24 December 2012

Taking stock of library books

Reducing a stock
Following on from Friday's blog about the slowly reducing spending on library book stock, all brought about by Roger's blog at the Barnet Eye, Mr Mustard's friend also obtained for him the stock figures going back to 31 March 2000 and here they are:
2000 865,558
2001 866,429
2002 620,000
2003 597,062
2004 521,402
2005 537,850
2006 536,175
2007 502,393
2008 482,872
2009 485,662
2010 489,900
2011 469,836
2012 477,999

and in the much more easy to digest form of a table

click to enlarge, back to return
which is very interesting. As the spend has been going down the book stock level follows it but with a 5 year lag which is possibly the average life of a library book. Stock can only have gone up a smidgen in 2012 by buying less expensive books or by not throwing old books away as soon as in previous years.

Apart from the fantastically innovative Friern Barnet people's library, which sadly only has <6 weeks to go in its current format, although Pete Phoenix isn't so named for nothing (we can expect another library to rise from the ashes) it is evident that libraries are only treading water in Barnet.

The strategic library review foresees a reduction in the budget of £1,410,000 over the next 3 years. That is going to help our libraries, isn't it? It is what Robert Rams has put his name to. He couldn't have got it completely wrong could he?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 December 2012

When free Parking isn't free

It is nearly Christmas, the time to give. No-one thought that Dean Cohen's gift of 2 hours of free parking was much of a gift, not even a stocking filler, and it certainly wasn't destined to be a High Street filler. The gift was sexed up as being a free weekend's parking but that was to over-state the case as only one High Street has charges on a Sunday in any event and you couldn't park all weekend without getting a parking ticket. Happy Christmas from Barnet Council.

Now you would hope that the council would have advertised this ungenerous offer more widely than they have. 

Were there any signs on pay & display bays advertising the free parking?  No.

Was there a recorded message when you phoned up the pay-by-phone number to say that you didn't need to pay for the first 2 hours? No.

Did Helen Michael of Cafe Buzz in North Finchley ask 200 people today if they knew about the free parking? Yes she did.
Did any of them know about it? No.

Will Barnet Council donate all of the money they have pocketed in error to charity, say Crisis at Christmas? What do you think? Mr Mustard thinks they won't as the council have no morals.

Is Cllr Dean Cohen actually Scrooge? Quite possibly.

Thanks for nothing Dean.

Update: Christmas Eve. Mr Mustard wandered past the Stapylton Rd car park in High Barnet. He saw a sign flapping in the breeze. Oh, he thought, the council did manage to put up a sign at one car park at least to say that parking was free for 2 hours. He went over to take a closer look. Oh yes there was free parking, but in July 12!

Evidently the same council that couldn't be bothered to take the old sign down couldn't be bothered to put new ones up, especially as it would cost them money which is about all that they care about.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

21 December 2012

An extra £10,000 on books?

10,000 books not an extra £10,000 of book purchases
It is the season of goodwill and so Mr Mustard is going to give Cllr Robert Rams's blog a little extra publicity today. Robert likes to be in the public eye except that it is usually the eye of the storm he finds himself in.

Here are some of the words which Mr Mustard has cut-and-pasted from Robert's blog post of 7 June 2011:

As I said recently .............. the Library Review was never going to be universally popular. This is despite the extra £10,000 per year we will spend on books,................

Under our strategy, Friern Barnet library will move, and merge with the North Finchley library. All the services currently provided at the Friern Barnet site will be provided at the artsdepot. The library at the artsdepot will be one of our largest; it will be a landmark library that specialises in the arts. It will hold more stock, have longer opening hours, will open on Sundays, and have extra study space and facilities.

Ah yes, the Artsdepot. It will not be "one of our largest", it will not be "a landmark library", it will hold zero stock not "more stock", it will not "open on Sundays" it won't have any library "facilities". Perhaps Robert needs to go back and correct that entry on his blog and delete all the incorrect statements which will make for an interesting post, just white space.

Now Mr Mustard was interested in the spending on books in libraries but as the FOI department have got the hump with him, and deem every simple little request that he makes to be vexatious, he had to get a friend to ask the question. She received an answer in 16 days and luckily Mr Mustard has lots of friends who are happy to ask questions on his behalf.

So it was in June 11 that Robert said that an extra £10,000 p.a. would be spent on books. Did that happen in 2011/12? No it didn't as this table and graph show.

31-Mar Spend £
2004 459,065
2005 674,094
2006 594,786
2007 470,659
2008 444,599
2009 416,668
2010 409,197
2011 390,762
2012 387,830

Will extra spend arrive in 2012/13? It probably will now as Robert will read this post and have to go off and bother senior officers to make sure it happens as an FOI question will be asked after the year has ended. The clear evidence though is that spending on books has been reduced year on year since 2005.

Anything that Robert Rams says has to be taken with a large pinch of salt. It seems that his Cabinet colleagues might agree as here are 2 of them, from a year ago, checking if they have enough salt in stock to cope with all the imaginary landmark library utterances, or something like that.

Have a Happy Christmas readers and go easy on the salt as it really isn't good for your health to have too much of it.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Crapita - Did anyone from Barnet ask Sefton anything?

The Jolly Roger - look out for pirates from Sefton

So still on the Capita Symonds website was the following puff piece:

Capita Symonds’ ten year strategic partnership with Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council officially began in October 2008.

Key facts
Start Date: 1st October 2008
Duration: 10 Years
Value of Contract: £70 million
Primary Office location: Magdalen House, 30 Trinity Road, Bootle, L20 3NJ

Capita Symonds’ ten year strategic partnership with Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council officially began 01 October 2008, with the TUPE transfer of over 120 employees. The £70m partnership, which includes the option of a five year extension, will see Capita Symonds working with the council to deliver a wide range of projects and services.

The formation of a partnership is a bold and exciting step, which places Sefton MBC at the very forefront of public service delivery; providing the investment needed for transformation and ultimately world class services for the citizens of Sefton, Council colleagues and partners.

We’re working together to create a culture that embraces change; one which is rewarding, and encourages creative thinking and innovation.

Services offered

Architecture and quantity surveying
Building maintenance and M&E design
Engineering design
Property management
Highways management and street lighting

and from the Liverpool Daily Echo of 25 November 2011.

SEFTON Council last night confirmed plans to tear up a £65m contract outsourcing swathes of the authority’s services to the private sector.

Council leaders claimed the contract was not delivering the savings which were anticipated when the deal was stuck.

Capita was awarded the contract to deliver the borough’s technical services after forecasting it would save 5.5% of Sefton’s predicted cost of doing the work in-house.

The engineering giant said it would invest £7.39m in people, processes and new technology and create 100 new jobs within the first five years.

But Sefton Unison union leader Glen Williams last night said the firm had failed to meet its promises.

So what is happening in Barnet Council? The planned outsourcing for 10 years of services grouped togther as DRS (Development & Regulatory Services) which are

So similar services are to be outsourced in Barnet with Capita Symonds being one of the two remaining bidders. The contract is set for 10 years with a possible 5 year extension. All shockingly familiar and very doubtful that anyone from Barnet Council has been on a train to Sefton to find out the reason why they are pulling the plug early but we wouldn't know as no-one is saying where they physically went, probably because no-one left the Town Hall to go anywhere.

Come back in 2018 to find out if Barnet Council appointed Capita Symonds and if they then let them go five years later.

Change costs money. Changing to Capita will cost money and local jobs and mess up people's lives, changing back will cost more money again.

Why don't Barnet simply sign up for 5 years with an easy get out clause?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 December 2012

Slower than snail mail - Capita email

not served at Mustard Mansions

Back on 9 November 2012, Mr Mustard sent the dear "leader" Richard Cornelius an email which read as follows:

Dear Cllr Cornelius

Last night you said "NSL is generating savings now" (based on my manuscript notes but it will be on film)

You know how I like to armchair audit this sort of thing.
Please send me the figures which justify your claim. Please make sure this includes how much overtime has been paid to get them up to the expected level of PCN and the number of CEO (traffic wardens) now assigned to the contract as opposed to the number at contract start (number of posts not people in post) which I do believe has increased.

By the way, based upon what happens at PATAS ( the independent adjudicator ) the contract still isn't going very well.

