Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Terms of Endearment: outsourcing senior staff in Broken Barnet

Last week Barnet blogger Mr Mustard published a copy of the marriage contract between Andrew Travers, our £1,000 pounds a day deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance officer, and his uxorious partner, the London Borough of Broken Barnet, a very detailed agreement for a post for which Mr Travers is highly - some might say over - qualified.

This was interesting on many levels, but perhaps first of all because, goodness me, there actually is a contract, and one that Mr Mustard was able to scrutinise. As we know, contracts in Broken Barnet ain't usually worth the paper they ain't written on, such as - oh dear, have to mention them again - in the case of MetPro, for example.

Last week, you may recall, Mrs Angry asked the council to provide details of the contracts of two other security companies used by the authority over several years, ie Magenta and Blue 9. Of course she is absolutely certain that there are contracts, and the fact that there has still been no response is not indicative of any irregularity.

As we know, Mr Andrew Travers is only one of an increasing number of senior officers working for Barnet who is not on the council pay roll, subject to the authority's standard rates of pay and conditions of service, like the rest of the drones, but employed as consultants in private arrangements, via agencies or directly with private companies, often private companies whose sole employee is the individual in question. This is perfectly legal and above board, of course, and increasingly common in local authorities.

These senior posts are usually described as being 'interim' posts. What, you may be thinking, does interim mean, Mrs Angry? Does it not imply a temporary status, one of short term duration - a stop gap, whose necessity is caused by a. advertising a post and being unable to fill it, and then b. filling it with someone for a limited time until the post can be readvertised and new candidates invited to apply? Foolish readers: why are you still so naive, after reading your way through so many of my blogposts? Please pay more attention.

Mrs Angry wonders if the councillors of Broken Barnet ever think to ask about the number of these highly paid interim officers, and question the circumstances of their employment? They arrive one day, out of the blue, like Mary Poppins with her carpet bag, turn everything upside down, and then, without warning: well no, unlike Mary Poppins, they don't float back up and away above the chim-chimineys of Broken Barnet, they outstay their welcome, like high maintenence houseguests, while the kitchen maid and the boots boy lose their jobs and end up in the new Barnet Workhouse (how's the planning application for that going, by the way, Mr Walkley? Hope you've put me on the books as a consultant?)

In sharp contrast to the ambiguities surrounding the 'arrangements' with certain private companies delivering outsourced services, like oh, you know, MetPro, the contracts with some of these more recent and interesting consultants are curiously carefully designed. Again, our man Mr Mustard has highlighted the issue of the credit arrangements with employees and service providers.

According to Mr M, who, in his earthly manifestation happens to have professional experience of such things, it it general practice in business for a period of 30-60 days to be given for payments. Nip over to his blog and see some of the terms negotiated by our borough with certain parties.

Deputy CE Mr Andrew Travers, via his company Halliford Associates, must not be kept waiting longer than ten days for his £1,000 daily reward.

Oh and Mr Chris Malyon, Assistant Director of Commercial Assurance, and therefore, I believe, in charge of the procurement process itself, requires nothing less than immediate payment. At the end of everyday, the Chief Finance officer attends his office, weighs him, divides the amount by the number of contracts signed, and pays him in gold, apparently.

So, is Barnet unusual in the number of 'interim' senior officers it employs, on marvellously rewarding salaries? No, is the answer. It seems to be that wherever you find easycouncil style regimes like we have here, and in Suffolk, for example, and in many authorities now around the country, there is a predictable pattern.

In our borough we have One Barnet: Suffolk, with its CE Andrea Hill currently on gardening leave on full pay of £218,000 a year has, or rather had, the now disowned 'New Strategic Direction'.

According to an interesting recent story in Private Eye, Kent County Council, with CE Katherine Kerswell in charge, on £197,000 per annum, the new corporate 'vision' ( and I use the word advisedly) is known in cultural revolutionary style as 'Change to Keep Succeeding' and 'Bold Steps for Kent'.

I had a quick look at some of the council's propaganda aimed at explaining this new thinking, and it seems, frankly, to be merely a clever justification for employing lots of senior officers, at market force rates, in order to push through the familiar, if now discredited, policies delivering huge budget cuts, in hand with all the usual dallying with outsourcing.

At Kent County Council, after a (well compensated) purge of senior officers associated with the previous CE's reign, very highly paid new 'interim' replacements have been drafted in, the usual 'consultants', and one interim post said to be on an eye watering daily rate of £1,250. Makes you realise what good value Mr Travers undoubtedly is. According to the Eye story, however, the full cost of revamping the senior management structure may be in the region of £4 million pounds.
Is this sort of extravagant makeover what is going on, via a sneaky campaign of stealth and low cunning, in the upper ranks of senior officers, here in Broken Barnet?

Councillors may wish to consider, in these circumstances, whether or not they think that the purpose of our local authority is to provide services for the residents and tax payers of our borough, or in order to facilitate the careers and aspirations of senior officers, while the frontline workers at the other end of the scale face a future of possible redundancy, or at best, a deterioration of conditions of service. Bold steps for Kent: Disastrous Leaps in the Wrong Direction for Barnet?


Mr Mustard said...

This is what DirectGov says about Councillors:

"The elected councillors provide the policies, and then paid employees (council officers) put them into practice."

Now that would be a novelty in Broken Barnet - "paid employees" - imagine it.

Are the councillors, collectively, in a democratic way, providing the policies and are the employees then putting them into practice, or is North London Business Park the place where the tail wags the dog and an army of consultants run their cosy personal fiefdom ?

Mrs Angry said...

I think you have answered your own question, Mr M, and herein lies the problem. And until our dozy councillors wake up and ask the right questions, this is how things will continue.

Mrs Angry said...

Just to add that sadly, most of our our Tory councillors are lacking in the intellectual wherewithal to understand how the council actually works, or should work, and the rest appear to be too lazy or grasping to care. I would like to be proved wrong. Let's see if any of them has the courage to do anything about it.