Friday, 30 January 2015

The Friday Joke - 30/1/2015

Michael was a devout Roman Catholic, who lived alone  with his old dog Bonzo for company.  One day, Michael awoke to find Bonzo had passed away, Michael was distraught, so he went to his parish priest and asked,  'Father, my dog Bonzo died this morning. Could you please arange a good Catholic funeral for the poor  creature?'

Father  Raymond replied, 'I'm afraid not. We cannot have services for a dog in a Catholic church,  but there are is a  Baptist Church in the High Street, they have a slightly more "modern" view of scriptures. Maybe they'll do something for Bonzo, if you offer a small donation and ask them very nicely' rather sniffily.

Michael  said, 'I'll go right away Father, thank you. Do you think £5,000 is enough to  donate to them to do the service?'

Father Raymond exclaimed, 'Why didn't you tell me Bonzo was a Catholic in the first place? I'll book it in for Friday"

Have a great weekend and say a prayer for the repose of Bonzo's soul. He was a lovely dog.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Capitaville - History is not your friend

There is nothing I like better than to sit on the Millfield in Mill Hill, crack open a can of pineapple chunks, and watch a frosty sunset over the London Borough of Barnet on a clear January day. This may to you seem like a rather bizarre pleasure. When I was a young kid, I didn't have a sweet tooth, but I loved tinned pineapple chunks. I also used to enjoy my own company. I'd often sneak up to the Millfield and crack open a tin. It gave me an enormous sense of wellbeing, which has persisted to this day.

You are probably thinking by now "what on earth is he on about? What has this got to do with the London Borough of Barnet and Capita?" Well I recently did this, it is what I do to destress when the hassle of family and work are weighing heavily on my mind. It is cheaper than getting bladdered at the pub and much healthier to boot. As the sun sank below St Josephs College, dwarfed by cranes as it is transformed into luxury flats, I got to thinking about what is happening in Barnet. The running of the Borough has been sold off to Capita. They run procurement for the council now. Soon, rumour has it, they will run everything. As soon as they took over procurement, out went the bailiffs the council had previously used and in came Equita, Capitas on service. I recently attended a small business meeting with a lady from the council, who was seeking to improve council engagement with local business, except she wasn't from the Council, she was from Capita. When you phone the council to report a broken pavement or a query with your tax, you don't speak to the council, you speak to Capita. The person on the other end of the phone is not in the London Borough of Barnet.

The local Conservatives call all of this progress. They tell us that it saves money to outsource the council and you get to keep more of your cash, as you pay less in tax. Local bloggers, including myself, have often asked a few questions of the council, none of which have ever been answered.

1) How can it be good for the Barnet economy to export jobs and the associated economic activity, to other parts of the country?
2) When services are in house, no shareholders need profits and no expensive lawyers are needed to monitor contracts. How can outsourcing really be cheaper when all the "hidden costs" are totted up?
3) We are told that outsourcing the switchboard is progress. How many local residents enjoy having to navigate through endless switchboard menu's to try and make a straightforward enquiry?
4) We were told that the Council needed to get Capita in, because they would invest and modernise the services and IT infrastructure. Within weeks of Capita ataking over, bloggers uncovered the truth. Barnet Taxpayers were funding this investment. We gave the cash to Capita to invest. Surely this means we were mislead by the Conservative administration?
5) The so called new services are proving a nightmare. Even Conservative Councillors are tweeting that they don't work properly and expressing their sympathy with residents, many of whom have no choice but to suffer poor service.
6) There have been cases reported in the press, where Capita are using their own bailiff service to enforce debt collections without bailiffs having the correct paperwork to hand. Capita pick up a hefty commission for this. Surely this is a conflict of interest?

