Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Wednesday Poem #51 - Forget You

Last night I drank to forget you,
Sadly I woke up,
Tonight I'll try and forget you again,
Tomorrow it will be the same.

Copyright 2018 Roger Tichborne

Me in 1979


This morning I was searching through some old paperwork. I found this in my box of lyrics. I wrote it in 1979. I was 17 at the time. When I read some of my old lyrics and poetry I am always shocked by what a miserable sod I was at the time. I used to take rejection by attractive females very badly. Although I desperately miss the heady days of punk rock, I don't miss the insecurity of being a teenager.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Barnet Council review of Capita Contract - Decision postponed

It is no exaggeration to say that Barnet Council is in turmoil. Following a massive fraud and a scathing external review, conducted by Auditors Grant Thornton, the Council had conducted a review of the Capita contracts and had agreed to take a vote on the various options on 11th December.

Yesterday, the CEO of Barnet circulated an email highlighting the chaos to Conservative and Labour Councillors.

From:  On Behalf Of Hooton, John
Sent: 12 November 2018 11:29
To: Conservative Cllrs; Labour Cllrs;
Subject: Update on Strategic Contracts Review with Capita

Dear Members

I am writing to you to update you on the latest position on the Strategic Contracts Review with Capita, following the decision by Policy and Resources Committee in July to begin the review. A lot of work has gone into analysing the various services involved in CSG and Re and work has also been ongoing on a business case. Ahead of the review coming back to Policy and Resources Committee in December, I wanted to give you an update on our current position and some likely timescales:

  • Three options were presented to Policy and Resources Committee: i) maintain the status quo in relation to the CSG and DRS contracts; ii) reshape the contracts to better align service delivery to the council and Capita’s strengths and priorities, within the context of the existing contractual structure, and iii) bring the partnership to an end, and either bring services back in-house or re-procure them. At that time, the Committee agreed that Option 2 was the preferred option with the information that they had before them at the time, but that all three options should be fully tested, consulted on and considered in a Full Business Case before a final decision was made

  • In developing the preliminary proposals, the committee considered three strategic aims. Those aims are: a) to deliver high quality services; b) to secure best value for money for Barnet’s residents; and c) to strengthen the council’s strategic control of services. These aims remain at the core of what we want to achieve from the review

Since the contracts were let, the environment we operate in has changed considerably, and we are looking at service delivery arrangements to ensure they are as effective and efficient as possible, as well as taking account of Capita’s new strategy announced earlier this year. The partnership has delivered a range of benefits since commencing in 2013, however, there are some  services where performance improvement is needed.
  • To respond to performance issues in some critical services we are proposing to take a report for the Policy and Resources Committee on 11 December, that recommends a phased approach to considering the delivery arrangements for services. It is intended that the report will recommend that Finance and Accounting (excluding transactional services provided from the Darlington shared service centre) and Strategic HR be transferred back to the council by the end of this financial year (March 2019). The ongoing arrangements for these services will still form part of the wider consultation plan.

The arrangements for remaining services are still to be considered and timescales will be confirmed in due course. However, it is also likely that the report will recommend that Highways and Regeneration be reviewed as one of the earlier phases.
  • Finally, the report will set out our proposed approach to consultation to inform the further development of the programme of work. The report will be presented to Policy and Resources Committee on 11 December for consideration and to obtain authority to consult.

I am sure you will continue to have questions throughout the process and invite you to get in touch with any questions, observations or comments.

Kind regards
John

John Hooton
Chief Executive
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP
Mr Hooton makes several things clear in his briefing. The first is that the outsourcing of Financial accounting and HR has been a disaster and is being brought back in house as soon as possible. The Barnet Eye believes that this is clearly a very sensible measure as Capita has clearly failed Barnet and the situation is becoming rather embarrassing. Continual delays to vital reports has left the council exposed and at risk of fines for late filing of accounts. The HR function is also instructive, as this at least means the council will have the infrastructure in place for insourcing.

The bad news is that these are tiny cogs in the Barnet Council wheel. The Barnet Eye has discussed the issue, off the record with several Conservative councillors. The picture that has emerged is quite instructive. The newer councillors in the Council, elected in May in marginal seats are highly sceptical of the Capita contracts. Many are still to be convinced that they are delivering value for money. As they are in seats that will be vulnerable at the next election, they have no wish to be associated with a failed project. We understand that there has been a few lively internal discussions.

It is also clear that the hoped for case for continuing the Capita contracts, with clear cut reports has not emerged. As such the Leadership has taken the pragmatic decision to kick the wasps nest down the path and commission some more reports. It reminds me of  a story that my Dad told me about the war. In 1945, there was a general election. He was in the officers bar at the RAF base when the CO walked in. The CO was a dyed in the wool Tory. He picked up the times, noted the headline "Labour to win by a Landslide". He immediately shout to another officer "Pass the Telegraph, lets see if the news is any better in that".

The leadership of the council is now wearing the Capita contract around its neck like an Albatross. I've been reliably informed that they are desperately trying to find parts of the deal that are working well, so that they can ensure that there is a face saving fudge. When I was discussing the matter with a Conservative Councillor, I suggested "why not just bite the bullet now and you've got nearly four years for everyone to forget and make everything work?". He responded that "there are parts which are working and it would be foolish to discard those in a panic mass restructure".

