Interesting fact : Did you know that when the Barnet Conservatives took power in 1992, they hiked up the council tax by 26% to pay for a supposed £10 million hole in the Barnet Council reserves. Now read on.
As you will recall from the political "advice" offered to Councillors by Barnet Councils best paid contractor, Deputy Chief Executive Mr Andrew Travers, there are some hefty costs involved in the Future Shape project (you know, the project that the Councils own auditors have criticised for being risky and lacking a business case).
Lets have a look at the costs Mr Travers "owned up to" in his letter.
"£810,000 was spent on externally commissioned support for development of the Future Shape programme in 2008/9 and 2009/10. For 2010/11, there is a revised budget for delivering the programme of £1.5m."
It isn't clear from his wording whether this is one or two lots of £810,000.
I have a few questions to ask. The first question is this. Why have so many costs been concealed from Councillors in this letter. Anyone familiar with the project will know that there are many other costs which have not been mentioned. Rather craftily Mr Travers makes no mention at all of "internally commissioned support" ( so much for the truth, The whole truth and nothing but the truth).
What do we know about these other costs?
Well there is an internal team of directors and other staff. I believe that the Furture Shape director alone earns well in excess of £100,000 per annum.
Then there is the contingency fund for legal costs. I have been informed that this could be up to £5 million (I would be more than happy for Barnet Council to clarify this figure).
Then there is the bill for implementation with an outside firm of consultants. The council have tried to keep this under wraps (read Councillor Jack Cohens blog about these shenanigans - http://www.times-series.co.uk/blogs/8390902.Strange_Noises_From_the_Public_Gallery/ ). I have been reliably informed that the figure they hav tried to conceal is £2.5 million.
All in all, I make this approx £10 Million without a business case or a proper plan. A huge sum. As anyone who has followed Barnet Council will know, they are rather bad at getting things in on Budget.
The last big project they managed was Aerodrome Road Bridge replacement. This had a budget of £12 million and cost £23 million in the end. Does this bode well? Since then, Barnet Council cannot even persuade executives to work for them. They have to hire contractors such as Mr Travers, who is paid £17,000 a month.
I have made extensive enquiries about the One Barnet/Future shape program finances, but no one seems to know. I have this question for Councillors such as Robert Ramsbottom and Daniel Thomas, who have been saying it's marvellous. If this is true, why won't you release the figures and present a proper business case. Mr Rams is in the process of "drawing up a business case by December". Unless this has a full break down of all costs, expenses and other figures, then we can be pretty sure that they are hiding something. Why? With such huge amounts of money sloshing around, one has to question exactly what is going on. It was reported that there were some very searching questions asked by Tory Councillor Tom Davey at the audit committee last night. Mr Davey is an accountant by trade. He is at the start of his career so clearly doesn't want this albatross around his neck for the rest of it.
It is quite clear to me that there are currently three types of Conservative Councillors in Barnet, when it comes to sorting the finances out
A) The ones who are too thick to even realise they've been lead up the garden path - Hillan, Rams, Thomas to name but a few
B) Those who have twigged that something is wrong, but lack the guts to spill the beans, for fear of getting ostracised - Davey, Shooter, Schama, Rayner
C) Those who are just burying their head in the sand and saying "I know nothing" - Helena Hart, Wendy Prentice, John Marshall and Graham Old
The Barnet Tory Councillors have a stark choice with Future Shape / One Barnet. They can kill it now, cut their losses and hope that in three and a half years we've all forgotten or they can wait till it becomes a train crash, the council tax bills go through the roof to clean up the mess, the Tories get kicked out and the Labour Party takes control of Barnet. I must remind our Tory councillors that the next Council election will take place after 4 years of coalition budget cuts. It will be difficult enough hanging on to the council anyway, but with this mess, it will be impossible.
It is worth reminding the Tories of Barnet that the last time they were in charge, with an unpopular Tory National Government in power (in 1994) they lost.
Interesting fact : When the Conservatives took charge of Barnet Council in 1992, Council debt was £38 million. According to the latest accounts it is now over £200 million. You and I, the taxpayer, will have to pay this ineptitude.