3 May 2012

A Council Officer

is simply a jumped up name for a member of staff.

Officer Dibble would be a better bet than some of the current senior officers
(who are more Fat Cat than Top Cat)
Mr Mustard's view is that the balance between councillors and officers is out of kilter in Barnet. The theory is that Councillors decide policy and that officers then execute their wishes. However, if you look at how many reports from officers, which are stuffed with more garbage than an over-loaded dustbin lorry, get sent away for changes, correction or improvement (hardly any at all) one can easily come to the conclusion that at the moment, the officers seem to have hold of the steering wheel.

Last week at the Audit committee we saw a small backlash. Craig Cooper, who is paid £132,480 p.a., delegated the signing of an adverse audit report and then wanted to argue that the report was wrong, doh!. Really Craig, starting an argument in a public meeting with the man presiding, who has had extra work piled on his plate because your corporate procurement section has been sleeping on the job, and who happens to be a Lord, a Chartered Accountant, and a diligent councillor who reads every report, was not your best decision was it? Lord Palmer's exasperation is starting to show. He said he was angry and moved the agenda on. Lucky for you that Mr Mustard isn't a councillor as he would have sent you out of the meeting and demanded the chief executive serve your head on a platter (although Mr Mustard is vegetarian and this is simply a figure of speech). Advice: don't try and bluff Lord Palmer.

A quick digression. Craig Cooper's areas of expertise.

Perhaps non-stick Nick Walkley has a plan for you? You are going to have to apply for a job in the new (revision 48) management structure. What will your score-card look like? Your areas of irresponsibility include:

Procurement: enabling and driving a culture of best practice.

A Procurement Action Plan was required after MetPro, and since then we have had RM Countryside, Iris Gardening and masses of other contracts "regularised". That's a big fat fail then.

Information technology:

Oh dear another Action Plan was necessary.

The Data Centre and Comms Rooms are at significant risk as the A\C is not working correctly, the sprinkler system has been turned off due to a water leak and cables are at risk of being eaten into by Rats.
2e2 contract was put in place to transfer the operational management and risk of core infrastructure to a private provider. 2e2 no longer feel responsible for this and have passed all risks back to the council, on the basis that all equipment has reached EOL. (End of Life)

Front and Back office telephony infrastructure has come to the EOL and will be unsupportable by CISCO from May 2011, unless Barnet make a commitment to the upgrade.

Another big fat fail on the technology front.


Barnet Council are occupying part of the North London Business park without a lease. They also owe about £310,000 in rent and service charges which was picked up by Audit. 

Fat fail number 3.

What good does Craig do?

Now back to the subject of officers and councillors. If we cast our minds back to a previous Audit Committee on 8 December 2011 we had Pam Wharfe (the interim Director of Environment, Planning & Regeneration) sitting there trying to explain why RM Countryside had been given the "contract" to remove parking meters despite not having been selected in accordance with the council's Contract Procedure Rules. Mr Mustard takes copious manuscript notes at meetings.

Just like Craig she blamed others and said that the fact that RM got more than 25% of its work from the council should have been checked before it came to her. Maybe it should but an expert Director will know something about the suppliers to the council and ask questions and keep their own staff on their toes such that they get to know who will bring them documents they can sign and which will need closer scrutiny.

Lord Palmer expressed his worry that having made a big thing of procurement following MetPro that more work was given to RM Countryside despite the lack of compliance.

Pam Wharfe said "There is a contract. They have signed Terms & Conditions". Mr Mustard's nose should have twitched at that point as both a contract and T&Cs were not necessary and a contract was the required document in this case.

In response to questioning by the future mayor, Cllr Schama, about compliance checks not being done and what was being done to rectify the failings, Craig Cooper was back at the despatch box.

Cooper: Service Directors have been asked to self certify (that way I can't be blamed). EPR stopped using RM Countryside at the start of September. This DPR was conducted in July/August. Knew it was Value for Money (how could he have?)

Now let us test two statements:

1. Cooper: EPR stopped using RM Countryside at the start of September.
2. Wharfe: There is a contract (with RM)

Here are the payments to RM after 1 September 11. Payments made 4 months later make one think that extra work was, after all,  given to RM after early September.

