the report itself, so are you going to commission an independent, forensic investigation into the real causes of the library IT crash?

No, was the answer, again. There will be internal investigation, but no independent analysis. So they must rely on Capita to tell them why Capita cocked up, or even allow them to suggest that they didn't. 

It consequently  emerged that the general consensus from the committee was that the reports should be referred to other committees, that have the power to authorise, the Chair claimed, whatever they like, reports, investigations, whatever ... Performance and Contract Management being the most relevant here, of course. Providing they do any. Management, that is. Always a first time, Mrs Angry, you know.

Next question: Mrs Angry had asked - after such a damning report:

How can residents and taxpayers
place any trust in the ability of either the
Internal Audit Team, or the Audit Committee
to undertake the role of scrutiny in regard to
the Capita contracts, and provide value for
money investment of resources by the
authority on our behalf?

Response (summarised): It is not the role of the Audit Committee to scrutinise contracts. It is not the role of Internal Audit to scrutinise contracts

Well, it is, sort of: but only the risk of impending doom from the failure of such contracts. 

But even then, Mrs Angry was informed, this is not 'an exact science'. 

Dear me, that was a disappointment. Isn't it? Oughtn't it to be?

Mrs Angry assumes then that the approach to audit now, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, is one analagous to say, a reliance on astrology, rather than astronomy. Trying to predict which contract is about to sink beneath the waves, rather than studying the state of the vessel, and its maintenance. Involving the use of diving rods, seances, and - and no, you may not borrow Mrs Angry's crystal ball.

Mrs Angry Predicts: the new approach to Audit, in Broken Barnet

Mrs Angry reminded the Tory councillors that they had promised residents that the contracts would deliver 'better services, for less money', neither of which, as we see now, was true. Why did the Chair of the Committee not demand action, on our behalf as residents and taxpayers, earlier on in the long drawn out process of obtaining the information required from Capita?

Well: if there was an explanation worth remembering from the Chair - Mrs Angry has neither written it down ... nor remembered it.

Last question: 

Regarding the failure of the
library IT system, please explain where the
upfront capital payment of £16 million to
Capita for IT was spent, and why none of it
was used to ensure an adequate system of
monitoring the Library system?

Remember that old story? How we were tricked by our Tory members into thinking we just had to outsource all our services to Crapita, and not consider the in house option, because we simply must have an upfront capital investment of £16 million from them for IT, and then, ha ha, it turned out we, the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet had to pay poor old cash strapped Crapita an upfront capital investment of £16 million? What a laugh. At our expense.

They listed where the dosh supposedly went, including that data centre mentioned in the disaster report, and then said this:

The library system was not included as it was not
identified in the output specification as requiring
upfront investment. However a project was
initiated by the Library service (which is ongoing)
to review the robustness of libraries IT.

Hmm. Robustness: we love that word, here in Broken Barnet. Senior officers are incapable of formulating any sentence without its inclusion, as a sort of talisman, and a declaration of allegiance to an ideal that somehow is never reached, but fondly thought of, even so. Even So.

When was the 'ongoing project' going on, exactly, asked Mrs Angry. Before or after the library IT crash, because if it was before, shouldn't they have spotted trouble brewing? And why wasn't the Library IT included in output specification? Was it, say, because Capita wanted to negotiate the introduction of its own system?

No, they denied that was Capita's intention. Oh, and the ongoing project had ongone since April 2015, but they had prioritised dealing with the People's Network.

Mrs Angry, pushing her luck, asked another question: would it not have been more sensible to review the state of the IT system?

No reply, as supplementaries to supplementaries are forbidden, of course. End of public involvement (officially) and time, uh oh, for Capita to be called to the table.

Up stepped Mr Mark Dally, 'partnership director' for Capita, who chose to appear, rather casually, in the circumstances, in his shirt sleeves, perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, trying to disassociate himself from the Suits.

I hold my hands up, he said, with studied humility.

He was there to give 'additional context' to the cockups under discussion, apparently. 'Additional context': always useful, of course.

Poor Mr Dally: he dillied, he dallied; he dallied and dillied, but, as Marie Lloyd would say:

Who'll put you up when you've lost your bedstead,
And you can't find your way 'ome?

Not Labour's Cllr Geof Cooke, who was straight in with a question about the reasons for the delay in Capita providing full cooperation with the internal audit team. How many IT directors had there been, he asked, and why no continuity?

Who's sorry now? Capita, says their 'Partnership Director' Mr Dally. 

I agree, said Mr Dally.  No shit, wrote Mrs Angry, in her notebook. He agrees

It was not, he said, using a phrase that was a masterly understatement, and yet - clearly the motif, and mantra of the evening  ... It was Not Our Finest Hour

Later on he repeated his act of self abasement, or at least announced, holding his hands up again: 

I'm not happy. 

I apologise.

There had been four directors, he said. One left. Then another one. Then another one. Then one was ill. 

And then there were none.

He mentioned now, or so Mrs Angry seemed to hear, about the 'attrition' of the staff. Shouldn't that be 'contrition', Mr Dally? Maybe my notes are wrong ...

Mrs Angry had a pleasing vision, then, of senior executives at Crapita being compelled to make full confessions, Cultural Revolution style, in group meetings, denouncing themselves to their clients. Could happen. Maybe.

Cllr Cooke asked where data is going to be restored to. The reply was 'Spring Park', or 'Cody Park'. Not so much theme parks, as retirement homes, see, for unwanted information. Or too much information, as we apparently have here, back in Broken Barnet.

Tory councillor Sury Khatri, who is always quick off the mark, of course, expressed himself to be of the opinion, in case we had not noticed, that for Capita, this was Not Their Finest Hour.

By now Mrs Angry was wondering, and musing on twitter, exactly WHEN was Capita's finest hour?

