Friday, 31 August 2012

New boy on the block: 'Brian Coleman' joins the Barnet blogosphere

Brian Coleman takes up blogging

Yep. The Famous Five have expanded. Famous Five plus one. One Brian Coleman. Allegedly.

It was Mrs Angry's birthday on Thursday ( did you forget? Huh.) - there could have been no better present than to find Brian had decided to mark the event in his own way: well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don't they? Yes: he has become a Barnet blogger - look! ...

In fact, the truth is that, in the interest of political balance, we Barnet bloggers, unhappy people with nothing better to do, spouting endlessly long left wing blathering in our lefty blogrags (see below) have co opted a new member, one whose political allegiance is less radical than previously seen, perhaps, and one that offers a refreshingly robust view of events here in Broken Barnet, and promising to offer an incisive and witty counterbalance to our, what is it ... ah yes, miserable and turgid prose.

Oh, ok: he talks a lot of shite, and He cannot Write a Single Sentence Without Using Inappropriate Capital Letters, or using the word Robust, but he is welcome, all the same.

Is it really Himself? Certainly his chums at Camden Conservatives believe so:

Brian Coleman has started blogging! The King Of Bling Is Back!!

There has been some speculation on twitter, and elsewhere, of course, wondering if it is a spoof. Mrs Angry has some sympathy with this view: with Brian Coleman, frankly, it is sometimes difficult to tell. Mrs A herself has trouble attempting to satirise the old devil as he is in real life so close to parody. This blog does seem to have the horrible ring of truth, however, and at least one local Tory is convinced: look what our local MP Mike Freer's no 1 fan, the marvellous Mrs T, has to say:

Great news, Brian Coleman has started a blog !!!!!!!!

The most controversial man in Barnet politics, Brian Coleman, has started a blog. This is great news. Unlike the lefty blogrags, written by unhappy people with nothing better to do, spouting endlessly long leftwing blathering, Brians blog promises to be witty and incisive.We thoroughly recommend it as an antidote to the miserable and turgid prose of the Barnet busybodies and malcontents.

Hmm. One Barnet busybody and malcontent, not to mention unhappy person with nothing better to do, ie Mrs Angry, was thrilled to hear the news, and commented:

Mrs Angry said...

fantastic news: please tell me when Brian starts being witty and incisive ... Mrs A xxx

because, oh dear, readers ... stand by. This is 'Brian''s latest post: stand by for a bit of a fisking, 'Brian'.

You only have yourself to blame.

Death of a Great Man

"The death at the age of 87 of Sir Rhodes Boyson reminds us that in the world of Politics today’s household name become tomorrows vaguely remembered Political eccentric.

If you are going to write about a right wing educationalist, Brian, maybe try a bit harder with your punctuation ... tomorrow's ... and please, oh please stop sticking capital letters in all the wrong fucking places ...

Who now remembers Sir Gerald Nabarro, Sir Hugh Monro Lucas Tooth or Dame Irene Ward?
No one, except you, because you live entirely in the past that never was: move on.

Instead comma sadly the House of Commons has too many Louise Menschs (women?) and the media treat those who do show robust yes: robust, thank God Brian's favourite word: robust ... spirit such as Nadine Dorries,

robustly spirited Nadine Dorries, exciting members: good, says Brian (nice shoes, Nadine)

Mrs Angry, also robustly spirited, in same position: bad, says Brian. Should have stood on the table, but was on best behaviour.

as some sort of freak. I saw a headline on an article in the “Daily Telegraph “the other day written by Damien Green the Immigration Minister arguing that the Conservative needed to adopt the “values of Boyle”, he was referring to the Olympic Opening Ceremony Director Danny rather than the Tory Academic and Minister Edward, Lord Boyle of Handsworth. Only you, Brian, still living in the flickering black and white world of the Tory party as it was between the wars would think Boyle/ some obscure, dead, and long forgotten Tory minister before Boyle/Danny ...

In his time Sir Rhodes, who never achieved Cabinet rank, was one of the Nation’s best known Politicians with his distinctive “mutton chop” whiskers and solid, firm and usually sensible right wing views. The fact that these days in the modern Tory party he would probably fail to get on the Parliamentary candidates list does not diminish the fact that his views on Education and his robust (hooray: two robusts in one post ...) defence of Grammar Schools were right then and indeed and are right now. PUNCTUATION, Brian. If Rhodes had been your headmaster, you would have got six of the best on grammatical grounds alone ... and this is not the best advert for a grammar school education, like what you and Mrs Angry had, is it? (No, he wasn't educated by nuns, like Mrs A, which is a shame, as the good sisters would have sorted him out good and proper ...)

However , I suspect Rhodes would be a strong supporter of the current Secretary of State for Education ,the inspired Michael Gove as he brings the most radical improvements to our schools in 30 years . Mrs Angry suspects you are right: Boyson & Gove, a dream team, dragging education back to where it belongs, in Tom Brown's Schooldays. Or maybe Dotheboys Hall.

The career of Sir Rhodes Boyson going from Mill Town Northern Grammar School boy to Secondary Modern Headmaster, Labour Councillor and finally Thatcherite Minister and darling of the Conservative right demonstrated the radical change that Margaret Thatcher brought to the Conservative Party and the Nation. PUNCTUATION, Brian ...It was no surprise that Boyson,, whilst his deputy, did not get on with the Shadow Secretary of State for Education in the 1970s the Old Catholic Queen Norman St John Stevas ...

whoah, hold on ... 'Old Catholic Queen' ... that's ok, is it, to refer to a recently deceased former Tory minister in such terms? And why, by the way, is his being Catholic deemed worthy of such opprobrium?
an Old Catholic Queen

and it is a crying shame that Mrs T COMMA usually a defender of Grammar Schools COMMA did not appoint Rhodes to the Cabinet where he might have been able to reverse the disastrous Comprehensive schools programme. He did however serve as a Junior Minister at Education, Social Services and Northern Ireland and endured the perils of that latter department. Lady Boyson could be seen in Sainsbury’s doing the grocery shopping escorted by Scotland Yard’s finest. From SO15, Brian?

A diligent constituency MP for Brent North he built strong links with the Asian Community and enjoyed attacking the antics of the loony left on Brent Council (rather than the loony right in Barnet). And then lost his seat thanks to the closure of Edgware Hospital, which is of course a place of huge significance, Brian, being the birthplace of your fellow blogger, Mrs Angry ...

Most Sundays on top of his political duties he could be heard preaching the Gospel from a North London Methodist pulpit , much to the embarrassment of many in the “Guardian “ reading Methodist Leader ship at the time who tried to portray Mrs Thatcher and her Government as the spawn of the devil . Whilst Mrs Thatcher (who is herself the daughter of a Methodist Local Preacher) and the Conservative Party prospered the Methodist Church became a sad irrelevance to the life of the Nation.

Hold on: is this the same Brian Coleman who is a practising Methodist, and lives in a rent fixed flat owned by a local Methodist charity?

Shame that Brian knows so little about the history of his own church, and its links with the formation of the first trade unions, and has thought so little about why that might be, but then intellectual analysis is not really his thing, is it?

Should the Methodist Church be the Tory party at prayer? Would Jesus have read the Daily Mail, or the Guardian? Mrs Angry suspects, in fact, Brian, and please note the use of commas here, that our Lord would have read the Morning Star. And Private Eye. Possibly the JC.

In constant demand as a Speaker COMMA he would often appear at Conservative fundraisers even after he lost his seat in the Labour Landslide of 1997. At one Finchley Conservative Dinner at the Hendon Hall Hotel he stepped in at short notice to replace an indisposed Sebastian Coe and regaled the assembled activists with a well argued denunciation of the European Union and an endorsement of the United States “even with that dreadful man Clinton as President”.

His death after a long illness and several years in a care home allow us to reflect on the contribution to our National Life of those who whilst never achieving the top rank of Political Office will probably be remembered for far longer than many who did."

Meh. Don't think so, Brian. Oh hang : subtext - are you referring to yourself?

But really, it is quite surprising, in many ways, that you are so nostalgic about Rhodes Boyson. Some of his views are more memorable than others, of course - he was awfully keen on corporal punishment, for example, a taste which earned himself the honorary title of 'Minister for Flogging', but more importantly, he had distinctly hardline views on what he saw as sexual 'deviancy', which you, as a gay man, ought to be robustly condemning, rather than ignoring:

"It is wrong biblically, is homosexuality. It is unnatural. AIDS is part of the fruits of the permissive society. The regular one-man, one-woman marriage would not put us at risk in this way. If we could wipe out homosexual practices, then Aids would die out."

Oh dear. Funny that you airbrushed that out of your tribute.

Still: early days: your first blog. Well done for trying 'Brian': see - you are slowly moving into the twenty first century. Twitter next?

Oh: and remember: do keep both hands on the keyboard.

Mrs Angry x

Mrs Angry v Mr Hughes: Round Three

Mrs Angry is not awfully fond of donkeys

As you may recall, Mrs Angry has been trying, no, struggling, for some time to focus the close attentions of shy and retiring external auditor, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton, on matters of concern relating to our local authority's incompetent management of financial matters, here in Broken Barnet.

In Broken Barnet, our Tory council, a team of donkeys led by donkeys, is not so much risk averse as fearless: knowing no boundaries, so fearing no consequences. This reckless is clearly leading us into a minefield of dangers, and one might hope that our external auditor would recognise this, and seek to guide the donkeys out of the field. But it seems not.

Mrs Angry, after a long career in audit (two years in armchair audit is an awfully long time, anyway: and her non compliant contract runs out soon, hopefully) ... Mrs Angry is getting very fed up with fellow auditor Mr Hughes and his kind regards and his I am not going to do anything letters. Here is her latest reply to him, anyway:

Dear Mr Hughes

Thank you for your response.

Setting aside the reasons you give for not accepting my concerns about the risks of the One Barnet programme, and although I appreciate that that your powers as auditor are defined by law, and subject to certain limitations, I must say that I simply do not understand how you can justify such a clear reluctance to investigate what is undoubtedly a serious matter of public interest. I refer, of course, to the matter of potential conflicts of interest regarding senior officers and their links, either before or after employment by the council, with private companies engaged in procurement exercises with Barnet Council.

In your recent response to me, you wrote:

"We have not identified any material areas of
concern in relation to ethical standards. As
indicated in my previous letter we will, however,
look into your point over potential conflicts of
interest as part of the 2012/13 audit.

If you have no 'material' areas of concern in relation to ethical standards, there should be no reason to 'look into' my point. This would mean that you find it perfectly acceptable for the council not to maintain a properly maintained register of interest for all officers involved in the competitive dialogue of £1 billion worth of contracts for council services, and that you find it perfectly acceptable that several senior officers have come to Barnet and gone to such companies during the dialogue process. If this is not a serious matter of concern, in relation to ethical standards, then I think perhaps there is something gravely wrong with the interpretation of your role as auditor in this respect.

Since I last wrote to you there have been allegations of another senior former Barnet officer leaving the authority and immediately taking a post with a company which has been awarded a contract with which he has been associated, as reported by blogger Mr Mustard today:

..."Another problem with the Contract is that it is based upon the model of the British Parking Association (honorary treasurer John McArdle - you do know don't you that our ex Parking Manager, formerly an employee of NCP which spun NSL out of its business is now a Strategic Development Consultant at NSL - another one of those conflict of interest questions that Mrs Angry is always quite correctly banging on about) on whose Executive Council sit two NSL executives ..."

Without implying any personal wrongdoing whatsoever on the individual's part, in the interests of transparency and in order to avoid the perception of a conflict of public interest, surely the authority should have in place restrictions which would mitigate the risk inherent in such immediate re-employment?

You indicate that you will 'look into' this point, yet this is a promise you have made previously, more than a year ago, and no effective action has been taken by the authority.

The reason I asked you to investigate this matter urgently is because the dialogue process to which I refer is at an advanced stage, and time is running out.

'Looking into' the matter at a leisurely pace, if at all, over the next year is in my view, and I would think in the view of any reasonable person, in these circumstances, a totally inadequate response. The tax payers of this borough have a right to expect the district auditor to be more assertive and proactive in the investigation of such matters of concern, and a refusal to respond with any sense or urgency to this request may well appear to residents to be unnecessarily favourable to the interests of the authority, rather than acting in order to safeguard the value for money - their money - in the performance of their local council's financial administration.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Angry

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Who runs Barnet Council? A question for Barnet leader Richard Cornelius from the Barnet bloggers.

Who runs Barnet Council? A question for Barnet leader Richard Cornelius from the Barnet bloggers.

Dear Councillor Cornelius

We wrote to you last week in regard to the announcement by Pam Wharfe, Barnet Council’s ‘interim’ Director of Environment, Planning and Regeneration, that a decision has been made to abandon the One Barnet Strategic Partnership proposals for the outsourcing of £275 million worth of our local services in favour of a ‘Joint Venture’.

You have since contradicted her statement, saying:

No decision has been made. No case for a jv has been made beyond the suggestion that there might be such as case. The decisions will be made by elected members in due course.

In a subsequent message to staff Ms Wharfe has informed staff that:

...the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussion with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option.”

Neither the DRS project board nor the Corporate Directors Group includes any elected members of the council. Membership of the DRS project board, we understand, is restricted to a small number of senior council officers and two consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER, the company working as ‘implementation partner’ to One Barnet, at an average cost to local tax payers of £250,000 per month.

It would appear that Barnet Council is preparing to commit the financial security of this borough to a new model of outsourcing – one that its own consultants’ advice identified as more risky and costly than the one originally chosen, and that this decision has been made by senior officers before any consideration or approval by the elected members of the council.

Ms Wharfe’s own comments about the new Joint Venture seem to suggest that senior management are not at all concerned by the increased risk of failure that this new commitment will entail, or the increased responsibilities for the authority that this option would involve, as a result of guaranteeing more favourable terms for the successful bidder at the conclusion of the dialogue process.

As residents, however, we are concerned: and we believe that you should be too.

We would ask you and your colleagues to consider the real possibility that in the event of the new Joint Venture failing, the council will still be left with the duty to provide the affected services, whilst the successful bidder may simply walk away with no obligation.

We believe that councillors have clearly not been fully informed as to the details of the Joint Venture, and that the scale of risk that the One Barnet programme presents is simply not fully understood by members. It seems that the need for members to be fully informed of developments and involved in the formation of policy at all stages of the dialogue process has been deliberately overlooked.

Perhaps as well as a decision to pursue a new model of outsourcing, the council is committing itself to a new form of local government, in which the democratic process is set aside for a bureaucratic dictatorship, entirely controlled by the senior management team.

If Barnet is indeed determined to bypass the democratic process, and to give the role of policy and decision making to senior officers, rather than to the political leadership of the Conservative group and the Cabinet, we would suggest this makes the role of the elected members completely redundant, although of course it may well offer a new opportunity for cost cutting exercises in the withdrawal of members’ allowances.

Failing that, may we ask you to assert your authority as leader of the council, recognise that the outsourcing programme has been totally discredited, and instruct your own officers to follow a course of action which is the result of proper consultation and policy formation rather than one shaped by the motivations of their own agenda.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Monday, 27 August 2012

The art of audit in Broken Barnet: or - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

The demanding role of audit in local government

As you may recall, Mrs Angry has been attempting to raise issues of concern in regard to our bungling council here in Broken to our external auditor, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton.

After trying to object to the accounts, and to ask - twice - for him to instigate an investigation, on the grounds of public interest, this time into the council's demonstrable failure to identify and address the huge risks involved in the One Barnet programme of outsourcing, he has again refused to consider any such procedure. Last year he refused requests for an investigation into the MetPro scandal on the rather interesting basis that to do so would be not only too costly, but more importantly, because it might undermine confidence in a public body ... It would appear that the role of external auditor may well be independent, but is it an effective means of scrutinising the financial management of local authorities? Eric clearly has his doubts, doesn't he?

This has been a busy week in Broken Barnet, and elsewhere, it seems.

On Thursday, the patron saint of the Barnet blogosphere, our friend Mr Pickles - (who's Edward Pickles again? Miss Angry asked, unenthusiastically, as her mother was boring her on this subject today) - yes, Eric Pickles, Miss A, Eric issued a Press Release from DCLG commanding councils to be fully open to and supportive of the enquiries of 'armchair activists and concerned citizen bloggers.

Rather pointed, his message, in fact. And the very next morning, Mrs Angry received a nice email from his aide encouraging her in her efforts, and with some information that she will keep to herself at the moment, but which is not entirely unrelated to the struggles we are having here to interest our external auditors with matters that we feel to be of concern. More below, but first, not long after the nice email from nice Mr Pickles' nice friend, along came Mr Hughes' latest determined rebuttal of the issues that we have raised with him. Mrs Angry says determined: perhaps that is unfair, as he clearly feels his powers as within this process are strictly limited.

And as he pointed out, he does not in fact have to give any explanation for turning down the request for an investigation, but he has at least kindly taken the trouble, as he explains, 'in the interests of openness', to do just that, and his reasons, measured against what he sees as his duties in regard to the Audit Act are here given in italics.

As usual, Mrs Angry's smartass commentary in red.

Council responsibilities:

1. Demonstrating proper stewardship
of their financial affairs by producing
accurate statements of account on a
timely basis.

- Comment for London Borough of Barnet

As evidenced by the accounts audit section of our
2010/11 annual report to those charged with
governance (and our forthcoming 2011/12 report)
this is not a matter of concern in the context of
consideration of the exercise of our statutory duties.

Who says the accounts are accurate, then, we wonder, if this is not a matter of concern for the external auditor?

2. Conducting their financial affairs
properly, avoiding unnecessary waste
or losses and establishing
arrangements to ensure continued
sound financial standing.

As evidenced by the value for money section of our
2010/11 annual report to those charged with
governance (and our forthcoming 2011/12 report)
this is not a matter of concern in the context of
consideration of the exercise of our statutory duties.

Same question: why is the avoidance of unnecessary waste, for example on very expensive consultants, not a matter of concern?

3.Providing value for money in
delivering service.

As evidenced by the value for money section of our
2010/11 annual report to those charged with
governance (and our forthcoming 2011/12 report)
we have no significant concerns in this area.

No significant concerns in this area - at last a qualification ...

4.Maintaining an adequate and
effective system of internal control,
including financial systems and
standing orders, to minimise the risk
of loss or failure

In relation to issues previously identified in these

· The concern we raised two years ago about
the absence of an overall business plan for
the collection of projects that come under
the banner of One Barnet, was followed up
on and closed off in our 2010/11 annual
report to those charged with governance.

It was closed off, your concern about the absence of an overall business plan for One Barnet. That has certainly reassured Mrs Angry.

· In our 2010/11 report to those charged
with governance we reported on our work
in relation to contract management issues
(including Metpro) and concluded that the
issues were not sufficient to result in a
qualified value for money conclusion.

If you had agreed with the requests to instigate a public interest inquiry at this point, you would in fact have discovered,as we did, that MetPro was just the tiny tip of an enormous iceberg, and you would therefore have been presented with issues which most certainly would have required a qualified value for money conclusion.

We have kept up to date with the Council’s
progress in resolving this issue during the
year, including through reviewing internal
audit work and through regular updates
provided by management and internal audit
to the Audit Committee. We are satisfied
that the Council continues to make
progress in addressing the identified
control issues but will continue to monitor
and report on progress over the coming

It's progress, Paul, but not as we armchair auditors recognise it. Too little, too late. The auditor is too easily satisfied, from the point of view of this tax payer, Mr Hughes, and one who is in fact not just a tax payer but one who has, with her fellow bloggers, spent vast amounts of time and energy uncovering more and more examples of our council's staggering degree of failure in compliance in procurement and contractual matters.

· Our reported finding, two years ago, in
relation to departmental understanding of
risk management was in the context of an
unqualified value for money conclusion.

We have since acknowledged that the
Council has acted upon our observations,
including through the introduction of a
updated approach to risk management.
Clearly, at any large and complex body risks
and issues will materialise that will need to
be managed and the Council is no different
in this sense.


As indicated in my previous letter and in
the reports and plans that we will take to
Audit Committee over the coming months,
we will continue to review overall risk
management and governance arrangements
for individual One Barnet projects and
report our findings

and no one will have to take any notice ...

5.Complying with appropriate ethical

(This is a good one)

We have not identified any material areas of
concern in relation to ethical standards. As
indicated in my previous letter we will, however,
look into your point over potential conflicts of
interest as part of the 2012/13 audit.

Just incredible, and Mrs Angry's view, utterly indefensible.

Looking into the risk of potential conflicts of interest in relation to One Barnet, and the authorities failure to mitigate such risk after the competitive dialogue process reaches its conclusion is clearly pointless, dangerous, and completely inadequate.

If the existing evidence - and you know what that is - does not represent a material area of concern in regard to ethical standards, then what on earth would?

What is the point of such issues being within the remit of external audit if such concerns do not meet the criteria necessary for urgent investigation?


6.Acting within the law

We have not identified any expenditure that we felt
was outside the Council’s
powers and for which we
would seek legal advice.

Yeah, yeah, if you say so.

Hughes' response, in other words, completely rejects any reason whatsoever to take any urgent action on any aspect of the One Barnet programme. He continues:

"Audit Commission guidance states, “In considering whether to issue a public interest report, the auditor will need to consider whether the public interest would be served by publicising the issue of concern. Where the issues involved are minor, or where the body is already taking action to remedy deficiencies, the auditor may conclude that a public interest report at that point would have only limited impact and may in fact have the effect of unnecessarily undermining public confidence in the body.

Mrs Angry would politely suggest to Mr Hughes that the issues of concern raised with him in relation to the One Barnet programme are not minor, that Barnet clearly is not taking adequate action to remedy deficiencies, and for God's sake: there is no public confidence left in this authority to be undermined ...

Applying this guidance to the comments in the table above, my conclusion is that there are
no significant issues where the Council has not, or is not, already taking remedial action. The issues identified are also already in the public domain. Therefore, a public interest investigation or report is not appropriate at this time. Further, I neither have the reason nor the power to “call a halt to the outsourcing programme,” which is a political decision by the Council and outside of my remit.

Mrs Angry is losing the will to continue.

Ah, but there is more ... a perhaps unexpectedly robust defence from the external auditor for the surprising decision which is not a decision, but will be soon, to dump the strategic partnership model for one part of the One Barnet £1 billion gamble, in favour of the even riskier joint venture model ...

Regarding your point on the delivery model for the DRS project, Cabinet Resources Committee considered the updated business case of DRS in December 2011 where it was mentioned that the Joint Venture should be kept open to explore during dialogue. Cabinet Resources Committee noted the updated business case thereby giving approval for pursuing through competitive dialogue. In addition, the vehicle the council is considering to manage the delivery of the DRS contract does not change the service being procured. The Council has taken legal advice on this matter to support with the legality of this approach. The outcome of the dialogue process will be subject to member approval by Cabinet in due course."

Hmm. Odd, perhaps, that this issue has not been raised, as far as Mrs Angry knows, in any consequent audit report or meeting, isn't it? Mrs Angry looked at the report, and found one low key reference, in a 53 page report, - (there was another, separate report which was exempt whose contents we do not know, of course) ... which states:

"Approach to delivery

At this stage, the business case has found that a Strategic Partnership still
represents the most beneficial option for the council, particularly in terms of the pace
and complexity of implementation. This option will provide the freedom to trade
services and generate further income, secure the expertise to deliver service
transformation, provide investment and high levels of commercial capability.

However, the possibility of establishing a Joint Venture (JV) with a private sector
provider should not be completely discounted if it proves to be the most
advantageous to the council during the procurement process, particularly with regard
to profit sharing increased income from the services, many of which generate
revenue from third parties. Whilst the (missing word, presumably the unpalatable word 'risks') associated with a JV model are judged at this stage to be higher than for a Strategic Partnership, the potential for a compelling bidder proposal should be left open to explore ..."

Ah: a compelling bidder proposal. Something like - do what we want or we're out of here?

This CRC meeting is noted as having taken 32 minutes, to cover more than a dozen important items. Anyone who has attended one of these meetings knows they are merely a high speed rubber stamping exercise, with no debate. It is likely that not only was there no debate of the DRS item, The members are unlikely to have read the report thoroughly, nor shown any interest in one small paragraph referring to the option of joint venture. Why should they? It was of no obvious relevance then.

Technically, therefore, Hughes is right, approval has been given for the maintenance of joint venture as an option, despite their misgivings. What is the crucial point, however, is that a decision to divert the sequence of dialogue, and suddenly opt for the higher risk option, has not been approved by the proper process, but announced without the due authorisation or even consideration by the elected members, as a result of machinations involving officers and consultants acting without due regard to transparency and accountability. How this happened may or may not be a matter for the auditor, but the consequences of such an alarming development surely must be?

Well, may be not. And if not, add this to the list of things which you might think an external auditor ought to consider, as part of his role. As Mr Pickles' chum reminded Mrs Angry,

Finally, you may wish to be aware that the Government is reviewing the local audit regime, and plans to establish a new local audit framework and repeal the Audit Commission Act. The Government has recently published a draft Bill and has invited views by 31 August – please see the link

The closure date for consultation on this very important issue is closing on Friday - Mrs Angry hopes that anyone who feels concerned about the lack of scrutiny that is so demonstrable in the current definition of local audit will take the trouble to submit their views.

She most certainly will be.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

We have decided to form a Joint Venture - or: who really runs Barnet Council

Broken Barnet: through the looking glass

Time to review the rather astonishing events of the last week, here in Broken Barnet.

A week of disastrous revelations for our Tory masters, and indeed of huge embarrassment for councillors and senior officers alike. And all because of an email sent by one officer, letting slip something she should not have - the announcement that a massive turnabout is to take place in the outsourcing of £275 million worth of council services.

Until last week, the council was still set on entering a Strategic Partnership with the lucky winner of the DRS bid. It was rather surprising therefore, to read in a missive by Ms Pam Wharfe, the 'Interim' Director of Environment, Planning and Regeneration, (possibly now a little more interim than she was this time last month) that this was no longer the case. Nothing much had happened, she informed staff in a routine newsletter. Oh, except one minor thing. Forget the strategic partnership model, which has been the one adopted and pursued all the process so far. We have decided, she declared, to form a Joint Venture.

Have we? We have. Who are we?

This decision, which was a decision on Friday, became undone on Monday by the Tory leader, who claimed it had not been made, and then made a distinct probability again later in the week by the deputy leader, who stated that although of course the decision had not been made, he would not be 'surprised' if the change were to be approved. Got that?

A Joint Venture is the perfect answer for any bidders who may have become, shall we say, a little unsettled by the thought of investing their company's future in Barnet, where our council has proved itself to be utterly incompetent in the management of procurement, tendering and contractual obligations, indeed has been demonstrated to be incapable of understanding the need for compliance with the most basic legal requirements regarding procurement, and is still labouring under the burden of non compliant contracts which they cannot be bothered to regularise. Such slatternly housekeeping is not an attractive look, for potential punters arriving in the front parlour of the One Barnet House of Fun.

No doubt too that the bidders have been rattled by the unceasing attentions of the 'pulsating' blogosphere that thrives here, by our reporting of the incompetence and infantile political wranglings of our Tory councillors. The bidders know that if they commit to taking over our services they are going to have everything they do subject to constant scrutiny, the Barnet bloggers sitting on a chair in the corner of the bedroom, while they get down to business. It will not be conducive to the most mutually satisfying intimate encounter that one might hope for.

The bidders hold the upper hand now, and could just walk away, even at this late point in the proceedings. This is making the senior management team awfully worried. Also worried are the some of the more sensible Tory members of Barnet Council, who are able to see that the business case for One Barnet is simply nonsense, and an incredibly high risk strategy. They are of course also worried from their own point of view, as the downfall of Brian Coleman, and the Labour by election wins, make it clear that there will very likely be many formerly safe Tory seats lost at the next local elections. Shame.

What to do?

Who has the most to lose from One Barnet failing before it even begins?

Is it the Tory councillors?

It would be embarrassing, but they would get over it - certainly in time for the election. They might even benefit from taking a stand, and being seen to be taking a difficult decision for the good of the community.

What about the senior management team, then?

Hmm. Of course in a properly run council, run properly, and democratically, for the greater good of the residents, the elected representatives of the residents are in charge of the policy making decisions of the authority, with only administrative business delegated to officers.

Here in the corporate dystopia of Broken Barnet, a looking glass world where everything is upside down, and the inversion of what it should, or might, be in the real world, it is not the councillors who are in charge, it is the highly paid senior officers, the senior management team.

Our senior officers are absolutely devoted to the tenets of One Barnet, and like a team of Victorian evangelists let loose in some far flung out corner of the globe, are working dutifully here in our borough to spread the word of privatisation, and open up another tradepost for the outsourcing Empire. And if the native population is unwilling to embrace the church of outsourcing outright, it must be established by stealth, and cunning.

Look again at the words of the interim director, Ms Pam Wharfe, in her rather panicky message, a week after the regular 'fortnightly' email to staff on Friday - she is now seeking to present the joint venture decision as no longer a decision, but a proposal, claiming:

"... the JV has developed as a progressively more attractive option following detailed discussions with bidders. As a result the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussions with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option."

So, after discussions with bidders, the project Board recommended the new plan to Corporate Directors Group. What does this mean?

The Corporate Directors Group is what you might expect it to be, a body with no executive power, comprising all the Barnet directors. Mrs Angry is told by her informants that this group is remarkably discreet, and rather secretive, and yet ... surprisingly animated in terms of the free exchange of opinions. Mmm.

By project Board, we must assume Ms Wharfe is referring to the DRS Project Board. Aha.

Earlier this year fellow blogger Mr Mustard asked some awkward FOI questions about this little known body - who, he asked, were the members?

The eventual answer revealed that there were eight members - four senior officers, as follows:
  • Pam Wharfe, Interim Director of Environment Planning and Regeneration
  • Craig Cooper, Director, Commercial Services
  • Martin Cowie, Assistant Director Planning
  • Ed Gowan, Assistant Director, Commercial Services

two unnamed and less senior officers, oh, and how interesting - two others who, we were told,

"... are employed by the Council’s partners (i.e. employees of external companies). The Council does not hold information regarding their salaries. We are unable to disclose their names as this information is exempt under section 40(2) of FOIA."

Mr Mustard was surprised, and responded as follows:

"My original question did not anticipate that any of the Board could be employed by external companies.

As such I would like to ask for the following information in respect of each of the two individuals:-

the name of the supplying company

the date they started

the hourly, daily & weekly fees paid to the companies (not the rate paid to the individuals)

their consultancy grade

their names ( if their employer is paid at the rate of £58,200+ p.a. then I suggest that the S40(2) exemption does not apply )"

That was on the 28th March. Not until the 24th May did he receive a reply which merely stated:

"I would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your below request.

I can confirm that the supplying company is Agilisys/Impower and we do not hold any other information related to these individuals."

Oh. Individuals supplied by our dear (- very dear, £250,000 a month) friends and consultants, Agilsys/iMPOWER. But no other details. What a shame. So Mr M tried again, feeling he, unlike our favoured consultants, had been shortchanged.

"I would like a review.

I have asked for the names of the members of the DRS Project board.

You seem to be suggesting that Impower/Agilisys can send along any 2 consultants which I simply don't believe.

Please tell me the names of the 2 individuals who are members of this board and then tell me the daily rate paid in respect of their services to Agilisys.

That was on May 29th. After three months, there has still been no response. Wonder why? Are some of the consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER familiar names? Or just awfully shy?

So: just to recap.

The 'decision', which has not been made, to dump the strategic partnership model for the outsourcing of the DRS services, was made, but not made, by Ms Pam Wharfe, Captain Craig Cooper, a couple of assistant directors, a couple of other officers and two unknown, and unaccountable consultants, and recommended to Ms Pam Wharfe, Captain Craig Cooper, and their colleagues.

Mrs Angry is looking forward to seeing the minutes of that meeting.

Perhaps Mrs Angry has blinked and missed it, but she has not seen any opportunity for the elected representatives of the council to be involved in the process of what passes for consultation in regard to this enormously significant change in policy.

The democratic process, you know, senior officers of Broken Barnet: have you heard of it? Quite the rage, in some places.

And so, yes: it seems pretty clear what has happened.

The senior management team in this borough is so used to driving the agenda, and prodding the compliant Tory leadership into line with its own wishes; it has become so used to taking all the major decisions, that the need to show outward respect to the niceties of democratic oversight has become increasingly less well observed, to the extent now that it was, in this case, forgotten altogether.

This may prove to be a regrettable omission.

Wake up, sleepyheaded Tory councillors.

You have nothing to lose but your fear, your sense of impotence, and an increasing awareness of your total alienation from the electorate of Broken Barnet.

Come on: remind your senior management team who's boss, and take back control of your own council.

One Barnet is dead: time to bury the corpse.

Barnet is broken, and yes: it is time to fix it.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Exclusive: the latest excuse for the One Barnet Joint Venture fiasco

Mrs Angry has just received the following statement sent by Pam Wharfe, the 'interim' director at Barnet who sent staff, last week, an apparently rather premature notification of the sudden transformation of a £275 million package of DRS council services from a strategic partnership into a 'Joint Venture'.

Mrs Angry's cynical commentary in red.

On Behalf Of Wharfe, Pam (dictated by Nick Walkley?)
Sent: 24 August 2012 16:37

DRS Joint Venture proposal – Staff Update

Following my DRS fortnightly email last week I have set out further details on the joint venture below:- hold on, it's not a fortnight since your last update - something wrong?

What is the decision making process around the joint venture?

The Senior Management Team consults our consultants, who consult our bidders, we pay the consultants an awful lot of money, and then we tell the elected members what to do. In this case, we forgot to tell the elected members what to do before we told anyone else.

The joint venture has been an option considered by the project Board over the last 2 years and has featured in the options appraisal and business case. Although initially our preference was for a Strategic Partnership, the JV has developed as a progressively more attractive option following detailed discussions with bidders.

This is like, say, when you've been sitting in the pub all night & are completely pissed, and no decent looking bloke has looked at you, you end up going home with the one at the bar with sweaty armpits, who suddenly seems more interesting. Or so Mrs Angry imagines. Mrs Angry is more fussy, clearly.

As a result the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussions with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option.

AHA! So: the mysterious, obsessively secretive, undemocratically comprised & totally unaccountable project One Barnet Board recommended this brilliant new idea to the senior officers! Now we are getting somewhere ...

Following evaluation the final option, along with the preferred bidder, will be presented as a recommendation to Cabinet in the New Year.

Aha again, in tandem with the preferred bidder - a tailor made option then? Neat.

Cabinet will then take the final decision on whether to award the contract, the preferred bidder and the joint venture approach. Awfully kind of you to pretend to allow the Cabinet a say in the matter.

What does the joint venture approach mean in practice?

It means you are all still going to be f*cked by privatisation, but in a different way. Bend over.

A new organisation would be formed by the Council and the successful bidder. The Council would have a minority interest in this organisation and would appoint a small number of individuals to the senior management team of the new organisation.

Would appoint a small number of individuals ... anyone we know?

This organisation would then contract with the Council to provide the DRS services.

Does this reduce any of my TUPE rights?

No. In scope staff would TUPE into the joint venture organisation, and this would be on the same conditions as have been previously set out. The obligations of the joint venture organisation would be backed up by the successful bidder’s parent company.

Who would my employer be?

The joint venture organisation.

Bidders have made reference to potential career opportunities in their organisations, does the joint venture limit these?

LOL. Potential career opportunities in the bidders' organisations? Of course. There are already marvellous opportunities, and we have already seen the interchange of staff from private companies to the council, and vice versa, with absolutely no conflict of interest.

No. The joint venture organisation would operate in many ways like any other organisation in the successful bidder’s group of companies. There is no reason why the use of a joint venture company would limit the opportunities this could provide to staff.

Why use a joint venture approach for DRS?

Because Barnet's Tory leadership and senior management is desperate to sustain a failing £1 billion commercial project, and will do anything that enables them to cling on to the wreckage, right up until someones prises their slippery hands off the sinking ship.

As a result of being a part owner of the joint venture organisation and through having representation within the senior management team the Council would have more say in the organisation. In addition the joint venture would allow us to share more easily in any commercial success the organisation has. This is important to us as the DRS bidders and ourselves are confident that there are significant commercial opportunities in the delivery of DRS services both within Barnet and outside of the Borough.

Why have you always denied that there is inadequate control and profit in the strategic partnership, and why does the same argument not apply to the even larger £750 million customer service tender?

What if the joint venture organisation is unsuccessful and becomes insolvent

We are f*cked all over again, and will have to pay for the privilege too.

The joint venture organisation will have a contract with the Council for the provision of DRS services, and, as with a non joint venture approach this contract will be backed up by a ‘parent company guarantee’ which provides a legally binding obligation on the commercial parent company to fulfil the performance of the DRS contract. It is likely - IT IS LIKELY - who are you kidding? ... that were the joint venture organisation were unsuccessful that the commercial parent company would provide further resources to the joint venture company to ensure it continues to function to service the DRS contract. Such a situation could reduce the value of any investment by the Council in the joint venture company however the Council is only intending to invest a nominal sum (which could just be £1) (phew, what a relief, only £1 of tax payers money at risk then. Mind you, if you spent another quid, Pam, maybe you could have got some fire engines too ...) and it is not obliged to provide any further assistance in the event of failure, unlike the commercial parent company which would be obliged to deliver the DRS contract.

Kind regards,

Pam Wharfe

Interim Director Environment, Planning & Regeneration

Hmm. Ah: and as it happens, Mrs Angry asked Ms Wharfe yesterday for an explanation of her statement to staff, in the light of not one but two denials from the Leader of the council that such a move had been decided:

Dear Ms Wharfe

Please could you explain to me the apparent contradiction in your recent statement to staff regarding the decision you said had been taken to change the One Barnet strategic partnership planned for the DRS tender into a Joint Venture, and the fact that leader Cllr Cornelius stated twice yesterday that no such decision has been taken?

I look forward to your early response.

Mrs Angry

This afternoon a reply arrived:

Dear Mrs Angry,

The original options appraisal and business case taken by the council included the option of a joint venture. I have copied in Martin Cowie who will detail the dates of the decision making process.

Pam Wharfe

Oh dear: not good enough:

Dear Ms Wharfe

Thank you for your reply.

Yes, the orginal options appraisal and business case did indeed include the option of a joint venture. They also included several other options and all but the strategic partnership were discounted. That is irrelevant to the question I asked you, which I would be very grateful if you would answer: why did you tell staff that the decision to move to a join venture had been taken, when the Leader states that it has not?

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

More later.

*Later .... Update 6.45pm:

Hello: more to update already ... just received this email from Ms Wharfe:

Dear Mrs Angry,

I think the Deputy Leader has clarified this in the local press?
Pam Wharfe
Interim Director Environment, Planning & Regeneration

and Mrs Angry has replied:

Dear Ms Wharfe

Thank you, I am aware of the story in the Barnet Press, which simply suggests that a Joint Venture is now a possible option, and indeed Cllr Thomas has told me:

"The Council is considering running its DRS services as a joint venture. We have always had the option of running a JV as made clear in a report to the Cabinet Resources Committee last December. The final decision of whether or not to proceed with one will be taken when the preferred bidder is confirmed further down the process."

Clearly he believes that the final decision has not been made, whereas last week you told staff that the Joint Venture was already agreed:

'As a result we have decided to form a joint venture'

Really, there could not be a clearer contradiction, and no amount of denial can alter the truth. You have exposed something we have always suspected: that the important decisions which drive this council are made not through the recognised democratic process, but behind closed doors, by unelected and unaccountable officers and highly paid consultants.

Have a nice weekend,

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Joint Venture: Mrs Angry asks John Thomas some questions, and receives some answers

One Barnet: a community possessed

So anyway, about the One Barnet, Joint Venture thing, which does and does not exist, and means different things to different people, and has infected the Tory councillors and senior officers of Broken Barnet like some sort of madness, or talk of witchcraft: what's it all about?

Here in Salem, the good folk are talking of nothing else, and whispering in corners, and pointing fingers. Senior officers are speaking in tongues, having been seduced by demons, and Tory leaders are worshipping false gods. Dear oh dear, Mrs Angry: what to make of it?

Well, Mrs Angry has decided to ask some questions. Today she sent some questions to a couple of councillors and one or two officers. Of course Tory leader Richard Cornelius does not answer Mrs Angry - funnily enough he does respond to Mr Mustard, and one imagines that is because he is a gentleman, and Mrs Angry does not always behave like a lady, and Cllr Cornelius does not approve of such behaviour.

Mrs Angry thought she would try Councillor John Thomas, the deputy leader, and to his credit, he did reply.

Dear Cllr Thomas

I have just read with interest your comments in the Barnet Press regarding the now you see it, now you don't, One Barnet Joint Venture proposal which Ms Pam Wharfe has announced will take the place of the strategic partnership planned for the DRS package of outsourced council services.

You appear to confirm Ms Wharfe's statement that this 'decision' has indeed been made, yet yesterday your leader, Cllr Cornelius flatly denied that any such decision has been made.

Can you explain this contradiction?

With best wishes,

Mrs Angry

So Cllr Thomas replied:

Dear Mrs Angry,

Thank you for your message.

Although the report implies a decision has been made, my comments within it do not.

The Council is considering running its DRS services as a joint venture. We have always had the option of running a JV as made clear in a report to the Cabinet Resources Committee last December. The final decision of whether or not to proceed with one will be taken when the preferred bidder is confirmed further down the process.

With this in mind, I do not agree that my comments present a contradiction - a JV has always been an option therefore I would not be surprised if one were formed. The development and regulatory services in DRS are a relatively new grouping of services to have any element of private sector involvement and so my comment about creating a new model for outsourcing is, I believe, valid.

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Councillor Thomas would not be 'surprised' if a Joint Venture were formed. Well, f*ck me, John Thomas: Mrs Angry wouldn't be all that 'surprised' either, to be absolutely honest.

After this reply, of course, Mrs Angry still had many questions to ask, so she has:

Dear Cllr Thomas,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I am still very confused. If the council is only considering running its DRS services as a joint venture, why did Ms Wharfe inform staff members last week that the decision has been made?

As for JV always being an option, that is really not true: I have seen the relevant reports and it is absolutely clear that although it was one of several possibilities considered in the earliest stages, a strategic partnership was the model approved and used throughout the competitive dialogue process.

Why you have now decided to reject the strategic partnership plan in favour of a Joint Venture is a very interesting question.

If you recall, I asked at a recent Cabinet Resources committee why there had never been a full and independent risk assessment of the One Barnet programme. I received no satisfactory answer.

It is therefore even more alarming to me, as a resident and tax payer, that you are 'considering' an entirely new option, at this late stage, which your own consultants identified as even more risky and more costly than a strategic partnership.

This sudden departure from the original choice of model would seem to indicate some frantic need to placate the anxieties of one of the parties involved in the tender.

More than ever, I would politely suggest, it is time to call a halt to the whole programme and give serious consideration to the option that has never been given any attention, for the reason that it suits the interests of neither the senior management of Barnet Council, nor the private sector companies seeking to make profit from our local services. I refer of course to the in-house option, which would produce the efficiencies you require, whilst protecting local jobs and the local economy. Surely, as you are apparently keen to review the entire basis on which the dialogue process is founded, you are able to at least consider the option now being embraced by so many other authorities who have already been down the road of privatisation, and found out, the hard way, quite what a reckless gamble this really is?

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Let's see if we get an answer, shall we?

It seems pretty clear that the whole One Barnet process is falling apart. The bidders are protecting their own interests, as you might expect: Barnet Council may not have any regard for the risk factors of the massive undertaking they are committing us to but in the real world of commerce, where profit marks the bottom line, and companies are keen to ensure their investments have some security, they can hardly be blamed for looking askance at the shambles of Barnet's own procurement history, and ask themselves why on earth they would bet a total of £1 billion on such a lame horse. The panic amongst certain parties at Barnet at the prospect of losing their suitors is driving them to take desperate steps to retain the interest of bidders. Hence the farce over Joint Ventures, new options, old options, any old option, so long as the dialogue continues.

A fast moving story, bringing us back to the same point: when will they come to their senses?

Oh hell, hold on, there is a reply already. Let me just look.

Dear Mrs Angry,

You're welcome.

No decision has been taken as we have not received final solutions/bids and the dialogues are yet to finish.

I can assure you that a JV has been an option on the table with all bidders since the start of the dialogue process. As the procurement programme has gone on, a potential joint venture has looked more attractive, that is the point of the dialogue; to work on possible solutions with private sector bidders with an open mind so as to fully inform, expand and flesh out options prior to the final bids. Whilst one private sector option may look less attractive than another at the start of the dialogue, it is possible that this view changes through the process having actually had discussions with potential partners.

I'm not aware of any frantic activity at the Council. It appears to me that the dialogues are being conducted in a calm, thorough and professional manner.

We currently have an in-house operation which, given our low back office costs and good value for money ranking within London, is as effecient as it can be. However, we need more savings from and, conversley, investment in the services which I beleive can only realistically be achived by working with the private sector. It is an understatement to say we will never agree on this topic!

Kind regards,

Cllr Daniel Thomas

Yes. You are right: we will never agree. Good to see you acknowledge the high standard of service already provided by your own staff. What a shame that you are throwing the money you think you need for further investment on the million pound money pits staffed by our 'implementation partner' consultants, and other pointless expenditure ...

And this is all very well, but there is one question which you are avoiding ...

Hmm. good try, Cllr Thomas, but you have not answered the crucial question.

Why did a member of the senior management team inform staff that the decision had been made?

Mrs Angry

to be updated, perhaps ...

Prying open the Town Hall doors: a letter for Eric Pickles, from Mrs Angry

Margaret Thatcher, democracy campaigner and supporter of the armchair auditor, at Hendon Town Hall, in the good old days

Well, well, more good news for Barnet Council! Here is a press release from Eric Pickles, and one which is bound to bring a glad smile to the face of every Tory councillor, and CEO Mr Walkley, and little Andrew Travers, and yes, you too, Tooting Twister, and all your chums in the Comms team.

Town Hall doors unlocked to social media and bloggers

Published 23 August 2012

New law changes to introduce greater openness and transparency in executive councils meetings will mean all decisions including those affecting budgets and local services will have to be taken in an open and public forum, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.

Ministers have put new regulations before Parliament that would come into force next month to extend the rights of people to attend all meetings of a council's executive, its committees and subcommittees.

The changes will result in greater public scrutiny. The existing media definition will be broadened to cover organisations that provide internet news thereby opening up councils to local online news outlets. Individual councillors will also have stronger rights to scrutinise the actions of their council.

Any executive decision that would result in the council incurring new spending or savings significantly affecting its budget or where it would affect the communities of two or more council wards will have to be taken in a more transparent way as a result.

Crucially councils will no longer be able to cite political advice as justification for closing a meeting to the public and press. In addition any intentional obstruction or refusal to supply certain documents could result in a fine for the individual concerned.

The changes clarify the limited circumstances where meetings can be closed, for example, where it is likely that a public meeting would result in the disclosure of confidential information. Where a meeting is due to be closed to the public, the council must now justify why that meeting is to be closed and give 28 days notice of such decision.

As a consequence of the greater levels of transparency around meetings, the Government is able to remove unnecessary and bureaucratic red tape on forward plans introduced by legislation in 2000.

Eric Pickles said:

"Every decision a council takes has a major impact on the lives of local people so it is crucial that whenever it takes a significant decision about local budgets that affect local communities whether it is in a full council meeting or in a unheard of sub-committee it has got to be taken in the full glare of all the press and any of the public.

"Margaret Thatcher was first to pry ( *sic - please don't blame Mrs Angry for Eric Pickles' grammatical errors - tut, Eric, really ...) open the doors of Town Hall transparency. Fifty years on we are modernising those pioneering principles so that every kind of modern journalists can go through those doors - be it from the daily reporter, the hyper-local news website or the armchair activist and concerned citizen blogger - councils can no longer continue to persist with a digital divide."

Chris Taggart, of, which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, added:

"In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings."

Oh, yes: good point. Hyperlocal bloggers doing some of the best council reporting in the country. Certainly true here in Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry would modestly suggest, where there is an embarrassment (yes, the perfect term) of riches offered for the enjoyment of residents by the local blogosphere.

Mrs Angry's No 1 fan

Eric refers us to the achievement of Margaret Thatcher in being the first to 'pry open' the doors of Town Hall transparency. Prise, Eric, I think you mean, although an interesting Freudian slip.

Hmm. As he well knows, here in Margaret's own Town Hall, where her electoral victories used to be proclaimed to the nation from the balcony of the council chamber, the local citizen journalists are at war with their elected representatives - and the senior officers - in a perpetual fight to defend our right to exert some sort of effective scrutiny on the machinations of this deeply secretive and morally corrupt administration.

Right here in Margaret Thatcher's former Town Hall, Eric, we have been banned from filming meetings, bullied and secretly filmed by the council's own illegal, jackbooted security firm, and generally treated like the enemy rather than the concerned residents and armchair auditors that you think are so important to local democracy.

We have been obstructed from inspecting the annual accounts, we are continually prevented from receiving the full, accurate and timely responses to FOI requests.

We have been falsely accused of breaches of the data protection act, and making vexatious requests, or stalking councillors.

We are not allowed to discuss any council policies at our local forums,

Oh, and we are told by one or two of your Tory councillors reply to our emails that we are idiots, or that further communications will be referred to the police ...

So: will the new changes create greater openness and transparency here in Broken Barnet?

I don't really think so, Eric, to be honest, do you - really?

In an authority that is losing a grip on plans to outsource £1 billion worth of our local services in the biggest giveaway in the history of local government, the excuse given to exclude public scrutiny is not so much confidential political information as 'commercial sensitivity'.

Frankly, if you are really sincere in improving the ability of residents to maintain any sort of control and scrutiny over their public services, you need to make sure that private sector companies providing public sector services are obliged to be accountable to tax payers by extending the FOI act.*

Still: good news for the bloggers. We can sit at the press table at council meetings, now, friends, and enjoy a speedy and full response from the Tooting Twister and his PR team, when we ask those awkward questions they choose always to ignore.

Expect one very soon, in fact.

In Barnet, it is true to say that the public are not generally excluded from meetings due to the need for political confidentiality because there is no political debate in any council meeting.There may be some benefit from the effect of taking the pre meeting meetings for Tory councillors off the agenda, because in this council, all decisions are taken behind the scenes, decided upon by senior officers, run by the Tory leadership, laid before Cabinet members, and rubber stamped. In all probability, however, these discussions will simply take place in private, unannounced.

This is just how we do things here: this is Broken Barnet.

Who broke it? Ask your own Tory councillors sitting quietly, slack jawed and sleepy eyed, in Maggie Thatcher's old Town Hall.

* You might want to sign this Avaaz petition, if you are interested in this issue: