Last night's Audit Committee meeting was, quite rightly, amongst the most difficult in my time as Chief Executive.
Alongside the Metpro report, which was dealt with in last week’s email, I attended to specifically respond to the Internal Audit Annual Report. This, like the Metpro Report, pulled no punches but is rather more important in the conclusions it draws about aspects of the council's work. Overall it gives only "limited assurance" that we have the right controls in place to ensure that we spend wisely and meet the objectives we set.
As I confirmed to the Committee its vital that we have the robust internal challenge that audit provides and for too long I do not think that has been the case. However equally important is that when we identify concerns we learn from the findings and act on them.
Members have an absolute right to expect that when we get things wrong we prioritise putting them right. Last night I committed us to addressing all of the issues raised by the Internal Audit Annual Report.
On procurement this means a rapid programme of activity that will involve many staff across the council. An action plan is in place and procurement leads across the council are being briefed.
Much media focus has been on "who is to blame" and "who is going to carry the can?". However my firm belief is that now is the time for all of us to ensure that the contractual arrangements and suppliers we depend on are documented, monitored and in place and where they are not take action to tackle this. There will be more about this process in First Team but now is the time to make sure any suppliers you use have been through the right process. Moreover if you are concerned about an issue or your own knowledge/skills in this area - speak up. This is a time to put things right and not simply point fingers.
A second strong theme in the report is our management of information. We have made really good progress on Data Protection over the last year but there are still instances of paper records in particular leaving the offices unnecessarily. Keeping adequate control is not just about the right system but also that everyone follows those systems and procedures. Across the council, information management and contract management are matters that the vast majority of us have a roll to play in.
Its an oddity of the role of Chief Executive that I find myself congratulating the Assistant Director for internal audit Maryellen Salter on the quality of her work whilst then having to challenge myself and the rest of the council to rise to the challenges that work gives us. But as custodians of public money that is exactly how it should be.
Mrs Angry has had to fight the temptation to correct your grammar, and spelling, btw, Mr Walkley. Tut tut.
To paraphrase, then:
Although some might say that we have been shown to be totally incapable of running a piss up in a brewery, this is nothing to do with me, and indeed I look forward to the challenge of running the newly built, mega sized One Barnet super-distillery on the basis of my proven record of management, as exemplified by this report.
It would be wrong to blame anyone, because that would shift the attention to me, as I am ultimately responsible, but obviously I don't want to lose my £200,000 a year post, and although I am hanging out of the window of my office, here at the London Borough of Broken Barnet Business Park, I intend to cling on by my fingertips until someone stamps on my hand.
People should stop going on about MetPro because it is embarrassing, and raises issues we do not want to address.
Data protection is something we take very seriously, as seen this year, where the only problems requiring investigations by the Information Commissioner were the loss of thousands of school children's personal data nicked from one of our laptops, and the case of footage of residents illicitly filmed at a council meeting, by er MetPro, a copy of which we secretly made one of our officers destroy.
Although we are not pointing the finger of blame, in case it points in the wrong direction, we will expect ordinary officers - ie those poor sods not on private contracts of £1,000 a day, to do all the work necessary to remedy the damage caused by the systemic failure of management my team of directors and I have overseen for the last few years, while we sit at our desks and talk about cultural attitudes. Mr Travers will carry on counting paper clips, staring out of the window and trying not to think about the big black hole of meaninglessness at the centre of the One Barnet universe.
I must thank the head of audit for telling me and my team of Directors and heads of service that we are a fucking disgrace, and I suggest that she might like to clear her desk before 5pm, or she will be escorted off the premises by members of our newly procured and recently renamed security company, Evolution Emergency Response.
Have a nice weekend,