19 April 2013

Committee Room 1 - Den of Incompetence

Guess which box Mr Mustard thinks the council are in (no prize)
Mr Mustard does to lots of council meetings. He reads lots of rubbish reports which should not have reached the committee. The committee pass them anyway even if they are utter tosh. Mr Mustard decided to do something about it. Here is what he wrote to the leader of the council and copied to very councillor so that they can be in no doubt of the standard he expects to see.

To make sense of it you need to see all the questions and answers from the meeting

and now what Mr Mustard wrote:

Committee Room 1 - the Den of Incompetence

I expect you will recall Richard, from Constitution Committee of 10 April, that I commented for 5 minutes upon the disappointing way in which the previous meeting had been handled.

I also asked 29 questions as there were that many points which required clarification in just 2 sections of the constitution, the ones relating to procurement.

The conclusions I have drawn from attending many meetings are:

1          Chairmen are in too much of a rush.
2          Some councillors make no input whatsoever
3          Not all councillors read all of the papers in advance
4          Reports are strewn with errors

My comment concluded with me asking to see more and longer scrutiny meetings and self evident proof that every councillor has thoroughly read the papers. The way in which I expected that to be demonstrated was by councillors coming to committee meetings armed with questions which they want answering and with the Chairman having gone through the report before it is published so that all glaring errors and inconsistencies are removed. There should be little left for the public to ask about if reports are clear, concise and accurately written in plain English.

Now roll forward to Cabinet Resources of 18 April 2013 and the situation was still dire.

I looked in detail only at the CCTV item. The report had been prepared by James Mass, an iMpower consultant who has been seconded to the council and for whom we are doubtless invoiced a pretty penny.

I asked 9 questions and some need further discussion.

Q1       The answer revealed that the numbering of the appendices was incorrect. Seemingly no councillor attending had noticed this nor had any officer or if they had they couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. Could the reason possibly be that they don't read very carefully, if at all?

Q2       This answer is not exactly clear, accurate or helpful. The document which has now been produced refers to an Options Appraisal undertaken in November 2011 and is the very document I asked to see and should now be sent to me please. The point of my question was to look at the thought process and methodology at the earliest stage so I could see how we had got to where we were. What the document produced shows me is that in procurement the council allows the tail to wag the dog. The final question in the soft market testing report asks the supplier what contract length they would find ideal. What the council should be doing is deciding what length contract the council would find ideal, probably the lifetime of the equipment, and telling the contractor that is the contract period they can bid for. We are nowhere near out of the woods with procurement disasters if this is the typical way of going on.

Q3       The answer should simply have been "No". In answer to my supplementary question, Cllr Thomas had to admit that a one third reduction in staffing was a possibility.

Q4       Councillors should have had this information made available to them in the main report if they want to make considered decisions about options. Now take a good look at the answer given in writing. I only had 2 minutes before the meeting to study these and prepare my supplementary questions. A pity as the answer I have been given is wrong. You only have to glance across the rows and then look at the total for the in-house option to see that it is wrong. It jumped off the page at me today.

No councillor thought to ask why the contingency for the in-house option was £346,385 and £zero for outsourcing. Doesn't a contingency of £346,385 when spending a capital sum of about £947,000 (there is not a clear table of capital costs) strike you as a bit over the top? It is 36% and seriously skews the options in favour of full outsourcing; anyone would think that the report had been deliberately slanted that way with in-house costs over-stated to make the in-house option look unattractive.

You will recall that Mr Mass said that the extra £20,000 on consultancy was to pay an additional expert in specifying the CCTV and setting it up. Surely if we are paying an expert £20,000 we won't need a contingency of £346,385? Once that is taken out of the equation and Table 4 is updated with the correct figure for implementation costs it starts to look rather different, viz:

Half way
Transition costs
Implementation costs

A 1.5% saving (the difference between projected outsourcing and in-house costs is only £96,000) does not seem enough compensation for the loss of direct control, data security risk and loss of flexibility which goes hand-in-hand with outsourcing.

The answer given by James Mass to my supplementary question was that there were an extra £20,000 of consultancy costs for the in-house option. Now go to page 56 of the report pack (page 18 of the CCTV section) and read this "Option 3: 250,000 additional consultancy costs to support specification of system". No councillor spotted this £230,000 sized error and nor did any officer who touched the report before it was issued. Sloppy work all round I would say.

Mr Mass is on secondment. Can we send him back to iMpower because we don't seem to be getting value for money?

I consulted Mr Dix about this report. This is what he had to say:

I don’t get the reason for the additional £107k transition costs for the in-house team - it is counter intuitive and not supported by any clear evidence. The contingency issue is fundamentally flawed because, subject to the judicial review, Capita will be responsible for procurement and, if anything, they claim to offer the best possible procurement opportunity because of their centralised resources. As such there is absolutely no rational for the contingency. They have also included £250k in option 3 expenditure for system specification yet in the document they have specified exactly what they want. Perhaps a small budget to fine tune the details but £250k seems completely out of proportion. That is the balancing figure with the contingency and transition costs that makes the in house option the least attractive instead of the most attractive. Without a doubt this is the most biased and unsound analysis I have seen and, based on the incorrect figures given at the CRC in reply to questions, incompetent, on the basis that they can't add up. Richard Cornelius should be utterly embarrassed that officers put out this flimsy business case in the name of efficiency and best value.

Q9.      Given that I showed that it might be possible to perform the service Sussex style for about half the cost in-house I think that what councillors should have done at CRC was to have asked for the Outline Business Case to be updated with more accurate figures and have it brought back to the meeting. Is it any wonder that the council ends up in so many judicial reviews when it is so cavalier with the money of residents?


Now how can councillors be giving due regard to their duties and value for money when they are galloped though an agenda of 171 pages in 44 minutes flat. I wrote down the time from my mobile phone that items 5, 6 & 7 were agreed at. They were all at 20:12

Item 8 at 20:14

Item 9 at 20:17 and so on.

You need to slow that Cllr Thomas down and every councillor needs to start asking questions. The subject matter is more important than an early dinner.

I will tell you this to your face Richard but officers and consultants are incompetent, reports are riddled with errors and councillors aren't doing the job that they get well rewarded for. You all need to pull your socks up to the point where no member of the public, in their spare time, can make you look to be such a blisteringly incompetent shower. I do hope that the next report I study is 100% accurate.

Have a nice weekend.

Best regards

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. No answer yet I presume? maybe dear Richard is busy learning the Poor Law.


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