30 April 2012

Walkley's Weekly Warblings 27 Apwil 12

Do bogs come more unsightly than in avocado?
Red ink by Mr Mustard
From: First Team
Sent: 27 April 2012 16:18
To: AllStaff

Subject: Weekly message from the Chief Executive (sorry, another one)

Firstly, following on from last week’s mail (sic, email) I wanted to update you on the restructure report that went to General Functions Committee on Monday evening. The report was agreed by the committee so the process of recruiting to a new structure can now begin. I will keep you updated. Mr Mustard did not bring you last week's messages because they were so long and he was abroad. There is the umpteenth restructure of the management team. It won't be an improvement and redundancy costs will be enormous and not warranted.

I am coming to the end of a round of ‘ward walks’ and yesterday I spent the afternoon in Hendon Ward with Councillors Shooter (did he buy the coffees again?) and Finn. I earnt £386 by going for a walk. It was a fascinating afternoon but the real high point was re-visiting Brent Park.

I visited Brent Park two years ago on a ‘ward walk’ and wrote about it in my weekly message. At that time the message was one of disappointment at the state of the park. The environment was neglected and it looked like a place in terminal decline. The question is why a council would let one of its parks become so neglected?

Now, two years on, investment, some real creativity (there is imaginary creativity, just think One Barnet) and lots of hard work have seen the place transformed. It was an absolute pleasure to be there instead of at NLBP worrying about parking. So I want to congratulate Andy Tipping in particular and the whole Greenspaces Team for what has been achieved. Did RM Countryside do any non-compliant works on improvements to this park? What was once an overgrown park with an unsightly bog (see above) is now an emerging wildlife habitat (a bog is also a wildlife habitat) alongside a lake with excellent walks.

Another good news story came from a meeting yesterday. I wasn’t able to attend but Stephen Evans, AD Strategy, (Strategy and Policy per the management chart)  reports:

"Yesterday, the Leader hosted an event at Middlesex University (once described as "crap", how apposite, by Brian Coleman)  to inform local businesses of the financial support available to those thinking of taking on an apprentice. Around 30 local businesses were present to hear speakers from the National Apprenticeship Service, Barnet College and the University talk about what’s on offer." Well, what is on offer?

Supporting young people into work is a top priority for the council and there is an enormous amount going on across the borough, with the College and University, amongst many others, doing much to support this agenda.

"We are looking at how we can provide targeted support to get young people into employment, as well as supporting what’s already going on through our local partners." Who said this is not revealed. Are we all mind-readers?

We will keep you updated on progress.

Finally, this time next week I will be in the throes of the count process for the London Mayoral and GLA elections. Polling day means many of you will be out in Polling Stations across the borough. It’s a long hard day (yes, counting past 3 can be taxing) and I hope all goes well for you. Will it go well for Brian Coleman? I’m sure I’ll see many of you as I am out and about. Not if we see you first Nick!


29 April 2012

Democracy has odd features - listen up in postcode N20

Here in Barnet we have a Cabinet Member for the Environment whose decisions on parks, parking and the roads have repercussions for the entire population and the businesses of Barnet.

Mr Mustard is of course referring to Brian Coleman, a councillor in Totteridge ward.

Brian has increased parking charges by a percentage that was way in excess of inflation last year with some charges increasing by 300% from £1 to £4.

Brian has also made it more difficult to pay the parking charges with pay-by-phone, the introduction of which was bulldozed into place. Perfectly usable parking meters have been scrapped. At the very least they could have been retained in car parks.

Now Brian is reviewing all pelican crossings which the old and disabled find very helpful. The details are here.

Brian also wants despite vehement majority opposition to rent public parks out for private functions.

Mr Mustard could list lots more unpopular decisions that Brian has made but it is easier to refer you to John Baldy's website which lists 101 reasons to sack Brian Coleman.

Now as Mr Mustard does not live in Totteridge Ward but in Chipping Barnet he never had the chance to vote for Brian but is stuck with him all the same.

There are, according to the council's 2011 State of the Borough report ( in a right state ) 349,800 residents in Barnet. There must therefore be something in the range of 275,000 to 300,000 voters. How many people in Totteridge voted Brian into power. Just 3,705 and thanks to the spineless other elected councillors he gets a top job and goes power crazy. This is an odd feature of democracy. 

Mr Mustard thinks there must be a better way.

Whilst on the subject of Brian he is also up for re-election to the London Assembly, where he represents Barnet & Camden, and voting is on Thursday 3rd May. Mr Mustard will not be voting for Brian which means that to do the maximum damage to Brian's chances he has to vote for the former MP Andrew Dismore, Labour. If you did the same Brian's power base would be greatly reduced. He would then be just another local councillor and maybe the "leader" Richard Cornelius, who has recently shown a tiny glimpse of backbone ( crossed out "working with councillors" and substituted "working for councillors" in a document that the officers wrote ) will be brave enough to have a reshuffle of his team.

Ken or Boris - the choice is yours (there are other candidates apparently!). Mr Mustard will be using his second preference for the Green Party.

Just let's rid ourselves of Brian locally.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 April 2012

Capital my dear fellow, Capital

The people's library, bookshop, cafe is a possibility

Mr Mustard had to look at the library strategy earlier and he fell over this paragraph which sets out how the money will be raked in, in order to spend it elsewhere in the budget.

Capital implications:

Disposal of four assets could contribute to a capital programme required to fit-out
new buildings and remaining sites:

Child’s Hill = £960,561
Church End = £964,047
Friern Barnet = £432,527
North Finchley = £593,000
Total: £2,950,135

When Mr Mustard saw the low value of Friern Barnet library he had an idea based upon his second career of house refurbishment. The library is only worth the price of a semi detached house in Chipping Barnet.

Now Mr Mustard knows that Friern Barnet is not the most prosperous of wards but he did see some fine houses in the side roads and those flats in the former asylum were not cheap so there are people with money tucked away in Friern Barnet.

So the idea is to find 50 people with £10,000 of spare cash each who want to join together to buy the building and then to have a café (an outside terrace in summer on the lawn?), a library and a bookshop within the building. Mr Mustard is assuming that there are 3 rooms within the building but there might only be two large ones which could be sub-divided. Volunteers could run the library and the bookshop area could be let to a professional, as could the café area both at reasonable rents. That would enable the investors to get a small annual interest payment of about the rate of inflation, currently 3.5%. If the £10,000 investments were arranged as debentures or shares they could be sold on at par and there is always the security of the building to underpin the investment.

Now comes the clever part; the exit route. One day (maybe as soon as 2014 - who can say) a more enlightened and more cultured council will be appointed and the council could have the library sold back to them at the market price. If they see it has been a success they could perhaps leave the bookshop and café to continue and expand the size of the building to make more room for the library.

Mr Mustard thinks that the existing administration won't mind; all they want is the capital receipt now. If they sell the property to a property developer who wants to knock it down and build flats there will be a fight. Mr Mustard's way, they avoid the extra bad publicity.

This would be a win/win solution. Everyone would gain something.

Mr Mustard expects that in Friern Barnet there are book loving solicitors, architects and accountants who could form a company and get cracking. Mr Mustard has no great connection with Friern Barnet otherwise he would be the first in the queue with his money. What he will offer is that if you get stuck at 49 investors, he will be the 50th to make sure the scheme gets off the ground.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Drip, drip, drip

Barnet leaks are much more than a dripping tap, they are an absolutely unstoppable wall of water cascading out of N11. Red type is by Mr Mustard


From: Murphy, Bill
Sent: 13 April 2012 08:48
To: Housing Benefit - All Staff; Revenues Control Group; Revenue Services
Cc: Gregson, John; Burns, Robert; Singh, Monika
Subject: Feedback from Revenues & Benefits Transformation Board

Dear Colleagues,

We are now moving into a critical implementation phase in the Transformation Project.

As you know, in common with all local authorities we have substantial budget savings to achieve. In addition, we need to set ourselves up improve customer service as much as possible, succeed in the outsourced world next year and at the same time retain as much benefit within the council as possible.

The coming months will see a period of considerable change as we gear ourselves up to meet these challenges by making significant changes in our working practices and structures. This will include re-engineering our new benefits claims process, transferring some staff into the Contact Centre and restructuring the management of the service to clearly separate operations from support activities.

Following the presentations on the future structure last week we have already lodged a Q&A brief which addresses the points you have raised to date. Further briefs will be placed there as we move forward.

Other key documents, including the presentations I made last week, are also lodged there. These are internal documents and not intended for publication and I would like to remind staff of their obligations to keep internal documents confidential and they should not be circulated external to the council. Mr Mustard will tell you if any documents he publishes are internal and so you should not read them unless you work for the council.

The Revenues & Benefits Transformation Project Board met this week and considered a number of topics relating to the forward programme, including the transfers to the Contact Centre, the new claims pilot and a number of management workshops that will define the ways we will work under the future structure. Some of you have asked for a timeline of future events in the consultation process. Whilst the detail may change as events unfold, the current schedule is as follows:

Start of consultation period 4 April
Additional  presentation 17 April
Presentations to staff on Customer Services Organisation late April
Consultation 1:1s w/c 16 April
Confirmation to posts in new structure 25 April
Team Managers:
Consultation 1:1s and assessments 23 April to 4 May
Confirmation to posts in new structure 15 May
Consultation 1:1s and assessments 30 April - 22 May
Selection of staff for Contact Centre 23 - 25 May
Confirmation to posts in new structure 29 May
Transfers to Contact Centre 6 June
Formal end of consultation period 2 July
New structure launch early July

I am aware that, due to leave or other commitments, some of you may not have been able to make any of the presentations I made last week.
Therefore please note the additional session as indicated above - please come along to this if you did not attend any of the earlier sessions.