On Tuesday 6th November the hearings went as follows, and every single parking ticket was cancelled:

1. Allowed by Order of Adjudicator (this usually means no evidence filed by Barnet council)
2. TMO wrong.
3. No copy PCN filed.
4. Council failed to deal properly with correspondence.
5. By Order.
6. By Order.
7. Inadequate evidence from council.
8. By Order.
9. By Order
NSL are still not covering you in glory. Imagine this sort of mess in month 7 on DRS and NCSCO. Don't say later that I didn't warn you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Now Mr Mustard is sure that Richard received the email as they discussed it briefly when Richard was also in the public gallery at a committee meeting last week. Quite amusingly Richard told Mr Mustard that the answer was 50% done and then it turned out that Mr Mustard and Richard were talking about different emails as the Cornelius inbox is a place of repose for difficult questions and most of Mr mustard's have a holiday there, some of them on a  one way ticket. So here we are coming up to 6 weeks old and the email has not been responded to.

As you will know Barnet & Harrow "share" a legal department. It is generally seen as more of a takeover by Harrow, the top banana being a Harrow employee and the service being located in Harrow. How Harrow must be hating this deal. Barnet get themselves into more fights than a fairground boxer what with two judicial reviews and a Friern Barnet library possession hearing having come out of the woodwork in the last month alone, and there will be more to come. If Barnet followed more popular policies, ones they had carefully consulted the public about before implementation then they might find less resistance to their plans. They will have to learn the hard way.

Back to email, it seems that Harrow's email service is part of the IT service which is managed by Crapita (you knew Mr Mustard would get to the point in the end) and thanks to the iHarrow blog we can see that earlier in the year it had problems which they wrote of as a disaster which it is nowadays if your email is out for even an hour, it is like the end of the world has arrived (oh that is tomorrow I understand). It seems from what iHarrow have to say, and their links to other published accounts, that chaos follows Capita when it comes to computers.

Whilst on the subject of email not getting through I do hope that someone in FOI at Barnet Council is reading this email. Do you remember FOI that you were sending emailed responses to Mr Mustard and that they were not getting though to the dd........@cr.......co.uk address for some technical reason that only icasework could tell you. Well a few months have gone by and you are still sending replies to mrmustard@zoho.com from where they are auto-forwarded to the address Mr Mustard would prefer them at, his real person address. Have you sorted this out yet please? If so, do please let Mr Mustard know.

You haven't forgotten Mr Mustard have you? Oh no, as you have decided that 20+ of his FOI requests are vexatious. Let's see if the ICO agrees shall we?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 December 2012


TV Licensing staff of Capita on strike

Mr Mustard doesn't watch live TV, he doesn't own a TV set and any TV he does watch is on iPlayer or on the TV of friends - he did catch a lovely programme about the preservation of steam trains yesterday evening (don't be surprised) after he had carried out a parking ticket consultation for a resident who is in front of PATAS later this week.

Mr Mustard now realises that he met a Capita employee a few months ago as, having shredded unopened a score of TV licensing letters, the inevitable visit from a doorstep enquiry agent arrived. There was at the time a notice on Mr Mustard's door saying that he didn't need a TV licence and that callers without an appointment should go away, as Mr Mustard does have a business to run and constant interruptions for people who work from home cost money. Needless to say the poor Capita employee knocked and was told simply to read the sign and then go away. They did. (If this employee happens to be reading - it wasn't personal, but Mr Mustard questions the wisdom of a system which starts from the premise that everyone is trying to wrongly avoid buying a licence they don't need. Mr Mustard doesn't have a pilot's licence either but no-one ever writes to him about that.)

So this week is Crapita week for Barnet Bloggers - so nice to have a theme although the Friern Barnet library story is hot this week (read all about it on Mrs Angry's blog or on The Barnet Eye, see the sidebar to the left).

The choice of blogs that one could write about Capita, or Crapita as Private Eye have named them, and which for the heading Mr Mustard has given a French twist, that being the language he has himself studied for the last 20 years, would actually fill a year and in late 2013 Mr Mustard predicts, the Barnet blogs will be full of tales of woe about Capita, with them being explained away by the council as teething troubles. One would think that a company turning over £billions would have learnt by now how to implement change without having to go through trial and error at our expense. Anyway, the story that appealed to Mr Mustard was the one about the Court interpreting service which he has been following in Private Eye all year.

Mr Mustard will let you read about the background elsewhere from other articles.

Here, on 7 October, from the International Association of Conference Interpreters from which this paragraph makes one ponder

Most shocking of all, however, was the finding that some of the MoJ staff understood that ALS would be unable to comply with the mandatory quality requirement of the contract in time for the ‘go live’ date, and therefore “agreed with ALS in December 2011 that, on a temporary basis, un-assessed and unmarked interpreters could be used in the justice system as a last resort.” 

