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

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