14 June 2011

Bad is good ! £1,000 a day is very good indeed.

So here we have the weekly message sent to Barnet Council employees last Friday the 10th June after a week of bad publicity. As ever Mr Mustard will comment or translate in red what the Barnet OneSpeak might really mean.
Two things cropped up this week which are a good illustration of just how far we have come over the last year or so in dealing with the challenges facing all local authorities, and just how far we still have to go. What are the two things. The email doesn't seem to say. There is a very long way to go to get the basics correct.

The Local Government Chronicle ("LGC") ran a piece this week which seemed surprised how far One Barnet has progressed so quickly and remarked just how far ahead of other councils we seem to be in facing up to the challenges ahead. Did they, that is not how I read it. Let us see what they actually said:

Barnet takes off as other plans stall

Barnet LBC is set to put millions of pounds worth of back-office services out to tender, amid claims its transformation plans could lead to the outsourcing of 70% of its 3,800 workforce.

The news comes with high-profile reform projects at other front-running councils facing uncertain futures.

The Barnet tender, expected to go out later this month, will include bids for its IT, human resources, finance and procurement functions, which cost in the region of £45m a year.

A £290m tender is being published for Barnet's development and regulatory services and plans for a council-owned company to take on its adult social care services have also been rubber stamped.

Unions have accused the council of a mass outsourcing. Dexter Whitfield, director of the European Services Strategy Unit who has been lobbying against the plans alongside unions, said: "Barnet, despite claims ... [that] One Barnet [was] not a mass outsourcing project, is engaged in procurement to outsource 2,600 jobs, 70% of non-school staff".

A council spokesman rejected the claim, stating the calculations included "double counting".

Robert Rams (Con), cabinet member for finance, added: "The flaw in Dexter Whitfield's logic is that he sees the One Barnet programme as simply outsourcing. It is much more complex.

"The arm's-length company is one example - we are looking at partnerships with other parts of the public sector and outsourcing, so there is a range of options," Cllr Rams told LGC.

Meanwhile, Suffolk CC's new leader Mark Bee (Con) has turned his back on its radical reform project while victory for the Green party at Brighton & Hove City Council has raised questions about its reforms.

Their fate is likely to be closely watched by a slew of authorities, including Sutton LBC, Wakefield MBC, Shropshire Council and Swindon BC, which are also attempting ambitious projects.

Those in favour of reform admit progress has been slow. BT consultant Max Wide, who has played a key role in Barnet's and Suffolk's projects, said progress had been "modest".

However, he added that "they are doing this in the best tradition of pioneering public service, not because it is easy but because it is right".

Then Mr Travers didn't mention the other piece in LGC. I am a few days behind Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet fame in getting this out but then as she said she wasn't "burning up the autobahn" with Mr Mustard on his motorcyle when the cat came out of the bag. So what article did Mr Travers not mention ?( what's that I hear - a Travers-ty of good communication ) . This one :

Barnet panned over £1.4m contract fiasco

Barnet LBC failed to comply with its own rules when handing out a million pound contract exposing the council to 'significant financial and reputational risk', according to the council's audit committee.

The damning report said no procurement exercise was undertaken to appoint security firm, Metpro, for which the council has paid £1.4m over five years, and that "officers cannot ...give assurances that this will not happen again".

It said: "The council has failed to comply with its Contract Procedure Rules (CPR) and financial regulations, exposing the council to significant reputational and financial risks.

"No procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, in accordance with the council's CPR.

"No written contract between the council and MetPro could be found. There is no record of an approval and authorisation for the use of MetPro for providing security services.

"Although we cannot rule out fraud, there have been no allegations of fraud and there is no evidence to suggest that there should be a fraud investigation."

The council is currently in the process of tendering for contracts for its back office services and regulatory services collectively worth over half a billion pounds - see LGC tomorrow for more.

The report follows media reports last month that Metpro was to be investigated by a government watchdog after it emerged that it was not properly licensed.

Barnet cabinet member for resources and performance Daniel Thomas (Con) said: "Contract management is an area we need to tighten up on which is exactly why we have this report.  We now need to put in place a clear programme of improvement to match those we ran in these other services."

The staff of Barnet Council aren't fooled. The union and bloggers keep them properly up to date with the news.

But, less positively, two reports, to go to Audit Committee next week, covering our procurement procedures found real failings in how tightly we manage contracts. When I say "how tightly" I mean that we don't know who all of our contracts are with as we don't have a register of them. We also have suppliers who don't have a contract at all and we gave them over £1m so really instead of "tightly" I should have said "loosely".

One covers the Metpro security contract in Barnet House (and other buildings) and the second covered our procurement procedures in general. Both of these found failings in how we control contracts.  Both are very solid pieces of work by the council’s own internal audit unit. It is very important that our internal control and governance arrangements are robust and challenge us to improve where that is necessary. I have been the Chief Finance Officer for over a year and although I am paid £1,000 a day I don't know what goes on here otherwise, of course, I would have sorted it out.

While One Barnet is progressing, we need to make sure that we stay focussed on our day to day procurement and that we meet consistently all of the standards expected of a public body. We have to juggle two balls at one time; oh dear, there seem to be two balls on the floor.

We will announce plans next week on just how we propose to do this. Mr Mustard can't wait.

Andrew "Andrew who" will be what many employees say.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what he does do all day? Stare out of the window? Count the paperclips? Sharpen his One Barnet pencil?

    What were you doing on the autobahn with a cat in a bag? You are a man of mystery, Mr Mustard.


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