What is the point of entering into a Contract on commercial terms and then allowing a variation without a commensurate reduction in price. Mr Mustard does not want to see this in Barnet but expects that he will as Mr Mustard doesn't trust senior officers to buy a paperclip without overpaying.

Next up, the Law Society Gazette on 30 October 12. From that we have the "it's not our fault defence" which is usually used, In Mr Mustard's experience of commercial dispute, as a water muddying device. It looks like it didn't wash with Margaret Hodge MP and the rest of the committee. You can see from this report that the company was given a Notice to improve. This simply gives a failing company the time they need to sort themselves out. If you want action you have to withhold payment for services not supplied and have proper penalties in the contract so that failure hurts the provider more than it hurts the customer. Will Barnet Council have any such penalties in the NSCSO contract? No, only 8% of fees are at risk for failure to meet KPI. Big deal, less than the profit margin on the contract.

Finally from the Evening Standard of last Friday, a report of a risible (laughable) fine of £2,200 for "total chaos". Far too many contracts are written in a one-sided manner and given that none of our Cabinet have admitted to reading any of the 2,500 pages (the latest estimate of how many there actually are in the Contract) as none of them answered Mr Mustard's email asking how many pages they had read or intended to read, and our council "leader" Richard Cornelius doesn't even see the need to read it they won't know until too late how little protection has been negotiated for them.

Look forward with trepidation to Barnet Council and Crapita appearing in Private Eye, local and national newspapers next year when the latest chaos hits us.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 December 2012

Why contractors don't often get sacked - maybe?

link to BBW article about DVLA

This week is Crapita week but Mr Mustard hasn't finished doing his research and he has a related blog post to write as to why local authorities and governments don't often take contractors to task.

Has Mr Mustard told you the joke, or is it, that he tells his clients? Mr Mustard has been in business for 25 years helping to sweep up the mess that supposedly commercial companies have made of their businesses. His firm acts in effect as an outsourcer to liquidators providing a service that is subject to peaks and troughs in demand and which needs considerable negotiating skills and the ability to ask people to pay up (which is a skill that the reserved British seem to find hard to master). His firm has been the recipient of a government contract in the 90's which was rarely the subject of a complaint and so it was held for several years.

What Mr Mustard tells his clients is that his firm is only average but because he always follows people who are useless then his firm looks brilliant. Clients are never sure if Mr Mustard is having a laugh but they do stick with him for years and years.

So when Mr Mustard discovered that Big Brother Watch had asked a very interesting question of the DVLA about which councils had been banned for various periods from obtaining details of car ownership he went off to see if Barnet Council were in the list. They were, on three occasions as follows:

24/3/11 to 11/5/11 - not authorised to make enquiries

27/1/12 to 26/3/12 - audit issues

19/6/12 to 24/9/12 - no contract in place
Now the parking enforcement contract with NSL started a month late on 1 May 12. One wonders if part of the reason for the one month delay was to allow time for the council to get out the pickle they had got into in the first quarter of the calendar year 2012. They weren't to know when the DVLA might lift the ban and so 1 April was a bit tight for being able to fulfil the council's presumed part of the bargain of providing access to DVLA. (Mr Mustard has about 90% of the contract, all the really interesting sections have been redacted, but from what he can see the responsibility for the DVLA link rests with the council). 

Now readers will recall that the Special Parking Account was down by £1.2m at 30 June 2012. When the interim Director of Environment, Planning & Regeneration, Pam Wharfe, who is the chosen one in the new order (otherwise known as commissioning chaos) to become the Director of Place (were there really no better candidates?), reported on the parking recovery plan to the Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny Committee on the evening of 25 October 2012, she didn't mention that for two of the weeks in that quarter the council had been unable to obtain details of car ownership and that must have affected the income.

This must be one of the reasons why when put in the spotlight about claiming compensation from NSL by Cllr Cooke the reply was an irrelevance about not having targets for parking ticket numbers and that "the contract had been properly managed". Did Pam not know about the lack of a contract with DVLA, especially after the Procurement Action Plan had by then been in place for a year? in which case her competency is questionable, or did she know and did she just fail to mention it as a factor which is.....well, you dear reader can make up your own mind what that is.

