Mr Mustard is in a bad way. He has just spent over 3 hours in an Audit Committee meeting. Lord Palmer did a good job of chairing the meeting and he was somewhat unhappy himself with the state of affairs.
There is a complete lack of humour in this blog and that is because the meeting was not at all funny. Sorry.
The meeting started on time at 6.30pm and a good job too as otherwise we would be there beyond mid-night.
There was good a turnout of bloggers who supplied most of the questions and were the main reason that MetPro were on the agenda.
Lord Palmer told us that the real problem was that some years ago a firm of consultants ( remember those people who pop in, change all the systems, trouser a bundle of notes and pop off again to leave others to pick up the pieces ) suggested that procurement ( or purchasing if you want a Plain English word - The Chief Executive doesn't seem to be a fan of Plain English ) be spread around the services areas and corporate procurement lost control. Lord Palmer was "very disappointed".
After being unable to answer the next question, as he deftly left it for an Officer to reply to in writing later, Lord Palmer said that the boss of Audit, Maryellen Slater, is excellent. No argument there. Lets hope that the Officers don't try and get rid of here.
Audit has done a sample of 15 invoices and found that the purchase orders were all raised on or after the invoice. ( An absolute Travers-ty of good practice ).
Lord Palmer said he didn't think that in the past Audit had been taken seriously enough. He also said that the Audit team is only the boss + 3 staff and 1.5 external accountants. After a supplementary question about further investigations he said that additions to the planned audits would put back other audits. There is one basic idea that has been missed. Beef up the audit department. There is plenty of money for OneBarnet consultants; just divert some funding to Audit and increase the number of audits.
Lord Palmer felt that, in the age of the computer, spotting contracts which pass certain thresholds should be easy to monitor. Spot on Lord Palmer. Will the £1,000 a day consultant ( see earlier blog - a grand day out ) be able to implement this ? Might be too difficult for him ?
Lord Palmer wanted to hear further questions because he thought it would be useful. The Director of Corporate Governance, Jeff Lustig, stopped him because standing orders could not be suspended. Lord Palmer very gamely carried on for a bit and then stopped before the water got too hot. In a democracy why restrict questions from concerned residents to 30 minutes; it is simply undemocratic; stifles debate and leads to a good blogging.
Mr Reasonable spoke. He used words & phrases like disgrace, shocking, deep seated problem, management culture is flawed, eye taken off day to day work, focus on the basics, management systems missing, challenge the Council structure, audit committee kept in the dark and fed rubbish. All of it true. His summary " Are Barnet council running the £1bn business properly" You know the answer and it only has two letters in it. And no it isn't "Yo".
The £1,000 a day Chief Financial Officer then spoke, very nervously I thought.
He accepted that core processes were fundamental ( he didn't mention how that could be the case during his 14 months in charge )
that the OneBarnet changes should not detract from that ( are OneBarnet tablets slipped into the tea and coffee machines as its like a drug that the Officers have to have their fix of )
he takes full responsibility for sorting it out ( and none for not sorting it out before )
he accepts the challenge ( well if not your £1,000 a day is toast )
the failure in one contract means they cannot rely on current systems & need to put that right ( news for you Mr T - there wasn't a MetPro contract - you meant arrangement )
and then there was a 4 point plan for how things would be rosy in the garden by September 11 ( the garden is full of weeds and Mr Mustard's allotment tells him that once weeds take a hold they are pretty resilient and hang around and keep cropping up ) - the bloggers will check later.
To finish ( thank goodness ) he assured the committee he was fully committed to these improvements despite OneBarnet. Mr Mustard thought there must be an analogy he could draw here and he wonders if this is like trying to satisfy a wife and a mistress ( a matter of which he has no personal experience before you ask). You know, the mistress is new and exciting and there are different things to try but at the same time he has to keep the wife happy, but life at home is a bit stale and routine and there just isn't enough time so things slip at home ( like checking paperwork ) and they probably aren't going to last with the mistress either as she too will get older and some new distraction will come along and boy is she expensive and it's no expense spared and when the money runs out she will be off to pastures new, Suffolk possibly, or anywhere there is a new wide-boy whose money she can spend.
