Monday, 6 July 2015

Thinking Something is Going to Happen ... then Nothing Does: another Residents Forum, in Broken Barnet

Now you may or may have not noticed, but Mrs Angry has not been to many council meetings recently. 

This is because: 

a. She is bored with observing the deathless, glass-eyed stare and manic displacement activity of the elected representatives of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and: 

b. She has had a lot on, see, at home, what with five years' worth of unironed ironing to throw away, and important life decisions to avoid, and then: 

c. She has an awful back problem, you know, in case she hasn't mentioned it? So sitting down for long is rather painful and even Mrs Angry is not masochistic enough to force herself to remain seated through the tortuous process and added pain of enduring a long council meeting ... or Residents' Forum.

Until last week, when temptation proved too great. 

Temptation in the form of new evidence that yet again, our scheming Tory councillors, carefully nudged by their senior officers, were plotting to attempt to use the Forums to endorse their own nefarious agenda, rather than enable them to be what the democratic process should demand: an opportunity for genuine consultation, and debate with the electorate. 

Of course one of Mrs Angry's many character faults is that she never can do as she is told, and if dared not to do something, or it is made clear her involvement is not welcome, generally will have to do it just, well - just because. 

Hence her continued membership of Barnet Labour party, you might think. 

And indeed a long, long list of things, trailing right back to that seminal moment of childhood memory, look: here she is, standing on a Cornish cliff, aged three, in a terrible stand off with her formidable mother, and her equally formidable grandmother, lined up on one side, pointing their finger reproachfully at the infant Mrs Angry, watched by a sternly disapproving great aunt on the other, who is being threatened by a handful of sand, which Mrs Angry is holding up, poised to throw at her, for no particular reason other than naughtiness, and the heck of it:
If you do that ... was the grim warning ... if you dare do that ... well: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, but: now it had to be done. 

The sand was thrown, Mrs Angry did run, like hell, and - history does not record what happened next, but it was bound to have ended in tears, like most of Mrs Angry's childhood acts of petty defiance against her mother's regime of endless things you must not do.

And as in childhood, in later life. Except now look: in Mrs Angry's hand, not a handful of sand. 

No: Mrs Angry will show you fear, in a handful of dust: a distillation of the airless atmosphere of a council meeting, attended by Barnet Tories. 

The real attraction of turning up to meetings and upsetting our elected representatives is really simply that they do not want you to be there, and do everything to try and prevent members of the public from attending, and interfering, as they see it, in the ritual of governance. 

Because for many of the Tories, (several of whom are of course freemasons, and who naturally love all the pomp and pomposity of municipal office), the ritual is all that matters, and informed involvement by the electors simply a fucking nuisance, and an impertinence, at that. 

This view is of course shared and supported by senior managers, who also secretly think that the elected members themselves are surplus to requirements, and deeply resent having to pretend, at least in public, that they are answerable to councillors, and not the other way round. Indeed some senior officers - and you know who you are - increasingly find it very hard not to put the councillors firmly in their place as well - and address them with barely disguised disapproval at committee meetings.

Over the years, Barnet Tories have done everything they can to try to keep residents excluded from meaningful engagement in the democratic process. 

Since they nearly lost a judicial review in the High Court in 2013, as a result of their proven failure to consult residents over the mass privatisation of local services, they have pretended to want to engage with the great unwashed, in order to pay lip service to their statutory obligations. 

But it is all a sham: an expensive sham. Private consultants are paid vast wads of cash for running 'reviews' which are carefully weighted and filtered so as to extract only data that will support the predetermined policies that our Tory members have been prodded into sanctioning by their senior management team. As long as it smells of true blue ideology, and comes with a side order of moral sanctimoniousness, they will endorse any old tripe that is put on the committee table.

At the beginning of the last Tory administration, in preparation for the implementation of the mass outsourcing agenda, not only was the privatisation not the subject of any mandate from the electors, who were never properly informed about the plans - the very constitution of the authority was amended so as to pre-empt any attempts by campaigners and activists to raise any sort of debate about the outsourcing, or in fact any sort of debate about any council policy: any reference to anything deemed as 'policy' was strictly forbidden at the Residents Forums. Preposterous, of course, and it was rescinded after the contracts had been signed, and all was safely sewn up.

At the beginning of the new adminstration last year, the senior management immediately began advancing plans for another tranche of services to be thrown into the laps of private contractors. Time, therefore, for a more creative approach to the manufacturing of easycouncil spin. 

Since the departure of the former deputy CEO, and the former head of communications, a 'charm offensive' has been launched, in which the Tory leader has been assured by senior officers that he really can win back the hearts and minds of residents and the wider public, beyond the confines of Broken Barnet, who now find, on googling any matter relating to this benighted borough and its cockeyed council, only material written by Barnet bloggers, and beastly headlines casting doubt on the competence of our elected administration.

Certain 'friendly' and 'positive' sounding (seeming) parties have been invited in for an audience with Tory leader Richard Cornelius, to film him, or interview the great man, and listen to his words of wisdom. 

As you can read here in this carefully pitched, touchy-feely interview with the local Barnet Press, everything, as seen through the rosy tinted view of Cllr Cornelius, is wonderful, in our borough, if we did but know it. Outsourcing, you know, has been a wonderful success. Any evidence? Nope.

But it all sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Lovely place, kindly, caring Conservative council. Touching references to in house services, one of which had to be brought back in house from privatisation - and another, school meals, which Cllr Cornelius appears to have forgotten is now being put out to tender - with only one 'competitor' left in the bidding process. 

The man who wants low paid YCB workers to take a 9.5 pay cut to pay for the flawed business model that can't make money out of care, whose tenants in West Hendon and Sweets Way are being thrown out of their homes as a result of private developments disguised as regeneration ... where is he hiding? 

He doesn't want to show the ugly truth, that the poorest and most vulnerable people in this borough are being driven out, punished for being poor and vulnerable, lectured on the need for aspiration, and austerity, while public money is wasted on subsidising private profit. 

He does want to be loved, though - Says Cornelius:

I think if people see we are relatively normal people who live here, that’s the way forward. If people see that we don’t have horns growing out of our heads.


Hard to tell, isn't it?

Another thing they hope will help, in the new battle for the love of the common people, is the cosmetic enhancement of that old bugbear, the Residents' Forums. Of course these meetings are simply a roadshow: a performance designed to delude people, as Labour's Cllr Cooke suggested later on, into 'thinking that something is going to happen - then nothing does  ...' 

Can't shut the Forums down, much as they would like to. Can't shut them up, much as they would like to. What to do then? 

Well, just have them at different venues, at awkward times, when no one can go, or remember where they are, and don't advertise them any way, and - oh, here is a new one: change the time limit for the submission of questions, without telling anyone, and try to stop any of the blighters putting in any questions at all. 

Uh oh. 

Mrs Angry's fingers are already itching to grab a handful of something to throw: a spanner in the works, maybe ... but why are they so keen to avoid questions, at the moment, do you suppose? 

