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.

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