This is an open letter that was emailed to all councillors very early this morning by the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers:
Barnet bloggers earlier this year exposed the scandalous use by Barnet Council of MetPro, an unlicensed security company which was paid a total of more than a million pounds worth of residents' money despite the absence of any tender process, contract, or properly regulated payment system.
MetPro proved to be just one among hundreds of similar irregular arrangements sanctioned by the Tory authority, which is currently negotiating the outsourcing of £1billion worth of our council services to the private sector under the One Barnet programme.
During the months of the outsourcing tender process, in blatant defiance of the government’s stated policy commitment to transparency and greater accountability by local authorities, Barnet has consistently resisted, delayed or obstructed Freedom of Information requests by bloggers in relation to matters of public interest, including the much criticised procurement of contracts with service providers. We think we know why that might be.
At this coming Thursday’s audit meeting, 8 December, we are submitting questions to the committee about another case investigated by local bloggers involving the council’s long term use of another private company, RM Countryside, which has been paid more than £2 million pounds of local tax payers’ money with an apparent lack of compliance with the proper processes of tendering, contractual arrangements and the regulations set out in the Constitution.
We are questioning the efficacy of the internal and external audit procedures which are supposed to regulate the commercial activity of the London Borough of Barnet.
The integrity of the One Barnet outsourcing programme is clearly fatally compromised by the failure of the authority to regulate its own procurement, contractual and payment processes and we call therefore for an immediate halt to be made in this programme, and for an urgent, independent inquiry to be held into the disastrous lack of control of the authority’s commercial activities. MetPro was a warning: a warning which has been ignored. Now is the time to stop, investigate and hold the authority to account to the residents and tax payers of Barnet.
The following is Mr Mustard's view alone.
After bloggers had discovered that procurement was a disaster ( one wonders how the Commercial Director, Craig Cooper, £132,480 p.a. could fail to know the basic workings of his own department ) a Procurement Action Plan was put in place. Progress on this plan is reported to successive audit committees of which there is one tomorrow ( 7pm Hendon Town Hall - do come along and say hello to the bloggers in the public gallery ). However last night at the Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny Committee there was a sign of what is to come.
One of the key performance indicators that was measured in quarter 2 ( July to Sept 11 ) was #7004 ( see page 16 of agenda item 6 here ) and it related to the number of vendors under formal contract.
A councillor ( Schama? ) asked Mr Travers what percentage of the top 50 vendors were under formal contract and there was a lot of hedging by Andrew Travers, the Chief Financial Officer, on £1,000 a day, as to what from memory, the number was and he plumped for 70%.
Oh dear, the councillor pointed out that the report in front of him said it was already 80% and shouldn't it really be 100% we are only talking about the top 50 vendors after all ( note to self, ask to see a list of the top 50 ). At this point the question got shunted back to Thursday when doubtless Craig Cooper will get put up to be cross examined..
So what do you get for £1,000 a day, you get a Chief Financial Officer with his head so full of fluffy OneBarnet figures that there isn't room for any knowledge of how far the repairs to the disaster of procurement, with all the attendant financial and legal ramifications, has progressed.