Having avoided the Forums for so long, she thought now it was unavoidable: time to go and upset the Chair of the Finchley and Golders Green version, Cllr Reuben Thompstone, he of the clipped antipodean voice of authority - or so he imagines - dealing with residents in the way he must treat troublesome boys at the school where he teaches, in between presiding over his council duties, and such marvellous acts as slashing the budget for respite care at our own schools for severely disabled children - and plotting to destroy our library service.

So, just for the heck of it, then: lob in a few awkward questions, Mrs Angry, and force yourself to turn up to the Forum this time. 

Except, oh dear, since Mrs Angry had last been to one, things have changed.

First of all: oh no ... Tombstone is no longer the Chair. No more fun to be had, rousing his ire so easily by refusing to be well - tombstoned - by his relentless, monotonous handling of the agenda. 

And Mrs Angry was particularly dismayed, having seen the agenda for Thursday night, and fallen about with amusement with the endless possibilities for entertainment, now at risk. Read on.

In the hall, the audience of residents was sparse, but flanked by an attending cohort of no less than thirteen councillors. The poor turnout, of course, by residents was predictable, because council strategy ensures almost no one knows about these meetings.

At the table sat the new Chair, a new councillor, Shimon Ryde, who rather disarmed Mrs Angry at first by being polite, and apparently reasonable. He eschewed the tombstone approach to chairing meetings, and remembered that he was there to facilitate a (sort of) open engagement between residents and their elected representatives. Couldn't quite sustain his cool for the entire length of the proceedings, but then ... to be fair, he was severely provoked. 

Well, Mrs Angry, in her time,  has seen off several Chairs: Cllr Cohen, Cllr Old, Cllr Thompstone: doesn't bode too well for you, Shimon ... be warned: no one can last out too long.

Cllr Thompstone sat at his side, almost entirely silent throughout the proceedings, sweating furiously in the heat, and clearly uncomfortable in his role as deputy Chair.

One of the reasons Mrs Angry felt compelled to come to this one was the first question on the issues list. Well, in fact it was not a question, although anyone not wised up to how things are, in Broken Barnet, custom and practice, would have assumed it was. 

A lovely rambling, inconsequential statement about how lovely our parks are, and then, oh ... some trigger words that would alert the attention of those in the know: references to yep, 'regeneration' (easycouncil speak for 'private development opportunity') and oh, dear, 'aspirations', and 'delivering outcomes' ... we all know what that means, don't we? And no one was fooled by the 'question' coming from - in this Forum, different name at others - someone with the charmingly vintage name of Elsie Josland.

Elsie was sitting at the table, and not, as you might imagine, the homely, buxom president of a local townswomens' guild branch, in flowery frock, smelling of jam and Jerusalem, but a smart young professional woman, and, as she admitted, a landscape architect working for ... can you guess? A private consultancy.

She gave a nice, anodyne 'presentation' - a few words, nothing to be scared of, sounding awfully non controversial, all about our parks - she'd counted them, you know: we have 120, and open spaces, and nature reserves, and oh, we must not take them for granted, or, 'their wider benefits',being not just beautiful, natural places where you can breathe, and relish their status as our last remaining assets, not flogged off or given away for free to private developers, but as, you know, something that, as she said, 'if of good quality, can increase the value of your home'.

Ah yes. Good. Now we are back on familiar ground: ground that can be exploited, after all, in a commercial sense, in line with the underlying principle of life in Broken Barnet.

Barnet Council, we heard, had commissioned a report, from Elsie and her company, to review such matters as the 'infrastructure' of the parks - how many blades of grass, how much acreage of potential development, or rental, how many views to frame in copyright law, French style, that sort of thing?

They were going to see where money is best going to be spent, by 'consulting' residents, coming up with a series of proposals, and then engage in more 'consultation'. Like the library 'consultation'. Nonsultation. Which is being sat on, until a suitable date to sneak it out, during the summer holidays, and then to be presented to a committee meeting timed for the day of the Leader's speech, week of the Labour conference, when many councillors, and Mrs Angry, will be in Brighton, pretending to be interested in politics, but walking along the pebbled beach, staring at the sea, and wondering where our lives went so terribly wrong.

Mrs Angry smiled politely at Elsie, who, Mrs Angry thought, with a tinge of paranoid suspicion, kept looking at her with the amused expression of someone who might have read this blog and was secretly enjoying the prospect of ending up in it, so here you are, Elsie: your wish fulfilled.

And this 'consultation', asked Mrs Angry, which will be like all consultations enacted by this council, another exercise in throwing money at private consultants, and the response ignored unless it fits a predetermined agenda ... How much will it cost, and is it really hiding an intention to commercialise our parks, as the Tory administration tried a couple of years ago, but had to abandon due to protest, as we like our parks at they are, thank you very much, and please leave them alone, but maintain them as you are obliged to do?

Oh. Elsie kept smiling sweetly, and said she knew nothing about cost, and also said that no 'direction' had been given as to commercialisation. So far, retorted Mrs Angry, but we all know what this means: and if you don't know the cost of this further demonstration of waste of public money, who does? She looked at the Chair, and the members of the panel, including the two from 'Re' the re-diculous name given to the (we have decided on a) Joint Venture with Crapita. 

These two men, sat beneath a rather repulsive picture of a vulture hovering over a town, looked deeply bored throughout the evening, clearly ill at ease in the role of having to engage in a process of accountability, and as we shall see, entirely unable to perform in such unfamiliar territory. 

The men from Crapita, and Cllr Thompstone

At the other end of the table, although he might as well have sat with them, was the Barnet officer, Jamie Blake, who is apparently the Commissioning Director for Environment. 

This means, poor man, that he is supposed to represent our best interests, as residents and taxpayers, in regard to the work that Capita - Re is contracted to do, at vast expense and with no evidence, as yet, of the alleged savings the privatisation was meant to bring. Vast savings and better standards of service, we were told. 

Mr Blake had been keen at the beginning of the meeting to explain he was a new boy. Only been here five weeks, so ... he knew nothing about anything, which of course is always helpful, when tasked with the role of ensuring value for money from Crapita. 

Mr Blake now made a schoolboy error, however, no doubt disarmed by Mrs Angry's warm encouragement, and foolishly announced that he did know something, after all: how much they were paying Elsie and her fellow consultants: £80,000.

Oops. £80,000? Thanks for that.

Sharp tutting from the residents. And there you go, as Mrs Angry pointed out, how easy it is for our easycouncil to throw money away, in this time of austerity, in pursuit of their own ideological obsessions.

The first real question, albeit from a sense of reality that differs somewhat wildly from that of  99% of the rest of the population, was from outraged residents in Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose every need is of course of the highest priority to Barnet Tories, dependent as they are on the patronage of the most affluent constituents in the borough, here and in Totteridge.

What was upsetting the Suburbanistas? Stand by. 

Noisy leaf blowers. 

Yes. Just imagine! The horror. The horror

Noisy leaf blowers, used by - oh dear me, the council's private contractors.

Something must be done, of course: but what, and how quickly? Things are done quickly, in HGS, for residents, of course. 

Generally, that is. Or rather, in the good old days, BC: before Crapita.

