Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Brian, Adrian and Rowan: fans of Thatcher's, but Banner Snatchers?

The Strange Tale of a Tory councillor

Another Tory councillor

A Tory vicar,

And a police investigation that never happened:

I wol nat tellen eek how that they goon
Hoom til Atthenes, whan the pley is doon,
But shortly to the point thanne wol I wende
And maken of my longe tale an ende.

Chaucer: the Knight's Tale

Hmm. Well today is Mrs Angry's birthday, (you didn't send a card, did you?) and despite the gloom of contemplating her advanced age and failing faculties - sight, hearing, sanity - she is feeling full of the milk of human kindness, and some champagne, and some cake, so she is inclined not to write about anything horrible, or mean, or shameful.

She will not, therefore, make any reference whatsoever to, say, oh, let's see - the outrageous story of the stolen banner of the Barnet Alliance against the cuts residents' group. Such a mean act would be best forgotten, would it not?

Let's not go over the whole shabby tale again.

Don't say anything about the unholy trinity of Councillor Brian Coleman, his partner in shame, the Reverend Adrian Benjamin, and their obsequious sidekick, Councillor Rowan Turner.

Don't mention the fact that at what is supposed to be a local summer show for the community, these bullying nobodies 'confiscated' the banner of a perfectly well behaved harmless community group, led by a senior citizen acting to the dictates of something they appear not to have, that is to say a social conscience, and now they refuse to return it, asserting alternatively either that one of the others has it, or that that they do not know where it is. Why did they take the banner? Because it was dangerous. It was expressing thoughts deviating from the political bias of the Tory trio monitoring the activities of residents in the park. Deviant thoughts are not allowed in Broken Barnet, and must be rolled up, carried away and hidden under the bed, where, Mrs Angry imagines, in the circumstances, no one is likely to stick a curious head over the edge and spot them.

We will gloss over the fact, too, that when the owners of the banner complained to the local police no action was taken. You might think this is rather unfortunate: Mrs Angry certainly does.

And let us not speculate upon the consequences of the following scenario: if Mrs Angry was walking through Friary Park, one sunny day and perhaps spotted the Reverend Benjamin sitting on a park bench, reading the Daily Mail, and if she marched over to him, objected to his reading material, snatched it off him, and ran off with it - well what would happen, do you suppose? If he went to the police and complained that some deranged woman had stolen his newspaper, would they not at least visit Mrs Angry and ask her about the incident?

Mrs Angry is very tempted to try something similar, in fact - and here is a message to our friends in the local police, please don't think she wouldn't: you know she probably would. In fact, Mrs Angry happens to know that quite a few rozzers read this blog on the sly, and she would hope that they might like to reconsider the rights and wrongs of this incident, and be seen to do something about it. It may not be the crime of the century, but it is an important point of principle, in defence of free speech, and democracy, and equal access to the processes of the law, no matter how trivial it might seem.

Another aspect which we will not discuss is the interesting information that has come to light from an inspection of earlier copies of the accounts of the Friern Show. Mrs Angry cannot tell you, therefore, that in fact the generous loan from the Reverend Benjamin's All Saints Arts Centre goes back some years, and was apparently deemed necessary because of cash flow problems, caused of course not by any failure in management by Chairman Coleman, but because of er, 'inclement weather' affecting the income.

Ah. Don't know why, there's no sun up in the sky ... stormy weather ... What a shame that no one thought to insure against the effects of poor weather on takings. And unfortunately, the costs of managing Friern show included, in the year ending 2008, such payments of £5,279 for 'admin/staff' and, oh hello: £870 for er ... 'security'. (Can anyone suggest a local company which might have been used for security? Nah, surely not ... ) Oh, and the accounts for one year, 2007, include mention of an uncashed cheque to the London Borough of Barnet for £542.85, for 'waste management and stage'. Someone was a bit careless weren't they, not following that up? Mrs Angry's accountant tried to find payments for the hire of the park, but they appear not to be listed. There may well be an perfectly acceptable reason for this, of course.

Which brings Mrs Angry to the last point she will definitely not bring to your attention.

The Chairman of directors of the Friern Barnet Summer Show is a Councillor Brian Coleman.

The charges for the use of local parks have been set by the Cabinet member for the Environment, who is a Councillor Brian Coleman.

Is there a potential conflict of interest in this position, bearing in mind the popularly held belief that discretion is used over the decision to charge for the use of local parks, and the scale of charge? No. Mrs Angry is confident that any interest by any party was declared wherever appropriate, and that Friern Barnet Summer Show has always paid the full extent of the charge, and has similarly paid the full amount this year, as Finchley Carnival was expected to, before being obliged to cancel the show, which is why there is really no need to mention the matter now.

PS: the missing banner is now tweeting from its place of incarceration: @TheLostBanner - please give it your support and help to bring him safely home ...

Monday, 29 August 2011

Mrs Angry's Honeymoon

Matthew Offord MP: 'Experiencing Tropical Storm Harvey on my recent AFPS operation', according to a recent twitpic ...

Mrs Angry has been thinking enviously about Hendon MP Matthew Offord's recent trip. You know, the one which meant he missed the riots, and the recall of Parliament. Obviously this was not a holiday, as Matthew explained, he was there on Very Important Parliamentary business, as part of the the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Not a holiday. Hard work. No time for cocktails - or anything else - on the beach. Places to go, uniforms to wear, medals to be won. No, not Afghanistan: Belize.

You know ... looking at pictures of Belize one can hardly help falling in love with the place. So beautiful.

And talking of falling in love ... as you know, Mrs Angry is engaged to be married to a certain senior Tory councillor and Cabinet member - although she is not supposed to talk about it in this blog, so do keep it to yourselves. If he ever gets round to setting a date, and arranging our honeymoon, well: how about this for a suitably romantic spot ... seen above, no, not the top picture, not sure where that was taken, think it must be military accommodation somewhere, on a rare break between ops - second picture down and below? Yes, the Mayan Princess Hotel, in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize ...

Ok, it's only three star, but Tory councillors have to live within their means, you know, on the miserly allowances we pay them. But just imagine ... relaxing on that pink and white balcony, with its rather slippery looking white tiles, watching the sun setting over the Caribbean, perhaps as special force patrols battle furiously with narco-terrorists, assisted by square jawed Tory MPs in knitted combat gear, with curiously clenched fists and a fixed expression. Fabulous.

You may also know that Mrs Angry is a very keen scuba diver. Well, I say keen - bit out of practice, but always interested in exploring new locations & polishing old skills: and anyway, oh, yes - I think I may have mentioned the attractions of Belize's world famous diving spot, the Great Blue Hole ... guess what - by an amazing coincidence, Mrs Angry has noticed that this particular hotel happens to be the perfect venue for anyone planning to visit this wonderful spot:

Mayan Princess Hotel - Sea view acommodation with your scuba diving package in Ambergris Caye, Belize

"Every room of this mid-range hotel comes with a spacious balcony that offers a view over the ocean, perfect for the magic of sunrises over the reef. The Mayan Princess is an enchanting and well equipped hotel that Splash Dive Center uses to accommodate our guests when we make trips to the Blue Hole of Belize."

