Monday, 17 June 2013

A cursory effort to understand: in which Mrs Angry reads a letter, and is puzzled

Richard Cornelius, 'leader' of Barnet Council

*Update Monday 6pm: Your Choice Barnet - legal challenge forces the Board to agree consultation, see below ... 

So anyway:  Mrs Angry put on a pair of rubber gloves this afternoon, stuck a peg on the end of her delicate nose, and picked up the letters page of the Barnet Press to read. Ignoring the editorial, her beady eye was distracted by the leading letter, from the alleged Tory leader of Barnet Council, Councillor Richard Cornelius:

"I am afraid that I have been moved to write by the inaccuracy of your recent editorial (The Press, May 30).
There should be at least a cursory effort to understand the actual situation, both in terms of outsourcing and Your Choice. 

There is no "relentless drive to outsource all service provision". Instead, each service area has been looked at and the best method of delivery identified. 

We are bringing recycling back inhouse, sharing public health and legal services with Harrow, embarking on a joint-venture project and, yes, outsourcing some back-office functions. These changes will protect and improve service quality and in no way represent a "race to the bottom". 

We have also established a trading company, The Barnet Group, of which Your Choice is a subsidiary. 

The reason for this set-up is entirely logical: the increased usage of direct payments means that many people are barred from purchasing services direct from the council. 

Without placing council services with an arm's-length provider, excellent services such as the Rosa Morison day centre could not be accessed and used by the majority. 

Your Choice is designed to create a service people can and will choose, balancing quality and cost. 

Reporters have a duty to challenge and be sceptical about the council, but should apply this equally to those who criticise us. 

I wonder, for example, if the Tirza Waisel quoted of CADDSS is one and the same with the synonymous BAPS coordinator and whether this relationship is representative of that between the organisations? 

A hard-left pressure group should be subject to as much scrutiny as anyone else. 

Councillor Richard Cornelius Leader of Barnet Council" 

Dear me, thought Mrs Angry,  what a load of erm ... complete nonsense. (Self regulation, see).

Where to begin?

Is Cornelius spinning this, or does he really believe it? Mrs Angry was puzzled. She therefore made a cursory effort to understand the hapless 'leader' and his comments.

He claims there is no 'relentless drive to outsource all service provision' Ok. Except there is, Richard. Everything that isn't nailed down was put out there, on the cart, being trundled off to the auctioneers, and flogged at a knockdown price to Crapita.

'Each service provision has been looked at and the best method of delivery identified.'

Mmm. No, again: it has not. Some options, ie the most obvious, in house provision, were tactically avoided. So the definition of 'best method' is spurious.

As evidence of his claim, Cornelius refers to the one service that has been brought back in house, ie recycling, which was returned after the full significance of the One Barnet disaster began to impinge, albeit too late, on the consciousness of the Barnet Tory councillors, and they panicked. One service, brought back to where it should be, in house. 

Why then, Richard, if you are now prepared to countenance an in house option for one service, did the council refuse to consider any in house option to consider as an alternative to the £1 billion One Barnet programme of privatisation? 

If recycling works best this way, how many other council functions could be made more efficient, under the direct democratic control of elected members? But no, your administration allowed itself to be persuaded by senior officers that privatisation was the only way forward, and an in house solution should not even be looked at. 

Why is that, do you suppose?

He next claims that Your Choice Barnet was necessary, inevitable perhaps, because of the changes which have led to a system of direct payment. Well, if that was true, why hasn't every other authority in the country followed the same path, and shoved their adult care support  into an ALMO (Arms Length Manamgement Organisation) and LATC (Local Authority Trading Company)?

"Your Choice is designed to create a service people can and will choose, balancing quality and cost." 

A service people can choose. 

As opposed to what, exactly? Where is the choice, in Your Choice? 

And where is the quality, when profit must be extracted from the delivery of vital care to such vulnerable residents? Are you absolutely sure that such sensitively focused support should be subject to the vagaries of market forces?

Our dear leader then tries to belittle the efforts of resident Tirza Waisel, who happens to be active in Barnet Alliance and also supports the work of CADDSS, ridiculously suggesting that she and other members are all 'hard-left' activists and proclaiming:

"A hard-left pressure group should be subject to as much scrutiny as anyone else."

Ah. good point. 

But as we have not been allowed any real scrutiny of anything Cornelius and his chums have set in motion, there is little to worry about, is there?

Perhaps the most telling statement in this letter is hidden away, easily overlooked. 

Once the Tory leadership of Broken Barnet realised, rather too late in the day, that they were not going to get away with signing us away into bondage to Crapita without anyone kicking up too much of a fuss, there was a lot of panic, and the smell of real fear: what to do?

Thanks to the Barnet blogosphere, and Barnet Alliance, and the Barnet Spring, far too many people were waking up to the full implications of their dastardly scheme. The only thing to do was - to deny everything. 

Move along now, nothing to see. Look - over there - quick, while we remove the body. 

One Barnet? What's that? No, never heard of it. 

Did you mean 'the Change Programme'? Yes, yes, you did. 

Nothing to worry about. 

Privatisation? No: a number of different forms of service delivery. 

Almost all of them delivered by Crapita, true. 

What's that - a virtual monopoly controlling council functions, tied to a ten year contract the leader says he has not read? Ah.

And according to Cornelius' letter, and here we are, slipped in at the end, thinking we will not notice, he yet again tries to assert that he is only outsourcing 'some back office functions'. Some back office functions. The re-organisation of the stationery cupboards in Building Two, that sort of thing. 

This can only be interpreted by anyone with any knowedge of the One Barnet programme as a deliberate attempt to underplay the full significance of what they are doing. Pretty shabby, in fact.

So let us just remind ourselves of the immense scale and scope of council services being outsourced:

In the NSCSO contract:

Human Resources and Payroll
IT Infrastructure Support
Revenues and Benefits
Commercial Service

In the DRS contract:
Building Control
Planning Administration
Strategic Planning and Regeneration
Highways Services
Environmental Health
Trading Standards and Licensing
Cemetries and Crematoria

Quite evidently, to dismiss all these enormously important and diverse functions as being merely 'back office' is misleading and dangerous. 

It denies the truth, that this council is effectively becoming a commissioning council, without the ability to take back services in-house if, as is highly likely, if not inevitable, there are major problems with the Capita takeover.

The next question, then, is why the are Tories seeking to hide the full significance of the two massive contracts which they are so desperate to sign?

In December, you may recall, our Tory leader tried his luck with selling One Barnet, when we were still allowed to call it that, on the BBC Politics show. As Mrs Angry wrote then here: 

"After a tight smiled attempt at belittling the impact of the toxic £1 billion programme Cornelius is wheeling through the streets of Broken Barnet, telling us that the horrible smell of rotting privatisation is really the overwhelming scent of sweet smelling roses, that this huge project is of minimal importance, only 13% of budget, 'just' back office functions, something that 'doesn't matter', 'small things that people won't notice', the Tory leader today informed us, smugly, that One Barnet was really a jolly good idea because 'it's no fun subsidising bureaucrats."

Cornelius also said that he thought then that planning, the outsourcing of which is of course of huge concern and raises all sorts of issues such as conflict of interest, loss of local knowledge and so on, only may be privatised. 

Again, no one believed this at the time, and of course it is, as we knew it would be, a major attraction of the DRS contract, along with irrestible lure of making money out of our dead relatives in Hendon Cemetery.

Small things that people won't notice

Mustn't subsidise that bogeyman of retro Barnet Tories, the bureaucrat. It is a good idea, however, to subsidise Capita instead. 

As we heard last week, the DRS contract will now only make £5 million in savings, instead of the £20 million we were promised. Why? Because, as Mr Reasonable was told last week, see his very interesting post here:

"The bidder has identified a more modest saving"... Oh. 

At the 'scrutiny' meeting last week, we heard that the financial benefit for Barnet that is expected from the contracts is largely dependent on 'growth', or selling services outside the borough. 

Capita Symonds, we were told, hoped to use Barnet as a base to 'grow business' in the South East region, a new market ripe for the picking. All very well, but as Mr Reasonable pointed out, the reality is that the major profits will be for Capita, not us. 

And if we do not sell the services which are to be relied on for the so called 'guaranteed' returns? 

Now we come full circle, back to the example of 'Your Choice Barnet', the local authority trading company set up to do just that, make a profit from running care services for residents, shamefully, in this case, vulnerable residents with disabilities. 

The failure to find that profit margin, predicted by a union report dismissed out of hand by the council,  has led to financial meltdown, and Barnet Council has ended up subsidising not faceless bureaucrats, but its own private company - with more taxpayers' money.

Cornelius is a decent man at heart, but he is no leader. He is wading way out of his depth, and has followed, not led, dutifully accepting every fable spun for him by those intent on pushing the privatisation programme. 

His weakness is in that he lacks imagination, and the ability to see beyond the limitations of his own political prejudices - he castigates the critics of privatisation as 'hard-left', because he sees things in such curiously outdated, simplistic terms. This lack of perception will cost him, and this borough, dearly.

The dangerous truth for him is that in fact the activists in this borough are not, as he labelled them, the hard-left, or natural born anarchists, or 'eccentric socialists and American exiles'.

They are parents, carers, traders, ordinary residents - voters - people of all political persuasions, and none, burned into a searing desire to take arms, politically, out of sheer frustration at the lack of engagement by this council with its own electorate.  

They do not want their council services pimped for profit to Capita. They do not want to lose direct democratic control to a monolithic, unaccountable private company. 

They want their elected members to do what is best for this borough, not to facilitate the take over of our public services for the benefit of the private sector.

Whatever happens now, the Tories are sunk: if they win the Judicial Review appeal, and raise the flag of Capitaville over our Town Hall, the residents of this borough will never forgive them - and if they lose? Cornelius has threatened this will lead to a programme of savage cuts and redundancies. If that is the case, it will be an act of spite, pointless reprisal: it will be legally challenged too. 

There is now, and never was, any need for a wholescale privatisation of services. 

The answer to any need for making efficiencies was always here, lying in their hands. 

If this Tory administration had reviewed its own management of services, for example in the grossly incompetent organisation of procurement, countless millions of taxpayers' money could have been saved without the need to pay a company to run it for them. This is the largest source of 'savings' promised by the NSCSO contract, but how much more revenue will be lost in the shape of profit for Capita?

The truth is that Cornelius, who has admitted to having to be persuaded of the benefits of One Barnet, and then of the need for a Joint Venture, knows perfectly well the risks to which his administration has exposed our borough. But there is too much face to be lost by admitting it. 

He and his Tory colleagues are gambling on the next election arriving before the real horrors of One Barnet are revealed. 

Unfortunately for them, the ugly truth is already evident for anyone to see, and no amount of spin by Richard Cornelius can hide it anymore.

*Updated Monday 6pm: Your Choice Barnet - breaking news ... a u-turn, after receiving notice of a potential legal challenge from a service user:

The legal advisers acting for resident Susan Sullivan have received a response from the Board of Your Choice Barnet agreeing, belatedly, to hold consultation with residents affected by the impact of proposed changes, which amongst other plans, involved driving out or demoting skilled staff, cutting support staffing, making up to 30% cuts in already low wages, changing terms and conditions of employment, and exposing vulnerable residents to the risk of a dramatic deterioration in their standard of care.

"The Board has decided in principle to proceed with the front-line changes to supported living, salary enhancements and the change to waking night arrangements both within supported living and Valley Way. However, the Board is of the opinion that before making any final decision it needs more information on the effect on service users their families and wider stakeholders and to hear people’s views on any alternatives. To that end the Board intends to consult further. and Your Choice Barnet will shortly be drawing up proposals for the consultation exercise ..."

In addition:

"The Board has decided not to proceed for the moment with the co-location of Community Space and BILS. Further consideration will be given to these services at a later date ..."


"The 25 staff who have been offered and paid voluntary redundancy are being informed that due to a potential legal challenge the restructure involving their positions is on hold and therefore they are not at present redundant. They are being offered a choice on whether to go ahead with the redundancy or not."

This is a stunning development and a sharp lesson  for the Board of Your Choice Barnet, Richard Cornelius, the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, the senior management team - and any outsourcing companies or private consultants who think they can dictate to us what sort of public services we will have here.

Perhaps the message is now getting through, loud and clear:

Nothing about us, without us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As for BAPS - it's fully available for scrutiny. It meets every Wednesday at the Greek Cypriot Centre on Britannia Road, N12. No one is excluded, journalists would be very welcome! Indeed serving councillors often attend. These meetings can be fascinating when speakers are invited to outline particular issues (school expansion, NHS reforms etc). There are no secret sessions and closed votes. Please come along. Poppy