I suspect that the Leadership is hoping that there are enough "good bits" that deliver some sort of savings to justify the whole business. The question is whether Capita will buy into such cherry picking. I've heard that there are aspects of the agreement that are not working for them either. Not least the fact that they know that the Barnet bloggers will not let the matter rest and that they can expect picket lines at AGM's and constant scrutiny. Whilst they are making huge profits, this is worth the hassle, but if all of the bits that make money are stripped out, then is it worth the hassle?

The interesting thing is that everyone I've asked, has been unable or unwilling to name what the good bits are. The usual response is that "it's confidential and I'd get into trouble if I told you". The other mantra is that "there are several areas that did have problems but are substantially improving".

I am intrigued by the note that says that "Highways and Regeneration are reviewed as an early phase". I know a few developers in Barnet who are not massively impressed with the performance of Capita in relation to regeneration projects. As business people, who rely on good advice from the council and efficient processing of planning requests etc, they have felt a real impact on their business. They are also aware that the One Barnet Capita contracts also mean that there is a pre-existing hotbed of antipathy to anything the council try and do. This results in delays, costs and hurdles to jump through. It is slightly ironic to hear business people say that it would be far more straightforward with an in house planning and regeneration team.

John Hooton knows it is an almighty mess. His job is to manage a situation that is unmanageable. He knows that what he needs to do operationally to make the council run properly is kick out as much of Capita as possible, whilst keeping the maximum to spare the blushes of his political masters. A better set of politicians running the council would have ensured that we never got into this mess in the first place. Now we are here, we need some proper leadership. That means taking tough decisions. As Capita are financially vulnerable, there is a huge risk to the operations of Barnet Council. Sadly Mr Hooton has simply bought into a strategy that has kicked the steps necessary to deal with that into the long grass.
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Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

The False Dots and Republic of Brentford will be performing. Here is a video produced by The False Dots of their Anti Outsourcing Anthem "They Cleared Out Your Desk". A special treat for those of you who love a bit of Ska Music!

  

Monday, 12 November 2018

Barnet Council Leader states that Capita are staying in Barnet

I was shocked to read that the Leader of Barnet Council has announced that Capita are staying in Barnet, ahead of the discussion of the appalling failures of Capita at the Audit committee on November 22nd. Councillor Richard Cornelius told the Ham and High "But, if Unison and Mr McDonnell really want to ‘kick out Capita’, they will have to win an election, find another specialist outsourcer, and raise taxes to pay them."


This statement makes it crystal clear that despite fraud, contract disputes, poor service and non payment of invoices for poor delivery penalties, as far as Richard Cornelius is concerned, Capita are the only show in town. Mr Cornelius fails to recognise that there is the option of a return to an in house service and is completely ideologically wedded to outsourcing. A Capita spokes person, rather ironocally told the Ham & High “Our partnership with Barnet Council has achieved significant financial benefits and we continue to focus on strengthening our performance where we need to, and delivering quality services across the borough.”. The Barnet Eye can understand why Capita are happy to receive the "significant financial benefits" on their balance sheet. It is interesting, though not surpirsing,  that they gloss over their poor performance.


Anyone reading the article may think that there were one or two cosmetic issues with a generally well performing contract, that was delivering value for money for Barnet Council Taxpayers. As our report into the inquiry at the House of Commons last week detailed, there are numerous catastrophic failures of the contracts. To remind readers of just some of the issues that the Audit Committee will be discussing.







The worst instances are as follows (with my comments in red italics)


• (GT1) Develop a Scheme of Financial Authorisation for Re and review of financial roles and responsibilities. This is scarcely believable. The implication that there is no proper scheme of financial authorisation for payments from Re (The Barnet joint venture with Capita) is staggering. It is no wonder that a huge fraud was allowed to occur. As for the implication that the roles and responsibilities for financial control have not been properly sorted out, this is staggering for one of the largest local authorities in the UK.
• (GT2) The list of budget holder authorisers to be updated on the Integra ledger system.
So the council has not been maintaining the list of people authorised to spend public money. As a Barnet Council taxpayer, I cannot believe such incompetence and failure to adhere to even the most basic standards of control of purchasing has been adhered to. 
• (GT4) Improve controls over access and authorisation rights on Integra and Bankline to ensure that any changes made are appropriate to role 
What this is saying is that there has been no proper control over who can access, who can authorise and who can add users etc, for the Councils payment and banking systems. As a council tax payer I am appalled that it seems that any Tom, Dick or Harriet could make payments and add their friends, with no audit in place. In short, this is an accident waiting to happen. 
• (GT10) Develop a master schedule of CPO payments in progress to enable cross checking against payments requested. 
What this is saying is that the Council have had no system in place to cross check expected vs actual payments. There are two ways  this could have a big impact on the council budget. The first is that without such a list, any checking would be extremely costly and labourious.That is assuming that they actually bothered checking payments. Thus far, we've established that there is no adequate control of payment authorisers, no adequate control of payment systens and no adquate controls of what is getting paid. Of course that's all OK, as you the Barnet taxpayer have given Barnet Council a blank cheque to spend your money. 

