31 August 2011

Has Barnet Council lost a £million ?

as based upon the External Auditor's report on the pension scheme it would be very easy to lose a £million and no-one ( except the external auditor ) would notice.

Here is the report that is going to the Pension Fund Committee this evening. You can download it here to save yourself expanding each page, or you can go to Mr Mustard's executive summary at the end:

click click click to enlarge and then back to return

So these are the main points that you need to know about this report on the state of the pension scheme at 31 March 2011.

Barnet Council say in the covering report to councillors at para 5.1

"Accurate financial reporting is important" ( do keep that in mind for what is coming soon ).

At para 9.4 Barnet Council say

There were some problems experienced in auditing the cash and current asset figures in the accounts.

which is what the large and expensive finance team should prevent.

At para 9.5 a scapegoat is wheeled out:

The problems arising from the audit of cash and current asset figures arose primarily as a result of the Treasury Manager leaving the Council during the audit. There are a number of controls and processes that need to be documented for 2011/12 to enable a smoother audit.
Mr Mustard suggests that means that the processes have not been written down in the past and they should have been and management either didn't know or didn't notice or they did notice but did nothing.

What the external auditor found during their normal checking:-
2.1 Investment income

Accrued investment income

The draft accounts incorrectly included accrued investment income totalling £1.6m from the December Investment Manager reports. This income had already been accounted for when received by the Fund and therefore had therefore been double counted. (and double "therefore"!)

An adjustment has been processed by the Pensions team within the financial statements having the effect of reducing the net asset value of the scheme by £1.6m.
Management response: the adjustment has been processed.

Mr Mustard's response: £1.6m. Why didn't Finance notice before the auditors?
Processing of investment data

The above errors have been exacerbated by investment transaction data which has not been processed within the SAP accounting software since mid-November 2010. ( Mr Mustard has never read a good word about SAP at Barnet Council but you can't blame the system if the staff don't input the information. )
The absence of recording investment transactions represents a control risk relating to an over-reliance on the fund manager reports and the lack of a proper and up-to-date reconciliation procedure between the accounting system and the investment manager reports. ( Reconciliations are basic accounting. A pity Barnet Council seem to struggle with the basics. Too busy with One Barnet probably )
There is also potentially a risk of misappropriation of assets in the absence of such controls. ( If anyone has wandered off with £1m would it be discovered ? Not internally, possibly externally? ).

Recommendation: We recommend that the Pensions team implement formal processes and controls to ensure that investment transactions are appropriately reflected in SAP and reconciled to investment manager reports and reviewed on a timely basis. ( External auditors get well paid to state the bleeding obvious ).

Management response: Accepted. The Treasury Manager left the team during the 2010/11 audit and this highlighted a lack of documentation of processes which will be rectified for 2011/12. ( There was a team. It can't all be the fault of one person, can it? Lessons have been learnt - stuck record )

2.2 Unrecorded benefits

As part of our audit procedures review, we found that approximately £1.6m of retirement benefits had not been provided for within the financial statements. ( £1.6m evidently not worth noticing at Barnet Council, again )

An adjustment has therefore been proposed, accepted by the Pensions Team and has been processed with the financial statements having the effect of increasing benefits payable and reducing the net asset value of the Fund by £1.7m. ( there was another oversight of £100k, apologies for mentioning such a small error )

Recommendation: We recommend that a further review of benefits is carried out on or around 31 March each year to ensure all amounts are properly recorded. ( how sensible )

Management response: Accepted. 

2.3 Financial statements preparation
As part of our audit work we noted that that certain trial balance codes which would have been expected to have been mapped to the net assets statement had not mapped to the net assets statement as presented for audit. ( what idiot prepared these accounts? )

In addition, there was not a clear mapping of all the trial balance nominal ledger codes to the financial statements presented for audit. ( this audit is easy money )

Of the ten nominal ledger codes not clearly mapped, the following nominal ledger balances (all credit balances totalling £3.4m) were identified as balances that should have been included within the net asset statement: ( ooh, £3.4m, that's a lot, even more than the two lots of £1.6m I have already found )

* cash transfer account £1.3m
* investment management and professional fees creditors balance £1.8m
* Pay as you earn "PAYE" on pensions payments relating to the month of March 2011 £0.3m

On highlighting these issues, the pensions team have accepted that adjustments are required having the effect of reducing the fund account balance by £3.4m.

