20 October 2014

Capita - too busy to cope (self inflicted)

which illiterate person put an apostrophe after Magistrates?
As readers will know the collection of Council Tax has been handed over to Capita. They have promised to improve the collection rates which were actually pretty good before they even got involved. The way in which they are going to do this is pretty blunt, rather than giving any leeway they will simply hit every transgressor with a big stick (metaphorically, that is). It is a strange situation as if Mr Mustard is confronted by a debtor without the means to pay, when in his alter ego's debt collection job, he is required to accept reasonable instalments. Not so the council or their henchmen at Capita.

There are two particular points which worry Mr Mustard about the above.

The first is the lack of a private room in which to discuss your financial affairs. This is odd as the Court's own website says that there are interview room facilities but perhaps only legally qualified representatives are entitled to use them and Capita probably use cheapjack unqualified employees who thus don't have the right? (Mr Mustard is surmising so do please put him right if he is wide of the mark). Being forced to discuss your financial affairs in public strikes Mr Mustard as a situation which could easily breach the Data Protection Act and even if it doesn't every criminal (con artists included) wandering about the Magistrates Court should not be able to hear the details of your financial woes. What if the reason you can't pay is that you have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and you have to tell the council's Capita representative that in order to get them off your back when you have decided not to tell anyone other than your immediate partner?

The second concern is that Capita can't cope. This is clear from the final paragraph in red. If the Capita call centre isn't going to be able to cope then it should be enhanced so it can cope or the spread of summonses should be over a longer period. Here we have the tail wagging the dog. Are KPI being failed or are unanswered calls mysteriously not showing up in the KPI statistics?

The council have, of course, had two lots of phone troubles that they have tweeted about recently. Councillors are having email trouble so although they want to help you they can't if they don't receive your message.

What will happen is that someone, who has a life and other things to do, will phone and fail to get through, their email won't be handled in time and despite paying off in full they will get hit with a Liability Order for the costs of enforcement and then the dogs (otherwise known as Equita, the Capita owned bailiff) will be instructed.

So Capita's inability to cope turns into court approved extra debt which goes to Capita's own bailiff and they make lots of fees. Trebles all round as they say in Private Eye.

Did the cabinet councillors who so ardently supported the award of the contract to Capita get into this sort of detail? None of them will admit to having read the Contract in its entirety, and some not even at all, so it seems unlikely. Please bombard Conservative councillors with complaints about Capita in order that they start to realise what they have done. If you have a Labour councillor, or the sole Lib-Dem Jack Cohen you don't need to tell them what is wrong with the contract as they know and where powerless to stop it, just ask for help with your situation.

One day the Crapita nightmare will stop.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 October 2014

The Friday Joke - Brian is mellowing

There is to be a vote of no confidence in the leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius (Mr Mustard is perfectly OK with the man himself and is always trying to get him to play truant after meetings and come to the Greyhound for a pint - he would like to but is always very busy -  Mr Mustard often refers to him as the "leader" as he doesn't think he is much of one but must have some negotiating skills to have hung on despite so many debacles). Mr Mustard saw in the local paper that Corny is allowed to vote that he has confidence in himself and that struck Mr Mustard as most amusing as well as a bit sad and rather pragmatic.

The numbers are finely balanced with 32 Conservative councillors, 30 Labour & the Liberal-Democrat tour de force Jack Cohen. Now Mr Mustard doesn't presume to know which way Jack will vote and hasn't asked him but suppose for one moment he decides to vote that he doesn't have confidence in the Leader and that Corny wasn't allowed, or opted not to as a man of honour, vote, then there could with full attendance be 31 votes each way with the Mayor having the casting vote and we can guess that he would save Corny's skin as he was supported by his Leader in "LandlordGate". So as you can see ever vote is going to count and all it might take is one brave Conservative councillor to vote against, perhaps with another councillor who has ambitions to be deputy leader in support, and we are going to have a leadership contest. Such fun.

The newspaper article led to the following tweets (and there were other people who also tweeted) and although Brian has blocked Mr Mustard he couldn't resist commenting and instead of the rather "robust" comments he usually makes he mildly admonished Mr Mustard in the nicest way possible. Has Brian turned over a new leaf?

Will we see him next in Cafe Buzz with a bunch of flowers and a fulsome written apology and having his breakfast there every day as the start of his rehabilitation programme to re-enter politics (now you have taken a joke too far Mr Mustard and diverted into the realms of fantasy: Ed)

Have a good weekend all and don't take any chances with your parking as Mr Mustard is about to be exceptionally busy with a surfeit of work.

Mr Mustard

10 October 2014

Monitoring Officer - Where did it all go wrong?

