21 July 2012

The Longstaff Letters

Just before the BAPS conference on 7 July I invited Cllr Longstaff and my other two ward councillors (why do we have three when two don't say much?) to attend as it is vital that public debate takes place about One Barnet if it is to be considered an open and transparent council (which it patently isn't currently).

Cllr Longstaff had a prior engagement and so couldn't attend and he went to the trouble of sending me his thoughts on the matter of One Barnet and it is good to see this one councillor, the Cabinet Member for Safety & Resident Engagement starting to engage in open debate ( his email to me of July 11 ago was much less engaging ) . I say open debate as he sanctioned the appearance of his response on the Robert Rams blog.

I have now had time to compose a response and all three emails are below. Perhaps this is the start of a proper debate on the £1bn One Barnet outsourcing plan. I have left my real name on the emails for once as One Barnet is a very real question.

From: Derek Dishman
Sent: 03 July 2012 10:39
To: Longstaff, Cllr David Conservative;
Prentice, Cllr Wendy Conservative;
Perry, Cllr Bridget Conservative
Subject: Conference on Saturday 7 July 12noon to 3pm

Dear Councillors
You represent me.
I am planning to attend the conference whose details follow and I am hoping that at least one of you will do the same, even if only for some of the time.
There is huge and growing opposition to the concept and execution of One Barnet (£10m put aside in next year's budget for transformation costs, Ten Million Pounds - what is going on; is value for money being obtained?) and as 3 of the backers of the scheme you need to know what it is that residents don't like rather than take decisions in a vacuum. I do hope to see at least one of you there.
Barnet Council Not For Sale
Barnet Unison & Barnet Alliance for Public Services Special Conference
Saturday 7 July 12-3, The Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road N12
I won't make the start but hopefully will see you later in the afternoon and you can perhaps explain to me, amongst other questions, why exporting jobs out of Barnet is such a good idea (the parking back office is now in Worthing) and why in-house bids have, so far, not been allowed.
Yours sincerely
Mr D R Dishman

Sent: Thursday, July 05, 2012 8:37 AM
To: Derek Dishman; Prentice, Cllr Wendy  Conservative; Perry, Cllr Bridget Conservative
Subject: RE: Conference on Saturday 7 July 12noon to 3pm

Dear Mr Dishman,
Thank you for your email.
You're quite right in pointing out that I represent you, but I should point out that I also represent 15,000 other residents in High Barnet.
On Saturday I won't be attending the conference as I'll be at a 60th Wedding Anniversary Party, which has been in my diary for quite some time.
On the points you raise:
The number of jobs 'exported' isn't clear cut. A substantial number of Barnet Council NLBP staff do not reside in the Borough. One might argue that they should, but that would be flouting several laws and limiting our choice of candidates.
When you say 'in-house' bids, do you mean a management buyout or do you mean re-organisation of the internal structure to compete with the outside companies? Would the in-house bid be for the whole of an entity (like DRS) or part of an entity? Would an in-house bid, of whatever kind, have the necessary financial back-up?
As for good ideas: Balancing the budget is a good idea. As a debt collector you must know the perils and heartache that come from unsustainable debt. Ask the Labour representatives, especially former Labour MP, Andrew Dismore, why Labour didn't keep public expenditure inline with tax revenue. Ask Unison why they didn't lobby the government as spending spiralled out of control. Surely someone in the Labour Party or Unison must have realised there are terrible consequences associated with debts accrued to maintain Revenue expenditure? The nation now spends about as much on interest payments as it does on the NHS!
Getting the best possible value for all Council Tax payers is a good idea.
A relentless drive for efficiency is a good idea.
Keeping the Council Tax increases to zero or less than inflation is a good idea. Approximately 80% of Barnet Council expenditure is met through Government funding. The financial consequences of not meeting Government targets are substantial. Several hundred pounds would have had to be added to each Council Tax bill in 2010, followed by inflationary + increases in 2011 and 2012 to maintain services at 2010 levels. The demand for statutory services (1300 extra primary school places in the last three years) is increasing and would have outstripped those inflationary increases in Council Tax bills, see 'Graph of Doom'. Do you think pensioners and struggling families would welcome that? Would anyone welcome it (see K2 tax avoidance scheme)?
I would recommend reading http://tiny.cc/bewvgw and then reflect on possible options for Barnet. The Barnet Alliance for Public Services stated aim is no cuts to any Council services, Education, Welfare Services or staffing arrangements.
At the conference, with the Barnet Alliance for Public Services aims in mind, consider the 'Graph of Doom' scenario, work out the Council budget and future projections for the next fifteen years, produce a detailed alternative and present it.
On the 18th June you sent out an email championing Sir Terry Leahy on what he had to say about local government management. What you didn't mention is that in his new book, 'Management in 10 Words', he also advocates relentless change in the form of technological and methodological improvement.
He also goes on to say that organisations are terrible at confronting the truth. The Conservative administration at Barnet Council is confronting the truth regarding future demand on statutory services and the amount of money available to pay for it. We have produced a strategy to deal with the issues.
Cllr. David Longstaff

Since sending it I have tidied up a couple of minor grammatical errors in the next email.

