5 December 2011

RM = Ready Money

When Mr Mustard saw the Delegated Powers Report had been issued to remove 408 parking meters at £128 a time and put up new high posts to replace low ones at the same time, at a total cost of £81,000 he thought the cost was a bit steep. All you have to do is disconnect them, pull them out of the ground using a lorry mounted grab and concrete over the hole. It won't take long per machine.

Mr Mustard saw that the winning tender came from a company called RM Countryside Ltd. Lucky them, thought Mr Mustard, let's see what else they have done because he hadn't really noticed them much before.

So he sent in a FOI request for copies of all invoices since 1 April 2010 as he thought there would be a dozen or two. Mr Mustard was way out and so instead he settled for the 20 largest and a list of all invoices as far back as it went.

At this stage Mr Mustard would like to thank two of the management accountants who handled his enquiries promptly & courteously. Mr Mustard hasn't name checked you as you are doubtless not "senior staff" but as you know who are you are, you can have your names added into the blog if you want. The Information Commissioner surmised that Mr Mustard has a low opinion of Barnet Council staff but that is not true; he is frequently helped by non-senior officers. It is the overpaid and under-inspiring management who Mr Mustard has a low opinion of and here is why.

So in the box below are 6 years worth of invoices issued by RM Countryside to Barnet Council. It might take you a while to scroll through these as there are 2,800 invoices worth £2.6million. Strike a light!

RM Countryside All Transactions

This is over £1,000,000 more than was paid to MetPro without a contract or proper checking. Let us hope that all of this work has been properly tendered for and recorded in writing and, parking meter removal aside, isn't just a case of someone ringing up RM and asking them to do the job and send in an invoice, like on MetPro.

Mr Mustard wonders if EU regulations might apply to this work as it is over the approx £150,000 threshold and if so has the appropriate advertisement been placed. He doesn't remember seeing any for the types of work undertaken by RM or adverts in the local paper.  The MetPro contract wasn't advertised in the OJEU.

Mr Mustard does remember seeing a list of contracts on the Barnet Council website that they put out of all contracts at April 2011. Can you find RM on there in the box below? Mr Mustard can't. paid £2m and not contract. Do you feel a sense of deja vu? MetPro.

Contracts Disclosed at April 11 by Barnet Council under FOI

Mr Mustard is given to understand that one of the Directors of RM worked in the old direct works departments of the council and then started the company after he left. Do you suppose he still has his feet under the table? Is he at an unfair advantage because of this? Shouldn't the council be especially careful to show that there hasn't been any favouritism?

One of Mr Mustard's FOI questions was sent in order to obtain a list of companies that are allowed to use the council logo. MetPro had been using it without permission. Guess what? RM Countryside use it on their website. Is their name on the list of companies who have permission?  no it isn't. Another MetPro parallel.

No firm should get more than 25% of their work from the council in order that a culture of dependence does not arise and so that if the council stop the work it does not cause failure and problems of unfinished work for the council. The council have admitted that basically they don't know what percentage of RM Countryside's work comes from the council; they rather quaintly said to Mr Mustard "I think this is a valid concern". I can tell the council that the vast majority of RM Countryside's work comes from the council. How? It is a rule of the vat office that invoice numbers are issued in number order. If you go to 2011 and look at the invoice numbers of RM in the left hand column there simply aren't many gaps. So Barnet Council had the answer in front of them but didn't notice and have no system.

Why is the Commercial Director, responsible for procurement, Craig Cooper paid £132,480 a year? The Audit Committee are meeting this Thursday at 7pm at Hendon Town Hall. He is presenting the results of the Procurement Action Plan which says that procurement is now fab ( a translation from councilspeak  ). What a complete travesty of a report. He is going to be questioned about it. Better make up some good answers Mr Cooper. I think one of Mr Mustard's questions will be "Do you know what you are doing?" Sadly, he already knows the answer.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. A heart warming tale, Mr Mustard, and a reminder that our Tory council, despite all the harsh words being flung at them at the moment, really can be very keen to support local businesses. Some more than others, admittedly.


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