Mrs Angry brought to your attention, not so long ago, some very worrying evidence that suggested problems and delays in the processing of electoral registration, and further difficulties posed by the risk of failure in postal deliveries, thanks to Barnet Council's use of TNT to deliver mail, instead of, as was previously the case, the Royal Mail.
Senior council officers have insisted there are no delays in registration, and in contradiction to staff, claimed there have been no 'backlogs' in processing any electoral forms. Yet Mrs Angry received a letter six weeks after sending in her own form, informing her that officers were now 'satisfied' she could be added to the register, sometime in May - hopefully before polling day, which would be nice.
Whether waiting from March until May, and then only finding Mrs Angry's form after going through 'thousands' of others, after being told to by senior officers is not sign of a backlog is of course not for Mrs Angry to say.
Stories about the unreliability of TNT deliveries abound, and pose a direct threat to the electoral process here in Barnet: we have seen post dumped by the riverside, wrongly delivered electoral material, abandoned bikes, and missing polling cards.
And then yesterday Labour GLA member Andrew Dismore issued this press release:
Dismore takes to task TNT managers
Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly member and parliamentary candidate for Hendon, met senior TNT managers at their Colindale depot on 12/5/14, to see what they had to say in answer to the poor performance of TNT since they started deliveries in Hendon at the end of February.
Mr Dismore raised the many complaints he had received, including the misdelivery of election poll cards, letters being delivered to one address for the whole street, and dumped mail, as well as security issues when post was left unlocked in bicycle panniers and TNT operatives riding on the pavement.
After the meeting Mr Dismore said:
“The managers were very apologetic and anxious to provide reassurance. They have sophisticated monitoring and tracking systems and equipment, but these systems are only as good as the TNT operatives themselves.
“They are starting from scratch and clearly have had difficulties with the “blind leading the blind” in setting up their rounds. They cannot match the 350 years’ knowledge of the Royal Mail whose experienced posties are aware of all the difficult addresses to find on their walks. No wonder TNT staff end up asking passers by for directions!
“TNT gave clear assurances that they will not be involved in any more deliveries of sensitive election material for the 22nd May elections. The problem with poll cards arose as the result of a long chain of privatisation subcontracting decisions. Conservative Barnet Council contracted out the election distribution organisation to a company, FDM, instead of directly using the Royal Mail. FDM in turn contracted to TNT. TNT then decided to further subcontract the delivery back to the Royal Mail, where it should have been in the first place!
“It is no surprise that things went wrong, as one day’s deliveries instead of being passed to Royal Mail by TNT went to their own operatives instead. The net result is that some people in a key Council election marginal ward did not receive their poll cards. In what is likely to be a tight election that could change the result, as the Council are refusing to reissue the poll cards that went astray. After the administration problems at the last General Election which affected the result, you would have thought the Council would have learned the lessons, but clearly they haven’t or simply don’t care.
“After recruitment direct from the Job Centre or the Work Programme, in my view part of the problem is that TNT’s 86 Colindale staff are all newly employed, on zero hours contracts without fixed hours and are paid by the hour. They only get a fixed hours contract after a year’s service.
“The managers say security is a priority and their operatives should not ride their bikes on the pavement, and that this is a training issue for them , but this is a common occurrence- indeed as I left their building I saw this happening!
“TNT are anxious to hear about problems with their service, so if residents have problems or complaints with undelivered or misdirected mail, or see TNT operatives riding on the pavement or leaving post unlocked and unattended, they should let me know and I will pass the complaints on.
“At the end of my lengthy visit and discussion with TNT I was also amazed to hear that TNT had invited Hendon’s Conservative MP to meet them to talk about his concerns, but he failed to respond. Clearly he is not as worried about TNT’s performance as I am.
“I will be raising the issue of TNT at the next London Assembly Mayor’s Question Time as the Mayor who welcomed Dutch company TNT to the capital must get involved in ensuring the service is delivered properly and securely.”
The frankly ludicrous situation described in the press release regarding the devolved chain of contractual arrangements for delivery of the electoral post is a simple demonstration of what goes so horribly wrong when a service is privatised, and standards plummet: a perfect metaphor, in fact, for the reckless gamble our Tory councillors have taken in the massive One Barnet privatisation - you know, the 'change programme' that must not be named, or even referred to, in their own feeble election 'manifesto' for fear of - fear of what, actually?
If Barnet Tories are so proud of what they have done, pimping our council to Crapita, and laying us out, the living and the dead, to be screwed by them for every penny of profit, well - why not be out and proud about it?
Is it because already, as we have seen in the disgraceful Crematorium affair, and the cock ups with council tax, payroll, taxcodes, and the phone lines, residents are beginning to see the real impact of private profit on the local services on which they depend?
Too toxic a thought to associate with your local Conservative councillor, who approved the whole sell off, without even reading the £1 billion contracts? Best to maintain a discreet silence, in the circumstances.
One Barnet: a love that dare not speak its name, in the run up to election 2014.
It seems an extraordinary thing for the council to refuse to re-issue lost polling cards, in view of the proven failings of the delivery system. But then this election is being overseen by a new Returning Officer, and a new Monitoring Officer, in place of the previously safe hands of Jeff Lustig, who had overseen many elections and whose experience was invaluable.
That said, there were unforeseen difficulties that arose in the last general and local elections, even under the beady eye of the previous regime - and if there are any issues that arise this time as a result of postal failures or delays in registration, one must hope that the council is held to account.
If any such issues are identified, presumably there will be formal complaints to the Electoral Commission, and, one would hope, an urgent investigation.
Indeed, some might feel there should be an investigation before the election.