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News and Comment July 2020

Index: 2020

4 July - If their staff have it right Bexley Council is heading towards a whole load of trouble

There have been too many things to attend to recently and this blog is right at the bottom of the priority list but the stream of critical comment from inside Bexley Council continues unabated. Some of the internal politics is a little over my head and probably Bexley residents will not be very interested in it right now but it will hit them in the pocket next year and beyond.

For readers who may be interested the following is put together using only extracts from correspondence received over the past two weeks. Except for a few conjunctions the words are not mine, they come from a variety of sources and patched together in a way which is inevitably a little disjointed and possibly repetitive but I am sure you will get the general picture.

Experienced Council staff are worried, and you should be too. (With apologies, there is more of this to come.)

Here we go…

Jackie Belton has the begging bowl out asking for more. Maybe she should take lessons from Barnet Council which claimed £4 million back from Capita for failing to provide adequate services. It was common knowledge controls didn’t exist, hence the £2 million fraud. Their systems like Integra were not set up properly.

This is a big incentive and a job opportunity for Nickie Morris to #doitforBexley. Integra is replacing the outdated systems that Bexley has used, and no doubt it will be a success. Everything she did at Barnet was. It must have been for her to get the job as the top paid consultant in Bexley. Apologies for the sarcasm but no one is worth £1,000 a day.

The job advert for the new role says Finance are leaving oneSource. If it fails then claim compensation as whoever was in charge must have failed. Only for two years that person was our own Director of Finance. Can you sue yourself?

You said on 3rd March that Bexley had bought Axiom and Paul Thorogood recommended it. You also reported that he bought Axiom for oneSource when he was their Finance Director but they rejected it as being not fit for purpose.

Paul Thorogood worked for Capita and Barnet for a number of years and they had Axiom. Barnet kicked out Capita as they couldn’t manage the Finance Department properly.

When will our Finance Director learn about Axiom? Few Councils still use it. Barnet used Axiom, you can check that out on its website. Why does he like the product so much? When the Council updates its payments over £500 you can see how much it paid.

A short history lesson for you…

2013 Capita take over Barnet Council. As part of the solution they offer to change systems bringing in Integra and Axiom.

2018 and oneSource Director of Finance Paul Thorogood acquires Axiom for the partnership. However he moves to Bexley and before the system is set up, it is jettisoned by oneSource. They decide to go to the cloud. The relationship between Paul Thorogood and oneSource turns sour.

2019 and Nickie Morris from Barnet gets a consultant’s job working for Paul Thorogood.

2020 with ex-Barnet head working alongside her old friend and mentor Bexley Council make two big purchases as they decide to take over the Council from oneSource - Bringing in Integra and Axiom!

An admission by the Director of Finance in Bexley in his Medium Term Financial Statement…

Jam tomorrowFinancial Services may get worse before they get better said the Director of Finance in Section 13 of the MTFS. And now we have Covid and a big black hole!

To add to the woes we have new IT systems and many experienced staff have left to be replaced by consultants.

We need “Inspirational Leadership” but never fear, there is an improvement plan on its way. It’s a bit late considering Mr. Thorogood has been in charge for two years now.

Funnily enough the same thing was promised in Barnet in 2013 with the Axiom forecasting, Integra systems and a Paul Thorogood at the helm. And look what happened there.

Same recipe. Same results. He should deliver on his improvement plan or be sacked. Still he should succeed as he has his favourite Nickie Morris by his side again once she is confirmed in post - as if anyone doubts that. Next up it will be Capita to take over from Amey.

I predict that when Nickie Morris takes over as Deputy Director for Finance and Property Amey will lose its Facilities and Building Management and Capita will be appointed.

She worked for them and with them and they did wonders at Barnet.

Bexley is adopting everything that Barnet once had and recruiting someone from there to head up Property in Bexley seems likely. The writing is on the wall.

Sure Mr. Thorogood will sweet talk the Leader on this and after reappointing Capita for Benefits and buying Capita’s integra system, it must be a foregone conclusion.

For the second year running BexleyCo lost money. Amazing given the accounts show no expenditure.
Losses
Why does Bexley venture into projects it is useless at? And why pay for expensive consultants who produce nothing? This could be the end of Graham Ward glittering career. No loss I would say. Yet another business plan that has failed. Where were the Council’s financial advisers?

BexleyCo has overtaken the white elephant that is the Thames Innovation Centre. It runs on loans and it can only be a matter of time before they are written off. Again the accounts reveal barely any income.

Housing remains a problem. The numbers coming to Bexley hasn’t reduced and Bexley has been housing the rough sleepers in their own accommodation but now the supply has dried up. Only 40 properties when in the past year it was 120.
Housing
When will the Council get it’s house together; please excuse the pun? BexleyCo is two years old and lost £1·2m over those years and nothing but empty business units to show for it. The Head of Housing is off and no Director is showing any leadership. The only story is one of reduced budgets in the face of mounting pressures.

By 2022 when its first house might become available the losses will likely stand at £3 million.

The Accounts show an overspend on Housing of £1·6m. This was not as much as last year but only due to circumstances.

In 2018/19 the Director of Finance made allowances for a Housing overspend by allocating a larger budget and gave his reasons in February 2019. However a year later the Director of Finance when preparing his 2020 budget and setting Council Tax decided that there should be no extra money. An oversight or bad financial management?

In 2019/20 Temporary Accommodation got an extra £2·7m. Looking at the notes in the accounts you would assume the 2020/21 budget would increase. It didn’t.
Housing
There were no overspends in February 2020, hence no additional cash provided yet by 31st March the accounts show £1·6 million overspend. What happened in less than two months? The Accountant who prepared the Statement of Accounts wrote that financial forecasting and control needs improvement. So a recommendation for the Director of Finance himself to watch the purse strings.

At the end of 2019 the accounts had a detailed breakdown of what went wrong yet months later nothing was noted and the Director of Finance and the Housing chiefs didn’t see a £1·6m overspend coming. Are we surprised that the Head of Housing has just left? Things got too much for him.

It is pretty thankless in Housing and Finance have not provided the budgets for the job to be done and when things inevitably go wrong, officers are blamed.

Be careful with what you say, whistleblowers are not protected here.

 

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