In the meantime, please continue to use the Questions box, the One Barnet email box and your line managers (until I make them redundant anyway) to raise questions and concerns and provide any other feedback regarding the changes. I will make sure that these are answered and the responses shared with everyone in the service.

Bill Murphy
Assistant Director, Customer Services

London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP
Tel: 020 8359 2002
Mobile 07847188983 (in case you need to ring him to complain about customer services at all, anything at all; don't be shy, he is paid a packet to take your calls)

That timetable above looks a bit rushed to Mr Mustard and possibly pre-ordained. Here is what the government says should happen (emphasis in red by Mr Mustard)

Collective consultation process (from direct.gov.uk)

The consultation must be meaningful. It must be genuine and conducted with a view to reaching an agreement. It must cover:
  • ways to avoid redundancies
  • the reasons for redundancies
  • how to keep the number of dismissals to a minimum
  • how to limit the effects on those dismissed (e.g. by offering retraining)
There may be special circumstances where it is not reasonably practical for your employer to consult fully. In these circumstances your employer must do everything they can to ensure that the consultation is as full as possible. One Barnet is not such a reason.

Information during consultation

To enable reps to make constructive proposals your employer must provide them with enough written information in good time (how long before the 90 days started were the union given the information?- Mr Mustard's wild guess would be a day or two but it could have only been an hour or two - he doesn't know)  including:
  • reasons for the proposed redundancies
  • number of employees that are proposed to be made redundant
  • different types of employees that are proposed to be made redundant
  • number and types of employees
  • how any employees to be made redundant will be selected
  • time period over which any redundancies may be carried out
  • how any redundancy payments will be calculated

Consultation period and termination notices

A termination notice tells you when the last day of your employment will be, eg the day you will be made redundant. Termination notices cannot be issued until after the consultation has been completed, even if the consultation needs to go beyond the minimum period.

If the consultation is genuinely completed within the minimum period you may be issued with a termination notice. This cannot take effect until after the minimum consultation period ends unless you agree to leave early, for example by taking pay in lieu of notice.

A consultation must begin ‘in good time’ and take as long as is necessary. It should be conducted with a view to reaching agreement, but can end before agreement is reached. Your employer should give your reps a fair opportunity to comment on the proposals and suggest alternatives, to which your employer should give genuine consideration. The final decision rests with your employer.

There is no time limit to how long a consultation period may last but there is a minimum period between the start of the consultation and actual dismissals. The length of the minimum period depends on the number of redundancies that your employer is proposing, if they are proposing:
  • 20 - 99 redundancies, they must start the consultation at least 30 days before any dismissals take effect
  • 100 or more redundancies, the consultation must start at least 90 days before any dismissals take effect

Failure to consult

You or your rep might be able to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal for a ‘protective award’ if your employer:
  • does not begin consultation early enough
  • ends the consultation early
  • doesn’t consult properly
An Employment Tribunal could make a ‘protective award’ of up to 90 days' pay for each affected employee. The amount will be decided by the Employment Tribunal, based on the extent of your employer’s failure and the circumstances.

It looks to Mr Mustard like staff will be made redundant before the end of the consultation period. If you happen to be reading this Mrs Sarah Brookman-Murphy could you spare the time from sorting out the staff car parking to assure Mr Mustard by email (mrmustard@zoho.com) that the staff are going to get the whole 90 days of consultation and not be hurried out of the door before then.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Not the Friday joke - all these messages

A culture; sadly, it's chlamydia; not quite as repulsive as the One Barnet culture
From: First Team
Sent: 16 April 2012 17:14
To: AllStaff
Subject: First Team - One Barnet update

NB. We apologise for the format of this week’s First Team as we attempt to resolve intranet issues caused by changes to the external Barnet website or the virus that is infecting the council's system?

Message from the Chief Executive (do we have to?)

Over the next 12 months, Barnet Council will be transformed in several different ways.

Last week Cabinet approved proposals to merge this council’s Legal Services with those of neighbouring Harrow. This development has two aims. Firstly, to save money - we expect to save £4.4million across the two councils over the next five years - but secondly to improve the service the department provides. A bigger service with a broader skills base supporting two councils will reduce the need for each council to seek outside legal advice. It will also give staff the opportunity to broaden and develop their skills. So why not do this for every other department?