• (GT11) Develop a clear process for reclaiming CPO and related costs from developers and matching to payments received. 
Any organisation that is managing money efficiently and with due prudence would clearly have such processes in from day one of any outsourcing scheme such as One Barnet. 
• (GT12) Confirm that fraudulent costs have not been invoiced to developers. 
This is rather worrying. They still need to confirm who has paid invoices related to a major fraud. 
• (GT15) Review the adequacy of controls over BACS E-form payments where the purchase order system is not used. 
So at this point, they have yet to review the adequacy of controls of BACS payments (usually standing orders, direct debits and faster payments). Having spent half a million quid on this Grant Thornton review there are still massive holes in the controls that have not even been reviewed.
• (GT17) Develop a process note for journal processing that emphasises the importance of adequate explanation and documentation. 
This is really quite an interesting comment. I wonder how many iterations of changes this statement was subjected to. This states that Barnet Council and their chosen major partner Capita have no culture of providing proper documentation of what they do. This is a massive problem as this means that in the event of Capita being booted out, there will be no instructions or documentation of what they do. In short there is no proper resilience. The statement shows just how deviously words have been twisted so as to paint a "happy picture".  
• (GT21) Capital Budgets to be recorded on the Integra ledger system to improve the accessibility of information to budget holders. 
For those of you who don't know what Integra is ( I was shocked to hear a Conservative Councillor on the Audit Committee ask that question recently) - "Integra functionality includes all the standard financial modules including GL, AP, AR, cashbook, but also includes the E-Series web management tool. This allows users in the organisation to access the Integra system via a web interface to approve invoices, raise sales orders and review the actuals. " What this statement says is that the council hasn't been using its own financial management tool to monitor Capital budgets. You don't need to be an accountant to know what happens if you do not manage and control your budgets. Is it any surprise that immediately after the council elections, the Tory administration revelaed a £9 million budget overrun. 

• (GT27) Prepare documented financial procedure notes for CPO related transactions, provide training to staff and test compliance. 
And finally here is another one of those very highly tuned comments, that hide a multitude of sins. What this implies is that monitoring of financial complaince was found wanting and staff lacked the training to test whether the systems were compliant. What this means in practice is that a competent accountant could under no circumstances sign off anything for CPO related transactions as trustworthy. In short, there is no assurance that your money has been spent wisely.
It is well worth reading John Dix analysis of the current state of play. Mr Dix concluded that the silence from the Council seems to have indicated that they have made up their mind to tough it out with Capita. Now Cllr Cornelius has publicly stated that this is the case and the only way that the course will change is if Labour win an election. It strikes me that Cllr Cornelius is happy to write a blank cheque for Capita. He states that (in his opinion), the only alternative to Capita is an even more expensive competitor option.

Capita share price

When we lobbied the Capita AGM, we were met by Shareholders who told us that the CEO of Capita had said that the problems were because Barnet were incapable of professionally managing the contracts properly.

What Cllr Cornelius seems to be completely oblivious to is the huge elephant in the room. I refer to the fact that Capita is in financial disarray. Their share price has collapsed and they are mired in bad publicity and are going through restructure after restructure. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the company will go bust.  The Barnet Eye asked the question at the start of the year, what the contingency plan was. What shocked us was that at the time we asked the question, there wasn't one.

In April, I documented the problems I had establishing this and how Barnet Council did everything possible to obstruct my enquiries. It is clear to me that Councillor Cornelius and his colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping everything will be fine. That is not effective governance, it is a recipe for disaster.

In June, we spoke to residents and made a short movie about what people were saying about Capita. Sadly the people who matter at the Council simply refuse to listen



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Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Tweets of The Week in The London Borough of Barnet - 11/11/2018

Once again it's that time of the week. Today is an important anniversary, we start with a look at how our fellow Barnet Bods have been commemorating this

1. A fine photograph from Cllr Smith


2. Well done to St Peters in Cricklewood for this amazing initiative


3. And well done to St Marys's & St Johns in Hendon


4. And on to other matters. I doubt to many people will be overly surprised that a fire broke out at the Railway in Edgware, following the long planning dispute


5. Interested in Modernist Architecture


6. This excellent tweet rather appeals to us


7. Pleased to see one of our fave pubs getting Twitter recognition


8. Cricklewood South Rail Freight sidings opened this week. Great news for Rail Enthusiasts, not quite sure whether the locals are so happy though


9. A date for your diary


10. Fancy some cheap music rehearsal


That's all folks!

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Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.



Remembrance Sunday 100 years on and nothing learned

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the end of' the war to end all wars'. It is a poignant day for me. My Grandfather James Fanning fought in the trenches of France. He was gassed and died in 1948 from the damage caused to his lungs. I never knew him, but by all accounts he lost his spark in France. My mother told me on several occasions that it was only later in life that she really understood him and his behaviour. My father, Flt/Lt Lawrence Tichborne RAAF was an Australian who volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. He flew Wellington Bombers for 40 squadron, was shot down in 1944 over Rumania, taken prisoner of war, escaped and made his was back to the UK. His best friend F/O Murphy, the planes rear gunner was killed when the plane was shot down. My father was taken by the Rumanian airforce to identify his body and to attend his funeral. I asked him about the experience. He said the Rumanian Airforce were some of the most decent people he'd ever met. After the service, they asked him if he'd like to see their graveyard. It was four times larger than the Allies section. They gave him food and drink. The base commander told him that the Rumanians had great respect for the British and had only joined the Axis to try and prevent Stalin seizing Rumania. They knew they were losing the war and were terrified. Despite the fact he'd been bombing them and trying to kill them, he only ever encountered kindness from the Rumanian people.

When my father returned to the UK, my Irish grandfather took him for a beer. At the bar, a British Army officer tried to push in front of my Grandfather to get served. My Grandfather, although a small man was feisty and stood his ground. The Officer said "Get out of my way you disgusting IRA terrorist". My Grandfather, a small man but one of great strength replied "Let me tell you something Son. I served in the trenches. I saw thousands die. If the IRA fights the British for a thousand years, they will never kill as many fine young Englishmen as the Officer Corps of the British Army did in the trenches. Now find your manners and wait your turn". My Father, who unlike my Grandfather was a large man of rather ill temper at times was about to step in, however the Officer was so completely put in his place that he backed off.

When my father recounted the incident, I asked him what he chatted about with my Grandfather. I was intrigued. He said that my Grandfather really only said a couple of things. First he said "I'm really sorry son that you had to find out what war was really like" (presumably referring to the loss of my fathers friend). He then made a very interesting statement that my father said troubled him from time to time. My Grandfather told him "You know I've often thought of the the people in the trenches. The very finest ones were the ones which went. What does that make us?". Like many survivors of atrocities, I think my Grandfather had a degree of guilt. I'm not sure my Father did. He always wanted to live and embrace life.

I used to discuss the war at length with my father. I was fascinated by his stories. He told me that he believed there would always be wars. He said that it was simply human nature and no matter how bad things were in a war, eventually those who fought die and the lessons are forgotten. We've lost all of the generation that fought in WWI and most who fought in WWII. Have we learned?

I won't be tuning into the Remembrance Day coverage on the TV. It disgusts me to see so many politicians who have blood on their hands laying wreaths. We had a minutes silence at Mass this morning. I payed my respects privately, recalling the suffering. I wear my poppy with pride in solidarity with those who have gone. As my Grandfather said "They were the very finest ones". What does that make us.

I made a short video commemorating the 100 years of conflicts which our servicemen have seen for The False Dots anti war anthem "Action Shock".


We owe a huge debt to those who laid down their lives. We also owe it to them to make the world a better place and to try and prevent any more needless bloodshed, misery and hatred.
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Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.


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Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Saturday List #194 - My top ten radio shows of all time

Todays list is no 194. People of a certain age will know that 194 metres medium wave is the frequency on which Capital Radio was broadcast. This got me thinking about radio shows. I've always been a lover of the radio. It has been where I've first heard around 80% of the music I love (maybe 10% from friends recommendations and 10% from seeing bands live supporting other bands etc). It has informed me and entertained me. I guess that I'd be a very different person without radio. So here are my favourite shows in a sort of chronological order.

1.Big L - Radio London (Pirate Station). The first radio I remember was Radio London and the Pirate Stations. I don't remember much about it, other than it was always on our radio when I was a kid. It was the station that played Pop music and the idea of Pirates broadcasting music thrilled me. I always imagined that they were on a sailship drinking rum, whilst spinning The Hollies and Gerry and The Pacemakers. When the pirates closed down, my sisters were not keen on Radio 1, so we didn't listen to much radio for a while. Although people usually mention Radio Caroline when talking about Pirates, in our house it was "The Big L".

2. The Crisis Program - Radio London. Back in the heady days of Ted Heath, we had the three day week, power cuts and the country was literally falling to bits. To "Save Energy" the TV channels all stopped broadcasting at 10pm. I responded by spending my pocket money on a little blue Philips  radio. At bedtime I'd put this on and search for things to listen to. I came across The Crisis Program, hosted by Robbie Vincent. It was London's first phone in. Regular callers had names like Slippery Sid and Porky George. It was mildly anarchic and highly entertaining. When the crisis abated, it morphed into Robbie Vincents Late Night London. There wasn't much music played on the show, but as it was pre punk days, I wasn't especially bothered.

3. The Kenny Everett Show - Capital Radio. Kenny Everett was the high anarchist of Radio in the 1970s. His show on Capital radio was hilarious. He invented weird and wonderful characters such as Captain Kremmen. I religiously listened to Everett, until one day he played "Oh Bondage Up Yours" by X-Ray Specs and made some highly disparaging comments about the band and punk in general. I concluded that he wasn't really an anarchist and never listened again. I'd assumed that he'd been prevented from playing Punk and when I found out he hated it, I simply felt no kinship at all anymore.

4. John Peel - Radio 1. There is probably no more important figure in UK radio than John Peel. Without him, I dread to think what the UK music scene would have been like. He introduced me to The Fall, Wire, Reggae music and even Country Joe and The Fish! I can remember him playing "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" by the Fish after a Buzzcocks track. I menioned this to my eldest brother Laurie, who said "Yeah it's on Electric Music for the Mind and Body, great album, I'll lend it to you". Thats how we did music in the 1970's. By 1980, Peel had moved on from Punk and I'd moved on from his show. I didn't feel that he was a traitor, as many punks did. I just didn't enjoy his post punk selections quite as much.

5. Dave Rodigan. Radio London Roots Rockers/Capital Radio. Dave Rodigan was the voice of London Reggae.  Rodigan was the only reason I ever tuned into Capital Radio after I fell out of love with Kenny Everett.

6. Garry Crowley - BBC Radio London/GLR etc. Garry Crowley took over the Peel mantle of being the voice of new music. In the early 1990's I was managing a band called The Sway. Garry Crowley was the first DJ to play them. He introduced me to the likes of Suede, Oasis and Blur. His show is still brilliant, with BBC Introducing.

7. Danny Baker - BBC Radio London/GLR. The Danny Baker show was in many ways what I thought Kenny Everett was in the 70's. A complete anarchist. When it was announced that his show was being chopped, he spent a whole show slagging off the BBC Radio London management. It was the most memorable show I've ever heard. However, I remember shows such as his hour long interview with Steve Miller with more affection. Unlike most shows where guests were simply wheeled in for five minutes, a whole hour just chatting with a true music legend about left field stuff was fascinating. I didn't know Steve Miller was an architect or that his godfather was the legendary Les Paul before. Baker also developed some great personalities as side kicks, notably Amy Lame who is now the London Nightime Tsar.

8. Robert Elms - BBC Radio London. Elms is probably my all time favourite presenter. His show is intelligent and covers all manner of aspects of London life. Wheras Danny Baker plays it for laughs, Elms  plays for grown ups. Subjects such as architecture, transport, food, drink are covered. Every week there is a listed Londoner, who gets a long slot. I think that there are few aspects of London life he's not covered in the time I've listened to the show. He also plays an interesting selection of music. if you want an intelligent radio show, Elms is the man.

9. Jo Good - BBC Radio London. I love Jo Good. Her show is truly bonkers. She invented the genre of Radio about dogs. She is gossipy and indescrete. Sometimes her interviews go horribly wrong, but that simply enhances her legend.

10. Five Live Football. I can't leave the list without a mention of Five Live Football. For anyone such as me who loves football and drives a lot of the time, this is essential. My view is that Five Live Football is the best coverage. Football on the Radio is a must. I especially love the post match phone in. One of my fondest memories was a Leicester fan ringing in when it became clear Leicester may actually win the league. I was driving back with my son from a Watford match and he was so emotional. I think it was the first time my son actually appreciated why I love live radio.
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Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.




Friday, 9 November 2018

Watch the banned Iceland Xmas Ad now!

As consumers we have power. Christmas is coming, we will be filling our shopping trolleys with goodies for the festival. As consumers, we have the power to choose which companies we spend our money with. All of the major chains will be producing Xmas commercials. As far as I am aware, only one has been banned. Why? Because it's message is too political. Whilst it is OK to promote alcohol, sugary snacks and products which are destroying the planet, woe betide any retailer who tries to do the right thing. This advert has been banned. There are two things you can do, if you think this is a message that is important. The first is you can share this. The second is that you can boycott all products made with Palm Oil. I will be looking in Iceland first for the products that we need this Xmas. I am sure they are not perfect, but they deserver plaudits for at least trying.


I was curious as to what the other main retailers were doing. Here is what my research told me

Marks and Spencers - committed to removing non sustainable Palm Oil from products by 2020 - 5/10 - Not good enough. Maybe we should start shopping there again in 2020?

Waitrose - Have a page of corporate gobbledegook and excuses which are beyond an idiot like me's comprehension - 0/10 - Very disappointing indeed. Sadly I won't be spending my cash in Waitrose.

Tescos - Committed to removing non sustainable Palm Oil products by 2020 - 5/10 - As with M&S not good enough, but at least it is readable

ASDA  - Like Waitrose we get a page of gobbledegook - 0/10 - Sorry ASDA, we won't be spending any cash with you this Xmas (or any other time soon)

Sainsburys - Committed to sustainable Palm Oil supplies by 2020 - 5/10 - Yet another not working hard enough.

Lidl - 100% of Palm Oil comes from Sustainable Sources - 10/10 - Well done to LIDL.

COOP - 100% of Palm Oil is sustainable (I Think) - 9/10 - This was a conundrum. I am not 100% sure what the policy actually said. It seemed to imply that the Palm Oil in COOP products are 100% sustainable and that they are working to ensure that best practice is followed. If this is the case it would be 10/10, but they really should employ copy writers who can spell out in plain English what they are trying to do.

Morrisons - Yet more indecipherable corporate gobbledegook, which gives no indication of the actual usage and date for phasing out in plain English - 0/10

I must say I wonder who the majority of these retailers aim this information at. I am really not sure what some of them are doing. I will be more than happy to update this blogs with any plain English text that clearly states what they are doing. It is not enough to simply write a web page of platitudes that sound nice. This is a story we will follow.

We think it is disgusting that Iceland are banned from advertising their corporate responsibility. What do you think?


The Friday Joke - 09/11/2018 - Ending it all

Image result for Thug humour
Disenchantment
There I was sitting at the bar staring at my drink when a large, shaven headed thug, with racist badges and tattoo's steps up next to me, looks at my Rock Against Racism badge, grabs my drink and gulps it down in one swig
"What you gonna do about this then?" he says, menacingly, as I burst into tears.
"Where's your backbone" the thug says, "I didn't think you'd CRY. I can't stand to see a man crying." 
I snivell back. 
"This is the worst day of my life," I say. "I'm a complete failure. I was late to a meeting and my boss fired me.  When I went to the parking lot, I found my car had been stolen and I don't have any insurance. I left my wallet in the cab I took home.
I found my out my wife left me... and she's taken the dog, who is the only one who likes me.  I came to this bar to work up the courage to put an end to it all, I buy a drink, I drop a vial of arsenic in and sit here watching the poison dissolve;
and then you show up and drink the whole thing! I can't even kill myself successfuly".


But, enough about me, how are you doing?"

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Have a great weekend and always remember, brains beats brawn every time. 

Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.



Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Barnet Eye Xmas Party and Community Awards - Friday 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club

Click for readable image
You are cordially invited to attend this Barnet Eye Annual Xmas Party and community awards.
It's all happening at The Mill Hill Rugby Club from 8pm on Friday 14th December. We have chosen Mill Hill Rugby Club as this years venue as they wereour 2017 Community Sports Club of the year. They have gone from strength to strength in this department, winning an award from Middlesex Rugby for their community work and launching an amazing collaborative scheme with Mencap for disabled rugby.

For those readers new to the blog,every year we hold the Barnet Eye Community Awards and it gives our community a chance to celebrate, let our hair down and have a party. And the more of our friends who come along, the better the party we have.

Best of all, it's all free

We'll be presenting our awards to outstanding local people and organisations


The categories this year are


Barnet Person of the year


Barnet Charity of the year


Barnet Pub of the Year


Barnet Band/Artist of the Year


Barnet Sports Club of the Year


Barnet Community Event of the Year

Barnet Campaigner of the year

There will be some great sounds being played by our resident DJ after the live music and we'll be boogie'ing into the early hours and live music by The False Dots + Support.
Please join us for an excellent nights entertainment. We will also be having a charity auction for the Charity of the Year, so please bring a few readies!
Do you have a nomination for any of these catagories? Drop us an email explaing why - Click here to email us.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Why I am not growing a Mo


For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph. I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 54years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I was put on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer). On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, followed by 3.7 in August, and 3.5 in October  which means that the direction is positive . However in January the follow up MRI revealed "something unusual which requires investigation" After a follow up biopsy, it appeared this was nothing to worry about. My two most recent PSA tests were Ok (3.7 and 4.6) and an MRI scan in March was very positive.  I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture? 


"So Rog, are you growing a Mo this year?". Most of my friends know of my run in with the big "C" and every year they ask the question. I am quite sure that if I did grow a Mo and ran a fundraising campaign, I'd raise a decent amount. Every year I feel ever more pressure to join in the fun. But sorry, I won't be growing a Mo or doing any fundraising. Not because I don't support the charities working to fight Prostate Cancer or because I don't want to raise awareness. If any of you are growing a Mo, I'll happily let you write a guest blog, plug your donation page and do anything else I can to help. But for me the issue of funding research and healthcare by charitable donations is something that appals me. I'm all for charities to fund steam raliways, football clubs, free dog grooming for pensioners dogs, etc. But healthcare related to one of the biggest killers in the UK? There is some things that our society should properly fund. If the charity was raising money for days out for the kids of those in terminal condition, then I'd say yes, that is a good use of charity. But I really disagree with the idea that the only way we can fix Prostate Cancer (or any of the other big killer diseases) is by having charity whip arounds. The concept that if I don't rattle a tin outside Tesco's then someone will die is something that is simply beyond the pale to me. 

If others disagree then I respect that. We all react to such things in a different manner. My reaction to having Prostate Cancer has been to do my best to do what I personally can to publicise the things we can do to help ourselves. These things include getting a PSA test, encouraging people to get symptoms checked out immediately, making lifestyle changes to lessen the statistical risk of encouraging the disease to turn malignant. I drink green tea and pomegranite juice. I eat lots of cooked tomatoes, with pepper and tumeric. I don't do dairy. All of these things are statistically proven to be beneficial and increase your chances of survival. When I first found out, a book called "Anti Cancer - A new way of life" was recommended to me by my personal trainer at the gym. His girlfriend was fighting breast cancer. It was the best advice I have ever had. 


This is by far the most helpful and inspiring cancer self help book I've ever read. I've recommended it to everyone I know who has suffered with cancer. Not everyone reads it, but I do feel that if I recommend it, then I've given the best support I can.

Another amazing book, a far more scientific tome is The Emperor of All Maladies -  A biography of cancer.


This amazing book explains the history of cancer, what it is and why we get it. It is written by a cancer expert. It is not the easiest read, one where an A Level in biology was helpful. But it has helped me deal with my condition. It means I understand the terms when I discuss my treatment.

So good luck to all who are growing a Mo. It just isn't for me though. As I say, if we have a Mo grower who wants to guest blog, get in touch.

Inquiry into Barnet Capita outsourcing at the Houses of Parliament

Last night I gave evidence to an inquiry into the Capita outsourcing in Barnet at The House of Commons. The inquiry is being chaired by respected Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty. The Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell was present as were a selection of journalists from various local and national papers. John McDonnell has been a stalwart supporter of those in Barnet working to bring some sanity to our public services. He has attended many marches, picket lines and other events and even hosted a screening of the film I produced "A Tale of Two Barnets" at the House of Commons in 2012.

The meeting started with an address by Aditya Chakrobortty explaining the purpose and terms of reference of the inquiry, followed by an address by John McDonnell.

I am always amazed by the way the media portrays John McDonnell. I'm not a member of the Labour Party (for the record I stood for the Lib Dems in council elections in May), but I recognise that the portrayal of Mr McDonnell by the press is totally dishonest. I've always found him to be one of the most engaging and interesting of speakers. John McDonnell comes from a working class Irish Catholic background. Like many people from such a background, he has been at the coalface of injustice all of his life. I don't agree with all of what he has to say, but I recognise where he is coming from and why he holds his views. His political life has not been one of working for small, well funded vested interests. He has been fighting for working people. Unlike the previous regime running the Labour Party, John McDonnell does not see his role as Shadow Chancellor as an excellent tickbox on the CV, opening the door to well paid roles in Merchant banks, when the public tire of his electoral career. One area where I am in complete agreement with Mr McDonnell is our view that the outsourcing of Public Services in Barnet (and other local authorities and government areas) has been a complete disaster. Another area I completely agree with is that local authorities need to be properly funded. I also agree with John McDonnell that there is more than enough money in the economy to pay for decent public services. I agree that the problem is that corporations should not be allowed to avoid tax at the expense of the disabled, disadvantaged, children and the elderly. I happen to also agree that we need to invest in our young people and provide proper opportunities, so the best young people from all backgrounds and social sectors get the opportunities they deserve. To me, this should not be controversial, it should be the baseline of a civilised society.

Where do Capita and the Barnet Council outsourcing come into all of this? Barnet Council are currently reviewing a pair of huge contracts which outsource public services to Capita. The review has come about because a huge fraud, perpetrated by a Capita employee, has caused a review of Capita services by auditors Grant Thornton. This exposed a whole raft of fundamental weaknesses in the control and management of the council and its relationship with Capita. In September, we published  a blog detailing these.  The worst instances are as follows (with my comments in red italics)


• (GT1) Develop a Scheme of Financial Authorisation for Re and review of financial roles and responsibilities. This is scarcely believable. The implication that there is no proper scheme of financial authorisation for payments from Re (The Barnet joint venture with Capita) is staggering. It is no wonder that a huge fraud was allowed to occur. As for the implication that the roles and responsibilities for financial control have not been properly sorted out, this is staggering for one of the largest local authorities in the UK.
• (GT2) The list of budget holder authorisers to be updated on the Integra ledger system.
So the council has not been maintaining the list of people authorised to spend public money. As a Barnet Council taxpayer, I cannot believe such incompetence and failure to adhere to even the most basic standards of control of purchasing has been adhered to. 
• (GT4) Improve controls over access and authorisation rights on Integra and Bankline to ensure that any changes made are appropriate to role 
What this is saying is that there has been no proper control over who can access, who can authorise and who can add users etc, for the Councils payment and banking systems. As a council tax payer I am appalled that it seems that any Tom, Dick or Harriet could make payments and add their friends, with no audit in place. In short, this is an accident waiting to happen. 
• (GT10) Develop a master schedule of CPO payments in progress to enable cross checking against payments requested. 
What this is saying is that the Council have had no system in place to cross check expected vs actual payments. There are two ways  this could have a big impact on the council budget. The first is that without such a list, any checking would be extremely costly and labourious.That is assuming that they actually bothered checking payments. Thus far, we've established that there is no adequate control of payment authorisers, no adequate control of payment systens and no adquate controls of what is getting paid. Of course that's all OK, as you the Barnet taxpayer have given Barnet Council a blank cheque to spend your money. 

• (GT11) Develop a clear process for reclaiming CPO and related costs from developers and matching to payments received. 
Any organisation that is managing money efficiently and with due prudence would clearly have such processes in from day one of any outsourcing scheme such as One Barnet. 
• (GT12) Confirm that fraudulent costs have not been invoiced to developers. 
This is rather worrying. They still need to confirm who has paid invoices related to a major fraud. 
• (GT15) Review the adequacy of controls over BACS E-form payments where the purchase order system is not used. 
So at this point, they have yet to review the adequacy of controls of BACS payments (usually standing orders, direct debits and faster payments). Having spent half a million quid on this Grant Thornton review there are still massive holes in the controls that have not even been reviewed.
• (GT17) Develop a process note for journal processing that emphasises the importance of adequate explanation and documentation. 
This is really quite an interesting comment. I wonder how many iterations of changes this statement was subjected to. This states that Barnet Council and their chosen major partner Capita have no culture of providing proper documentation of what they do. This is a massive problem as this means that in the event of Capita being booted out, there will be no instructions or documentation of what they do. In short there is no proper resilience. The statement shows just how deviously words have been twisted so as to paint a "happy picture".  
• (GT21) Capital Budgets to be recorded on the Integra ledger system to improve the accessibility of information to budget holders. 
For those of you who don't know what Integra is ( I was shocked to hear a Conservative Councillor on the Audit Committee ask that question recently) - "Integra functionality includes all the standard financial modules including GL, AP, AR, cashbook, but also includes the E-Series web management tool. This allows users in the organisation to access the Integra system via a web interface to approve invoices, raise sales orders and review the actuals. " What this statement says is that the council hasn't been using its own financial management tool to monitor Capital budgets. You don't need to be an accountant to know what happens if you do not manage and control your budgets. Is it any surprise that immediately after the council elections, the Tory administration revelaed a £9 million budget overrun. 

• (GT27) Prepare documented financial procedure notes for CPO related transactions, provide training to staff and test compliance. 
And finally here is another one of those very highly tuned comments, that hide a multitude of sins. What this implies is that monitoring of financial complaince was found wanting and staff lacked the training to test whether the systems were compliant. What this means in practice is that a competent accountant could under no circumstances sign off anything for CPO related transactions as trustworthy. In short, there is no assurance that your money has been spent wisely. 
To highlight all of the problems myself and my fellow bloggers have identified with Capita would take a lengthy tome of many volumes. The purpose of the inquiry is to identify the key points, ensuring that the council does not miss the opportunity to end this damaging relationship. Fellow blogger John Dix wrote a whole series of blogs in July detailing just how badly the contract exposing how the Gainshare clauses gives 30% of savings on budgets straight to the Capita Shareholders (rather than using it to fund services for the disabled, elderly etc). 

The enquiry kicked off with myself, John Dix and Theresa Musgrove (Mrs Angry) giving our evidence. John Dix was first up. I don't know how many times I've sat and listened to John Dix tear apart the edifice that is the One Barnet contract. John does numbers better than anyone. It is simply criminal that no one from the administration bothers to listen. John does this sort of thing for his day job, advising large companies on how to improve their financial controls etc. Barnet Council should be the luckiest council in the country, having such an expert willing to work for free on their behalf. Sadly like a park football team managed by a proud Dad of a clunk footed kid (like me), he's left on the bench while the management pick a player (Capita) that simply couldn't hit a barn door from two yards. And Capita are a very clunk footed organisation. Not only have they mismanaged the affairs of Barnet, they have mismanaged their own business. Despite being granted a license to print money by Barnet and other similar organisations, they have managed to get themselves into a position where their shareprice has collapsed and the company has required a complete restructure. 


Next up, I gave my evidence. I started by recalling an exchange five and a half years ago with Councillor Dan Thomas, Deputy Leader of Barnet Council. I asked a series of questions to a committee he was chairing. Unable to answer the questions I was asking he made the statement "In five years time, this will have saved millions. You will have nothing to blog about and be left with egg on your face. Other councils will be queuing up to copy us". This drew a few giggles. As John Dix had laid out the massive nature of the Capita Contract, I mentioned the Metpro contract. This was a scandal exposed by Barnet bloggers. Metpro was a security company, responsible for council properties and also security for vulnerable people. After blogger enquiries, it came out that they were not SIA registered, staff had not been CRB checked, the company was overcharging and adding VAT when not registered for VAT and providing services that were not required. The contract was tiny in respect of the Capita Contracts. I asked at the time how Barnet Council could be expected to manage a contract the size of One Barnet Capita contract when they couldn't manage one a hundred times smaller. The answer has become clear, they can't. I then spoke about the real life face of this. The neglect of Hendon Cemetery is one aspect that is there for all to see. In April, I made a video highlighting the state of the cemetery as part of our local council election campaign.


This cemetery was spotless before Capita took it over. I reminded the inquiry as to how Capita had even told relatives who'd generously donated benches for grieving residents to remove them. I also brought up the Freedom Pass scandal, where these were illegally removed from disabled young people without notice. In short, the situation is quite disgusting. There was general agreement with the points I made.

Next up was Mrs Angry. Back in 2008, when I started writing blogs opposing the One Barnet program (Future Shape as it was then called), the then Tory Council Leader said that bloggers opposing him were simply sad men, stuck in their bedrooms blogging with one hand, whilst they masturbated with the other. Whatever you may think of the Barnet bloggers, Mrs Angry certainly doesn't fit that stereotype! Her evidence was presented in her usually witty manner, reminding us that Capita had even promised the Barnet bloggers a free "pre owned grave" as part of the contract.

Other presentations were given by members of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services (Janet Leifer, Barbara Jacobson amongst others) and Labour Councillors Ross Houston and Kathy Levine amongst others. I've long been a fan of Ross Houston. He is one of the better Labour performers in the Council chamber and he detailed many of the problems Labour had highlighted with the contract. Kathy gave a detailed breakdown of many of these.

The meeting was brought to a close by John Burgess from Unison, who summed up just how damaging the Capita contracts had been to Barnet. The local economy has suffered as jobs have been relocated far and wide, service quality has declined and staff live under the intolerable stress of not knowing what the future holds for them.

After the meeting, the bloggers and a few other attendees relocated to the pub. What never ceased to amaze me is just how many people in Barnet are committed, talented and passionate about our area. We don't all agree on what the solutions are or the strategy, but we all agree that the general principle should be that the people of Barnet should be put before the vested interests of large company shareholders. One of my biggest regrets about the last Council elections was that the Conservatives managed to move the debate away from how they have mismanaged the Council finances and into areas that are completely irrelevant to the business of the Council. Perhaps the thing that disgust me most is that the only Councillors in Barnet that I have heard make anti semetic comments are Tory Councillors, yet both the Lib Dems and Labour were crucified for the actions of a small group of unrepresentative fringe activists (in the case of the Lib Dems not even party members) in other parts of the country. This blog started on the day that the Barnet Tories shafted me with the Barnet Times for speaking out about their administration publishing anti semitic comments on their Youtube channel. It is beyond my comprehension how the likes of  Tory Councillor David Longstaff were never held to account for opposing the Eruv in Barnet, whilst the likes of Adam Langleben, who is Jewish and fought anti semitism tirelessly for decades was hung out to dry by electors due to the actions of a tiny minority in his party who he'd spent his life opposing. I despair that voters do not see the real damage that the Tories and their partners Capita have wrought on the Borough, whilst administering an electoral kicking to the likes of veteran Lib Dem Councillor Jack Cohen merely on the completely bogus pretext that Jack would have allowed Jeremy Corbyn to run Barnet Council. Sooner or later, the electorate of Barnet will have to pay the bills that the Tory regime are running up. Maybe that is the wake up call that is needed to make people deal with reality and not fantastical conspiracies that have no basis in truth.