There are many other questions which have come up over the period since the One Barnet contracts were signed. As I watched the sunset, I was struck by the fact that every day, the sun rises and the sun sets. One day the sun will set on the current, highly ideological hard right Conservative regime. I don't know whether it will be replaced by a more pragmatic Tory regime who will simply work to get good value and good services for Barnet residents and will not be interested in signing monolithic ten year contracts with mega suppliers. I don't know whether it will be a Labour Council, who will review the whole caboodle and inhouse the whole thing, as they did previously when they took over in 1992. When Labour and the Lib Dems took over in 1992, they brought back in house refuse collection. The previous Conservative regime had outsourced it and this had been a nightmare. Cowboy contractors had run a terrible service. Collections were sporadic and many residents cars were damaged by refuse carts, who didn't bother stopping to leave details for insurance. When the service was brought in house, even the local Tories were relieved. Strangely this is one service that they've baulked at ooutsourcing.

Who knows how One Barnet will turn out? From what I've heard and observed, there are all manner of issues, more coming to light every day. As it all starts to fall apart, let us not forget who the architects of all this were. The local Conservatives. I suspect that history will not be their friends?

Just remember that if Mike Freer or Matthew Offord are your local MP's they were the men who started off the whole One Barnet Outsourcing project, when they were leader and deputy leader of the Council.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mike Freer MP and the £500,000 war chest

I was staggered today to find out how much money Tory MP Mike Freer has in his war chest. According to the Search the Money website he's had over half a million quid in donations.

Here are the details.
Money found: £503,082.59
Donations to Constituency Association:£19,793.13
Donation breakdown estimate
Cash  £475,969.33
Non-Cash £9,230.13
Kind £15,883.13
Food £2,810.00
Mike has also had some interesting corporate donors to his cause (and some interesting private ones if you look on the weblink)

Corporate donor

Associate Amount Accepted Details
Ministry of External Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) £3,600.00 2011-06-08 Donation-in-kind Donation-in-travel Donation-in-hospitality
Conservative Friends of Israel £1,500.00 2005-03-15 Donation-in-cash
PDL Ltd £1,300.00 2006-10-30 Donation-in-cash
Excelsior Properties £25,000.00 2007-11-27 Donation-in-cash
United and Cecil Club £3,000.00 2008-03-31 Donation-in-cash
United and Cecil Club £1,500.00 2008-12-24 Donation-in-cash
United and Cecil Club £1,500.00 2009-02-01 Donation-in-cash
Lakeside Developments Ltd £5,000.00 2009-12-02 Donation-in-cash
Manrows Ltd £3,600.00 2010-02-11 Donation-in-cash
I-CD Publishing Ltd £3,000.00 2010-02-23 Donation-in-cash
Brookstream Properties Limited £10,000.00 2010-04-07 Donation-in-cash
Sun Mark Ltd £1,962.13 2011-04-08 Donation-in-noncash
British Airways £798.00 2010-12-06 Donation-in-kind Donation-in-travel
Excelsior Properties £950.00 2011-12-20 Donation-in-kind Donation-in-travel
Municipality of Morphou £900.00 2010-10-25 Donation-in-kind
Conservative Friends of Israel £2,000.00 2013-02-17
Conservative Friends of Israel £2,000.00 2013-03-07 Donation-in-kind
The Municipality of Morphou, Cyprus £700.00 2013-10-11 Donation-in-kind Donation-in-travel Donation-in-hospitality
Conservative Friends of Israel £1,200.00 2014-03-27 Donation-in-kind Donation-in-food Donation-in-travel
Sun Mark Ltd £2,163.00 2013-12-09 Donation-in-kind
Not a bad little business is it?

Just as a comparison. you may be interested to see Matthew Offord MPs total
Money found: £59,472.00
Donations to Constituency Association:£11,172.00
Donation breakdown estimate
Cash £48,300.00
Non-Cash £0.00
Hospitality £800.00
Kind £9,172.00
Food £4,272.00
Travel £8,472.00
And what about our longest serving MP, Theresa Villiers.
Money found: £25,750.00
Donations to Constituency Association: £2,000.00
Donation breakdown estimate
Cash £23,750.00
Non-Cash  £0.00
Hospitality £0.00
Kind £2,000.00
Food  £0.00
Travel £0.00
Am I alone in wondering why Mike Freer MP has got nearly ten times as much in donations as Matthew Offord and nearly tweny times as much as Theresa Villiers, who has been an MP far longer and is a minister? Now of course this is total donations and he's probably spent a chunk of it, but that is a simply huge sum.

I suppose the answer must simply be that Mike Freer MP is a really wonderful chap. It seems that his fans are popping up in the press and in blogs to say so all the time, without any prompting from him.

It is 100% clear that his Labour Challenger Sarah Sackman will have nothing like the war chest Mike has to fight him. For Sarah's supporters, there is only one way to counter the huge machine that Mike clearly has at his disposal. They will have to get up off their backsides and work ten times harder.

As the Beatles once said "I don't care too much for money, Money can't buy me Love". It seems that for Mike it certainly must have it's usese though. I am just mightily impressed at Mike's ability to raise funds. If by chance he does lose in May, he certainly won't have to sleep rough. Maybe he should give Tess and Matthew a bit of ahand with their fundraising as they are certainly missing a trick or two.

West Hendon Estate scandal in Pictures and Words - Please sign this petition

They say one picture tells a thousand words. This week we are focussing on the scandal of the way Barnet Council is treating residents of West Hendon housing estate. Here are a few pictures that tell the story.

Mrs Angry has been at the inquiry. She writes an excellent report of the proceedings. As we listed yesterday the boss of Barnet Council, Andrew Travers takes a rather different view of the little people.  The story has also been covered by the Hendon Times.

Russell Brand has also had something to say on the subject here

So in summary, if you think that Barnet Council are wrong to put the profits of a private company before housing for the residents of the Borough, we urge you to sign this petition

We rather hope that you agree with us. I was the 74,840'th signitary. That is an amazing number of signatures. We only need 160 more to reach 75,000. Please help us get there and send Barratt Homes and Barnet Council a message they can't ignore

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Barnet CEO Andrew Travers - West Hendon Estate - Another blot on the CV of shame.

Who is the most powerful man in Barnet Council? IF you think it's the Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius, think again. The real power behind the wheel is the CEO Andrew Travers. The Barnet Council website says of Mr Travers

Chief Executive: Barnet - Andrew Travers

• to lead the strategic management of the Council to ensure quality and best value for money
• to be the Council's principal policy and business adviser
• to be the managerial leader, ensuring that the employees of the Council deliver the agreed objectives and priorities
• to take the statutory responsibilities of Head of Paid Service.


Mr Travers was appointed to the role, which commands a £180,000 salary in July 2013, having taken over from Nick Walkley as an interim in October 2012. Mr Walkley left Barnet council for a lower paid job at a smaller council, after the Barnet bloggers exposed a string of scandals, such as the Metpro scandal, where the council were using a security force to guard civic buildings and vulnerable people, paying above market rate to a company that wasn't accredited and used unchecked members of staff.

Since Mr Travers took over he's displayed a far lower key style. Wheras Walkley initially thought it was good for his career to be seen as high profile, Travers prefers to sit in the shadows. Sadly for the residents of the London Borough of Barnet, the performance of the council has not improved. Mr Travers term in office has seen the appalling  "Your Choice Barnet" scandal, where adult social care was outsourced to a private company, created by the council, only for the company to become technically insolvent and require a bail out of over a million pounds.

Travers job is to provide effective management, however even before he was confirmed in role and was operating as an interim, the Council lost a landmark case against its own residents, when the hiking of parking charges was shown to be illegal. The writing was on the wall long before the verdict, but Travers agreed to waste tens of thousands of pounds on the case. Despite Mr Travers being in charge of Council operations, not a peep was said by him.

Another cock up in Barnet resulted in the Council having to virtually close down, when it emerged that they had gotten rid of legally qualified staff resulting in a procedural cock up which resulted in all of the councils committees to not be legally constituted. This cock up nearly cost the Leader of the Council his job. The Law Gazette detailed just why it is not acceptable to follow the Travers lead Barnet model where the Monitoring officer isn't properly qualified. In fact, the Travers model means that the council doesn't have anyone left who knows how to do their job. This means that whatever happens, the council is at the mercy of private contractors as their is no in house capability left. 

The Barnet Eye has investigated the subject of outsourcing at length over the years, Most large commercial organisations refuse to outsource too much of their business to a single supplier. In Barnet, Andrew Travers has seen contract after contract go to Capita. Barnet has gained the nickname "Capitaville". Whilst Travers claims this has delivered savings, the council pointedly refused to do a public sector comparitor, to prove it. Canny companies use a range of suppliers and play them off against each other. Barnet simply sign huge monolithic contracts lasting ten years with Capita and hope for the best.

The latest cock up is in West Hendon, where the council is partnering with Barratt homes to demolish and rebuild a large housing estate. There is currently an inquiry running and evidence has emerged showing that leaseholders who'd bought properties under the right to buy legislation have been subject to compulsory purchase orders, forcing them out of their homes and paying them well under the market rate. As you will see from Mr Travers message below to staff, he pointedly ignores the injustice of this situation, failing even to mention the low valuations. He talks about the need to purchase the properties, but doesn't say a dickeybird about treating the victims of the policy fairly.

From: First Team
Sent: 23 January 2015 16:35
To: AllStaff
Subject: Weekly message from the Chief Executive

The story of the week for us has to be the start of the Public Inquiry into the compulsory purchase of homes bought under right to buy on the West Hendon estate. The council is arguing that we need to purchase these properties in order to continue to redevelop the estate.

Part of the reason for the national attention the Inquiry has attracted is that schemes like West Hendon have very much hit the media zeitgeist.  Some of this follows on from the New Era Estate in Newham where local residents were concerned about rent rises for existing tenants.  In West Hendon, the issue we have is how we support the residents who have moved into the estate during the hiatus before regeneration began.

But the central issue is really a discussion happening all around London about how can we transform estates such as this, which pretty much everyone  wants to see rebuilt, with private sector involvement. There simply isn’t the public sector finance available to do so; tens of millions of pounds would be needed in West Hendon.

Much of the national debate is also about how much estates should change. It is generally accepted that the big mass housing schemes of the 60s need replacing.  Built with high hopes, too many have in effect become ghettos of deprivation. But in changing the social mix of these estates, we have to be careful to support existing communities.

For the record, tenants on secure tenancies on the estate will move to the new development, home owners will be able to buy properties with shared equity and, of those who have moved so far, non-secure tenants have been found  homes elsewhere in the borough. Talk of people being sent to Luton are wide of the mark.

There will be a lot more West Hendons in London over the coming months and that debate about transforming the physical and social infrastructure of estates, while supporting existing residents, is set to rumble on for some time. 

Have a good weekend.


Of course to the likes of Mr Travers, making sure that decvelopers like Barratts are kept sweet and can make huge profits is far more important than caring about the effect on little people.

Mr Travers is one of the authors of the One Barnet outsourcing project. Apparently his ambition is to be the first Council CEO to outsource the entire council function. We are seeing plans to even outsource areas such as social work. In his first ever email to staff  after he took over, he said the following and he's been true to his word

"In practice, this means we will need to accelerate the Wave 2 projects in the One Barnet programme and we will publish details of proposals for waste and street scene in Cabinet papers next week"

Mr Travers got the job on the basis that he is an expert in local government. Since he's been in post, Barnet has seen a whole string of well documented cock ups. What is bizarre is that no one ever talks about them being Andrew Travers responsibility. In part this is because it is convenient for the local opposition to "blame the Tories". What I find hard to understand is why the Tories are so keen to persevere with someone who has built a track record of disatsers in the Borough. I don't believe anyone in Barnet believes that it is right and just for the council simply to be able to take your house and  give you less than anyone else would, so that a private company can turn a big profit. Until we have a CEO of Barnet who cares about the people who pay his wages, the hundreds of thousands of ordinary council tax payers, sadly that is exactly what we will see more and more of.