Saturday, 11 October 2014

Barnet Council in Chaos. When will the Leadership team resign? When will they Learn?

First please consider this tweet from the Barnet Conservatives quoting deputy Leader of the Council Dan Thomas

From this, you may well think that theDeputy Leader is crowing because his administration has done such a marvellous job and that people are coming from far and wide to study how Barnet have made themselves into the countries most admired council. It is true that people are coming from far and wide to Barnet. Sadly they are not coming to praise the Tories. Read this report on the Council website from Claer Lloyd-Jones, a legal adviser brought in to investigate the failure in governance that brought Barnet Council to a complete standstill earlier this year.

Here are the conclusions

Barnet Investigation Report

7. Conclusion
7.1 Barnet Council was ridiculed in the local press for finding itself in the
position of having misapplied the political proportionality rules and thereby
failing to keep member decision-making safe from challenge. The Chief
Executive was subsequently given advice that committees that were not
properly and lawfully constituted, an could not continue to meet and make
decisions prior to the next Council meeting on July 15 th. Leading Counsel’s
opinion was taken and he advised that although the political proportionality
rules had been misapplied, the committees could continue to meet and make
lawful decisions due to the savings provisions in theAct. Leading Counsel’s
opinion was preferred.

7.2 The facts leading up to these events demonstrate that there was no
clear protocol or process between Barnet Governance Team and HBPL for
providing legal clearance of council reports to ensure that they were correct.
In the case of both the political proportionality report and the members
allowances report, legal advice was asked for from HBPL. It was not forthcoming,
and the absence of legal advice in the reports was not escalated nor chased by Barnet Governance Team.

7.3 The risk of either of those reports being wrong was therefore high, given
that Barnet does not employ any lawyers itself,and the relevant governance
staff responsible for these reports are relatively inexperienced.

7.4 This high reputational risk to the council was multiplied by the change
to alternative political management arrangements, ie
a return to the Committee system. This risk was further aggravated by a
very close election result.

7.5 Mitigation of the risk would necessitate early consideration of the
legal principles, and close and careful attention being paid to the
compilation of reports, in draft, and when submitted to council for decision.
This would require at the very least, close collaboration between HBPL
and Barnet Governance Team. 

7.6 All parties involved were capable of spotting that something was wrong
with the reports, but no-one did. To those members involved, the perception
was that no-one was in charge.

7.7 I find that Barnet’s Governance Team were responsible for the reports
being sent to print in their incorrect form and subsequently voted on by
members at June 2nd Council meeting. Members were not advised that the reports
had no legal clearance, and the form of the report gave no indication
of whether the report had been cleared or not.

7.8 I also find that Barnet’s Governance team were jointly responsible with
the shared Legal Service, HBPL, for those reports going to print containing
misapplications of the correct law, and allowing members to vote on them as
though they were correct. Copies of the reports had been sent to HBPL at an
early stage. They gave no comments or advice. The Harrow MO attends
Barnet Council meetings in order to advise the Barnet MO and Chief

7.9 In order to prevent the risk of some other governance failing
attributable to the absence of legal advice or misapplication of legal advice, a
number of changes need to be made to both the IAA and to Barnet’s internal
governance arrangements.
So we have established two things immediately. The first is that Barnet is in a total mess and the second is that the Leadership of the Council is deluded. If Cllr Thomas had come out and said that there serious problems had been identified and that urgent action was being taken to address them and he was giving it grave consideration, then we'd say he had a grip on the situation. What did he tell the Barnet Times?
"No-one enjoyed the annual council meeting, but the committee system is up and running well. Barnet is one of the most efficient and effective councils in the country at dealing with the issues that matter most to residents and we have saved the taxpayer millions in the process."
There is no way that this statment can be squared with the findings of the report, because the second thing we've learned is that there has been a major failure of governance at the Council. Cllr Thomas talks about "saving the Taxpayer millions". This has been done by sacking experienced officers and outsourcing key departments. This outsourcing has been done in a highly ideological manner, driven by a hard right detestation of public services. Mr Thomas is a Tory fundamentalist who believes that the only way a council can save money is to put service provision into the hands of private contractors. All councils in the UK have similar budget challenges, but few have gone down the Easycouncil commissioning model of Barnet. Even right wing Tory councils elsewhere have realised that when you outsource, you lose control and there is inevitably a huge issue of governance and quality.

What we have seen in Barnet is a direct result of the Barnet Conservatives policy of decimating the Democratic Services and Legal team. Legal was outsourced to Harrow Council and a joint legal team established, under the control of Harrow. This has saved some money in the short term but the result is there for all to see. It has failed completely. It has failed to the extent that they've had to bring in Claer Lloyd-Jones to sort the mess out. Conclusion 7.8 could not be clearer in its damning criticism.

Ms Lloyd-Jones could not be clearer in explaining what Mr Thomas policy of outsourcing has meant "The risk of either of those reports being wrong was therefore high, given that Barnet does not employ any lawyers itself,and the relevant governance staff responsible for these reports are relatively inexperienced."

This is not the end of the issues that residents of Barnet will see as a result of the hard right, ideologically driven polices of the Barnet Tories. We are just at the very dawn of the nightmare that they have inflicted. For the benefit of anyone new to the blog and the chaos in Barnet, lets have a quick recap on just some of the cock ups that have occurred over the last few years as Barnet have failed to manage outsourced contracts and suppliers.

Aerodrome Bridge rebuilding project. Original estimate £12 million. Eventual cost £23 million (
Metpro Scandal. Security for vulnerable people outsourced to a company with no licence or accreditation, no proper Vat receipts, charging 30% above market rate (

Your Choice Barnet Ltd. Private company created by Barnet Council for adult social care. Flawed business plan required £1 million bale out within first year(

Catalyst Care home contract. Barnet Council outsourced care homes to Catalyst and got sued due to a guaranteed profit clause. Barnet lost case and had to ten million pounds ( At the same time there was a Legionalla outbreak at a home and also a tragic death of a resident. Barnet Council then renewed the contract after all these issues. 

SAP project costs rose from £2.5 million to £21 million (

And yet....... We have a Leadership team in an ivory tower claiming that Barnet is the best run Borough in Britain and they've "saved millions". All of these inconvenient truths are sadly forgotten by Cllr Thomas and his bos Cllr Cornelius. It is time they resign and allow someone who is vaguley in touch with reality and isn't driven only by ideological zeal to run the show. Next year there will be a general election. The architect of this mess was Mike Freer, who is now the MP for Finchley and Golders Green. He set up the One Barnet project and has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the local Tories. His role cannot be forgotten in this mess. Any conversation about what has gone wrong must start with the root cause. I believe that politicians should be held to account for there mistakes and the whole One Barnet outsourcing programme is a huge mistake. Contrary to what Cllr Thomas says, it has cost not saved millions as can be demonstrated above.  It is high time that people were reminded of who started this sorry mess. The current crisis brought to mind this blog from 2009 ( ) where we discussed the likely effects of outsourcing the council.  Back then we said
"You would think they'd learn, wouldn't you? You'd think they'd realise that when you are dealing with complex legal issues, you need the best lawyers. Has Mike Freer learned?

Well today the following cabinet report was brought to my attention Appointment of Panel of Legal Advisors. The reason for this report (drawn up at huge expense)?

3.2 The service provided by the in-house Legal Service is in high demand to deliver on the Council’s priorities. Moving to the Council’s ‘Future Shape’ will involve additional and extensive legal input.
So there is a tacit admission that privatisation requires huge legal expenses."
Back in 2009 it was recognised that Outsourcing needed a robust legal team. It was recognised that if this role was cocked up, the result would be catastrophic for the people of Barnet.  Yet even though this expensive report was commissioned, the lessons were not learned.

This blog long ago ceased to believe that one party in Barnet was any better than another, but we do believe that there are some good councillors and some pretty useless ones. For the sake of the people of Barnet can't the good ones get together, acknowledge the council is in a total mess and then do something about it.

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