Councillor Barrow admits to stubborn stain problem

It seems that the long running saga of Westminster City Councils attempt to keep a lid on it’s parking enforcement contract shuffle between NCP and NSL has caused a bit of stain on the Council, according to it’s leader Cllr Colin Barrow.

At a Council meeting last Monday (22-11-2010) the Councils Head of Legal and Monitoring and Democracy, Peter Large finally unveiled his take on the parking enforcement contract assignment, novation, swap, giveaway, prize draw, B.O.G.O.F (you can pick any word you like), which has recently seen a few shareholders profit, whilst motorist in Westminster are set to face more and more parking fines.

Towards the end of a meeting where most of the discussion had been a strained attempt for Councillors to try to define what Big Society actually meant, it was Mr Large’s turn to produce his report. ( Download here). His report is put into the context of a ‘Business like approach’. He admits that the Councils outsourced law firm Sharpe Pritchard had made a tiny mistake, but there were no legal implications, and the whole affair had no financial implications. So really what was all the fuss about then.

Well if things are so simple and above board why on earth did every scrap of information asked for seemingly have to be dragged from Mr Large over so many months.

To give you a brief example of the delaying tactics employed by this supposedly open and transparent civil servant here is a mini time line of a fraction of the years past events:

7 August 2009

Westminster Council was asked via a Freedom of Information request (4208 http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/nsl_services_group_novation_agre ) if a Councillor or committee signed off the novation agreement.

28 August 2009

Peter Large the Monitoring Officer wrote to the District Auditor saying that he intended to prepare & present a Report to Cabinet. ( don’t hold your breath though )

28 August 2009

Peter Large writes to the Chairman of the NTBPT saying amongst other things “The process by which the City Council entered into the Deed of Novation was, as you have suggested, flawed, and that is a matter of concern to me as the City Council’s Monitoring Officer. However, as I have said there is no doubt from a legal perspective but that the contract has been validly novated.

30 August 2009

Cllr Paul Dimoldernberg wrote to Peter Large asking what action he proposed to take with regard to the Councils solicitors Sharpe Pritchard giving the wrong advice over the NSL novation. Cllr Dimoldenberg never received a reply from Peter Large.

8 September 2009

Westminster Council had not answered FOI 4208 and in not doing so broke the law.

30 September 2009

Westminster Council were reminded again that they had still failed to provide the information requested in FOI 4208.

14th October 2009

FOI answer to 4208 “the novation agreement was not signed off by a Councillor or committee” The excuse for the delay in answering the FOI was that two Council staff had been off sick.

30 March 2010

An FOI request (5212 )was sent to Westminster Council to ask about the legitimacy under EU Regulations to Novate and to backdate the NSL novation.

30 April 2010

Westminster Council were reminded that they had failed to answer FOI request 5212 and in not doing so had broke the law again.

20 May 2010

Westminster Council’s Catherine Preston does finally reply to FOI 5212, but no explanation as to why she has taken so long, and she ducks out of answering any of the questions asked, having decided the FOI request is not a proper request.

25 June 2010

The District Auditor Michael Haworth-Maden said “The Council did not manage well or in accordance with its internal rules the transfer of the contract from NCP Limited to NCP Services Limited. The Council has acknowledged this and I understand that the Monitoring Officer (Peter Large) is intending to report the matter to the Council’s Cabinet. In the circumstances, taking into account the information currently before me, the initial legal advice I have received and the Council’s actions, to date and intended, I do not believe it would be in the public interest to use my formal powers at this time to report or apply to the courts for a declaration that there is an item of account contrary to law.”

29 July 2010

Peter Large tells Paul Dimoldernberg that now that the High Court case challenging the legality of the Motorcycle Parking Scheme has been dismissed, he intends as monitoring officer, to produce a that report on the NSL novation he told the District Auditor he’d do back in August 2009.

21 September 2010

NSL Services shareholders hit the jackpot when 3i sell the parking enforcement company to AAC Capital for £120 million. That nice shiny new multimillion pound contract from Westminster Council must have come in very handy to sweeten the deal.

22 November 2010

Peter Large as monitoring officer finally puts his report to the cabinet, saying it was for their information and he did not have anything to add to it. He also said he would try to answer any questions from the Councillors if there were any.

In Mr Large’s long awaited report paragraph 4.6  said “The remaining contract value of the Parking Enforcement Services contract was more than £1.5 million when the decision to novate was taken. Accordingly the decision to approve the novation of the contract should have been taken at member level, by the then Cabinet Member for City Management. However the matter was not reported to the Cabinet Member.”

Referring to that paragraph Cllr Dimoldenberg said “It seems that an awful lot of time, emotion and money had been invested by a lot of people on this particular point that could or may have been sorted out a long time ago if this procedural flaw had been admitted by the Council a long time ago. And all I ask is why wasn’t it?”