Recommendation: We recommend that a full review of the mapping process is performed. (Come on Barnet!)

. (Management don't know what happens in their teams)
2.4 Cash balances

Recommendation: We recommend that formal bank reconciliations are prepared on a monthly basis and reviewed and evidenced as reviewed by an appropriate member of the Pension team. ( Lesson 1 in accounting; lesson not yet learnt )

We also recommend that bank account reconciling items are agreed as having cleared after the month end to ensure they are valid entries. ( Lesson 1a in accounting )

Management response: the responsibility for bank reconciliations across all Council accounts rests outside of the Pensions Accounting team.  ( Pathetic: the responsibility rests somewhere in Finance at Barnet Council )

This will be reviewed in 2011/12 to ensure that the most effective process is put in place but it is accepted that there needs to be oversight in the Pension Accounting team. ( There has been a lack of oversight by management )

2.5 Sundry debtors

The sundry debtors balance included old debtors amounting to £0.3m not considered recoverable by the Pensions team.

An adjustment has therefore been proposed, accepted by the Pensions Team and has been processed within the financial statements having the effect of reducing the net asset value of the Fund by £0.3m. 

Recommendation: We recommend that the review of aged debtors is carried out more frequently. ( why is there such a lack of focus and application ? )

Management response: Accepted. This will form part of the 2011/12 year end process. ( that isn't what the recommendation says. Is once a year sufficiently regular? )

3.6 Connaught Partnerships

The scheduled body, Connaught Partnerships formally entered administration on 8 September 2010. The consequences of the administration will not be known until the process has been completed. The notes to the pension fund accounts include a statement to this effect. We recommend that the situation is closely monitored. ( Suck it up; the money is gone. £1,492,000 see the earlier blog post here )

Update for 2010/11: We understand that Barnet's legal department are liaising with KPMG, the administrator, to recover the outstanding payment. ( The money is already down the drain. Paying a solicitor to chase it is almost certainly a waste of money ).


The overall effect of the adjustments listed below is to decrease Fund assets by £7.0m ( Mr Mustard didn't reproduce the table - you have the info above )

So there you have it. The Treasury Team thought they had £7m more than they did and they are looking after the money of Barnet Council's pensioners and staff working towards retirement. Hard to have any confidence in their work isn't it?

Do you know that difference in the Accounts is about the amount that the Chief Financial Officer, Mr Andrew Travers is going to earn in 32 years ( 32 * £1,000 * 220 working days p.a. = £7,040,000 )

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

29 August 2011

How to make time

Barnet Council have mastered the art of making time - at least in the Highways Department - where 30 seconds have been turned into infinity.

It is Mr Mustard to whom his neighbours turn to know what is going on in the street and so when parking restrictions signs went up in the street it was to Mr Mustard that enquiries were directed. Not a problem said Mr Mustard, I have the email address of the Highways Manager and I will have the answer for you very soon ( how wrong can one be? )

So on 19 July Mr Mustard sent the following email to Paul Bragg, the Highways Manager.

Dear Mr Bragg

A sign has been put up to stop parking in 2 spaces on one day and then 5 on the next day outside 14/16 .....................Rd

Can you tell me what the event is please that requires this restriction as the sign does not say the purpose ( if people knew they would not have to enquire )

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard
19 July

Less than 2 hours later a reply popped into Mr Mustard's inbox. Excellent service thought Mr Mustard but then he opened the email and his opinion changed.

Dear Mr Mustard

Thank you for your below email. I have forwarded to Gavin Woolery Allen as he is the officer responsible for such signs and as such will be best placed to fully answer your question.