(Digression - Whilst we are on the subject of Pam Wharfe, Mr Mustard hears that when she took the e-learning module for Contract Management Introduction, she failed it the first time getting 3 of the 15 questions wrong. A much better score the second time, just 5 minutes later, with only one wrong answer; let's hope it wasn't for something vital.)

Now the parking enforcement contract is one of the simplest that could be imagined and it should be a simple task to highlight all of the failures of NSL but if on the client side you have a worse failing then as an Officer (employee of Barnet Council) you are going to shy away from involving legal as your own inadequacies are about to be thrust into the spotlight.

Multiply the contract up to a humongous one with Crapita and try to blame them for failure and their clever lawyers will be all over the contract looking for the client side failures, which given the general ineptitude of Barnet Council overpaid senior managers, will be easy to find, especially as under the new corporate structure it isn't entirely clear who is meant to do what and internal division and infighting will be rife.

Councillors on scrutiny panels. In future you might like to ask Directors if there are any parts of a contract which the council itself have not fulfilled 100%.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 December 2012

Will the Library still be occupied this time next week?

Mr Mustard does hope so. Be at Court for 9.30am Monday 17 December 2012.

Community support for Friern Barnet Library

Dear friend
Ahead of the court hearing on 17th December 2012, at which Barnet Council will apply for a possession order to end the occupation at Friern Barnet Library, we have collected signatures - campaign, organisation and individual - to the statement below.
We are issuing this so that Barnet Council can be made aware of just some of the people and groups that oppose their action, and in order to give a boost to the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library, which will continue regardless of the outcome of the hearing. 

Best wishes
Vicki Morris
Publicity officer, Barnet Alliance for Public Services


Library campaign groups, the Occupy activists and the local community share a common aim: that Friern Barnet Library should be re-opened in the existing building by Barnet Council and preserved as a library and community space with the involvement of local people.

The occupation of the Library is a direct action that has highlighted the massive community support for Friern Barnet Library, and challenged not only its closure but the One Barnet programme and the privatisation of our public services in general.
Save Friern Barnet Library group
Peter Storey, Secretary, and John Parker, Chairman, on behalf of Friern Village Residents’ Association
Don Berry, President, on behalf of Totteridge Horticultural Society; Chairman, on behalf of Totteridge Garden Club
Margaret Berry, Vice-President, Totteridge Horticultural Society
Barnet Alliance for Public Services
Barbara Jacobson
Bob Jacobson
Geraldine Cook, publisher and founding member, Brent Libraries Campaign
Derek Dishman, Barnet resident and blogger (http://lbbspending.blogspot.co.uk/)
Vicki Morris, Barnet resident and blogger (http://citizenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)
Theresa Musgrove, Barnet resident and blogger (http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)
Paul Coles, Barnet Libraries user
Rosie Canning
Alfred Rurangirwa
Pui Yee Yu
Peter Ridpath
Peter Thompson
Yvonne Ruge
Linda Carey
Lindsay Bamfield
A M Poppy
Stephen Brice
Lianne Kolirin
Gwen Newstead
Lynn Bresler
Paul Merchant
Janet Bagley
Liz Segal
Keith Martin
Georgiana Tudor
Martin Russo

Court hearing

Monday 17 December
Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre
St Marys Court
Regents Park Road
Finchley Central
London N3 1BQ

14 December 2012

Scrutiny of the unknown

Business management timetable aka bus timetable
To be a blogger takes dedication. To sit through endless meetings listening to Cabinet councillors spouting drivel whilst not answering the question is tedious. Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard has to report, can't hack it any longer, and she tried to tempt Mr Mustard into taking an early bath (well actually a libation at the local hostelry). Mr Mustard was stuck between being gallant and ferrying her to the said destination as due to her falling over in Fenwicks on split coffee Mrs Angry can only hobble along (but then he would have had too long in the pub and he doesn't really like coke or too much orange juice), or staying and listening to tommyrot. He chose the tommyrot. Now that is dedication. As on Monday he was last out of the meeting (along with one other dedicated council follower this time).

Mrs Angry's incredible consumption of Sauvignon Blanc means that her report of last night's laughable proceedings has not yet been issued. Mr Mustard will send her a text to wake her up and then doubtless Mr Mustard's inability to write anything funny will get detailed in Mrs Angry's latest blog post.