At the same time, as you can see below, the search for private sector partners for the NSCSO and DRS projects is on target and these services will transfer to a private sector provider a year from now.

Staff in scope have already attended meetings with the shortlisted bidders. And a fat lot of good it did them with Capita.

The LATC (local authority trading company) is in place ensuring that adult social services has a structure that lets residents play a greater part in deciding how they receive their service as part of the Right to Control agenda. The housing service transfer earlier this month was the next phase of the LATC project, creating a single easy point of contact for residents for all housing issues in the borough.

The outsourcing of parking will take effect next month. NSL's reputation seems to go down by the day.

In each of these cases, the council has looked for the appropriate structure to provide an improved service at a lower cost to the taxpayer. Except for an in-house bid for some reason.

Given these changes, the council is now launching a review of the senior management team, to make sure that the skills, structure and culture of our managers properly meets the future needs of service users. The council spends £9.5m every year on a management out of a spend they control of only £200m not counting the current £3m p.a. given to Agilisys (based on 3 recent months). Management overmanning?; Mr Mustard reckons so.

Most of you have now sat through one of the presentations about the financial drivers of the One Barnet programme. By being both prudent and prepared, this council has been well placed for the financial challenge facing the whole of the public sector. Prudent, not in procurement for, where you have been pathetic.

But the other challenges facing the council remain, particularly improving the satisfaction of residents as they deal with the council and use our services. One Barnet does not satisfy residents.

This week will see two initiatives launched to deal with that. The first phase of the council’s new website will launch tomorrow. This will make it much easier for residents to get information about services in a timely and useful manner. The web team will continue to develop the site, introducing new features over the coming weeks. The new website is hopeless. It is the wobbly website. It is hard to find anything even if you are one of the biggest users of it and know what you about.

However, it is more important that all services now look on an almost daily basis at how we can use the new website to improve our customer satisfaction. Rubbish. It is services that matter, not electronic facilities.

At the same time as we launch the website the council is also launching an internal campaign to improve our service to customers. You will see Think Customer boards, screensavers and posters around the building and I hope most of you will attend a workshop about improving the customer experience for residents contacting your service. Just do the basics and do them right. That is all that residents want. Cut the crap.

This should be a remarkable year for the council, but, as ever, if you have any concerns or other points you want to raise, I am happy to discuss them at one of the regular Meet the Chief sessions. When I will ignore what you say and twist your words around to make out I agree with you.

Nick (aka The Devil, or The Gringe - for internal use only)

Development and Regulatory Services – staff meet the bidders

While the outsourcing of front and back office services is something that has been done many times before by other councils, the Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) project is moving Barnet towards an innovative relationship with a private sector provider to deliver development and regulatory services. There is nothing innovative. It is boring old fashioned out-sourcing.

There are now two shortlisted bidders, EC Harris and Capita Symonds, competing for the DRS contract, which covers services like environmental health, planning and regeneration.

The second round of the competitive dialogue between the council and both companies is now well underway, with a preferred bidder set to be chosen later this year.

Both companies have now had the opportunity to meet with staff from across the services at ‘meet the bidder’ days held in late February and early March.

First Team asked both companies how they felt the ‘meet the bidder’ days went. Here are their responses:

EC Harris team: “We were delighted that so many people took the time to come along and meet us. We recognise that this process has created some uncertainty for staff and so it was good to be able to provide more information and listen to your concerns. We appreciated the open and practical approach that everyone adopted in the discussions around the room.

“We understand that staff support and engagement is the key to delivering the services successfully. Therefore we will be working on all the matters raised and we look forward to discussing our plans in more detail later in the year if we are lucky enough to be selected by the council.”

We will spout any old rubbish as long as we are in the running to get the contract.

Capita Symonds team: “We would like to thank all the staff on the teams for sparing some time to meet with us (especially on a Friday). It was great to meet such a large number of Barnet staff over the course of the day and hear views on the proposed outsourcing arrangements. Our main objective for the day was simply to listen, and we were encouraged by the level of positive engagement shown in our company and proposals. We can assure staff that our team have taken comments on board and will make sure they are addressed in the development of our overall solution.

“Thanks to staff for being so honest about concerns. We understand that transferring to a new employer raises a number of issues, and we were keen to give an opportunity to ask us absolutely anything in order to try and provide some comfort as to how the process would work. Hopefully receiving information about our plans to stay in Barnet for the duration of the contract, as well as confirming what happens with employment conditions, will reduce some of the worries about changing employers should our tender be successful.