Paul Bragg
19 July

Mr Mustard was a little disappointed that an enquiry which should have taken 30 seconds to answer had not been answered.  Oh well, Mr Mustard could expect an email any moment from Mr Woolery-Allen ( please note Mr Bragg that your colleague's name takes a hyphen; you didn't cc your email to me to him, so without Mr Mustard knowing about the hyphen Mr Mustard couldn't have sent him next email; you were less than helpful Mr Bragg )
Time was ticking and the suspension was due to take place on 28/29 July and so Mr Mustard fired off another email to Mr Woollery-Allen rather than wait for him to get round to it. Mr Mustard now knows that Mr Woolery-Allen was working on a Delegated Powers Report at that time. Which one was it? It was number 1375 with the vague title of "Re-provision of Parking Services" which was signed off by Cllr Coleman and snuck onto the Barnet Council website during the riots and proposes to make the borough cashless and which has been called in for more mature consideration.

As Mr Mustard didn't know what important work Mr Woolery-Allen was doing and as he didn't hear anything for over 24 hours Mr Mustard sent the following message:

Dear Mr Woolery-Allen

A reply before the suspension date would be appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard
20 July

It took 3 days for Mr Mustard to receive a less than helpful reply, as follows:

Dear Mr Dishman
My apologies - I did ask my colleague, Geraldine Edward in the Parking Process Team (copied in) to advise you of the relevant information you require, as she is better served to advise of parking suspension information.

Kind regards

Gavin Woolery-Allen
Senior Engineer
22 July 

At this point Mr Mustard was starting to wonder exactly how over-manned the Highways Department was? He also started to wonder if because of previous history to do with a crossover in his road, the Highways Department thought they would have a bit of fun and play pass the buck and see how many of the 48 staff in Highways they could get in on the act before Mr Mustard exploded with rage.

This email begs the question as to why Mr Bragg thought Mr Woolery-Allen was best placed to answer the question and he in turn thought that Geraldine Edward was best placed to do so. Who would Ms Edwards think was best placed to answer the question - yet another person presumably.

It seems that these staff don't know each other very well as according to her email address she is called Edwards not Edward. Mr Mustard finds it very disappointing that Barnet Council are so bad at detail.

Mr Mustard went back to his work for a little while and waited for an email from Ms Edwards. It got to the day before the proposed suspension and Mr Mustard wrote again, as follows:

Dear Ms Edwards

Is there a reason why you have not written to me following Mr Woollery-Allen's email to you of 22 July 2011 ?

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard
28 July
Mr Mustard received an instant reply. Hurrah? Sadly, not! Here it is:

I am currently away from the office on annual leave until 16th August 2011. I will not have access to my email whilst I am away.

If your enquiry is urgent please forward your email to james.norman@barnet.gov.uk or parking@barnet.gov.uk

All other emails will be addressed upon my return 17 August 2011.

Thank you

So Mr Mustard had two more black holes to write to but he chose not to. Instead he thought that come 17 August 2011 he would receive an email from Ms Edwards to apologise for not having been able to answer his simple query before the suspension took place. Mr Mustard has not heard a dickie bird from Ms Edwards. That is unacceptable. 

Take note in Highways; you are public servants, that means that you should serve. If a resident asks you something that you can answer in 30 seconds then answer it even if it is not your job, below your station ( so you think ) and think to yourself, if my behaviour appears in a blog what will it look like? The behaviour exhibited by all 3 of you in this matter is below the standard that Mr Mustard expects.

Mr Mustard expects that readers would like to know what the suspension was for. It was to enable some tenants who were moving to the Far East to have a packing van to park outside and then for the container lorry to turn up the next day and be loaded. Mr Mustard had worked this out from chats with other neighbours. The irony was that on both days there were still cars parked in the suspended section because people don't read signs attached to lampposts. The solution taken by the packers was to reverse their van at 45 degrees across the pavement and leave it blocked for several hours ( charming behaviour ) and the container lorry pulled up, was loaded with all the boxes in 5 minutes and was gone again. The suspensions weren't really necessary at all!


