Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Richard Cornelius makes a shocking admission about One Barnet

The One Barnet program was originally launched in 2008, under the name of "Future Shape". When the then leader of the council first started briefing about it, he produced a list of outsourcing "successes" to "prove" how much money it would save. Amongst these were

South West One -
Liverpool Council -
Sussex council -
Suffolk Council -
Bournemouth Council -

It is now 2012The Council has spent millions of pounds on consultants to "design" the services and work out how to implement the new scheme. So far there is £19 million spent or allocated, simply to work out how to unbolt all of the parts of the council, what contract needs what clauses, who will work for who and who will be responsible for what. The biggest problem when you split a single organisation into lots of smaller parts, run by different organisations is that no one ever takes any responsibility for anything. We see this on the railways day after day. I frequently take a train from Mill Hill to St Pancras. The train is operated by First Group. The train is owned by a leasing company. Mill Hill Station and the track is owned by network rail. As you travel to London, you see all manner of contractors vans working on track, signalling, station cleaning, building repairs. When it all goes wrong, the first thing they have to do is decide who has to fix it. None of them takes responsibility. Under British Rail, one person would decide and a team would be despatched to sort the problem out. I was talking to a First Group manager and he told me that for some of the problems, they need a conference call with fifteen highly paid managers on, just to decide which company has to fix a simple problem. If it is a big job with major costs, they have to have the lawyers on as well (£200 per hour).

That is what awaits us with One Barnet. As soon as there is a situation which falls outside of the clearly defined obligations of the contract, senior people at the council and the contractors will have to decide a) who does the work, b) who pays for it, c) when it will be done and d) how the agreement will be amended to ensure that a conference call with lawyers and senior executives is not needed next time a similar situation occurs. Barnet has outsourced their legal department to Harrow Council, so presumably Barnet will pay an hourly rate for their legal team (my solicitors charge £200 me per hour on assumes Barnet get charged similar), the contractor will also have a solicitor on board, there will presumably technical experts from both sides who understand the project (£2000 a day???) and senior executives from both sides. Every time there is an issue all of these teams will have to agree. The lawyers, being paid by the hour have no incentive to fix the problem quickly. Lets assume that a fairly simple situation occurs. There will have to be a meeting to work out what the problem is, the technical experts will have to agree a remedy, the lawyers will have to agree that it can be accomodated in the contract, or draw up a new contract to cover the work, and the executives will have to sanction it. The lawyers will then draw up whatever paperwork needs to be done and the meeting will be reconvened to "walk through" the new contracts. All of this has to be done before anyone can actually start fixing the issue. Lets assume that we only have one of each of the people from the contractor and the council working on the issue and it is a simple issue so it takes 1 day to rectify. If each person is on £2,000 a day charge out rate (because Barnet won't have any in house staff left), that is £12,000 of our money spent simply to agree that a mechanism to do something which was overlooked in the existing contract. Anyone who has worked for a company involved in outsourcing will know that what I've described is a pretty conservative estimate of the process (and yes, I have worked as a consultant on outsourcing projects in both the private and public sector, before I made music my full time career).

Now you will be wondering by now what the shocking admission made by Richard Cornelius is? Well until now, the Barnet Councillors have not actually seen the contract which the officers are working on. This is the document that four years work has gone into making. The job of the councillors is to scrutinise this and make sure that we don't get ripped off. The most important question is this. What is a reasonable amount of time for Councillors to give due consideration to such a contract and make sure it is properly scrutinised.

I have sat in on meetings working for large organisations where such exercises took place. As a technical consultant, I'd be hauled before panels of people and asked dozens of questions, many of which I hadn't been expecting. I'd have to go away, prepare a report and then go through the process again. This may last for several weeks and I'd expect at least three or four such inquisitions before everyone was satisfied that the process would work. Due to confidentiality clauses signed with the companies I worked for, I don't discuss them on this blog, but all of these projects were highly successful and delivered for both customer and contractors. I sat on both sides of the fence. It is called doing "due diligence".

I was therefore shocked to the core to be forwarded an email from Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, detailing how long has been allocated for scrutiny of the contracts by councillors, before a decision is made to sign them. Please read this email carefully. It is extremely important. I have redacted some personal details, but the email was sent by a local resident.

De: "Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative"
Para: ************************************
Enviado: Martes 20 de noviembre de 2012 23:24
Asunto: RE: Metting on one Barnet on the 8th November.

Just over a week for the first of the two.

From: *************************
Sent: 19 November 2012 09:47
To: Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative
Subject: Re: Metting on one Barnet on the 8th November.

Dear Mr. Cornelius,
In which case how much time will you have to  properly study the contracts?
**** *********
De: "Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative"
Para: *************
Enviado: Domingo 18 de noviembre de 2012 20:45
Asunto: RE: Metting on one Barnet on the 8th November.

Dear Mr *******,
No contradiction.  I will have the details revealed to me before making the decision
Richard Cornelius

From: ************************
Sent: 09 November 2012 18:20
To: Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative
Subject: Metting on one Barnet on the 8th November.
**** *********
** ********* ******
***** ******
*** *****
Dear Mr. Cornelius,
At the public meeting on one Barnet on the 8th November I asked the following question:
"With One Barnet negotiations being carried out in secret due to commercial sensitivity and contracts lasting 10 years, i.e. 2 1/2 legislative periods, will tihs mean the death of local democracy as we know it?"
Your answer was that the current rights of councillors would not change in any way. But a few minutes before you had stated that you did not know what was in the contracts.
So how could you be so certain  if you don't know what is in them as you stated any number of times. Is that not somewhat contradictory?
If it is the case that there is some legislation which would obviously overrule any possible clauses in the contracts restricting the rights of councillors to scrutinise, the I would be very interested to know what it is exactly.
Kind Regards
**** ********
******* ******** ** *** ******

In short  Councillors have one week to satisfy themselves that everything is above board and ship shape. Bear in mind that Councillors work part time and so this probably means five or six hours to decide if four years work and £19 million pounds worth of consultancy has delivered a workable model. They are being asked to sign ten year contracts. I cannot believe that anyone could possibly agree that such a short window is appropriate, especially where ten year contracts worth up to £1 billion are being debated. It is clear that Council officers are treating the Councillors as a rubber stamping authority.

The Barnet Eye calls on all councillors to reject such an irresponsible approach and demand that a proper and appropriate period is given over to councillors for scrutiny and evaluation.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

I wonder if Richard Cornelius has any idea of how long this contract is? Has ever seen an outsourcing contract before?

A typical outsourcing agreement (together with its associated schedules etc) take up multiple lever arch files (and of course the associated schedules - which contain for example the specifications for the outsourced services - are just as important as the "contract" itself). With the best will in the world, it takes someone who is familiar with these kinds of documents several days to read a typical agreement - and the Barnet contract is likely to be even longer than most given the scale of the outsourcing.

Cornelius clearly has no idea of what it is that he is getting Barnet into ....