Last night's meeting of the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee was not, unlike cabinet, scripted but it was run to a timetable which hadn't even been distributed to councillors. Lord Monroe Palmer had to be furnished with a timetable, he has the air of a man who has had it with the council and it isn't as if he needs the money and Mr Mustard is sure that Monroe acts as a councillor because he usually enjoys it, he has been a councillor for Childs Hill since the war (only a saying Monroe but you have stuck at the task rather well) and he would not want to let down his residents. However Monroe once the lunatics have taken over the asylum it might be a good time to get out? You can probably do more good in the Houses of Parliament especially as bloggers fear that the Audit committee will be completely neutered under One Barnet outsourcing.

Concentrate Mr Mustard, what are you writing about? Oh yes, how nothing was really scrutinised last night and how time was restricted so as to leave no real opportunity for it in any event. 

It is possible for members of the public to address the committee for 5 minutes about an item on the agenda. We had a few of those last night. First up was Ron Cohen. Now Ron is a bit of a boffin, as well as the recipient of a dreadfully written apology from Brian Coleman, and Ron wanted to know why, when he was working on a system for his employer with millions of users and only spending £20m it was necessary for the council to grease Capita's palm with £8m for a system to be used by a few thousand at most? Answer came their none. Of course we have Captain Craig Cooper in charge of IT and computerweekly reported "he doesn't actually know much about IT" and this may partly explain the lack of commerciality.

The next speaker was Keith Martin, a local publisher and a very interesting man. His 5 minutes got cut short by the Chairman, Hugh Rayner, because it didn't fit into an item on the agenda. Keith had asked governance in advance for the rules and felt he was within them. Despite audience protestations that it was only 5 minutes and that they wanted to hear Keith, he was sent away. Here is his 5 minutes worth which will now be seen by 500 people rather than heard by 50.

Keith Martin

Next up was Barbara Jacobson, a formidable and lovely lady, who is chair of BAPS. She studies the issues and then formulates a clear speech which she belts out at rapid pace in order to pack the maximum into her 5 minute slot. Here it is.
Barbara NSCSO

Fiona Brickwood then spoke for 5 minutes. She used to be an advisor on risk management at Texaco. It seems that an oilfield only needs a contract which is at most 250 pages long and yet for Customer Services we need one with Capita which is now said to be about 2,500 pages long and not the 8,000 previously quoted. Whether the 2,500 includes the appendices is not clear, which is standard policy on One Barnet - not clear.

There was a second presentation by Barbara on the subject of Council Tax Support, which Mr Mustard also wrote about a while back, here.

Barbara Welfare Item
Barbara didn't realise until corrected by Cllr Brian Salinger that if the Council Tax for one band is increased they all have to be but she still preferred that to hitting the poorest in society.

Barbara explained to the meeting that how, even in her band G property, an extra 2.5% on Council tax for her would only be £1.14 a week and she would rather pay that than see the poorest suffer. At this point, Cllr Strongolou, a councillor for Underhill ward made his biggest ever mistake. He spoke at a council meeting which is something he very rarely does. He does sit in council meetings in sunglasses when it isn't even sunny outside, as an actor Mr Mustard supposes he is trying to cultivate an image, he might be able to get work as a Colonel Gaddafi lookalike although that seems to be rather limiting the field somewhat. He probably though he was being clever when he told Barbara she could write a cheque out and send it to the council. 

Oh dear, perhaps Barbara was a schoolteacher before she became interested in local politics as she very sternly told Strongolou that she does write a cheque out every month for her council tax and that he shouldn't make silly remarks and that if he is incapable of doing anything he should resign. Strongolou went rather quiet at this point. Residents of Underhill - you are not being well represented by this councillor. Please take the earliest opportunity to rid the council of his presence. Mr Mustard has sat through meetings where Strongolou has been present for 2 or 3 hours and not uttered a single word, he has played with his phone rather than read the meeting papers.

The ruling councillors are dead set against raising council tax even by the rate of inflation. On parking in 2011 Cllr. Brian Coleman, bless him, had no problem with raising some parking charges by 300% which even anyone who is not good with numbers will realise that the charge was increased way beyond the rate of inflation.

Aside from residents, councillors had things to say last night, mostly that they didn't know something or other. We had a full row of "Officers" some of whom are not employees but consultants or suppliers. We had the lead partner from Trowers and Hamlins, one Amardeep Gill, to whose left was a lady who didn't seem to have a name badge on the table in front of her. Probably a junior that we were paying £250 an hour for but she didn't say a word. Cllr Rayner and/or governance should have made sure that her identity was visible.