Here was something new again, or perhaps it was the effect of the heat. In the Greek Cypriot Brotherhood hall, a suitably mediterranean air of sultry discomfort - and silence from the Tory councillors. 

The resident speaking to the item, oozing middle class confidence, and an unshakeable sense of entitlement, looked on in disbelief at the lack of reaction and interest in their dreadful plight, clearly aggrieved.

Mrs Angry was feeling aggrieved too, from the point of mischief making, the demotion of Cllr Thompstone a grave disappointment, having lined up a variety of naughty supplementary questions on the relative merits of different ways of dealing with a build up of this sort: blowing or sucking? Blowing produces only one outcome, after all, unresolved:  all over the place, for someone else to clear up ...

The resident from HGS was not happy. He demanded to know what action would be taken in regard to the shameless practice now blighting their lives, in sight and sound of all, right there on the street.

The Tory councillors on the panel, and in the audience, swallowed hard - and stared straight ahead, enduring an unprecedented ordeal: not being able to serve, with gutless obsequiousness, the request of a resident from their most favoured ward.

But why the silence? 

Partly, Mrs Angry suspected, because the new Chair was not yet fully groomed in the protocols of favour, in Broken Barnet: that the standard of nuisance felt by the residents of HGS is more important than that experienced by those in less privileged areas of the borough: that while the residents of West Hendon are forced to live with the interminable and unceasing noise, day and night, every day of the week, for years on end, the filth and danger of the building programme of the private development that will evict them from their own homes - this is acceptable because they are poor, the undeserving poor, and live in a Labour ward. 

The occasional sound of a leafblower in Hampstead Garden Suburb clearly is offensive beyond description, in comparison. It might cause a resident to have to look up from the Telegraph crossword, or disturb the repose of a Siamese cat sleeping on the sunny window seat of a house in Winnington Avenue.

But even Tory grandee and former Hendon MP Cllr John Marshall, was uncharacteristically quiet. Normally he leaps to the aid of any residents from his ward, and kicks up merry hell on behalf of them, eg when anyone, any outsider, dares to park outside their house (yes, again: the horror, the horror ...) and they want Something Done.

Mrs Angry had a feeling that he was aware of the glint in her eye, and the guffawing from her seat, and knew that this complaint might not come over awfully well, in the loving chronicles of this blog. 

But there was something else that was apparent - a dawning recognition on behalf of our Tory councillors that their ability to produce instant resolutions to the demands of their most cosseted constituents has now been lost, and lost because of Something Done by themselves, not so long ago. That is to say, the signing off of a mass privatisation of council services, and the annexation of democratic control by Crapita. 

And now our Tory members are beginning to see that things being Done is no longer possible, in the way they were Done before, because they have given away control to a profit making venture, the vulture with its wings outstretched, claws fastened deep into our rapidly weakening services - and because the continuity of local knowledge, the safeguarding of democratic scrutiny, has been broken. 

One of the Crapita officers stated himself later to be one of the longest serving members of staff: he has worked here for five months.

There is Quite A Lot of Noise, in Hampstead Garden Suburb! declared the resident, looking with dismay at the lack of interest in his predicament.

Of course the written response had admitted, with an admirable economy in punctuation, that: 

'the Contractors due to efficiency issues do not now sweep leaves'. 

Ah. Yes: there you go: the perfect metaphor for privatisation. Do not undertake to deliver a service, and resolve an issue. Move it somewhere else, for someone else to deal with, and at cheaper cost. Efficiency, Crapita style, see? Marvellous.

Still nothing from the Tory councillors. But then: how can they criticise their own handiwork?

Is it possible to have mufflers? asked the resident, losing heart, scanning the range of indifference presented on the faces of the panel members. 

You can buy them in the States ... for 16 dollars, he muttered, trailing off into quiet desperation. He sat down, defeated. 

More questions about traffic related problems in residential areas - including one from a resident in a road around the corner from Mrs Angry, who does not like traffic going down his road, and wants it all sent down Mrs Angry's road instead, which is so dangerous she has fought for years to have traffic calming measures installed. Like blowing unwanted leaves away from your own front door: but little sympathy shown from officers trying to juggle the highways budgets, thankfully. (Highways budgets that have themselves been blown on the favoured streets of Tory wards, pre-election, as Mrs Angry reminded the councillors ...)

A resident of West Finchley asked about the agreed length of time it is supposed to take officers to respond to complaints or reports to Environment officers, now Capita officers, of course, in regard to such things as obstructed pathways, or hazards that need addressing.

The Commissioning Director shrugged and said that he didn't know. And that was that. Erm:

But it is your job to know, observed Mrs Angry. To hold Capita to account, on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet, and ensure that they are receiving Value For Money from the contract. Surely you have performance indicators that they must reach: KPIs in the contract? 

Nope. He didn't know. I know nothing.

Cllr Marshall made one of only two interventions in the meeting, pointing out that Mr Blake had only just arrived, in Broken Barnet, and therefore could not be expected to know about everything. Or anything. 

Well, Cllr Marshall, suggested Mrs Angry, from her seat further along the row, with an evil grin: do you know? After all, you have been here, have you not ... since the beginning of time itself ...? 

Apparently not. He had not read all of the Capita contract. 

Mrs Angry suggested that it was likely he had not read any of it, in fact, like the majority of the Tory councillors who signed up for it.

Anyway. Time for Mrs Angry's own awkward questions. Which had, of course, as usual, been moved as far down the agenda as possible, in the hope that they would be filibustered out of time. Unfortunately for the Tory councillors, quite a few residents who had submitted questions had not turned up, which moved hers up within the time limit. Bad luck.

1. Explain the £13.5 million of taxpayers' money spent on buying the waste depot site sold last year for only £750,000, and why did officers not tell councillors about the sale?

A written answer, not from the Chair, but from our friend John Hooton, Chief Operating Officer. He said £750K didn't reflect market value, and the Monitoring Officer said the decision making process was - ha ha -'robust', and therefore 'the information provided to the committee was not misleading'.

Well, no: it wasn't misleading. It was completely wrong. Why, asked Mrs Angry did officers not tell members about the sale? Did they not know, or did they not tell them deliberately? Simple question, not answered.

The Chair began to look very uncomfortable, and could not offer a response, other than to imply Labour was making some allegation about tax.

Labour's Cllr Cooke, who has been involved in this matter, stood and spoke angrily about the lack of transparency over the purchase. Residents sitting in the hall were clearly aghast at hearing the details of this story.

An uncharacteristically quiet Cllr Marshall, left, listens to Labour's Geof Cooke, as residents take note

Still no explanation, either to him, or Mrs Angry, whose attempts to pursue the point were met with 'I think we have exhausted the subject'.

That's what you would like to think, Tory councillors: but you are mistaken.

Incidentally residents protesting about the depot plans who submitted questions to their Forum in Barnet were told the issue could not be discussed, although the Chair, Tory councillor Lisa Rutter, made a statement defending her own much criticised actions in failing to oppose the approval of the plans.

2. Why did the Tory administration secretly give away public land in West Hendon worth more than £12 million to private developers for £3, and is this not another example of Conservative profligacy with taxpayers' money?

