Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Barnet Council - Budget and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting - 06/12/11

So yet again we find ourselves in Hendon Town Hall  for yet another Council meeting where it seems as if the officers and councillors of Barnet Council live in a completely different dimension from the rest of us. If I hadn't spent 3 1/2 years writing a blog, and tonights meeting was the first ever exposure to Barnet I'd had, I'd probably think Barnet was the best Borough in the multiverse.

For me, the highlight was Councillor John Marshalls comments about Biran Coleman. These are on video and we'll save them for the Friday joke !

So what were the highlights. For Labour, Alan Schneiderman was running the show (and this he did pretty well, ably assisted by his boss Alison Moore).

Here's a few of his direct hits.

He asked why Barnet Council only had a target of 80% for compliance for the TOP 50 vendors, with Barnet's purchasing rules.

Deputy Leader Andrew Travers hit back with a stinging reply that "70% by value are already compliant". Even more bizarrely Councillor Brian Gordon chipped in to say that some Councils had  a zero compliance rate, so Barnet must be marvellous. I was sitting more or less next  to Leader Richard Cornelius at this point. As Gordon spoke (on video), Richard obviously thought "please mother earth, swallow me up" or words to that effect.

The next goal Schniederman scored was to ask about the fact that Barnet is failing to meet its legal requirements for FOI requests. An officer replied that "perfomance is improving and the number of requests is going up". He explained that they are working hard to close the backlog of "difficult (to who) requests".

Councillor Stronglou suggested that clean recyclables be collected once a month to save money. The Leader couldn't make up his mind whether this was a good or bad idea. Labour Leader Alison Moore said it would send out all the wrong messages. The leader said he was completely against changing form a once a week bin collection, but other options may be considered. The Councillor Cornelius made a startling admission. He'd recently caught Dom Joly going through his bin for a TV show. Since then he's been very circumspect about what he'd put in it? If I was him I'd demand a parliamentary enquiry. A free pot noodle for anyone who can locate the clip.

A Council officer revealed that Empower Consultancy had been paid £65,000 to produce a report detailing what colour our bins should be and how they should be collected. I believe that is the services of one bloke for just over a month, to write a report with a couple of lovely graphs in. Sadly, there are two youth services officers I know who were made redundant on salaries that would have paid for a year.

The we had the most depressing part of the evening, A discussion of care packages and personal budgets. Step forward Councillor Gordon. He didn't seem to know what a personal care budget was, despite having been on the committee since3 Noah built the Ark (or there abouts). He clearly hadn't read the background papers. His question (and I paraphrase) -  "what happens if someone with a personal budget gets the money and puts it all on laughing boy at the dagenham dog track". Cabinet member Sachin Rajput replied "We have a duty of care to the person, so we'd have to pay again". Rather oddly, Councillor Gordon replied "Marvellous" or words to that effect. But not to worry, Cllr Rajput said. All recipients were monitored every three months and no cases of fraud had made it to Crown Court yet (seriously, that's what he said).

Then we got to One Barnet. Councillor Schneiderman asked why savings had been stated as £26.4 million in one document and £17.9 in another. A Council offiicer replied that £26.4 million was for 10 years and £17.9 was til 2018/19. He then went on to say that the savings were based on the assumption that Barnet Council would do a marvellous job and sell their services to other Boroughs (at that moment a pig flew past the window). Councillor Gordon, listening to this, whilst maintaining a stoney face, developed the most bizarre leg twitch I've ever seen. Clearly his leg has a different view of "One Barnet" to the rest of him. I'm with the leg. The subject of the contract came up. Councillor Marshall stated that two of the bidders were "EC Harris" and "F M Conway". He remarked snottily that they sounded like "firms of solicitors". Councillor Gordon, who runs a firm of solicitors momentarily lost control of the other leg. He also looked like he was going to thump Marshall. Councillor Cornelius stepped in to calm things down by saying "Some firms of solicitors are highly reputable". We sniggered in the public gallery.

Then we got slung out for the "exempt" bit. I earwigged at the door as the voices got raised. Clearly all is not sweetness and light, but then again us mere taxpayers aren't allowed to hear the juicy bits.

And onto parking. Well we will post a rather interesting video here. The debate was surreal. In the public gallery was a bloke from a supplier who didn't win the business. At the end he said "They took five minutes to discuss that. What is going on?". He doesn't really understand Barnet YET does he.

I had a bevvy of hits on the blog from a URL associated with a company that did not win the bid (NCP did). They found the blog with a google search "Barnet council legal action" I did the search myself, this blog is on page 3 for that enquiry. They are clearly doing their homework.

 Perhaps the most telling quote of the night was when Councillor Alison Moore asked "will the council remain in charge of setting the parking charges". Councillor Cornelius replied "Yes" and Councillor Schniederman interjected "Unfortunately".

That is how things are in Barnet.


Mr Mustard said...

As you know I was also in attendance Roger. This is a marvellous summary of the meeting and quickly produced to boot. There was a lot of talking but I am not convinced that much was actually achieved in the way of scrutiny.

It is continuingly evident that not all councillors read the paperwork (this was not one of the 3 reports which was only produced on the day of the meeting ). One asked Cllr Rajput a question to which the answer was to read a certain papagraph in the report on the table in front of the councillor. Oh dear.

It was CPS not Crown Court by the way. The amounts invovled would probably make legal action uneconomic so Rajput's answer does not really say much. No legal action to date.

£65,000 for a report on recycling. Rubbish!

That question on why OneBarnet "savings" are better than projected by £9m was interesting. Pam Wharfe, the interim director (for now) said it was because many of the projects had come up much beter than expected ( no detail though ). £9m worth of waffle. Then Travers stepped in, on £1,000 a day, and said it was because the £27m figure covered more years than the £19m figure. A triumph of presentation then.

Just like to add the comment that I think it was the officer Tom Pike ( couldn't quite see ) who said that 59% of performance indicators were nearly green when they were clearly amber or red. Mind how you drive home Tom through the traffic lights. The police won't accept "that red light was very nearly green officer". You will be clearly told that it was red. So that is Barnet, where red is nearly green.

Luckily bloggers aren't green.

baarnett said...

Sorry for being dumb [now, now, Mrs A].

I haven't ever noted the One Barnet figures, but isn't Barnet a £1-billion/year operation (I think most boroughs are near that). And there may be a saving of £2.64 million a year?

(The 'word verification' for this comment is "phydrin". That sounds like an excellent name for something you take internally [now, now, Mrs A], to stay awake in Barnet council meetings. "Cllr Hart and Mr Mustard are nodding off. Give 'em some more phydrin!")