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.


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