22 May 2012

Mr Mustard likes a good dinner

although he is not quite as gluttonous as Mr Creosote.

How much do you have to pay for a good dinner? Well, one of Mr Mustard's favourite local restaurants is Chez Tonton which has been serving fine French food in Barnet since the late 80s.

don't let the unassuming building put you off. It's the chef that matters.
If you visit mid-week you get the benefit of the fixed price menu which is a bargain £17.95 for 3 courses. Mr Mustard always skips the garlic bread which is offered whilst you choose your dishes as otherwise he finds he doesn't have room for coffee and a wafer thin mint at the end of the meal (glass of port more likely - Ed). Even with a gin and tonic to kick off, a bottle of wine each and a glass of port to finish you will struggle to pass the £50 a head marker. That is as good a dinner as you need of an evening.

Now what does give Mr Mustard indigestion is an average meal at an elevated price. Meals in Park Lane hotels come into this category. As it happens Mr Mustard was one of the team that helped to sort out a Park Lane hotel which the bank foreclosed on. He didn't know until then that rather than there being a whole battery of chefs in the kitchen cooking fresh food for you, the dinner is often bought in with maybe just the pre-prepared vegetables being cooked from raw on-site. Your starter, main and dessert may all come from different suppliers of pre-prepared food. You might as well get a ready meal from Waitrose. Not only that but you pay £120 a head for the privilege. OK that includes a glass or two of champagne in a reception ( a quarter of a bottle which probably cost the hotel £13 or less ) and some wine with the meal but you always end up buying more wine at inflated prices.

Mr Mustard gets double indigestion when Barnet Homes decide to reserve a table for 10 at a total cost of £1,200. Here is what Barnet Homes have told him.

The question:

How many staff (including Board Directors) of Barnet Homes are going to the Housing Awards 2012 at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane on 27 June 2012?
Who is paying for their tickets and how much do they cost?
Has any hotel accommodation been booked for any of them and if so how many and at what cost?

The answer:

We have arranged a table of 10 to attend the housing awards at a cost of £1,200 (this includes wine and dinner for all 10 guests). This is to recognise that we have been successfully shortlisted in the ‘ALMO of the year category’.

Attending will be:

2 members of Barnet Homes Executive Team
3 Board members
2 London Borough of Barnet senior staff
The Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet (fair enough, it's the job of the mayor to eat for the borough - a gym membership should be included in the mayor's perks )
1 resident (no problem with a resident going)

No accommodation has been booked; all guests will be making their own way to the awards ceremony, (how they get home wasn't mentioned, crawling, naked or otherwise, up the Edgware Road probably, except for the Mayor & Mayoress who will travel home regally in the mayoral limo - do please go round Brian)

Do you think that it's bloody marvellous that Barnet Homes were shortlisted for an award? (they have not won anything yet mind). How did they get to be nominated in the first place? Well, the usual thing seems to be that you nominate yourself. "I would like a good night out in the West End paid for by the public and we do manage a few homes so please enter us in the ALMO category" or words to that effect.

These awards are just a money making machine. They don't exist because the magazine has any particular legal right to dole out awards. They are so that they tie people to their magazines and make everyone feel good about them. Last year 700 people attended the awards and so Inside Housing grossed £84,000 (at this year's prices) from ticket sales alone. These are not their only wards. they also sell sponsorship of the event, sponsors are usually firms who want to gain more business or at least to keep their name in the frame and they get the chance to rub shoulders with 700 possible customers.

Who takes a table. Well the 6 shortlisted companies do because as sure as eggs is eggs if they don't take a table they almost certainly won't win an award. Let us suppose that there are 6 short-listed entrants for each category. Each of them uses this as a justification to take a table. So that is £7,200 in the bank for the organiser. Who owns Inside Housing? It is Ocean Media Group. They are not some philanthropic organisation who are dedicated to making social housing better but a commercial company (nothing wrong with that) who just want to make money. They do it by printing magazines and organising conferences. Take a look at their website.

Look at what else they also publish. Back Street Heroes magazine. Mr Mustard has come across this magazine before as he will read most things about 2 wheels.

Is an award for housing from a company which promotes custom motorcycles really worth much? It is a vanity award in Mr Mustard's opinion. You are only offered an award, a moment in the spotlight, so that you take a table at The Hilton Park Lane and boost the profits of Ocean.

What we don't know is how many of the 60 ALMO's that exist entered the ALMO of the year section. Maybe it was only 6 and so they all got short-listed? Maybe the best ALMO is modest and doesn't put itself forward for awards? Maybe the winner is simply the one chosen out of the only 6 who put themselves forward and agreed to take a table at the Hilton as after all it wouldn't be much of a night if none of the winners in any of the 14 categories were present.

Mr Mustard's question is - does this award make Barnet Homes a better ALMO? No, of course it doesn't. It makes them into an ALMO with £1,200 less in the bank and 7 staff who will probably be a bit shabby on the morning after the awards and not working at full effectiveness.
Have Barnet Homes got money spare that they can spend on drinking and dining at public expense? 

This is part of what Chief Executive Tracey Lees said when taking about the short-listing 

"our vision of great service at great value" £120 for dinner is not great value.

Mr Mustard's vision of great value is that staff earning over £58,200 p.a., as 7 of the people attending the dinner do, should buy their own dinners and drinks. Please each pay £120 into the pot which can be used for any maintenance backlog.

Listen up Barnet Homes and Barnet Council. Stop entering vanity awards and save us all from this waste.

Buy your own drinks in future.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

p.s. Mr Mustard has just been googling Barnet Homes and finds that they were shortlisted in the GO Awards for 2012/13 in the section of GO Best Customer Engagement Initiative of the Year Award, ( link here ). The GO awards celebrate "Excellence in Public Procurement". Mr Mustard recently found out that Barnet Homes have been using the same design company for years, and have paid them ( Dogstar Design ) over £163,000 without a written contract being in place so procurement is evidently not an area of expertise for Barnet Homes.

Barnet Homes and Barnet Council would have to fight it out for the Private Eye Piss Poor Procurement Award. You haven't got a clue about how bad you are.

1 comment:

  1. This is a routine comment that your posts are routinely excellent, Mr M.

    Are there local government awards that the council go to? I presume not, since they would not feasibly nominate themselves for any kind of excellence award.


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