“We hope that staff found the day as useful as we did, and that we provided the right kind of information about what it’s like to work for Capita Symonds in one of our partnerships. To that end our presentation was particularly focused on providing an understanding of how we specifically deal with staff matters and concerns. As staff will have been able to see during the sessions, we provide many of the same services as Barnet’s teams so we understand many of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis. Having met staff we are extremely confident we will be able to work with the council to continue to deliver the high levels of services residents expect.”

What is so special about Friday? Do council staff not work on Fridays? We will say anything to get into your knickers get the contract.

Pam Wharfe, Interim Director for Environment, Planning and Regeneration, said: “What we are doing with DRS is leading the way in local government delivery of these services and we are really excited to find out more of the detail behind both these bidders’ solutions for these services.

“Both these bidders have committed to delivering savings above what we requested and are enthusiastic about growing the business here in Barnet and to expand into the London market . At a time of huge pressure on public sector budgets it is exciting to see plans for service development rather than contraction through One Barnet.”

Pam Wharfe said "I do hope Mr Mustard doesn't catch me with yet more non complaint contracts before the out-sourcing deal has been signed. I hear he has found out about ...................."

Becoming a customer-centric council

As part of the council’s major transformation programme, an overhaul of customer services is now underway across council departments.

The aim of this project across the organisation is to channel as much customer service activity as possible through a central contact centre with only the most specialised calls being dealt with by staff within the services. With some services, this will mean transferring some staff from their departments to the contact centre, while for others it will mean that phone calls are transferred to the council’s contact centre to free up staff to do their day to day jobs. Everyone knows that customer contact centres are the most stupid idea ever invented so we had better have two of them.

The council has prepared a business case for the project, which sets out the three objectives of improving customer satisfaction, reducing the cost of customer service activity and supporting the efficient delivery of core council services, and how those objectives will be met by each service in scope. Writing bollocks and calling it a business case is our particular area of expertise. To you, only £1,000 a day.

It is expected that by transferring calls to a contact centre, customers will get a quicker response and the council will be able to collect data more effectively. It also means that fewer customer calls will be missed, again improving the customer experience. The response will be pants but who cares.

The project is due to complete by late summer, ahead of the transfer of all council front and back office services to a strategic partner in 2013, taking place through the New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO) project. This arrangement will bring with it substantial investment in IT, which the council really needs to make it easier and faster for staff to deliver excellent services to our community in a cost effective way. If all front and back office staff are transferring to a strategic partner who will be left, no-one! Is there a middle office?

Alongside the CST project, there is set to be a relaunch of the council’s customer care standards this month. Staff should look out for information on expectations of all staff when dealing with customers, on posters and other material, as we look to truly create a new relationship with our citizens. Tomorrow (17 April) will see the launch of a new corporate website as the next stage in developing that new relationship with the customer. CST, you haven't used that acronym before in this message. Oh, it's Customer Services Transformation. The website is up and wobbling for all it's worth, and it isn't worth £640k.

Bill Murphy, Assistant Director for Customer Services, said: “Here in Barnet, customer services is changing, and becoming an integral part of the way that we all do business with each other and with our external customers.

“You will soon be seeing the relaunch of our customer care standards, while the CST programme is now well underway to make sure that all our front-facing services are fit for purpose and examples of good practice by the time a new provider comes in to run the services under the NSCSO umbrella.” Bill Murphy said "I am a town hall tax dodger and the moles are running rings round me. I want to go home."

Two more departments transferring

As the One Barnet programme continues apace, two more departments are transferring to a new provider.

The parking department is leading most other local authorities by allowing the entire service to be run by a professional (really?) parking services organisation – NSL. Staff have been fully briefed and engaged in the move and this is set to be completed by 1 May 2012. NSL - the company which makes massive losses and lost an employment tribunal case against a former employee for having ticket quotas.

This move will enable the council to use better technology and benefit from both the economies of scale and the wider expertise that are available to a provider who delivers parking services up and down the country. If you are issuing more than 100,000 parking tickets a year you don't really need any more economies of scale.

Meanwhile, staff in the housing needs service transferred to Barnet Homes, the council’s arm’s length management organisation for the council’s housing stock, on 2 April. The move means that all housing issues can be resolved by one organisation, thus improving the customer journey by the creation of a totally housing-focused organisation. The customer doesn't want to go on a journey. They just want to stay at home, safe, secure, dry & warm..

Pam Wharfe, whose directorate includes both these services, said: “In the same way that we are seeking investment and economies of scale for the DRS services, parking and housing will also both benefit from a transfer out of the council. The council is so useless that no-one could do a worse job.

“The housing move is doubtless going to be much better for the customer, with all cases being resolved under one roof. Meanwhile, the parking service will benefit from a much needed financial and technology boost from the move to NSL, which will enable us to modernise, and to maximise the benefit to the council of the parking service.” Doubtless = I do hope. We modernise by getting rid of the equipment that New York City still buy in 2012. Why are they so behind? I have replaced my green jacket with one in a fetching stage of mustard because then I might be more popular. Apparently he is not that easily fooled.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

If it is management's role to plan ahead

then why on earth didn't they see the current parking problems careering towards them when they signed the lease on NLBP (North London Business Park)?

