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News and Comment July 2020

Index: 2020

31 July - Bexley Council distributes its favours

JobsThe usual anonymous messages continue to roll in but for the most part they tread a well worn path. Barnet and Newham Council employees pleased to have seen their error prone bosses gravitate to Bexley. Bexley staff in fear for the future of the borough.

Then there is the occasional one about how senior managers favour their friends, very close friends allegedly.

A very different one draws my attention to the lack of BAME staff in senior positions in Bexley to which I would refer you to Mr. Anjan Ghosh who has been the Director of Public Health in Bexley for the past three years and the unknown Brian Henry who is the Principal credited with turning Bexley’s College around.

But the usual fare is never far away.


“In a nod to her friend, Jacky has decided to give him a pay rise and with it all her staff.

That is my deduction from the big reorganisation at the Council to be discussed by the General Purposes Committee.

The new structure will see the end of her Assistants. A big list of changes is contained and the lucky few will get golden handshakes. What can the rest expect?

The Union has provided a detailed response to which the HR Department or maybe just its boss has implied that staff morale being at rock bottom it was was only a suggestion.

The Monitoring Officer must have his face mask over his eyes. Still they expect £900,000 to be saved from top manager salaries. I dread to think what the total wage bill must be.”

 

28 July - Amazon to the rescue

Amazon PrimeI hate wearing a mask because it makes me too hot and the need to do so is definitely having an effect on shopping. I have not gone inside a shop in the past five days other than a corner store in East Ham where I noted that a litre of milk was fifty pence cheaper than the same thing in Abbey Wood. £1·09 instead of £1·59 in McColls.

And then out of the blue this morning came an email from Amazon; food deliveries without delivery charge.

Amazon has timed things to perfection, I sample checked a few prices and I shall make an order very soon.

Boris Johnson will kill the high street and while he continues to wear a red rosette I really do not care.

May I send a message to the anonymous message sender who calls himself ‘Me Again’? Yes I know about that property but the owner asked me not to mention it.

P.S. A more extensive price check on Amazon reveals many prices between twice and six times what one would expect to pay in a supermarket. Maybe it is not an acceptable replacement for Sainsbury’s after all.

 

27 July (Part 2) - Twitter Ye Not

I met my friend Mick Barnbrook two weeks ago for a socially distanced beer and he told me he had given up on Twitter. Under his @sleazebuster handle he had acquired about 17,000 followers mainly through making fun of his former knee bending, rainbow dancing, murder covering, politically correct former employers, the Metropolitan Police. Part of his Twitter success was down to following everyone who took an interest in his comments for which Twitter took exception about three weeks ago. For too many Follows in a day his account was put on hold.

He was told that it could be reactivated by inputting a security code that had been sent to his mobile phone but the problem with that was it was no longer his main phone and he had lost it. Twitter was not interested in sending the code again and so he was locked out.

What he soon found was that he was sleeping better, no longer stressed, less worried about the state of the world and has more time for his family and his dog.

It seemed like an attractive idea because I find reading Twitter news depressing and it does nothing to reduce my hatred for the police, a universal hatred which I recognise may be irrational and which is in danger of spreading to more establishment bodies.

So last week I decide that today I would do a Barnbrook on Twitter and delete my account; the only real use I find for it is Direct Messages. Then I discovered that today is Twitter boycott day. How appropriate!

I’ve not posted anything on Twitter for two weeks so there is little to lose. The BiB account is already effectively dormant, it may as well go. The Twitter icons that were part of the Banner above already have.

 

27 July (Part 1) - Facing both ways

TweetCatching up with things reluctantly after four days away the only light relief so far has come from my MP, probably the last one in the country still enthusiastically endorsing the slogan ‘I can’t breathe’.

The irony of Abena ‘Black Live Matter’ Oppong-Asare advocating the Conservative government’s totalitarian diktat that masks must be worn in shops made me smile; maybe I am easily amused.