Date Ref £
08/09/2011 5000316700 1,250.00
08/09/2011 5000316701 1,250.00
22/09/2011 5000318193 1,950.00
23/09/2011 5000318335 9,440.00
28/09/2011 5000318675 1,100.00
29/09/2011 5000319026 7,820.00
12/10/2011 5000320534 2,336.00
21/10/2011 5000321540 2,300.00
25/10/2011 5000321764 4,762.75
25/10/2011 5000321762 2,469.94
25/10/2011 5000321765 2,439.09
25/10/2011 5000321762 1,280.29
25/10/2011 5000321766 566.50
28/10/2011 5000322229 3,127.08
28/10/2011 5000322231 1,233.73
02/11/2011 5000322716 2,797.55
02/11/2011 5000322715 2,028.07
09/11/2011 5000323592 4,373.38
09/11/2011 5000323591 3,160.71
15/11/2011 5000324335 3,200.00
15/11/2011 5000324334 2,468.19
15/11/2011 5000324364 2,458.61
15/11/2011 5000324338 2,143.81
15/11/2011 5000324363 2,141.37
15/11/2011 5000324360 1,744.82
15/11/2011 5000324361 1,540.88
15/11/2011 5000324362 1,370.93
15/11/2011 5000324336 1,145.84
15/11/2011 5000324337 784.36
25/11/2011 5000325266 3,782.58
25/11/2011 5000325265 1,971.42
30/11/2011 5000325850 5,120.00
06/12/2011 5000326588 11,136.00
11/01/2012 5000330099 9,472.00
16/01/2012 5000330651 4,224.00

Having heard there was a contract Mr Mustard decided to ask to see a copy of it. The request went in on 8 December 2011.

The response came, from the EPR department itself (delay is not caused by FOI officers) on 23 February 2012. It came with the standard apology which is included in square brackets (i.e. optional text) in the standard reply. It comes to something when the apology is put in as a sort of standard to be removed if inapplicable rather than added if necessary. From this you could guess that more replies are late than on time.

This is what the reply said (numbers added for reference):-

For the removal of the parking meters a purchase order rather than a contract was used as the Authority only draft contracts where there are requirements that cannot be met by the standard terms and conditions, which are part of a purchase order, or the Council's financial regulations require a separate contract because of the value. In this case a contract was not necessary. (sent by CL an admin assistant so Mr Mustard has withheld the name)

Oh dear me no. The Procurement Action Plan ("PAP") was considered at the 8 December 2011 Audit Committee. On page 133 action point number 2 is:

Formal written contracts should be established for all services commissioned by the Council as required by the Contract Procedure Rules. 

The adjacent task was:

Put in place contracts for all current spend for all vendors where spend exceeds £25k and no contract currently in place. 

This got a green risk assessment from Audit.

Where does one start. The PAP was started a year ago in response to the MetPro catastrophe. Every Director must have heard about it. If administrative assistants can write such utter nonsense to an expert blogger then the message about following the rules has not filtered down from the top. The cost of removing parking meters and associated tasks, as set out in DPR1419, was £81,000 of which removing the meters was £52,224 ( 408 meters at £128 each to remove ). The removal of the meters clearly needed a proper contract to be issued setting out where to remove them from, how to remove them (they are connected to mains electricity so a suitable qualified tradesman is needed) and then where to dispose of them etc etc I note that the DPR was cleared by Sheila Saunders of legal. How? when it doesn't meet the rules. Let's hope that the legal team in Harrow Council are sharper than they have proved to be in Barnet.

Now let us look at the Purchase Order itself. It will be for £80,000 or so, won't it?

Pay & Display Removal of Machines
Now you are puzzled. A Purchase Order for £30,000 is supposedly a contract for £81,000. Let us give the council the benefit of the (considerable) doubt and pretend that it is. £30,000 is therefore the maximum which can be contractually due to RM Countryside. A pound to a penny they were paid more than that before the "arrangement" to use them had to be scrapped after Mr Mustard made life too hot for Pam Wharfe by pointing out where she had gone hopelessly wrong.

Back to the real world. How were the invoices submitted by RM Countryside matched off to be paid by Accounts Payable? Mr Mustard used to manage a large Accounts Payable (AP) department before he switched sides to collections. It must be chaos in AP as they will simply have to pay invoices that have been signed off by others as payable. The supposed 3 way match between the Order, the contract and the the Goods Received Note to the invoice cannot be working properly, if at all. If you are in AP, and you are up for privatisation like almost everyone else, do feel free to send your story to Mr Mustard or to Mr Reasonable who is also a financial whizz. Your trust in us will not be misplaced.

Final point. Why was the order not issued until November? Meters started going in September.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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