NLBP Brochure

On the entire business park there are only 1,300 or so car parking spaces. The council leases buildings 2 & 4 and elsewhere the Middlesex University occupy some space and there are other tenants so that leaves at most 1,000* spaces for the council. How many people work at the council? (well until they get outsourced) approx 1,500  You can see the problem already. Add in visitors and several coachloads of consultants (except they wouldn't be seen dead on a coach) and attendees to training courses and other meetings in the conference rooms and also factor in that Barnet Council don't actively seek out local workers (who could still walk to walk when it is snowing or if there is a transport strike) and that NLBP isn't exactly next door to a tube station and you end up with nearly everyone using a car to get to work. Essential users have little choice but to drive.

*Update Thursday 26 April. Mr Mustard remembers that he was sent information from a FOI response showing that the council have 800 parking spaces at NLBP and 24 in the cycle rack. 

So whoever signed the lease needs to have a good look in the mirror and ask themselves if they slipped up? You did.

Do you know what would be better than 1 or 2 large buildings? It would be 21 offices, one in each ward, each contributing to the local economy and helping to keep the town centres alive. After all, do street cleaning operatives talk to social services, or environmental health to parking, or car permit issuers to education? no, hardly ever. People don't need to be in the same building as many people email within their own room or even to the adjacent desk (the next door neighbour noticed a flattish tyre on the blogger bus last week and he sent an email. He did come out though, carrying a cup of tea, when Mr Mustard went to the bus to check the tyre).

The point is proved most strongly by the One Barnet mass outsourcing project. Offices of many of our services (parking, DRS & NSCSO) are going to be in places like Croydon, Finchley, Bromley, Newcastle, Bangalore etc so Mr Mustard fails to see the need for a fancy head office in N11 (the word fancy is used to mean large & expensive - about £300,000 will be saved from not paying Comer, the landlord, for car parking spaces alone, at £300 p.a., they are usually included in smaller offices - and Mr Mustard thought, on his recent visit to NLBP that the buildings were too blunt, forbidding and depressing).

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Not a party political broadcast from Mr Mustard

Mr Mustard's interest in local government is not political, he is concerned with finance and democracy. There is an election coming up which gives you the chance to exercise your democratic rights and it is often said that no-one has the right to tell you how to vote.

Mr Mustard is not telling you how to vote but he thinks that one outspoken individual needs to learn some humility and that the vote on 3 May presents an opportunity for that individual to learn that you do need to please some of the people some of the time.

There does seem to be a certain amount of cross party support for this ABC idea.

There are 3 ballot papers that you are presented with on polling day so you have ample chance to follow your party loyalties in choosing your mayor and the London-wide members. Mr Mustard would be grateful though if you could set aside party politics when it comes to who represents us in Barnet so please vote for one of the other 4 choices ( Fresh Choice(UKIP), Labour, Green or "London" Liberal ). 

Please vote for the person who you think will do the best job, who will listen to the residents and treat everyone with respect and decency.


Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 April 2012

Too easily satisfied

From the first press interview:

“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.

Nick Walkley, Barnet Council chief executive

oh dear, naughty Mr Mustard has changed the order of the words!

“I am pretty annoying about everything and people want to make me better and it’s why restless things at times find my trademark really quite much"

Next, the weekly message

From: First Team
Sent: 20 April 2012 16:20
To: AllStaff
Subject: Weekly message from the Chief Executive

I spent Monday afternoon at Grahame Park discussing issues on the Estate with young people and local voluntary youth group leaders. (Mr Mustard hates that words "issues" in this context. Is it Grahame Park, the Issues Estate? or Grahame Park the Problem Estate?) It was a challenging and inspirational afternoon and I came away with some very strong messages. Mr Mustard doubts that Nick will be inspired to give up his comfortable home in Islington (Perhaps in future Chief Executives should be contractually obliged to live on the roughest estate in their borough?) or have to try using a payday loan company.
Firstly, that whilst Barnet did not suffer public disorder of the scale seen in other parts of London we cannot be complacent and must work to tackle any signs of gang culture and community friction. The Cabinet; they are a kind of gang, let's go back to the committee system. It is not permissible to use the word culture in Barnet Nick except with the preceding words "lack of"

Secondly, that we have to find ways of accelerating the physical regeneration at Grahame Park. Mr Mustard was at a meeting at which over £1m due from the private developer was blithely subjected to extended credit when the developer is part of a cash rich group - at least it is better than investing it in Iceland - hopefully. Residents I spoke to are desperate for progress and we need to respond. Friern Barnet library sit-in protesters were desperate for the toilet so you will need to be more helpful in Grahame Park than the disgraceful behaviour shown at the library.

