Sunday, 27 May 2012

A quick lesson in what is wrong with Barnet Council

If you want to know why Barnet Council is such an inefficient organisation, you really do not need to look very far at all. Simply go to the page where you can look at the DPR's ( decisions made by Council officials without debate in the council chamber and pick any one you like. The page is here
I thought I'd pick the most boring sounding one as possible to prove the point. The second last one is entitled "Green sweeping sacks". Can any council decision about such a mundane task really give any clue as to how inefficient Barnet Council really is? Here is the link to the document :-

And here is what is contained, followed by my analysis.
1683 - Green Sweeping Sacks

Page one is a list of senior council officials who signed off the contract.
They are
1.Jeremy Williams
2.Paul Frost
3. Jayne Fitzgerald
4. Lesley Meeks
5. Stephen Stewart
6. Andrew Nathan
7. Declan Hoare
The report was prepared by Dave Ward, street cleansing manager and signed off by Declan Hoare, who earns £86,823 as assistant Director of Environment, regeneration and planning. In effect, one person wrote a report that said that a company called BPI produced Green recyling sacks for 3.895p each and "company B" wanted to charge 4.3p per bag. The council will be spending £55,000 per annum. That is approximately 1.45 million green bags a year. Now you may think that a contract costing £55,000 probably needs a bit of scrutiny. I wouldn't argue. I would however argue that a contract to buy bin bags does not need "clearance" from an equalities and diversity officer. There are situations where this is right and proper, but buying bin bags? Does it need clearance from the "policies and partnerships" team and the "strategic procurement" clearance from a different person? Surely they need a procurement team who have a set of equalities guidelines, understand the policies and partnerships and know the policy on "strategic procurement". It is clear that there is a whole layer of bureaucracy in Barnet all doing the same thing.

So seven people have read the report, including an assistant director. These Bin bags must have gone through a rigorous process of scrutiny to be bought, you would think? Well actually, no. The legal department said
6.1 This is one of a number of Contracts within EPR, and certain other Directorates,where, for whatever reason, formal contract documentation was not finalised as it should have been. Based on what is shown in this Report, the Procurement Process has been competitive and a VFM test will be satisfied by the way it has been conducted.

6.2 It is perfectly possible to produce and regularise, Terms and Conditions and a Scope leading to an effective, manageable, legally correct Contract and Legal Services are happy to accept such instruction and are resourced to ensure such is put into place as swiftly as practical.
So in other words, seven different people have read the report, but there is no proper contract to spend £55,000. I suppose I wouldn't have been minded to highlight this ineffeciency if they'd actually managed to cobble together a contract, but nope. Even worse, the legal team said they be perfectly happy to be instructed to put one together to protect the taxpayer from the effects of the deal going belly up.

So it appears that the council are quite happy to do business in this way. Have half a dozen officers scrutinise the report, legal point out that no contract exists, say that they can draw one up, but the whole thing gets signed off anyway.One has to ask the question why Barnet Council don't simply have a contract template for all such deals that could have the companies name imprinted and the amounts, with a few specifics amended to reflect the nature of the deal.

Now you may think that all of this is not important. What could possibly go wrong buying a stack of bin bags. There are a long list of scandals, all of which cost the taxpayer a fortune, precisely because Barnet Council either had no contract or a badly drawn up one. Doing the basics is called good practise. It seems that even though they've screwed up time and time again, they haven't learned anything.

I suppose it is worth noting that this falls under the Environment portfolio at Barnet Council. Brian Coleman was recently sacked from this job. I genuinely hope that his replacement, Dean Cohen gets to grips with this issue and tells his staff, in no uncertain terms, that this sort of thing is not good enough. When will Barnet Council wake up to the fact that good practise is in everyones best interests.

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