9 August 2012

One Barnet "savings" 2011/12

no officer or councillor noticed the glaring error about 2010/11
Executive summary

Is One Barnet a radical project or is it just the normal efficiency savings, combined with price increases and cuts to services that don't justify a management structure of 95 and a consultancy firm (Agilisys) bagging £250,000 a month and an addition to the budget for transformation this year of £10m. Let us look at the figures Mr Mustard has finally been sent for 2011/12. (It is the latter.)

The detail

Mr Mustard was rather disappointed. The figures came out at the end of April and Mr Mustard was pre-occupied so he didn't get to them until June. On 21 June he sent an email to Ed Gowan, the Assistant Director Commercial Transformation, a man who ought to be able to walk and talk costs and savings for the One Barnet programme without any notes, and this is what the email said:

21 June 12

Dear Mr Gowan

I refer to the final page of your report headed "Programme Savings"

Can you please tell me why the figures for 2010/11 are still provisional at this stage some 15 months after that council year finished. (Because they cut and paste from another report and didn't read it!)

Please can you give me a breakdown by council tax year of the total Base Budget Savings to date of £5.82m

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard

This email should be 5 minutes work because the April report couldn't have been written without the figures having been compiled and so Mr Mustard rather hoped to get a reply within a few days and certainly the 10 that correspondence should be. Not a chance. Ed delegated the request:

22 June 

Dear Mr Mustard,

Thank you for your email. We will now respond with the information you request in line with the Freedom of Information Act. (Will you? you don't normally hit the timetable.)

To this end, I am passing your enquiry to our Freedom of Information link officer (not his real job title), Mohsin Abbasi, who will lead on the collection of the data you request. (Data doesn't need "collecting", it is sat in a table waiting to copy and paste in 2 minutes. Barnet Council is just one massive job creation exercise.)

Yours sincerely,

Ed Gowan

Assistant Director, Commercial Services

so 20 working days later the answer should be in Mr Mustard's email inbox. This is 10 days longer than if his enquiry had been dealt with as correspondence and it is arguable that the breakdown should have been in the April report anyway. Needless to say he was kept waiting and had one added to his FOI statistics.

Dear Mr Mustard,
I write in response to your request, received by the council on 21st June 2012, for information on "Programme Savings". We are processing your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Under the Act you should have received a response within 20 working days. I apologise for us not meeting this deadline.


The figures for 2010/11 in the programme highlight report of 24th April were not provisional and is a typographical error. (as Mr Mustard had guessed but no officer and no councillor who read the April report had noticed - must try harder).

The total of base budget saving of £5.82m was comprised of savings from two council tax years (2010/11 and 2011/12). There could have been some restatement of the previous year.

The information relating to 2010/11 has previously been disclosed to you in a prior response to your FOI request (#1104), (thank you for quoting the reference, that is so unusual, Mr Mustard knew he had these) the total of the savings was £1.437 million.

Please find attached the information relating to 2011/12. The estimate shown in the One Barnet highlight report of 24th April 2012 was provisional and based on the original planned savings for the year. OK

The savings proposed were to the value of £4.387m; of these £4.262m were delivered. The difference of £125k was a result of the planned implementation of new parking charges in the borough's seven remaining free-to use car parks not taking place. Due to a near riot and Robert Rams and his fellow ward councillors throwing their toys out of the pram because they could see they were going to be in trouble in 2014 at the next elections. Mr Mustard added the missing apostrophe.

Yours sincerely,
Mohsin Abbasi
Business Support Officer (£600+ was spent on those customer service guides which say you must put your title in emails Mr Abbasi which you forgot to do as usual and so Mr Mustard has added it for you. Did you bin it along with everyone else?)
One Barnet Programme Office

Now to the figures.

Mr Mustard has put these One Barnet savings in decreasing size order for you.

Starting at the top, reducing the youth support services, reduce directly provided services, reducing advice : straightforward service reduction. What did Cllr Richard Cornelius say

“It’s a big achievement that we're coming in on budget. It's really quite something. We're delivering these 28 per cent cuts and remarkably few people have noticed any diminishment in the services.”

If you have noticed that youth support services have gone backwards do please email Cllr Cornelius to complain, here.

Next we have £897,000 taken from people who need help with social care at home, washing and dressing, getting meals ready, getting out of bed and using the toilet, that sort of thing. It might be called the fairer contributions policy  There is no point in re-inventing the wheel so you can read about this policy, which does not seem to be popular, on Mr Reasonable's blog. (Don't forget to come back) Someone noticed eh Cllr Cornelius? 

So far you have pillaged two groups who don't have as much voice as middle-aged middle-class voters. The young might not even be voting yet and are unlikely, with the odd exception, to be politically active so this won't hurt your vote and then the housebound not many of whom turn up to council meetings to protest because they can't without help. Maybe we'll have to see if we can fill the public gallery for you one evening with "fairer" contributions victims and you can explain this marvellous policy to them one-to-one?

What next? Reduce the school improvement support service by £633,000 and let schools worry about their own educational standards. The schools do have well paid head teachers and I wondered why they needed so much help which did look like local nanny state interference. Now either the council has been meddling needlessly for years and wasting over £600,000 p.a. or this is just a pure cut, nothing One Barnet about it. Mr Mustard doesn't know enough about schools to be sure, he is sure that others will comment at the bottom of the page.

Next. Tax the motorist. Collect another £565,000 by removing free bays and increasing CPZ and car parking charges radically. Exactly what central government have said should not be done. Just too tempting. Given that you are facing a judicial review, that you are back-tracking on charges by holding reviews, that someone sent the police after Helen Michael at Cafe Buzz and North Finchley traders are standing four square behind her, as are the bloggers and others, that East Barnet councillors have been publicly pooping themselves and saying they didn't vote for car park charges (what rot) and that posters are being prepared which say Anyone But Cornelius (sounds familiar!) it seems to be safe to say that just about everyone has noticed this unsubtle policy.