The Twitter photo was taken at the Abbey Wood Market on 18th July, I briefly wore a mask while there, it was a hot day and I put up with it for maybe two minutes before ripping it off. Far too oppressive.

I stocked up in Sainsbury’s last Thursday and do not expect to go back any time soon. Stuff the economy! And Boris Johnson.

 

23 July - Third time but still unlucky

Leather BottleThe plan to build a care home on the site of the borough's oldest pub has been refused. Bexley Council says we have too many care homes already and it needs affordable homes. I would have thought that should have been something discussed btween the two parties before progressing the application.

 

17 July - It’s only money

I had come to the conclusion that there was little point in continuing with the reports from Barnet, Newham, Bexley and oneSource about senior Council staff who failed in one borough only to be rewarded with a promotion to another sometimes via allegedly dubious recruitment processes. If anyone is interested they must have got the message by now. However maybe this small extract from an email from within oneSource ought not to be ignored.

“Under Paul’s signature Bexley signed up to Finance services from oneSource and now under Paul’s signature Bexley are leaving oneSource and the ‘punishment payment’ will be £600,000.”

The same correspondent refers to a name new to me formerly in oneSource but listed on Bexley’s ‘Senior Manager’s Structure Chart’ who discovered that one of his staff had been dismissed from a Home Office job for lying in Court (documentary proof provided) and emailed all his staff to forbid them from talking about it. Nothing surprises me about Local Government Management but without the email as proof that story is probably a dead end.

With so many people telling similar tales the likelihood must be that there is some truth in them but whatever the case there must be a lot of very unhappy people working for Bexley Council anxious to vent their frustration.

 

14 July (Page 3) - Not what I voted for

I first came to the conclusion that Boris Johnson couldn’t be trusted, to put things mildly, during a conversation with Bexley’s Police Commander who was trying to explain to me and Elwyn Bryant why they were going against CPS advice and not prosecuting a Bexley Councillor for a crime we don’t talk about any more.

Mr. Johnson was London Mayor at the time and therefore in charge of the Police.

Despite my misgivings I voted for Johnson in December 2019 as I felt he was clearly the best man for the job, which you might remember was at that time Brexit. That he was best was not a very high bar to cross.

Since then it has been Covid-19 that has dominated the headlines and I cannot in all honesty think of a single thing that Johnson’s Government has got wholly right. I accept that the virus has been a rapidly moving target and mistakes were inevitable but everything imposed on us by a Government in panic mode has been riddled with illogical nonsense examples of which are very easy to find both here and elsewhere.

Boris the MaskistHe scared the population witless with his stories of half a million deaths and now he wonders why the paranoid and the work shy cannot easily be persuaded to get on with their lives and save Great Britain PLC from bankruptcy.

He wants us to revive the economy by spending our money but puts all sorts of obstacles in the way. Registering in advance or at least at the door to go to a pub. No thanks, I have no particular wish to drink alcohol anyway.

Today it is wear a mask when shopping. For someone who spends maybe 15 minutes inside a shop each week it’s really neither here nor there whether I wear a mask. The main casualty will be my local newsagent; I already find it a bit of a chore to turn out each morning for a copy of the Telegraph and masks will be the final straw. I didn’t foresee Boris Johnson’s desire to impose a Police State whenever he sees an opportunity and compulsory masks on top of the myriad of silly rules imposed in March is a step too far for me.

What will be the rule on shopping in outdoor street markets? We have one in Wilton Road (Abbey Wood) on Saturday and another two weeks later.

What sort of mask is acceptable? Councillor Hackett kindly gave me two in March and one fell apart as I opened the packet. I have worn the other one when I’ve felt it advisable since then which is not a lot. Whenever I have my glasses have steamed up and it has drooped chinward at frequent intervals. It should be well filled with bugs by now but I seem to have mislaid it. Perhaps I left it in East Ham.

We avoided a Marxist government last December but an incompetent Maskist is not welcome either. I do not want to vote Conservative again until a man with more than half a brain is in charge of the party. Preferably an honest one but maybe that is asking a bit too much.

