Monday, 28 March 2016

Anyone but a fool, or: is that really what you want? Barnet Tory cuts, as the Open Library shuts ...

Mrs Angry tries very hard not to attend council meetings, if at all possible, very often, unless it is absolutely necessary, having run out of patience with what passes for the democratic process, in Broken Barnet: but sometimes turning up to the Town Hall is unavoidable, and last week's library committee was one of those unmissable events.

Wandering into the meeting room, it was immediately clear that something was wrong. 

Something was very wrong. 

As is usual these days, the public gallery was already graced with the presence of a number of senior officers from Capita, staking out the territory, but ... gone was the habitual, self evident sense of complacency and indifference that exudes from these people. No jokes, no eye contact, with Mrs Angry: they sat sulking in their places, silently, and, oh dear: thin lipped, and uncommunicative. 

Hmm. Well, the room was soon packed with members of the public, many of whom had attended the lobby outside the Town Hall, to show their fury at the library plans about to be 'debated' in the meeting.

Mrs Angry sat down at the front, checked through her papers, and then, feeling rather dehydrated, looked about, as usual, for the water dispenser. There wasn't one. 

There wasn't one at the last meeting, either. Odd. 

Well, then. The explanation for this, apparently, is that Capita has withdrawn the provision of water to members of the public, at meetings - to cut costs. No, really. 

It seems the endless payment of millions of pounds each month to Capita is not enough to cover the £6 cost of the water dispenser that has always been available at all meetings. 

Councillors and senior officers have lovely glass pitchers of water, on their table, but the residents of Broken Barnet, who pay for everything in the room, on the table, and rather a lot besides,, may not even have this basic provision. 

And in its small way, this gesture perfectly expresses the state of things here, in Broken Barnet: the grip that Capita has over the borough, the extraction of every last penny of profit from any opportunity: and the extent of indifference, bordering on contempt, for the residents who are paying the price of this contractual bondage. 

Water, water, everywhere, friends, but not a drop to drink, except for the senior officers of Broken Barnet, and a few councillors.

Funnily enough, although Capita now have their sweaty palms on just about every council service going, in Broken Barnet, they have  become awfully modest about their involvement here. In fact, the relationship with Capita has become the love that must not be named. The Barnet Vice, that dark, secret love between outsourcerer and the outsourced, the dominant partner, and the submissive one, is such to which no overt reference may be made. 

It was noticeable in the meeting that officers preferred to speak coyly of CSG, or the council, or other contractors like Vubis, or Infor, but sshh, nobody wanted to utter the name of ... Capita. 

Back to Library Cutter in Chief, Cllr Reuben Thompstone, who was still sporting a (non hipster) little twirly moustache, and that customary demeanour of his which inevitably reminds Mrs Angry of, well: a stuffed owl. 

Cllr Reuben Thompstone

And. He. Was. Speaking. In. Very. Clipped. Antipodean. Tones, As. Usual; chairing the meeting, attended by a cohort of supine Tory councillors, who barely spoke, and more or less refused to engage with members of the public who came to question the committee. 

Thompstone laid down his vision as to how the meeting was going to progress. There were 191 written public questions (the impertinence, but, look, only ten from Mrs Angry, ok?) and several people wanting to speak. Including Mrs Angry. We were given stern warnings about how this would be regulated. Mrs Angry was awfully scared.

First up: Barbara Jacobson, who hoped that all councillors had, like her, read all 600 pages of the report. She asked that every councillor present, who should have done this, to demonstrate their understanding of the implications of the contents by asking at least two intelligent questions. Intelligent questions? From a Tory councillor?

The Tory councillors looked at her as if she were deranged. Read all of the report? What on earth for? No need. Their decisions, after all, had already been written for them, hadn't they? Oh: no - no, Mrs Angry, not so - they stated at the meeting that they had not been whipped, and of course we believed them.

In truth, their craven silence, and uncomfortable shifting in their seats, throughout the meeting, might have given the impression that they had indeed had been subject to firm discipline, and that thought gave Mrs Angry a fleeting moment of unwholesome pleasure, until she woke up from her reverie, and remembered that there may really be no need to threaten a Tory councillor with punishment, as they are so institutionalised, they will do as they are told without any persuasion, or flick of the whip.

Still, it's a happy thought, isn't it readers?

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet ...

Resident and campaigner Keith Martin tried to punish them in another way now, with his rendition of a song: not by the Velvet Underground, but from the rather more decorous 'Iolanthe', specifically the following lines:

When in that House M.P.'s divide, 
If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too, 
They’ve got to leave that brain outside, 

And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to.

Wasted on them, Keith, muttered Mrs Angry, with a sigh, as he began his recital. 

Tory members preparing for Full Council, in Broken Barnet, as imagined by Gilbert O'Sullivan

Our culture averse Tories, sadly, none of whom show any signs of owning a brain, with or without a cerebellum, wouldn't know the difference between Gilbert & Sullivan, Gilbert O'Sullivan, and/or Gilbert & George.

