Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Madness of King Nick - Barnet Council on Strike

As Barnet Council prepares for yet another strike by it's workers, my thoughts turn to the CEO Nick Walkley. What I really can't understand about the current bunfight is the fact that it is completely avoidable. You may think that this is a ridiculous statement but if you were to ask Nick Walkley these questions, his answer would reveal the truth. The questions are :-

1) Were the current in house services allowed to bid for the One Barnet contracts?
2) Are the criteria for awarding the contracts for the One Barnet bids available for public scrutiny?
3) Has the process of awarding the One Barnet contracts been open and transparent?

Sadly the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. Had the In House teams been allowed to bid and had these been shown to be uncompetitive, the staff and unions would have had no grounds for a dispute. You may ask how I can claim that the criteria are not available for public scrutiny? It is quite clear, I have a letter from a lawyer at Barnet council demanding that I take remove the document from my blog which explains the award criteria.

It is no wonder that the staff are up in arms. They know they are being shafted. The document makes it clear that the process is risky and dodgy. Barnet have not even published the business case. Recently a Barnet Tory councillor, Brian Schama stated "I have seen the business case and I believe the numbers add up". Well I believe in the tooth fairy, but if I wanted to convince you, then you'd expect me to come up with the evidence. If it is strong enough to convince Brian Schama, then it should be robust enough to be published.

Recently, the fight has become dirty. On the Barnet Council side I've had legal threats and on the other side I've had all manner of things from the workers at Barnet council, from embarrassing pictures of Mr Walkley claiming to be genuine (which in this day and age are probably photoshopped) as well as a few more highly confidential leaked documents. As the leaked documents contain commercially sensitive information relating to contracts in the process of being negotiated, there is clearly a huge risk of legal sanction should these be published and the leaker has advised me to take notes and then destroy them, which has been done. What do they tell me?

They tell me that if these documents were in the public domain, there is a significant chance that this program would be exposed for what it is. I am currently pondering exactly what questions need to be asked under the FOI act and whether I should try and get Eric Pickles, the Local Government minister to take a look. The most difficult issue is the fact that I've not seen all of the documents. It is clear that only the most damaging documents would be leaked and there may be other material that mitigates it. That is the madness of this secrecy culture, it is impossible to really know.

I would issue this caution to Capita and EC Harris and FM Conway. If I've seen stuff marked confidential, who else has? It is clear that some very senior staff at Barnet have grave doubts. My guess is that these companies realise that there is easy money to be had and so don't really care. I do wonder why EC Harris and FM Conway are continuing to throw money at the process given the likelyhood of their winning the contract. They have even been insulted at a council meeting by the Council leader who noted that they sound "like a firm of solicitors". Maybe they take the view that if you don't buy a ticket, you don't win the lottery.

What is clear to me is that whoever wins the bid, it will damage the economy of the London Borough of Barnet. Jobs will be exported and local people will suffer. I've no idea what the job description for Nick Walkley says, but does it really include "destroy the local High Street, damage the economic wellbeing of the Borough and export jobs to other London Boroughs, other parts of the country and other continents?

In short the whole thing is total madness and it's time King Nick realised.

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