Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Move over MetPro : here comes another Barnet Council procurement scandal, and this one is even bigger.

This is an open letter that was emailed to all councillors very early this morning by the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers:

Dear Councillor

Barnet bloggers earlier this year exposed the scandalous use by Barnet Council of MetPro, an unlicensed security company which was paid a total of more than a million pounds worth of residents' money despite the absence of any tender process, contract, or properly regulated payment system.

MetPro proved to be just one among hundreds of similar irregular arrangements sanctioned by the Tory authority, which is currently negotiating the outsourcing of £1billion worth of our council services to the private sector under the One Barnet programme.

During the months of the outsourcing tender process, in blatant defiance of the government’s stated policy commitment to transparency and greater accountability by local authorities, Barnet has consistently resisted, delayed or obstructed Freedom of Information requests by bloggers in relation to matters of public interest, including the much criticised procurement of contracts with service providers. We think we know why that might be.

At this coming Thursday’s audit meeting, 8 December, we are submitting questions to the committee about another case investigated by local bloggers involving the council’s long term use of another private company, RM Countryside, which has been paid more than £2 million pounds of local tax payers’ money with an apparent lack of compliance with the proper processes of tendering, contractual arrangements and the regulations set out in the Constitution.

We are questioning the efficacy of the internal and external audit procedures which are supposed to regulate the commercial activity of the London Borough of Barnet.

The integrity of the One Barnet outsourcing programme is clearly fatally compromised by the failure of the authority to regulate its own procurement, contractual and payment processes and we call therefore for an immediate halt to be made in this programme, and for an urgent, independent inquiry to be held into the disastrous lack of control of the authority’s commercial activities. MetPro was a warning: a warning which has been ignored. Now is the time to stop, investigate and hold the authority to account to the residents and tax payers of Barnet.

Signed:

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Gifts & hospitality received by staff in year ended 31 March 2011

Here is the list which was provided by the council and has been reformatted to fit more easily onto the page. It is in the original order on scribd and in date order in the blog. I had to complete four dates which only had the month, by adding the date as being the last day of the month.
Commentary to this list will be found in the individual bloggers' blogs.
Barnet Council - Gifts and Hospitality - 2010/11



click to enlarge; back to return

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency

This is a very interesting guide from the Communities and Local Government department setting out what local authorities, like Barnet Council, should be publishing. See item 12 on pages 6 & 7.

You can find it on the Communities website here or in the box below.

The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency

November 2011 Residents Forums

In the future Barnet Council will not tell interested residents by automatic email the next meeting date and location.

You have to keep an eye on their website here or notice the A4 sized poster in the library.

Nov 11 Residents Forums - Barnet Council

Monday, 7 November 2011

Democracy - an open letter to Barnet residents

Barnet Council on the Brink
The MetPro scandal, exposed by Barnet Bloggers, was a shocking case of incompetence and poor practice that continued over a period of several years. It placed vulnerable people at risk but it took local residents only a few weeks to uncover the problems. On Friday 4 November an equally serious issue was uncovered, again by a Barnet Blogger; an issue that runs to the very heart of democracy in Barnet and in Britain.

On 16 May this year Barnet Council applied to the Information Commissioner’s Office to complain about one particular blogger, to question whether they should be registered under the Data Protection Act and to ask if they had breached the act. The Information Commissioner’s website suggests that if such a situation exists you should “First, tell the organisation concerned and give it an opportunity to put things right. Many data protection problems can be solved quickly without us getting involved”. Did Barnet Council inform the blogger concerned? No, it simply submitted the complaint.

On 7 June the Information Commissioner’s Office responded that it did not consider that a blogger should be registered as a data controller and had therefore not breached the Data Protection Act. For most organisations that would have been sufficient and they would have left the matter there. Not Barnet Council. They responded on 23 June citing a European Court of Justice judgement, not something which just comes immediately to hand. Appealing a decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office is not a step taken lightly. Taking this action must have required approval from someone very senior at Barnet Council and possibly involved taking legal advice.

The Information Commissioner’s Office responded to Barnet Council on 11 July again rejecting the Council’s complaint. It went on to say in its reply:

“The balance of privacy versus freedom of expression relies on taking a proportionate approach. Requiring all bloggers to register with this office (ICO) and comply with the parts of the DPA exempted under Section 36 would, in our view, have a hugely disproportionate impact on freedom of expression”.

This incident comes on top of changes to the borough’s constitution limiting debate in Council meetings, imposing draconian new rules for residents forums and disbanding the only committee able to scrutinise the One Barnet programme.

For all that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities, talks about the need for armchair auditors, the reality is that local councils, and in this case a solidly Conservative Council, see them as a nuisance and something to be disarmed at all costs. The fact that a local authority should have worked so hard to stop citizens exercising their legal right to ask questions should be something of great concern to every single voter in Barnet.

Over the last few years the Council has looked increasingly out of touch with the community in which we all live. In recent months this tendency has escalated. A much more strident approach has been adopted by the most senior managers and cabinet members, an approach which is becoming unsustainable. The Bloggers of Barnet recognise that there are thousands of hard working council staff struggling to deliver good quality service whilst under immense pressure to cut costs and worrying whether their jobs are about to be privatised or deleted altogether. These people deserve our praise and recognition. It is the very top layer, the officers and consultants on six figure salaries and the Cabinet elite that work with them, that are the problem.

We call upon the Council leader to pause for reflection, for councillors to re-engage with their residents, and senior officers and councillors to start listening to citizens. This should include:

· The Council setting out in a public document fully and clearly what the One Barnet programme means for residents;
· Publishing all currently secret One Barnet reports;
· Allowing in-house team bids for all services;
· Stop putting out false information about bloggers; and
· Relax the rules and allow residents to ask any questions they like at the Residents Forums.
Failure to do so will lead to a Council that is completely isolated from the majority of residents in Barnet and one that ultimately will fail.

Signed 

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Principles of procurement - joint letter to councillors

The One Barnet Programme: a high stakes game

 
Dear Councillor,

As you know the Council is embarked on a massive outsourcing project, the One Barnet Programme. This programme has never been put before the borough’s residents for their comments let alone their approval. It was not in the manifesto of the winning party at the local government elections.
No Conservative councillor or senior Council officer has ever appeared in a public forum to defend the programme. It has been left to concerned residents such as ourselves to make their own investigations into the scope and scale of the planned changes.
We have recently seen a copy of the core principles adopted by senior council officers in March 2011, early in the process of beginning the outsourcing. They would alarm any resident who cares about the state of the borough. You can read the document here:
We do not know whether these principles have been modified in the course of the process. The fact that we do not know in itself is a matter for deep concern and only highlights the fact that residents are being kept in the dark about what the Council is doing with their own services and their money. We must insist on residents’ right to know more about One Barnet.
Of course, it might well be that councillors themselves are also in the dark about what the Council is doing. You have a duty to represent your constituents and we think you should share information about One Barnet with them. You should represent any concerns they have to the Council Cabinet and senior officers.
We think that the principles we have seen probably are those along which the One Barnet Programme is proceeding. The points from the principles that alarm us most and which we think particularly need public discussion are highlighted below.
One Barnet is likely to cost jobs in the borough
The Council appears to have decided that there will be no requirement on the companies awarded contracts to create new jobs within the borough. Moreover, they have decided that services do not have to be delivered locally: that is, staff currently employed by Barnet Council could be made redundant and their jobs done by people in another part of the county or even overseas, most probably in a call centre.
Staff made redundant will be offered basic TUPE terms, which, as we have already seen with outsourced services in Barnet, usually means that sooner or later staff will be re-employed on worse terms. That is bound to affect the quality of the service to residents.
There is a risk that residents will foot the bill if it goes wrong
The document is shot through with concerns about who will bear risks, including financial risks. For example, the Council is looking into taking out insurance against contract failure, and is worried about the implications of outsourcing for paying the pensions of transferred staff. Here is one particularly startling quotation regarding the pension fund:
"At the end of the contract period, there are risks of potential large deficits being built up by the new employer during the contract period. A recovery plan will need to be put in place well before contract ceases."
The ostensible reason for going down the outsourcing path is to save money, but if contracts fail in any way, it will cost us money and disruption in our services. Other areas of provision will need to be cut to make up any gaps in the Council’s budget.
The quality of our services is in jeopardy
In the document senior officers acknowledge that contractors are interested in the One Barnet Programme for one reason alone: to make money. Take this, for example:
"There are... many examples of long-term partnerships where the commitment and enthusiasm of the provider has waned over the duration of the contract. Major... organisations will generally resource extensively during the first year, or two, of a new contract but this level of resourcing diminishes as the contract moves to a more stable business as usual position."
Residents, however, are interested in the quality of their services, and councillors should be too.

***
We believe that councillors have a duty to inform themselves about these issues as a matter of urgency so that they can discuss them with constituents. Moreover, it is in your interest to do so.
The One Barnet Programme has major implications for the future of the Borough’s services and finances and for the way it is governed. One day the discussions behind closed doors must spill out onto the streets, as residents feel the impact of the changes to their services.
That will be too late for them and you suddenly to be involved in the debate.
We therefore urge you to take an active interest in One Barnet now. Speaking for ourselves, we oppose the programme; we believe One Barnet will jeopardise local finances, the quality of services and democratic control over them.