Quite a lot of speculation then, amongst Mrs Angry's followers, as to the answer, but @rovingwhinger thought it might have been between 0200 GMT and 0300 BST, when the clocks went forward. 

She may well be right.

Cllr Khatri was cross because, he said the contracts had been sold to them on the basis that Capita supposedly had all the expertise in IT. 

Mrs Angry was cross too, and reminded Cllr Khatri, from the public seats, that he had voted to approve the contracts, and then almost immediately complained about the lack of information he and his councillors had been given, and was critical of the whole agreement - when it was too late.

After the meeting, walking down the stairs, he said rather sulkily, you always say the same thing to me, about all that business. Yes, said Mrs Angry, because you signed it anyway, with all your doubts - when you knew better. And now you've done the same thing over libraries.

Back to the meeting. Khatri asked where had been the 'due diligence' and said he saw 'failure of management'. He also remarked that he worried about the remaining seven years, and if they would be 'error free'. 

Deputy CEO John Hooton has just watched the box set of Wolf Hall, and now attempted a spot of Tudorbethan, courtly style diplomacy, hoping to evade the Tower of London, and the shadow of the axe, declaring now, in cloak swishing manner: I recognise your sentiment ...

Mr Holtom joined in. He couldn't sit there, he said, with a straight face and say - we will be error free. He said this with a straight face, unfortunately, and Mrs Angry was beside herself with mirth, as a result.

The Chair now spoke and concluded: the auditors have done their job, and now these issues should be referred to the Performance and Contract Management Committee.

Labour's Kathy Levine had already drawn up an opposition amendment suggesting this, so of course now that it was not entirely his idea, and one from the enemy, Salinger was in a dilemma: accept it, and give some credit to the opposition, or trash it, and contradict himself. Difficult. 

But there were more contributions to come, and perhaps the most telling was from Tory Cllr Zinkin, normally a voice of reason, but also inclined to defend group decisions. He raised several serious concerns, that might well have come from an opposition member, and noted, with disapproval, something that has been mentioned here, that the library IT crash was not defined as a failure of a KPI, Key Performance Indicator, which is ludicrous. 

He said that KPIs needed to be re-examined, but, as Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable commented, loudly, his group had blocked and voted down a proposal from Labour to do just that.

The meeting drifted on: councillors of both parties raised objections, and a variety of Suits sat at the table, abashed, or pretending to be.

As we listened to the committee's discussion of the disastrous disaster recovery matter, through the open window, a disembodied voice from the Fire Station next to the Town Hall interrupted with some sort of loudspeaker announcement. Perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, someone's pants were on fire, somewhere in Broken Barnet, and the crew were sliding down the pole, ready to rush out to the engines, as you should do, in any emergency, platinum level or otherwise - unless, of course, you are directly contracted to the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

An agreement was reached between all members that the serious issues raised at the meeting must go to the contract monitoring committee, and to the secret, in camera, shadowy working groups that are reviewing the contracts too. Will this result in any action? Or are they just passing the buck?

Two things were very clear: the Tories know now, that they were sold a pup: a very expensive pup. Services cannot be proved to be better, unless you accept the carefully manicured KPIs, and customer satisfaction surveys, and less money? We are paying out a fortune, over and beyond the core contract fees, whilst seeing our services, like libraries, assaulted by a range of punitive cuts, and carved up ready for yet more outsourcing.

But the other notable change is in the demeanour of the men from Capita: and they are largely men - the Suits. No longer full of misplaced confidence, and swagger: they are in trouble, and they know it. 

Three years into this contract, and yes, the cracks are opening up, as we said they would, not from wishful thinking but a conclusion formed from our own due diligence, and research, from the reports offered by Unison, rejected unread by the same councillors now complaining about the result of their own hasty approval of the contracts - and from the warnings clearly given from the consequences of other cases of mass outsourcing. 

The example of BT in Cornwall demonstrates it is perfectly possible to terminate even the largest of contracts of this sort. The question now is if the Tory members consider it is possible, for political reasons, to retrieve some sort of reform within the terms of the contract, and real commitment to change, or whether the time is coming ... to say: thank you, Capita - and ... goodbye. 


Tom Roper said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs Angry said...

I think the outsourcing of ambulance services is deeply worrying and what you describe as happening in Sussex seems to be pretty much the pattern of failure elsewhere, and in other NHS services - sounds familiar, for example, to the disastrous outsourcing of after hours care in Cornwall, taken back from Serco a couple of years ago.

Do we really want these private companies to have access to, or responsibility for, our personal data? When a third party is involved, and it is a commercial venture intent on maximising 'efficiency' and profit, it would seem care of data may come very low in priority.

What happened in Barnet with the library crash meant that personal data, despite statements to the contrary, has been lost. Data was seemingly irretrievably corrupted, but we do not know the full circumstances because there has been no independent investigation. We are told that the data was not lost to another party, and the implication is that therefore there is no DPA breach. That is not clear, and anyone who is concerned about this matter should contact the ICO, which offers very good advice.

Unknown said...

Have been scouring the internet looking for blogs highlighting Council management across the country. Two observations -
1)few areas have as good a blogger in their midst as Mrs Angry
2) sadly Barnet is not the only broken council the country. Broken Barnet could equally be "Broken Bristol" "Broken Barnsley" or "Broken Brighton"

Martin Milan said...

Data security is not merely about preventing access by unauthorised individuals - it is also about ensuring that the data is available to the people who should process it when they want to process it...

No backups of your entire library database (since we're talking stock and service users...) - shocking - and that's coming from someone who writes software for a living...

The failings here would have been self evident event to skilled Juniors!

Part one of DR - our database goes tits vertical. Standard response - go to backups. On finding no backups in place, alarm bells should have been sounding!