Councilllor Dan Thomas, who labours, if that is the appropriate term, under the grave misapprehension that the voters of Broken Barnet, longing for the good old days when his pal Brian Coleman was the Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, will rush to the ballot box in May and vote for him, rather than Andrew Dismore, sat upright throughout most of the proceedings, like a waxwork, unblinking, rigid with fear that he might accidentally say something memorable, which Mrs Angry would hear, and write down in her notebook. Shame. No need to worry, John Thomas: nothing identifiable as an intelligible comment issued forth, according to the notes taken.

Resident Maria Nash, who uses a wheelchair, came to the table now, and attempted to explain to the committee the terrible impact on her, and all other disabled users, if they impose the so called 'technology enabled library' system on our service. 

'Technology Enabled Library', or TEO, also refers to 'Tory Emasculated (Non) Library': a building with a few books in, that used to be a library, but now runs with no members of staff present - at all. At least until falling attendance gives the council the chance to shut it completely, and sell off the freehold.

The model that Barnet wants to use is 'Open+™', run by a company called Bibliotheca. (Not sure why they have put my initials on the copyright, although obviously the fees will be very welcome). 

What is open about the open library, Mrs Angry, you may be asking? 

Erm, well: not much.

In fact these 'libraries' are 'open', only in the sense of being ... well, you know .... 'shut'.

Shut to every adult without a pin number to operate the doors, or in need of assistance to gain access, and shut to every child. Every child, under 15. 

Or: open in the sense too of 'Paris, Open City': giving up all opposition to an invading enemy, and letting them enter, in the hope of limiting casualties, in the war against public services.

You must let yourself in to the unstaffed library, through electronically operated doors, and a pin number. 

You must rely for your security on a CCTV camera. 

You must answer your own questions, at the unstaffed counter. 

And if you need to use the loo, hard luck. There won't be one. 

Oh dear: this may well lead to the sort of 'unpleasantness' on the carpet that so horrifies Cllr Helena Hart, but there you, go: serves her right.

Maria patiently pointed out the effect all this would have on those with physical or learning disabilities - or both. 

Physical access will be difficult for anyone with such needs, and once in the library, without staff present, many learning disabled residents, perhaps with autism, or similar difficulties, will struggle to use the facilities provided - such as they will be, in the new Tory library era.

Mrs Angry's turn to speak. Of course Cllr Thompstone, whenever Mrs Angry addresses a committee in such circumstances, sits there bristling with impatience, looking forward to interrupting her, and hoping to try to cut her off as soon as possible, but unluckily for him this time, Mrs Angry made sure her most aggravating points were ticked off early on, and the speech timed to end before the standard Thompstonian measurement of freedom of expression (ie so grudging as to be barely calculable) ran out.

Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly obvious that the policies of Barnet Council are driven not by our elected representatives, in the course of an open democratic process, but by an unaccountable administration led by senior officers, and the legions of private consultants and agencies whose fees you so happily endorse, whilst lecturing us on the need for ‘austerity’, and endless cuts in local services.

Anyone but a fool now sees that the massive range of outsourcing of the One Barnet programme was a costly mistake, meant to bring savings, but leeching away millions of pounds in extra charges.

You were so easily persuaded there was no other choice but to become a commissioning council, and an in house option for the One Barnet process unthinkable, because we needed an upfront £16 million investment in IT from Capita.

You then discovered that we, the taxpayers of Barnet, would have to give Capita £16 million for IT. 

Here we are, three years into the contractual agreement with Capita, and in the middle of a catastrophic systems crash which has brought our library service to its knees, and lost more than two years’ worth of data. There appears to be no sign of any independent investigation of this, which is grossly irresponsible.

The IT crash has of course shut down your ‘open’ library pilot, and exposed the disastrous level of risk to all Capita run systems which such a cockeyed scheme would present. 

Some questions:

Why was the open library pilot scheme risk assessment not put before you last year, when you were first considering the options for consultation? 

Why are you yet again sanctioning a huge expenditure of capital on implementing your officers’ plans, in the pretext of making ‘savings’?

Why did reports put before this council continue to assert, despite repeated denial, that unstaffed libraries are the ‘standard approach’ in ‘Scandinavia’? 

The reply to my question today proves that this is a latterday Nordic myth, unsubstantiated by evidence, created by those with interests in selling this system to a rightfully sceptical market. 

The truth is that unstaffed libraries have never been used in any context comparable to that proposed by your officers. 

For good reason.

You are determined to replace library staff with volunteers, tell residents to look after their own parks, and vulnerable people to beg charities to provide them with meals on wheels, rather than the council. 

You’ve handed over control of council services to a private contractor, sat back with your feet up, and effectively made yourselves redundant.

Yet rather than take a cut in your own allowances, and volunteer your own services, you continue to rake in incomes, from us, the residents you represent - for what exactly? 

To rubber stamp the decisions made by officers and consultants, based on recommendations whose evidence passes without challenge, or proper scrutiny? 

You seem blissfully unaware of the political damage you are doing to the (admittedly minimal) chance of electing Cllr Thomas and Zac Goldsmith in May, and naturally I don’t give a damn about that, although you should.

But if you have any sense, or conscience, you need to stop here, now, each of you, and think very carefully: what is my duty to the residents of this borough? 

And who is in charge of Barnet, you, or the officers you employ, on our behalf? 

And if you have any concerns at all, you have only one option: throw out these recommendations, and act in the interests of the people of Barnet, and not the interests of private profit, or the secret agenda of your own senior management team: leave our libraries alone …  or live with the consequences.

Applause from a mirthful, public gallery, packed out to the back of the room, but - not one question from a councillor.

It was a waste of time, of course, to try to appeal to a Tory member, and his or her sense of duty to the residents they allegedly represent. Their first loyalty: their only loyalty, is to themselves, and their group.

Next up was the best speech of all, from eleven year old Heval, who attends Fortismere school, in East Finchley. He sat at the committee table with his mum, and tried to explain to the dull witted Tories why libraries are so vital for the well being of school children and young students. He has been taking his seven year old sister to the library: if the Tory plans are approved, he and his sister will both be barred from the unstaffed libraries. We won't be able to go and get books to read, he said. 

Is that really what you want, I ask?

They stared at him, across the table.

The Chair, Reuben Thompstone, having been too scared to ask any sensible questions of the adult speakers, now decided to pick on an eleven year old boy. 

He observed that Heval attended Fortismere. They had a school library, had they not?

Yes, said Heval. Which now has reduced hours too.


(Note to Reuben Thompstone. Don't try to patronise the children of Broken Barnet, son: and never ask a question, in committee, as in court, to which you do not already know the answer to be supportive to your own agenda ...)

Public questions next: you can see the written responses here: and unfortunately for the Tory councillors and their senior officers, there was time for some supplementary questions based on some of the very interesting information that had been provided, or, in the tradition of Broken Barnet, not provided, but forming a telling negative shape, and the faintest hint of a dog in the night that did not bark - or a failing library system that (apparently) did not alert those tasked with maintaining the IT management ...

Mrs Angry's questions were on two subjects, which are of course inextricably linked: in regard to the 'open', unstaffed library model, and the calamitous, library IT crash, under the management of Capita, an event which has, in one fell swoop, shut down the pilot 'open' scheme, as well as lost two years worth of data.

The library plan now under consideration is based on many assumptions - unproven assumptions - and in some cases: false assumptions. 

One of the latter category is this: an enthusiastic support for the unstaffed library model, based on a claim, repeated in the earlier reports that went to councillors, that it is the 'standard approach' for libraries in Scandinavia.

Mrs Angry has always been suspicious of this assertion, and has recently conducted her own research into the subject, aided by contacts in the library profession, before asking the Barnet officers who present the reports to the library committee to provide evidence of this claim. (Note to Reuben Thompstone: this is how to ask questions, see? Do your homework.

They could not provide such evidence, as you will read.

There is no evidence of a 'standard approach' of this sort, in 'Scandinavia', as of course - there is no such thing.

In the latest version of reports to committee, it is now stated, Appendix F, 'Context':

Whilst use of the system is relatively new in the UK, Open+™ has been widely adopted throughout Scandinavia to extend library opening hours beyond those that can be staffed.

Widely adopted? 

And look: here is the response to Mrs Angry's question, demanding evidence: letting the cat out of the bag. The background information on 'open libraries' was provided, as as Mrs Angry had already worked out, by a company wanting to seal the deal, ie Bibliotheca.

And the claims in the reports going to members, written by senior officers in a flight of fantasy based on that information, are as firmly based on reality ... as any Nordic myth. Less so, possibly. More of a Nordic Noir work of fiction, in fact. Fact? Let's see what Barnet/Capita's spin is: 

According to Bibliotheca ... 'the company has installed 205 open+ libraries in Scandinavia'.

Denmark has around 180 'open libraries'. 125 supplied by Bibliotheca.

Sweden, according to Barnet, has 41 public libraries. (presumably they mean with 'open technology').

Finland: 25 public libraries.

Norway: 14 libraries. 

Hmm. Well, are you only relying on one company's information? Are there any others? Hard to identify, if so.

Now let's look at Mrs Angry's evidence.

Denmark has some 'technology enabled libraries' in what even Bibliotheca admits are largely 'remote and rural communities'. Got that, Tory councillors? Of course Denmark also has a completely different culture, and a notably low crime rate. 

And it seems that the reason for the deployment of these 'technology enabled' village branches is largely related to the concerns that Danish politicians have about the depopulation of such isolated communities. 

Danish libraries, however, also have experimented with what is known as 'staff intensive' libraries: the absolute reverse of the TEOs deployed in remote areas. This was a very interesting programme, which saw an increase in library membership. 

And recently a Danish librarians' representative pointed out in a statement to library staff in Barnet that any use of 'open' libraries in their country was only as an enhancement of a well resourced service, NOT a replacement.

Sweden: again, as in all of Scandinavia, here we have a rural context absolutely not comparable to a highly populated metropolitan area of London. 

Sweden has a total of  1300 public libraries. Bibliotheca, according to Barnet's officers, although the requested evidence was not supplied, claims to have only 41 - a very small number. So when Councillor Reuben Thompstone told the press last year that 'open libraries' were being successfully used in Sweden, he might perhaps have been more 'open' himself, and added 'on a small scale, and in an utterly different context ...'

Norway? Odd: the response from Barnet says there are 14. No evidence or details. Mrs Angry believes there are 800 libraries in the country as a whole. We may note the response markedly does not use the term 'public' here, so one might guess these are perhaps university libraries, or similar?

Oh, and Finland: 

Finland? According to Barnet, Bibliotheca claims there are 25 'open' branches here. No evidence or details were provided, and Mrs Angry could only find references to three small 'open' libraries.

The total number of public libraries in Finland is 898, so, again: a minimal number. Probably because the public library system in Finland holds a place of great significance in that country's culture: with very high rates of use, and excellent standards of service, which undoubtedly is directly connected to the fact that Finland has the second highest literacy rates in the world (the UK is only 44th, in the same list) ... 

Where public library use is encouraged, supported, and properly funded and staffed, literacy thrives.

In a carefully worded departure to the claims made in the previous reports -(repeated despite contradiction from campaigners) - it was admitted in the papers put to this committee that the 'open' model is only 'a feature' of libraries in 'Scandinavia'. 

As Mrs Angry pointed out, a feature of a library might be anything, from the installation of Swedish pine shelving, to a lovely rug from IKEA: hardly the same as implying unstaffed libraries have been used as a 'standard approach' throughout the entire Nordic area, is it?

Another feature of Scandinavian libraries, apparently - (or what turns up if you foolishly google 'Swedish Librarian' ...)

Mrs Angry asked the senior officer present to explain the repeated use of inaccurate information previously put before councillors tasked with making a decision of such immense significance. She would not, or could not, give a response. 

There is a very worrying trend in Barnet now of information that is inaccurate, or incomplete, being put before elected members, or not put before councillors, when making decisions, or even making decisions instead of the elected members. The presentation of inaccurate information may not be deliberate, but it is certainly misleading.

Consider the example of the Abbotts Depot issue, when information on the purchase price was withheld from members; the failure to brief councillors on Capita's 'Project Chicago'; and of course the very interesting matter, mentioned earlier, of the £16 million 'upfront' capital investment, that members thought was coming from, rather than to, Capita. Oh, and remember the decision made by senior management to change the model of one of the massive Capita contracts to a Joint Venture, without consulting the Tory leader?

We have now seen that the entire basis on which the unstaffed library model was promoted is false. There has been no comparable use of unstaffed libraries in any metropolitan context similar to Barnet, on anything like the scale and scope of this mad proposal. 

To launch a scheme of this sort knowing so little of the true level of risk is grossly irresponsible.

To proceed with the launch of a scheme of this sort in circumstances such as we have now in Barnet, in a library service brought to the point of breakdown by such a serious systems fail, is lunacy.

It was admitted at the CELS committee meeting that the full impact of the IT crash, in terms of the implications of level of risk to the unstaffed model, had not yet been properly assessed. 

Only in Tory Barnet would councillors hear this, and still approve the deployment of this idiotic idea. 

From right, Tory members Helena Hart, Alison Cornelius, Dan Thomas, and Bridget Perry

And although they kept as quiet as possible, then passed the buck and referred the vote to Full Council, they did so knowing that the group as a whole will do as they are told and pass the proposals, avoiding personal responsibility in favour of a collective guilt, which they hope will be forgotten by their residents.

One thing Mrs Angry can promise you, Councillors, is this - they won't forget, and we will remind residents at every opportunity of what you have done, and failed to do, in response to the planned destruction of our library service.

As for the other issue, the IT crash: well, what an interesting story lies beneath this one ...

Early on in the meeting, Mr John Hooton, currently Barnet's Chief Operating Officer, and Director of Finance, sat at the table and in a demonstration of masterly understatement, observed that the library system's backups were 'not as robust as they could have been ...'

Yep. That is certainly true.

And whose fault was that?

Also sitting at the table, readers, was a nice, fresh faced young man, looking rather like one of those clean cut Mormon missionaries who knock on your door, keen to invite you to join them in prayer. Who was he? 

Oh: the new head of IT for Capita/Barnet? 

New? Yes. He told Mrs Angry in the corridor, when she trapped him by the gents, and he had no option but to say something, anything, in order to escape, that he had only been in the job for about three weeks.

Oh again. Mrs Angry tried to think of anything significant that had happened, about three weeks ago, that might have coincided with his arrival in Broken Barnet, but could only call to mind the library IT fail, which of course could have no connection at all. Could it?

Anyway, the line from officers at the table was - oh, the library thing? Meh. Old system, you know, bound to happen. Nothing to do with us. And they were 'very confident' that the system (or 'a' system) would be back up, after a month, on April Fool's Day. Most appropriate.

The irreplaceable data from the last two years appears to have disappeared without trace, but, you know ... these things happen, and anyway, it must have been someone else's fault.

Erm: you sure about that?

We pay you to monitor the system, and ensure that the proper backups were in place. Don't we? Can you prove you did this? Come on: let's see the evidence, then.

What's that? You think the proof is lost in the corruption of two years worth of data? Goodness me, how unfortunate.

One of Mrs Angry's readers has made the following observations in regard to the IT fail:

"Capita, as I understand it, are basically being paid to host the service,  for which the costs are: housing and powering the machines it runs on, and the admin surrounding managing it, i.e.

  • performing backups
  • monitoring disk and memory usage to make sure it’s all within limits
  • detecting and responding to alerts or anomalies

They have failed spectacularly in these admin tasks, begging the question what exactly are they are being paid for?"

A reasonable question, you might think: as is another point he makes:

"If the changes performed on the system had such disastrous consequences, why were they not first trialled in a pre-production environment?"

One would hope that the Labour leadership, if not the dopey Tory group, would push for these and other fundamental questions to be answered, in a 'robust' and independent investigation. 

Over to you, then, councillors. No, Mrs Angry isn't holding her breath.

Still, there was some good news, in the light of the crash. The new IT head let slip that, in view of the IT 'problem' for which they appear to be responsible anyway, Capita had graciously updated Barnet to 'Platinum Level' security.

You what? 

You can imagine the chortling in the public gallery, and the bemused expressions of the Tory councillors, and the strained look on the face of Mr Hooton, as it was explained that (Capita, sshh) ran a multi-tiered level of response to such crises: Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. 

What level were we on before, at the time of the IT crash? Base metal of some sort, it would seem. But in the process of some sort of outsourced alchemy, the wizards at Capita have now successfully transmuted a handful of secret elements, wrapped up in the commercially sensitive papers of the 8,000 page contract into, no, not precious gold, but the purest Platinum.

It is clear is that Capita do not intend to shoulder the blame for what has happened.

But apart from the implications for the library proposals, lost in this mess somewhere is the question of costs, and penalties. 

Will Capita be allowed to escape without penalty, if they deny full responsibility for this crash? 

Who will pay for the upgrade in IT systems, lost revenue, and for the replacement of any stock that may go missing during this period, and the cost of replicating, or trying to, the data lost, a process we are told will take up to six months?

Even if Capita accepts some of the burden, will that ultimately be raked back from us, the residents of Broken Barnet?

What are the implications for the management of other systems? What would happen if say, the council tax collection system failed? Or social care data irretrievably corrupted?

Is there going to be an independent, forensic investigation of the cause of the crash, or are our Tory councillors, as usual, going to accept the word of officers, and do nothing?

It's been a particularly bad week for Capita, in Barnet. 

Not just the library thing - a story in the local Times highlighting the conflict of interest evident in this company running the planning department, and at the same time assisting would be developers with their applications, alleging that:

'The firm’s architects sit just yards away from colleagues who rubber-stamp the decisions'. 

You can see for yourself exactly how much of a problem there might be in dealing with the extent of such potential risks, if you cast your eye over this Capita Conflicts of Interest Register from 2015 ...

Barnet claims that there are 'walls' in place to ensure probity throughout the process of planning applications. Whether you find that assurance convincing ... is up to you.

When making the three minute speech, and stating that the Tories knew now that the Capita contracts were a costly mistake, Mrs Angry was acutely aware of the lack of any sense of denial emanating from the Conservative end of the table. 

They know they've been had, but now the problem is that they think they cannot admit it, because of the political damage that would be done. 

What they fail to see is the political and financial disaster that will ensue if they fail to act now, to hold Capita to account, and allow them to continue, unchecked, screwing every penny out of us as our services are outsourced into a state of terminal decline, and fall. 

Sanctioning the approval of the library plans, in the aftermath of the IT crash, at this stage, with no full assessment of the implications, would be utter folly, and grossly irresponsible - irrational, even, and laying them open to legal challenge.

It will also, from a political view, be high risk, from the point of view of Tory aspirations in the May elections, as the impact of the library cuts - and the dramatic failure of the library IT system - will be fresh on the minds of voters. 

If the Tories had any sense at all, they would seize the opportunity, and use the pretext of the IT crash to stall the adoption of the proposals. 

They might even use the penalties they should impose on Capita, in the light of any proof of responsibility for the crash, to avoid the proposed changes, and win back some support from the electorate. 

The alternative will be, whatever spin they put on it, the virtual destruction of our library system, and the removal of the right to access to libraries, and information, and professional support, from the least advantaged children and the most vulnerable residents of this borough.

So if you are a Tory councillor, and you are reading this, please stop and think. As young Heval asked you last week: 

Is that really what you want?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Too Much Information? Capita's IT crash continues ...

Capita's IT crash: don't panic, all is in hand. No: actually, do. It's not.

In the post published ten days ago, Mrs Angry told you all about the massive IT failure that was affecting Barnet Libraries: the failure of a system that is supposed to be managed by Capita, as part of our ten year contractual agreement. A failure that still has the library service in a state of virtual paralysis, and will continue to do so until next month, at the earliest. 

