Saturday 26 February 2011

Why I started the Barnet Eye

I was tidying up my mailbox and I found the original email from Barnet Council Adult Services. The issue behind this email was why I started writing political blogs. As you can see, this email details the reality of outsourcing - the political motivation for One Barnet / Future Shape / Easy Council

I believe that the stress caused by this change considerably shortened my mothers life. It demonstrated to her that her "independent living" was an illusion which could be taken away from her at any time. I didn't expect to find myself at the centre of a political storm, to stand for Barnet Council, to write a blog acknowledge by medial outlets as diverse as the BBC, ITV and the Guardian (quite an achievement for a thick dyslexic). I just started writing stuff because I was angry and I wanted to stop other peoples mums and dads having to endure the shit my mother took. My mum worked all her life. She was born in Oldham in 1925, lived through the depression, was nearly killed by a diptheria outbreak when she was 12 in 1937. Most of the children taken to hospital with her died. She told me she'd wake up every day and say "Where's my friend today" and anurse would reply "She's gone to heaven". She worked in London, at Barclays Bank offices during the war. She survived stomach cancer in 1970. She raised six children, was an active member of the community, volunteering for many charities, until a stroke robbed her of her speech and mobility in 2000.

I think she deserved better than this. I think all of Barnets pensioners deserve better than this.

Sadly it seems to me that the Tory Councillors of Barnet disagree.

I have redacted the name of the Council Officer who sent this, as he was only the bearer of bad news. If you don't want to read the whole email, the last paragraph sums up the truth of outsourcing

From:  ***** *****
To: Roger Tichborne
Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2007 10:51 AM
Subject: The Meals at Home Service

Mr Tichborne,
I am sorry that there has been a delay between your email to some of our councillors and my response today.  We have been working with Sodexho to ensure we have an acceptable service and this has taken a priority over the past few days.  Nonetheless, I did still want to take the opportunity to respond to you formally because the service in general, and the service for your mother in particular, has not been acceptable during these early stages of this new contract.  I want to apologise for that and below I set out some specific responses to both the issues and questions you raise.
    Interestingly,  I personally delivered the meal and desert to your mother on Tuesday of last week and I assume it was your sister who answered the door.  This was delivered at 12.55pm.  I took the meal because the round that included her address was not going to leave the depot until about 12.30pm and Mill Way was in the middle of the round.  Your mothers meal would probably not have been delivered until1.30pm or later.  In an ideal world, the round would be leaving at about 11.45am and the meal, if the round were to remain the same, would be delivered at about 12.45pm. Once the meals rounds and the new contract settle down, there will be a 'routine' in terms of meal delivery.  No-one - either us or a private contractor - could guarantee an exact delivery time but, in general, once the rounds are efficiently organised your mother will receive her meal at approximately the same time every day.  But this will not be before 12 noon.  A practice had developed over the past few years whereby meals were being delivered from 11.30 am and both ourselves and Enfield (with whom we have a shared contract) have specifically stated that no meals can be delivered before 12 noon, nor after 2pm as 11.30am is too early for lunch. This was also the feedback we received when we consulted older people using the meals service.  When the contract is working properly, your mother will get her meal between these times and it should be at a similar time each day and a 'routine' will develop.  Last week, given the problems, being able to guarantee a meal between 12 and 4pm would have been a success since some meals were delivered at times far outside the 2-hour window agreed in the contract with Sodexho. You make a number of valid additional points but the fundamental issue about the 5pm delivery time is a totally unacceptable practice.  It is my considered judgement that Sodexho have considerably underestimated both the importance of the 'transition' from our in-house service and the planning required to 'get it right' from day one of the new contract.  In this, I believe, they failed to fully understand the complexity of the task.  Despite being a £10bn company with over 330,000 employees working in 80 countries (as you indicate) they have got this handover stage wrong.  I am still confident they will turn it round but I really don't think we will see the real benefits of this until next week.  I wish I could say this would be earlier but it would be unrealistic of me.  There is now a recovery plan in place to address the fundamental issues and we have contributed, substantially,  to this.  There are more Sodexho management staff in the two centres (Enfield and Barnet); they have introduced additional equipment to keep the food warm and they  have introduced specialist, cooking staff into both centres.  This will improve the cooking process and mean the meals will be ready to be transported by the time required. However, the issue of the rounds and the drivers is still being resolved and it will still take a few more days to 'get right'.  We have stated very clearly that their expectation that drivers can deliver 40 meals in 2 hours is a false expectation - especially from day one when they are delivering, in most cases, to new locations.  Furthermore, their computer generated delivery rounds are not producing the best routes for people to deliver - and in many cases they have added an hour and more to the delivery time.  I think they have eventually recognised this but it has taken a lot of time and effort by a number of us to get them to accept that this is a major contributor to the failure of the service.  And the fact, as you point out quite succinctly, that the drivers were not provided with the opportunity for 'dry runs' was another contributory factor.  If this had happened Sodexho would have known that the routes were badly organised and, in many cases, far  too long.  In the end, they only discovered this on the first day of the contract with all the consequences we are facing. I cannot explain why your mother did not receive a menu.  They were delivered, by hand, to all service users about 3 weeks ago.  A menu was sent in the first class post last Tuesday and I hope that this has now, rather belatedly, been rectified and that she will have a choice for her future meals.  I cannot comment on the quality of the food and I do not know what meal she actually received on the Monday but it must have been mince beef as I am told that chilli mince was not an option. The meals are not allowed to be delivered if they have been more than 4 hours out of the oven.  We have had this tested and approved by our Environmental Health Officers and the containers in which the meals are transported provide the required protection and they maintain heat to the required temperature for this period.  Obviously, your mother's meal was delivered close to the limit but none of the meals actually left the Meritage Centre on Monday before 1pm - which was yet another factor in the problems with delivery times.  On better days, all the meals will be delivered within 2 hours which will be easily within the limits necessary to ensure healthy and safe products. Finally, the contract change has not been driven by money.  We believe the new arrangements are just about cost neutral but there are a number of improvements and benefits that they bring.  Such as culturally sensitive meals for an additional 7 ethnic groups in the borough.  A choice, for the first time, in meals and deserts.  Better quality control over portions, content, protein, vitamins etc. and compliance with EU regulations around labelling and health and safety when compared with our traditional service.  Whilst the benefits have not yet been realised I am confident Sodexho will get the management and organisation right and, as you can appreciate, we are addressing the current failures with considerable urgency.  I hope this information is helpful and I only wish it was a better picture I could paint.  Sodexho are an internationally successful company and we expected a much higher level of compliance and success at this early stage given their track record.  Please come back to me if I can be of further help. **** ***** Adult Social Services

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