Thursday 22 February 2018

Barnet - The KFC Council

First the good news.  It appears that the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant at Apex Corner is open for business (we listed it as number nine in our list of Mill Hill's best takeaway restaurants).  Sadly, many local branches are shut. The reason? KFC have recently outsourced chicken deliveries to DHL to save money and guess what? The cut price contract hasn't been working and so chicken is not being delivered. This is only the latest in a whole string of high profile failures of contracts that have been outsourced to save money. We've seen Olympic security go pear shaped under G4S. We've seen the East Coast mainline fail three times when franchise companies have failed to make money. I thought I'd see what other outsourcing failures have made the news, so I googled the subject. One of the first examples I came across was an article in the New Statesman. This was entitled "nine spectacular council outsourcing failures". To my complete surprise (cough cough), Barnet Council featured twice in the list! The first, at number 2, was the sorry tale of how Barnet oustoruced care homes to Catalyst. Catalyst found out that they weren't making the profits from the Barnet Taxpayer that they hoped and sued the Council. They won a £10 million payout.

Then at number 4 we have Barnet council again. This details how a spectacular failure hit IT services. Barnet had outsourced IT services to a company called 2E2, which failed. This meant that the council had to hand Capita an "emergency contract" to dig themselves out of the mess.

I have personal reasons to be angry at Capita, who now run much of Barnet Councils business. They are responsible for maintaining Hendon Cemetary grounds. My parents and grandparents are buried there. Sadly since Capita took over, the quality of grounds maintenance has massively deteriorated. I made a short video detailing this, driving around showing the neglect.

The influential magazine The Register chronicles a whole list of Capita failures in Barnet. The article notes

"a "lack of strategic support from IT is a significant issue" and that CSG "need to improve their capacity to lead change, bring forward innovation, forward plan for hardware/software/system updates and identify risk."
Other issues ranged from the IT service needing to improve its "advisory function", slow responsiveness of IT strategic advice being a barrier to service delivery, inflexibility and lack of an agile approach around security and hardware. Further, the report highlighted a lack of accurate performance data for IT; a lack of out of hours IT support; insufficient notice given for system upgrades and down times; and poor coverage for WiFi in some of the buildings."
An article in Spendmatters also details the concerns of Barnet Councils auditors, BDO,  in how Barnet Council is managing the contract with Capita. They note

BDO agrees with this diagnosis in their report. However, and unfortunately, this does not seem to be actually happening in Barnet.  BDO talks about contract management and monitoring like this. 
“During the course of 2016/17 we have noted a number of internal audit reports which have raised significant findings in this area. In addition, further concerns have been identified through our own audit work. As such, we have recognised a significant risk to our use of resources [value for money] opinion.”
Worryingly for citizens and taxpayers, the council’s financial reserves are being depleted, and there was an overspend on services of £8.3 in 2016/17. “Savings targets remain significant and achievement of these will be inherently challenging, as evidenced by the overspend in 2016/17
As a result of this mismanagement, Barnet Council is having to make drastic cuts. This is evidenced by a rather amusing tweet from one of our local Conservative Candidates, Laithe Jajeh. Laithe is a decent guy and one of the Tory candidates that I think is a good guy. However, his tweeting has inadvertently highlighted the mess his Council colleagues have made.

You may wonder why this public spirited display by Laithe has highlighted a problem? Well in recent weeks, many public minded citizens such as Laithe have become aware that our streets are getting completely swamped with litter. As a dog owner, I walk around Mill Hill every day and have been increasingly alarmed at full bins in the parks, litter strewn everywhere etc. I hadn't realised that this was the direct result of a policy of cost cutting by Barnet Council. A report on the Barnet Unison website this morning explained why. The council has drastically slashed the budget for street cleaning and cut the hours staff are allowed to spend cleaning streets. I suggest you have a look at this shocking report.

Respected blogger Mr Reasonable has detailed just how much the Capita contract is costing us. The share price of Capita has crashed following the failure of Carillion (another failed outsourcing supplier). Barnet Council has not responded to an FoI request I sent, following the Carillion collapse, asking for details of the contingency plans for Capita, in the event of a Carillion style collapse.

One can only speculate as to why. One thing is clear. The Barnet Council taxpayers are picking up the tab for a whole series of spectacular outsourcing failures. The Barnet bloggers exposed the complete lack of supplier management supervision during the MetPro scandal. It became clear that there is almost no financial control of such contracts. For those not familiar with Metpro, the council was paying an unlicensed security company over the top fees to provide security for council services and vulnerable people. The audit inquiry revealed that the council were paying 30% over the going market rate and hadn't even checked to see if the company was licensed. They were paying VAT on bills to a non VAT registered company and the enquiry found that many of the services they were paying for were unneccesary.

The one difference between Barnet Council and KFC, is that if KFC can't sell you chicken, you can go to Red Rooster at Mill Hill or Nando's at Edgware. If Barnet Council don't clean your street, or want to hike your council tax to pay for failing outsourcing contracts, you have no choice, you are lumbered.

I will finish on a lighter note. Back in 2010, our local Tory MP, Mr Matthew Offord suggested that if he was elected, Mill Hill would become the kind of Town centre where entrepreneurs flock to open businesses. The example he gave was that he'd like to see a Cheese Shop on the Broadway. Eight years later, we have no cheese shop. We suspect that if Offord opened one, he'd use the Barnet Council/KFC business model. I suspect it would operate rather like this.


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