Anyway, back to the meeting.
Cllr Schama is evidently old school and to be praised for it. We need steady & sensible Councillors. He was evidently incredulous that there wasn't a simple checklist ( he called it a due diligence template - a snappy acronym that, DDT - I think its been banned Councillor ) of vital supplier statistics like vat and bank account numbers and unique supplier numbers and every other basic data that any other £1bn business that wasn't in Broken Barnet
Cllr Rayner was right behind him, and next to him at the same time, quite a trick that one. Cllr Rayner claimed to know nothing about audit but he did know that the Audit recommendations were so fundamental that he couldn't believe they were not already being done. Bloggers used to think like that and now they expect the worst.
The £1,000 a day man then, according to my notes, said these were all things they needed to consider in the control framework ( I wish these Council people would use English ) and they are looking at them ( you know I am sure that Mrs Angry set the MetPro gun off - or was it the self protection pepper spray - months and £100,000 ago - a bit late to be still considering things ). Then my notes say that compliance is being done but it isn't. Not sure if I added the second part or if he really said it. I will have to check the tape but I haven't got until 3am. He did say that they couldn't rely on systems that compliance is being done.
The Chief executive had to say something. He was concerned that departments knew there was a problem and did nothing. Mr Mustard is concerned that Mr Walkley didn't know what was going on at the Council. Its what he gets £200k a year for.
I think that it was Mr Harbord the independent member of the Audit committee who said " This problem was found by error and not by systems" So there you go bloggers; you are just errors. Actually I don't think he was being disparaging about bloggers but he sure was about the Council.
Mr Walkley then spouted a load of his management speak rubbish which I really can't be bothered to repeat. It started by him saying it ( MetPro - he couldn't even use the word ) happened 5 years ago ( a not my fault for openers ? ) devolution, challenged, difficult, challenging shift, loss of power, transfer to the centre, not simple to fix in 3 months ( setting early expectations for failure ? ) deeper cultural something or other but my eyes had glazed over by then....
I have, the morning after the meeting, found this interview with Nick Walkley which appeared in the Barnet Times ( click on the title to read the article ). Look what he says when he arrives at Barnet in relation to the Icelandic Bank deposits:
"This is an officer failure that we need to deal with, and I can’t emphasise that enough,” says Mr Walkley.
“What is pretty unique about this case is that the officer drafting the strategy and making recommendations to members then contravened his own strategy.
And there is more ( sorry that you have to read this rubbish )
Well it is not unique any more is it Mr Walkley as it seems that just about every officer is ignoring the procurement rules ( buying rules for normal people ) . Echoes of MetPro. You obviously haven't emphasised to Officers that they must follow the procurement rules despite that being your supposedly specialist subject.
One thing he is certain about is the need to “improve things”.
“I am pretty much restless about everything and want to make things better. It’s my trademark and why people find me really quite annoying at times.
I don't see the improvement Mr Walkley.
March 2009 - Officer ignored bank deposit rules
March 2011 - Officers ignore procurement rules
Mr Mustard sees a theme here.
Are you quite annoying? I don't know about you as a human being, but as a Chief Executive I find your inability to change things ( and I don't mean the eminently scrappable One Barnet - I mean fixing the broken basics ) and your salary very annoying indeed.
Here is how you can make things better.
Stop being annoying and become boring ( you can go mountaineering & white water rafting or race motorcycles at the weekends if you want exciting )
stop One Barnet
chuck all the consultants out and
make all heads of service do the basics properly in a consistent and reliable manner.
If you do that residents might even get to like you.
The final remark by Debra Lewis, another independent member, was "A shocking report" but I am not sure if that was the MetPro Audit report, the annual Audit report or the final quarter Audit report. It could have been any of them.
I could write another page of negative adjectives about the rest of the meeting but this blog is deadly dull already and its gone midnight so off to bed and another blog about the desperate state of Barnet council tomorrow when I will share with you some of the more interesting items from the draft Annual Accounts.