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.
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.