The report to Cabinet of 29 November 2010 asked them to approve the following:

1.1 That the Commercial Director be authorised to commence the procurement process to identify a strategic partner for the delivery of the Development and Regulatory Services project.

and then further on said the following :

9.12 There are some good opportunities for efficiencies in the services, and an efficiency ambition of 10% of overall cost is suggested.

From what Mr Mustard has experienced there is absolutely no need to outsource the Highways department. If the current management paid attention to what it was doing they could easily find the 10% efficiency gain ( they admit there are inefficiences at para 1.1 ) and there would be no need to gift it on a plate to a private provider.

When will councillors start questioning more closely the internal structure of the council and get the extensive and expensive senior management team to do the job it is overpaid for - to manage.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

p.s. If the parking suspended signs gave the reason for the suspension then residents would not have to ask the reason and compliance would be improved.

27 August 2011

A council losing control ? how much blame to attribute to One Barnet ?

Mr Mustard is indebted to LGO Watcher for the information in this blog post. You can look at the LGO blog here.

The LGO posting will appear first followed by the Ombudsman's report on Barnet Council which is frightfully bad.

LGO and Council silly season is here again

It's that time of year again in which councils receive their annual spin letters from the Local Government Ombudsman.

Local press all around the country are printing extracts from their council's letter with the misleading headline...NO MALADMINISTRATION. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It's all down to the use of a devious tactic I like to call statistical gymnastics.

When is maladministration not maladministration? If an ombudsman finds maladministration but the council agree to pay a paltry amount of compensation it is not recorded as maladministration. However, should the council refuse to pay a paltry amount of compensation it becomes maladministration and reported as such.

This forces the council to publicise the fact that the ombudsman has found maladministration, which usually costs more than the settlement the ombudsman would have been happy with. Therefore, only a stupid council would turn down the ombudsman's offer to terminate a complaint if they pay the complainant a paltry amount of compensation. Which on average is less than £600.

A cheap and nasty pseudo system of administrative justice allows local government ombudsmen, councils and government to bury council wrongdoing and maladministration on the cheap, so it's a win, win, win situation for them.

The only losers are complainants who don't get the justice they deserve and of course the general public who are left in the dark about the true level of council wrongdoing and maladministration.
click click to enlarge and then back to return

Mr Mustard is worried about this report. The Chief Executive "non-stick" Nick Walkley started as Chief Executive in March 2009 and so can be allowed the first year to settle in.

However the number of problems that were serious enough to report to the Local Government Ombudsman went up in the following year ( 2010/11 ) by over a third.

Housing continued to be the cause of most troubles and so Mr Mustard wonders why it is being let loose on a LATC ( Local Authority Trading Company ) Mr Reasonable has blogged about this here and Barnet Council's press release follows here:

New trading company set to provide greater choice

Barnet Council is to become one of the first local authorities in the country to establish a ‘trading company’ to help deliver adult social services.

Last night (24 May 2011) Cabinet Resources Committee agreed that the council should look to set up a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) in conjunction with Barnet Homes.

The move is a key step as adults with disabilities are transferred to a system of direct payments which they can use to pay for their care.

These cash payments are intended to give residents greater choice and control over how their needs are met and where money is spent – but the system does not allow residents to buy the services they need directly from the council.

Once set up, the new trading company will provide a point from which to purchase those services.

In the process more people will benefit from greater choice and control over their care.

The LATC will be wholly owned by Barnet Council but will have its own board of directors and manage its own operations.

The staff who will run the new LATC will be drawn from both the council and Barnet Homes, the organisation responsible for managing the borough’s social housing stock.

In future, other local authorities or individuals outside the borough could approach the trading company to purchase services, helping generate income.

Cllr Sachin Rajput, Cabinet Member for Adults, said: “I appreciate that it may not be obvious to residents how this relates to them, but it is an important change to the way the council works and will make sure that we can continue to meet the needs of disabled people.