The written response was: Chairman to respond verbally at the meeting.

Mrs Angry looked expectantly at Councillor Ryde.

I don't recognise what you mean by your question, he said.

She repeated what she had asked. He repeated the same words. 

But what is your response?

That is my response, he said, with pursed lips: I don't recognise what you mean by your question.

It seemed that poor Councillor Ryde was finding Mrs Angry's probing enquiries too much of an intellectual challenge.  Not a massive surprise, to be fair. But: couldn't you have put that in writing, she asked? Nine little words: shouldn't have taken too long. The Monitoring Officer probably would have lent him his biro, if he'd asked, when he was checking his response, to see it was 'robust'.

Oh well. Now suddenly the Chair did seem to understand, and tried to tell Mrs Angry the £3 West Hendon deal was a flipping good one, because that was the real value. Mrs Angry said this was a load of rubbish, and had Cllr Ryde, like her, been to the Housing Inquiry? Er, no. 

Mrs Angry pointed out that the council could have negotiated a much better deal, if you accepted the faux regeneration was actually defensible, which it is not, and did Cllr Ryde actually know how much profit Barratt London was making from the deal, because she did? * He did not. And then this subject too was by now exhausted, and so was the Chair, and we were told to Move On. *(£92 million ...)

Next: a moan about the way the council was trying to scupper the Forums: waste of time, except that Councillor Marshall tried to defend changing the time limit by saying only one person missed the deadline, and Mrs Angry explained that was because she and other enthusiasts had advertised it on his behalf, via the medium of Twitter, although there was no need to thank her. Did Cllr Marshall, who was born in an era of sealing wax, semaphore and beacons, know what Mrs Angry was talking about? Are you on twitter, btw, Cllr Marshall, she asked?

Nyeoooow! said the old boy, scandalised by the very thought.

Last question about libraries, specifically Church End. How much did they reckon they could get for it when they flog it off?

At last Tombstone was allowed to speak. Unfortunately he was so boring Mrs Angry fell into a trance, and forgot to listen to what he was actually saying, so winged a further question on the cuts themselves, and floated the thought that if he and his pals would stop throwing money at consultants, and giving away public land for free, or throwing money at land worth a fraction of the price, we would have enough to save all our libraries. But then, she observed, regarding Cllr Thompstone with her beady eye: you don't want to save the libraries, do you?

Cllr Thompstone thought that was a statement, and not a question, and therefore declined to respond. In fact, said Mrs Angry, there was a question mark at the end of my sentence. 

But how interesting that he declared her suggestion to be a statement of fact: he does not want to save the libraries. No question mark.

The meeting more or less ended with a question from a resident who is concerned about the failure of the council, as she sees it,  properly to manage the ecological well being of our open spaces, particularly along the Dollis Brook walk. She listed plants which are not being controlled, and may become invasive: Japanese knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, hemlock: giant hogweed. 

All of them plants with attitude, and many of them rather a risk, if left unmanaged. Mrs Angry winced, having once ended up in A&E with awful burns from what Guys' toxicology unit had to confirm was due to contact, in strong sunlight, from giant hogweed. Hemlock, is of course, equally dangerous, although useful for disposing of enemies of the state, and unpopular philosophers.

The Director of Commissioning wasn't bovvered. Meh. 

The plants are seeding, admonished the resident, and might go downstream, and end up establishing themselves within the borders of the Welsh Harp, which is - at the moment - an SSSI. 

Seeding? That's what plants do, shrugged Mr Blake.

Well, thought Mrs Angry, as the meeting wound up, and we wandered out into the cool air outside the hall: as the colonisation of West Hendon and the Welsh Harp, and indeed the Annington development of Sweets Way, are being sponsored by our council, it seems fitting that the invasion of our open spaces should be facilitated by them as well - until these become the next target for income generation opportunities.

And Mr Blake is right. Seeding is all part of the natural cycle of life, even here in Broken Barnet.

But then of course, some plants are more invasive, and more dangerous than you might think, aren't they?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Competitive tension, or: providing the right fit - another outsourcing farce in Broken Barnet

Please, Mr Travers: Mrs Angry says our gruel is about to be outsourced through a non competitive tender process, so can I have some more, before the whole service fails, and we are left with nothing to eat?

Goodness me: here is more wonderful news for the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet. Yes, keen as we are to sit back and watch our Tory councillors do as they are told by their own senior management, and surrender almost every last scrap of democratic control of our public services into the sweaty little hands of the outsourcerers, look: another opportunity for the easycouncil marketing of our beloved borough.

Education and school meals services, now. 

A contract was put out to tender in January, with a value that could range from £89 million to a stonking £986 million  (fantasy figures, admittedly) - and three companies put in bids. 

Capita, of course: if only to remind everyone they run the show and should have first go at anything else up for grabs; EC Harris, who - oh - rather surprisingly dropped out, just before the dialogue process began - and Mott McDonald Ltd, trading as Cambridge Education.  

As you can see here, and here,Unison expressed its concern when EC Harris threw in the towel, to be given breathless assurances that there was no need to 'revisit' the business model, a model which, as fellow blogger Mr Reasonable suggests, is fatally flawed:

Barnet has absolutely no common sense, it seems, when it comes to business models for outsourcing. 

Our Tory councillors swallow any old claptrap dreamed up, at our expense, by fee-hungry private consultants, feeding off the public purse, and even when they fail, as in the case of Your Choice Barnet, happily pour more money down the drain to keep it going, while preaching to us about the need for cuts, simply in order to save face, and because of their cockeyed ideological obsession with privatisation.

YCB failed, and had to be bailed out by us, the taxpayers, in an emergency payment, just to keep it going: yet another example of Barnet Tory ideology relying on the subsidy of public money, in order to survive, in defiance of their own philosophy of market values.

That Your Choice Barnet failed is hardly a surprise, based as it is on the stupid and offensive idea that it is possible to make profit from the provision of care to disabled and vulnerable people. Guess what? You can't: but still we pay the price for their hubris, and their unthinking obedience to the rule of the consultants and contractors who now run this borough, and are obliged to keep the whole thing going, profit or not.

Worse still, the already low paid workers doing their best to provide the care to residents who rely on this vital service were targeted to carry the continuing cost of failure: told to accept a 9.5 % cut in pay. As the ineffable 'Strategic Director for Communities' Kate Kennally declared, these workers - rather than senior managers in receipt of six figure salaries, or the cohorts of consultants, of course - 'had to take a haircut'. 

The business case for the latest outsourcing plan is also a load of cobblers, cobbled together in the knowledge that our Tory councillors will approve anything put before them.

As Mr R says:

The problem is that much of the justification for pursuing an outsourced joint venture is predicated on generating a large amount of new income from traded services with other local authorities. In total 71% of the financial improvement is from income growth rather than efficiency savings and of that 60% comes from school meals.

Hmm. School meals. 

Mrs Angry has very unhappy memories of school meals, readers. 