Friday 20 July 2012 at 22:19
email sent to Longstaff, Perry & Prentice

Dear Councillor Longstaff

Thank you for your email of 5 July. It has taken me a little while to reply because I also had a party or two to go to and other pressing matters.

Export of jobs

The number of jobs exported on the NSL contract is clear. The parking back office is 25 people. Those jobs are no longer in Barnet but in Worthing as is clear from the address printed on parking tickets, the council website and from the answer to Cllr Jack Cohen's question at full council a little while ago. I do know that EU law prevents the council from specifying where the work is to be carried out and that is one of the disadvantages of the way in which you have chosen to carry out the tendering exercise. If an in-house bid had been allowed then it would almost certainly have been the case that the business would have remained within the borough. There would be more Barnet people in work and spending their money at local businesses which helps the borough in general.

Current employee residential locations

I have noticed that the more senior management travel huge distances to work at Barnet Council. I don't know the situation for junior staff except for the ones I happen to know personally who are local. There are disadvantages for the council of employing people from further away. During bad weather and transport strikes those people are less able to make it into the office. Always assuming that you have two equal candidates it makes sense to employ the one who lives nearer. It is the policy that I followed from the early eighties when I was a credit manager at a business in N11 and for 20 years in my own office in High Barnet. Staff who have to travel in from places like Peterborough and Southampton are not going to be as perky as those who have caught a local bus to work. The council has had a parking space problem at NLBP; that also would have been alleviated by having more local employees who could walk, cycle or use the bus.

In-house bids

I have no fixed view on the form that an in-house bid could have taken. What I do know is that for parking enforcement, Customer Services (NSCSO) and Development & Regulatory Services (DRS) the only option that has been presented has been to out-source. Staff were never allowed a chance to compete. This limitation was foolish. One usually finds that the staff actually doing the job know more about the way in which the department runs than the management do. If they had been allowed to bid they could have presented an alternative costing against which to measure the bids of BT, Capita or EC Harris. The way in which services have been bundled together in the cases of NSCSO and DRS are by their very structure impossible for the staff to bid against as they bundle together a large number of disparate services across directorates which make absolutely no sense from a business standpoint. They are also going to lead to double handling of enquiries. Is your enquiry about council tax a level 1 or a level 4 enquiry? The customer does not know. They will get in touch with either Revs & Bens or Customer Services and may well want the other one.

As an example of senior management knowing less than their staff I cite Bill Murphy the town hall tax dodging Assistant Director of Customer Services and Libraries. He told Lord Palmer, at the last Audit Committee that people could telephone Customer Services to contest a parking ticket. Absolute codswallop. Any appeal has to be in writing to a Worthing address or completed on-line on the council website.

Currently the staff are very unhappy. One has said to me that he objects to being treated like a commodity. If you had allowed an in-house bid on a level playing field and the in-house bid came in 5% higher and so did not win at least the staff would feel happy that they had received a fair hearing and accept the loss with good grace "The better man won on the day". Instead they feel betrayed. Is it any wonder that staff are leaving in droves to join other councils with less crackpot ideas than One Barnet.

As to financial backup, if the services had been split up into smaller bundles then each one would need less funding and this would be available to small companies with a guaranteed income stream as they would have. Thanks to quantitative easing there is a glut of money available for small businesses to borrow.

Balancing the budget

I agree that everyone must live within their means. I am not a member of the Labour party. I do not propose to ask Mr Dismore anything at all unless it relates to his role as my assembly member. I voted for him because he wasn't Brian Coleman (I am sure that does not need any further explanation).


I am not a member of a union. I cannot speak for Unison. I do know that John Burgess wants to have a dialogue with the leader about One Barnet, but somehow Richard Cornelius cannot seem to set a diary date.

Value for money and efficiency

I agree that obtaining the best value for money for council tax payers is a good idea. MetPro's services were procured without proper procedures being followed. When finally the council was forced to stop using them because of our scrutiny and the fact they also went bust, and the council managed to trade with a phoenix company, the contract was let and Blue 9 were better value. The history of procurement at Barnet Council is not a happy one. The pricing problem with MetPro (leaving aside the CRB & SIA problems) was that their price was not tested against the competition. In the case of One Barnet projects the prices are only coming from large private sector companies. The value for money should be established by working out the true costs of the department or section concerned and then testing it against an in-house bid, a joint venture with one or more other local authorities, a public-private partnership and an ALMO and then you would have a true cost-benefit analysis. Two multi-nationals competing are not likely to enter a fight to the death for the business. I expect that the same bidders keep meeting at many local authorities and may be quite friendly with one another and not inclined to cut-throat competition (without suggesting that any illegal collusion is occurring you understand). The staff move around a finite number of large companies such as Capita, BT and iMpower and the council employs senior management who have previously worked for these companies or have moved on to work for them. It isn't open and transparent. The declarations of interest by senior officers on the NSCSO and DRS contracts are feebly worded, issued rather late on in the project and not sufficiently numerous.

Efficiency: Have you enquired how NSL are doing on the parking contract? I have been following the success and failure rate at PATAS ( Parking and Traffic Appeals Service ) and despite it now being more than 11 weeks since they took over the paperwork that is necessary to argue the council's case is still not arriving at PATAS in the vast majority of cases. I have written a blog post about that here.

Imagine you had a clean sheet and were creating an organisation to provide services like bin collection, parking control, recycling, social care, schools, parks, street lighting, libraries etc to local residents. Would you create an organisation that had:

63 policy makers, people who put themselves forward and who don't have to have any qualifications to do the job and who get £1.2m between them. Some of them are powerless as the 63 are organised in tribes and the tribe with less numbers gets left in the cold.

95 senior management to carry out the policies who are collectively paid £9.5m (see GFC item 6 on 23 April 2012)

A firm of consultants ( Agilisys/iMpower ) paid £2.1m (in the year ended March 12 per the over £500 spending lists)

A number of Boards: so far I have found Barnet Partnership Board which meets twice a year and 6 other Boards which meet 6 times a year. There may be others.

Now I would think that you could all happily talk amongst yourselves for the whole year, be very busy in meetings and not achieve much, don't you agree?

No-one with any sense would organise municipal functions that way. I think you were at the meeting of Cabinet on 17 July when the Leader himself complained about the chart at Appendix 1 of the report on safeguarding children. He wanted simpler charts and presumably simpler structures. There is bags of room for a ruthless drive for efficiency as it would be hard to imagine a less efficient structure than the current one.  Your fellow councillor Hugh Rayner has also suggested the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid and it is one of the most sensible things he has ever said.

Council Tax increases in the range of zero to inflation

I half agree with you, not the freeze but the 2.5% increase. I know that central government were adding extra grants to councils who froze council tax for the last 2 years but not all councils were convinced it was a good idea. I was not. Holding prices down artificially will end up with a sudden large increase which people will find harder to budget for. It doesn't hurt the poorest in society as they receive benefits which will take account of the increase. I would much rather pay a 2.5% increase each year (per the BBC website inflation is 2.4 to 2.8% at the moment depending on whether you refer to RPI or CPI ) than three lots of 0% and one of 10% (and it was the extreme increase in car parking permit prices of 150% which set me off down the road to blogging - blame Brian Coleman and his colleagues of the time who failed to rain in his policy excesses). I do of course expect my money to be wisely spent and I don't think it is. I see from the Finance & Business Planning Process for 2013 to 2016 report presented to cabinet on 17 July that increases of 2.5% are planned for the entire period. Now all that remains is to spend it in the right way.

The awfully named "Graph of Doom"

The head of Age UK in Barnet asked the Leader not to use that phrase as it denigrates the elderly who still have a lot to contribute but I do know which graph you mean (she said the phrase was deeply inappropriate and offensive).

Here is the content of an email I sent to another blogger at the time.

It is the most stupid graph I have even seen.

Even the journalist says

The graph should not be taken too literally: by making no provision for Barnet's anticipated rise in income through regeneration schemes, for instance, it overstates the bleakness of the outlook.

and here is my comment from the Guardian website

The horribly named graph of doom ignores many parameters. Use your commonsense; income stagnant for the next 20 years, how unrealistic is that?
There is an important debate to be had and the increasing cost of care is going to escalate due to demographics but this chart should have come with a health warning. The council themselves say it was to stimulate debate; a pity that a health warning was not applied to the slide at the time (please do that to future non-factual slides Barnet Council)

Now that the council has decided to increase council tax by 2.5% for 3 consecutive years the graph will look markedly different.

The graph was used unaltered in the Finance & Business Planning Process for 2013 to 2016 report on 17 July and income is shown as static. The graph was out of date. I note the following at para 9.3.1

Modelling has been undertaken to understand the impact of growing demand on the council’s budget resulting from demographic change, taking into account a range of factors including population increase, inflation and likely legislative changes.

Well, the effect of inflation on income has not been taken into account. The effect of a future increase in the number of buildings in the borough has not been taken into account which will bring with it an increase in the population of council tax papers and hence more income.

As modelling goes this was pretty poor. I don't deny that there are increasing elderly and young and the demographic change is something that needs to be addressed. I am not in favour of steadily concreting over the borough and building rabbit hutch flats. I think the Leader said the same about flats during the Boris Talks event at the Peel Centre.

Alternative budget

I would love to have the time to plough through every item of spending of Barnet Council but that is the first problem. I am already fairly fully occupied. Blogging occupies the spare time that I don't have, I have a very full social life and work 80% of a full week on the first business and also have a second business which sometimes occupies 40%. I wish it wasn't necessary to blog but until Barnet become the "boring Council" i.e. everything they do is tickety boo and sensible I will continue. The other problem is that the council hate giving me information. For proof, take a look at this blog post. Barnet Council wouldn't let me see the content of an invoice from London Councils that London Councils themselves supplied within 3 working hours of being asked.

Terry Leahy

I agree with relentless technological change and methodological improvement.

Pay-by-phone parking seems an obvious technological change to mention. I agree with it. Don't get too excited yet. I agree with it as a choice of payment. Its use will slowly increase with time as the number of mobile phone users increases. As a choice, along with credit card on the spot and cash and vouchers, it would have worked. Brian Coleman unfortunately went for the big bang approach, ripped out all parking meters and left almost no other possibility of paying for people who do not have a mobile phone or a bank card. This discriminated against the poor, the elderly, those with basic bank accounts, and those people who don't like their credit card details held by faceless corporations possibly in India and other countries far far away. My own credit card was recently cloned by someone abroad and it is a nuisance to sort out.

Barnet Council has some ridiculously out-of-date practices. How do they compile their statistics about customer correspondence standards. Well, the guide given to all staff recently, entitled "Think Customer", says on page 7, the page about email "make sure you log every email you receive using CRM / your department's email spreadsheet which has been created for this purpose".  Does a departmental spreadsheet and a Customer Relationship Management package together sound like the best methodological system to you because it certainly doesn't to me. If the council answered everything as fast as London Councils do it wouldn't need to measure the speed of response at all which would free up hundreds of hours of staff time. How many other administrative tasks does the council undertake that it could usefully scrap?

Confronting the truth!

Oh you do make me laugh. Truth is that three quarters of respondents were against parks being hired out for private parties. Result. They will be. The truth counts for nothing at Barnet Council.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman

For contrast we need to take a look at the BetterBarnet website (you can use this website to email your 3 ward councillors directly and easily) where we will find the recent spartan responses of Cllr Maureen Braun to one of her constituents Adam Langleben who happens to be a keen member of the Labour party. If you are a member of the ruling conservative group of councillors who are trying to foist the £1bn One Barnet programme onto residents for the next 10 years then your defence of the programme needs to be more robust, especially to a Labour party member.

If it is the best thing for Barnet shouldn't every conservative councillor be out there at every opportunity telling residents how absolutely wonderful it is?

What does the fact that they don't and they haven't these last three years tell you about One Barnet. The silence speaks volumes.

If Mike Freer MP is reading this then could I just remind him that he promised me his explanation of One Barnet a few weeks ago and now that the parliamentary recess is upon us hopefully he will have time to write it.

Yours frugally

Derek Dishman aka Mr Mustard


  1. Mr Mustard,
    The reality is that we need people like you with bags of common sense and a business like approach running the council not people who are blindly dogmatic. Sadly they tend to be the people who put themselves up for election. We do need a radical rethink about the way local authorities are structured and managed but One Barnet is definitely not the solution.

  2. We are indeed paying a huge amount in interest payments, but that's because of the biggest potential collapse of capitalism in history, if it had been wrongly handled.

    Debt from the crisis can be repaid over several decades, like for the world wars - assuming banking becomes sufficiently regulated so that it doesn't happen again.

    No doubt it would be great to not have to pay a PENNY in interest, but modern western industrial economies would find that impossible. And most debt is long-term, low interest, and to BRITISH institutions, like pension funds, where the money recirculates in the British economy - which is economic activity that the goernment can tax.

  3. Is he saying that every council in the UK that is not taking the "Barnet Path" is doomed?

  4. Not sure Baarnett. Why not write and ask him as he now seems to want to engage in correspondence.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.