2 December 2011

Friday Joke - The latest Robert Rams blog

Rams, of course, is deadly serious, and the real bloggers were helpless with laughter when they read the latest utterings. Mr Mustard knows that he warned you not to read the ridiculous ramblings of Rams but will now break his own advice and re-print them here with the added musings of Mr Mustard in red.

I’ve just seen the latest version of the draft design templates for the new Barnet website and I’m very pleased with how the site is developing. This would be the well overdue website then would it? You may be pleased but what will be more important is whether residents will be pleased. You didn't mention the cost.

I’m confident that the new website will be easier to use and simpler to navigate than the existing site as the new design is cleaner and the content has been structured in a more straightforward manner. The designs are currently still in draft form but I will share them once they have been fully signed off and approved. We will see whether it is easier in due course. You should beta test this on the market with the biggest users of the website if you want to really know how it performs and avoid serious rewriting.

One of the main reasons for redeveloping the website is to make online transactions easier to access and simpler to use. The focus on bringing transactions online is a reflection of the changing way residents access both public and private sector services. The main reason is the council think it will be cheaper for them to make everyone use the internet. If this ends up with another fiasco like the cashless parking I wouldn't plan to be a councillor any longer than the next election in 2014. Some residents will want to do everything on-line but many won't so there had better be some choice.

It wasn’t that long ago that banking transactions had to take place before 3.30pm on a Friday but nowadays I can do my banking 24 hours a day, on the move or at home and I’m able to use a device that simply didn’t exist two years ago. On-line and telephone banking are available but are susceptible to fraud, especially telephone banking.

We can provide a better, more efficient service for residents by allowing them to access more services online, at their convenience. Only some services and only some residents. Remember, not everyone has access to the internet at home or the skill or the inclination to use it.

But as well as providing a more efficient transactional website, the redevelopment of Barnet Online will allow the council to focus on becoming more open and transparent. Now this was the point at which Mr Mustard started to lose it, he started to laugh and it was a long time before he stopped. All the council are focused on is how they can save money, what services they can chop, which libraries to close, where they can build as many extra properties as possible, which museums they can close and flog off etc etc. Ask yourself this question, how many meetings have there been to discuss openness and transparency? There has been one to allow filming several months after the infamous MetPro bullyboy council meeting and after central government had said to allow it. 
Ask yourself also how many exempt reports are there at council meetings, how often do the public get excluded. All the time.
Did the council try to stop filming at the Tambourides standards committee. Yes they did and they failed. 
Does the council delay or refuse to answer Freedom of Information requests on matters which really ought to be public knowledge; yest they do.
Are the over £500 lists complete and accurate. No. Where are the £1,000 a day payments to Halliford Associates Ltd for the services of Andrew Travers, the Chief Financial Officer in these lists. Nowhere to be seen in this financial year.
Are there meetings about One Barnet to which even councillors are not invited? Yes there are ( this is being reviewed this month )
Does Mr Mustard think he will be going to 2012 to meetings of an Openness and Transparency Committee. Of course not.

Barnet Council simply cannot be described as Open or Transparent and nothing will change until something happens at the top..

As has been discussed elsewhere, the council receives a large number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and responding to them takes up a lot of officer time, time that would be better spent on the core activities of their jobs. We can greatly reduce this burden on council time and resources by publishing more council data and making it easier to find. Every council receives these questions. The law says that councils must answer them. What is the core activity of a Freedom of Information Officer? Stone the crows - it is answering Freedom of Information requests. What does Rams think it is? If the council is so committed to Openness and Transparency then they should write it into everyone's job descriptions. 

We may also encourage more residents to actively engage with the council. At the moment, being an armchair auditor requires a dogged determination. There aren’t many people who would want to spend their social hours trolling through committee papers and expense reports looking for anomalies. Roll up, roll up. More bloggers needed in Barnet. Plenty of room on the bus for more. As Barnet Council hack off more people with their idiotic behaviour more bloggers will just appear. Bloggers don't go looking for anomalies; we fall over them; was MetPro not having a contract and being paid £1.4m one of the anomalies you were thinking about?

By making more information – previous FOI requests, details of allowances and expenses, copies of contract and tender documents, committee minutes and decisions, performance data etc – more freely available we will allow those residents with less free time to find out more about how the council, councillors and council run services are performing.
Now would those contracts that you plan to publish, well the ones that you have managed to get in place so far, several hundred were missing at the last public count, will they be the heavily redacted versions that are currently issued or will they be 100% complete?

And contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, council services are performing extremely well:
81 per cent of resident are ‘most happy’ with refuse collection If 19% of Mr Mustard's customers were unhappy he would have gone out of business years ago ( he is in year 25 ). There are over 300,000 residents in Barnet. 57,000 of them are unhappy. Oh dear.
73 per cent of residents with experience of secondary schools describe them as ‘good or excellent’ and 27% don't. There are 27,000 children in primary schools alone of whom over 7,000 are not satisfied. Never mind the secondary schools where the numbers are larger. 
Adult Social Services are rated as ‘excellent’ by the Care Quality Commission. Would that be why there was legionella in 3 care homes recently?
Children’s Services are rated as ‘excellent’ by Ofsted. With the caveat that Ofset said there is room for improvement in children's home and childminder settings.

..and in many ways these are the key services residents care about. Not parking, or use of unlicensed security guards, or libraries closing, or museums closing, or being unable to ask policy questions at residents forums, or parks losing their assigned keepers, or the Pinkham Way proposed depot....?

Barnet has nothing to hide, so I’m very keen that we make as much information about the council as easy to access as possible and the new website is the ideal vehicle to deliver on this transparency agenda. So allow any question whatsoever at Residents Forums and don't duck Mr Reasonable's questions at committee meetings "What are you afraid of" was what he felt compelled to ask recently. You also need to stop a certain Cabinet member from saying he won't answer emails that are from residents outside of Totteridge. If you are on the Cabinet you are answerable to all residents.

In the New Year we will be looking at how we can better present performance data in ways that is genuinely helpful to residents. If anyone has an opinion on how information should be presented, I’d be interested in hearing your views. Don't you already have enough consultants working on this website.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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1 comment:

  1. Well said, Mr Mustard: I cannot make up mind whether his post was utterly cynical or just completely, gobsmackingly naive. Does he perhaps believe the claptrap the Cabinet big boys tell him? Or does it tell you something about the dysfunctional relationship between councillors and senior officers?

    The idea that Barnet has nothing to hide is simply too funny for words. Oh dear.


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