20 July 2011

Rotten Boroughs - Rotten Insight

As avid readers will know the London Borough of Barnet managed to get themselves into Private Eye two weeks ago because of their long term chronic failure in procuring unlicensed, in just about every way ( start with SIA and CRB and just keep going ), bully boy security guards from a phoenix of MetPro companies. You will recall that there was not a Contract, only an arrangement, and that over £1.3million was paid out for non-services received over 5 years. Procurement at Barnet Council is so good that they managed to pay about £17 p.h. to MetPro and other 100% legal providers get just £9 odd p.h. The words back and hand have, er, jumped into Mr Mustard's mind for some obscure and unrelated reason. get about 14% less. Mr Mustard made the mistake of comparing static guards to the ones who travel (amusingly often called emergency or rapid response when in fact most of the time they just drive around locking up the park gates and they can't legally break the speed limit) and Mr Mustard likes accuracy hence this amendment.

Anyone with an ounce of knowledge about the procurement of services would know roughly  how much to pay for something. All these conferences that Officers go on, don't they ask officers from other Boroughs about how much they are paying for certain items? it is a proper question as you are all in buying groups of one sort or another or could be if you did any real work. Mr Mustard suspects that owning the bar next to a conference centre targeted at local authority conferences would be very lucrative. And just think you could charge the hapless Assistant Director of Commercial Services, Captain Craig Tommy Cooper, who is on the not ungenerous salary of £132,480 p.a. & is in overall charge of procurement ( using the phrase "in charge" in its loosest possible sense ) more for a pint of beer as he won't know the proper price?

Do readers feel inspired by the example of Sir Paul Stephenson who hadn't done that much wrong and still resigned as he was in charge and felt morally obliged. Time to get the ceremonial Sandhurst sword out of the cupboard ?

MetPro should have completely failed the "sniff test" with every Officer who ever touched an invoice. In case you have not heard of it before this is the "sniff test".

Def: Sniff Test
(idiomatic) An informal reality check of an idea or proposal, using one's common sense or sense of propriety. ( i.e. appropriateness ).

Mr Mustard does not have the time available to him that Officers do. He has a real and very full life and being Mr Mustard is a part time occupation, and source of amusement, although Barnet Council really aren't funny. That training course video that relates them to a bunch of clowns seems like reality to Mr Mustard. What you haven't seen it? Well here it is. 

Give yourself 5 minutes to stop laughing and put your socks back on and then read on as Mr Mustard has another sniff test failure to tell you about. It is a shocker. It leapt off the page at Mr Mustard and it should not have escaped from NLBP.

Yesterday, 99% The Barnet Eye, one of the famous five Barnet Bloggers, officially endorsed by Eric Pickles MP, circulated a report entitled State of the Borough 2011 produced by the Barnet Insight Unit. A renaming ceremony is in order, it is now the Lack of Insight Unit. Mr Mustard has already featured the Head of Insight as a non-job and now he can be dispensed with on the grounds of non-performance and not being in touch with reality.

Look at the 2 documents below. Two pages are from the New Support & Customer Services Business Case which was presented at the Cabinet Resources Committee on 29 June and the other is from the State of the Borough 2011 report as headed ( what is the point of this document ? said Mr Mustard's co-Director - Mr Mustard could not tell her and as a Tax Payer she was unimpressed ).
if you click and then click again you get a full page version
Now let us take a close look at the figures.

Contact method
State of LBB
Telephone calls

You can see that they are vastly different and the ones in the State of the Borough report are only a small % of the real numbers. Mr Mustard does observe that for the purposes of outsourcing the use of unrounded numbers does not help understanding, 282,985 should have been put down as 283,000 but at least he thinks that the numbers might just be about right. They do not fail the sniff test.

Anybody with half a brain would know that in the age of computing more than 21,000 emails are sent to Barnet Council each year ( 80 a day ) and more than 1,100 letters ( 4 a day ! ). Are you smarter than a 10 year old ? I don't think you are Barnet. I think Mr Markey will be round in a moment for the ceremonial sword Mr Cooper.

Better clear your diary non-stick, there is going to be a sudden attack of conscience and a queue is going to form outside your door of senior Officers who have just realised that they are not worth what they are paid and are going to do the honourable thing and resign.

Oh and Councillors, can you believe any numbers that are put in front of you like the OneBarnet % savings ? Please question everything in the future that fails the sniff test.

Mr Mustard will now sum up the state of the Borough of Barnet 2011 in one word - Broken ( © Mrs Angry )

Yours frugally 
Mr Mustard


  1. Did you mean a pheonix of Metpro companies - or a phalanx, Mr M?

    The latter is "a group of a similar type brought together for a common purpose, or a body of troops or police officers, standing or moving in close formation."

    A pheonix is "a beautiful, lone bird which lives in the Arabian desert for 500 or 600 years, and then sets itself on fire, rising renewed from the ashes."

    Could be either in Totteridge, really.

  2. I thought about phalanx but went for phoenix as it is widely used in the insolvency world to describe Companies that seamlessly rise from the ashes of the previous failure, mostly not having lived for 500 years.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this apparent discrepancy. The contact figures in the State of the Borough reflect current recorded contact through the Council's contact centre. As yet, this only covers a limited (but growing) slice of the contact that takes place between residents and the organisation. The figures cited in the NSCSO paper are estimated total contact with the Council across all services, which clearly is significantly more than currently handled by the contact centre team. Hope that clarifies matters. Sorry it wasn't clearer in the original report. Regards.

  4. Taken from Barnet First Supplement Issue 46 July 2011:

    Council customers dealt with by...

    Phone - 2,574,070 (which cost £4 per call)
    Post - 353,462 (which cost £5.20 per letter)
    Email - 282,985 (which cost £1.90 per email)
    Web - 147,048 (which cost £0.17 per online transaction)
    Face-to-face - 120,798 (which cost £7.81 per person)

    I wonder how much money your 'contacts' cost the council Mr. Mustard?

  5. Thank you Beestrust

    Mr Mustard did not get issue 46 of Barnet First delivered and it wasn't delivered 2 doors away either. It was delivered on the other side of the street so Mr Mustard will have to borrow a copy. Mr Mustard expects that Barnet Council let the delivery company monitor their own performance - that seems to be the usual form in procurement - no monitoring of Contracts assuming they exist. Mr Mustard has canvassed friends around the Borough. Delivery is patchy to say the least.

    As is also usual the website is behind on being updated. The March issue is the latest one there.

    Mr Mustard notes that the number of face to face contacts has now more than doubled. From 50,975 to 120,798 Can any figure from Barnet Council be believed ?

    The unit costs quoted are complete codswallop. If you compute the total costs you get £13,640,384 and yet customer services budget in the Business Case is £2.5million. Even taking Mr Markey's explanation above such that only 1.5m calls are made a year to the call centre that would be a charge of £10m against a max cost of £2.5m ( ignoring the other forms of contact ). If one of the outsourced suppliers offers to answer phone calls at £4 a pop they will make £7.5m profit ! No wonder there is such interest in Contracts with Barnet Council - super profits are possible.

    Mr Mustard thinks that Barnet Council save money because of bloggers, not lose it. It is of course the democratic right of Mr Mustard to email the Council every single day. Given their record armchair auditor scrutiny is vital.

  6. Well Mr Markey the readers will decide but this is what the State of the Borough report said.

    State of the Borough 2011
    Barnet Insight Unit
    Page 7
    Customers and citizens
    Customer information
    In the 2010-11 financial year, the Council received an estimated 1.5 million
    phone calls, 21,000 emails and 1,100 letters from residents.
    ( bold by Mr Mustard )

    You look like you are trying to defend the indefensible.

  7. The numbers make no sense considering the volumes. consider 58 employees working full time (no leaves, no breaks and all of them are handling calls). that is 58 * 220 working days * 480 minutes a day = 6124800 minutes of works. now divide it by the number of phone calls and that will get an average duration 2.4 minutes. however, the industry accepted wisdom is that call duration is ~6 minutes.

  8. Ah but Mr Markey says the call centre only handles 1.5million calls so that is more like 4minutes a call. Still not a likely answer as the time in which you could get a detailed answer about your housing benefit calculation.

    Some of the 58 will be admin staff; not all on the phone so average time will be lowered by that adjustment.

    Would you want to be the operators last call of the day, number 120, the poor operator will be on their knees.

    Call centres are an abomination. Barnet Council does not have to have one. Simply let each department answer their own calls on their individual specialist subjects; parking, benefits, council tax, planning, etc.

  9. Ok, lets recalculate. 58 staff minus 5 admins, 10% on leave any-time, working 7 hours a day (actually less - usually get 15m break each hour) divided by Mr Markey 1.5m. that is 2.9 minutes average call.
    I suspect, as you have already suggested, that the volumes were hiked up in order to make it more profitable for the outsourced operator - as was done with the CPZ & parking charges.


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