26 July 2011

Fine words - fine deeds ?

Barnet Council publish, under the Publication Scheme, what they call a "Disclosure log" of previous Freedom of Information questions and answers which they think will be of wider interest.The fine words of the Council are:

"The Publication Scheme is a guide to the information that the council publishes as a matter of routine and its aim is to make the majority of information available to you so that you do not need to make a specific request to us for it. It is our intention that the scheme will encourage the publication of more information than we are required to publish under existing legislation and to develop a culture of greater openness." 

The Disclosure Log contains questions and answers for the period October 10 to March 11 and one of the questions is requesting

"...a list of private companies which hold contracts with Barnet Council and how much the contracts are worth"

Now Mr Mustard does not know if the question was refined in any way as it could do with a bit more precision as the Council has 9,700 suppliers so providing that list would be onerous and Mr Mustard doubts that it was what was required. 

The Council has a cut-off of £25,000 for decision making upon some Contracts. That might also have been a useful way in which to produce a more useful list. The questioner looks like he/she just wanted to know where the money goes and it isn't possible to rely on the Expenditure over £500 lists as they are incomplete as they exclude payments taken straight from the bank account like BACS payments which will be large payments and the list doesn't list expenditure at all, it lists Goods Received Notes - see Mr Reasonable's blog for an open letter to the Council about this 

As we know MetPro did not have a Contract and nor it seems did many other suppliers so to be helpful & useful the question should have been answered on the basis of which firms should have had a Contract and were paid money rather than on a strict answering of the question.

It is also necessary to read in the word "current" in front of "contracts" in the question and to perhaps give either the average annual value of the contract or the lifetime value of the contract to make the answer useful. Mr Mustard is at the start of a minor skirmish with a member of the One Barnet Programme Office who seems to think that sending an expired contract in response to a request for the contract with a current contractor answers the question and that when Mr Mustard asks for the current contract that the Council can start the clock running afresh for 20 days. Mr Mustard has given thrown down the gauntlet to provide an answer within 24 hours or his second complaint will be made to the Information Commissioner.

Mr Mustard thinks that the Council are corporately a bit dim as they have previously been on the Information Commissioner's naughty step because of their FOI failures and given that they keep being reported they will soon be back there. If the Council were sharp they would respond rapidly and fully to every question that a blogger asks them. Mr Mustard will perhaps on another day write a blog about the lackadaisical way in which FOI is dealt with.

Now according to the Audit Department's Audit Report issued on 23 May 2011 "the Council has procured £248,316,974 worth of goods and services from trade suppliers during 2010/11". So that would be some list to see.

If we apply the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, then listing 20% of the suppliers would provide the bulk of the details. So that would be 9,700 * 20% = a list of about 1,900 suppliers. That would still be quite a list.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Business-management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; he developed the principle by observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas

So I would imagine that you, dear reader, are desperate to know how long the list was that was sent in reply. Not very long as it happens. Five pages of A4 contained the answer. Mr Mustard asks quite a few questions of the Council and finds a wide variation in the quality of the answers. Let us take a look at page 1. Sloppy is the word that springs into the mind of Mr Mustard.

Bailiff Contract appears twice.
The first Bailiff entry is just a waste of ink.
The second entry could have been improved with the figure for a recent 12 month period.
The very first entry has 10p at the end. That is "not material" as auditors are fond of saying. It clouds ones view of the scale of the number.
It would have been best if all numbers had been provided to the nearest thousand as we have some numbers set out in full and some to the nearest thousand, e.g. £45k. This assumes that the reader knows that "k" is often to used to signify a £1,000
Mr Mustard doubts that D Long Construction are paid £661,893 p.a. - per annum, what every year for building works? No that will be the amount paid for one annum.
Putting variable amount is of no help at all. Are they paid £100 p.a. or £1,000,000 p.a. Who knows ?

Stop getting too excited now. Here comes the first page.

click and click again to enlarge then use the back key
You will gather that the list is almost in alpha order. Civica should be after Chatsworth & Churchill not before them. Why does Mr Mustard find this sloppiness in so many Council documents ?

Anyone missing from this section? What about, in no order and certainly not all the missing items:

CCMPS ( a management contractor mentioned in Mr Reasonable's blog )
Blue 9 Security
Advanced HR Consulting Ltd ( Jason Wheatley - another management contractor )
Choices For Grahame Park
Barratt Evolution Ltd ( only going to build 900 Stonegrove properties - not worth a mention? )
Agilisys ( over £600,000 in the last financial year )
BUPA Care Homes
Catalyst Housing ( erased from corporate memory perhaps ?)
CDT Design ( £50,000 for 2 websites and some photos )
Barnet Lighting Services ( replacing 19,000 lampposts - just the odd £27million over 5 years )

Mr Mustard expects that with a little thought the reader will add a few dozen more missed entries in the comments section.

Now the omissions from this list would be funny if they were not so glaring.

Grant Thornton ( and we know the Auditor has a Contract )
Halliford Associates Ltd ( so the £1,000 a day Andrew Traversty & there is a contract, it is on this blog, does not appear in the list of contracts. An astounding omission )
Jacquie McGeachie HR Consulting Ltd ( the glorified temp in charge of HR - see the entry in Mr Reasonable's blog - £140,000 paid last year )
Hays ( more than £8million paid last year )
Hewlett Packard  ( those pesky tablets )
Kent County Council (where Barnet buys its electricity and where there are accusations of fraud)
Impact Distribution (The Company that partially delivers Barnet First)

Oh and Egbert Taylor, £90. Was that worth a mention ?

Not worth listing too many more as you will get bored.

Magenta Security is missing from this list.
MJW Office Moves ( how could be be missed. Mr Willoughby nearly lives at NLBP where he has a nice business playing musical desks and chairs )
Martin Ward Anderson Ltd ( yet more consultants )

Sorry, still another page and a bit to go of this tut.

Where are ?
Veolia Water ( £1,400,000 paid to them in April 2011 - not a trifling sum )
Volker Highways
Woodford Litho ( they print Barnet First )
Renouval Ltd ( another PAYE averse management bod )
SJ-HR Recruitment Ltd now called DSJ Global ( providers of an interim in Performance Management which is evidently top secret as Barnet Council have refused to tell Mr Mustard the daily rate. A complaint is currently with the Information Commissioner )
ThinkPublic ( Spending thousands on the Innovation Bank )

and finally, page 5

So Mr Mustard had a quick tot up and made those 5 pages about £60million excluding the variable amounts. Total purchases about £250million so this list comes up somewhat short. It completely fails the sniff test or sanity check as it is also called. Does anyone in management look at FOI replies before they go out? because this one is obviously deficient.

So if no-one at Assistant Director level looks at these before they go out then you should just go home as you either aren't interested enough on what is going on in your department or you can't be bothered or you have got your head stuck in the One Barnet cloud.

If an AD did look at this before it went out then you should still go home because you are either incompetent or couldn't care less.

There just doesn't seem to be any pride in the work of management at Barnet Council.

Mr Mustard has spent 20 years helping to sweep up after private Companies have hit the buffers and gone into Liquidation. He knows what corporate failure looks like. If you were a private company Barnet Council you would have collapsed long ago.

What should you do now Barnet Council?

1 Write to the person who made the FOI request and explain how/why your answer was incomplete.
2 Take it off the website before it misleads others
3 Prepare & publish in the next 30 days a new list that is complete of suppliers paid more than £25,000 in a year ( just to make sure Mr Mustard will send you an FOI request later )

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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