Peter Large said the procedural flaw was admitted a long time ago, he thought in August 2009. He went on to say “A lot of controversy has attached to the issue of the novation of this contract. But a lot of that controversy has not been about the process issue. There has been controversy about procurement issues; there has been a complaint to the police alleging fraud and a complaint to the District Auditor.”  Mr Large said all that controversy was not about the process issue, but that the controversy came about because the process flaw was admitted an early stage.

colin barrow

colin barrow

Cllr Barrow said “certainly some of the wilder allegations were most unwelcome, unhelpful and has subsequently been proved unjustified, and unfortunately the way this works is that such observations have been put into the public domain the stain remains, even though they subsequently prove to be unwarranted. So where as this matter is of concern and quite rightly been brought to our attention, the amplification of this matter is not justified. We have this report before us, and I think we would all agree that it is regrettable and we would all very much hope it would not be repeated. There we have it

But perhaps things are not over amplified, and may not be able to be brushed aside as Barrow, Large and Mike More would like. For the NTBPT campaign group only went and snitched to the European Parliament, taking all 111 pages of their complaint to Brussels ( Download complaint here ). If you only read the first few pages of the NTBPT report, it paints quite a different picture of the complicated world of parent companies and Peter Large’s ‘back to the future’ time travelling backdating novation ideas.

Angela Harvey

Angela Harvey

Poor Peter is having quite a busy month. It was at the 9th November 2010 Scrutiny Commission meeting that some lucky members of the public witnessed the delicious spectacle of Peter Large coming under the subtle yet bum squeaking inquisition of Cllr Angela Harvey.

Peter only went and admitted that he wrote a report on how Barrow and the mafia want procurement to be conducted. With fellow mafia chief whip Cllr Melvin Caplan having a say in every cabinet decision ( Download report here ).

An example of this was with Cllr Rowley’s recent announcement to spend nearly £2 million on extra parking wardens because NSL’s new contract has already failed in its promises. Sure enough our Melv is there breathing down Barrows pet Rowley neck to make sure he obeys orders. Nutsville was a little disappointed that the media picked up our post only seizing on the extra parking wardens, yet completely missing the big question as to why the public are paying for NSL to get its CCTV scamera cars to work like it says on their tins.

So with Peter Large squirming worse that a frog in a school biology class, Angela begins. First she wondered why if the Scrutiny Commission were there to discuss scrutiny of procurement, why the head of procurement wasn’t at the meeting. Head of Procurement Ali G is making a habit of being absent at uncomfortable situations. Angela went on to say “one of the major contracts we scrutinised last year was the failure by legal on the parking contract. That’s been quite a big issue, and we go out to Sharp Pritchard Solicitors. We’ve given them money to scrutinise contracts and processes and the parking contract was not properly assessed by them. We had to go through the whole re-let again. And I don’t know if mouchell are still suing us for £50M or not (ouch!). I’d like to understand how our advisors take their responsibility, they take the fees, but I don’t know what they’re doing for it, because they certainly failed on that (yeah, you go girl). Can I also make a more philosophical point about who makes decisions? I mean when I was cabinet member spending millions of pounds, I certainly made the decisions, finance didn’t. So I would like to understand a bit more of that shift, which I’m not sure has been apparent to Councillors as a whole. When one considers the work of economist John Kay on obliquity, I just feel this is just so behind the curve. This isn’t what the world out there is recognising as being the way to do stuff. If you’re driven by money then you fail, if you’re driven by vision and purpose then finance is a servant of that and not the master. I simply did not know that the Cabinet member for Finance was making all the decisions.”

A red faced Peter Large replied “I’m the author of the report, but the director of procurement was consulted on it, but I’m the person who has presented it to you, and it does have a number of legal implications.”

Angela interjected “Yes but Peter this is the Westminster Scrutiny Commission, if we’re talking about doing procurement and scrutiny of procurement I just find it curious Chairman that the Head of Procurement is not here to ask him these questions.”

By this time Peter Large had worked out how to switch his microphone on and said: “In relation to the re-let of parking enforcement we are in public session at the moment ( God forbid the public might get to see a bit of open Government), so all I’d say about that publicly is there was an independent report by RSM Tennon about where responsibility for the flaws in that procurement process lay. Which didn’t lay the blame at the door of Sharp Pritchard, at least exclusively. What the report said was that a whole range of people were at fault. Nevertheless you make the point about external advisors giving advice, taking the money and not taking responsibility. We have had discussions with Sharp Pritchard around that issue which has resulted in that the fee that they were paid for that work being reduced. So there we are.”

With Large looking like a panicking rabbit caught in the headlights Angela came back with “Peter, if these are matters of confidentiality, please say so.” (did someone just giggle at the back) “But I believe the fee did not in anyway relate to the cost to the Council. Because we awarded the contract late because of the failure to properly assess that we had done the right stuff I think that cost us a couple of million by the late awarding of that contract.”

Large: “£750,000 is a figure I remember.”

Angela: “Nevertheless I’m pretty sure that their fee was not £750,000. Chairman, there was one question that Peter didn’t answer, and that was when did the approval process switch to the Cabinet Member for Finance, when was that Peter?”