Please let us know what you think.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Barnet Eye blasts Cllr Gordon amusingly into orbit

Cllr Brian Gordon responded to the famous five barnet bloggers' joint letter to him:

From: Cllr Brian Gordon
To: The Famous Five Barnet Bloggers
Sent: Wednesday, 12 October 2011, 17:05
Subject: RE: Barnet council residents' forums


I disagree entirely with you and won't respond to all of our points.  If you do not think some of the Labour Party activists (I shan't name them) are not agitators who behave disruptively, we obviously live on different planets.

Cllr. Brian Gordon
Conservative, Hale Ward
London Borough of Barnet
Mobile:  07931 300569


Roger of the Barnet Eye is not a blogger who hangs around all day waiting for things to happen. He was straight onto the keyboard and blasted Cllr Gordon amusingly into orbit as follows:



From: Roger Tichborne

Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2011 6:34 PM
To: cllr.b.gordon@barnet.gov.uk
Subject: Response to your comments




Dear Councillor Gordon,

As a signatory of the open letter sent to you, I note you suggest we live on different planets. I have long suspected that on occasion you talk out of Uranus and it appears that your original letter to the Edgware Press and this response confirms it. Whilst you are correct to note that the Mercury rises when certain local members of the Labour party attend, I hardly think a lively debate Mars the proceedings. Having observed you on several occasions chairing the Hendon Forum, it is fair to say that even though you are the less well known Barnet Brian, compared to your Plutocratic chum (Councillor Brian Coleman), you have let yourself down by resorting to the type of language we have come to know and love from him.

I believe that the "Macho" stance of the council towards the residents of the Borough should be toned down. I would suggest a little less Mars and a little more Venus in your approach to residents may pay dividends. If the Hendon residents forum is solely devoted to discussing the issue of litter outside the King Neptune (which I believe you know rather well) or the parking issues at Jupiter Court, then surely it is not serving the residents?

As to your comment that we "live on different planets". Sadly that is not true. We all, not only live on Earth, we live in a tiny corner of it called Barnet. You have been entrusted by the people of Barnet with the job of chairing the Residents Forum and you get paid handsomely for your trouble (how much does it work out per hour?). All that any resident has asked for is a forum to discuss the issues facing Hendon Residents can be discussed openly, honestly and without the fetter of stupid rules. If you feel that you cannot deal with a couple of bolshy labour party members without a set of such draconian and ridiculous procedures, then hand it over to a Councillor who is up to the job.

Wishing you a happy Yom Tov, Succah friendly weather is forecast.

Roger M Tichborne


Nothing else has been heard on this matter.

The Famous Five Barnet Bloggers

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Residents Forums - Cllr Gordon - In defense of the indefensible

Barnet bloggers respond to Councillor Gordon’s defence of Barnet Council residents’ forums


Dear Councillor Gordon

A letter was published last week in the Press group of newspapers from you concerning the Barnet Alliance for Public Services residents’ forum held on Tuesday 4th October. 


We must correct a factual inaccuracy in your letter. The forum was not "private", it was open to all. All Barnet councillors were invited and would have been welcome to attend.

You state that Barnet Council’s own residents’ forums are not in any way hampered by the new rules governing them. Is this your opinion, we wonder, or have you asked the residents who attend? We think they would have a different view? 

You state that the forums are "marred occasionally by the irresponsible actions of anti-council agitators". We ask you to withdraw this offensive remark. The undersigned have all attended numerous residents’ forums and have never witnessed an "anti-council agitator".

We have witnessed many local residents who disagree with the policies of the current administration, and we believe their comments are born out of deep concern for the direction of the Council and cannot be in any way construed as "anti-council".

We are also concerned by the description you give of the appropriate way to deal with residents and taxpayers. The phrase "with firm chairmanship, those individuals are fairly swiftly subdued" has highly oppressive overtones and clearly implies that residents are not welcome to express views at odds with the chair.

We would like to remind you, Cllr Gordon, that the forums exist for residents’ benefit, not for that of the chair.

We would also like to remind you of the circumstances in which you became chair, when it became necessary to instigate an investigation into the behaviour of the previous Conservative incumbent.

We remind you that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has praised the concerned citizens of Barnet for their efforts in exposing the shambles that your administration allowed to develop in the Council’s purchasing department.

We are pleased that you have drawn attention to the next set of Council residents’ forums. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your comments with you and your colleagues at these events.

 
Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Famous Five Barnet Bloggers

This blog is here in order to provide you with an easy way to find the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers who were praised by Eric Pickles for their work in holding Barnet Council to account.





We hope to give you hours of pleasure and stop the One Barnet programme which is costing millions and might not actually save anything at all.

Yours faithfully

The Famous Five Barnet Bloggers