Allow her a moment of indulgence, as she recalls the ordeal of sitting, in compulsory silence, like Oliver Twist, at the long tables of St Vincent's dining hall: girls only allowed half the portion of boys, and no seconds. If you wanted any. No food could be left. The only way to deal with the evil, inedible, boiled vegetables was to drop them onto the floor, or sneak stuff - if you were really desperate - into your pockets. Any kitchen leftovers were taken down to the farm behind the orphanage, for pig swill. The infant Mrs Angry sometimes wondered if the process worked the other way round, and that we were being obliged to eat the food the pigs refused to consume.

Food at St Michael's wasn't much better. Mrs Angry once found a piece of lino in her jelly, on which the vintage, possibly pre-war pattern was clearly discernible. Complaints were not encouraged: indeed at both (Catholic) schools we were obliged, before eating, to give thanks to God for 'these thy gifts which we are about to receive', and reminded, of course, of the starving children around the world who were going without food at all.

Mrs Angry's children were spared the torment of school dinners, and given packed lunches. They were quite happy, seeing the stuff their friends had to eat: including on one memorable occasion when one boy found a worm in his food. Eurgh.

This was all before the influence of another Oliver - ie Jamie - had really kicked in, of course, and the idea that children might like to eat (wormfree) food that was ... well, edible, and nutritious. 

And now schools have to produce such meals, on very tight budgets. It's not really possible to do this easily, and it certainly is well night next to impossible to make a profit from it, yet this latest plan is based on that very principle.

It seems the new tender is based on the belief that it is possible to make a 20% profit margin from the provision of school meals. Mr R, who can count, you know, and do difficult sums reckons at the moment, Barnet manages on a margin of around 2.7%. Ah.

The other day Mrs Angry's spies forwarded copies of the following email sent to schools in the borough in regard to the tender process of education services:

Dear colleague/headteacher

The deadline for receipt of outline solutions was noon on Friday 12th June.  By that deadline an outline solution had been received from Mott Macdonald trading as Cambridge Education.  Capita Business Services Ltd submitted a letter withdrawing from the procurement process, as they had concluded that this particular opportunity did not provide the right fit with their Entrust business model.

Well, well: Capita has withdrawn from the process. 

Even in Capitaville, where there is no profit to be had, there is no incentive. 

This particular opportunity did not provide the right fit with their Entrust business model.

Must have the right fit, mustn't you, for a happy union, and maximum mutual satisfaction?

On Tuesday 16th June, Cambridge Education gave a presentation of their Outline Solution to the evaluation team, which included headteachers, as well as Barnet officers and specialist advisors.  Their submission was subsequently evaluated by the team, who concluded that the submission provided sufficient, credible evidence that continuing dialogue would be likely to result in the submission of a final tender that would meet the needs of the Council and schools. 

Specialist advisors = more overpaid consultants? 

And then:  'The team' concluded there was 'sufficient, credible evidence ... of a tender that would meet the needs of the Council and schools'. 

A happy ending after all, then, in the House of Fun?

Following consultation with senior officers in the Council, it was agreed that we would proceed to the second phase of dialogue with a single bidder.  It is recognised that this may raise questions about the lack of competitive tension in the process and the subsequent ability of the Council to test best value from the final tender.  However, it is not unusual for competitive dialogue procurements to end up with a single bidder and there are various robust means through which we can test best value.

Oh ffs:

'this may raise questions about the lack of competitive tension in the process ...'

A lack of competitive tension. Yep. That would be the thing, wouldn't it, that is missing, from this competitive process?


Funny, because Tories like competition, don't they? It is the guiding principle of all their market force based economic theories. 

Open up commercial opportunities in the public sector, because 'competition' brings 'choice' and better value for money for the public purse.

No: no, it doesn't, see: here we are, with the perfect example of what a nonsense the whole outsourcing process is, and always will be.

Of course we are making assumptions, aren't we, Mrs Angry? 

We are assuming that the one remaining contender in this 'competition' will, erm ... 'win' the 'competition' and the contract. 

And maybe you can have competitive tension, without a competitor. 

Like sexual tension, without a lover. Or with an imaginary friend. But then, as @lokster71 commented: 'to paraphrase Woody Allen, 'Don't knock it. It's competition with someone you love ...'

Hmm. But ... think I prefer the real thing, don't you, readers?

You know how to outsource, don't you Steve? Just put a notice in the tender supplement of the official journal of the European Union, and blow a load of taxpayers' dosh on a few consultants' bills ...

Still. Just try to imagine the thrill of say ... 

A presidential election in Azerbaijan. 

A Grand National, with one horse running. 

A football final with Manchester United. 

A conversation in an empty room.

The sound of one hand clapping.

All the same, Mrs Angry: We are assured of  'robust means' of ensuring best value for residents. 

We like the word 'robust', in Broken Barnet. It means: something we are not sure about, but has been run by the Monitoring Officer, who reckons, after a bit of chewing the end of his pencil, and thinking hard, that we can probably go ahead.

And in closing:

We have set very clear objectives for this procurement, against which any final tender would be evaluated.  We will work closely with our commercial and legal advisors to develop detailed sub-criteria to strengthen our ability to test any final tender against those objectives.  We will also provide for more dialogue time with the remaining bidder to ensure that their solution does meet the needs of the Council and schools.  The Final Business Case will include a comparison of the final tender against the financial modelling that has previously been carried out for the in-house and social enterprise models.

We are looking forward to working with Cambridge Education during the second phase of dialogue.  However, we are also clear that the final decision on whether or not to award a contract rests with Elected Members and we continue to reserve the right to curtail the procurement process at any time, if we believe that we will not be able to secure the right solution for the Council, schools and residents.

Ooh. Look. We are also clear that the final decision ... rests with Elected Members.

Are we?

Elected Members. You know, those councillors who do as they are told, when it comes to signing off any contract, if it leaves them more time on the golf course, or asleep at the committee table. 

On Wednesday Unison representatives met management to discuss the latest development, and express their deep concern about the process continuing with only one bidder, making it clear to officers that:

...  going ahead with the privatisation talks with just one contractor was clearly wrong. Furthermore we added that to go ahead simply reinforces the feelings of the workforce that the Council is wedded to outsourcing even when the market is clearly saying that there is very little interest. Only outsourcing fundamentalists would argue that Best Value can be achieved under these circumstances. 

They also objected to the interesting fact that it has now been revealed that:

... global giant ISS will be taking over our Catering Services and that they have been involved in the contract talks all along. Unison expressed our disappointment this had not been shared with staff in the recent staff briefing or been shared with councillors on the Children's, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee.   

Not shared with councillors? Surely not?

The Unison response continues:

The confirmation of the news about the subcontractor reinforces our concern that low paid members will be targeted to deliver savings which will now have to be split three ways i.e. Barnet Council, Mott Macdonald & ISS.

As we know, the profit margin in the business case is set at an unattainable level of 20% - which now will have to be shared by three parties. If the real level of profit remains as low as 2.7%, clearly the 'savings' from this latest privatisation will yet again prove to be so minimal as to be virtually non existent.

Unison are quite right to predict that the resultant failure, as in the case of Your Choice Barnet, will be borne not by those who devised the contract, or signed up for it, but by those who will work in these services, on the lowest paid jobs, with the worst terms of conditions. 

And what do our councillors, those Elected Members, have to say about all this? 

F*ck knows. There is a resounding silence, from all sides. One might have hoped to have seen at least some sort of response, commentary, or press release from the Labour leadership, if not the Tories, but if there has been anything, it has escaped Mrs Angry's attention.

Mrs Angry's spies tell her there is state of panic, now, in the House of Fun. Senior managers know perfectly well that this latest outsourcing process is in real trouble. 

Clearly the only thing to do is to call a halt, and either re-advertise the tender, or, as anyone with any sense would do, throw the whole proposals out, and forget about it. 

The easycouncil model, whose history is nothing more than a sequence of unfortunate events - contracts that we are promised will deliver enormous savings, savings whose existence has still to be proven - continues to be hammered frantically into a suitable narrative, one that fits its status as the flagship of outsourcing: the leading privateer in a sea of piracy and plunder. 

Whatever the cost of failure to residents and staff, the programme of privatisation supports a massive industry of those who rely on the process itself for their own benefit: contractors, consultants, managers - and whatever the outcome in terms of deals, or savings, or lack of savings, they will be there, waiting on the cliffs, watching the flagship in trouble - and waiting to see what washes up on the shore.

But it'll be us, the residents, that pick up all the wreckage.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Best of Our Knowledge, or: the outsourcing of trust, in Broken Barnet

Ok. Mrs Angry has, as you can see, fallen off the wagon, given into temptation, and reverted, once again, to a temporary indulgence in the venial sin of bloggery. See previous post. And now look, another lapse. 

Or to put it another way, Mrs Angry has been reminded, in the course of the last few days, why she felt obliged to launch the wretched blog in the first place, unable any longer to stand the culture of greed, decadence, and incompetence in this most rotten of Rotten Boroughs. 

A press release emerged from Barnet Labour last week - yes: just fancy that! - and do you know, readers, it was quite interesting. No, really. Take a look - here 

Interesting, see, not really because of anything the Labour councillors had done, except make a complaint, but because of a very, very interesting discovery by 'local residents'. 

It is generally the case, in Broken Barnet, that interesting discoveries are made by local residents, after all. And local bloggers, of course.

To begin at the beginning.

The story of the proposed waste depot in Oakleigh Road South, N11, is a very peculiar tale, and what we know about now it makes the story even more perplexing.

Barnet Council, in its haste to open up even more sites in the borough for private housing developments, decided some years ago - in 2004 - to close its depot in Mill Hill East, before finalising plans to move to an alternative location. They then proposed to move the depot to Pinkham Way, conveniently just a step over the border in Haringey, on the southern side of the North Circular. Unfortunately for Barnet, this proposal fell through, after a long and loud campaign of protest from residents. 

Oh dear: ten years after the Mill Hill site was sold - now where to move the depot? Erm ... Lots of head scratching, in the offices of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. Hang on, what about the Abbots Way site, in Oakleigh Road South? 

They've already got a skip company operating from there, so they won't mind the addition of more heavy industrial traffic in the area - a load of bin lorries coming to and fro, a bulking facility for decaying food waste & rubbish, a fuel station etc, will they? 

And anyway, the ward it's in has two Labour councillors, oh, and well yes, Tory Lisa Rutter, clinging to her seat - for the time being - by her dainty ex Mayoral fingertips. Expendable. Easy.

No: not so easy. 

The residents living in this area, unsurprisingly, deeply object to this new facility being foisted on them, and have made their concerns known, with no uncertainty. In a statement made by RAAD: Residents Against Abbots Depot, the campaigning group now formed to fight the new depot move, they claim no consultation with residents was made before the decision was formally approved, last December: 

We residents found out about the waste depot moving to our front doors only AFTER the decision was taken, not having received any information about it from Barnet Council at all. 

On the 16th of March 2015 we residents attended a meeting held by Barnet Council and submitted numerous questions on the matter prior to the meeting and in the given time limit. 

The few answers we got from the Council, included information about 8 other sites considered for the waste depot and Council’s reasons for rejection: 

a) Lupa House, Borehamwood: rejected due to ‘significant planning constraints due to existing neighboring residential uses’. 

b) BSA House (Jehovah Witnesses), Mill Hill: rejected because being near ‘residential properties means that any planning application would be complicated by the potential impacts a depot use may have locally’. 

c) Sites in Bunns Lane, Mill Hill: amongst the reasons was the following ‘There are also residential properties in close proximity which raises concerns in relation to operational impacts and vehicular access arrangements’. 

d) Pinkham way which fell through due to resident action against the proposal BUT: 

Abbots Depot Oakleigh Rd South N11 is considered an appropriate site for the waste depot even though the area is densely populated, with a nursery and housing for vulnerable people and the only recreation Park in our area only a few meters away and approximately 20 nursery, primary and secondary schools located nearby. 

The difference between our area and the sites that were rejected due to proximity to ‘residential properties’can be found: 

a) Through the Inglis Consortium website where it is made clear that sites A, B and C are too near the new residential development hencethreatening possible profits 

b)Through the Office of National Statistics where our area’s demographics are documented 

To be specific: 

Our area consists of 52% ethnic minorities of middle to lower income, with little political, financial or social power whatsoever. 

On the other hand Muswell Hill and Mill Hill consists of a 60%+ white British population with a high percentage of ‘AB’ consumers. 


We residents strongly believe that we are being discriminated against because of our social status and ethnic diversity of our neighborhood s and our human rights, are thus being violated: 

a) Our local administration has ignored our right to be consulted before decisions affect us adversely are taken. 

b) We local residents are refused any access to information – our FOI access to relevant documents, surveys etc which might ease our reasonable 

c) Our local administration is raising health and hazard issues concerning the storage of 70.000 litres of diesel on site, near flammable waste, next to several timber merchants in the middle of a highly populated area. 

d) Our quality of life is being undermined as the noise, fumes, increased risk of traffic accidents, air pollution and vermin from the waste (food waste included), willnot allow us to enjoy our family lives and properties. 

e) A leaflet distributed by Barnet Council does not accurately describe all the processes that will be taking place on the proposed waste depot so residents can make an informed decision. In fact it is not even mentioning the word waste. 

Two of our local councillors, Cllr Lisa Rutter, (7th March 2015, Osidge Lane Library) and Cllr Brian Salinger(9th April, Oakleigh Community Church) have cynically admitted that although they support the relocation of the Mill Hill depot to our locality they wouldn't live in the area… 

Our local MP Theresa Villiers supports the relocation of the Mill Hill waste depot in our area even though she supported the Pinkham way campaign in Haringey 

Having no other means left to fight for our rights we kindly request you to look into our matter. We request the 16th December decision is cancelled and a 6 month consultation period taking place prior to any decision made that will affect our lives and health.

Local residents were incensed when these plans were passed by the council, without their participation in any consultation - and after their local Tory councillor Lisa Rutter failed to oppose them, despite their objections. She made a few mildly handwringing observations  at the meeting, and then abstained from the vote - while those in the gallery (well, yes, Mrs Angry) yelled 'vote against it, then'  - when Rutter knew full well that the proposals would go through on the casting vote of the Tory Mayor.

