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


  1. Er excuse me, Mr Mustard, my consumption of SV last night was very modest, and nothing to do with my blog not appearing, which it has, part one available, now - do take a look, much better than this rambling nonsense. Some of us have xmas shopping and gossiping to do, which may interfere with a blogger's duty.

  2. I was reporting on nonsense it is true Mrs A thus hard to make sense of it at all and I meant to be crisp and tight (no, I only had 2 beers) but I failed.

    It is also true that you were standing when you exited the pub, this time.

  3. Nice Mr.Mustard but i think that "One Barnet" is redundant in your question to Robert.
    Also, I said it was budgeted well below £20m. Now, i found out what the council servers estate is, and upgrading those servers to the latest state of the art, increasing computing power 10 folds, will not cost more then £120K. But as you said, Cooper does not have a clue, and anyway, it's not his money.


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