“This is about forging a new relationship with citizens by giving people greater control over the services they use.”

Tracey Lees, Barnet Homes’ Chief Executive, added: “I’m delighted that we could now have the opportunity to extend our expertise to support the delivery of adult social care services.

“We are determined to build on our success as a social landlord while offering excellent support to drive service quality and efficiency within adult social services.”

So that is the expertise that leads to your service being the one most reported to the LGO? Mr Mustard doesn't think that successful services spend their time batting off the LGO.

The following departments were notably worse:

Adult care services
Children's Services

Now Mr Mustard doesn't know what management style the Chief Exec is using, but whatever it is it isn't working is one possible explanation for things getting worse.

Another is the paralysis caused by the huge number of consultants milling around North London Business Park which stops the real work from getting done.

One Barnet is a candidate for taking one's eye off the ball. Even President Obama is worried about it.

Only 80% of the staff being permanently filled might be another cause.

The threat of redundancy caused by the outsourcing programme will have caused some good people to leave for more secure positions.

This is what the Chief Executive said at the very start of his tenure.

I am pretty much restless about everything and want to make things better. It’s my trademark and why people find me really quite annoying at times.
You have had 2 years to make things better Mr Walkley. You haven't managed it and so maybe it's time to go somewhere else and annoy them instead of us.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

The Friday joke 26 August 2011

Q: In OneBarnet, how many Barnet Council Employees does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None, because there won't be any, but it will take a head of legal services to instruct a Lawyer to draw up the contract with the firm to change the light bulb, a senior vendor manager to manage the team of vendor managers, who manage the contract to change the light bulb, a team of accounts payable staff to process the invoice to change the light bulb and a team of senior executives to make sure all of this happens. Oh and there will be a whole team of consultants on £1,500 a day to design the "changing a light bulb process", not to mention the team managing the "changing the light bulb risk assessment" or the team managing the "change a light bulb call centre".

Oh yes then there's the team of senior managers overseeing the transfer of employment of the bloke who changes the light bulb for Barnet to the outsourced company, and the team of lawyers drawing up the contract to make sure he isn't shafted too badly.

Yes, I know, jokes are meant to be funny. Sorry.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Barnet Eye

26 August 2011

In the rush to outsource, little details are missed - what chance for the big ones ?

Here is the glossy brochure that was prepared to help tempt big bidders at the Development and Regulatory Services market day to put their hands in their pockets. As the services on offer are a veritable smorgasbord there is unlikely to be a shortage of suppliers who want the work especially as the bids are likely to be a on a cost plus basis i.e. you are guaranteed to make a profit. The range of service being tendered is vast and it is ridiculous to expect that one bidder can carry them all out to a high standard and some of them, like Registration & Nationality, simply should not be outsourced.

Whilst you are looking at this glossy brochure have a guess at what you think it cost to design ( most of the information is a cut and paste from other documents ) and to print 200 of them.

click click to enlarge any picture & back to return

So there we have it. A lovely glossy brochure that is one of the early steps in outsourcing many services that the council really should manage itself. 

Do we really want to outsource the one person who looks after Transport & Regeneration? or the 4 who deal with Highways Strategy?

Isn't a Highways Strategy strategy something that the council will still need and so to act as the link between the council and the outsourced provider the council will then have to employ somebody? It sounds like costs will go up not down.

So, 200 of this brochure were produced.

The design cost was £3,750 and yet pretty much all of the content would have had to be supplied by the council. So £3,750 for putting stuff in order and throwing in a few pictures.

The print cost was £1,450

So that is £5,200 that could have been spent on something else which has been thrown away. 

Now having spent all that money on design one would hope that the brochure was indeed error free but typically for Barnet Council, it isn't. Take a look at pages 34 & 36 which contain a copy of the letter sent to Soft Market Testing Participants. 

When was it sent : 6 July 2010 - Mr Mustard knows that is wrong as the decision to get rid of DRS was only taken on 29 November 2010

When did you have to return your paperwork by : 14 July 2010 - oh dear, wrong again.

