Friday, 14 December 2012

Not relevant: the process of scrutiny in Broken Barnet

Resident Keith Martin leaves the committee table after his address is cut short by the Chair: Libdem Lord Palmer looks on, bemused.

Mrs Angry was tempted not to bother taking her notebook to last night's scrutiny committee. The result was a foregone conclusion, and the positions taken, and indeed some of the script had already been written by Labour councillor Barry Rawlings, who gloomily predicted the answers and questions that would follow in his own contribution, and had written them down before the meeting. 

If only, thought Mrs Angry, keen to leave the Town Hall as soon as possible and reconvene herself in the more appealing environment of the Greyhound, if only the Tory councillors would be so frank, and hand out transcripts of the meeting as we arrived, to save us all the bother of sitting through the stage managed tedium of what passes for scrutiny in Broken Barnet. Mrs Angry comforted herself with the thought that now we are about to enter into our long years of bondage to Crapita, no doubt in future their employees in Blackburn, Belfast, and Southampton will be obliged to email us copies of the minutes of all council meetings before we leave home, to save us the inconvenience of involvement in the democratic process.

Last night's scrutiny meeting was chaired by Councillor Hugh Rayner, in order, he explained to consider the call in of the NSCSO erm .... he seemed lost for words ... 'scam' suggested a member of the public. Item, corrected Hugh, sternly.

As Mrs Angry had arrived in the committee room, only two people were sitting in the public area, La Bloggeuse, the delightful new Barnet blogger, and Councillor Brian Coleman, the delightful new Barnet blogger: oh - how did that happen? Mrs Angry was tempted to ask Brian if he wished to examine her gusset, after his rather disgusting comments last week, but decided instead to grin horribly at him and sit in the same row. He looked awfully pleased.

When the councillors came drifting in it was very interesting to see deputy leader Daniel 'John' Thomas come straight over to his suspended colleague, keen to shake his hand, and then spending a long while whispering furtively together over some pressing matter. At the end of the meeting, again, Thomas came to Coleman and they continued their conspiratorial discussions. Bearing in mind Brian's vehement opposition to One Barnet, albeit a position that is lately adopted, and the prominent lead Thomas has taken in pushing on regardless with the programme, one might wonder what mischief, exactly, they are up to.

Blogger Mr Reasonable has been known to  make presentations on the subject of One Barnet, and when he does so he explains the concept in the guise of a big black box. It may be, thought Mrs Angry last night, that we have all been entirely wrong about the whole thing, and Mr Reasonable has completely misunderstood, because One Barnet, or at least half of it, is in fact a big white box. Tut tut, Mr Reasonable.

Yes: there was one arrival in the committee room, last night, which went largely unnoticed, but did not escape the all seeing eye of Mrs Angry: the ceremonial entrance of the Capita contract, in a large white cardboard box, the ark of the covenant that is One Barnet - or perhaps, in truth, more of a whited sepulchre. It was carried in with loving care and all due reverence by the High Priest of Barnet outsourcing, Mr John Newton, of our obscenely high maintenance 'implementation partners' and consultants iMPOWER, and then shoved under the table, to work its evil influence unmarked by the blackhearted councillors and their scheming officers.

There was only one public question, from a Mr Ron Cohen, the resident to whom Brian Coleman was forced, eventually, to 'apologise' to for calling him an antisemite and disloyal Israeli in a highly offensive email.

Mr Cohen asked a long and detailed question about the so called 'investment' promised by Capita. The officers looked on, bemused, and the response was typical of Barnet, officer John Hooton informed Mr Cohen what his question really meant to ask, and responded accordingly, rather than listen to what he said. He told him that he was asking: did the council know what it is getting in terms of investment? And the answer was yes, it did know. Mr Cohen left the table.

A few members of the public had been given special dispensation by the Chair to address the meeting. This seemed like a hugely generous gesture - until the first speaker, Mr Keith Martin, began to speak. After a minute or so, the Chair stopped him, claiming that the theme of his address was not 'relevant'. Relevance in the context of engagement with residents in Broken Barnet is decided of course not on the basis of reasoned argument, but on whether it touches on dangerous, subversive areas, ie philosophy which does not meet the approval of Barnet Tory thinking (let's call it thinking, for the sake of convenience). Keith protested and pointed out that he had told by an officer that he could raise the issues he was speaking about. He was told by the Chair that he had been misled. Mr Martin left the table.

Chair of Barnet Alliance, Barbara Jacobson 

Next up was Barbara Jacobson, the formidable Chair of Barnet Alliance. She gave the assembled committee a well deserved tongue lashing for their performance at last week's Cabinet meeting, where they approved the Capita deal. She quoted back to acting CEO Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers his remark, as reported by Mrs Angry, that dealing with so much of the potential trouble that will inevitably be caused by the contract will, in his words, 'be the job of our successors'. 

Travers glowered, and sat throughout her speech with arms gripped across his chest, making 'I have to listen to you but I really, really resent it' faces all the way. Barbara carried on, again picking up on a sensitive point, the question by Tory Cabinet member Tom Davey as to what would happen if Capita goes bust. She made a reference to 'Colonel' Andrew Harper, which made Mrs Angry laugh far too much, imagining that he therefore outranks Captain Craig Cooper, who clearly also found Councillor Harper's unexpected rise to a new position to be of no little source of amusement.  

Resident Julian Silverman sat down next. He is a magnificently obstinate man, in the finest tradition of the older citizens of Broken Barnet, rebellious,cantankerous, refusing to lie down and do his duty and accept the judgement of our Tory masters in the council chamber. The Graph of Doom bites back, in Broken Barnet. He invited the meeting to contemplate the foreword written by Oliver Letwin introducing a recent report by Capita, in which he tells us the government is committed to transfer control of the delivery of public services into the hands of users. 

Mrs Angry has looked at this foreword. Indeed this is exactly what Letwin claims. In his introduction to the report, entitled 'Catalyst Councils' he tells us councils must have regard for the 'nuances of local need'. He continues:

"That is why this Government is committed to the transfer of power and influence over how services are delivered – away from the center, and into the hands of those who use them. It is why we are seeking to support innovation, excellence and greater access to capital investment by opening up the delivery of publicly funded services to a diversity of providers."

Yes: away from the centre, into the hands of those who use them, from a diversity of providers. In other words, a pragmatic approach, a mixture of different solutions to different needs.

What Mr Letwin does not say, empty headed Tory Councillors of Broken Barnet, is that we want public service delivery to be taken out of the hands of those who use them, and handed over to one giant company to exploit, whilst removing the process of democratic control over a ten year period.

Yet again, bonkers Barnet Tories are deliberately moving in the opposite direction to that of their own party's policy: not a Catalyst Council, a Catastrophic Council, incompetent, financially reckless, and heading for political meltdown : the Three Mile Island of Conservative local  authorities.

And this is only Part One, readers: can you bear to wait for the rest?


Mr Mustard said...

Sober at last Mrs Angry. Yes I do look forward to part 2.

Mrs Angry said...

Mr Mustard: two and a half glasses of wine do not render Mrs Angry insensible. I imagine the ladies of Chipping Barnet become rat arsed after their second sip of sherry, but here in Finchley we are made of stronger stuff.