Thursday, 11 December 2014


 La Bloggeuse with Mayor Shepherd, the People's Mayor of Barnet


A Tale in Two Blogs: Blog the First

Barnet's Constitution, Ethics and Probity Committee (aka CEPC pronounced SEPS) met on 25 November. It is a committee without razzmatazz; it isn't filmed; the public gallery is usually empty, though this has nothing to do with the Conservatives' penchant for private meetings behind closed doors, but rather that it is considered to be unutterably boring down to its very name. But allow me to recommend it to you, not merely because I am lucky enough to be a Member, but because it lies at the very heart of the Council. Its role is to continually scrutinize, test and amend the rule book: the procedure, the protocol of how the Council operates that is the Barnet Constitution.

At the first CEPC meeting of this administration in August, and my first meeting as a Member of the Committee, the Conservative Chair, Cllr John Marshall expressed the hope that the committee would run on consensus, but as I ventured to ask, doesn't there have to be agreement in order to have consensus? 

There were some fundamental political issues on the agenda last week: fairness, democracy, transparency (Blog 2). And there were shock revelations of yet more incorrect advice from the former Monitoring Officer and the Council's private lawyers, HB Public Law that led to the Council acting in contravention of its own Constitution when councillors appeared before the Council's disciplinary committee, the Leaders' Panel. So as you weren't there and no video exists on Youtube, in the cause of transparency in which I firmly believe, here is what happened: the business and how it turned out - a tale in two blogs.

If you remember, the expert local government lawyer, Claer Lloyd-Jones, wrote in her recent independent report about Barnet of 14 September 2014:

o       There is no-one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers.
o       There are staff in key roles in the Governance structure in Barnet who are inexperienced in governance matters. 

Ms Lloyd-Jones' report explains that Barnet's Monitoring Officer is also responsible for Legal Services provided by the private company HB Public Law that Barnet shares with Harrow, and who Tory Council Leader, Richard Cornelius can be seen waxing lyrical about on old Youtube footage.  HB Public Law did not escape criticism in Ms Lloyd-Jones report.

Blunders in Governance procedure that resulted from the stumbling in the dark of a legally unqualified, inexperienced Monitoring Officer relying on a private, shared, remote, hands-off, legal service continue to pop up to plague the Council and this was evident at the CEPC meeting.

In response to a Members' Item from Labour Group Leader, Alison Moore, in which she proposed in the cause of fairness that the Constitution be amended to: "Ensure that any councillor subject to a complaint under the Code of Conduct is allowed access to the Independent Person (an independent adviser who examines the evidence and sits on the Panel but does not vote) throughout the process" there came a shocking revelation, nothing new at a Barnet meeting.

Before any discussion or vote could take place on Alison Moore's amendment, John Marshall made a rather sheepish announcement. He had been informed, he said, by new Interim Monitoring Officer, Peter Large, that no amendment was necessary because the two councillors who have recently come before the Leaders' Panel, one Conservative, one Labour, were denied their Constitutional rights of access to an independent advisor because Barnet Governance and HB Public Law wrongly advised that the councillors did not have that right. 

So once again, the Council had been given the wrong legal advice by Barnet Governance and their supporting lawyers and had acted in contravention of the Constitution. Cllr Marshall merely said in explanation: "It was a mistake and I apologise, but it wasn't me", smiling as if he were cracking a joke.  

And this wasn't all. Conservative Councillor, Joan Scannell repeated the opinion expressed at the Panel's hearing by the Independent Person that the case against the Labour Councillor should never have been brought before the Panel as there was no case to answer and she added that it was a great pity that this had happened. Yet another found-to-be-wanting decision of Maryellen Salter who advised that the complaint should go ahead, but on the day the hearing was halted almost as soon as it began. The Conservatives deftly sweep these matters under the carpet, but this should not be allowed. By being in denial they are putting the Council and the Borough, in fact all of us, at risk and make it impossible to mend the past in order to create an honourable future. 

Bad advice to the Council is only part of the story. I noticed that in the bundle of documents handed to Ms Lloyd-Jones to aid her in her preparation of the Report, there was listed an 

"Unsigned and undated Side Agreement re Deputy Monitoring Officer and additional support to Barnet Monitoring Officer HBPL Business Plan 2014-17" - a larger role = more participation to be taken on by HBPL.

This is what Ms Lloyd-Jones had to say about the document:

4.13 A side Agreement to the IAA [Inter-Authority Agreement][1] was drafted at this time which adds acting as DMO [Deputy Monitoring Officer], corporate, governance and MO [Monitoring Officer] support to the services to be provided under the IAA. This agreement remains unsigned by Harrow. It is imperative for the document to be signed as much of the work it refers to is being carried out in practice.

Although the document is not dated, Ms Lloyd-Jones roughly dates it "at this time", ie the time when committee proportionality was being considered for the new administration around the time of the Full Council on 2 June 2014.  

For a law firm to fail to sign an Agreement and for a Council not to ensure that it is signed seems to me to indicate how sloppy and unsafe practice has been, and also how unmonitored. No signed obligation or liability on behalf of HB Public Law to the Council existed to cover these additional duties which were being carried out in practice. It was this law firm that was advising the Barnet Monitoring Officer. The indication is that the Agreement was signed by Barnet but not by Harrow. So was it the case that having signed the Agreement, Salter went on leave never to return leaving no one in Barnet to get the Agreement signed by HB Public Law as there was no-one acting as in-house Monitoring Officer.  Peter Large arrived without announcement around two week's later as "interim legal and governance adviser" and was appointed Interim Monitoring Officer after another two weeks on the day of Salter's departure.  Even in the absence of a Barnet Monitoring Officer, HB Public Law could have taken the initiative to countersign the form but it appears that for a while those in charge were content for nothing to be done. Who was to blame for this, as it could not have been the absent Salter. Was there no procedure at Barnet by which the Monitoring Officer's role was managed in the absence of a Monitoring Officer? Has the Agreement now been signed, and if so, when? 

Cornelius makes it clear in a written answer to Council that Salter carried out no work for the Council from 12 September to 9 October.  So who, if anyone, was carrying out the day-to-day in-house legal duties in Barnet in that time?  It was only when I asked at another meeting who had been acting on Salter's behalf that I was told by the CEO that Jessica Farmer, Head of Legal Practice at HB Public Law "had been nominated by Salter".                                                                                                                                                                                                       

There are so many unanswered questions and those in charge refuse to take responsibility for allowing this untenable regime to continue unchecked for so long. How many more wrong decisions based on wrong advice is going to be discovered that puts the Council at risk and exposes it to challenge and compensation? Shouldn't all advice given during this period be challenged and tested? At Council I asked that this should happen. Cllr Cornelius replied:

"This sounds like a personal attack on a former officer. Full legal advice was always available. A new Monitoring Officer is now in place."

There is no question of a personal attack from me but rather a legitimate and justified challenge of advice given to and acted upon by the Council when Salter was in post. It is rather the action to remove Salter from her post that can be seen as an attack from those who decided that she should take the rap. Yet they seem to have no intention of parting company with HB Public Law who were there to provide Salter with legal advice and failed miserably in the disastrous case of committee proportionality.

It is clear from the report that legal advice was not always available and Barnet expressed concern about the remoteness of HB Public Law (Report: 4.16). And when advice was not forthcoming the Monitoring Officer went ahead without it, and even when it was forthcoming she was left to interpret it in spite of her lack of legal knowledge. The report states that "the Monitoring Officer is also responsible for Legal Services provided by HBPL" (4.12). She couldn't really win.

So where do we go from here?  Richard Cornelius has said Ms Lloyd-Jones’ report was “fair enough” and it was now “a question of how we move forward”.  As we have seen, just one instance of wrong legal advice can be catastrophic.  Interim Monitoring Officer, Peter Large, for whom Barnet is a 2-day-a-week add-on to his busy full-time job at Westminster Council is now in place for an indefinite period. A permanent appointment will be the task of the Remunerations Committee.  Large was appointed solely by the CEO in consultation with Richard Cornelius which is their constitutional right but then they were at the top of the responsibility chain during this whole period and it seems they were perfectly satisfied for legal matters in Barnet to be dealt with on a wing and a song.

And after all that has happened, after Ms Lloyd-Jones has said that most local authorities appoint a lawyer as Monitoring Officer, Richard Cornelius has refused Labour's request that there will be a requirement for the next Monitoring Officer to be legally qualified. Salter's own recruitment in 2013 has been the subject of discussion as it appears she was the only person to be interviewed for the post of Monitoring Officer. She is an Auditor but took over from an in-house lawyer with years of experience of Barnet Council yet there was no requirement for legal qualification or experience in the job description though there was for an auditor. But then another senior Conservative, Councillor Anthony Finn, has justified Cornelius's decision by insisting that qualifications are unnecessary as "all that is needed is a clear head". Would you put the clearest-headed dentist in charge of brain surgery? But then this is the man who, like his Tory colleagues at the CEPS meeting, voted in favour of unconstitutional meetings on budget cuts being held in private because residents would be scared when matters such as switching off street lights were discussed.  

So let us return to the two councillors who are victims of all this chaos, those who were denied their right of access to an independent person because of a dysfunctional system. Do these councillors get an official apology?  Are they to be compensated in any way?  Will they demand compensation and of what kind?  How long has the Council known that this advice was wrong? It appears the two councillors have not been informed of the injustice done to them. And this error may never have come to light if Cllr Moore had not submitted her Member's Item that forced an admission.

The people of Barnet deserve better than this headless-chicken culture with no accountability. No lessons have been learned, no fault acknowledged, no effective remedy prescribed to heal Tory Barnet of its self-inflicted wounds. Maryellen Salter is long gone while others cling on with everything to lose hoping they've done enough to cover their tracks, and time bombs are ticking.  

Our day in Coventry: Capita and the Polo factor
More from the CEPS meeting: Tories vote to keep public out of unconstitutional meetings on budget & cuts. Says one Tory: People would be scared to hear discussion on cutting street lights.

·   [1] These were the other related docs in the list: Committee report to Barnet Council establishing the shared legal service 4th April 2012; Committee report to Harrow Council establishing the shared legal service 4th April 2012; Inter Authority Agreement re HBPL 17th August 2012; Committee report to Barnet Council establishing Deputy Monitoring Officer as HBPL- 29th January 2013 

Friday, 28 November 2014


Anna Earnshaw (Commercial Director of Capita): if you are reading this then please note what life is really like in the hell that is Capita Barnet. 


Last week my Council iPad was taken away by IT support and "reconfigured", and yesterday afternoon at 3pm it was returned to me with my emails and texts working for the first time for weeks and I took it out to a meeting and used it and in that short time began to think fondly of it and appreciate its worth.  

Today?  No texts. No email. "The connection to the server failed" (one of Capita's fave generic messages since IT was rolled out to councillors at the beginning of June, the server apparently being in Spring Park Exchange which could be anywhere in the world.

To do my job as a councillor I need a phone to make and receive calls and a laptop on which to write documents. Both need to receive emails and hopefully to synch. And I need a printer. And perhaps this is the moment to remind us all that Capita claim, and they claim loudly, that they are experts at providing IT services as they do about call centre services.

What did councillors received from Capita after the elections 6 months ago, and I'm talking about new councillors who were the first to be supplied with IT equipment by Capita? We got one piece of equipment only - an iPad on which we couldn't make or receive phone calls or type documents. There was no Word app only a very primitive application called "Pages" which meant that we could not produce documents or read or open Word documents that were emailed to us. We were promised Word within a month, but we still don't have it. But not to worry.  Emails didn't work in any case for some time. The server was moved out of Barnet to another location, didn't work and had to be moved back. 

Capita's failures can have serious consequences on residents' lives. My first casework was for a family who came to see me within days of being evicted from their home and their children taken into care. They were a warm, loving family and the children were smiling and happy unaware of what might lie ahead. It was a Saturday and there was nothing I could do until Monday morning, but during the weekend I took advice and obtained the contact details I required. Unfortunately it meant my having to ring Barnet Council. 

I had direct line numbers but repeatedly got the standard: "You have dialled incorrectly, please try again", in other words all the lines are busy.  (Capita cut the number of lines by 25% when they took over the service.) I was trying to get through to Barnet Homes so I Googled to see if there were alternative numbers. I tried them all including the 24 hour emergency number for residents. All numbers were "incorrect'!! I didn't want to email because I wanted to speak as soon as possible and in any case my email was only working sporadically and I couldn't be sure that a message would get through.  After about three hours I tried the main switchboard of the Council again and got through and was told by a very friendly operator that the dialled incorrectly message just meant that all the lines were busy. I asked why the message didn't say "all the lines are busy" and the operator replied that it did seem silly, didn't it? She also added what so many operators have said to me on so many calls over so many months, that they were having problems with the lines that day. 

I had finally got through to Barnet Homes and they were helpful as ever and gave me the contact who would be able to deal with the eviction.  Another helpful person said he would send me the necessary referral form to complete and return as soon as possible and he would deal with everything immediately and do everything he could help with the family.  All good, you'd think. But you might have forgotten that I was having to rely on Capita. The form arrived by the end of the afternoon but I couldn't open it. It was in Word and I had no word on my iPad. I forwarded the form to my personal laptop but because it was not possible to open it on my iPad it would not open. I tried to print the form unopened so that I could fill it in and scan it back on to the Council laptop. No luck. I couldn't ring the office until the next morning. I rang and asked if I could come down to wherever they were and complete the form but they emailed it to my personal email. By then more than a day in addition to the weekend had been wasted.  Time was short but everything was set in motion and proceeded no thanks to Capita.

From the beginning, posing as IT experts, Capita misjudged what equipment would be appropriate for our job, in fact they got it entirely wrong. And they considerably underestimated how long it would take to set up the Council's IT on the server and moved the IT staff together with its Project Manager to another job much too soon. After a while - it was weeks - I was contacted by phone (my personal mobile) by a very helpful IT person who talked me through setting up my iPad and it actually logged in.  I asked  for his contact details so I could contact this great person again. "Oh, I'm a contractor. I'm only here temporarily to help sort things out so you'd better contact your usual support team if you need help." So here were extra costs.  And just a minor error, but another extra expense and a careless error, we were all given covers for our iPads that were the wrong size. Replacements were ordered, expensive leather ones, but I found it was unusable so I bought myself a decent, simple one for £10 that works. And all this additional equipment and contractors means additional expense to us due to Capita's incompetence.

Then I was told that if I wanted one I could have a phone but I had to ask for one. I hurried to do so knowing that other councillors who were not new had Blackberries.  But when I received my phone it was not a smart phone, but a primitive fin-de-siecle Argos bargain basement model that had no facility for emails, internet, etc. I continued to use my own phone.  Then I was told I could have a blackberry and a laptop if I asked for them.  I asked for them and they arrived. More equipment, more cost.

Have you spotted anything wrong?  I now have an iPad, a Blackberry and a PC laptop.  What I needed was an iphone and an apple lap top - compatible, right for the job, and would synch perfectly.  The iPad is a very cool adjunct but not essential.  I get a good deal with Apple as an individual customer: free phone, unlimited free national calls, mobile calls, unlimited texts, so I'm sure a deal could have been negotiated for free phones and a good deal for 60 people.  It has all been such a mess.  And what is more, I can't remember a time when the phone, iPad and laptop have worked at the same time.  If on one day I can somehow access my Council emails and contacts I feel pretty lucky.  My laptop necessitated a home visit yet again last week. That means staying in and taking a couple of hours out of the day.

If we got service like this in our personal lives we would blow the company out of the water. There can be no excuse, though there are plenty from Capita, for this sort of dire performance. Tory Barnet is run from anywhere but Barnet with profits for Capita a priority and a cheap and nasty service to its residents and workers while costing us fortune.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Capita 999: We aim to fail: Capita claims 92% of Barnet targets met

Read by Anna Earnshaw, Commercial Director of Capita


Capita 999: We aim to fail: Capita claims 92% of Barnet targets met

Barnet's Performance and Contract Management Committee met on Tuesday, 11 November. I was on the Committee that night and on the Agenda was Capita's performance report on their phone lines. Capita Commercial Director, Anna Earnshaw, who announced that she reads my blog, said she regretted my experiences, but that they must be very rare. She spoke of Capita's achievements:  92% of their targets met, 23 out of the 25 performance targets achieved (Capita's own figures), and that only two indicators had missed the target: one being a decrease of calls answered by the contact centre within 20 seconds from 78.48% to 78.1% increasing the gap from the 80% target (that's 20% accepted failure by the way).

Chris Naylor, Barnet's Chief Operating Officer, backed her up: "I'm confident that we've got the right arrangement in place".  This was after I had given him several examples of my own bad experiences and those of others. He came up with the same old excuses: inherited problems, teething troubles.  He seemed to have overlooked that Capita's inheritance included an extra 25% of lines they have since discarded to cut their costs.

When my future trip to Coventry was mentioned, the Chair of the Committee, Tory Cllr Anthony Finn, perked up and in the voice of an indulgent grandfather offering a treat proposed that a mini-bus should be hired for a trip to Coventry for everyone to have a lovely day out. But then he confessed, though in the voice of one who wasn't that worried about it and felt reassured that it would all come right in the end, that he, too, had had problems phoning the Council, and had found that even when operators answered in good time, he often didn't get put through to the person he wanted as there was a lack of knowledge of the identity of staff and what services were offered by different departments. Thank goodness.  At last Capita might stop treating me as if I had been the unlucky victim of a rare bad experience and a bit of a complainer.  The old teething problems excuse emerged again together with the assurance that everything was in hand and being dealt with. It was a question of training and there were two dedicated staff who listened to recordings of calls to identify problems. Well whatever they are doing it isn't working.

This meeting was on 11 November.  Back on 13 January, nearly a year ago, at a similar meeting, Tory Cllr Brian Salinger, a man who speaks his mind, complained about the lack of knowledge of the operators at the call centre.  He had asked to be put through to the Leader's office. The operator had no idea what he was talking about.  Cllr Salinger said it was a matter of training.  So what has happened over the past year with training and monitoring?  Absolutely nothing.  The faults are the same, as are the excuses.  Performance is failing but Capita are unable to come up with a cure. They claim to be the experts but serve us like incompetent amateurs, taking pots of our money while deserving only their already well-earned epithet, Crapita.

Naylor then moved into smoke and mirror mode to divert our attention from the 'f'-word: failure. It's not the operators who are at fault, but when they transfer calls to the relevant people (does this really ever happen?) those people might have stepped out of their office and may not have switched on their answering machines so their phone would be bound to ring unanswered. This, he claimed, must be rectified.  No, I said, that has nothing to do with it. The telephone operators have no idea who anyone is or which department does what. This is the problem, always has been, and undoubtedly if they haven't been able to sort it out for a year, always will be. 

As the redoubtable Mr Reasonable asked in a recent tweet: "Why are Barnet Conservatives happy to tolerate such dismal performance?" And why indeed are they?  But then it always comes back to the question of why they tied us into the Capita contract for ten years in the first place knowing of Capita's disastrous record and that there were no guarantees of saving money.  It hasn't taken long to reveal itself as the disaster it is, but not to worry, only 9 years to go if the option isn't taken up to extend for a further five.  Will Capita be in existence that long? Will the London Borough of Barnet survive after Capita has had its way with it?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Capita 999: Capita is fiddling while Barnet burns: We can't get through

Another blog from La Bloggeuse 
and read by Anna Earnshaw, Commercial Director, Capita

 All is changed, changed utterly, A terrible Barnet is born

Capita 999: Capita is fiddling while Barnet burns  

 We can't get through.....

To phone the main switchboard of Barnet Council you dial 020 8359 2000.  The calls are answered in a Capita call centre in Coventry. A few days after I made the call which is the subject of my last two blogs and now in the middle of an overblown, box-ticking investigation, I had reason to phone the Council again.  I needed to get through to the IT support for Councillors extension which was on the contacts of my Capita phone that wasn't working.  A bit like when your Broadband goes down and you are told on the phone that you can fix things by going to their website, when your problem is that you can't access the internet.  I couldn't conjure up the extension number in my mind though it had been necessary to ring it many times to report one IT problem after another.  But you get to the point when the constant problems and breakdowns just wear you down, you can no longer be bothered to spend endless time on reporting, waiting in for someone to come and fix things only for things to break down again.  But it got to the stage when it was impossible for me to do any work that involved the Capita Council IT system.  So I dialed the main switchboard to get through to the extension and once again met with a service that is not fit for purpose, that is failing the people of Barnet.

The call was answered speedily enough and politely.  I asked to be put through to the extension for IT support for Councillors.  I gave the names of the two people in the team. The operator said that I needed Information Technology and before I could say another word turned on the music and I waited.  I'm afraid after my past experiences I couldn't resist counting how many rings it would take to get through.  I wrote down a number for each ring.  This is what Capita has driven me to.  The phone rang 44 times and then...... the line went dead.

2nd call.  The operator picked up after 7 rings and was called Sian or Shaun (by this time I wanted names). I made my request. He said "OK".  The line went dead.

3rd call.  Answered after 9 rings.  The operator, called Tasha, told me: "We haven't got an IT team specifically for Councillors but I'll give you the direct line to the IT general line but we're having problems with our lines at the moment so try in about half an hour and you might get through."  She gave me the number 0208 359 3333.  That number was unfamiliar.  I knew it wasn't the number I usually rang but it might lead to a result so I'd try it. 

4th call.  I rang straight away to see what would happen and received the message: "You have dialed incorrectly, please try again", ie the Capita enigma code for lines being overloaded or in this case "having problems", and Capita was putting the blame on me!  Revelation.  If they said all lines were busy it would be their fault.  

5th call.  I rang again a few minutes later.  This was a challenge and I needed IT support for goodness sake. I got through to the recorded message of the "service desk" with options to log a call, check on the status of an existing call, etc.  I chose the first just to get through.  I succeeded.  "Good morning, Barnet Service Desk". The phone went dead!!!!

6th call.  Worn down, desperate, angry, but not giving up, having wasted so much of my precious time and unable to do my work on behalf of West Hendon residents because of my IT problems, I waited for half an hour, busying myself to pass the time, and rang the service desk again, a broken woman.  The first option was answered by Peter.  He knew what both he and I were talking about!!  There was, indeed, an IT support line for Councillors.  I knew I hadn't made it up.  I'd had to ring them often enough!  And as soon as he spoke the number I recognized it and rejoiced.

But this experience of Capita's  handling of our calls revealed that nothing has been resolved since they first took over the running of the service and they are failing us every day.  Their excuses are pathetic.  Failures are always blamed on a "temporary problem", but the problems began from the very first day, all recorded on Twitter by those who didn't then realise that the message: "This number is unrecognized" like " you have dialed incorrectly" means that lines are overloaded and phones are not being answered.  And nothing has changed.  

In his informed, excellent-as-ever blog today that gives the clinical truth via no-nonsense statistics, Mr Reasonable is right to highlight the lack of concern of Tory Councillor for Hendon Ward, Anthony Finn, who is Chairman of the Performance and Contract Management Committee that has the task of monitoring Capita's performance. 

Cllr Finn did not want to put Capita's failures regarding phone lines and IT on the Agenda of the first Performance and Contract Management Committee meeting of this administration when everything was already going horribly wrong claiming that it was not urgent.  Finn had to be strongly persuaded by the Labour lead on the committee, Cllr Geof Cook before he reluctantly agreed. Capita presented a report of feeble excuses and Councillor Finn summed up with a big smile of satisfaction saying that he was confident having been reassured by Capita that everything would be "hunky dory" in two weeks' time.  That's what we're up against.  

So I phoned the wonderfully correct number supplied by Peter, was automatically diverted to a mobile, left a message for someone to get in touch and wasn't called back that day! I learned the next day from a colleague that there was someone temporary helping out and I managed to get the mobile number of one of the two excellent permanent staff, who are thankfully left in place following the Capita takeover and got everything sorted out within a day.  I have that number now in my personal phone and in several other places, and thank goodness have one less reason to ring a Capita line. 

If we were receiving a service like this as individuals, we'd change our suppliers.  The Tories have irresponsibly, without caution, tied us and our money into a 10-year contract.

Out of interest there is a generic message that appears on Barnet (now Capita) officers' emails:

"Capita's Local Government business is part of Capita plc, the UK's leading professional and support services organisation.  We provide local authorities with specialist support covering revenues and benefits administration, customer services, financial services, training, IT and administration support. To find out more about our business and the full range of services we offer, visit our website....   "

Tempting? My advice and that of others who are now desperately trying and some succeeding to extricate themselves from their Capita contracts is no-oooooooo, don't go there.  I will of course be including this example in my litany of complaints when I meet the Capita man in Coventry.  He did, after all, tell me on his mobile that my input would be "gold dust".  But as they are always claiming to be the experts, I shouldn't have to tell them how to run a call centre.  They certainly don't need any tips on how to take as much of our money as possible. Capita is fiddling while Barnet burns.

Coming soon to your nearest blog spot: The dangers of  Capita's failures on residents' lives.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Capita 999: The extraordinary tale of a Barnet switchboard operator Part 2: What Capita Did Next

Capita 999: The extraordinary tale of a Barnet switchboard operator Part2:   

What Capita did next....

There is something Capita can do fantastically well.  They can do everything wrong and charge through the nose for it.
Good one.  And it's our money!  

I'm getting back to you to report what Capita did next following my call with the cackling London Borough of Barnet phone operator, the call when I wanted to speak to Andrew Nathan, Head of Governance.  As a reminder, or if you missed it, here is my earlier blog with the details of THAT call:

Since then a complaint has been made on my behalf by the now "acting up" Head of Governance and the result is that Capita is sending me to Coventry, both me and Councillor Alan Schneiderman, another Capita sufferer among many. 

My complaint has taken on marathon proportions; a box-ticking, over-egged, placating exercise. Dare I suggest that this is because it was registered as a "Member Complaint". Would I have received so much attention if I were not a Councillor, but instead one of the residents who have endless trouble every day contacting Barnet Council by phone? It has involved 7 Capita flunkies, a 'thorough' investigation after listening to a recording of the call and action points to improve the service that put into question the whole system. I have received two direct emails from the Head of Service - Customer Services, and a plethora of internal emails between Capita employees that were certainly not for my eyes but were left on the bottom of the emails to me!  I'm just lucky, I guess.  One from Capita Local Government Head of Employee Engagement (the first person contacted to deal with the complaint) to two others in Local Government Services with a copy to another reads: "Hi both"...."not sure how it came to me" and she continues that she's not sure of the "complaints escalation process".  

Capita Head of Service - Customer Services has also offered to have a chat with me so he can understand what happened - they have the recording for heaven's sake - and then comes the special treat, a trip to Coventry to see how the call centre system works, though I think he works in Southampton judging by his email address. But this turned out to be some time in the future because no sooner was an offer of a chat made and I accepted by email the same day then I received an out of office reply saying he was out of the office for the next 17 days!  I laughed out loud or LOL in social media terminology to aid David Cameron if he is reading this.

But another message arrived from Capita Head of Service - Customer Services with an apology later that afternoon before he dropped off the planet for a while.  He regretted my bad experience, claiming Capita's aim is always to give an excellent level of service, adding "I accept that the call did not reach the high standards we expect".   His answer recalls an episode of Faulty Towers when Basil taunts Sybil in the style of Mastermind: "Sybil Faulty, Torquay, answering questions on the bleedi*g obvious".  The Capita man deduces: "In short, what should have been a standard, quick switchboard transfer took far too long and was handled badly by us".

Interesting, then, that now the Capita man is back he phones me from a mobile and that is how I return his calls; an admission perhaps on his part that I may never have got through to him if I had rung his Council number. Barnet services are spread far and wide.  ABB, Anywhere But Barnet.  Imagine the embarrassment if the operator had no idea who the Head of Service - Customer Service might be.  "There's an acting up Head of Governance or an interim Monitoring Officer, would they do?  I can't know everyone." 

I have decided to take up Capita's offer to meet and chat and go to Coventry so I can raise all my complaints both as a resident and a Councillor, of the unacceptable performance of the Barnet call centre since the day Capita took over until today.  From the start Capita cut the number of lines by 25% which causes the whole service to regularly break down in overload, and we are served by inadequately trained staff who have no idea who anyone is, what they do or the services offered.  And Capita's way of dealing with the failure of services including IT and wages is to constantly claim that problems are temporary glitches or teething problems that have either been resolved or are in hand and about to be resolved.  If an issue can be marked as resolved whether or not this is the case, then the same issue is begun again as a new issue, the box is ticked and Capita are off the hook.  I want to go to Coventry to see Capita operating as Barnet far from Barnet. 

But perhaps we shouldn't blame the switchboard for the sins of their Capita fathers.  Names are dropping off the Barnet telephone list like flies:  cutbacks, jobs going outside the Borough, jobs going to the private sector, broken barnet, tinpot Barnet, a disfunctional, discredited Barnet at risk under the regime of Richard Cornelius and his Tory cohorts. 

This is not just a matter of a badly-handled phone call.  I will be blogging about more Capita experiences in a series: Capita 999: Tales of the Expected because Capita's greed and their dire standard of services are having ruinous effects on the Borough and on residents' lives.  

My blog of 12 December 2012: "Why the Barnet 10 chose Capita" names that small Conservative Cabinet who tied us into the Capita Contract for 10 years against advice, without consultation, without considering an inhouse option and without reading the contract that is skillfully worded to add to our costs rather than to make savings. 

As Yeats in "Easter 1916" almost wrote:

Our part
To murmur name upon Tory name

All is changed, changed utterly
A terrible Barnet is born

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Capita 999: the Monitoring Officer's tale

 Capita 999: the Monitoring Officer's tale

Interesting what has come out of the telephone call that began with the cackle of a Capita telephone operator who didn't know who Andrew Nathan, Head of Governance was. Well she couldn't know everyone, could she?  Would Jonathan Nathan do, just this time?  Um, 'fraid not.   That isn't to say I wasn't curious to know who Jonathan was, but no such name appears on the internal email list. But then people seem to be disappearing fast from Barnet Council's address book these days and it isn't necessarily due to the appalling IT service we get from Capita, but don't get me started on that. You may well find some of them shipped out by Capita to places like Blackburn or Coventry or Northern Ireland or anywhere but Barnet while others are made redundant. Perhaps Jonathan was in post on the 5th but has now stepped down in the current mode of mutual consent.   

The reason for my call was a follow-up to an email I sent on 5 October asking the Monitoring Officer, or rather former Monitoring Officer since yesterday, for some information.  I received an out-of-office reply.  She was out of the office from 12 September, recommended contacts for assistants who could direct urgent matters to the right department during her absence and offered to respond to anything that was not urgent on her return.  There was no return date.  But there is nothing in her message to suggest that she was not in post. On the contrary. Then on 10 October the Barnet CEO announced that the Monitoring Officer had left the job on the previous day 'by mutual consent'.  Maybe it went: "We'd like you to leave tomorrow". "Oh, OK, tomorrow's good for me, that would be lovely." The story broke in the local press and we knew that the inevitable first head had rolled as a consequence of Claer Lloyd-Jones's murderous report. 

The cackle debacle over, I was put through to the Assurance Department and mentioned that I had been trying to get in touch with the Monitoring Officer. I asked if she had returned to work or was she ill. I was given no explanation, only that her return date was unknown.  This was a month after her absence from the office began, and there was no indication that there was an acting Monitoring Officer in her absence.  According to her out-of-office reply she remained Monitoring Officer during the month when she was away.  So was there a month when Barnet was without a Monitoring Officer at work?  On 10 October the CEO announced that in consultation with Richard Cornelius he had appointed an interim Monitoring Officer, and the rest will be history. 

So who is the interim Monitoring Officer? Well I never, he's an in-house experienced lawyer with relevant expertise from Westminster Council who has a team of two more experienced lawyers. In fact, he's a real Monitoring Officer.

"Peter is the City Council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services, and Monitoring Officer. He qualified as a solicitor in 1982, joined Westminster in 1999, and has over 25 years experience practising as a solicitor in local government. He has overall responsibility for the provision of all legal services to the City Council. 

 As well as heading up the legal team, and advising on governance and local government and administrative law, Peter has retained an interest in a number of specialist professional areas. They include litigation (especially judicial review), procurement, employment, planning and licensing, all areas where Westminster has provided a unique opportunity to hone his skills, in view of its location and importance." (Westminster Council website)
But in short-straw Barnet, according to the report: there is "no-one who understands local government law in depth... Barnet employs no lawyers.There are staff in key roles in the Governance structure in Barnet who are inexperienced in governance matters........

Barnet must make some changes in its governance and legal arrangements to ensure that it has access to pro-active professional and expert advice at all relevant times in future."

But this doesn't seem to worry the delusional Tories, who run the Council. According to on-the-case local reporter, Anna Slater, "Council leaders have stated that Barnet is one of the most "efficient and effective councils in the country" after Labour councillors called for a vote of no confidence against its Tory leader."  She continues: "Despite the damning report - which also criticised the way "inexperienced" staff members have been placed in key roles - deputy leader of the council Cllr Dan Thomas insisted the system is "running well". They must be so proud of their Capita officers and their contract with HB Law, the private law firm they share with Harrow, who are jointly and unequivocally condemned in the report as guilty of damaging our Council. Labour has called for an extraordinary Council meeting. The damage is yet to be assessed.