 

14 July (Page 2) - Havering hovering ready to pounce on Bexley

oneSource withdrawalWell that didn’t take long. A kind soul in Havering sent me a copy of the oneSource Withdrawal Agreement.

“Both Newham and Bexley knew the risks which we will enforce. The damages are clear and whilst Newham have more services within oneSource they are only withdrawing a part of the service which is nearly equivalent to what Bexley is taking out as they are coming out of all of Financial Services.”

Presumably that means that Bexley will have to pay a similar sized penalty to that which Newham will be discussing later today. A possible half million plus.

 

14 July (Page 1) - Another fine mess

Newham RecorderI long ago stopped looking at the News Shopper. No paper copy, little by way of local news but plenty of click bait national news and the moment one of their intrusive bars to simple navigation pops up, off it goes. Their daily news summaries are routed to Junk; I must get around to cancelling the subscription.

So I was pleased to get a tip off about its Newham counterpart. It features the news about the oneSource disaster. Apparently Bexley is quitting with immediate effect. Will it have to pay the penalty?

Where will the staff to do the job in-house come from? Newham, Barnet, oneSource or is there a suitable staff partner lurking somewhere anxious to circumvent any recruitment procedure?

Complete silence from my internal sources; they say the Finance Director refuses to discuss the issue.

The Previous Director of Finance got her promotion to Southend in part upon the back of a CV lauding the success of oneSource. As has been said over and over again senior staff profit from failure at taxpayers’ expense.

Click image for source report.

 

13 July - Selling up, moving out

Distribution CentreI’ve been thinking of doing exactly that myself. London is no longer an appealing place to be and rapidly getting worse but this is not about me, it’s about Bexley Council.

Only two years ago the Council bought the Erith Distribution Centre in Manor Road for very nearly ten million pounds.

Their expensive financial advisers said there was a fat profit to be made from renting but the only occupier was themselves, it’s where they stored the bins when the new recycling arrangements went pear shaped last year.

So with another failed business enterprise to contend with Bexley Council has decided to sell the warehouse on Rightmove.

But is it the right move?

 

11 July (Part 2) - No satisfaction

You were warned that there was more criticism of Bexley’s Finance Department to come but the following is not one of those, this one arrived only two days ago but the attraction to me is that it came ready made as it were and doesn’t need any knocking into shape. Time is still a scarce commodity around here.


SatisfactionI used to work for oneSource and I regret that the partnership has ended.

The writing was on the wall in 2018 when customer satisfaction levels fell. This was particularly true for Bexley which had the lowest satisfaction rating. At the time oneSource was run by Paul Thorogood as Director of Finance. The Joint Committee tasked him to produce an improvement plan but he failed to deliver and oneSource stopped asking clients what they thought so the problem was masked.

Many of the complaints Paul was responsible for he didn’t action and he left in 2019 after delivering nothing. I left soon after but I do follow events having worked there and previously for Newham.

Some of us nicknamed the Director Shaggy after the singer who sang ‘It Wasn’t Me’. Basically he never took responsibility and left before his failings were discovered. I am surprised he is still in Bexley, particularly as it was during his time as Director of oneSource that satisfaction levels reduced.

We lost many staff due to disillusionment.


Next Tuesday Newham’s Cabinet is to discuss the penalty they will have to pay for leaving oneSource. How much is to be kept secret but there are enough clues from internal sources to surmise that the financial penalty will be in excess of £500,000.

In Bexley the withdrawal penalty is so secret that even the possibility has not been mentioned. Too embarrassing perhaps? Where would that money come from?

 

11 July (Part 1) - Just a clown

The PM is a ClownIf this Covid business has proved anything at all it is that we are governed by idiots, barely anything politicians have done recently stands close scrutiny. Every ill-thought out rule riddled with anomalies and down right stupidity. You can’t kiss the bride in church but you can take her away for a night of passion.

It must be said, Boris Johnson is a clown and his only saving grace is that he is not Kier Starmer or Sadiq Khan.

After four months of one fiasco after another it looks like he is going to make wearing face masks compulsory. Not in March when it might have made sense, but now, when only one in 3,600 people have the virus, you stand a 2% chance of catching it if you spend time with them and not much more than 0.0% risk of being sufficiently ill to end up in hospital.

It might not be so stupid if the clown was not at the same time imploring us to get back to work and normal life. If I have to wear a mask to browse around the shops it is a pleasure I can happily forego when Amazon is so easy to use.

I shall continue to spend as little money as possible and stuff the economy, why should I care if Boris Johnson is intent on controlling every aspect of our lives?

It is not what I voted for, he can go and stuff himself as quite obviously he has been. Read the attached article to the end and it seems like milk shakes are to be taxed next.

Speaking of masks… I got on a 301 to Bexleyheath at Abbey Wood Station soon after 9 a.m. last Tuesday morning. I was the only downstairs passenger until it reached Brampton Road. There a man wearing a Co-op uniform got on without mask and sat right next to me. A busload of empty seats but the one next to me was just too attractive.

I thought it was slightly odd behaviour but I am not sure I really cared. There is far too much paranoia around at present. I know someone who has just turned down a wedding invitation for next June. Far too risky apparently.

 

5 July - Contact us!

I resisted the temptation to go down the pub and until you can just walk in unannounced and grab a pint I don’t think I will be doing so. With luck that will be before a lady member of the quiz team I used to join every Sunday evening next takes her favourite glass of Chardonnay. In her early 40s and with no health problems she has announced that she will not be joining us again until 2022, and no that is not a typo.

The population seems to have been divided into three, the reckless on their illegal raves, the sensible middle and the paranoid.

So instead of spending time downing a pint the all too popular Contact Us form has been revised. It now has an up to date menu, sends an acknowledgment email to those who provide an address and can upload five files at a time. The email address remains optional. I think I have tested all the options; famous last words!

 

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.

 

1 July - Alright for some, but not for you

An attempt to take a short rest from the constant stream of staff complaints aimed at those whose management style allegedly creates fear and despondency in Bexley’s Finance Department comes to an end as the complaints switch to specifics.

Clearly Covid-19 has adversely affected Council finances. Unplanned extra expenditure, tax collection rate down and car parking and leisure income all reduced. The budget gap for next year is already looking to be around £20 million and only about a third of that can be saved by so called efficiency savings. Last year the Council overspent by some £3·5 million, this year things will be far worse. The Director of Finance has said that “If the government does not fully reimburse councils for their full losses, our reserves will be exhausted as we do not hold sufficient reserve balances to absorb the exposure”.

So what is the Council going to do about it? Cut Councillors’ allowances? Slash senior officers’ pay? Don’t be silly.
Pay

Note how the Director of Children's Services is listed twice for the same period at different rates of pay.
Pay increases over the previous year range up to 16%.

Much better is to make close to 10% of staff at the at the Learning and Enterprise College redundant and close all the Council run Children’s Centres, leaving the private sector to provide those services.

Only the lowest paid Council staff will be asked to foot some of the shortfall. They are going to be charged for use of the town centre car parks while working in the Civic Offices. Currently low paid staff pay either nothing or £200 a year with the top brass being asked to pay £600.

The proposal is that everyone pays £684 so that most staff will be nearly £60 a month worse off. What a way to treat people who have been called upon to dig the Council out of the current crisis.

Has Bexley Council’s management consulted with staff? No. The first they knew of it was a staff briefing just before the the proposal appeared in a Cabinet meeting Agenda.

Those who might take delight at the thought of Council staff being made to pay for parking should take the smirk off their faces. A proposal before the Cabinet is to raise car parking charges by a minimum of 20%, extend the applicable hours and remove most of the 30 minute tariffs. Doubling existing charges is not discounted. Just what the local economy needs to lift us out of Covid depression.

For good measure the basic price of the garden waste service will rise to £45 a year.

 

News and Comment July 2020

Index: 2020

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