8 July 2012

Bogged down at the Annual Audit

British Toilet Awards

Barnet Council love putting themselves forward for awards and Mr Mustard thinks they are in training for the British Toilet Awards. Otherwise why would they be going to the trouble of escorting any of the bloggers to the toilet when they visited North London Business Park to inspect the Accounts of the council when they are opened up for audit once per year as required by law. The 3 bloggers Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard were joined by a parking expert who was acting on behalf of a local resident. It is the case that one can simply turn up between 9.30am and 4.30pm and ask to see whatever documents relate to the year ended on 31 March. The bloggers had quite a list and being generally quite businesslike had sent their list in a week or even two weeks ( Mr R is so organised) in advance so as to cause the minimum disturbance.

Now for those in the know we were in Training Room 6 about 25 metres up a busy corridor from the cafe which overlooks the lovely courtyard. The toilets are situated at the other end of the cafe. Now one would think that we could have been treated as if we were respectable residents (no-one was wearing a hoodie, carrying a knife or sporting love and hate tattoos on their knuckles) and allowed to walk 25m on our own to the toilet and to pick up a cappuccino on the way back but no, if we headed for the escape hatch door, a young and embarrassed employee would appear at our elbow and escort us to the toilets and then stand outside looking embarrassed until we had adjusted our attire and reappeared. It transpires that no other guests have been treated that way in the past and hopefully they won't be in the future.

When he returned to Room 6 after his second coffee, Mr Mustard found the following text appear on his mobile phone

"Is this a fascist state? - no, just Barnet Council"

which was sent by an employee called redacted

Mr Mustard really wonders what Barnet Council think and he thinks they are bereft of ideas for dealing with the bloggers. It would take more than some perfectly polite young man walking with him to the toilet to upset a debt collector of 25+ years experience, maybe you could buy a ball and chain for the next visit or Mr Mustard might even turn up in a convict's uniform. The council were somewhat short of manners when it comes to receiving guests as well. The norm in any business meeting is to offer tea and coffee. If the audit had been taking place at Grant Thornton Mr Mustard can guarantee that there would be a tray of drinks and biscuits in the room 2 minutes before the meeting started and if the meeting went through lunch a tray of snadwiches and fruit would arrive. Mr Travers was not in the building, he was probably on the beach in East Sussex. Would you be so good Andrew as to slip one of your minders a tenner out of your £1,000 a day so that your guests can be properly accommodated. Don't you have to be in Barnet though when the statutory Audit is going on being as how you are the part-time S151 officer?

If any councillors want to meet with Mr Mustard to explain perhaps why One Barnet is such a good thing Mr Mustard will personally put the kettle on and willingly make you a tea or a coffee because that is polite before he then tries to put a hole in your argument.

If any senior officers want to pop round perhaps because they think have been unfairly reported of in this blog as, say, being piss-poor at procurement and that henceforth you should be known as the Prince of Procurement rather than Captain Chaos then you too would be most welcome and given tea or coffee after which we could study a list of what has gone wrong in procurement and what has gone wrong. The first list will be much longer than the second.

Now having got the housekeeping out of the way we moved to the documents themselves. Mr Mustard wanted to look at the invoices of 3 suppliers of agency staff and of PATAS. He limited one of the enquiries, about Hays, to just one month in order to limit the workload. He was not presented with a file of original invoices as he expected but with copies which had been redacted and he has now taken home the copies of copies that were made for him and which look like they are set to become exhibit A in his formal complaint. Barnet Council had crossed out anything that he wanted to see such as the names of consultants, hourly or daily rates, number of hours or days worked, the project they were working on (sometimes) and this is just utterly and completely wrong.

Here is the invite to pop along and inspect the accounts. Do turn up without notice if you fancy looking at any invoices at all for the year ended 31 March 2012

S15 Audit Commission Act 1998 says that information about "a member of staff" can be redacted. Mr Mustard did not ask to look at such information; he plays by the rules. He does expect to be able to look at the invoices for supplying a senior consultant, or even a junior consultant, from Agilisys or iMpower, and that has been denied to him and will lead to a complaint. These people are in effect deciding who will provide our services in the future. They must be accountable to residents.

Mr Mustard wanted to take a look at the invoices from PATAS (the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service) and again he only asked for 3 months worth in order to save time of council staff. The time of the legal department was wasted in redacting all the unit prices. Now not only are Barnet Council wasting time but they are wasting time on redacting information that is in the public domain on the London Councils website as it is they who manage PATAS and they charge each borough a fixed annual fee based upon the number of parking tickets issued in a previous year and a fee for each case that is appealed to them. Mr Mustard is shocked at how little the redactor knows about their world of work. The fees of PATAS will be the subject of a future blog post.

(3) A person who has the custody of any such document and—
(a) obstructs a person in the exercise of a right under this section to inspect or make copies of the document, or
(b) refuses to give copies of the document to a person entitled under this section to obtain them,
is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Mr Mustard will have to consult his solicitor but he thinks that the redaction of a price from a London Councils' invoice is an obstruction. A level 3 fine is £1,000 so one day's pay lost is no big deal for black hole but the loss of face would be enormous.

Our time was also wasted whilst the legal department finished off the redaction of some documents on the grounds of supplier request. Another completely unacceptable way of going on. Both the lateness as they had at least a week to prepare and the fact that suppliers were consulted. 

Barnet Council need to get out of this fortress mentality. If they don't want to be criticised the best way is to behave in a way that does not allow them to be criticised. Mr Mustard has long advocated that he wants them to become a boring council and leave him with nothing to write about. There is no sign of that happening for some time.

Mr Mustard needs to go now and draft his email of complaint to Andrew Travers. It will not contain any criticism of the staff who will just have been doing what they are told.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. DCMD applauds Mr Mustard, Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and others for using the Audit Commission Act as a means to expose the council’s finances to sunlight and scrutiny. What a pity that when he did the same thing several years ago, he was vilified by the usual bunch of Trotskyites.

  2. David, I don't remember vilifying you for anything or was it another bunch of Trotskyites?

  3. No, Rog it was not you. This was in pre-blogging days.


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