Large: “Well er, it’s the leader that sets the terms of reference for Cabinet Members and that must have been following the last annual Council meeting.”

Oh dear Peter Large just ratted out his boss, lets hope Barrow doesn’t read this.

But is this a sign that some politicians are getting what the public want and expect of scrutiny and openness.

One Councillor at last Mondays Council meeting who did come out with right words for a change is Cllr Brian Connell, although we’re not ready to have his children yet, as he’s too fond of BIDs for our liking.

As part of his thoughts on the Big Society Cllr Connell said: “With regard to Freedom of Information. I’ve become an unexpected convert to this area in a sense that the genie is out of the bottle. And it’s not whether we like it or not, it’s the world we’re increasingly going to live in. For those of you who don’t follow Freedom of Information requests, there are an increasing number and they cover a huge range of things that we deliver. We don’t have to respond to them all, and one of the reasons is we don’t always have to respond, is because the information requested is already in the public domain, so we can just point people in the right direction to find the information. In my view we will know when we are heading in the right direction in this open Government section when in an increasing number of our responses back are of that nature.”

So one of the tests that we should do is how many of those incoming FOI requests we can direct to published information, at the moment it is only a tiny proportion of them. That’s what we should focus our attention on, however spurious the stuff is that we talk about, we should find a way to get it out there, and get it out there now.”

Great stuff from Cllr Connell, but not 20 minutes later Barrow was doing his ‘pesky interfering public’ stand up routine.

Although Barrow may say that “allegations were most unwelcome”, so was his motorcycle parking tax, and it still is. The stain on Barrow and his mafia members will only spread until perhaps one day it will dawn on them that this is all largely of their own making.

Barrow should take note of Cllr Connell’s words as the BBC reported yesterday that the Information Commissioners Office has been flexing the new powers by already fining two Councils for breaches of the Data Protection Act. The ICO have already put Westminster Council on its list of dodgy organisations its watching.

Today the BBC will reveal the next instalment of the questionable contract shuffling conducted down at City Hall. Then Nutsville can post another nutty instalment later today.

And here is that BBC story:

‘No wrong-doing’ council broke EU law

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4 Comments

BruceNovember 25th, 2010 at 10:32 am

WCC are experts at evading answers in FOI requests. I have already caught them lying about not having data on the number of parking spaces operated. They have taken it upon themselves to turn customer service queries and emails asking a councillors personal opinion into FOI requests merely to allow them to amalgamate my FOI’s and charge a fee! As they say, there is no fire without smoke and this smoke-screen appears to mask something akin to the Great Fire of London. Barrow fiddles whilst Westminster burns…

EddieNovember 26th, 2010 at 7:20 am

Homme plaideur…..homme menteur

BanditNovember 26th, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Nuts, we haven’t heard from you for a few weeks, but you’ve come back with cracker!

Colon Barrow is so pompous, he seems to consider legitimate enquiries into his Mafia clan as ‘unwelcome and unhelpful’ (yeah, I bet they bloody were!) and he now considers the amplification of such as ‘unjustified’.
He obviously considers the poor victims of Wastemonster’s self-serving policies as unworthy of his further consideration, and dismisses them with ease. Any of their shady dealings with NSL are well worthy of amplification!

I wonder if the rats are beginning to desert the sinking ship. I believe that Cllr Harvey advocated the charging of motorcycles for parking. Is she now distancing herself from the fall out of that decision by exposing and twisting the incompetent and deluded Large and his other partners in crime?
I don’t care who inflicts the torture on these clowns, but it seems as though the pack are seeing the consequences of trying to rip-off motorcyclists, and don’t want to be exposed when the whirlwind is reaped.

Is Large the fall guy for Ali G?
Will Rowley follow in the footsteps of his predecessor as Sacrificial Lamb of the Barking Department?
Will Colon ever be rid of those embarrasing stains?
What will ‘Silly Statement’ Rowley say to media next?
Will Frixos get the pies before Giant Pickles comes to Victoria Street?

Read Nutsville for the next thrilling instalment of ‘A Council in Crisis’.

ChalkyNovember 26th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

The constant evasive tactics used by WCC to avoid answering straightforward questions/FOIs can often tell as much as the replies. What it tells me is that these “public servants” and I use that term with mirth, are up to no good.
Rowley, dictating terms for a meeting with a NTBPT campaigner, refusing the interview if any visual or audio recordings are used. I believe that the term used by WCC over objections to their extensive borough wide CCTV surveillance is, “it’s for our own protection” and “if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear”! The arrogance shown so far by these councillors has been nothing short of astounding, almost as if it is some kind of big game. Well it’s not a game, it is a serious business with serious amounts of PUBLIC money involved and therein I believe is where the smell starts? So Mr. Rowley, what is it you are hiding? What is it you fear?
The worm is turning and this worm looks like it’s going to be very big and very fat!!!!

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