Friday, 8 June 2012

Leaving One Barnet

come on Brian, light my fire ... uh oh: the beacon that refused to light: an ominous portent?

pic Ham & High, Polly Hancock

Hmm. So. Mrs Angry had decided to stop writing about politics. To be frank - it's a man's world, isn't it, James Brown? And Dave Hill. Let's stick to more womanly pursuits, shall we?

Clearly there is a market for such stuff. Much interest has been demonstrated, on twitter, anyway, in Mrs Angry's lemon posset recipe, for example. Well: the mistake probably was to use low fat double cream, in a half hearted health conscious drive. Wouldn't set, see? Tears by the fridge. Miss Angry stood peering at the ramekins, shaking her head at yet another conspicuous maternal domestic failure. Her brother looked sternly at his mother, and reminded her of the time, when he was a small boy, that she made him cry with disappointment over a blackberry crumble - with No Custard. And the risotto last week, which he and even the Cornish seagulls turned down. Oh: the shame.

Add it to the list: the rubbery plum jam which Mrs Angry offered to Brian Coleman for pot hole filling duties. The roasted shallots found blackened, and accusing, in the oven on the day after boxing day. The grilled plaice which ended up in the back garden in flames. * The banana cake which leaked. Oh dear, Mrs Angry.

* To be fair, the last time the Fire Brigade turned up on Mrs Angry's doorstep (yes, really) was not entirely her fault, but due to her neighbour seeing smoke rising from her roof, and forgetting that she is fond of an open fire in the winter ... They were remarkably understanding, in the circumstances, in fact. Mind you, she probably qualifies for a VIP upgrade from Finchley Fire Station, in view of her services to removing Brian Coleman from the London Fire Authority ... have a word Mark, will you, next time they call in for their fish and chips?

But anyway: inexplicably, Mrs Angry still feels well qualified to offer advice to others. Having trouble with your frittata? Did it fall on the floor after tossing? Answer: obvious, really - never try to combine cooking and sex. Are you a Labour councillor unable to make your souffle rise? A little less champagne, and more coffee, Cllr X perhaps?

No: not Mrs Angry.

Let's be honest: Mrs Angry is a terrible, truly desperate housewife. No amount of lascivious licking of spoons, Nigella style, can disguise her inadequacies in this respect, to be frank. But still, yes, she feels bound to tell other people what to do. And this is also what blogging is all about, isn't it? Is it? Or: what is it all about, actually? This is something which has been taxing Mrs Angry's brain in the last few days.

Why so, Mrs Angry, you may be asking? Well, you know, coming home to find, for example, a series of rude messages from local nutters. So rude she might be forgiven for chucking it all in and retreating a life of domestic servitude.

But then one has to consider the facts, and the timing of all this. We have just experienced a period of unprecedented humiliation for our local Tory councillors: the East Finchley by election, the Coleman GLA defeat, the Brunswick Park defeat, the Barnet Spring and all its blossoming beauty. The influence of the Barnet blogosphere has proved itself yet again to be a powerful factor in focussing opposition to the lunatic Tory administration here in Broken Barnet. This upsets not only the lunatic Tories, but other parties who feel marginalised by the new political reality of life in our borough.

A form of backlash is predictable. Who do we think we are? Are we elected representatives? How dare we claim to speak for the people of Barnet? All valid questions, and perfectly fair issues to raise.

No, we are not elected representatives. But then no one questions - or questioned - the mainstream media, when it takes on the role of scrutiny, and challenges the actions and policies of government. The orthodox media, local and national newspapers, privately owned: who do they represent? Rupert Murdoch? Sir Ray Tindle?

The so called Famous Five bloggers in Barnet represent a wide range of political views, and backgrounds. The fact that we can still present a united front on so many issues of local interest, and that we have such a huge readership, should be taken as a sign of the strength of support in this borough for the position we have adopted. We are part of a grassroots movement, a netroots movement, if you like, which is the new face of global and hyperlocal political activism. Politicians like Brian Coleman who ignore the reality of a world dominated by social media do so at their own peril: regard the consequences in his case.

Coleman has finished his one man, stand up act, but the show continues. What next on the bill, then? The main event remains on the programme, and this is where our attention must fall now. Yes, we are talking about the all singing, all dancing entertainment that is One Barnet.

While Mrs Angry was away, a very important press release landed in her email box, with details of a report being publicised by Unison which has cast its cold eye on the One Barnet programme, and carries a stark warning on the future for this borough if the Tories continue with this process: a report by APSE, the Association for Public Service Excellence, a body which has worked with more than 300 local authorities. This is what the press release tells us they have to say about Barnet:

(*Update: see below ... )

"The report warns that over the past few years those at the north London council involved in the awarding and managing of contracts to private contractors have often ignored both council guidelines and UK competition law.

Despite a poor track record when it comes to the way in which service contracts have been handled, the Conservative-controlled council seems determined to press ahead with its radical One Barnet experiment to offer all its services out to be run by private companies, says the report. UNISON believes that within a year almost three-quarters (70 per cent) of council employees could find themselves working for private contractors.

Like many local councils, Barnet has been putting various council services out to tender since the late 1980s, but what sets One Barnet apart from anything that has gone before in local government is that while others may have considered the wholesale contracting out of services, nowhere else has a council been as far advanced in its plans to do so, says the report.

Having examined the contracting out process in Barnet, the report concludes that it is difficult to have any confidence in the authority’s ability or capacity to cope with the huge challenge that the wholesale letting of contracts for council services entails.

Instead of a thorough monitoring process, Barnet intends to ask companies to guarantee they will meet certain ‘end-of-contract’ performance targets. Such a ‘hands-off’ approach to the way in which services are provided and contracts monitored could be ‘catastrophic’, says the report.

Head of UNISON for London region, Linda Perks said: “This confirms our very worst fears. The way in which council contracts have been handled in the past gives council staff and Barnet residents no confidence that the authority is up to the huge One Barnet challenge.

“If councillors and senior managers have not been able to get their contracts right up until now, it’s difficult to see how they are going to ensure quality services when every single bit of the council is being run by a multitude of companies on numerous different contracts.

“It seems inconceivable that Barnet should want to press ahead and outsource every last bit of the council, especially when the track record of involving the private sector has been so shaky. Quite apart from what it will mean for hundreds of Barnet employees, who face an uncertain future in the private sector, the borough’s council taxpayers should be very worried indeed.”

UNISON branch secretary in Barnet John Burgess said: “The council shouldn’t be allowing political dogma to take priority over value for money and the quality of services. Councillors must abandon the high risk One Barnet programme and genuinely engage with staff, residents and unions to find solutions which benefit the community, not the profits of private sector companies.”

The report examines a number of contracts which it says give cause for concern including:

· A contract with Verrus UK to run the council’s cashless parking scheme was extended without any other firms being given the chance to bid, as was another contract with a company called Paypoint.

· When two other bidders dropped out, the contract to RM Countryside for the removal of parking payment machines around the borough was awarded without the firm having to go through the full tendering procedure.

· Many of the council’s senior officers are consultants not employees. While many local authorities use consultants to temporarily cover vacant positions or for specific projects, Barnet uses them to routinely fill senior roles right across the council’s senior management team, and one of them is overseeing the vast outsourcing project.

· None of the contracts examined by APSE were listed in the council’s contracts register despite a requirement that all contracts worth more than £25,000 and let since January 2011 should be.

· When problems emerged with residential care provider Catalyst and they were no longer able to fulfil the terms of their contract with the council, Barnet was left to make up a £8m shortfall – illustrating what can go wrong if councils fail to monitor service contracts thoroughly says the report.

Council employees who are members of UNISON have been involved in an ongoing dispute with the council over its One Barnet plans since last autumn. UNISON has repeatedly asked council executive Nick Walkley and council leader Richard Cornelius to meet to discuss its concerns but so far the union’s invitation has been declined."

So: One Barnet. The dialogue process continues, as we know.

Mrs Angry hears from her spies that "BT have the better solution, but Capita the more aggressive commercial model" ... mmm.

Crapita, of course, want both packages from Barnet: One billion pounds worth of our money, in short.

Do we want to give it to them?

Do we want this unprecedented scale of outsourcing to go ahead?

Have we given our endorsement for such a radical, reckless procedure?

We have not.

Because, in truth, the residents of Barnet have never understood, or been properly informed about, the significance of the easycouncil/Futureshape/OneBarnet agenda. Their permission has never been sought for this procedure. Not surprising, when you consider that only a handful of senior officers and a handful of Tory Cabinet members are - in theory, anyway - properly informed about this shameful pimping of our services to the private sector.

Is the successful conclusion of One Barnet an inevitable outcome? Are we wasting our time opposing it?

No: even now it is still possible to put a stop to this folly.

Take a look at the Edinburgh outsourcing programme, now abandoned, at the very last moment,earlier this year, with an in house solution adopted in its place.

The trend elsewhere, in fact, is now to avoid the mass outsourcing packages still being obstinately pursued here in retro fashion by the senior management team and leadership of Barnet Council, in favour of more sensible and manageable solutions, usually involving an in house partnership with the council's own workforce.

To anyone with any sense, and not following a pre set agenda for reasons of their own, this is the best approach, and one which will more safely address the needs of the local community.

The test of the administration here in Broken Barnet will be whether or not they truly give a damn about the best interests of residents, or prefer to facilitate the best interests of the predatory private companies wheeling overhead, desperate to grab the services we rely on for the purposes of their shameless profiteering and exploitation.

Look at the privatised out of hours doctor services in Cornwall run by Serco, and the outrage provoked by the way in which this is being run, as explained in a recent post.

Look at the recent case of fraud by an employee working for the company now given the running of our parking warden duties:

Bear in mind the proven record of incompetence Barnet has in dealing with an astonishing number of private companies that it already uses, in so many disgracefully non compliant, casual arrangements.

Do you really trust them to take on the massive One Barnet programme, and leave it to one or two major profit making private companies to run almost every service the council now provides?

Well, do you?

Who do you trust: APSE, or the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet?

The Tory councillors of Broken Barnet need to contemplate the significance of the three recent humiliating electoral defeats in what were considered safe Tory seats.

The rolling momentum of opposition which has been created in the last year or so. and which has delivered these defeats, is not about to vanish. It is bound to increase, in fact, as voters become more and more frightened by the impact of the coalition government policies, by the devastation being wreaked on the NHS, and social care, and the other fundamental building blocks of our society for example: and once the reality of the One Barnet programme becomes apparent here in Broken Barnet, there will be no safe Tory seat left in the entire borough.

In 2014, if the One Barnet programme has been adopted, Mrs Angry predicts - oh, and bear in mind, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry's track record of predictions - Mrs Angry predicts there will be a Labour administration in this borough.

Not all bad news, then, citizens.

As a postscript, Mrs Angry must remind readers of an amusing incident, a portent devised by the gods earlier this week.

You may recall that for the last year or so Councillor Brian Coleman and his royalist chums have been beside themselves with excitement over the Diamond Jubilee, and held many meetings to consider how the people of Barnet might best celebrate the sixty year anniversary of the Queen's reign. This ended in local tax payers giving £1,000 to the son of a friend of Brian Coleman to compose a four minute anthem, which has apparently been performed once, in front of a favoured audience, at a civic service, and the other big idea was to hold an event in Golders Hill Park, where a beacon would be lit to join in a chain of 4,000 others across the Commonwealth.

Why both events were held in Hampstead Garden Suburb, the most affluent area of the borough, and the second in a park which is in fact owned and maintained by the City of London, rather than our borough, is a mystery. Or it would be, if we were not used to the shameless elitism of certain Tory councillors.

As it happened, fate was to deal the ultimate humiliation to the amour propre of an already battered Brian Coleman. When it came to the lighting of the beacon: well ... it didn't. The only one in the entire country, and possibly the Commonwealth.

Oh dear.

And while the burghers of Barnet stood by and shook their fists at the beacon that refused to light, we hear that many loyal subjects attending the event were being targeted by the very thing that has brought Cllr Coleman to his own personal nemesis: his wonderful parking scheme, and the close attention of the newly privatised parking attendants of Broken Barnet.

As Mrs Angry commented in the Ham & High this week, Brian, she imagines Her Maj would not have approved.

Dear, dear. Poor Councillor Coleman, hoist by his own petard - no longer AM, still FRSA, but never to be CBE, MBE, OBE, or, thank God, Lord Coleman of Essex Park.


*Update Sunday:

Just Fancy That!

Do you know who used to work for APSE's predecessor, ADLO? ... Ah, go on, go on, you'll never guess ... yes, Barnet's own CEO, Mr Nick Walkley ...

Long way from that, to this, isn't it, Mr Walkley? Where did it all go wrong?


Mr Mustard said...

Sorry Mrs Angry but I don't know what FRSA stands for, is it Fully Rounded Short Arse?

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, I think so, Mr Mustard. Perhaps any other FRSAs could enlighten us?

I must warn you that your comment may offend any Libdem readers: I have been severely criticised by one for referring to Cllr Coleman as 'tubby', even though he is, and this is probably the least offensive remark that one could make about him.

Clearly our Libdem friends are very sensitive to the feelings of others, except in the case of supporting a right wing government which is assaulting the welfare state and defending the rights of the privileged few against the wider interests of the really vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our society.

Mark Valladares said...

Mrs Angry,

Well, it was either that or supporting those lovely people whose attacks on our civil liberties, prosecution of illegal wars and fiscal dyslexia brought us to a point where a Conservative Party with no discernable policies was a credible party of government.

Unfortunately, here in Suffolk, as in Barnet, an administration of sheep led by a few people who fancy themselves as sheepdogs have done their best to ruin what was once a council to be proud of. Good luck in your efforts to keep shining a light on their failings!

Mrs Angry said...

hello Mark: ha, well: Mrs Angry has no fondness for Blairite, blue Labour politics, but that was then - and it seems that all those criticisms pale in comparison with the impact of Coalition policicies on our society now, and in the years to come. The gap between those with means, and those with needs is becoming a gaping, unstaunchable wound: if you are wealthy you can afford decent healthcare, education and housing, if you are not, you face a bleak future. The dismantling of the NHS and the'reforms' of the benefit system for people with disabilities are, in my view, worse than many of the acts of the Thatcher administrations, and - sorry if this offends, but I thikn this is a view that is widely held - that a Libdem party is complicit in the creation of such policy is truly shocking. One expects the Tories to be shameless, but until now I think we all believed that the Libdems were the party of conscience and integrity. Perhaps they are qualities you can only maintain when there is absolutely no chance of being elected.

As for Suffolk, mmm, you have had a bumpy ride with the same type of 'model' for local government and mass outsourcing as our own easycouncil/futureshape/One Barnet. Your councillors have at least had the sense to dump the Suffolk version, or at least pull back from a total commitment.

Mark Valladares said...

Mrs Angry,

Ah, and there's the rub, isn't it? Any attempt to cut public spending leaves casualties, but a brisk perusal of Labour's 2010 manifesto reveals that you couldn't really put a cigarette paper between what has happened and what they said they would do given the chance.

But then, we'd have a lot more influence if the number of seats we held reflected more accurately the votes we received then. Makes me think that we need a better way of electing our representatives... Oh, I forget...