In truth, even if the system, or what is left of it, or perhaps a new system, is in place soon, the council now admits it will take as long as six months to recover from the damage done, or as they put it 'to fully populate the gaps in the data' - a typically fatuous Barnet corporate phrase meaning, if you need Mrs Angry to translate: 

'to try to recreate all the data - such as membership details, details of book stock, all issues and returns of stock, all catalogue entries, or any other transaction - which may have been lost in the two year period during which Capita have been charged with the responsibility for the upkeep of the library management system'.

An enormous task, as you might imagine. Especially if it will have to be undertaken just after Barnet Council has sacked 46% of library staff.

The timing of this system crash is hugely significant, coming as it does just before two important meetings, at which our Tory councillors were expected to approve the catastrophic round of cuts which will reduce our library service virtually to one in name only, with a loss of half of all staff jobs, disguised, they would have us believe, by the adoption of a pioneering use of 'open' or unstaffed libraries.

Since the crash, the pilot scheme at Edgware library has of course been out of action. So there are huge implications in terms of new levels of risk for a borough wide use of what the council coyly refers to as 'technology enabled libraries', TEO libraries that have NO members of staff on the premises, and must be unlocked by members of the public with a pin number.

On Wednesday this week there is a crucial meeting of the CELS committee: the Children, Education and Libraries committee, at which the devastating Tory library cuts, which include the pioneering use of highly controversial unstaffed libraries, are put before members for approval. It is likely that this decision is referred to the next Full Council, but ... who knows?

The reports for the CELS meeting were published- rather late - last week; 600 pages with little change from the terrible 'options' that went out for nonsultation with the few members of the public who knew about it. 

Small concessions, probably from fear of legal challenge, on the unstaffed libraries, mean that CCTV will now be live, rather than recorded, which will be of great comfort to you if you are mugged or assaulted in an empty library - unless of course your assailant has the presence of mind to launch their attack out of camera shot, behind the shelves. 

We are told that there will be times when the live CCTV will not be available, so security guards, at enormous cost will be provided, as they were in the pilot scheme, thus making it not a pilot scheme for what was planned, that is to say unstaffed libraries without any security guards. 

The fact that the council is willing to spend money on security rather than library staff, and in contradiction of the pretence of imposing this regime in order to make savings, is very interesting, is it not? But then the supposedly cash strapped council is happy as usual to splurge money on the ideological obsession with outsourcing, and the rejection of responsibility for providing council services, by throwing £6 million of our taxes on the alterations that their library plans will require. To save £2 million. Another example of 'easynomics'.

The only other real concession is that - big deal - rather than all children under the age of 16 being banned from these libraries, hello: now it will be all children under the age of 15.

Now do try children, to read as many books as you can, won't you, before those beastly Tory councillors shut the doors and ban you from the new 'open' libraries ... ?

Despite protests about the impact on elderly, pregnant or disabled users, public toilets in libraries will still not be available in unstaffed libraries.

The report going to CELS was published incomplete, with a missing Appendix L. 

That was a serious omission, of course, as Appendix L addresses the Capita library system failure, a development which puts the rest of the report, and the hugely significant decision under discussion, into question.

Only after complaints from library campaigners came the late publication of the appendix, and an agreement that the deadline for public questions would be extended. Without flagging it up, the council changed the time of the deadline, and then tried to block Mrs Angry's probing questions, funnily enough: even though the time of deadline is expressly defined in the council's constitution. 

Update: having pointed out that a refusal of Mrs Angry's questions would be in breach of the constitution, the council has now backed down and graciously 'allowed' her questions.

Hmm, well: on reading the contents of the withheld appendix, it is not difficult to see why the council was so reluctant to put it in the public domain: do read on - Mrs Angry's observations in red:

Issues arising from the failure of the library management system

Cause of the problem

1. On the 3rd March, the Vubis library management system failed, and has been
unavailable since. Emergency backup systems are in place for critical library
functions (issue & return of books) and use of self-service kiosks. Wifi
services and access to public PCs, printers and other equipment have since
been restored.

Note the pointing of the finger at Vubis, rather than Capita ... the emergency backups are strictly limited in scope, revenue is being lost because the data that generates the records of fines etc is inaccessible, and possibly irretrievable,  and no: use of adult PCs has been restored, but not for children.

2. The incident occurred due to a combination of server and system errors. On
2nd March, Infor (the third party support provider for the Vubis application), 

(as far as Mrs Angry understands it, Vubis and Infor are the same thing ...)

... reported to LBB Libraries that the library system was running out of space on
the server. Customer Support Group (CSG) (Capita) responded to provide additional
physical storage. At this time, it was unknown that back-ups for the system
had been failing since the end of December 2015 (unrelated to the storage

Why was it 'unknown'? How could they not have been aware, if they were properly monitoring the system?

The automated messages from Vubis alerting a nominated user of back-up failures were not being received. 

Why not?

Investigations to understand why these were not received are hampered due to the corrupted database.

Gosh, that is an unfortunate coincidence: but then ... how do you know the automated messages were not being received?

Consequently, the back-up failed again, causing the system to crash and corrupt.

What do you mean, 'again'? Didn't you spot it the first time?

3. When the server was rebooted, it began to corrupt the data on the system.

Why did you reboot, without checking that a consequence could be data corruption?

Whilst local backup processes were put in place these were backups to the
local machine which also corrupted. The root cause analysis (RCA) has been
concluded to be as follows:

Thought you just said investigations are hampered by ... 'corruption'? 

So how can you carry out a root cause analysis?

4. A number of disk drives on the server displayed hardware failures. These
were replaced and the system was left overnight to rebuild. 

Why was the system 'left' to rebuild. Who was responsible for overseeing this process?

This is a standard system administrative function to resolve a failed disk. 

Why risk more than one disk at a time?

Subsequently the server crashed around 03.54 on 3 March and it is believed that the database files on Vubis became corrupted as a result of, or during, the subsequent required reboots.

'It is believed'. So you really don't know.

5. A local backup process was put in place where data was backed up daily to
the Vubis server as part of the system functionality. According to an
investigation from the application support provider (Infor) these local back-ups
had started failing from 26 December 2015. System alerts were not received
reporting this failure. 

Here we have the crux of the matter. When did the local backup process start, and why did Capita not ensure they were working effectively? If such a system was in place, failures from 26th December would have been evident. 

Investigations to understand why these were not received are hampered due to the corrupted database.

How convenient.

6. The pilot technology enabled opening (TEO) at Edgware library is unavailable
as the entry system user verification feature requires a check between the
card, the PIN and the Vubis database.

Which demonstrates even more clearly how irresponsible it would be to adopt the TEO ie unstaffed library system, which utterly depends on a reliable IT systems provider.

7. A non-corrupted tape back-up from March 2014 is available – this is the last
date a tape back-up was carried out as the server was changed to digital backups
only following this date.

So are you saying everything since March 2014 has been lost? All the data? Why was the server change to digital backups at that time, with no system of checking the efficiency of backups in place?

8. Work is underway with the 3rd party support provider, Infor, to recover data from the corrupted system with the target date for completion by 31st March 2016. The agreed approach is to add this recovered data to the restored 2014 back-up and supplement with data held from adjoining systems and manual records where available.

Which implies all data from 2014 was lost: a catastrophic occurrence, and apparently unprecedented in library system management.

9. The Vubis system consists of different data types such as book, barcode,
borrower and transaction data which are in various conditions for recovery.
However, borrower data is recoverable, as is some of book information.

Some book information is recoverable: how much? Anything at all from the last two years? Fairly crucial information, for a library service, much of whose stock will have been processed in that period.

Populating the data gaps, old style. (One for the ladies of Broken Barnet ...)

The effects of the problem

10.Customers can borrow and return books in libraries. 

True. It's just you don't know which 'customers' - (which is an odd term to use for a service which by law is unable to charge anyone) - which 'customers' have borrowed or returned books acquired in the last two years, as those books presumably do not exist, now that the system has crashed ...

Wifi in libraries has been restored. However, renewals are not currently possible due to inadequate transaction data in the system, and fines are currently being waived. 

No: fines are not being 'waived'. They cannot be calculated, as the system, must we say it again, may have forgotten those books were issued, and in many cases, it would seem, that the books exist at all.

The current library catalogue is unavailable. PC access for Adults is available, but
not for children as there is no way of validating parental consent via an online

Not what you say above. Anyway: the children of Broken Barnet might as well get used to being denied access to PCs, as when your cuts are in place, they won't be allowed into any unstaffed libraries, and may not be able to get to any library at all.

Manual workarounds continue to be investigated and implemented.

Marvellous. How amusing that we pay untold millions of pounds a year to the market leader in IT provision, only for them to take us back to the dark ages, pre-technology. We look forward to the reintroduction of Browne Issue cardboard tickets, though sadly without the horn-rimmed spectacle wearing lady librarians to oversee them, in an unstaffed library.

11.The extended opening hours at Edgware library are suspended as the entry
system requires a check with the Vubis database (see above).

And here we have the only demonstration necessary of why these unstaffed, virtually managed pretend 'libraries' are so dangerous: whose risks were not even presented to members until after they had passed initial approval of the idea. Removing the human element of public service may appeal to this current council administration, but it is fraught with risk - including, as we now read, the risk of incurring further costs in the event of failure.

How it will be resolved

12.We have recovered all of the information that is possible to recover from the
system that is not corrupted. 

How much is that then? The corrupted bit? Will you be able to recover, say, everything except the part that explains why no one apparently realised the system was failing?

Infor and the CSG teams are working together to make the system available again by the target date of 31st March 2016. A workaround has been created with the TEO supplier to break the link with the library system while the latter is repaired. Available IT services inside the TEO library will match that of staffed libraries during the unavailability of Vubis. This means that the library catalogue, renewal of books, reservations, some ebooks and e-audio books, and access to PCs for children and teenagers (due to parental consent being stored within Vubis) are unavailable at present. Manual workarounds continue to be investigated and implemented and notified to users as they become available.