Did you know that, according to his entry on the Conservatives.com website:

"When not on the water Matthew also likes to be under it as he is a keen scuba diver and qualified up to the level of instructor. Over the years he has dived in several Mediterranean countries, the Caribbean, the Maldives, in the English Channel, off the coast of Cornwall and too many quarries and lakes in Lancashire and Cumbria!"

What an awful shame, therefore, citizens of Broken Barnet, and voters of Hendon constituency, that MP Matthew Offord, on his Parliamentary trip to the tropical paradise of Belize, would have had no time in his busy schedule for such self indulgence, is it not?

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Quantum of SOLACE

More than a quantum of SOLACE: Chief Executives are advised 'to be passionate' ...

Since Mrs Angry has been dabbling in the arcane mysteries of local politics, she has noticed that there is a common source of many of the dark, elemental forces that influence the activities of senior officers in local authorities around the country. That common source is the organisation known as SOLACE, no, not an evil empire of puppets created by Gerry Anderson, but close: the Society of Local Authority Chief Executive and Senior Managers.

This body is ostensibly a professional association that works as a network of support and lobbying for the benefit of its members. But it is so much more, too: it is extremely influential, and has links with many large and powerful companies, many of whom are now deeply committed to profiting from the massive push to externalise public sector services.

We are of course seeing this frantic push right here, right now, in Broken Barnet, in the guise of the hugely controversial One Barnet programme, an ill designed model of outsourced services, and an agenda that is being advanced with absolutely no promise of being able to deliver the savings it promises, or to retain a satisfactory standard of performance. Despite the claims of former leader and now MP Mike Freer to have come up with the 'easycouncil' concept, Barnet is just one authority of many which decided to adopt such models, and in every case promoted by an enthusiastic Chief Executive who belongs to, yes, of course, SOLACE.

SOLACE has a special scheme to promote links between companies and its members. According to the website:

"Launched in 2001, the SOLACE Corporate Partner Programme is active public-private partnership between the corporate business community, SOLACE and its members.

The Programme represents an exciting opportunity for commercial sector business partners to work closely with local government, and is unique in that it strategically promotes and encourages the development and exchange of creative ideas, improved communications and innovative products and services."

SOLACE lists a favoured number of companies and organisations belonging to this programme as gold, silver and bronze business partners: apart from one charity these include, oh, hello, gold partner BT, and other companies specialising in outsourcing provision - Capgemini, Steria, Liberata, Zurich Municipal etc - many of them, interestingly, frequent visitors to the Broken Barnet blog.

As the website informs us:

"Partner working opens up important lines of communication and provides opportunities for the sharing of expertise, resources and best practice between professionals in the public and private sectors."

Marvellous. It's good to share, isn't it?

The golden future of outsourcing has become somewhat tarnished in the recent past, however: the story of Suffolk CEO Andrea Hill (rumoured to be a friend of Barnet's own CEO Nick Walkley), is an example of how the unpopularity of the large scale introduction of private sector involvement, especially if driven by such a high profile, controversial CEO, can have unexpected consequences, and lead, as in Suffolk, to a reconsideration of the whole concept.

And of course, more importantly, as we know now the government is trying to pull back from the massive scale of outsourcing anyway: we have seen evidence of this already from stories like this in the Guardian on May 3 2011:

Coalition scales back privatisation plans over 'excess profitmaking' fears

"The government has privately admitted it is scaling back its plans to privatise swaths of the public sector for fear of appearing to be in favour of private companies excessively profiting from the taxpayer.

A leaked memo of a meeting between business chiefs and the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, says there will be "no return to the 1990s" and wholesale outsourcing. Maude is preparing a white paper on public services – delayed since February – setting out the future direction of public services, which is expected to contain plans to match private sector companies to charities and volunteer groups to run public services."

Mrs Hill, incidentally, made herself few friends in her time at Suffolk County Council, and perhaps the 23 sessions - at £525 plus a go - with a coach called Sol Davidson did little to help matters - although perhaps Sol offered much needed support to Mrs Hill in the latter part of her time there, teaching her skills in 'leading on the edge of chaos'.

According to an article in the Mail on 15th March, Davidson had:

"... worked closely with the local government chief executives’ professional body Solace.

He was the main author of a booklet for the group entitled ‘Flying High – a new look at local government leadership, transformation and the power of conversation’.

In it he advises executives to ‘be passionate’ ...

As an example of the problems faced by executives, one council chief is quoted as saying: ‘On my first day as a chief executive when the door to my office was shut and I was left alone for the first time, I was left wondering what to do next. I phoned my mother.’ Excuse Mrs Angry, oh dear ... sniff, pass her a tissue ... his mother ...

But, oh how Mrs Angry smirked to read this statement by Grant Shapps, published just the other day, as reported on the localgov.co.uk website:

Shapps calls on councils to cease funding SOLACE

Housing minister Grant Shapps has urged councils to cease funding the Society of Local Authority Chief Executive and Senior Managers (SOLACE), accusing the representative body and its commercial arms of promoting ever-higher senior salaries.

SOLACE Enterprises, which operates as a 'not for profit' public sector company helping councils make senior level appointments and fill interim management roles, is currently overhauling its business plan. Former SOLACE general director David Clark, who has been seconded from the society, leads the refresh.

In a statement issued last night, however, Mr Shapps said: 'I fail to see the business case for the public funding a body that has acted as a broker for local authority chief executives helping to bump up their pay as they move from council to council.

'There is an urgent need to rein in excessive chief exec pay packets and exercise some restraint, which is why I am calling on all public bodies to cease funding SOLACE.'

Responding to criticisms made earlier in the week, chair of SOLACE Enterprises Rich Benton said criticisms of the organisation's role in the recruitment of local government chief executives were inaccurate and misleading.

He stated the body provides independent advice on the appointment process and that no serving chief executive is involved in decisions on appointments or setting salaries.

The former Mouchel chair and Capita Sales director, who replaced Sir Michael Pitt last year added: 'We play no role in setting salary levels merely advise on market forces based on available data. Salaries are set by the Elected Members of the Council representing the public so the people who pay their salaries do in fact have a say in the process.'

There may be some confusion here, and elsewhere, about the division between SOLACE and SOLACE Enterprises. Let Mrs Angry explain. SOLACE Enterprises is nothing whatsoever to do with SOLACE - except that it is really, but all the SOLACE and SOLACE Enterprise people like to pretend that they are completely different bodies. Got that?

Whereas SOLACE acts as a sort of lobbying and professional body for its CEO and senior officer members, SOLACE Enterprises acts as a recruitment consultancy. There is a big argument as to whether the latter has pushed the salaries of CEOs up to the ludicrously high level they have now reached, and whether or not this represents a conflict of interest. Apart from Grant Shapps, other leading Tories - and John Redwood - have voiced their concerns on this issue.

Frankly, Mrs Angry doesn't think it matters how the salaries became so obscenely bloated: the high flying CEOs are all a bunch of overpaid chancers, and are pushing for the highest salaries they can get without being prepared to accept the level of responsibility that would go with such a high reward in the private sector. They would be demanding the highest salaries anyway. Of course in the private sector, if a senior executive fails to perform, he or she loses their job. What happens in the public sector? If a CEO f*cks up, do they get the sack? No. They stay in place, or receive a generous severance package, paid for by the local tax payers.

The issue that Mrs Angry thinks is rather more worrying is the intimacy between the major outsourcing companies - who are now feasting on the huge body of externalised services being pushed out to the private sector - and many of the CEOs and senior officers closely associated with SOLACE.

As we see from the localgov.co.uk extract, the chair of SOLACE Enterprises was formerly at Capita Sales. Capita is of course a major player in the outsourcing field, and is currently bidding for some of the huge number of services currently being pimped by the Tory leadership - and especially the proselytising senior officers - of the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

Many other large companies are closely associated with SOLACE. BT, for example. Only recently a contact of Mrs Angry's was present at an exclusive SOLACE event held at the BT Tower: according to the SOLACE website, BT is one of SOLACE's 'gold partners'. I'll bet. Let's not even mention the BT Vital Vision public sector connections here, shall we? Oh, alright. Mrs Andrea Hill: vital visionary, for example. Leo Boland, former CEO at Barnet: vital visionary. Mike Freer, former leader of Barnet Council, vital visionary. I'll stop there, because I'm boring myself.

There is a gentleman by the name of Mr Max Wide, who belongs to BT, but works on long term secondments with local authorities - he worked at Barnet, and then Suffolk, amongst many others - and he is also active in SOLACE. According to his 'Linkedin' details, he describes in brief - (Mrs Angry suspects he may being a little modest about his past achievements) -his current employment as:

  • Director, Strategic Development at BT Government
  • Director of Organisational Change, Suffolk County Council - and past employment as
  • Lead Associate, Leadership and Cultural Change at SOLACE Enterprises

He wrote a handbook for SOLACE in 2005, when he was described as a Senior Associate. In April 2010, he wrote an article for 'in Focus', their e-magazine, 'Access to information is a right', discussing a SOLACE masterclass on social networking, and helpfully using an example of a council that had worked with BT. Of course these individuals are doing absolutely nothing wrong, or in breach of any regulations, by moving from company to company, body to body. But this demonstrates what a comparatively small and incestuous world we are entering, when so much money is at stake for such powerful companies, all vying for business from a new and inexperienced public sector market.

There is however, a more urgent potential conflict of interest which arises in a limited market place, when companies are engaging with public sector CEOs or senior officers who are not subject to the same rules in regard to declarations of interest which apply to their nominal masters, the politicians, whether government ministers or local councillors.

As we have seen in Barnet, there is a marked reluctance to answer questions about officers' interests, gifts and hospitality, which, while implying no irregular activity on behalf of these officers, is unfortunate, and clearly does not benefit the cause of transparency and accountability in public office. Access to information is a right, after all, even here in Broken Barnet, is it not, Mr Wide, especially for we bloggers using social networking/social media to er, what was the SOLACE phrase ... to open up important lines of communication? Maybe not the ones you want, but still ...

Thanks to a tweeted link by the Guardian's Patrick Butler, Mrs Angry has discovered the following rebuttal of Shapp's comments by a SOLACE apologist and former employee, Mike Bennett: . In an article with the title 'Shapps' Punch and Judy Localism' - and a nice picture, only someone is missing from the corner (you been reading this blog, Mr Bennett, in France, by any chance?) our Mike claims he isn't so bothered by Shapp's remarks because:

'Mr Shapps is simply exercising his right to make political capital at the expense of hard-working public servants'


Mr Bennett rejects the idea that SOLACE, sorry, SOLACE Enterprises, is responsible for excessive pay levels of CEOs and denies that SOLACE is publicly funded, explaining:

"As is well known in local government circles, most of SOLACE’s income comes from commercial arrangements with private and voluntary sector bodies who want to tap into SOLACE’s policy expertise. SOLACE has been working with private and voluntary sector suppliers for years in a way which is strikingly in line with government policy indeed …."

Ah, good, that's alright then. No potential conflict of interest there, that Mrs Angry can spot. Where are my reading specs, btw, anyone seen them? Always losing them.

Oh, and I forgot to mention - there are some interesting entries in the Barnet online expenses: Mrs Angry thanks the ever vigilant Mr Mustard for telling her that in February, we tax payers here in Broken Barnet paid £11,496 to SOLACE Enterprises Ltd, as miscellanaeous, central expenses, for some reason. And Mrs Angry, just on a random look, so there may well be other entries, noticed that the Chief Executive's services charged us £665 last April for 'conference expenses, SOLACE ltd. Mrs Angry is confident that this was money well spent, of course.

Ah: talking of SOLACE conferences, here is an amusing tale from an article in the Western Mail in March:

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2010/09/22/taxpayers-group-attacks-city-conference-91466-27315343/#ixzz1WFJjUDvk

"A conference which will see chief executives of cash- strapped local authorities direct actors in sketches about the financial crisis, was yesterday criticised by campaigners.

Tickets for the annual SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) conference – which will bring together representatives from 200 councils across Britain – cost up to £845 of taxpayers’ money each.

The event, at Cardiff International Arena, will see council staff taking part in workshops, including directing theatre sketches relating to the impending austerity measures.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance said it was “insulting” to see public funds being spent on such events when jobs are under threat due to financial cuts.

But Solace and two of the councils attending said the conference provided vital training in the face of unprecedented changes to local authorities. The Taxpayers’ Alliance said the conference – and especially a theatre workshop called Making a Drama out of a Financial Crisis – seemed inappropriate ahead of heavy funding cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review next month.

“It’s just insulting that these chief executives will be meeting in a first-rate venue and playing drama games while workers are being made redundant. The irony is that this jolly is meant to guide bosses on making savings,” said a spokeswoman.

“As these executives are singing about the financial crisis, the rest of us are bracing ourselves for cuts to frontline services when in truth there is, quite evidently, a lot of fat that should be trimmed first.”

The programme of events lists the drama workshop as a way to show “the importance of understanding the reality of issues and the implications of decisions managers make”.

The Solace website states: “Chief executives and senior managers will be given the chance to confront contentious issues and challenge the accepted way of doing things, when they have a theatrical mirror held up to them, reflecting on how a crisis can become a drama.”

Participants will watch a short dramatic scene before working in groups to direct a new version of the sketch."

Laugh - or cry?

Wouldn't you have paid good money to see these idiots disporting themselves in front of a theatrical mirror? Oh, hold on, we did pay good money, didn't we? And now we are seeing the final production for ourselves, played out in Town Halls right across the country, not so much a drama, though: more of a tragedy, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

'A bomb in the park': Brian Coleman, a dangerous banner, and a turbulent priest

The Rev Benjamin in action

Missing in action: Julian Silverman appealing for information

* Update Friday evening, see below ...

Last weekend, as you may recall, we had the Friern Barnet Summer Show, an event which is held every year in Friary Park, North Finchley. This affair is run by one Brian Coleman, who is a director of the company that organises everything, as he declares in his GLA interests online (it might well be the same in Barnet but we would not know, as he has opted out of declaring them in this way): this declaration states: Friern Barnet Summer Show Limited (25% of the shared capital – no dividends) and Chairman of the Board of Directors (unremunerated).

You may also recall that earlier in the year, one Brian Coleman had upset the local voluntary organisers of the hundred year old Finchley Carnival, in Victoria Park, which led to the Carnival being abandoned, as it was made impossible for local organisers to retain proper control of management. They objected to the large funfair that Coleman insisted should be hired, and were also stunned by the huge increase in charges that he had imposed. He also made offensive remarks about the organisers of the Carnival:

“The council has rescued the event and saved it for the benefit of the people of Finchley. We saved it from a bunch of amateurs who failed to deliver.

“Last year it was sad and pathetic. This year it’s going to be fun in Finchley.”

Thanks largely to Coleman's interference, Finchley Carnival, for the first time in its history was cancelled, and it is clear that he wants his own preferred team to take over the management of next year's event. You might question why he thinks he has the right to do this, rather than listen to the wishes of local people, but if you question why that is, you really don't know much about Brian Coleman.

Friern Barnet Summer Show has apart from an enormous funfair, two large tents for local displays and traders - one full of prize vegetables, victoria sponges, jam and a photo competition, the other with a mixture of craft stalls and local community groups.

Several local community groups applied for a pitch in the second tent, or a stall outside, this year. These included Friends of the Earth, a Friern Barnet preservation society, oh and BAPS: the Barnet Alliance against the cuts. This is an organisation of local residents concerned about the effects of budget cuts on the local community, a group of perfectly law abiding, sensible, thoughtful adults who meet once a fortnight, discuss local political issues and have occasional guest speakers - and attend lobbies of the council.

When BAPS applied for a stall at the show, they were successful and a member duly went to pay for the privilige, only to be told that permission had been withdrawn.

Undeterred, on Saturday some of the group turned up and stood outside the park gates to leaflet visitors. On Vicki Morris' blog

Brian Coleman protects his assets at the Friern Barnet summer show

you can see a nice picture of Brian Coleman coming to the gate to express his admiration for their activities - as well as being given a tongue lashing by Mr Whippy (and not for the first time, I'll bet).

On Sunday, a sympathetic stall holder suggested that BAPs might like to share their pitch, and this offer was gratefully received. After a while, resident Julian Silverman turned up with the BAPs banner and walked towards the tent with it. Unfortunately, as he did so, he was spotted by a member of Brian Coleman's organising team, Father Adrian Benjamin, who remonstrated with him, and then later followed him to the stall, where Julian had put the banner.

Father Benjamin is a local Church of England vicar: a somewhat flamboyant character, with a full, snowy white beard, and a liking for strutting about in cloaks, and making theatrical gestures, which is not surprising, perhaps, as the Reverend used to be An Actor, don't you know. Or so we are told. He apparently played the role of the Pope in a 1960s film version of Doctor Faustus, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Mrs Angry is struck by the theme of Faustian pacts that linger around the edges of Brian Coleman's interesting life. Anyway: now Father Benjamin plays the role of a high church minister, with firm Tory convictions - and he plays it very well, and does the work of the Lord, and Brian Coleman, with panache, and a distinctive style. Go Father Benjamin. Take a look at the rev's facebook page, and you will see what a groovy vicar he is. Not so long ago he took part in a tv series called 'The Search', which he seemed to enjoy enormously. Oh, and by the way, he is reputed to be a particular friend of a certain former Finchley MP, Margaret Thatcher.

So, anyway, here we are in the tent, with Barnet Alliance, and their banner, and the Reverend Benjamin. The Reverend Benjamin does not like the banner of the Barnet Alliance.

Banners are powerful objects, aren't they? Rallying points: they have a totemic value beyond the mere contents, or symbolism, of the banners themselves. From biblical times, to the battle fields of the middle ages and beyond, we have attributed special significance to the preservation of banners, flags. In the history of trade unionism, banners have become an intrinsic part of the language of protest - even now, after all the mines in Durham have been closed, thanks to Fr Benjamin's friend Margaret, the union lodge banners are paraded proudly every year at the annual gala by members of the former mining communities.

The Barnet Alliance banner wasn't a great work of art: just a declaration, four feet by nine:

'Our libraries, our NHS, our schools, our wardens, our streets, our land, our old, our young, our past, our future .... Hands off our Barnet'.

So what was so controversial about that?

This is the account of what happened next, as told by Julian Silverman, published here with his permission: he claims that after the banner was kidnapped, (see photo above) and Julian asked what had happened to it, he was informed by Fr Adrian:

"He said he WAS the committee and said "yes I like to be the dictator"
"if someone leaves a bomb in the park, don't I have the right to get rid of

Mr Silverman: "This wasn't a bomb....."

"Your banner is [like] a bomb. Here are the good council doing everything they can for you .... yes,the cuts....and you are trying to destroy them. Your banner is evil...."

This echoes Brian Coleman's greeting to me the day before:

"What are you doing here?"

Mr Silverman: "Read the leaflet and....!

"Mr Silverman. I wouldn't read it. Everything you write is crap! Thissummer fair is for community groups..."

Mr Silverman:"We are a community group"

"No you're not. You're a political party trying to undermine all our work..."

It also recalls what one of his minders shouted at me after he had knocked
down our table, broken the pole and walked off with the banner:

"If you burgled my property I'd break more than your banner...."

Mr Silverman: "Yes. You'd be breaking the law"

after the banner was taken away (see photo above) Julian asked what had happened to it:

"Back to the good father Adrian:

"You can't have your banner back. It's lost."

Mr Silverman: "Well you had responsibility for it while it was in your posession. What did
you do with it?"

"I put it down at the other end of the marquee. And when I came for it this morning it had gone. I thought you had picked it up."

Mr Silverman: "Why didn't you tell me you were leaving it there? Why did you tell X
that you had given it to Brian Coleman who had taken it to the town hall?"

"I thought that might amuse him"
...You can tell everybody - spread the word! let everyone know what a terrible man! - you are"

Mr Silverman: "Has the Archdeacon been in touch with you yet?"



"He's going to write to you"

"and what's he going to say?"

"he's going to tell you that you had no business being in the park..."

Witnesses including Donald Lyven, incidentally, had seen this incident, and also noted Coleman's sidekick, Tory councillor Rowan Turner, joining in the fun:

"The way he spoke saying the Barnet Alliance stall was taking away space from other stall holders, despite being in a half-empty marquee wasn't just ridiculous but very creepy."

On the BAPS website there is another account of the incident:

"He said it was like a bomb, intended to destroy the good work of the council and therefore he had a right to seize it, break it or get rid of it. On the other hand the laughing priest also announced that he had given it to Brian Coleman who had taken it to Barnet Town Hall, from where we could recover it. When questioned, he claimed that actually he had lost it. He had left it in a corner of the marquee where we had been manning a stall he didn’t approve of. A gang working for him had knocked down the table, broken the banner’s support pole, run off with it and left it in his possession. When he came back for it next morning, it had gone. There have been plentiful rumours as to its actual whereabouts. A member of the Summer Fair committee said that it was in the church. Gang members said that they were going to leave it at the park gates. (It wasn’t there when we looked.)

If anybody can give any information as to its whereabouts, Father Adrian would be most grateful. He needs to dismantle it. A ‘bomb’ of such power that it can destroy a council’s good works is capable of doing a great deal of damage lying God knows where permanently at large in the community where any unsuspecting citizen can inadvertently come across it – a vulnerable elderly person perhaps or a child with no children’s centre or a disaffected youth with nowhere to go and nothing to do! This could be even more dangerous than when it stood innocently behind a stall inside a closed marquee for half a day."

Julian Silverman, on behalf of BAPs, contacted the Diocese of London to protest about the 'theft' of their banner. The Bishop of Edmonton was away, so the matter was passed onto the Archdeacon of Hampstead. The Archdeacon was said to be writing to Julian to tell him that the banner, in fact, was apparently in the hands of er, Brian Coleman ... hmm.

Julian tried to ask the local police to take the matter up: they said it seemed to be a civil dispute, rather than a crime, and therefore they could not intervene. The whereabouts of the banner, therefore, remain a mystery.

Oh dear, Father Adrian: it seems Mrs Angry may have to remind you of Isaiah 11, verse 12:

"He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth."

(see, Jeffrey: the benefits of a convent education ...)

You may see the BAPs banner as a dangerous object: a bomb: something likely to explode at any moment. Mrs Angry would suggest that you consider the possibility that this is because such activisim and commitment is closer to the true spirit of Christianity than the self seeking materialism of the Tory party.

Who do you really think the man from Nazareth would feel most at home with, Reverend: a pantomime vicar in a tent, actively denying the right to free speech and political dissent - and Brian Coleman, or a group of ordinary residents fighting to protect the rights of the disadvantaged members of our community, here in Broken Barnet?

Give them back their banner.

*Update, Friday evening.

Well hello: what do we have here? Mrs Angry has been busy today, following up this story. And what an interesting story it is, citizens of Broken Barnet, with information flowing in from all corners of our beloved borough.

Mrs Angry has performed a mini armchair audit, or an 'Eric', as we Barnet bloggers like to refer to them, on the company which runs the Friern Barnet Summer Show. This goes under the name of, wait for it: Friern Barnet Summer Show Ltd.

At the moment, there are three directors: yes, our Brian Coleman, and a gentleman called Robert Newton, who Mrs Angry believes is a former Barnet Tory councillor, oh, and - the Reverend Adrian Benjamin. Both the latter two gentlemen, by the way, received civic awards from the borough earlier this year, which is nice. Mrs Angry is going to nominate all her fellow bloggers for this award this year, as they undoubtedly make such a valuable contribution to the well being of our borough. Shame we don't know any Tory councillors to smooth the way.

Councillor John Marshall: Mrs Angry is winking in your direction, look ...

So: Mrs Angry has looked at the accounts of this company, and this has confirmed information given to her by other sources: as stated by a certain Brian J Coleman, (AM, FRSA) Chairman of the directors, in a document signed on June 29th 2011:

'The 2010 summer show was run by the All Saints Art Centre under the auspices of the All Saints Friern Barnet Parochial Church Council.'

The All Saints Art Centre is a venture run by our friend Father Adrian Benjamin, of course.

According to the balance sheet on page 4 of the accounts, there was only £49, yes £49, in the kitty ... Thankfully,and very generously, the All Saints Arts Centre had loaned the company a princely sum of .... £4,461.

Wasn't that kind?

Income and expenditure for the year ending 31st October 2010, revealed on a table on page 3, was, er £0.00. Hmm.

In another interesting development, Mrs Angry has been told that many people are under the impression that the use of Friary Park for the fair was either at a nominal, very low rate, or completely free. Mrs Angry is happy to correct this, if evidence is shown to her that the full level of new charges was imposed.

Mrs Angry can understand now why the use of a very large funfair is so helpful to the successs of the Friern Barnet Summer Show.

Mrs Angry can also imagine how these revelations will be received by members of the community who had to cancel the Finchley Carnival this year, due to interference from Brian Coleman, and the level of exorbitant new charges that were forced onto the event, and who were described by him as 'a bunch of amateurs' who 'failed to deliver' and last year produced an event he claims was 'sad and pathetic'. Councillor Coleman is widely believed to be trying to get next year's carnival organised by Benjamin and his cronies, with the Coleman favoured fun fair in place.

There are many unanswered questions. How can the All Saints Arts Centre afford to loan so much money to the Friern Barnet Summer Show? Has it been repaid? Has the show been subsidised by the London Borough of Barnet? Was the Friern show charged the full amount, or was it waived, and if so, by whom, and on what grounds? And if so, why was Finchley Carnival not extended the same level of assistance? Was it because they have a mind of their own, and refused to do as they were told?

More importantly, are these local events really best served by being hostage to the control of an individual Tory councillor and his mates, or should they be organised by the community, for the community?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Action Man Returns

Action Man Matthew Offord (right) and AFPS friends, relaxing after another gruelling tour of duty

*Updated, 6th September, see below:

When Mrs Angry was a little girl, she was a voracious reader. In those far off days, children were only allowed three library books a week and normally those would be read by Sunday. Mrs Angry was allowed a weekly comic, which didn't last long either, and so, in desperation, she would sometimes end up reading her brother's comic, 'The Victor'. This habit gave her a very interesting insight into the workings of the male psyche, which has served her well in later life too. If you are not familiar with this sort of comic, well, all you need to know is the contents were probably hugely politically incorrect, sexist, violent, xenophobic, and worse still, had endless stories about - yawn - football. Many of the regular features - with titles like 'Killer Kennedy, RN', or 'Two Targets for 22 Squadron', were about daring do in exotic locations: square jawed heros armed with machine guns or knives, fighting against all the odds and winning through, singlehandedly, of course. You boys.

Mrs Angry was reminded of these exciting tales last night, when she happened upon the latest installment of news on the website of our much missed local Hendon MP, Matthew Offord. If you remember, there was much discussion here in Broken Barnet over Matthew's failure to return to the UK during the riots, and his absence when Parliament was recalled. Our peripatetic MP was said to be in Belize, and some naughty people alleged that he might even be on a scuba diving holiday. No, no, no. Not so, citizens.

Matthew told the local Times group reporters that in fact he was not enjoying 'cocktails on the beach', poor old love. As the paper reported:

"He said he is not just on holiday but is also doing Parliamentary business helping the country prepare for hurricane season, as well as working with coastguards fighting the drugs trade and terrorism. "

Aha. Not just on holiday: what does that mean?

Well: our man in the jungle has now returned safely. You might like to have a look at what he has to say for himself and his exploits. It's a thrilling, Boys Own/Victor style adventure:

We are told that:

Matthew witnesses dumping of £50 million of illegal drugs during Armed Forces operation

Working with the Armed Forces in the North Atlantic"£50 million of cocaine has been removed from our streets as a result of recent activity in the Caribbean. A joint operation between the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the U.S. Coastguard Service was complemented by two MPs, Wyre Forest’s Mark Garnier and Hendon’s MP Matthew Offord - as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS).

The two MPs were stationed on the RFA’s 31,500 tonnes Fast Fleet Tanker Wave Ruler to see for themselves how narco-terrorism is being tackled by the Atlantic Patrol Task (North). During their time on board three operations were conducted, the third of which resulted in a major disruption of illegal drugs."

Mrs Angry is glad that this mission was 'complemented' by two MPs. She imagines that their contribution was invaluable. The website also reports that Mr Offord has joined the Royal Marines:

"In addition to the narco-terrorism initiative Matthew also participated in the Royal Navy’s preparations for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) as it is currently hurricane season in the Caribbean. This programme became invaluable as Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall in Belize, whilst Matthew was in the country. Being assigned to the Royal Marines as part of the AFPS, Matthew also took the opportunity to meet a detachment Royal Marines on a training exercise in Belize."

Where were you then, exactly, Matthew, when Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall? Did you take an umbrella?

Matthew said: “I gained an incredible insight into the activities of the various law enforcement agencies as they tackle narco-terrorism* in the North Atlantic region. The results of the actions I have been involved with will have a direct consequence in crime reduction on the streets of the Hendon constituency, London and other towns and cities in the UK. This type of illegal drug destroys lives and I am proud to have been a part of an operation that has disrupted the supply.

I am also pleased to have made a contribution in the efforts to reduce the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes on British Overseas Territories. The Royal Navy not only provides direct assistance after a disaster but also gives massive reassurance by their presence. That is also a great relief to many of my constituents who originate from the Caribbean and still have friends and family in the region.”

*interesting use of the term 'narco terrorism', which is defined by the US government as:

participation of groups or associated individuals in taxing, providing security for, otherwise aiding or abetting drug trafficking endeavors in an effort to further, or fund, terrorist activities."

Not quite sure where the link to terrorist activities is here, but it sounds good, doesn't it? Mrs Angry is confident that the citizens of Hendon will sleep more easily in their beds tonight, as a result of their MP's complementary observations.

Ah: are you wondering what the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme is? Mrs Angry was curious too. It sounds as if it is a government sponsored enterprise, doesn't it? It isn't, though.

Here is an extract from an article published on HMForces.co.uk website on January 18th 2010.

MPs have been condemned by ex-servicemen after accepting commemorative medals for time spent with the Armed Forces.

Some MPs have received the awards for 10 years’ or more membership of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS).

The body allows politicians to spend around 22 days a year with the Forces. The practice has been criticised by former servicemen, families of personnel who have died in Iraq and a senior officer who led British forces in Afghanistan.

Col Richard Kemp, was commander of British troops in the country in 2003, and campaigned for a medal for all those wounded in action but was turned down by the Ministry of Defence.

He said: “It seems a bit rich to give a medal to an MP for visiting a combat zone, yet the Government is not prepared to give a medal to someone who has lost a leg or an arm in battle.” * See below for update ... The AFPS medal is made of silver and attached to a crimson, gold and green ribbon representing the colours of the Lords, the Queen and the Commons.

It is an unofficial medal and is worn by recipients on the right breast.

MPs in the scheme – which is backed by the Ministry of Defence – are given a uniform which includes a badge decorated with a portcullis, the symbol of Parliament, and enter at the rank of major. They can earn promotion to colonel and above, according to the number of “training” days they attend. So far, around 200 MPs have participated but only eight to 10 have served long enough to be eligible for the award.

Soldiers are only awarded medals if they serve in a war zone, in operations, or for long service or acts of conspicuous bravery.

The MPs’ medal ceremony has previously taken place in the Speaker’s state dining room at the House of Commons, and is attended by senior military officers. The Labour MP Frank Cook was presented with his medal by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the current Chief of the Defence Staff. Other politicians to receive the award include the Tories Roger Gale; James Gray; Edward Garnier QC, who is shadow attorney general; and Julian Lewis. They have all reached the rank of colonel or above.

Other Labour MPs known to have been given a medal include Andrew Miller.

“It is a bit vain to award yourself a medal just for spending time with members of the Armed Forces,” said Bob Clay, 78, who served in the Guards Independent Parachute Company for 22 years and is now a Royal British Legion committee member in Lymington, Hampshire.

“It is like patting yourself on the back. What the troops want is real support from politicians, not this sort of PR.”

Robert Hannaford, 76, who served in the Army Intelligence Corps in the 1950s and is now president of the Royal British Legion Club in Margate, Kent, said: “I’ve always been sceptical about medals awarded to people just for being in a certain place at a certain time rather than for earning them on merit.”

The scheme is run by Sir Neil Thorne, a former Tory MP and former colonel in the Territorial Army, with part-funding from the defence industry. He started it in 1988 to give MPs a clearer idea of Forces life.

Sir Neil defended the medal as recognition of long service and loyalty to service personnel.

“What I am trying to get them to do is support the men and women in the Armed Forces,” he said.

Mr Gale said: “I have got one medal from the scheme which I have worn on two occasions. Of course I would never wear it on something like Remembrance Sunday, because that’s for the bold who earned their medals in combat.”

Mr Gray said he had never worn the medal in public and considered it a “badge”.

The awarding of the medal has also attracted criticism from families of servicemen killed in action. "

As the article states, funding for this MPs group is partly from the defence industry.

There appears to be a lack of transparency, in fact, as to whom exactly does give money to support this scheme, which is surely not acceptable. What happens if someone involved in this scheme also has responsibility for arms procurement or other defence matters? Is there not a potential conflict of interest?

What is clear, however, that this scheme is privately funded and organised, and is not in any way authorised by an official Parliamentary body. Some have tried, with little success, to find out exactly who does sponsor this scheme: the FOI act does not apply in this case, however, and we remain in ignorance of the funding details. Mrs Angry would suggest that this is regrettable.

If MPs like Offord get their kicks dressing up in combat gear and playing soldiers for a few days every year, then good luck to them. Just don't do it, friend, when you should be at home, supporting the people in your constituency at a time of crisis.

Mrs Angry absolutely supports the need for serving members of our armed forces to be given the respect - and resources - that they need and deserve. To award an MP a medal for playing at being a soldier when it suits them seems completely inappropriate, however, and an insult to the real courage and dedication of the members of our armed services who are putting their lives at risk on our behalf every day of the year.

The first duty of an MP is to represent the people who put them into office: which is hard work, often tedious, and boring, and offering few photo opportunities. Tough.

Mrs Angry lives in a neighbouring constituency: if she lived in Hendon, she might prefer that her MP concentrated on issues that had more immediate relevance to the ordinary citizens who have elected Mr Offord to office. Mr Offord only won his seat in Westminster by a tiny margin of votes, taking the place of the hard working Andrew Dismore, who was a very good constituency MP. There is a lesson in here, somewhere, Matthew, Mrs Angry would suggest.

You boys.

* Update, Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, commented on this post via twitter, 26th August: 'Thanks. The Forces Parliamentary Scheme is valuable but medals and phoney ranks undermines its credibility.'

* Update 6th September: here is a letter to the press from Andrew Dismore, Labour GLA candidate in regard to the AFPS:

Dear Editor,

Hendon’s Conservative MP justifies his absence from the constituency during the aftermath of the riots and his failure to return for the recall of Parliament, because he was in Belize on the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme.

When I was MP, I was invited to join the scheme. I was offered all kinds of foreign travel: the Caribbean with the Royal Navy, ski-ing in Norway with the Royal Marines, jetting off with the RAF. However, I decided not to participate for two reasons.

Firstly and most importantly, the time commitment. I could not justify spending the almost one month per year in total away from Hendon the scheme requires to meet its demands, and still be able to honour my obligations to Hendon residents.

Secondly, whilst the MP states the scheme is privately funded, what he does not say is that this funding mainly comes from three major defence contractors. Personally, I did not feel it was right to take such hospitality and at the same time be free to raise defence matters without a potential conflict of interest. Indeed one Conservative MP was thrown off the scheme for challenging this very issue. Hendon’s Conservative MP has no such qualms. He has raised questions about promoting defence exports, increasing diversity in the defence market, and sustaining the defence industry in equipment procurement decisions. No doubt within the rules, I understand that he did not declare an interest when asking them.

Personally, I found the full and detailed briefings on offer from the armed forces at Westminster more than adequate; Scotland Yard also were very co-operative when I was championing the campaign against extremism in Westminster; and the local police were well informed about the local crime issues ( including drugs).

I am sure the MP enjoyed his visit to Belize (as no doubt he did his previous jaunt to the South Atlantic) whilst other MPs answered the call back to Westminster, but he should not overplay his hand. The drugs operation for which he proudly claims credit would of course have happened without him.

The scheme has some value. But In the end, it comes down to priorities. Subsidised overseas travel for whatever reason should come behind an MP’s duty to his or her constituency and constituents should come first ( as indeed the Hendon MP pledged at the time of the election, adding another to the growing list of his broken promises). When faced with such a choice myself (when schoolboy Kiyam Prince was murdered a few years ago), I decided to cancel a recess study visit to the Caribbean I had been nominated to lead, so I could be available in Hendon . Hendon’s Conservative MP yet again made the wrong call.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon 1997 -2010, Labour’s Candidate for the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mrs Angry's Visitors

Mrs Angry is eternally fascinated by the rich variety of visitors to the Broken Barnet blog.

Reading through the list of searches which are responsible for guiding some readers in this direction is often very entertaining. The readers, that is, who arrive by accident, usually via google searches.

Recently, for example, apart from the NASA scientists looking for well, never mind, but ending up admiring the sight of Councillor Longstaff's golden a*se, (and who could blame them) Mrs Angry was amused to see a reader in Canada arrive by looking for a Toronto 'escort' with the exact name of a very upright, even rather fearsome Barnet Tory lady councillor of impeccable respectability ( as far as Mrs Angry knows, anyway ...) He must have been rather disappointed to find himself directed to a rambling post about one of the more tedious committees of the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

Many other, rather less amusing visitors are from corporate addresses, and the pattern of their visits tells its own story. It tells us all we need to know, in fact, about what is happening now in the marketing of our borough's business opportunities to the big companies who depend for their profiteering on the supply of services to the public sector.

One day last week, for some reason, various BT corporate addresses spent almost the whole day reading and rereading the Only Connect post on the BT Vital Vision programme, searching for the rather embarrassing document which was discovered by Mrs Angry some months ago, relating to marketing opportunities, and which has now been withdrawn from the web. Funny.

Also funny is the fact that in breach of all council procedures, and the Data Protection Act, Mrs Angry still has had absolutely no further reply whatsoever in regard to her FOI request about BT and hospitality given to any senior officers of the London Borough of Barnet. This is despite the fact that BT have in that period attended a marketing event here connected to the £750 million business tenders on offer. The refusal to comply with this FOI is completely unacceptable, and an indication of the murky waters we are now entering, citizens, is it not?

It is pretty clear, in fact, that, without implying any wrongdoing whatsoever on the behalf of any senior officers of Barnet, in the interests of transparency there should be, must be, as there is for councillors, an open register of interests, gifts and hospitality, so that residents can see for themselves what connections there may be with any companies or individuals who have contact with such officers. This is done in many well run local authorities - properly run authorities - there is absolutely no reason why it should not be done here. And now, not in six months time.

Here in Barnet we are being thrown into an era of unprecedented commercial interest by very large and powerful companies in the acquisition of contracted business opportunities - which means that our senior officers are going to be in circumstances where, for reasons of probity and accountability, it is absolutely essential that we are sure there can be no potential conflicts of interest. How can we be sure, however, if we have no system of open declaration and when even requests made under statutory regulations are blatantly flouted?

Returning to our visitors, though ...

Well ... this week has seen a flurry of interest from Apcoa, the parking company - I can't think why, can you readers? Nothing to do, I suppose, with the sneaky attempt by certain parties to slip the order for the removal of all pay and display facilities through without any fuss during the riots, and while everyone was on holiday?

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for corporate visitors: we have seen Steria, and Synetrix holdings and Capita, a frequent caller, of course. Lots of interest too from someone at Suffolk County Council checking out someone called Max Wide ... now would that be the same Max Wide who BT loans out to local authorities all over the country, from Barnet to, well, Suffolk - and beyond, or another Max Wide? Not sure.

Other very popular searches leading to Broken Barnet are enquiries regarding the case of Ross Knowles, the head of energy procurement at Kent County Council's Laser organisation, who was charged on May 10 with two counts of fraud by abuse of position, and one count of money laundering. Lots of visits connected to this yesterday too, for some reason. This story will be updated in a further post.

Rather amusingly, we have also had a visit from a major missile and defence systems provider: dear oh dear - Mrs Angry wonders if perhaps our Tory councillors and their advisors are becoming a little over assertive in their political ambitions. Does the One Barnet model have a secret WMD programme? Wouldn't be surprised, would you, citizens? Is Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers sharpening his stubby little pencil and writing up a dodgy dossier?

Oh, and talking of our deputy CEO Andrew Travers, and his boss, Nick Walkley: all day long yesterday Capita Business Services were making searches on their names, and landing here and other Barnet blogs. They are particularly fascinated by you, Mr Travers, it seems. Of course Mrs Angry is happy to act as your referee, although this may not work entirely in your favour, she would imagine.

In one way, it is rather surprising that Capita has to go to such lengths to familiarise themselves with our senior officers. After all, our senior officers are, like most senior officers around the country, pretty familiar with them, and both the CEO and his deputy have attended Capita held events in recent times. Last November, for example, our CEO, Nick Walkley attended the 4th annual Capita Conference on the issue of 'Public Sector Transformation' and gave the following presentation:

15.40 Managing Change in a Tough Financial Climate

• The easyCouncil story so far
• Delivering transformation whilst delivering the day job
• Leading and managing in a world of social enterprises and
armchair auditors
• New identities and expectations of the public sector worker

Nick Walkley, Chief Executive, London Borough of Barnet

Hmm: delivering transformation whilst delivering the day job - in other words not getting distracted by things like oh, One Barnet, whilst failing to notice all the things going wrong that hello, were flagged up by, hold on, moving on to his next point, those pesky armchair auditors ...

Yes, and not to be outdone, Mr Walkley's little helper, Andrew Travers, (who also gave a masterly talk to a CIPFA meeting this year: see Mr Mustard's blog today for details ...)


Yes: Andrew will be having his own moment in the Capita spotlight at a conference this November:

New Models of Service Delivery - Opening Up Local Government Services to New Providers

Look , there he is, listed right underneath the keynote speaker Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent secretary at Communities and Local Government. Mrs Angry wonders what his speech will be about? I'm sure the conference will be agog to hear first hand the story of his success at the London Borough of Broken Barnet, the story of MetPro, and the amusing tale of public endorsement (oh: not for Mr Travers, for the Barnet bloggers) from Eric Pickles. I wonder, in fact, what message Sir Bob might have for Andrew from Uncle Eric?

At the moment, by the way, Capita is one of several companies bidding for two huge contracts from Barnet, which are worth together in the region of £1 billion. Yes: one billion.

The DRS contract - Development and Regulatory - is for £275 million for services ranging from Planning to Highways, the second for £750 million: HR, IS - financial services, and procurement. Five companies are known to be bidding for the first package in the first round of the process, due to be complete in mid September. The five are likely to be whittled down to three, before a nine month round begins, after which the lucky winner will be appointed.

You may recall that Barnet rushed this package of tender notices out the very next day after the MetPro Audit committee met to consider the scandalous revelations of incompetence - and worse - in the financial, procurement and contractual management in Barnet. You might think that the way in which this notice was published was completely inappropriate in such circumstances, and you would be right, but there is too much at stake for certain parties for anything to obstruct the dangerous speed at which the One Barnet programme of outsourcing is being facilitated.

Is the externalisation of so many services going to benefit the residents of this borough?

Does this consideration really matter to anyone involved in the process?

A few backbench Tory councillors might have their doubts, but of course they are doing nothing to prevent the programme from rolling on. The senior officers are the ones who run this council, and they are the ones who are pushing One Barnet through, even as the signs from government clearly indicate now that the idea of massive outsourcing has become discredited, and the emphasis on large scale externalisation is being discouraged.

Take a look at this story regarding Capita and another London borough, published in the Local Guardian on 20th July, under the heading:

Concerns over Lambeth Council's £60 million call-centre contract

Councillors and unions have demanded a review of Lambeth’s decision to award a £60m revenue collection and call-centre contract to a company it previously branded “unacceptable”.

Councillor Kingsley Abrahams ‘called-in’ the deal with private service provider Capita earlier this month, claiming the deal would damage the local economy and committed the council to a long term relationship with a company that “in the past, failed to perform satisfactorily for the people of Lambeth”.

Capita was in charge of housing and council tax services in Lambeth between 1997 and 2001, but the service had to be bought in-house after the council declared Capita’s service to be “unacceptable”.

The 10-year deal involves Capita running the council’s revenue collection and call centres, which would move to Southampton.

Lambeth Living, (LL) the council’s housing arm, has opted out of the deal, a move seen by some as a vote of no confidence.

In response to Coun Abrahams’ concerns, the council said Capita was in a far more “robust” position now, and stressed the deal would save £1m a year, as well as delivering better services.

It also said there would be “minimal redundancies”, and Capita would invest £500,000 in training support and apprenticeships.

The council's cabinet member for finance, Councillor Paul McGlone, said: “It is going to cut waiting times on the phone, but it will also allow people to get in touch with the council at times that suit them through new technology, online, or by text.

“So rather than drag up the distant past, we are looking to the future because this is exactly the kind of innovative and value for money approach that residents expect from us, and that Lambeth Council is developing a national reputation for.”

But Unison’s Lambeth branch secretary Jon Rogers said: “I’m not at all convinced the services will be better. Who thinks people based in Southampton are the best placed to help you navigate Lambeth Council?

“Forty-three full-time jobs would disappear to Southampton. A lot spend money in the borough so there would be a knock-on effect for the local economy.

“It seems bizarre the council wants to move jobs out of the borough. All we’re asking is if there’s an option to keep the work in the borough.”

Perhaps it is unfair to refer back to a failure by the company ten years ago: but is this sort of loss of local control of services really the direction we want to go in, here in this borough?

According to the literature published by Barnet for the massive contracts now being fought for, our council is committed to the externalisation programme of One Barnet only in order that they can provide 'citizen-centric' services.

Do we really believe that the best interests of our citizens are being placed at the top of the agenda of those pushing for One Barnet, or is it actually the case that our interests come way behind whatever suits the plans of our ideologically obsessed, if intellectually challenged Tory Cabinet members, and their senior management team - and what will most successfully enhance the profit margins of a small number of very fortunate private sector companies?