Saturday, 28 January 2012

Exclusive - Guest Blog : The One Barnet Consultation

By Wally Nickley,

Preamble by Rog T of the Barnet Eye,

Barnet council is about to launch a massive program of outsourcing under the title (currently) of One Barnet. These contracts are worth approximately One Billion pounds and it will have a huge impact on the people of Barnet. You may think that none of this will affect you directly. Sadly this is something that none of us can know for sure. The contracts will last for ten years and who knows what will happen in that time. For any of us, our lives can change in an instant. I will briefly give you two examples of people I know well, and why they demonstrate that such huge changes may affect us all.

In the case of my mother, she was a successful business woman. She was wealthy and in the year 2000 she was semi retired. She was in good health and went on three long cruises, spending her hard earned cash. In December 2000, she suffered a major stroke which changed her life. She couldn't communicate effectively and her ability to walk was severely restricted. She lost all self confidence and after a lengthy spell in hospital recuperating, she returned to live independently. Although financially secure, her ever declining health and frailty required ever increasing support from the NHS and Barnet Social services. She became reliant on the Barnet meals on wheel service for her main meal, as she was physically unable to cook. In april 2007 Barnet Council outsourced provision of these meals to Sodexho. For a period of weeks, the delivery of these meals became extremely unreliable and the quality decreased massively. The whole experience completely demoralised my mother as she had become to used to a routine. She knew the people who delivered the meals and they made sure she was OK, as they did for all of the other vulnerable people they served. My mother was extremely upset that they were summarily replaced. She became depressed and despondent. The summary actions of Barnet council emphasised to her that she was vulnerable and her independence was subject to the whim of the pen pushers at Barnet Council.

The second case is a friend of mine who I'll call Bill. I've known him since I was eight years old. Bill and his family used to live up my road. Bill was a successful website designer. Seventeen years ago he married a lovely girl from the Czech republic and planned to move there to make a new life. On his honeymoon, he broke his neck. He has been paralysed in a wheelchair ever since. His condition is described as permanently life threatening, so his care is directly funded by the NHS. Due to changes made by the Coalition, even though he is paralysed and totally reliant on a team of home carers for every function, he has been deemed a "jobseeker" and has had his benefits cut. Barnet Council abolished the disabilty rights units as a response to budget cuts. As a result, Bill has had no one to help him navigate the minefield of trying to survive, when thousands of pounds have been removed from his benefits. Due to his condition, he cannot regulate his body temperature, so turning off the heating is not an option.

Neither of the cases I described above, ever thought they'd have to be reliant on services provided by Barnet council, merely to exist. Lives can change in an instant and our needs can also change in an instant. I used these cases as examples to try and explain why the changes are important to all of us on a human level. There is another level to the One Barnet program we also need to consider. Does it make financial sense? Barnet has shown that it cannot manage small contracts. We need look no further than the Metpro and Freemantle/Catalyst contracts to see major disasters with huge financial impact on the taxpayer. Barnet are talking about contracts for ten years for a billion pounds. Would you think that someone who failed to run a whelk stall should be put in charge of running Tescos? That is in effect what they are doing. The most bizarre aspect of the whole thing is that they have spent millions on consultants to "redesign the council", when employing a far smaller team of auditors to sort out the existing mess would have saved a fortune. Surely they should have got their house in order first.

Then there is the impact on the local economy. Hundreds of Barnet jobs are being destroyed and exported to other Boroughs. You may think that this doesn't affect you. Consider this. There is a recession. The local business relies on the incomes of local people. Many businesses are struggling. As people are laid off, they spend less. Shops and businesses with no links to Barnet Council, see less turnover. For businesses already struggling, this may be the final straw. What about the people being transferred to private companies? They've been told that their conditions of employment will be protected for one year. What then? The only way private companies can make more money is to cut wages. The staff will either suffer pay cuts or be replaced by cheaper staff. More money out of the Barnet economy. Sadly unlike an in house team, any savings go to the shareholders of the companies.

Sadly, Barnet Council fail to try and do any "joined up thinking" in respect to any of this. Now it may well be that Barnet Council have information about the process which makes a positive case for the changes. Why haven't they gone public and made this case? Surely something which will so fundamentally change peoples lives and will involve ten year contracts, should involve public consultation? It is scandalous that we aren't being asked for our views. The Barnet Eye has seen (and published) much leaked detail about this process. None of it reassures us at all. Like Carlsberg, the Barnet Eye does not do public consultations about major changes to the way the Council interacts with the taxpayers. If we did, these are the questions we would ask you, before we changed anything. I sincerely hope that the other Barnet bloggers, the local media and our councillors also ask these questions, because I believe they are fundamental. Most of all I hope Barnet Council use it as a template.