Monroe stuck the boot fairly and squarely into what is wrong with the NSCSO contract.
  • He highlighted that the 3 & 6 year review dates are only for tweaking the contract, not for quitting it. 
  • That the purpose of democracy has been destroyed. This contract is the opposite of localism as discussed in Westminster. How could a good conservative councillor justify this to Eric Pickles?
  • If Capita mess up totally we have burnt our bridges behind us. Our work will be mixed in what that of other local authorities and anybody they like, even possibly the mafia (yes Monroe did say that, he was just being outrageous but Capita could do that)
  • After getting procurement straight after a 2 year struggle when it was defective because it was spread all over the council and was now being centralised, we were now going to have it run remotely by computer. That worried him. 
  • Monroe then described Swindon as that well known centre of financial excellence and it would be frustrating to deal with and robotic.
  • There would be a lack of political audit.
Robert Rams then came out with some tosh about there not being any reduction in democratic accountability and contracts often go across the electoral cycle. This contract though could go across 4 electoral cycles - Robert did not defend that possibility. Robert thought there would be better accountability as date will be more up to date. Why haven't you done anything Robert since you were elected to get the council to be more up to date? Too busy playing with your One Barnet bollocks.

Then Robert came out with the funniest remark. Mr Mustard missed the first people who had been to look at One Barnet but apparently the Cabinet Office had been knocking on the door. Do you know why Robert? it is because the stench had reached Whitehall and they wanted to see what is rotting. The Cabinet office want to see the twitching corpse to remind themselves what not to do.

Robert flailed on. Other councils will do this sort of stuff. Today is Friday when we bloggers do like a joke. That gem of Robert's will be hard to beat.

Mr Mustard has a page of notes of Cllr Thomas's nervous utterings. He will spare you most of it. One interesting part was that in respect of council tax increases, which residents were not opposed to, Thomas said it was "their (as in the cabinet's) interpretation of what people want". So if you say No to a council tax increase that is fine that is what you get. If you say Yes then the Cabinet will interpret that as a No. (Ladies, if you find such a person on a dating website, run a mile)

Monroe wanted to see the exempt information about what we have to pay if we give 6 months notice (let me save you the trouble Monroe - if we quit the contract we will have to pay Capita all of the profits they would have made in the future - that is a poor deal, paying only part should have been negotiated).

Cllr Rayner stepped in at this point. He said that Monroe could have a one-to-one meeting with the legal bod from.... and at this point Cllr Rayner didn't know who the legal officer was from. After the hundreds of thousands of ££££££ that have been thrown at Trowers & Hamlins one would think that the chair of a scrutiny committee would know. He is not the only ignorant councillor at Barnet.

Cllr Thomas was forced to admit that there were risks in the contract. We will remind you later of this Dan Thomas.

There is a risk that things won't go to plan, he said. Yes that is 100% certain.

Cllr Alison Moore sprung the beartrap. Was Cllr Thomas confident that the council was retaining sufficient client side capacity and skill?
Answer, YES.

There was then some talk about member (councillor) involvement. Brian Salinger mentioned the scrutiny that the "leader" Richard Cornelius (absent from the audience in this meeting) planned to set up to monitor the contract and promises. Cllr Thomas didn't know anything about the proposed new scrutiny committee. Another ignorant councillor.

There was also talk of ward strategies that Capita were going to develop for every ward. Rams waffled on about this being written into the contract over the next 18 months and Capita would look at assets to see what could be done better. Maybe they would move a police station. Apart from the fact that the council don't manage police station resources and that many are being closed this is all jam tomorrow and Capita are interested in what they can get out of underused assets for themselves.

Brian Salinger wanted to know who the member would be on the new Partnership Board. Thomas don't know.

The votes was then taken on the two call-ins of the same contract and both were defeated which was not a surprise as the scrutiny committee has a majority of the ruling party on it.

Council Tax Support then got discussed and after the following foolish remark by Cllr Dan (John) Thomas, Mr Mustard decided not to waste any more ink.

"Just because people are on benefits doesn't mean that they can't afford to pay a small amount"

Mr Mustard needed a beer. He went and got one and bought Mrs Angry another glass of sauvignon blanc - she was right after all, the pub was a better bet.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard