Thursday, 29 September 2011

The lights are going on all over England: but not in Broken Barnet

Barnet Council responds to Eric Pickles call for greater transparency

Update 6.30pm and 3oth September, see below:

Oh dear, naughty, naughty London Borough of Broken Barnet, yet again ... in trouble with Uncle Eric - what are you like?

On Monday, the Barnet bloggers wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the obstructive, anti-democratic practices here in Barnet which the local authority is imposing in flagrant defiance of Eric's drive for greater transparency and accountability: obviously Uncle Eric is a big fan of the Barnet bloggers, and listens to our advice, and now look at the press notice he issued this morning ...

Read it carefully, Mr Cornelius, Councillor Coleman, and Mr Walkley, and then each of your write Mrs Angry a 5,000 word essay on "why I must try harder to make Broken Barnet one of Mr Pickles' best local authorities', and stop being such a fucking embarrassment to the government".

Thank you.

Pickles hails next wave of council transparency

Published 29 September 2011

The next wave of council openness was hailed today by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as he published the final Code of Recommended Practice for council transparency which will help reveal the fine details of authorities' daily business, including senior salaries and contracts.

Already every council in England except Nottingham City Council publishes data on all their spending over £500 on a regular basis.

Ministers believe that data transparency should extend beyond local spending and that full disclosure should be every council's default position. Councils will now be expected to have regard to the Code in all their data publications. Subject to consultation, ministers are minded to make the Code a legally binding requirement to ensure authorities can be held fully accountable to the local people they serve.

The code of practice calls on local authorities such as councils and fire and rescue services to shine a light on every part of their business, from employees' salaries over £58,200 and details of all their contracts and tenders to details of grants to voluntary organisations, performance information and the locations of public land and building assets. It also establishes three key principles behind council transparency; timeliness, openness and mindfulness of local demand.

Releasing this information to the public could provide a wealth of local knowledge and spark more improvements in the way services are delivered. Faster publication and easier access for the public and companies could open new possibilities for real-time analysis and response and opportunities for small businesses to enter new markets.

The best local authorities have already adopted the code of practice into their normal publishing routines. Councils like Northamptonshire County Council, Hammersmith and Fulham and Windsor and Maidenhead for example have long ago thrown their books wide open for public scrutiny and publish much of the data specified in the code already.

Eric Pickles said:

"We have always maintained that the best local leaders, those with control of the public purse strings, should be open and accountable for every one of their decisions. We have abolished top down inspection making local accountability more important than ever. Central Government has a role in ensuring that local people can exercise their right to know how their money is being spent and have the information they need to question that spending.

"But spending data is just one aspect of transparency. There is a wealth of information on the inner workings of councils across the country - from senior salaries and council assets to everyday decision making processes - and we shouldn't have to be data experts to see and understand it.

"The code sets out clear expectations. It will help unlock more information and increase accessibility for everyone, taking us one step closer to our ambition to be the most transparent government in the world."

In June the Prime Minister wrote an open letter to the Cabinet outlining what the Government has achieved in terms of transparency over the past year and what it intends to do over the next (see link right).

In the spirit of transparency the Department for Communities and Local Government has already released a vast amount of its data, including spending figures, contracts, Ministerial data and organisational information. We will continue to lead the way, and are publishing all 229 responses to the consultation on the Code of Practice today.

Notes to editors

1. The Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency applies to England only. Local authorities, including councils and fire and rescue services, will be expected to comply with data protection law and to take a risk management approach to payment fraud. (

2. The Department consulted on the Draft Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency from 7th February 2011 to 14th March 2011. Consultation Summary and all responses to the consultation can be found at:

3. The Code asks local authorities to follow the three principles of transparency when publishing data - Demand-led, Open and Timely. The Code also proposes the minimum datasets that should be released for reuse.

They are:

  • expenditure over £500, (including costs, supplier and transaction information)
  • senior employee salaries, names, budgets and responsibilities of staff paid over £58,200 - equivalent to the lowest Senior Civil Service pay band
  • an organisational chart
  • the 'pay multiple' - the ratio between the highest paid salary and the median average salary of the whole of the authority's workforce
  • councillor allowances and expenses
  • copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector
  • grants to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector should be clearly itemised and listed
  • policies, performance, external audits and key inspections and key indicators on the authorities' fiscal and financial position
  • the location of public land and building assets and key attribute information that is normally recorded on asset registers
  • data of democratic running of the local authority including the constitution, election results, committee minutes, decision - making processes and records of decisions.

4. The Code is published under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, which gives the Secretary of State the power to issue a code about the publication of information by local authorities about the discharge of their function. The Act also empowers the Secretary of State to introduce subsequent regulation should that be necessary to enforce greater transparency.

5. Details of local authorities' publishing spend data can be found via the Local Directgov council expenditure over £500 search tool (see link right).

6. The Department for Communities is leading the way across Whitehall and Local Government by publishing a wealth of information including spend (see link right).

Comment later, as Mrs Angry is off to enjoy the localised sunshine that is pouring down like honey over the blighted wilderness of Broken Barnet. x

Updated: 6.30pm

Well, yes, thank you, Mrs Angry had a nice wander around Kenwood with her friend, and had the usual women's rambling, pointless, what is the meaning of life conversation, as we always do, listening to the parakeets and risking concussion from the nuts dropping like bullets from the oaks and chestnut trees. Very nice. And talking of nuts, while we stopped for tea, Mrs Angry checked her phone and found someone had emailed her the funniest ever story about Councillor and deputy Barnet Tory leader, Daniel 'John' Thomas. Obviously she rushed home, yawn, and read the following article with vast amusement.

John Thomas has been talking to something called 'Public' about the letter to Eric Pickles sent by the Barnet bloggers on Monday. It seems the Barnet Tories are a little windy. Are they worried that Uncle Eric might diss them again at the Tory Conference? Oh, surely that's just a nasty rumour?

Thomas wants people to think that Barnet is a shining beacon of localism in action and a marvellous example of transparency and accountability. He says:

'... we are committed to open government as well as responding to freedom of information requests in a timely manner."

Thomas said one of the bloggers had submitted a total of 175 FoI requests between April and September of 2011. This meant a total nearing £40,000 was spent by the council responding to this one individual, based on a typical cost of £225 in dealing with each request.

Thomas went on to say that Barnet council "completely rejects complaints about lack of transparency around the One Barnet programme". He said there had been "numerous cabinet reports, a full debate in council and the agreement of the One Barnet framework last October".

Goodness me. Let's not mention the fact that without the Barnet bloggers, and their use of the FOI act, none of the staggering revelations of MetPro would have been brought into the public domain.

Let's not ask the Labour councillors and LibDem councillors, especially Lord Palmer, what they think about the amount of transparency surrounding the One Barnet programme. Or what happened to the One Barnet scrutiny committee, for example?

As for the naughty blogger Councillor Thomas is badmouthing, we must let him speak for himself, but Mrs Angry reminds Mr Thomas that even if this ludicrous accusation was true, by such obstinate behaviour, daring to demand the answer to awkward questions about the disgraceful, furtive, incompetent and self indulgently wasteful activities of Barnet Council, he is only costing residents as much as Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, the Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, (you know, who didn't spot the massive procurement, payment, monitoring, tendering and contractual balls up we unearthed), as much as he earns in - forty days. And whereas Mr Travers is paid £1,000 a day, and the first thing that Councillor Thomas and his colleagues did when elected was to vote themselves a whopping pay rise, your bloggers here in Barnet do everything they do as armchair auditors for NO pay at all. The Big Society in action, here in Broken Barnet. A ruthless drive for efficiency, and better services for less money.

No need to thank us, Councillor Thomas. You're very welcome.

Update 30th September:

Mrs Angry sends very few FOIs, as it happens - although they do have a habit of remaining unanswered, which is odd, and quite vexing - but this morning she felt moved to send the following, just in case Mr Mustard was busy:

"Good morning, Mr Lustig:

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Act:

A copy of any correspondence between Councillor Daniel Thomas and any council officer within the last four weeks regarding the number and cost of any FOI requests.

I have been specific as to the time period, as, in my relentless drive for efficiency, I am always keen to avoid unneccessary cost.

Yours as ever,

Mrs Angry"

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

These people: residents, not wanted, dead or alive, in Broken Barnet

A warning from history for the Tory Cabinet of Broken Barnet

On the screen at the Town Hall last night, the Cabinet Resources committee meeting was listed as being from 7pm to 10pm. Mrs Angry's heart sank: ah, but no, then she remembered that this meeting, in fact, had no chance of lasting that long. Any Barnet Council meeting with 'Cabinet' in the title is guaranteed to be over and done with in around half an hour, as our Tory masters hurtle through their agenda with all the speed of a committee whose decisions have already been made, in secret, long before the rubber stamping charade about to be performed in public.

Last night's agenda was not available for the public, nor the reports: as we know, information is the enemy in Broken Barnet, and must be contained, and restricted. Why bother printing a document of 150 or so pages, anyway, when all 16 items would be approved in 35 minutes? Who would want to read their way through? Had anyone read their way through, apart from the bloggers and union reps present?

Let's name and shame the guilty parties.

Chair Daniel Thomas, with his humourless, icy control of the meeting - Mrs Angry almost felt less disposed to dislike him, however, for one brief shining moment at the beginning of the meeting when he told Brian Coleman off for talking instead of listening to him - but the moment passed and normal hostilities resumed.

Apart from Coleman, leader Richard Cornelius, hopelessly out of his depth, the dull, po faced Sachin Rajput, little Robert Rams, looking a bit feverish: oh and Andrew Harper. Mrs Angry saw you sneaking looks at her, Andrew, and trying to maintain a - oh dear, can't read my writing - a straight face?

Seated in the public area were two union reps, one Labour councillor, one Tory councillor and three bloggers: Mrs Angry risking accusations of matrimonial intimacy with Mr Mustard on one side, and Mr Reasonable on the other. Mr Reasonable has a broken leg - nothing to do with Mrs Angry - and walked with some difficulty to the table to present his supplementary questions to the committee. Councillor Coleman said very patronisingly to Mr Reasonable, possibly because he does not realise Mr Reasonable is Mr Reasonable, that it was 'very noble' of him to make the effort to attend. Brian was in a good mood, see - to start with.

Mr R had asked about Item 10, the scandalous cemetery issue, and questioned why the options appraisal was being ignored by the Tory Cabinet. As usual, every question he submitted last night was pertinent, important, and necessary. And as usual when the Tory councillors sense their vulnerability to constructive scrutiny, the shutters came right down and his questions were simply deflected with empty, meaningless responses.

Item 10 was a point of extreme vulnerability, of course, an open target - the ruthless commercialisation of a public cemetery, blatantly against all recommendations of value for money, after years of neglect by the council, an offering to the outsourcing tenderers to be enabled by a payment of nearly two million pounds of capital funds - of residents' money. No discussion must be allowed, and it was not.

Item 15 was about leisure service contracts, another sensitive subject the Tories did not want to debate. Robert Rams opened his mouth to respond and came out with his usual, sulky bla bla bla better services for less money ruthless drive for efficiency bla bla bla One Barnet claptrap. Other than the word ruthless, there is no significance to what he says. It means nothing, it is meant to mean nothing, and if it did mean anything, Rams wouldn't understand the difference.

Mr R did his best, but was met at every point by obstruction. When he was in danger of saying something too risky, Rams was immediately assisted by the Chair or a legal officer, or Brian Coleman's helpful officer Ms Pam Wharfe, all of whom intervened at some point, advising no response, citing 'commercial interests' or similar grounds for silence.

There was a lot of interesting body language at the table last night, in fact, between one or two officers and one or two Cabinet members. Unless Mrs Angry was very much mistaken, corporate love was in the air: a meeting of true minds. Mind you, Councillor Coleman wasn't feeling particularly free with his affections: later in the evening he told us that he wasn't getting into bed with ... with who? Checking notes ... with any councils who were 'not in the same league' as Barnet. What, like Camden? Ooh get you, Brian. We must only sleep with nice Tory councils who take us out to dinner and whisper sweetly in our ears, mustn't we, in Broken Barnet?

Never mind: question time over, time for a sprint through the agenda.

Allotments: yes, Brian Coleman is happy to talk about this. He is still in a good mood - he has good news, in fact. Everything is wonderful. Allotments will no longer be a council concern, so yet another responsibility has been safely dumped. He told us that this is the Big Society in action. He told us again, in case we had not understood.

People on allotments will now be able to design their own toilets. And 'grow their own' ha ha, although he did not understand why people became so excited by vegetables: carrots and parsnips, for example. Mrs Angry was surprised by this confession. There are in fact, Councillor Coleman, many things you can do with root vegetables, although not all of them are legal in some of the more conservative wards of Broken Barnet. Oh look: here is a queue of residents outside the Town Hall, lining up to offer to give you a demonstration ...

Item 6: Mill Hill Sports Club - see the Barnet Eye for the shameful story on this - all agreed, in less than a minute.

Item 7: school provision in Colindale - this is not good news: no, Andrew Harper tells us this is VERY good news.

Ah, and Cllr Coleman wants to ask Cllr Harper when will there be good news about free schools in Barnet? Cllr Coleman is suddenly keen on educational matters, which is nice: he is 'mindful of the need for free schools', in fact. Ah, thank you for asking, Cllr Coleman (yes, they really do address each other like this) ... it is of course Barnet's policy to be open and welcoming to such expressions of interest, because of course we like to encourage the already over supplied middle classes with more choice in education while children from less advantaged backgrounds carry on going to all the crap ones in Labour areas. Got it?

Item 8, and it is still only 7.15pm. Early intervention contracts.

Oh: Mr Cornelius actually has a contribution. His only remark so far has been to ask about allotments being subject to equalities impact legislation, which he says 'seems to crop up everywhere'. Such a nuisance, these laws, Mrs Angry can only agree - wanting equality for disabled residents, or gay residents, or who knows what these days, so unneccessary, don't you think?

Cornelius is not happy. And he is confused. He says that when reading the report, he didn't understand what it was all about. The senior officers responsible for the report looked somewhat taken aback. Harper agreed that 'more people should be able to write in plain English'. As you can see, the Tory leadership and Cabinet is able instantly to grasp the really significant priorities of issues coming to committee. Marvellous. On to the next item then, as it is - look at the time - 7.20.

Item 9: Something about savings being frontloaded, but Mrs Angry got distracted at this point thinking about her tumble dryer, and didn't write anything down, and can't remember the details. Didn't miss anything, she is sure. Oh, and leader Richard Cornelius made another useful contribution: this time complaining about a rather nice chart, with blue circles, which he said was both pointless and meaningless, rather like himself.

Item 12 next. Er ... no one dared interrupt the Chair for a minute. Then, had he perhaps overlooked something?

Ah: Item 10. The cemetery. The disgusting proposal to pay for it to be tarted up and then handed over to an outsourcing company to make profits from. The Item no one wants to talk about, so they don't. The Chair simply said: Item 10, agreed? They agreed. All over, in three seconds: a record even by Andrew Harper's standards, I imagine.

And there you go: my dead grandmother up for sale, and at least four other family members, and who knows how many other relatives of all of us.

I thought about my grandmother, Daisy, a formidable South London matriarch who moved the Angry family from Brixton to Edgware, for a better life, just before the war. I wondered what she would make of the grasping councillors who had just put her last resting place up for auction. I think, actually, she might well have got hold of her walking stick and beat the shit out of Councillor Coleman and his shameless Cabinet cronies. This is my way of doing the same, grandma, on your behalf.

And then everything speeded up: items 11, 12, 13, 14, 15: all went by in a blur of Tory conspiracy and pre arranged agreement. Ah: Item 16.

Item 16, and a reference to the transport arrangements for clients including children with special educational needs, and vulnerable adults. I could hardly believe what was said next: none of us could, and we all reread our notes later in absolute amazement.

Councillor Coleman declared that in his opinion the law should be changed in order to stop councils being obliged to provide such transport for 'these people'.

Mrs Angry gasped, and started laughing - what? These people? Children with special needs, the disabled?

Coleman snapped at her: 'Could The Public Gallery' (he talks as he writes, with Capital Letters emphasising his bullying tone) 'Could The Public Gallery Be Quiet' ...

No, said The Public Gallery, I could not.

'It Is Very Annoying! ' said Councillor Coleman.

'Good', said The Public Gallery, 'So Are You'.

It seems, citizens, that in Broken Barnet, taxis must be provided and paid for by us for Tory councillors on their way to and from their banquets and other vital engagements, but provision for an autistic child, or a resident in a wheelchair is a luxury we cannot afford.

Where is that fucking stick?

Sorry: Mrs Angry has been swearing a lot this week, but with a great deal of provocation, I am sure you will agree.

Ok. Last item. Something about investments, which is an area of expertise for Broken Barnet, as we know, although since the inspired direction of Private Eye Banker of the Year, Mike Freer, now our MP, of course, we do not have the option of investing in Iceland, as his previous Tory administration did with such spectacular success. Any news of the missing £27 million, by the way?

Anyway, now apparently, we may or may not have some money in a branch of Santander - if it's the one in Finchley, it must be a bugger for finance chief Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers queuing up there every lunchtime: very slow, aren't they, Andrew? Oh, and we have some money in Canada and Australia. Councillor Coleman was pleased by this: supporting the Empire, he remarked, approvingly. Oh God: someone tell him, please.

Andrew Harper wants to try something different, though. He is feeling experimental: should we feel bound by too much constraint? He doesn't want to be tied down. Stop there, Mrs Angry.

Daniel Thomas, who works in a building society, but not Santander in Finchley - although that might explain the queues - says it is always best to be cautious, and not to put it about too much. Not much risk of that by our Tory Cabinet, Mrs Angry is pretty sure.

And that was that. Motion to exclude the public and press, and bloggers, immediately and enthusiastically seconded by Brian Coleman. We waved a cheery goodbye as we left.

All done in thirty five minutes: localism in action, Eric, in Broken Barnet.

Is this really what you had in mind?

A very Happy New Year to all Jewish friends and readers, from Mrs Angry x

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Tales from the Crypt: - Outsourcing the Dead: Unison responds

Yesterday's post 'Death and Taxes' post explained the background to the proposal going to committee tonight by which the money grubbing Tory councillors of Broken Barnet intend, with no sense of shame, to use the cemetery and cremations services at Hendon as a lure for any libidinous outsourcing companies seeking out new outlets for their pleasure and profit.

Unison is submitting an important report to the committee tonight, which Mrs Angry publishes here, for the instruction of readers, especially councillors of Broken Barnet and the would be tendering companies who call by from time to time. Mrs Angry's helpful emphasis highlighted in easycouncil orange.


September 2011

Briefing No. 8

One Barnet Programme

Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria – UNISON
supports capital investment but not outsourcing


A report to Cabinet Resources Committee on 27 September 2011 recommends the Council finances £1.74m capital investment in Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria whilst retaining the plan to outsource the service with Development and Regulatory Services (DRS).

UNISON have on a number occasions reported to councillors that there is no justification for outsourcing this service and it should never have been included in the DRS procurement. Elected Members should know the full facts and act in accordance with value for money and fiduciary duties.


1. The planned capital investment should be approved to improve service delivery, meet pollution regulations and promote income generating potential.

2. Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria should be withdrawn from the DRS procurement and the service retained in-house in order to maximise Council revenue and deliver an effective service resulting from the planned capital investment. This is in line with the officers recommendations from the options appraisal following the CRC decisionon 23 April 2009.

3. Investigate the way in which capital investment and service delivery have been considered at options appraisal, business case and procurement stages to ensure these are more competently dealt with in future.

First option appraisal rejected, second ignored

The Council has known for several years that Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria required investment to meet pollution regulations to reduce mercury emissions by December 2012. It commissioned Capita Group plc to produce an options appraisal in October 2008. However, the trade unions were only formally notified about the appraisal in a report to Cabinet in April 2009. It turned out to be a failed attempt at a Future Shape ‘quick-win’.

The 2008 Capita Group plc Options Appraisal, which failed to acknowledge the need for a building conditions survey, was heavily criticised by the trade unions (Barnet UNISON, 2009) and rejected by Cabinet in April 2009 (London Borough of Barnet 2009).

Cabinet agreed that a new options appraisal be carried out by Council officers to explore all options, including in-house provision, with trade union involvement. A new options appraisal was then undertaken by Council officers and examined the following options:

Option 1: No investment in the crematorium
Option 2: £2m investment and £70K capital funding sink fund
Option 3: Outsource get half of gross profits
Option 4: 8% turnover- initial capital investment
Option 5: Lease
Option 6: Outright sale
Option 7: Three-way agreement with Camden and Islington

The new options appraisal assessed eight options and undertook a soft market test. It concluded an in-house option was the best option – the service currently has an annual net income of £0.5m. This appraisal was never submitted to Cabinet. The options appraisal was conclusive “…in house delivery with the required investment would be most attractive from a financial perspective” (London Borough of Barnet, 2011). The financial analysis spreadsheet provided conclusive evidence that the in-house option provided significantly better value for money
compared to the other options. The council did nothing, but later included the cemetery and crematoria service in the specification for planning and regulatoryservices in the knowledge that it was virtually certain to be subcontracted.

Stand-alone service

Although Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium is a regulated service there was never any rationale for its inclusion in the scope of the DRS contract. It is a stand-alone service. Yet it was included in the DRS contract“…to preserve the coherence of the council’s wider strategic vision of its future as a commissioning organisation” (page A8, DRS Business Case). In other words, Barnet Council put ideological dogma before value for money and fiduciary duty.

The Council claimed it“…could increase the net gain to the Council further if it were able to bring the significant investment that is required. This increased revenue potential would add considerably to market appetite for the bundle” (page A10, DRS Business Case). That was a fallacious argument because a ‘net gain’ was never likely to materialise because the Council would have had to pay private sector interest rates, financial arrangement fees and private sector profit on the capital investment, in addition to the operation of the cemetery and crematoria. This plan fell apart when the Council belatedly discovered that it “…is unlikely that the existing cremators will last long enough for any new organisation to carry out the replacement once any new organization is appointed” (London Borough of Barnet, 2011).


None of the firms shortlisted for the DRS planning, highways, environmental health and regeneration services have any experience in managing cemeteries and crematoria. Furthermore, none of the firms have shown any interest or capacity to expand into this sector. This service is almost certain to be subcontracted, probably to one of the firms that took part in the soft market test as part of the Cemeteries and Crematoria options appraisal. Yet the outsourcing and partnership options were rejected in the 2009 options appraisal because they did not provide value for money.

Loss of Council revenue

Outsourcing will have three consequences:

1. Net profit, £462,000 in 2010/11, will be considerably reduced because the private operator will extract a 6% - 12% basic profit on the £679,000 operating cost. In addition, the main contractor will impose a subcontract ‘management’ fee. Council revenue could fall by at least £100,000 per annum.

2. The Council and/or the contractor could seek to increase fees, but this would be widely resisted by Barnet residents.

3. Additional financial and operational risks are evident in all outsourcing contracts, but missing from the DRS options appraisal and business case. UNISON’s analysis of the DRS Business Case concluded it “…completely fails to identify operational risks of outsourcing the DRS services, including the governance, financial and service delivery risks” (Barnet UNISON, 2011). The Council cannot afford to put such an important revenue stream at risk.

Sweetener to attract bidders

The inclusion of the Cemetery and Crematoria as a ‘sweetener’ to attract private bidders was never credible. Private contractors would only be interested in the cash flow generated by the Cemetery and Crematoria, but this could backfire on the Council by reducing their revenue at a critical time when the council is making big cuts council spending.

Withdrawal from DRS contract

Withdrawal of the Hendon Cemeteries and Crematoria from the DRS procurement will have little effect on the procurement process or the other services in scope, because it is a stand-alone service. It would reduce the size of the contract by only a few percentage points.

Lack of transparency

The Council-prepared option appraisal, produced in accordance with the April 2009 Cabinet decision, was never submitted to the Cabinet or committee. We can only conclude that it was withheld from elected members because it did not fit with the One Barnet outsourcing model.

Failure of asset management

“There has not been a structured programme of re-investment into the service, grounds orbuildings at HCC and this has resulted in significant dilapidation and a lack of modern facilities in-keeping with competitors and industry developments” (London Borough of Barnet, 2011). This is a failure in the management of the Council’s assets, which precedes the current spending cuts as a result of the global financial crisis.

Timeline known for long period

The timeline has been known for at least eighteen months. The need for new cremators to be installed by December 2012 has been known for a considerable time. Senior management also knew the procurement timetable meant that a contract would not be operational before late 2012 or early 2013. Thus it was impossible for a private contractor to finance and carry out the capital works to meet the December 2012 deadline. Furthermore,“Members have previously indicated that they would wish to carry out abatement works rather than make payments to other crematoria under a burden sharing scheme and continue to pollute through emissions of mercury”
(London Borough of Barnet, 2011).

It is disingenuous to blame the cremator equipment “…will not last long enough for any new organisation to carry out the replacement” (London Borough of Barnet, 2011) when the real reason for the delay appears to be a blind adherence to an outsourcing One Barnet programme even if it does not have a sound financial basis. This report goes on to blame the in-house options appraisal for the delay in dealing with capital investment – the same options appraisal that was sidelined and not reported to Members.“The project to progress the replacement of the cremators and mercury abatement was not commenced earlier due to the decision to carry out this optionsappraisal.”

Value for money

The Council’s own options appraisal and financial analysis concluded that retaining inhouse
provision with the Council financing capital investment provided the best value for money.

The Coalition government recently reissued the Best Value Statutory Guidance. It reminds local authorities that they “…are under a general Duty of Best Value to “make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which its functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”
(DCLG, 2011).

The way in which the future of Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria has been managed over the last four years means thatElected Members could be in breach of their value for money and fiduciary responsibilities.


Barnet UNISON (2009) Future of Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium: Implications for Future Shape, April, London.
Barnet UNISON (2010) Critique of the Development and Public Health Services Options Appraisal, November, London.
Barnet UNISON (2011) Analysis of Development and Regulatory Services Business Case, March,
Department for Communities and Local Government (2011) Best Value Statutory guidance, September, London.
London Borough of Barnet (2008) Barnet Cemetery and Crematorium Option Appraisal, Sector
Projects, Capita Group plc, October. London Borough of Barnet (2009)
Proposals for the Future of Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium,
Report to Cabinet Resources Committee, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Community Engagement, April.London Borough of Barnet (2011)
Replacement of cremators, building works, renovations and compliance with mercury abatement legislation at Hendon Cemetery & Crematorium, Report to Cabinet Resources Committee, 27 September, London.

Dexter Whitfield, Director
Adjunct Associate Professor, Australian Institute for Social Research, University of Adelaide

Monday, 26 September 2011

Death and Taxes in Broken Barnet - another outsourcing opportunity

They say that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

In Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry supposes, you have to make that three certainties: death, taxes and Brian Coleman. And here, citizens, is a post which neatly addresses all three of these grim subjects.

On Tuesday night - tomorrow night - we have the next Broken Barnet Cabinet Resources committee meeting. Sounds awfully dull, doesn't it? Worse than dull, the Chair of the meeting is the glacial young Tory councillor Daniel Thomas, surrounded by the committee from hell that is Brian Coleman, Richard Cornelius, Andrew Harper, Sachin Rajput and Robert Rams. Oh, and on the agenda is one very interesting item, given an innocuous heading, in the hope that we will not see it for the disgusting, greedy little One Barnet business venture that it really is.

Item 10: Replacement of cremators, building works, renovations and compliance with mercury abatement legislation at Hendon Cemetery & Crematorium

Mrs Angry has several close family members interred in the grounds of Hendon Cemetery, as it happens, and was alarmed to see it listed on this agenda, knowing what she does about the One Barnet profit hungry drive to squeeze every last business opportunity out of our community resources. Oh, but surely, Mrs Angry, you may be asking - despicable in every way though they may be, surely the Tory councillors of our borough will draw the line at making use of the dead for their grubby little easycouncil agenda?

Wise up. This is Broken Barnet.

Hendon Cemetery was opened in 1899, and the crematorium added in 1922. It has forty acres of grounds. As the report admits, the facilities have been neglected by the council and have left the place in a dreadful state, which to anyone who has to arrange a funeral there, or attend the grave of a family member, is frankly very upsetting. In addition, the 'cremators' ie the incinerators are 'living on borrowed time' - prone to breaking down, a potential health and safety risk, and simply not fit for purpose. The whole enterprise has been allowed to deteriorate to a disgraceful and dangerous condition by the authority, in other words. Or, as the report puts it:

9.12 The dilapidations, disrepair and lack of modern, fit for purpose facilities act as a deterrent to using Hendon as a venue of choice. Upgrading and bringing back into use buildings within the gatehouse will provide a new modern public facing reception and office facility.

9.13 Renovation and improvement to the buildings and site generally will provide an enhanced and more appealing customer experience for the bereaved.

Ah yes: a more appealing customer experience. Hendon Crematorium, a venue of choice.

For f*cks sake, councillors of Broken Barnet. You are talking about grief, and loss - not a marketing opportunity.

But no, Mrs Angry is being foolish and sentimental. Everything that our councillors can get their sweaty little hands on is now a marketing opportunity. And the only reason our elected representatives are suddenly gripped with anxiety over the state of the place is because of its inclusion in the £275 million DRS package of services being out to tender (in parallel with the £750 million written about elsewhere).

Believe it or not, the slavering outsourcing companies waiting in in the parlour of the One Barnet knocking shop have a necrophiliac like interest in the substantial revenues offered by crematoria. There is profit in death, you know, being something that can't easily be avoided, even in Broken Barnet.

Earlier this year, of course, Cabinet member for the Environment Councillor Coleman upped the charges for those residents foolish enough to dare to die under the rule of One Barnet, thinking they can get away with the old rate of burial fees. Even though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Brian Coleman and the One Barnet manifesto will be at their side. With a whopping bill.

One of the committee reports a few months ago coolly listed, in clinical bureacratic detail, the scale of increased new charges for still born babies, and children under three years old. This part of the report had disappeared, Mrs Angry noted, by the next meeting. But the lesson was clear: nothing is more important in One Barnet than profit, and even grief has its charge.

In order to make Hendon Cemetery into the attractive proposal it could be, the report going to committee tomorrow night is asking for a capital sum to pay for a list of improvements. A truly staggering sum of £1,743,734 is needed in order to prepare the Cemetery for outsourcing.

It is claimed in the report that 'the works will be funded from capital receipts'. This is of course nonsense: how on earth can you depend on capital receipts you do not have, in order to pay for this? Where is the money coming from? How can we afford it? And when the cemetery maintenance and cremation service is sold off, the charges will rise even more in order for the company to take its profit.

In other words, here we have another example of the stinking truth of the One Barnet programme: it is costing us, the residents, millions of pounds to support and has saved us NOTHING in return.

Oh, and here is a funny thing: almost forgot - really, Mrs Angry, standards are slipping - take a look at this part of the report ... (Mrs Angry's highlighting in red to make it easy for even the dopiest Tory councillor to understand):

Options Appraisal

9.9 HCC has, as a result of the decision by Cabinet Resources Committee on 23rd April 2009, mentioned in paragraph 2.1, undergone an options appraisal and soft market testing with the major providers within the industry, which found that when considered as a standalone business, an in house delivery with the required investment would be most attractive from a financial perspective.

In other words, it was recognised that - HELLO - spending nearly two million pounds on doing up Hendon Cemetery in order to give it away as a nice present to an outsourcing company might not be the best use of residents' money.

What has changed? This is a question the Tory councillors might like to consider.

What has changed is that those pushing the One Barnet balls, for whatever reasons we may imagine, are desperate to throw the cemetery services into the DRS package as a sweetener for the outsourcing tendering companies. And they are prepared to spend whatever it takes with our money to acheive this. We, the residents of Broken Barnet, are paying to enable the future profitability of private companies engaged in a process we are told is purely to save us money. It is a disgraceful, blatant betrayal of the best interests of the residents of this borough.

We are continually being forced to listen to the mantra of One Barnet, better services for less money, ruthless drive for efficiency: citizens - this is absolute drivel. Neither efficiency nor savings will ensue as a result of the massive outsourcing that the council is pushing through. Why are they pushing it through?

Of course the senior management team has its own agenda, and won't be around when the implications for this borough are all too plain for us to see - the terrible services, the continual rise in costs. Why should they care?

And the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet?

Most of them are too stupid to understand the implications. And the rest of them are scheming bastards who don't give a damn about the consequences.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Uncle Eric's Citizen Samizdat: Barnet's bloggers and the FOIA, a statement

The Barnet bloggers' no 1 fan is, as you know, rather surprisingly, none other than Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Mr Pickles has been scathingly outspoken in his condemnation of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, who have caused nothing but embarrassment to their own Conservative party leadership since the new Tory administration here was elected in May 2010, and provoked widespread outrage by immediately awarding massive pay rises for councillors, despite their intention to impose a savage agenda of budget cuts in council services.

The extraordinary revelations we disclosed about the authority's incompetence in the wake of the MetPro affair led to an unprecedented public humiliation for Tory councillors in a conference speech made by Pickles castigating Barnet Council for its idiotic behaviour. Have lessons been learned? We don't think so.

Mr Pickles' stated attempts, through his policy of localism, to empower communities to take more control of local authority processes has been systematically obstructed by the Tory group in Barnet, who seem to think that they should empower themselves rather than the residents they are supposed to represent. The Barnet bloggers have had enough of this , and have therefore written to Uncle Eric.

A letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Dear Mr Pickles,

In June last year, as part of your policy of commitment to the principle of ‘localism’ and greater accountability by local authorities to the communities they represent, you issued the following statement:

New era of transparency will bring about a revolution in town hall openness and accountability

“Getting council business out in the open will revolutionise local government. Local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their hard earned cash is being spent and decisions made on their behalf. They can only do that effectively if they have the information they need at their fingertips.

“The public should be able to see where their money goes and what it delivers. The swift and simple changes we are calling for today will unleash an army of armchair auditors and quite rightly make those charged with doling out the pennies stop and think twice about whether they are getting value for money.”

As part of your programme of action to make local authorities more accountable you have created an obligation for them to disclose details of expenditure and have expressed the intention to compel councils to allow citizen journalists to film, photograph and tweet reports of council meetings.

In conjunction with these new directives, you have expressed the wish that residents use existing legislation in order to scrutinise the processes of local government, including, most importantly, the rights given in the Freedom of Information Act of 2000.

All of these suggestions are commendable, and should indeed further extend the powers of scrutiny to local communities.

It is deeply regrettable, therefore, that here in the London Borough of Barnet, rather than embrace a policy of greater transparency, the Conservative administration is making every effort to resist any obligation to be more accountable to its electorate, and is, in direct opposition to your wishes, obstructing the efforts of the armchair auditors that you so applaud.

In a speech at the CIPFA conference in July this year you made the following remark:

“I was shocked by a recent case in Barnet. The council had hired a private security firm, MetPro, which included “keeping an eye” on local bloggers - at a cost of over a million pounds. The contract had been awarded without a tendering exercise, without a written contract, and no proper invoicing.

"An internal audit showed there “serious deficiencies in current procurement arrangements”, and there were no guarantees that against a repeat of such practices.
Irony of ironies - this misuse of public money was uncovered thanks to the determination of local bloggers and activists, including Barnet Eye, Mr Mustard, and Mrs Angry (as she had every right to be.) Exactly the same people MetPro snooped upon.

"I've got news for Barnet. Live blogging from council meetings. Microjournalism. Call it what you like. It's here to stay. In fact this citizen samizdat - local people reporting on their local council's triumphs and shortcomings - is the perfect counterblast to town hall Pravdas.”

As you know, Mr Pickles, here in Barnet bloggers have had to fight for the right to film council meetings, and we have made huge efforts to uncover the ‘deficiencies’ which lay at the heart of the MetPro affair, as well as bringing to the attention of the community a number of other serious issues of concern to all residents.

Earlier this year, in defiance of the move to greater transparency and accountability, and to a more meaningful engagement with citizens, we have seen Barnet’s Conservative administration attack the local constitution, restricting the right of elected councillors to speak at meetings, and worst of all, censoring the local Residents Forums so that absolutely no discussion of any council ‘policy’ may now be raised, nor any issue alluded to within a six month period be submitted for inclusion. These and other draconian and undemocratic regulations are read out in detail at every Forum, and their imposition has caused enormous anger and resentment amongst residents.

Even more worrying, perhaps, is that the culture of secrecy and fear of transparency which is so endemic in this local authority has now extended to the council’s flagrant abuse of the Freedom of Information Act.

Barnet bloggers and armchair auditors – and other residents – who have submitted FOI requests to Barnet Council are increasingly having their enquiries obstructed or needlessly delayed, particularly enquiries on issues of political or financial sensitivity.

Two FOI requests submitted by residents in regard to the MetPro affair, for example, were only answered a few days ago, on 16th September, after an inexplicable delay of several months.
One request had been made in early April, the other in early May. As you will know, the statutory period within which responses must be made is 20 days.

Another request made in relation to potential declarations of interest between senior officers of the council and a major private company was ignored for months and then obstructed on a pretext, despite a current outsourcing tender process for a package of services worth a staggering £750 million in total, in which this influential company is now one of those shortlisted.

In Barnet there is no open declaration of interests, gifts, or hospitality given to senior officers, and one response given to an FOI request by a blogger in regard to such declarations was sent with the identities of donors withheld, invalidating the information and again obstructing the purpose of the enquiry.

The FOI request in regard to the tendering company was reported to the external auditors at a meeting in July: despite an assurance that the issue would be investigated by them under the terms of their remit, we are not aware of any progress in their enquiry.

After struggling to hold the authority to account for FOI responses which were withheld, delayed, or misleading, one Barnet blogger has recently been sent, in reply to a perfectly valid question regarding a hugely over budget IT system, a response refusing to address his request for information, on the grounds that it is ‘vexatious’ and because of the alleged number of previous enquiries.

In Barnet, bloggers, armchair auditors and residents are obliged to resort to making an increasingly large number of FOI requests in response to an obstinate refusal by the authority to comply with the intentions of your stated commitment to greater openness, accountability and transparency, and in order to place the necessary information in the public domain, in a medium easily accessible to all.

Despite the demonstrably inadequate state of preparation revealed by the MetPro audit report, and despite the concerns of so many backbench Conservative councillors, a highly controversial programme of massive outsourcing is being promoted by Barnet’s senior management team and council leadership as the keystone policy of the ‘easycouncil’, One Barnet agenda. There could hardly be a time in which a need for openness and accountability could be more pressing. Public confidence in the governance of this borough is, however, at an all time low, and we, as residents and citizen journalists therefore ask that you, in defence of your policy of localism, investigate the obstructive and anti-democratic practices employed by this authority in a sustained attempt to prevent proper scrutiny of its actions and decisions.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Saturday, 24 September 2011

One Barnet, up for sale: Welcome to the House of Fun

Well, then: here is good news.

Barnet employees were sent an email, at the end of this week, by the senior management of Broken Barnet, informing them of the latest developments in the pimping of council services to would be private company contractors.

Here is an extract. Mrs Angry's comments are in red:

"We’ve now finished our first round of dialogue meetings and the whole dialogue team is enthused about the energy and commitment that bidders have put into the process so far...

Why, you might wonder, would bidders not be brimming over with energy and commitment to a process that will throw an abundance of profits into the laps of the successful applicant? Ah: unless ... let's see ...

Round two begins next week and will focus on financial and commercial issues. The first round of due diligence meetings also finished this week. At these meetings, bidders asked James Wills-Fleming detailed questions about how the corporate programmes function is structured and run.

Cast your mind back, citizens, to the recent strike, the letters sent to staff by senior management, the giant posters installed, Big Brother style, in council offices: at the end of that week another 'market day' took place attended by companies interested in tendering for Barnet outsourced services. Is this a coincidence?

Interestingly, Mrs Angry has had endless numbers of visits to this blog by certain outsourcing companies keen to learn more about the state of play, here in Broken Barnet - and, ha ha - researching the profiles of certain senior officers involved in the outsourcing process ...

As mentioned previously, seven bidders were invited to participate in the dialogue process. We now have four bidders because three - Avarto UK, CSC Computer Sciences UK and IBM - withdrew prior to their first meeting.

Oh dear: three bidders dropped out ... was it something we said?

Funny about IBM, especially. Is it that One Barnet is really becoming too toxic for some companies to touch? But don't worry: there are still four clients sitting on the sofa, waiting to see what we have to offer their jaded appetites ...

The four we met with this week are BT, (well f*ck me, who would have thought it?) Capita, (never!) HCL Axon consortium (who? Tender fodder? Ah, seems they are awfully keen on SAP systems - you're in luck here in Broken Barnet, friends ...) and Serco (yawn ... no surprise there ... ) While the withdrawal of any bidder is regrettable, it is common in competitive dialogue. (Running away as fast their little legs can carry them ...) Their decisions were strongly influenced by the amount of time, commitment and resource that companies have to commit to the competitive dialogue process, and other competing commercial opportunities. (Aha. Mmm. Didn't want to risk their spotless reputations for a night of passion in Broken Barnet.)

Each of the three companies gave the council positive feedback about the way we have run the process." (Thanks, but - oh, look, is that the time, suddenly remembered a prior engagement - made their excuses and left, NOTW style.

Please: Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, those of you that still retain any integrity - wake up and see what is happening, right in front of you.

When Richard Cornelius was elected leader of Barnet Council, some people were under the naive impression that his mistrust of the One Barnet programme would encourage him to take action to stop it, and save us all from being a hostage to the fortunes of outsourcing, seeing our local services torn away, out of our control, in the name of 'savings' that we know will never materialise. We hear now, however, that Tory backbenchers wanting to discuss this issue with him have not been given the opportunity, and are becoming ... rather resentful. Oh dear, Mr Cornelius ...

Who, in fact, is responsible for the disaster waiting to happen that this massive externalisation of services represents? Just a handful of Cabinet members, whose lack of judgement stems entirely from their lack of experience in business, in politics, in life: ideologues with no common sense- and no political instinct. Oh - and Brian Coleman, whose loss at next year's GLA elections will, we predict, be nicely assisted by his failure to stick a spanner in the works of the One Barnet machine ...

When the next local elections come around, if One Barnet and the massive scale of outsourcing goes through, many of the Tory councillors currently failing to speak out against the programme will face the consequences and lose their seats. Residents will by then be seeing the results of the externalisation of services they have always taken for granted as the reponsibility of the local authority. They will be paying the increased charges, and worrying about the future of their family's well being in a world run to the benefit of profit, at the expense of everything that is in the best interest of our community.

The Tory councillors of Broken Barnet still have the chance to do something about the dreadful fate ahead of us all. Clearly they care little about, or fail to understand, the implications of all this One Barnet shite for the residents of our borough, but if they are worried about their own futures, perhaps even they may see that it is time to stand up and be counted. Are they going to wrest back control of this borough from the senior management team they employ to administer this borough, or are they going to sit back and write their own political death warrants?

Let's see, shall we?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Darkness on the edge of town: another Residents Forum

Residents Forums: keeping residents in the dark, Broken Barnet style

Barnet Residents Forum, then.

Mrs Angry had never been before, but such is her insatiable appetite for opportunities to bait Tory councillors that this time she decided to venture into uncharted territory, and attend another area Forum, not of course as a resident, but in her capacity of citizen journalist.

The other irrestible attraction of this event, of course, was that it was, for the first time, being held at the All Saints Arts Centre, the lair of naughty banner snatching vicar, and chum of Brian Coleman, the Reverend Adrian Benjamin.

When she arrived, a small group of puzzled residents, two Tory councillors, Brian and Kate Salinger, and a couple of council officers were wandering about trying to find the hall. The hall, in fact, was full of small boys running about practising Tai Kwondo (have I spelt that right?) and it transpired that the Forum was being held elsewhere on the site. No one knew where. Eventually a tiny side room was identified as the venue. Most of the residents who arrived for the Forum never found the place, and would not have been able to fit in anyway. Hats off: confuse the enemy - a brilliant strategy for further discouragement of engagement of the electorate with the democratic process. Mr Pickles would be so proud.

The next Forum, we understand, is being held in a phone box in an undisclosed location, in the middle of the night: residents will just have to guess where. Although frankly it makes no difference if any residents attend or not: no real issues are allowed to be discussed, after all, and any important decision has already been made.

The room we were put in was a dark, dusty, cobweb ridden store room, lined with rough hessian sacking curtains hiding amateur theatrical props. On one side, the severed head of a blonde female dummy was horribly impaled on a piece of scaffolding. It was probably left there as a warning, Mrs Angry concluded, with a sense of rising unease, thinking about another reign of terror, pre One Barnet, and the head of the Princesse de Lamballe on a pike in front of Marie Antoinette.

As Mrs Angry took her seat, she became aware of an odd knocking sound and a faint but distinct murmuring of 'Help me: please help me' drifting over from the far side of the room. It appeared to be coming from an old cupboard, clearly marked 'Stolen Banners' ... How very curious, thought Mrs Angry.

When the meeting got underway, only about fourteen residents were present, although a few more eventually managed to find their way in. Standing grimly at the back like a pair of undertakers at a funeral were Tory councillors Andrew Strongolou (has anyone ever heard him speak?) and the subject of Mrs Angry's most popular councillor appraisal, small but deadly Councillor David 'Golden Arse' Longstaffe - the actor, darling. Alright: an actor. Allegedly. Couldn't see: he kept his trousers on, as far as I know.

Chairing the Forum was Kate Salinger. She did her best to be fair, and is a nice woman (yes, yes, I know she is a Tory, and it pains me to admit it) and she is deserving of much admiration for being the only Tory councillor not to support the shameless, greedy attempt by her group to vote themselves a whopping rise in their allowances as soon as they were elected last year. If you recall she was then vilified by her own spineless Tory colleagues, merely for following her conscience, and was immediately and publicly stripped of her committee positions right there, in the council chamber, in a ritual humililation that Councillor Coleman later described as an act of 'discipline'. If you want to know what a bunch of absolute bastards the Tory councillors of this borough really are, this incident tells it all.

Kate Salinger as chair was a total contrast to the arrogant, antagonistic performance given at the last two Finchley and Golders Green Forums by Cllr Reuben Thompstone. She was clearly very uncomfortable with the repressive regulations and ruthless constraints of the censored Forums, and also managed to remember, unlike so many other Tories, that she was there to listen to residents with courtesy and respect. If only the rest of them were so inclined.

That said, she too was obliged to read out the dictatorial new rules which apply to the Forums, telling residents all the things they may not discuss, and this lecture really does wind people up. The fact that the Tory councillors think they have the right to address the people they represent in this way is just too much: who the fuck do they think they are?

After this sermon ended, up stood Julian Silverman, from Barnet Alliance, to try again to move the same emergency motion he had brought to last week's Forum. As he spoke, a whimpering sound emerged from the cupboard of stolen banners. Cllr Salinger interrupted him and asked if he was a local resident, because if not, he should not be there. This caused Mrs Angry some amusement, who wondered in future if residents attending meetings will be frisked and asked for their papers before being allowed in.

Julian carried on regardless, as he always does. The Chair told him she would decide who would speak: he said no, it was for us, the residents to decide. She disagreed. He asked who decided who decides? She said if any resident was unhappy they should take it up with the council leader and councillors. And are you happy with the way in which the Forums are now run? asked Mrs Angry, catching her eye. Cllr Salinger looked away: that's irrelevant, she said. But it isn't, it really isn't. If those few decent Tory councillors had the guts to stand up for what they know is right, and in public, they would be doing what they were elected to do, and not simply help perpetuate a bullying, self serving Cabinet dictatorship.

Mr Mustard will fill you in on the full questions and answers, Mrs Angry was really only there for the craic, but some discussions were of interest. Much hilarity ensued (well, on Mrs Angry's part: luckily this time she had remembered to wear waterproof mascara) when Councillor Salinger thought that Mrs Angry was actually Mrs Mustard. Mr Mustard broke out in a cold sweat, passed out on the floor, and had to be rushed to Barnet General. I can't imagine why, can you? Of course it is his fault: even though Mrs Angry is, as you know, very circumspect in her behaviour, and always conducts herself with becoming modesty, Mr Mustard is a shameless flirt. Even Mr Reasonable moved his chair away during the course of the evening, Mrs Angry noted.

Before the ambulance came, however, we had a question from an elderly man very concerned about the supposedly temporary but long term removal of a green man crossing at a busy junction, guess where, with Totteridge Lane. Yes, Coleman country. This was in place, we learnt for a year. Why? To see what would happen, said the officer. To see how many people get run over, suggested Mrs Angry. The officer explained that it had been considered necessary that this very long term and risky trial be put in place because in this borough- ahem - we have a duty to 'expediate traffic'. Mrs Angry asked if there is not a greater duty to 'expediate' the safety of pedestrians, but then Mrs Angry had forgotten that we live in Broken Barnet, where as long as Brian Coleman is Cabinet member for Environment, the car is king. Ah: up speaks Cllr Salinger who pointed out crossly that you take your life in your hands if you try to cross the road there now, and she insisted the matter be referred to the next Environmental Sub Committee. Good for her.

Mr Reasonable had submitted three questions. One of his questions was missing. He was not very pleased. This is what he had asked:

"The One Barnet outsourcing will have a major impact on the delivery of public works locally. The constitution states that residents forums can be used “for certain consultations from the council”. Can the chairman indicate if outsourcing is a topic which will be considered for consultation at a forthcoming residents forum."

Mr Reasonable was told by the Chair that she had asked three different people about his question, and received three different answers, so had decided not to proceed with the question. This is regrettable. Mr Reasonable's question goes straight to the heart of what is so wrong about the newly stifled Forums. Nothing may be questioned. We have no right to criticise the people we elected, and whose allowances we pay. We may not even question why we may not question anything.

Oh, but Councillor Longstaffe, hiding at the back, is - tee hee - the member for Community Engagement. One Barnet is committed to forging a new relationship with residents, as he reminds us. Well, that is certainly true: a masochistic relationship, with our masters forcing us to submit to their wicked ways. Except we don't have a 'safe word', do we? Oh: well, maybe 'election'. I said election, Mr Mustard. And things are rather getting out of hand, aren't they?

Julian Silverman tried to intervene as Longstaffe started spouting some One Barnet drivel about three new avenues for engagement. Longstaffe has a short fuse and yelled at 74 year old Mr Silverman 'Shut up and listen'. Mrs Angry's own fuse blew at this point and she found herself standing up and telling Longstaffe that there was absolutely no need to speak to him that way: the Chair was upset too, and Longstaffe had to apologise.

A resident asked about the way in which 'crosscutting' issues could be dealt with in the Forums, with the ridiculous new regulations, and bar on any matter being mentioned again within a six month period.

No idea, said the Chair, shaking her head, with just a hint of despair, and a welcome touch of honesty.

Here comes a question from Mrs Angry's new spouse about lighting. Mrs Angry's attention, always easily distracted when statistics are trotted out, noted that out of the gloom now emerged a familiar white bearded figure in a long gown. No, boys and girls, and Tory councillors, it wasn't Father Christmas: it was Father Adrian Benjamin. The desperate tapping from the banner cupboard immediately ceased. Mr Silverman shook his head. Rather fittingly, as we were debating the merits or otherwise of low levels of lighting, the Rev decided to turn a few switches on and dispell some of the gloom in the room. 'And the Lord said, let there be light, and there was light' said Mrs Angry, rather more loudly than she intended. Father Benjamin chortled, and waved jazz hands about like an old trouper. He then pulled a chair up and sat in front of the residents. After a while of listening the Reverend had clearly worked out that Mrs Angry was a wicked woman, and a swivel eyed trot, and smelt of popery, and he sat staring at her through hooded eyes, with a curious and not altogether kindly expression.

Good news about the lighting, though: our council is going to have fun at our expense, it seems - turning down the level of lighting to see what will happen, kind of like taking away crossings to see how many people get killed crossing the road, only in this instance they are keen to see how many muggings, sexual assaults, burglaries and accidents will happen when the lights are dimmed. They will then count any written complaints, so if you are mugged, or are a woman walking home late at night worried about being assaulted, or an elderly person too scared to go out after dark, don't forget to write a letter of thanks to your local Tory councillor, will you?

Resident and local activist Mr David Howard expressed some lack of confidence in the use of surveys by private contractors involved in this sort of trial. He wasn't awfully sure, going by past experience, that any questions they asked, or the resulting data that emerged, would be treated in a way that was entirely open, fair or transparent.

You are a pessimist, Mr Howard, said Councillor Salinger.

No, said David, sadly. I am a realist.

And that, citizens, is the best you can hope to be, here in the shadowlands of Broken Barnet, where we are allowed to see only as much as our Tory masters want us to see, and where we may speak only when we are spoken to.

Councillor Salinger, when pressed, said that councillors would, at some unspecified point in the future, be discussing the new format of the Forums and debate (fancy that) whether or not they are working. Mrs Angry would like to believe this is true, but she suggests to all citizens that in the meanwhile, you attend the Forums and continue to raise objections, politely, but firmly, until they remember that they are accountable to us, that they represent us, and that they are paid by us, and it is our opinion that should be listened to. And if some little oik of a councillor tells you to shut up: well - I think you know what to do.

Straightforward and open as possible? Part Three: How to handle a scandal

MetPro and the Mayor's limo at last year's Friern Barnet show

Mrs Angry's FOI regarding the first deployment of MetPro, submitted to Barnet Council on March 3rd, had been intended, as explained previously, as a question for a Residents Forum. In retrospect, it might appear that this - and one or two other awkward questions - may well have marked the beginning of the end of the Forum system as it was, ie a genuine process of consultation with residents, rather than a puppet show for the One Barnet dictatorship.

What the question must have revealed, however, was the fact that there was no contract with MetPro, and that there had been no tender process, and this must have been - or should have been - obvious right from the first week of March. By the first week of April, however, emails reveal that senior officers were still unsure of the circumstances in which MetPro had first been taken on, as we will see a little later.

Despite the lack of evidence of any contract or regulation of the 'arrangement' , MetPro was still retained by the council until the end of the month: incredibly, the emails show that their SIA licensing was also not checked until 'around' the 23rd of March.

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 16:47

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: FW: hendon Town Hall - Security Update

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] I think this covers most of it , its what I sent you before .

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] did a check on the licences on or about the 23rd March.

Hope this helps.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 29 March 2011 17:29

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: hendon Town Hall - Security Update

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

The Security staff based in our buildings were SIA Registered on joining us and copies of

their licences were provided.These are valid for 3 years.

However over the years and as they have changed staff and moved them to different sites it

seems this is not now the case.

Given Metpro's changes in staff I have personally asked [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] the

Head of their security at least three times for assurance that the staff working in our premises

are all licensed and each time he has assured me yes this is the case. The most recent time

being just after Council night when we started to recieve complaints.

It is now only since these concerns over Metpro business have come to light that we have

tried to trace the staff SIA registrations through the SIA web site and have uncovered

several of them unlicensed or with licences that have lapsed.

As the security company are contractors we do take their qualifications very seriously and on

trust as we do with all contractors that send along their staff to work in our premises.

Given the issues with Metpro there may be a requirement to check out the security personnel

from (redacted by Mrs Angry) Security working at Mill Hill Depot and even the (redacted by Mrs Angry)

staff working at NLBP to ensure they are all licensed.

We would hope that when the new corporate security contract comes into force later this


that with contract monitoring by Procurement this type of issue would not arise again.

Yes, that would be a thought. No need to hurry though. Take your time. Nice of you to take on trust whether or not your security employees, dealing with vulnerable residents, are lawfully engaged. Notice no one mentions CRB checks, by the way. And note this is sent as late as March 31st.

Also rather late in the day came this email:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 28 March 2011 15:30

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: MetPro security

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA],

You may or may not be aware that there is quite a lot ‘in the air’ at the moment about the

Council’s use of MetPro Security. Your name is given on the MetPro site as contact for their

use in relation to Children Services.

Can you please send us details of what type of work your area uses MetPro for? In particular

whether this is directly in contact with children? Also do you know when (month and year)

the Children’s Service started using MetPro?

I’d be really grateful for a prompt response but unfortunately I personally won’t be in the

office again except on Thurs. If you wish to discuss this at all then please contact [Redacted

– s40(2) FOIA] with whom I closely work.

Many thanks

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Again, as late as 28th March, someone has thought to query the extent of close contact that MetPro staff had with children. The response came:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 28 March 2011 22:24

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: MetPro security

Importance: High

Hello [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

I was unaware that MetPro had put me on their materials as a reference and would certainly

not have agreed to this if I had been asked.

The section below surprised me - I am not aware that anyone in Children's Service was

involving MetPro in 'developing a future operational model for the enforcement of the

council's duty of care for looking after children.' Whilst working as Contact Team Manager I

was aware that MetPro wanted to develop their role, but not that Children's Service had

expressed interest in them doing so.

(note from Mrs Angry - there follows the MetPro claim from their pdf document):

"In the near future, we will

have officers being

specially trained to work

closely with children and

social workers in a plain

clothes role. They will play

an instrumental part in

developing a future

operational model for the enforcement of the

council’s duty of care for looking after children"


As stated when we spoke on the phone, my knowledge of MetPro was limited to their role in

providing security for high-risk contact arrangements for children in care. It may be that they

had a role with other Children's Services' work - if you want to find out I suggest you contact

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA], the Service Manager for children in care teams, or [Redacted –

s40(2) FOIA], Head of Care for children's social care.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

So: here we have confirmation:

"They provided security for high-risk contact arrangements for children in care"

And yet I was told at the MetPro audit meeting that there was no need for any further inquiry into the potential safeguarding risk that this presented to any children who may have had close contact with MetPro staff who were neither SIA licensed, not CRB checked. Just incredible, isn't it?

The emphasis on urgency over the MetPro issue, in fact, as we learn from these emails was clearly directed at the management of the story, rather than the need fully to investigate the background and wider implications of the issue.

On the 10th of March, Mr P had also submitted several probing FOI questions in regard to the company. His questions are referred to in several emails, including this one, which is notable as it does not redact the name of the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley: look, no red ink!

From: Walkley, Nick

Sent: 31 March 2011 20:21

To: Lustig, Jeff

Cc: Cooper, Craig

Subject: Fw: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting


Can I ask you to lead on a response (which I think can be straightforward and as open as is

possible) and get an email to (Mr P) acknowledging as much tomorrow. I would

suggest we mop up all such queries asap and try to get them all dealt with by close of play


I can confirm I had no role in directing the security planning. My only contact with staff (aside

from niceties) came when I left the chamber to deal with the group trying to enter the public


Can we also clear the FOI pls.

Craig can you prioritise support to this please.


Mrs Angry likes this email. She likes the fact that Mr Walkley has thought about whether or not a response can be straightforward or open, and found that it can, in this case.

She likes the reference to 'mopping up', a military term which must have been welcomed by ex Captain Craig Cooper, who presumably is used to 'mopping up' insurgents, and is now tasked with the rather more challenging mission of dealing with the Taliban of Broken Barnet - the fiendish bloggers, and their FOI missiles.

Oh, then Mr Walkley gets his metaphors in a twist, and refers to 'close of play', with lovely, warm thoughts of cricket on a summer's day, a sense of fair play, probably followed by tea in the pavilion. And is there honey still for tea? No, but if you want any plum jam, for your scones, Mr Walkley, you know who to ask.

Sorry, mind drifting.

(You have to understand that Mrs Angry's easily confused head is whirring with overloaded data at the moment: been having some strange dreams - Sunday night dreamt had to sweep a giant carpet with a small brush because hoovers hadn't been invented, which took up about four hours of sleep to dream - exhausting; last night she dreamt about cutting up reel after reel of sellotape - what's that all about? No, don't tell me.)

Anyway, back to the email. God help me.

The point of this, of course, is to distance Non Stick Nick from any MetPro nastiness, and tell everyone that the unpleasantness at the Town Hall had nothing to do with him. Hmm.

He mentions leaving the chamber 'to deal with the group trying to enter the public gallery'.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a band of rioting, foul mouthed anarchists were hammering on the doors of the council chamber, demanding to be let in, and throwing fire extinguishers around the place, (or perhaps, as admittedly Mrs Angry is often tempted to, drawing a moustache on the portraits of lady mayoresses - and Brian Coleman - on the wall outside).

In fact this group was being ushered into the gallery by the senior police officer in charge, Inspector Roberts, who had instructed Mrs Angry to bring 17 residents from the overflow room in which they were being incarcerated by MetPro. This group was a bunch of middle aged residents, and one sixth former, who were perfectly well behaved, and only wanted to sit and listen to the 'debate'. In defiance of the police decision, they were phyically obstructed from passing through the doors into the gallery, by MetPro - and senior council officers.

There are numerous emails in Mr P's collection written on the same theme by a variety of council officers: MetPro? Before my time. Nothing to do with me. Or: was around, but can't recall anything at all that would be of help, sorry. Or, so and so would know, but she is out of the office. No: she is on maternity leave. No: what a shame, think he's left. Or: I would come to the meeting, but I have a prior appointment. Hmm.

Equally baffling is the trail of lost documents.

No one knows who would know about anything, or who ought to know about anything: the emails, in fact are a real indictment of the staggeringly low standard of administrative oversight and centralised control in Barnet.

As Lord Palmer's MetPro report was to find, the ideological obsession with One Barnet has simply taken precedence over the day to day running of the authority. Not surprising: who can bothered to run any enterprise with any enthusiasm when you are about to flog it and hand it over to someone else?

Everyone laughed when Brian Coleman said he wasn't going to outsource a pile of crap, ie the parking service - he was annoyed because he feels this service has been allowed to decline through lack of proper organisation, and perhaps he has a point, but he has only himself and his Tory colleagues to blame for encouraging the senior management team to become so turned on by the possibilities of outsourcing that they have neglected the more tedious responsibilities of running the authority properly.

But is it simply incompetence and maladminstration which is to blame for the MetPro fiasco, or something more serious? Take a look at these three extracts, all sent on the same day, 5th April:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 13:31

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] ,

We have a file that contains details about a tender for Mill Hill Depot from a number of

security companies and a tender from Metpro c. 2006. We did originally think that we had a

file from Metpro and others but the others refer to another tender entirely i.e. Mill Hill.

I may or not be around but will leave with a colleague we are located on the 1st floor across

the atrium near the Leaders Suite (where [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] is located).

You are welcome to come and see what we have.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 13:32

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]


Just spoke to [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] .

She says you need to speak to [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] or [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] in

corporate procurement about this. Apparently there is a file with the tendering process of

Metpro. There were 2/3 other firms who also tendered and MetPro came out the winner.

Hope this helps

Please let me know what you find out and copy me in on any FOI responses about this.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

then another email:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 05 April 2011 14:21

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: Secret Filming of Residents at Barnet Council Meeting

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] ,

FYI I’ve just gone to see [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] about this.

Procurement hold a folder that contains a 2006 Metpro tender, along with what first appeared

to be rival tenders for the same work. However, on further inspection, it transpired these

were not in fact rival tenders, but instead related to a completely separate tender process

(security @ Mill Hill depot) with which Metpro had absolutely no involvement.

As such our position is unchanged - we don’t know how many other companies, if any,

tendered for the work given to Metpro, nor do we know the reasons Metpro were chosen. I’m

awaiting responses from Housing and [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] (Health and Safety) on

some enquiries, but don’t expect either will be able to locate any information, so it seems this

position will form the basis of our FOI responses.


[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Ah: so there WAS a tender from MetPro in 2006, but no other companies submitted any. Has Lord Palmer seen this folder, and this MetPro tender? On the previous day, an email from who knows who, to who knows who, admits that:

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] has confirmed that Corporate Procurement do not hold any

information. He has also confirmed the ‘tender action never resulted in moving to contract

but was shelved prior to contract’.

Ok: shelved prior to contract. Why?

Let's look at the evidence relating back to 2006, and the reason MetPro were taken on in the first place. Here is an email sent on the 6th April, which seems to refer to an incident at Barnet House:

Sent: 06 April 2011 17:32

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: FOI - Metpro

Hi [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA],

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] recollection is that she was the victim of an assault and the

security company at the time were pointless as they “were not allowed to touch people”, she

told [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] and [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] who then set about getting

better security on board with [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] help I believe and Rapid Response

came on board but [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA] was not involved in anything beyond that.

After this incident, it was decided that there should be more and 'better' security on hand at Barnet House, and instructions were sent out for a proper tender process, to be overseen in the correct manner.

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 13/01/06 14:01:50

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Cc: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: Lead on Barnet House Security Contract

Dear Colleagues,

I have now been advised that we are to try and have the new Security Firm in place by the

last week of February 2006 - this really gives us very little time so we need to move quickly

on getting this contract underway.

I need to know which Department will take the lead on behalf of the others?

We need to get all the information regarding your specific needs together in a short


Case. We need to be able to show the benefits of our choice of supplier, and the cost


so look for ways of efficient handling of the 'all' the needs. We also need to determine the

costs from all

the different areas so we can ascertain how much the value of this annual contract will be.

Based on the outcomes we will need 'Head of Service or Cabinet Member' approval and

then we can select the Procurement method, and begin writing up documents. Legal will

need to check details and then this can go out to providers, for a later selection but speed is


Please come back to me as soon as possible.

Many thanks

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA

Three companies were identified. And then something went terribly wrong, didn't it? But no one can remember what happened, or why, or tell us why the priviliged treatment given to MetPro continued for five years.

What a mystery.

So there we have it: MetPro, told in their own words, as it happened. Some of their own words, of course: don't imagine this is the full story. Do you think we will ever find out what really happened? Let's see, shall we?

Just imagine what might have happened, though, if the Chief Executive and Director of Corporate Governance had received the emails sent by Mrs Angry, right after the budget meeting, informing them about the liquidation of the company, and detailing certain other pertinent facts about MetPro. In a twist of fate straight out of some novel by Thomas Hardy, like the confession written by Tess of the D'Urbervilles and posted to her lover, which ended up under the doormat, unread, Mrs Angry's warning also went unread, and the emails sent to Labour councillors went unread, and as a consequence, the story became very public, very soon, followed by the audit investigation, and all the consequent revelations of corporate failure on such a spectacular scale.

The curse of Mrs Angry, see.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Ps: nearly forgot - how could I? Let's finish with this:

From: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Sent: 08 April 2011 15:31

To: Lustig, Jeff

Subject: MetPro tweet

Afternoon Jeff,

The below tweet has appeared on Twitter regarding MetPro.

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

[Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

From: Lustig, Jeff

Sent: 08 April 2011 16:19

To: [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Subject: RE: MetPro tweet

What does it say?

Jeff Lustig

Director of Corporate Governance

London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11

1 NP

Tel: 020 8359 2008

Mobile [Redacted – s40(2) FOIA]

Note to Mr Lustig: why not get on twitter, and join in all the fun? I'll even let you follow me, if it helps.

Mrs Angry x