And don't think that we've dodged a bullet here in Suffolk. The libraries are being hived off, nature reserves divested, bus subsidies cut by 53%, care homes privatised en masse... Just because a project doesn't have a name, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist...

Mrs Angry said...

Do you really think Labour would have taken a hatchet to the NHS as the Tory/Libdem coalition proposes now? I don't. But anyway my version of a Labour manifesto would not have been a Tory lite one.

As to PR, oh dear, no ... the current Coalition regime is a marvellous example of what goes wrong when a weaker party holds the balance of power.

It seems to me that the Libdems have sold their soul for a pocketful of ministerial posts, and lost a whole generation of voters in the process. Things might not have been so bad if you have not betrayed your promises over student loans, but this has effectively lost you any credibility with younger voters - and their parents - about to be hammered, like my kids, by a lifetime of debt.

We can agree over the Suffolk issue, though: changing the brand name and disposing of a CEO seems not to have made a signficant difference to the intentions of the administration. Still lucky you, living in lovely Suffolk,m instead of Broken Barnet: it's not all bad, is it? Enjoy ...

Mark Valladares said...

Mrs Angry,

So sweet of you to suggest that the LibDems sold out for the promise of ministerial seats. If we'd been that desperate, don't you think that we'd have just joined Labour or the Conservatives instead - the career prospects are SO much better... No, 2010 was an excellent General Election to lose...

But enough partisanship. Yes, Suffolk is a lovely spot, and whilst I do miss North West London, I don't miss it that much. However, as my kid brother lives in Chipping Barnet ward, and my parents look out over Barnet from the Brent side, I'm sure that I'll be kept in touch with events in your neck of the woods.

And be kind to Don't Call Me Dave. He's a national treasure, and my father recommended him to me. And my father's a pretty good judge, in my experience... :)

Mrs Angry said...

Mark: mmm, I am really quite sweet natured, unless provoked by particularly irritating aspiring libdem bloggers - and of course I do not mean you. Few of us, especially me, can resist the apple of temptation, and I think really that when faced with the unexpected prospect of a cushy job, better pay, status and the chance to participate in government, it is hardly a surprise that some people dropped their principles & sold out.

No, don't miss North London. Suffolk is lovely, or most of it. I've just rememembered I was once thrown out of a museum in Dunwich and swore never to enter the county again. Long story.

I am always kind to DCMD. He is indeed a national treasure, if only he would stop retiring from blogging and then starting again, and then stopping. He speaks very well of you too, by the way ...!

Mark Valladares said...

Mrs Angry,

Fair enough, I'm old enough, and ugly enough, to be able to handle a little stick from time to time. Besides, if you can't take the heat, you shouldn't etc etc (although this doesn't seem to stop young Coleman).

But do come back to Suffolk, as Dunwich is a funny place, still bereft at losing most of the town to the sea (I understand that the submerged part still turns out a decent Tory vote). Most of us are friendly, the country pubs are a joy, and the scenery is gentle.

Sadly, I was born and brought up in North London, so there isn't ever really an escape. But it isn't that bad. At least, it's never dull, which may not be the same thing, of course...

Very kind of DCMD to be so generous. I am often reminded that blogging is a difficult thing to keep up - the blog sits there balefully, needing to be fed regularly, even when inspiration doesn't strike. I've seen some damned good bloggers (and some pretty awful ones) fall by the wayside over the years, but I'm sure that he'll be back as and when.

Stay well, and let me know if you come out to mid-Suffolk. We have cheese...

Mrs Angry said...

Mmm. Like Suffolk ... used to take the kids to Southwold a lot. Blythburgh Church, Wenhaston, all lovely places. Only trouble with Suffolk is the proximity to horrible flat, windy, dreary Norfolk, which I detest, and should, in my opinion, go the way of Dunwich and return to the sea.

Mrs Angry has a headache.