Actually it all went wrong when the Job Description was changed. This was in the time of Nick Walkley as Chief Executive, now at Haringey Council and if memory serves Mr Mustard correctly we also had, at that time, the pleasure of top level HR advice from Jacquie McGeachie who also, completely coincidentally, left us and went to consult at Haringey Council. Which of the two of them wrote the job specification Mr Mustard couldn't say, maybe someone else entirely, but Nick would have had to approve it. In the light of recent events it was a poor decision.

The below figures from DueDil (a most useful free site for company information) are to 31 December 13. The McGeachie company is now worth a mere £241 despite being previously being paid a zillion* pounds a day by Barnet Council; maybe her skills are not so valuable or sought after in 2014?

Mr Mustard's Haringey based follows will doubtless now be combing through the over £500 lists (expect payment to be disguised by use of another agency) or asking an FOI question, and checking the job description of the monitoring officer.

Here is part of the job description of the job which included the post of monitoring officer in 2011 (Mr Mustard's questions may have become vexatious in late 2012 but having information like this shows the real value that was in them) 

Fast forward to the current requirement (probably being changed as this blog is typed)

Not much specified there in the way of legal ability.

If you want to see the full job descriptions, they are here, from 2011 and here from 2013.

The immediate problem is over but what did it cost us? The answer will be in the council's March 15 Accounts which will appear in draft form in June 15.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

* Mr Mustard is prone to the occasional exaggeration. It was something in the area of £750 to £1,000 a day, nothing over generous.

9 October 2014

A broken down vehicle is bad enough...

what a broken down car often looks like - bonnet up
A resident asked Mr Mustard to have a look at their challenge to a PCN issued when she had broken down. They were doing a good job but Mr Mustard thought it would be useful if he posted advice for others in the same boat. Mr Mustard looked through PATAS decisions and was amazed at how often a vehicle broke down and was given a PCN.

Where should you break down?

One case was in a bus lane. That isn't as bonkers as it sounds as the vehicle will be under camera and the operator will see the arrival of a tow truck or a mechanic to attend to the fault so the council can themselves corroborate your story.

Don't put a wheel on the pavement unless there really is nowhere else; if you block one lane but traffic can alternate that will do; you could always act as the stop/go marshall to help traffic move smoothly. You do have a yellow vest in your car, don't you? Better to push the vehicle to the side of the road and put your warning triangle out at least 30m up the road.

If you break down in a bay where you have to pay to park you need to pay and that way you will avoid a PCN unless you exceed the maximum time.

Probably best to breakdown on single or double yellow or in a residents bay, if you can.

How should you break down?

Not because you have run out of petrol. Your Appeal will fail as that is not an event outside of your control.
Not due to lack of maintenance - ditto.
Not due to a known fault that you haven't had fixed.
Not for overheating if you hadn't checked the water level recently.

You need to breakdown for a sudden and unexpected reason i.e. something did actually break. A puncture is fine if you need to call for help to get it fixed and the vehicle cannot safely be driven as it is.

What should you do?

Put a note in the windscreen. The traffic warden is meant to take a photograph of it.
Obtain an invoice or proof of recovery from whichever recovery company recovered your car, if that was the case.
Obtain a breakdown docket from the AA / RAC / Green Flag etc which shows they attended and what they did.
Obtain an invoice from your mechanic which shows when he collected your vehicle and what work was carried out.
If a friend came and helped you get them to write a short statement saying who they are, where they live, what they did and when.
Take photographs on your phone which show work being done e.g. a new tyre being fitted.
The traffic warden has to answer a question on his handheld equipment "Any sign of a breakdown?" so if you have a note in your windscreen, the bonnet in the air, a warning triangle out, your hazard lights flashing and a jack under the car he/she really should make a note of "Yes".

The police

If the police pushed your car to where it received a PCN then you are not liable to receive a PCN as you were acting under the direction of a policeman. Best to make a note of the badge number of whoever helped you so that you can get a confirmation later.


The council often reject invoices as proof of repair when they are carried out by garages which are not vat registered. Do not be put off as this is not correct behaviour by the council. You may use a small garage, a one man band, who trades below the vat threshold but is bona fide and you can photograph their premises to show they exist.

Do not make up a breakdown company or garage as the adjudicators can smell a rat when they see one.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Help the LGO

In the nature of a guest blog, although the LGO didn't ask for one, they were volunteered and it is volunteers they are looking for.

Dear Sir / Madam

At LGO we constantly seek to improve the service we provide and want to ensure that any changes are informed by the experiences of people that have used our service. To help us in this we established an advisory forum to provide us with challenge, insight and feedback on our service. We hold meetings of the forum three times a year in our headquarters in Coventry, although we occasionally ask for views outside of those meetings through email and online surveys.