SEN transport changes worth £258,000. Mr Mustard will leave this one to the public to comment upon. Either the council used to be hopelessly inefficient and were wasting £250,000 p.a. or they have perhaps made savage cuts in provision and there will be examples of people who need transport who don't now get it or a combination of the two. Do tell.

Introduction of e-recruitment will save £125,000. Absolutely millions has been wasted in procurement over the years with the management team not being the same 2 days running and massive amounts being paid out in compensation for loss-of-office (your face no longer fits money) and to recruitment agencies to recruit highly paid officers who stay for a year or two and then move on and the whole process starts again. Look at this FOI response:

Mr (Jason) Wheatley (Town Hall Tax Dodger) was engaged through Advance HR Consulting Ltd to provide an executive recruitment function to the council. (Who used Penna and like firms to do the actual recruitment)

He provided specialist recruitment support in the appointment of the following Directors:

Director for Corporate Services
Director for Commercial Services
Director for Environment & Operations (appointment 1)
Director for Environment & Operations (appointment 2)
Director for Adult Social Care and Health

He also provided that specialist support throughout the council’s Assistant Director restructure, where the following appointments were made:

Assistant Director Finance x 2 roles
Assistant Director Audit & Risk
Assistant Director Env & Ops x 3 roles
Assistant Director Commercial x 2 roles
Assistant Director Planning & Regeneration
Assistant Director Customer Services

Finally Mr Wheatley was responsible for the appointments of Deputy Director Adult Social Care and Health and Deputy Director Children's Service.

This was from mid 2009 to mid 2011. Do we still need all of these people who have been so expensively recruited? Advance HR were paid £625 a day.

Look at this webpage. Adverts for more new executives because the ones we have don't have the skill set to enable them to do the jobs that are being advertised. The wrong sort of snow springs to mind. If they are so useless why do some of them earn £130,000 p.a. ? Bad news for Barnet Council, Mr Mustard did the suitability test on that webpage and was strongly encouraged to apply for the posts. 

The saving of £125,000 is a paper one.

Chop staff and working hours of the mobile library. A service cut worth £75,000

The next item of merging routes of Children's SEN transport with Adult's Day Care centres sounds interesting. This isn't enough detail. We know that there was uproar about route changes in the sharing with Brent and that was  abandoned. It is not clear if that formed part of the savings. Day care centres are all under risk so if any close that will make the budgeted transport savings.

Customer service transformation. Call centres are vile fort staff to work in , inhuman degrading sheds, and no-one likes phoning them. You also can't force people to use the web who don't have a computer and the concept of customer choice is being forgotten. Mr Mustard will not complete on-line web forms. Instead he sends an email. He has no plans to change his policy; he is the customer and the customer is king. If Barnet Council decide to force the pace by removing the option to email Mr Mustard will start posting everything to them.

Close Church Farmhouse museum and shackle Barnet Museum by withdrawing funding. There you have it. Official One Barnet policy: Museums are just so much history.

Savings in procurement. Hang on, Craig Cooper, the unCommercial Director is busy setting up a new centralised Corporate Procurement Section with 5 or 10 procurement officers (he isn't quite sure how many he needs). That won't lead to a saving of £30k on office supplies and £30k on staff. This is just moving money around the budgets.

Another £28,000 by merging transport routes. Didn't we have that a little earlier? Double counting perhaps?

Get rid of a bit of a manager and save £25,000. Until we see the management cost for each council tax year set out clearly on a comparable basis one year after another we will never have any idea what has happened. This is what you do, you add £1m to the management budget from one year to the next and then chop one little bit of a post and call it a £25,000 One Barnet saving. Simples.

We are starting to get near the bottom of the barrel now. Charges kids for stuff that used to be free (they don't have any money of course) new charges in the contact centre (no facts as to what sort of charges) and charge for training. If that is an internal charge (what commercial company could possibly want to buy their training from the council, a course on how not to breach EU procurement regulations anyone? or on keeping data safe and not being fined £70,000 by the Information Commissioner, rat catching in data centres, tax avoidance, oh the list of possible courses is endless) then it isn't a saving, it is justing moving figures around budgets. Anyway supposedly £21,000 from this.

The final barrel scrape. £8,000 from providing a new source of income. Settlement checking which is done on behalf of the government. Was this in the original One Barnet plan. No as it only recently became a nice little earner. It isn't One Barnet except that it was convenient to bump the figures up a little. Desperation.

So let Mr Mustard summarise. What is One Barnet., It is a programme of:

Cut waste
Cut waste
Cut waste
Cut waste
Cut waste
Cut waste
Cut waste

Mr Mustard is starting to understand One Barnet, the emperor with no clothes.

We mustn't forget about costs. An extra £10,000,000 has been pumped into the transformation budget reserve this year (2012/13) Here is the spending so far.

Do we need to spend £4,000,000 on outside help in order to carry out a routine (if ruthless) programme of cutting services, becoming slightly more efficient and increasing prices. Isn't that something that a cabal of 63 councillors (OK not 63 as ideas emanating from the Labour side will be automatically dissed) and 95 senior management ought to be able to manage between them? Surely the time has come to send Agilisys up the road.

The other thing that worries Mr Mustard is that this is only Wave 1. If the projected spend is only £2,000,000 for this year why has £10,000,000 been pumped into the budget. Could that be for waves 2 & 3?

One day someone will wake up and realise that this One Barnet nonsense and the 10 year contract to outsource are the craziest thing they have ever heard and press the emergency stop button. Let us hope that it will not be too late when that happens.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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