Her chances of being re-elected, in an area which has seen an incremental change in voting from Tory to Labour at the last two elections are now ... minimal. A petition has been lauched calling for her to resign. 

But the depot will go ahead. At no little expense to the taxpayers of Broken Barnet. At vast expense, in fact, in these times of austerity: £13.5 million, to be exact. 

Seems a lot of dosh, doesn't it? Hmm. Seemed a lot at the time, but: that was then, and this is now, and now it seems: oh dear - we may have paid slightly over the odds for the site. 

When we say 'slightly over the odds', of course, we mean only by a margin of, well, around, £12,750,000

Yes. That's right. £12, 750 million of your money, my money, our money. 

Let Mrs Angry explain. 

The proposal to buy the same site for £13.5 million was agreed at full council last December. At the time much criticism was made of what seemed to be an exorbitant price, based on a former valuation of £8 million, 8 or so years ago. 

But what was not known then was that six months earlier a company had bought the very same site ... for only £750, 000. Yep. Only £750,000

Yet officers of the council had informed Labour councillor Geof Cooke, on the 19th May 2015, that: 

 ‘To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14’. 

Dear me. It seems 'the best of our knowledge' is a definition that fails to include the most basic search of Land Registry records, acessible to anyone within a few minutes to spare. 

Accessible, it should be said, to everyone: including Tory councillors - and Labour councillors, to be fair. 

Mrs Angry is beginning to wonder if perhaps something is awry in the newly outsourced planning services, here in the London Borough of Broken Barnet: newly outsourced to Capita, of course.

Planning officers, as we saw at the time of the Inquiry into the West Hendon compulsory purchases at least, are apparently unaware of the existence of some of the most obvious sources of information, such as the authority's own local archives, and all other material and resources available to document the history and heritage of sites targeted for development. 

And now it seems planning officers are not familiar with the process of checking the ownership of properties and land via the Land Registry. Or is it, as we shall see has now become the excuse of certain Tory councillors, the fault of officers specifically tasked with

Nor any councillor, it would appear - either Tory or Labour. But then there is a quaint tradition, in this borough, of tame councillors in power and in (what passes for) opposition never to trust the word of an officer, in case it upsets them, and makes them cry. 

This charming practice, a hangover from the good old days when officers were gentlemen, and allowed to perform their duties without being dragged into the political intrigues of our elected representatives, is no longer appropriate. 

Although less senior officers should not be held responsible for the political pressures forced upon them by their own senior managers, or indeed the political administration, the harsh truth is that this authority, and the outsourcing process is run entirely by senior management, and yes, actually: they should be held to account, with ruthless insistence - even if it does make them cry - or at least shift slightly uncomfortably in their seats at the committee table. 

Indeed Mrs Angry has noted a new tendency to some of the more recently appointed senior officers to speak to councillors with a certain amount of arrogance, almost as if, readers, almost as if ... they really did think that they were running the council, and not our elected representatives. 

It is also true to say that since the Capita contracts began, less and less democratic oversight is given to the massive decisions, both in terms of policy, and on the lesser scale of issues such as planning. 

Officers are gaining more and more power to make those decisions, and councillors are being increasingly alienated from the process of governance. Well: we all make mistakes, don't we? And £12 million or so  is neither here nor there, is it? 

Funnily enough, this is about the value of the land given away by our Tory councillors to Barratts to develop the West Hendon estate. 

One can only admire the consistency with which they make these distributions of largesse, at the expense of the taxpayers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

And here we are, throwing another £12 million or so at a purchase of land, an act of generosity which neatly ignores the fact that, for example, our library service is about to be destroyed on the pretext of an austerity budget cut of £2.85 million. How many times does that go into £13.5 million? Erm. Oh, someone work it out.

Oh yes, and let us not forget that this site, costing us this exorbitant amount of our hard earned dosh, may only be available for five or ten years, as it is likely to be needed as railway sidings for the Cross Rail 2 extension to New Southgate.

And about that £750,000. 

The company which bought the site? A company called Cergold. That is to say a company owned by the Comer brothers, who happen to be the landlords of ... Barnet Council, being the owners of North London Business Park, where the council's offices have been for some years, although now due to move - at further expense - to Grahame Park. 

The Comer brothers were also the developers of Princess Park Manor, the former county asylum, now turned into a number of luxurious properties: and in fact run a hugely successful company, with assets worth an estimated £2 billion. Not bad for a couple of plasterers from Galway. The boys done good: read all about it herewhere we learn their abiding principle, and the reason for their success - hard physical slog in the early days, and then astute investment in the right sort of potential development: buy cheap, sell high - acquire low value land in the right location, at the right time, build on it - and then wait for the profits to roll in. 

Why have they bought this site? Who knows. Who knew? We don't know. Someone might. If so, they haven't explained it yet. Why did Barnet/Capita officers not know the site had already been bought, or part of it, (none of this is clear) when they told councillors last year and this year that there were no changes to the freehold or leasehold site? How can such a lack of due diligence be anything other than incompetence? 

The residents objecting to the Abbots Road depot went last Saturday to Councillor Lisa Rutter's surgery at Osidge Library. 

She was accompanied by deputy Tory group leader Daniel Thomas, for some reason. Thomas is a councillor in Finchley, so clearly was in attendance in support of Rutter, as deputy leader, rather than just casually dropping in. 

Also in attendance, incidentally, were police officers: the Tory councillors claimed that they had not requested police to be there, so it is something of a mystery as to why they turned up to monitor a few elderly citizens in flat caps and rainmacs, exercising their democratic right to lobby their elected representatives.

Also mysterious, almost delphic in its cryptic tone, was the response given by Cllr Thomas in response to a question from residents about the depot: a response minuted by a representative at the meeting: 

Q: Why was £13.5 million spent on acquiring the proposed Abbots Waste Depot site, when the same piece of land was sold the previous year for £750k ?

Daniel Thomas:  £13.5 million was the market value provided by the District Valuer. No one knows the circumstances of the sale for £750k.

Well, well. The 'district valuer', of course, meaning Capita, presumably? The same district valuer who was called to the West Hendon housing Inquiry, and explained to the Inspector how much effort, and market comparisons, and careful calculation had gone into the valuation of leasehold flats due for compulsory purchase, at a price so low the leaseholders were unable to reach the level needed to buy a shared equity home on the new estate. Leaseholders protested at what they maintained - and still maintain - was a deliberately low value level, but Capita insisted the price had been based on the most stringent process of valuation.

It might appear that such stringency has not been applied in the case of the depot site, which is most unfortunate.

Mrs Angry has asked Councillor Daniel Thomas to confirm the implication of his reported remark at the Osidge meeting, and that he blames Capita for what appears to be a massive overspend on this site.  

I would like to ask you about your reported comments at the meeting at Osidge Library on Saturday, in regard to the waste depot proposal. 