Interview date : 16 July 2010. Oops

Whose name is at the bottom of this letter. Oh its Tommy, no Captain, no Craig Cooper, the £130,000 a year Director of Commercial Services. If Crapita win this contract then you'll become known in blogging circles as Crapitain Cooper (the phrase Captain Cooper is the copyright of Mrs Angry whose first rate blog you can find here. & credit to Private Eye who coined the word Crapita; only £1.50 and so much good stuff; even our very own Bwian in the latest issue on LFB matters - towards the back though - not the top billing he probably expects)

How can Barnet Council be trusted with the big issues if they can't get the little details correct.

Oh, and if you don't like what Barnet Council are doing then you need to email your councillor, or phone them or buttonhole them in their surgery.

Contact details are here.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 August 2011

School report for the Chief Executive

It is only the most determined of researcher who can find anything on the Barnet Council website as not all items are indexed in the A-Z index and those that are are placed out of order to make finding them more of a challenge. Mr Mustard relishes a little game so he just keeps looking until he reaches his goal.

Mr Mustard doesn't suppose that the school report performance overview of the Chief Executive has been downloaded many times from the council website and so this blog post will bring it to the attention of a wider audience in accordance with the council's stated policy of openness and transparency ( do try not to laugh at the back Mrs Angry ). 

Now given that:-
  1. the Chief Executive previously worked for the council as the Director of Resources so should know the ropes ( not be on the ropes ) and
  2. is paid a zillion pounds a year, actually £200,976 p.a. ( + a pension contribution of £49,842 ) and 
  3. as the head of the organisation should lead by example
then one would expect that his school report would be all A's and "well done", with perhaps a single B for his least favourite subject, because if not why is he the head boy? Now at One Barnet they have a very complicated performance system which even the creator probably doesn't understand and so it has been made more complicated, in order to make it simpler, by the addition of a traffic light system in which Red is very bad, Amber isn't good and Green is the expected mark.  

So, the pages to come will be awash with green ink, won't they? What, maybe a little dash of amber here and there can be forgiven? Readers won't expect to see any red ink at all now will you? Mr Mustard is sorry to tell you that the report is not a pretty sight. Here goes :-

click to enlarge and then back to return

Mr Mustard has looked at the job description of the Chief Exec. It includes

Change leadership – Develops and communicates a compelling vision which inspires people to embrace positive change and continually strive for improved performance.

Mr Mustard sees that the HR ( Human  Resources ) rating is red and -3. Oh dear.
The Corporate Plan performance rating is amber and -1. Oh deary me again.
As for the key project rating; that seems to be so bad that it has been left as tbc ( to be confirmed ). Oh deary deary me.

The top 3 achievements:

If a reviled library strategy is the top achievement then Mr Mustard certainly does not want to see the bottom one. Mr Mustard wonders if the Chief Exec has had time to look in the Ham & High at this article?

The second achievement. Moving some staff from one team to another. Wow! ( and more money for MJW Office Moves Ltd )
Pop down to the top of page 2 and then return here please dear reader. 
Mr Mustard does not remember seeing a press release last year that the massive proportion of 37% of calls about school admissions were answered last year. This year 93% were answered. So there were 135,633 calls on this subject in the year ended October 2010 which means that about 9,500 calls were not answered. Mr Mustard does not call that an achievement. He calls it a disaster; 9,500 unhappy customers. A customer centric council - mere words.

The third achievement. "Management of internal communications" and the establishment of "internal communications champions". So the holder of non-job no. 7 needs more support. Who are these "internal communications champions" ? If you are one please send any blurb about what you do to mrmustard@zoho.com
Now the top 3 "issues" - perhaps "problems" would be a better word.

The first one. Substantial pressure on senior management capacity... So either headless chickens or blue arsed flies or any other description you choose to put in the comments section.

The second one. Increased footfall and pressure on staff at face to face sites and telephones... If Barnet Council cannot master answering the telephone promptly what hope is there for the extremely complicated One Barnet outsourcing?