Hmm. Manual workarounds only work, don't they, if you have staff to operate them

13.Once the Library Management System (Vubis) is restored, it is estimated that it
will take the libraries service 3-6 months to fully populate the gaps in the data.
In the meantime, libraries will be open and services will be restored as the data
gaps are populated. The extended opening hours at Edgware will be able to be
available during this process (see below).

'To fully populate the gaps' ... mangled corporate claptrap as usual obscuring the truth: you can't 'populate' a loss like this, only (cover it up and) start again.

14.TEO requires names and PIN numbers to be able to operate. Verification
between the door entry panel and the library management system is not
available as the latter has failed. Entry into the building using TEO is therefore
not currently possible.

Yes: we know. Technology Enabled has become Technology Well and Truly F*cked, and a perfect metaphor for the process of outsourcing.

15.Names have been recovered but PIN information is irrecoverable. PINs will
need to be reissued. A step by step process to re-establishing the service,
based on the time required to communicate to all registered users of the TEO
service, has been created. Registered TEO users will be notified of the new
PIN by the 1st April, ready for the target date for re-opening of the TEO hours
of the 1st April.

One might be forgiven for wondering how Crapita will 'communicate' with registered users whose details died in the crash and burn of the Crapita enabled management system. 

By the power of telepathy? 

Semaphore signals by CEO Mr Andrew Travers, from the roof of North London Business Park ? 

But how lovely, that the re-opening will be on April Fools Day ...

How it could be prevented from happening again

16.Since 6th March, new infrastructure has been built with increased physical
resilience in place to back up the system to a secure offsite backup service. 

Ah. Increased physical resilience. Hmm. Mrs Angry's spies have informed her that men with spanners and hopeless expressions have been seen wandering about the location of Barnet's library servers. 

Doesn't bode well, does it? 

Does anyone have a f*cking clue what they are doing?

similar issue could arise only if the server, software and secure back up service were all compromised. While not impossible, this would be an extremely unlikely scenario. 

Ho ho ho.

An extra layer of protection has been added in now having off-site back-ups. This means that the impact of any future outage would be downtime of hours rather than weeks.

You mean ... centralised to a Capita server? Are we paying more for this, by the way? And can we have our data back without any problems when the contract ends?

Contingency measures in the event of a similar incident/complete outage of database/technology

17.In the event of a future whole system data failure, a core library service at Core
and Core Plus libraries would be maintained through the deployment of
additional staff at an estimated cost of £75k per month. 

Whoa: £75K a month? Who pays?

This would be a mix of temporary agency staff and security staff with extra hours and overtime for permanent staff. It is assumed that it would take 1-3 weeks to secure the
services of, and train, additional staff.

So you suggest it is better t0 sack 46% of library staff, and then splurge our money on security and agency staff to run our library service. Beyond belief. And who pays for your cockups?

18.If the system were to fail again while customers were in a core library service at Core and Core Plus libraries, this would not affect a customer’s ability to leave the building. TEO works on entry only – to exit there is a door push button that is independent of the TEO system which would still operate. There are also push-bar emergency exists and if the alarms are activated or there is a power failure the doors default to open.

Who wants to test being stuck in a locked, unstaffed library at night, with a raging fire at your back, and an assurance that the doors will open? Perhaps we could volunteer Cllrs Reuben Thompstone, and Richard Cornelius? 

It says here, should a fire break out in your new 'technology enabled library', please use the extinguishers provided, and then run like f*ck, and hope the doors let you out ... 

19.The core library service would operate from 9 to 5 over six days at Core Plus
libraries and five days at Core libraries. The contingency plan would be
implemented in line with the following timetable:

Week 1: maintain advertised staffed and volunteer opening hours in Core Plus and Core libraries

Week 2 : offer 9-5 opening in Core Plus libraries (and maintain advertised staffed and volunteer opening hours in Core libraries) through the deployment of security guard/agency staff for hours outside of staffed/volunteer hours

Week 3: offer 9-5 opening in Core Plus and Core libraries through the
deployment of security guard/agency staff for hours outside of
staffed/volunteer hours

The extent of detailed planning here rather suggests, does it not, readers, residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet, that it is considered likely such a problem WILL happen again. 

Let's return to the section subheading: How it could be prevented from happening again

Here is Mrs Angry's suggestion, Tory councillors - and Capita has now given you the ammunition to do this:

Throw the Capita contract in the bin, stop the monstrous level of payments to private contractors, and consultants, and agency staff, and retain the in house service, with investment in libraries that would prevent further deterioration of the service, and support the increasing reliance of less advantaged residents on the resources offered by a professional library service.

This is not just about an IT failure, or one problem of one part of the massive contractual mess you have created by so easily approving the agreement in the first place. This could happen in any service, and the consequences of further data loss will be beyond repair, and hugely expensive. 

This is proof of the risk you have recklessly undertaken, with our money, and our local services. What can go wrong, will go wrong: and here we are, and yes, we told you so, and now the only thing you can do is ... call a halt, press the 'door push button', pray that it works - and get out while you can.