Can you confirm that you said, as minuted, that the responsibility for the £13.5 million expenditure of taxpayers' money on a site that was sold for only £750,000 last year was entirely that of the district valuer, ie Capita? 

 And do you think this represents good value for money, for those taxpayers, in terms of the purchase of the site, and in terms of the standard of service by your contractual partners Capita?

Just as this post was going to be published without a response, an email from Cllr Thomas landed in Mrs Angry's in box, as follows:

"I’m aware that a conversation I had with some campaigners two weekends ago appears to have been inaccurately reported to third parties.  Incidentally, I saw no minutes being taken by any of the four people Cllr Rutter and I met with.  It is interesting that amongst comments attributed to me, left out was a campaigner’s lack of objection when, after complaining her school had to take on a bulge class, I responded it was just as well the council was receiving £millions from the Mill Hill redevelopment which will help build more classrooms across the borough.  Relocation of the depot will help make this huge capital receipt possible even after the costs of a new depot are taken into account, not to mention the benefit of new homes and a new school.  

The district valuer is not ‘responsible’ for council expenditure but can be consulted for advice on land transactions.  If their advice was that £750k reflected open market value we clearly would not be paying the sum we intend, remembering that the purchase is subject to planning permission for a depot being granted.  It is the value of the land as a depot site which is relevant to the council.

The previous ‘£750k transaction’ does not represent open market value which is obvious given the size, scarcity and availability of such plots.  It is also the case that the parties involved in that transaction were connected and so further demonstrates it was not an ‘open market’ purchase and cannot be reliably used as an indicator of value. 

I’m therefore happy that, yet again, Barnet Council is acting in the best interests of taxpayers.  I’m also very happy with the high quality services provided by Capita, which also represent good value for money and allow us to redirect decreasing revenue budgets from the back office to front line services. 

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Deputy Leader of the Council" 

This response, of course, raises more questions than ever: Mrs Angry has replied with just two for now. 

You say that the district valuer - ie Capita - can be consulted for advice on land transactions. Was the district valuer consulted, or not? 

And why did officers state quite clearly to Cllr Cooke on the 19th May this year: 

'To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14'?

And here, just in, is his response: 

Cllr Cooke has recently received a response to his questions including the one below.  No doubt he/Barnet Labour will publish the responses to their questions on their ‘complaint’ webpage, but in advance of that I can exclusively reveal to you that, one and a half hours after Cllr Cooke received the response you quote below, he was sent an update to clarify there was indeed a transaction in June 2014.

The council’s monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and confirmed it was robust.  I’ve been advised the district valuer was consulted on this transaction.

Hmm. But we still don't know why councillors were not informed of the true state of play when the decision to approve the £13.5 million payment was made, do we?

 Mrs Angry has replied:

I am of course sure that the residents of Barnet will have all concerns put to rest by the assurance that the authority's own Monitoring Officer found the process was 'robust'. 

Failing that, it might be an awfully good idea if we have an independent, external investigation to ensure that the process was not only 'robust', but is fully transparent, and made accountable to those residents and taxpayers who will have to foot the bill.

We need to establish why misleading information was given to councillors, and why the district valuer provided a market value that differs so vastly from the price Barnet paid for their own stake in this site.

If Capita are at fault in any way, this would raise the most serious questions about the contract performance, and would require a full account to local taxpayers as to why such a large payment has been made necessary by the taxpayers of this borough for the acquisition of this site.

Now here is another interesting story.

As reported recently, by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, now that Barnet Council has decided to vacate the offices at NLBP, it appears that the Comer brothers, through another company of theirs called Hindale Limited, are to make an application to its former tenants for a massive development on the site, of 1600 new houses:

And it seems in order for this application to proceed as smoothly as possible, reports Mr Reasonable:

'Hindale will pay Barnet £105,364 for officers' time to prepare a site development brief and to provide pre application advice to inform the preparation of the planning application for the site ...'

Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that the planning application 'informed' by Barnet/Capita officers will then go on to receive a recommendation to grant approval by, erm ... Barnet/Capita officers. None whatever.

Mrs Angry imagines that, however, we can rely on our obedient Tory councillors to rubber stamp the application, should they, by some chance, look with favour on the application their officers have helped to 'inform'. 

Barnet Tory councillors look with favour on any private development put be before them, on an ideological basis: the easycouncil mantra of Barnet Tories - private sector good, public sector bad. 

And Mrs Angry is fully confident that we will be told there will be all sorts of 'Chinese walls' and 'protocols' to assure us there is absolutely no conflict of interest between officers acting as both advisers and scrutineers of a planning application, just as there was apparently no conflict of interest inherent in Capita acting in the management of the 'regeneration' of West Hendon, and the valuation of the compulsory purchase properties.

Are you satisfied by that assurance, readers? 

There is no suggestion of any underhand activity by developers, or indeed that there is any connection between the Abbots depot purchase, and the NLBP proposals. Although the two sites are less than half a mile apart, that is probably coincidental: their companies as we know, invest in land all the time, as part of their modus operandi.

And if the Comer brothers managed to get a stake in the depot site for £750K, good for them: that may well mean they displayed a rather more acute business acumen than our own senior management team, and our contractual partners. Perhaps they should be providing pre application advice for us, rather than the other way round. 

But what is of concern is the multiplicity of roles that our outsourcing partners are now taking in the management of private development, here in Barnet, and the risk this raises of conflict of interest, and the lowering of standards of service - the loss of trust in due process - and the real risk of even greater cost to taxpayers, at time when the budget for essential public services are being so ruthlessly slashed.

To put this all in context: the other reason residents went to Osidge library, a week or so ago, and put questions to their local councillor - and Councillor Thomas - was in regard to the appalling proposals now threatening our library service with destruction.  

These terrible plans include options to close many branches, shrink them in size by 93%, or even remove staff from libraries, and leave them as 'open' branches, not only de-professionalised, but totally unsupervised: in essence a few books on a shelf, the conception of some fool who has never used a public library in his life, and cares even less about the survival of a library service in any recognisable form. 

These cuts, on such a barbaric scale, are being proposed by our Tory councillors on the pretext of austerity, of course: an economic necessity they still like to blame on Labour financial incompetence, and extravagance, rather than the self indulgence of bankers, or world recession. Neither financial incompetence, nor extravagance is ever the responsibility, in their eyes, of any Conservative administration.

Yet here we are again, in Broken Barnet, where our Tory councillors have given away public land worth £12 million to private developers for £3, and blown another £13.5 million on a site that would appear to have been acquired for only £750,000 ... 

Incompetence, or extravagance? Unacceptable, either way. 

Don't let the Tories fool you. 

It is not a question of how much money we have: it is always a question of what they choose to spend our money on - and what they choose to spend our money on is entirely at the whim of their half baked, swivel eyed lunatic ideology: here in Barnet our Tory administration, the bastard child of Thatcherite materialism, reduces everything to the measure of profit, and and the best interests of private enterprise. 

That they were elected to office to represent me and you, and that the senior officers they employ are meant to safeguard our rights and our investment is of no importance. 

The only thing to do is to refuse to tolerate their insufferable regime. The fight continues, after all, and after all: what else can you do?