The third one is that the CISCO telephone contract expires in Summer 2011 - that is rather a vague date. A business case is being developed by Information Systems to upgrade the systems. Mr Mustard expects this will be quite expensive and he has not seen a Delegated Powers Report for it or an OJEU notice if it is for more than £150,000 or so and given that doubtless the network carries data as well as voice calls it will cost quite a bit and then a few months later all the calls will be routed to an external call centre - genius.

Then we have:

1.2 Key correlations and interdependencies. What are they ? No idea.

Although the headings includes correlations only interdependencies are listed. Mr Mustard notes that Barnet has moved to West London for transport purposes. That will be cheaper of course. 

So there are nine inter-dependencies listed and just one of them would stretch superman, but the Chief Executive is a mere mortal. Mr Mustard notes that the Chief Exec is going to take a lead role in the Revenues and Benefits customer experience improvement (but not in the staff morale improvement experience?)

Has the Chief Exec taken a lead role in popping along the corridor to that department to have a chat with the staff to see why they are working to rule? - not as far as Mr Mustard is aware. 

Is, however, the Chief Executive going to "pop" ( at least 2 hours each way ) to The Barnet Council Hotel Sandbanks Hotel at (our) great expense and time cost to talk for a maximum of 30 minutes? Yes he most certainly is ( 6.30pm to 7pm on 5 October 2011 ). Even that is a double act with Robert McCulloch-Graham, Director of Children’s Services. So the Chief Exec may talk for as little as 15 minutes ( but doubtless then scoff a fine dinner & maybe rest his weary head on the finest pillows ) to Headteachers at their annual jamboree conference which will be the subject of another blog nearer the time.

Readers can decide for themselves if priorities are perhaps a bit wrong?

Let us look at the spending now. An underspend of £78,000 which is explained away as an underspend on conference expenses. How much money is Barnet habitually wasting on conferences instead of services ?

Library services. An underspend of £137,000. Would that keep a library open for another year in which time budget pressures might change and it could then remain open?

Performance is somewhat red. 

18a. So only 64% of telephone calls were answered within 5 rings which are rather generously counted in some quarters as 20 seconds ( this is probably a function of system software limitations ). Barnet Council is really not in the real world. The target is a miserable 75%. The target should be 100%. Nothing else is good enough. 

In Barclays Bank head office the staff are expected to answer calls within 2 rings and if the boss rings and you are slow to answer then he gets annoyed. If you want to get on you answer the phone. Referring back to yesterday's blog post this is a bad time to outsource the answering of the telephone. The service should be improved first.

18b. This really is a pointless target which Barnet Council have also missed by a mile. What could be more simple than setting up an automatic acknowledgement for all emails received? However Mr Mustard thinks that acknowledgments are a stupid waste of time. Sometimes it takes officers longer to acknowledge his FOI requests than it would do for them to actually answer the request. 

The Glossary about terms used in these reports says Benchmark data is:

Comparable performance information collected from other organisations to contextualise your own organisation’s performance. It is used to identify higher performing organisations so that good practise and new ideas can be observed and learned. ( You are the expert in the use of English Mrs A, should that be "practice" not "practise"? You could organise writing courses for Barnet Council; £2,000 a day no problem )

If so and Richmond are meant to be best in class at 74% Mr Mustard can only conclude that all councils are rubbish.

When is a benchmark not a benchmark ? 
When it's a Barnet Council benchmark !

Back to 18a for a minute. However having suddenly decided to take a look at the previous quarter's report, Mr Mustard finds that the Benchmark data chosen then for answering the telephone was 79% with a miserable Barnet target of 75%. How was the Benchmark data chosen? 5 local authorities - Winchester, Southampton, Wakefield, Dacorum & Richmond upon Thames - chosen because they all have targets similar to Barnet Council. So that isn't Benchmark data is it? It is Barnet Council's target dressed up as a Benchmark.

So the Benchmark chosen does not fit the declared meaning:

It's a fudge. 
A meaningless number. 
Not a target to aspire to. 
Just some padding to make the report look less bad. 

Barnet Council, you disgust Mr Mustard with your stupid tricks. 

You can keep trying to pull the wool over the eyes of bloggers but each time you do and get caught your reputation suffers another drop.

18c. Mr Mustard finds discrepancies in Barnet Council's reports all of the time. Look at 18c. All council services received 3,837 emails. OK. Yet if you look at the line above Corporate Customer Services alone received 5,417 emails in the same period. One of the figures must be incorrect. This is typical of Barnet Council and means that councillors should not rely on any report presented to them but challenge them against common sense and other reports. 

The 10 day target is not applied to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for which 20 working days appear to be routinely & deliberately taken but that will be a blog post for another day.

Anyway this is yet another target missed. The direction of travel (DoT ) is in the wrong direction for the first three performance indicators.

18d. Face to face meetings. 33 unhappy customers and service getting worse..

18e. No statistics and no explanation. We can probably fairly assume that the performance on emails was as dire as on phone calls.

18f. How odd. A budgeted time to wait of 11 minutes. 

18b & c; more evidence that SAP is out of control. A problem has to be escalated several times. Mr Mustard notes that Barnet Council are about to increase the number of bank holidays in existence in Barnet. So the solution to a missed target is to move it.

Mr Mustard wonders if Barnet Council might be able to correct their reports so that the heading of the table is not at the bottom of a page with the data on the next one. It is really not helpful.

Why don't employees come to work?  Are they sick of One Barnet and all of the changes? Do they fear that their job is going to be outsourced so why bother? Look, even managers can't be bothered to put in returns of absences.

The number of absence days, 1778, is the equivalent of 7 employees permanently missing from work.

Only 73% of posts in the Chief Exec's service are permanent employees. It is impossible to be efficacious in such a scenario.

There are 21 temps from Hays and this was up 61% over the previous quarter. This is terrible.

There are 35 staff on fixed term contracts who are covering permanent posts. 

The question that should be asked is why Barnet Council cannot fill its permanent posts as until they do results will suffer.

The heading is incorrect. Item 5 is actually item 6. No decent proofreaders at Barnet Council  ?

The number of consultants will be available for the next report and will doubtless be shocking reading.

Look at the Risk Overview. The library strategy is a project management challenge ( that means - how the heck are we going to do this whilst we have all these other self-inflicted changes going on?) . The solution; another project manager ( consultant? ) .

More red ink on Staffing & Culture. Will service areas support the consolidation of the Customer Support Organisation. Mr Mustard somehow doubts it as he thinks that the strategy is plain & simply the wrong one. 

What would Mr Mustard want if he rang the council? 

Would he want just one number he could ring and which he could then ask 25 questions on 25 subjects of some person who only really knew anything about any one of them? or

Would he prefer to ring Highways about Highways
Parking about Parking
Schools about Schools
Homes about Homes
etc etc.

Mr Mustard would always prefer to talk to an expert in their field and avoids call centres like the plague. They are a frustrating waste of time.

ST0032 Business Continuity - Mr Mustard wonders why this has suddenly become such a high risk project?  Did no-one at the council know when the contract was due to finish perhaps because the central register of contracts was incomplete? Interestingly, this risk did not appear as a risk in the previous quarter's return.

Corporate Plan improvement initiatives.

One Barnet is a car crash but at least it has a new dashboard!

Mr Mustard will report on the new improved dashboard once he sees it.

What is he worth?

So  there we have it; a pretty damning report. Overall summary - you can make up your own but Mr Mustard thinks that performance has suffered by the head boy getting in with the wrong gang, the One Barnet Boys.

Picture credit : www.ukcanes.com

His tuck shop takings have been quite high this year at £200,976. To the right there is a poll as Mr Mustard has not had one for a while. The poll is, What is the highest salary that any Barnet Council employee should be paid. Enjoy ( and no voting if you work for Barnet Council - play fair now! )

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard