Thursday, 8 September 2011

Barnet Council Exclusive : Expert Legal Advice on One Barnet - Are Nick Walkley and Councillor Richard Cornelius polishing their Bargepoles ?

Today I received a very odd email from the head of legal at Barnet Council. As many of you know, this is Mr Jeff Lustig. To spare Jeff any embarrassment, I won't produce the whole email, but he said one very important thing in it.
Any specific proposal recommending a change from direct service provision to a service being delivered by the local authority through another provider, will require approval by the Executive. The accompanying report would set out the relevant governance issues, including those relating to any potential conflicts of interest, for appropriate consideration.
Now this is absolutely key to the OneBarnet/FutureShape project. Earlier this week Dr Julia Hines laid out exactly what sort of "conflicts of interest" may occur. Given what Julia has described with Capita and her conversation with Martin Cowie, it is clear that the whole area is a minefield. In response to Jeff's email, I have asked for a copy of these reports under the freedom of information act. This blog is lucky enough to have the support of a couple of lawyers, who have on many occasions given me a steer on what the key points are. Once these reports turn up, I will yet again be pushing my friendship to the limit and taking advantage of my friends good nature.

I also have in my possession some rather interesting legal analysis of the OneBarnet project. This has been leaked to me by a source which I cannot disclose. It is in paper form so as to be untraceable electronically. Now due to the fact that I have a life and I don't have time until the weekend to scan the whole document, here is the front page. Let me tell you what we can conclude from this document. We can conclude that the One Barnet program has a very questionable basis for continuing. After three years of work by armies of highly paid consultants, the whole thing is still in a state we can best describe as questionable.

Let me quote just one sentence from section 5.8 "There is no definition of how much scope there is to do third part work in percentage terms, suffice to say that the majority of work would be expected to be undertaken for the authorities which participate in the company". This is part of the analysis of service delivery.

Or how about this extract from section 3.9 "Local Authority decisions, particularly those which relate to novel or innovative project, or the creation of an external entity, are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny, to determine whether or not there has been compliance with the public law framework. Auditors may need to be consulted on proposals at an appropriate juncture". What does this mean in plain English. My legal friends explained "It means that it is likely to be extremely expensive to oversee and may be extremely prone to legal challenges, resulting in huge and unanticipated costs.

I have stacks of notes on this. These are just two of the more easy to understand (for us thickies) bits. Now my friend, Jeff Lustig doubtless understands the whole thing. What is he telling Barnet CEO Nick Walkley (currently mysteriously on leave) and Council Leader Richard Cornelius? Well if he's telling them what my friends tell me, then they should be polishing their bargepoles for this expensive can of worms. They damn well should be.

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