Thirdly, however, what really struck me were the large number of positive stories I heard (any of them about Barnet Council?). There is real talent, capacity and community spirit to tap in to ( this error is everywhere in council emails. It is "into" not "in to"; not very restless about use of grammar are you Nick.) and there is much we and our partners can do to support this. We can all begin by seeing Grahame Park as a place for opportunity and not just problems. No need to go to Grahame Park to see community spirit Nick, you can find it by the sack load at Friern Barnet each Saturday at 11am. There are now more books in the pop-up library than in the real one.

The Grahame Park visit was a helpful backdrop to my meeting with Corporate Management Group (so exactly how do senior managers on over £100,000 a year really understand what hardship is like and to live on the breadline?) to outline proposals for reorganising the senior officer structure of the council. So First Team gave details on these proposals and they go to General Functions Committee on Monday. You can find the report here.  Mr Mustard himself hopes to report on the senior officer structure but has to create some time so that may not be until after the meeting.

Finally well done to all those involved in the relaunch of our website. This is a hugely expensive undertaking and there is still much to do to enhance functionality but we are off to a very positive start. Codswallop. £671,544 has been spent on the website that Mr Mustard knows of, there will be more, and for that money Mr Mustard expects the changeover to occur at a weekend so that all the necessary worldwide updating of page locations takes place without so much inconvenience to users, and that you get a website that you can find your way around and that does not contain out of date information, look in the A-Z list at the bottom of the page and click on W for Wormeries and there isn't any information about wormeries, and useful information that did use to be there like Delegated Powers Reports - now re-named Officer Decisions -are not there except for the most recent half dozen. Never mind half dozen, the "wobbly website" is half-baked. Mr Walkley needs to get out of his parallel universe where everything is great.

Nothing will be great until Walkley walks and Cornelius capitulates. 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Yours frugally

20 April 2012

Invasion of the sanctuary

on the back of the toilet door. It's Friday but no kidding

Barnet Council go into the closet

Just when Mr Mustard thinks that Barnet Council can't sink any lower and that it would be difficult for them to find anything else stupid to do, the above poster (and 2 other variants about doing it right first time or keeping the customer informed - Fred has just popped out for a minute - possibly for a leak? ).

Now listen to Mr Mustard you misguided managers at Barnet Council. Human beings have to go to the toilet. Some people don't go very often especially the young, but others as they get older need to go more often. Sometimes you just need 5 minutes away from your desk if you have something that is bothering you, such as the uncertainty as to whether you will have a job next month thanks to the toxic One Barnet programme, and when you go to the toilet and close the door you can get your thoughts back under control. Now you are sitting looking at the above poster. Well did you do it or wouldn't it come out right first time. This is the stupidest place to put a poster; it is ineffably stupid. Get out of the toilets Barnet management. You are not motivating the staff, you are p*ssing them right off. 

How do you motivate staff. Well, scrapping One Barnet would do wonders but you aren't quite ready for that, you have a whole load more crass ideas to implement before then, but you motivate people by leading them properly and by talking to them with respect and by letting them get on with their job if they are doing it OK. If customers aren't given the best service it is probably because the SAP software that management have chosen is awful, because the systems that management have designed have in-built bureaucratic inefficiencies and because management are cutting staff numbers below the level that can do the job, because the tablet computers aren't fit for purpose, because you have the stress of taking 20 minutes finding somewhere to park at work, because you have a hot desking system in some departments so no-one feels loved or wanted, because the computer system has a virus anyway and IT don't ring you back for days if there is a problem and on and on and on.

If the best that management can do is these posters then they aren't fit to manage. Resign and go off and do something you can manage. NSL probably need some CEOs.

Mr Mustard has heard that the staff are expecting any new toilets to be based on this model

but Mr Mustard thinks that is a bit harsh (expecting management to climb steps, there should at least be an escalator!).

No, the punishment that Mr Mustard suggests is that the idiot who thought these posters would motivate the staff should have to go round removing them all and then clean the toilets for a week.

Update 11.24

Mr Mustard has now been sent this picture of a One Barnet Urinal - almost new and already unfit for purpose.

was the sign really necessary?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Call yourself a library ?

Below is part a Press Release sent out this afternoon (19 April) by the council’s Press Team - Mr Mustard's extra remarks are in red. The bit about Hampstead Garden Suburb has been cut, you can read it on Robert Rams's blog if you really must which will be a whole lot quicker than trying to find it on the new Barnet Council wobbly website.

Live link to BBC article : The model for the Arts Depot library?

Barnet Council’s new interim library service is set to launch in North Finchley next week.

Based in the artsdepot building at Tally Ho Corner, the library is being opened in response to public demand (Did you demand this? Did anyone demand this or was it only dreamt up by Robert Rams? Mr Mustard has seen huge demand for a library in Friern Barnet but the council see no need for a library to be opened there; how odd.) for a service while plans are developed for a permanent Landmark (to be defined) Library.

The interim service is set to open on Tuesday 24 April and will be open Tuesdays and Fridays, 2pm – 5pm and Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am – 1pm. Tough luck on the workers. The council hopes to extend the activities beyond these core hours over the summer with new services supported by volunteers, particularly focussing on activities for children. You have left the word "by" off of your blog Robert. Volunteers will be needed as a sole librarian will be at the artsdepot. How many libraries do you know of in Greater London with a sole librarian? They won't even be able to go to the toilet without leaving the room unsupervised; oh well, there is always the Friern Barnet bucket.

A book loan service, containing approximately 10,000 items will be available as well as magazines and newspapers and also a study space. This will be shortly followed by a programme of activities for children and young people. 10,000 books sounds a lot. Let us say they are 2cm thick on average. That makes 20,000cm of books if put in a line = 200m of shelves. Put the shelves 5 books high and you have just 40 linear metres of shelving. Not much of a library. 

The new Landmark Library will merge Friern Barnet and North Finchley libraries, specialising in arts and culture as well as activities for children. There has been talk about the definition of a Landmark Library (you asked this question I think Councillor Rawlins) and the answer was to be found in the library strategy.
Landmark libraries: 
1000 – 2000sqm sites, 
open 56.5 hours per week including Sundays.
These libraries will be located in the busiest centres and will be on good transport routes where people regularly go. 
Additional services will be available from One Barnet partners from benefits advice, CAB sessions, to additional ICT and learning lessons. 
They will have:
A wide ranging, quality and comprehensive book stock
High quality children’s and young people’s activities, programmes, and spaces
A wide range of events and activities – reading groups, author events, learning sessions
High quality community meeting rooms and spaces
Spaces to study and relax

Unless the eventual Arts Depot library meets all of the above criteria a complaint will be made to the Trading Standards authority.

Quotations are now currently being sought from architects to complete a feasibility study for the redevelopment of the artsdepot to create a landmark library. This is estimated to be completed by the end of June this year. Can't an Assistant Director of Customer Services and Libraries, trousering north of £100,000 a year, work out where a few shelves have to go without chucking thousands at a consultant architect? It isn't clear if the feasibility study will be completed by June or the landmark library itself, probably the former.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

Dear Percy

what a cute mole

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Dear Percy

I have a mole problem. They keep appearing in the large lawn at the business park where I work and I can't get rid of them. I live in the town and am not used to the country ways they have in Barnet. It's not like this on the golf courses of Spain. I have read up on them and generally there will only be one mole or two in your lawn that will need to be caught or scared off, but in my lawn they are in their hundreds & they seem to be multiplying by the day & crisscrossing tunnels all over my lawn.

I have tried getting my gardening assistants to put out some traps to catch them, but these moles are clever, I can't catch them as they hide & keep dodging the traps. They aren't stupid enough to show their faces and they look like normal creatures.

I have been hiding secret things in the One Barnet lawn and they keep digging them up and giving them to the boggarts. The boggarts have found out about my plans to turf out some of the lawn and to make the rest grow faster using less fertiliser and now I look like a right muggle.

The moles move about faster than a Town Hall Tax Dodger and don't stay in one place for long before they are off.

I thought about gassing them all but as I have never seen one I am afraid that I will kill all the creatures in the park and then no labour at all would take place and my grand plans for a better garden with less money would fail.

The worry is so bad that all my hair is falling out. Surely there must be a sure-fire way of getting rid of moles, isn’t there? What should I do?

Yours in hope

Uncle F
Interim Assistant Director of Gardening
North London Business Park

Dear Uncle F

Thank you for writing to me.

Moles are lovely creatures and part of everyday country life in Barnet. It also looks like the things that you are hiding which you think should be secret really ought to be public anyway so think of the moles as your furry little helpers, they do the digging. The boggarts are your conscience and perform a useful function of raking over things and building the public display garden.

Did you know that the name Thrower means one who twists the fibre – probably wool – into thread or yarn. Are you sure we aren't related as I hear that you are trying to weave together a load of old yarn into a set of emperor's new clothes.

I don't think you are cut out for the One Barnet country life and should go back to the city or move to Spain where you will be rid of the moles for good.

You will also never be rid of the moles until you stop hiding things in the lawn.

Yours in hope