Five Barnet bloggers who exposed the scandal of Barnet’s Council’s relationship with the MetPro companies emailed nine questions to the 62 Barnet councillors on 13 July 2011. (The questions are printed at the end of this document.)
The questions sought to gauge councillors’ knowledge of the MetPro scandal, and their views on what the bloggers thought were the main issues raised by it. We did this in the wake of a damning internal audit report on the issue. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had paid tribute to the efforts of bloggers in uncovering the MetPro scandal. We thus felt the survey would be useful to Barnet residents, and told councillors we would publish the results.
We know that the vast majority of the councillors received and read the email. We chased up non-response with a second email on 21 July. Not all Labour councillors had replied by that date but we did not email them chasing a response, since Barnet Labour group had by then sent a group response. (Available at: http://alturl.com/dbyoy)
We have produced two tables to summarise the results of the survey:
Table 1. Response rates by party.
Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions. Several councillors also made comments.
Table 1. Response rates by party
Brian Gordon: I'm not wasting my time answering bloggers.
David Longstaff: Please remove me from your mailing list. As to your ‘urgent’ emails regarding procurement, which I found slightly manipulative, I’ll decide what’s urgent in my life, not you.
Hugh Rayner: I am not going to complete my questionnaire. I am a member of the Audit Committee and have (and will) express my views and opinions in that forum.
Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions
The refusal to respond by Barnet’s Conservative group is extremely disappointing. The Coalition government has made a point of talking about empowering local government and about councillors’ accountability to residents. Barnet specifically has been mentioned as a borough that has not done this well lately, and this was a chance for the Conservative administration to start to make amends. They failed.
The response of the Labour and Lib Dem groups shows a better attitude to accountability. They have taken the trouble to tell residents what they think about these issues, and their replies to some of the questions show them agreeing with the reasonable expectation that councillors keep up-to-date with important issues (Q1), seek to affect events (Q7) and read important reports (Q8). It is disappointing that no one has answered that they have approached the Leader of the Council about the issue (Q4); neither, probably, is this only a result of the recent change of leadership. It would have been interesting to see whether Conservative councillors had spoken to the (Conservative) Leader, or whether this was just a matter of parties.
In comments, and in the Labour group response, opposition councillors referred to their wish to have more influence over the Council, and their sense of frustration that the scrutiny process was not working well. We share these frustrations and want an end to Leader and Cabinet government in Barnet which does not work well for local accountability.
The views of the Labour group and the responding Labour councillors and of the Lib Dem councillors on the substantive issues (Qs 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9) coincide with those of the bloggers.
Q2: In our view, the Council should have responded to the MetPro scandal with an independent inquiry that also included consideration of the security aspects of using MetPro. These were not addressed by the internal audit and show no signs of being addressed voluntarily.
Qs 3 and 9: Barnet Council’s Internal Audit needs more resources if it is to do its job properly; this is particularly important given the failings in Barnet Council’s procurement and contract monitoring, exposed by the MetPro internal audit and the Internal Audit Opinion on Barnet for 2010-11. We oppose the recent decision to cut staff from the procurement team, and to outsource procurement.
Q5: We believe that there are many more problems to be discovered in Barnet Council purchasing and we are submitting a number of FoI requests to uncover some of them, and continuing our own investigations.
Q6: We are opposed to the One Barnet Programme (OBP) and call on the Council to abandon it. We doubt that the advertised savings will materialise and we are alarmed at the cost of implementing the Programme and that Barnet Council is giving up control over vast, important areas of its services. But, in any case, we strongly believe that the Programme should be halted at least until Barnet Council’s outsourcing and procurement practices are improved substantially.
1. Are you aware of the issues concerning the MetPro security companies and Barnet Council?
2. Are you satisfied that the Council has managed the issue properly?
3. Do you agree with Lord Palmer that Barnet Council’s Internal Audit is under resourced?
4. Have you spoken to the Leader of the Council about your views on the MetPro scandal?
5. Besides the MetPro scandal, do you believe that there are other serious problems with purchasing in Barnet Council?
6. Do you think a halt should be called to the One Barnet Programme while investigations continue and basic procedures in procurement and contract monitoring are improved?
7. Do you think councillors have a responsibility to prevent such scandals arising in future?
8. Have you read the internal audit report into the MetPro scandal?
9. Are you happy with the decision to remove nine staff from Barnet Council’s procurement team?
4 August 2011