One Barnet Public Consultation

Dear Barnet Council Taxpayer,

Barnet Council The Barnet Eye is committed to public consultations before any major changes are made to the way services are delivered to the Barnet taxpayer. The Council are currenlty considering making major changes to the way services are provided and we believe that it is vital that the taxpayer, as the funder of this process is kept well informed of the process and is given the opportunity to comment on the changes so that Barnet Council can deliver a package of services which fully meets the requirements of the people who pay the bills.

The local economy.

Do you believe it makes sense, especially at a time of recession to export hundreds of jobs from the London Borough of Barnet, to other parts of London, other parts of the country and to other parts of the world?

Do you think that it is appropriate that local businesses are excluded from the process of providing council services?

Do you think that companies bidding for One Barnet Contracts should have to show that they are making a contribution to the local economy as a key deliverable of the contract?

Do you agree that all companies bidding for One Barnet Contracts should agree to pay the London living wage for all London based staff?

Quality of services.

For people with acute care needs from Barnet Council, do you think that private companies should be subject to large financial penalties if companies fail to deliver the current high quality of services?

As a Barnet resident, would you be happy discussing your council related business with a telephone operator in a foreign call centre?

When vulnerable people such as the elderly, the infirm and adults with care needs, experience constant changes to provision of care, this can cause stress, lead to depression and can massively impact their quality of life. Do you think that continuity of service should be guaranteed, by financial penalties, for any services outsourced by the council?

Financial security.

When the council reviewed bidders tenders for the One Barnet program, the council considered that "transfer of risk" only warranted  less than 3% of the total scoring for evaluation of the bid. Do you believe that private companies taking on provision of services on behalf of the council, should pick up the financial risk for their failure to provide services/

When the council reviewed bidders tenders for the One Barnet program, the council considered that "Maximising commerciality of the services" warrented nearly 13% of the total scoring for evaluation of the bid. Do you think that this is more than four times more important than ensuring the council does not incur financial risk?

When the council reviewed bidders tenders for the One Barnet program, the council considered that "Maximising commerciality of the services" warrented nearly 13% of the total scoring for evaluation of the bid. Do you think that the council should be seeking to transform itself into a commercial supplier of services and incur the risks associated with this on behalf of the taxpayer.

When the council reviewed bidders tenders for the One Barnet program, the council considered that "Compliant high quality service delivery" warrented nearly 5.7% of the total scoring for evaluation of the bid. Do you think that this is less than half as important as "Maximising commerciality of the services"?

Do you think that the council should tie itself into a supplier for ten years, when the whole concept of such a massive outsourcing is completely unproven?

Cost to taxpayer.

In previous examples of Barnet Council outsourcing projects, badly drawn contracts have resulted in multi million pounds financial settlements being awarded against the council. Do you think the Council has the expertise to avoid similar problems?

As a taxpayer, who do you think should bear the risk of financial penalties caused by the failure of contractors. Should it be the taxpayer of Barnet or the service provider?

Best Value for taxpayer.

In house bids (ie the council providing the services themselves after efficiency savings) have not been considered by the One Barnet team. In house teams, who actually know how to provide the service were not invited to bid. Do you believe that excluding the in house option can be demonstrated to deliver best value for taxpayer.

Due to the scoring mechanism used by Barnet Council to decide the provider of the services, it is possible that a company tender could provide the highest quality of service and the highest guaranteed financial benefit to the Barnet taxpayer, but fail because another bid may demonstrate an aspiration to provide a more commercially saleable product. Do you think that it is appropriate that the Council puts risky, speculative income ahead of service and guaranteed return?


Do you think that Councils should follow the Barnet Council method of working, where all decisions are made in top secret and taxpayers are not allowed to know why decisions are made, on pain of legal action, or should they follow the Windsor and Maidenhead Council model where all decisions are made transparently and all relevant information is freely available via the Council website?
Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye. Wally Nickley sent me the "One Barnet consultation" for publication. He asked me to write a suitable preamble. Wally Nickley (not his real name) is a Barnet Council employee and avid Barnet Eye reader. Although guest blogs are usually printed without comment or edit, Wally specifically asked me to in this case. All figures etc used in Wally's consultation document are supplied by him. Although I happen to believe them to be correct they cannot be verified as the council refuses to release the information. I also amended the first sentence of the blog as Barnet Council was not asking the question and I felt this may be misleading.

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