Barnet runs into outsourcing snags

4 Jul 11
The London Borough of Barnet’s deputy chief executive has told PF his authority will tackle the bad procurement practices highlighted embarrassingly on the day the council issued one of the largest tenders seen in local government.
By Mark Smulian | 4 July 2011

The London Borough of Barnet’s deputy chief executive has told PF his authority will tackle the bad procurement practices highlighted embarrassingly on the day the council issued one of the largest tenders seen in local government.

The north London borough invited bids on June 16 for a ten-year contract, worth up to £750m, to provide services including procurement. The tender was issued although Barnet’s audit committee heard that day of serious failings in procuring security contractor MetPro.

Andrew Travers, Barnet’s deputy chief executive and chief financial officer, told PF: ‘We are getting our day-to-day procurement sorted out as MetPro has shown problems. We have an action plan that we are rigorously seeing through.

‘The problem was lack of adherence to controls. We have a perfectly sensible set of rules but they were not being followed. There was very poor practice.’

But he said the outsourcing tender was ‘important to us in responding to the challenge of resources going off a cliff, we need to be radical in response’.

Barnet wants a single bidder, either a company or consortium, to provide its procurement, customer contact, estates, finance, HR, information systems and revenue and benefits services.

The tender notice stated: ‘The grouping of Barnet council’s support and customers’ services provides the borough with the opportunity to create a truly citizen-centric council.’

Travers said that, despite the contract’s size, he was ‘confident from our market testing that we will get a good competitive response from companies able to do it all’.

An investigation by internal auditors found that Barnet paid £1.3m to MetPro despite having no contract in place.
The auditors concluded that no procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, no written contract could be found and documentation including Criminal Records Bureau checks was missing.

‘There has been a failure to comply with the council’s policies and procedures with regards to roles and responsibilities,’ the report said. No evidence suggested that fraud had occurred, it added.

Meanwhile, a similar mass outsourcing plan has bitten the dust at Bury Metropolitan Borough Council, after Labour ousted the Tory administration last month. Bury, which must save £32.4m over the next four years, has now adopted a plan to provide services with less money. Leader Mike Connolly said: ‘The [Conservatives’] transformation strategy – or, as I call it, the privatisation charter – is dead in the water.’Spacer

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