The group mainly consists of members of the public that have recently used our service. It also includes representatives of the bodies in our jurisdiction who handle complaints and a range of people that act as advocates for the public, such as advisory bodies, MPs and councillors. The forum offers a channel to provide feedback on the user experience directly to me and to my senior team. You can take a look at the notes from the meetings we have previously held on our website.

We would like to invite new members to the forum and encourage you to be involved in this important work that allows us to draw upon the experiences of people who have brought a complaint to LGO to improve the service we provide to others in the future. Whilst this is a voluntary role we will offer travel expenses for attendance at the meetings.

The first meeting will take place towards the end of November 2014.

If you would be interested in joining this forum please send us a short statement, of no more than 500 words, explaining why you would like to be involved and details of any other relevant experience you have. Please send this by email to advisoryforum@lgo.org.uk or by post to Advisory Forum, Local Government Ombudsman, PO BOX 4471, Coventry, CV4 0EH. The closing date for expressions of interest is Friday 17th October 2014.

If you would prefer to provide your statement over the telephone please call our advice line on 0300 061 0614 and we will arrange for someone to speak with you.

Decisions on who will be appointed to the forum will be based solely upon the statement. No interviews or other selection procedures will take place. Should you need any further information about the Forum please use the same email as above.

Please note: We are not able to respond to any specific issues about individual complaints you raise through your application. Correspondence to the email or postal address above will be treated as expression of your interest in the forum only.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Dr Jane Martin
Local Government Ombudsman
Chair, Commission for Local Administration

8 October 2014

Residents' Forum

Ask whatever you like. If it is rejected as a forum matter it might end up on the area Committee or at the very least you should receive an answer by email.

7 October 2014

Sharp as a beachball / the secret State.

The above wording is from the notes given to councillors, and afterwards on request to interested members of the public, from a "secret" meeting of a working group of the Environment Committee. The council will say the meeting was not secret but public although they didn't advertise it anywhere and didn't give any notice of it to the public and didn't make papers available on the day so the dedicated public who heard whispers of a meeting and went along on the off chance didn't even know what the agenda was. The chairman of the meeting, Dean Cohen, could have told the public gallery, which had more members than the committee did, they numbered 5, the public were double that, what the agenda items were but he didn't care to inform us which was not Open & Transparent the alleged default state of the council. You can judge if that is so.

Paragraph 1 is simply astounding. An external sales company is given roundabouts on which to sell advertising space and for being so diligent as to do some work they slice off 50% of the value. 50% is just too generous even to have a proper discussion about. Have proper approaches been made to find other local marketing companies who would compete and drive down the commission? Who knows as the report is silent on that subject.

What could the council do? It could identify from local knowledge the businesses which are likely to be interested in being promoted locally (although given that the head of communications lives in Tooting he can't have the same local knowledge as a local member of staff would) a look through the non-domestic rates database (if this is allowed) would find all businesses of a certain size or an advertisement could be placed in the local papers.

The roundabouts could then be sold on ebay once possible interested parties have been warmed up. Really not that much work and a chance to talk to local businesses about other things of possible interest.

So for 25% of the signs the council (i.e. us) initially got £28k and so could in theory garner £112k from this source, let's call it for £100k if you take the lot. Not sure what the agency commission was, probably a ridiculous 50% as for roundabouts leaving £50k for the council i.e. for the sale (giving away really) of our assets.

Now we have presumably sold them all?, the report is silent on the matter, and we are only getting £26,500 for them! A hopelessly non commercial outcome.

The new deal is very bad value indeed and if the whole Capita deal is based on such faulty "reasoning" we are all doomed.

You've seen the hideous advertising hoardings all over the borough. Like this one

which makes the life of the blind much more difficult. As for this, North Finchley is not Paris.

What a monstrous carbuncle. What is the point of these structures and what a waste of the world's resources as well as being visual pollution. The Barnet Bloggers' Uncle, Eric Pickles MP wanted High Streets cleared of clutter and how right he was.

Rather than the miserable income of £68,000 p.a. Mr Mustard would rather see a fiver added to his council tax and have more attractive High Streets.

Mr Mustard would have liked to know what is bring done to make Re (Re Regional Enterprise Ltd the joint venture with Capita) perform to contract but that vital information was not in the report. A report of other contract terms which seem to be optional in the eyes of the sub-contractor would also be very interesting.

Finally just to show how uncommercial the deals were Mr Mustard looked at the Accounts of the marketing agency mentioned, Marketing Force (Ltd). Here is a nice, for them, graph of  their assets steadily rising:

Clearly Barnet Council aren't their only mug customer.

This is all small beer. Look at how well Capita are doing out of Birmingham Council.

Only time will tell how well Capita managed to out-negotiate the council's negotiators most of whom will probably have moved on before the truth hits home.

Here is a picture of the council's sharpest negotiator.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard