Hissatsu: Cllrs Rams, Thompstone and Thomas
Last night saw the meetings of Barnet Council's Cabinet and Cabinet Resources committees, a marathon session for all who attended, and a masterclass in the art of thwarting the democratic process. Nothing unusual in that, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking?
True, but as the evening followed its course one thing became very clear: the Tory councillors have lost complete control of everything except a cockeyed, fatal sense of loyalty to their own group, and to the reckless policies they have adopted.
They know they are doomed, but look, there they fall, crashing down like kamikaze pilots dying for the greater glory of the empire of the dumb, here in the last outpost of Capita.
Remember when diving into the enemy to shout at the top of your lungs: "Hissatsu!" ["Sink without fail!"] At that moment, all the cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo will smile brightly at you.
(Advice to kamikaze pilots)
Ok. No cherry blossom in the committee room, but Mrs Angry spotted the pink, shining faces of Trowers and Hamlin and Capita smiling brightly in the public gallery.
Sink without fail.
Chairing the meeting, of course, was Tory leader Richard Cornelius.
He had graciously allowed not only some public questions, but in a trembling flirtation with the voluptuous pleasures of localism in action, granted permission to a handful of speakers intent on addressing the committee. Mrs Angry was rather annoyed by the latter decision, in fact, as she had bargained on him refusing our requests, but no: he caved in, and then Mrs Angry had to spend quite some time writing and rewriting a speech until it was Angry enough. Not as easy as you might think - in only five minutes, that is.
The questions? Mostly from Mr Reasonable, John Dix, and Mrs Angry. The responses, of course, were not sent before the meeting, nor were they available downstairs shortly before the meeting, nor were we allowed upstairs to see them until about ten minutes before the scheduled time. Almost impossible to formulate the supplementary questions in such circumstances, therefore, which is exactly what they want.
Mr Reasonable will tell you what he thought of his responses: Mrs Angry's were hardly worth the effort of walking back and forth to the table. To paraphrase:
First reply from the Chair, regarding the £7 million spent on consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER on a 'savings' programme?
You still confident about your legal advice from Trowers & Hamlin, when somehow they overlooked the fact that you acted unlawfully in not consulting with residents over One Barnet?
Think it's ok to switch from an already high risk strategic partnership to an even higher Joint Venture dumping the burden of risk on us the Barnet taxpayers rather than Crapita Symonds?
We believe it is.
Capita are going to use Barnet as a base to 'grow business' for their company, and it says here we only may receive additional benefits from this. That ok with you?
That's ok with us, as far as we can see, from this position on our knees, tongues poking out, waiting for further instructions.
On to the public speakers. Julian Silverman lectured them again on economic history, and the Industrial revolution. Whoossh - right over the head of our dopey Tory councillors, for whom history began in 2010.
Blogger Roger Tichborne pointed out politely that our dopey Tory councillors had something of a credibility problem with their residents.
He listed the substantial number of legal challenges made in regard to the authorities' most controversial policy decisions: the sheltered housing issue, the library occupation, Catalyst, the CPZ campaign, Unison agency workers, Maria Nash's judicial review, and now the Sullivan challenge to Your Choice Barnet. He asked the councillors to reflect, and learn to engage with residents, to consult them.
They looked on incomprehendingly.
Here follows an example of the extent of delusion amongst the Tories:
Leader Cornelius said he thought there had been a lot of consultation.
Deputy leader Daniel Thomas claimed that the authority 'had won all these cases'.
You can imagine the reaction from the public gallery.
Roger Tichborne reminded Thomas that the Nash JR is still ongoing, and had found Barnet had failed to consult, that the CPZ is ongoing, that the library occupation led to the recommendation from the judge which led to the agreement on the community library, that John Sullivan's challenge had already forced YCB to agree to consult users of care services due to be hit by cuts, as they should have done already.
Barnet Alliance's Barbara Jacobson next.
Barbara is a formidable woman, and always delivers a magnificent, incisive speech.
She described Cllr John Marshall, at the recent scrutiny meeting, promoting the unlikely benefits of the Joint Venture like a sideshow performer selling snakeoil.
She trashed his attempts to pretend that there had been proper consultation over One Barnet, please explain it to him, she begged: as the judge found, there was no intention to consult, we were not allowed to discuss it at our own residents forums, our petition of 8,000 signatures was ignored.
As for Cllr Gordon, who said it was too late, the decision had been made, we can't change our minds - what then is the point of scrutiny? Cllr Rayner thought he was there to 'educate the public gallery'.
And what an education it is, she remarked.
Mr Reasonable's turn.
He pointed out the long, dangerous process of 'de-skilling' officers at high level that had taken place, the heavy reliance on interim post holders, the shockingly high bills now reached in the Agilisys accounts he had just inspected: we will pay heavily for this dependency, he predicted.
Time for Bob Jacobson, another 'American exile', married to Barbara. His laid back speech began with the reminder that the Barnet Alliance which has done so much work to coordinate opposition to the One Barnet privatisation is indeed an alliance, and not a single minded party. He said it necessarily concentrated on One Barnet because they gave us no option: 'we know all ... this doesn't concern you ...'
And he finished by concluding with, shall we say, a dry, thoughtful and pointed observation that cast aspersion on their competence, sincerity and probity in public office, expressed in less than respectful terms.
It was an enjoyable moment.
Mrs Angry's turn. As she sat down, Councillor Cornelius tried to tell her she could have only three of her five minutes. Mrs Angry responded that she had timed her speech, which was five minutes and one second in length, and she was only willing to do without the one second.
As it turned out, he tried to shut her up, but she carried on anyway. Here is the text, sans a couple of ad libs.
"When you were elected to office three years ago, one of the first acts you undertook, under the pretext of an emergency motion, was to vote yourselves a handsome increase in the rate of your allowances.
After a public outcry, you were forced to withdraw this self serving attempt to screw more money out of the taxpayers of Barnet, except for those of you fortunate enough to be Chair of a committee, who now receive a 54% increase in allowance, even if, as in one case, the committee meets only once a year.
These allowances are meant to be in recognition of the responsibilities you bear on our behalf. Responsibilities which demand a real commitment to the role you have been given by your constituents, and to show respect and consideration for their views.
In the course of this administration I’ve observed Conservative members fail at every level to fulfil the demands of their role: failing to scrutinise the reports written by senior officers, failing to read reports, failing to ask questions, failing to turn up to meetings, or turning up late, or sitting at the table, clearly bored, tweeting - or even falling asleep.
I’ve sat through countless meetings where residents have tried to engage in the democratic process of local government. Their questions have been ignored, swept aside; they have been treated as a nuisance, an imposition.
You have refused to consult residents on the One Barnet privatisation, and voted to prevent any meaningful debate on any council policy by censoring the issues we wish to raise at our own Forums. The consequence of this has brought you to the High Court, when your failure to consult us was recognised by Judge Underhill, and is the reason the matter has been referred to appeal.
Still you continue to betray the best interests of this community by forcing through the approval of a second contract with Capita.
Have the residents of this borough been consulted on either of these contracts?
They have not.
Have members properly informed themselves of the contents of either of the contracts, or properly considered the implications of this massive act of privatisation?
They have not.
I refer you to the meeting of 6th December, when the first contract was due to be approved, and Cabinet members were asking the most fundamental questions which should have been raised years earlier, clearly showing the depth of ignorance of the enormous undertaking they were agreeing.
The leader admits he has relied on the assurances of senior officers, and allowed himself to be persuaded to abandon a position of scepticism about One Barnet, and then the Joint Venture, an issue which is crucial, not just in its immediate significance, but in the way it demonstrates the catastrophic failure of the democratic process in Barnet.
The decision to change to JV was made not by you, the Cabinet, or the Leader, although you have now dutifully approved it.
It was made in secret, by senior officers in un-minuted meetings with private consultants and bidders, under the guise of Corporate Directors Group, a body with no executive powers, acting in defiance of the principles of transparency and accountability.
Why have you been ‘persuaded’ to commit us to an arrangement which abandoned one high risk proposal to one which creates an even higher level of vulnerability, and lays the burden of risk more heavily with us?
Who benefits from this change of policy? Is it us, or Capita?
Who has benefited already from the One Barnet programme? Is it us?
Or is it the private consultants who have billed us for millions of pounds, on the basis of a programme supposed to make savings which now, as we hear, are pathetically small because ‘the bidder has identified a more modest figure’?
How many senior officers involved in the One Barnet programme have had links with the companies who were bidders in this process? How many have taken jobs, or previously held jobs with them? Some most certainly have.
Why did the auditors, only after a year and a half of being asked, investigate the issue of the regulation of declarations of interest in the NSCSO and find so many failures, and why did they ignore the DRS process?
Why did you only approve a more robust regulation of the risk of conflict of interest to take effect after the tender process was over?
Why did you refuse to commission an independent risk report of One Barnet, and why did you ignore all the union reports which tried to explain to you the real dangers? Look at the warning given to you, and ignored, about Your Choice Barnet, whose business plan was written by the same consultants.
And finally: why were you so determined not to consider an in house option as an alternative to One Barnet, when this was the most obvious course of action to follow?
It is quite likely that the appeal will be successful, and the Capita deals struck out. Cllr Cornelius has again been persuaded that this would necessitate the imposition of punitive measures: savage cuts and mass redundancies. Punitive is the right word: it would be vengeance for its own sake.
We all accept the need for greater efficiencies and savings – but this is not the way to make them.
Look at the huge amount of profit Capita will make from running procurement, and remember with shame the grossly incompetent way you ran it, until we exposed what a mess you’d made of it.
Do it yourselves, with your own highly skilled staff. Dump the overpaid senior officers, and cut out the predatory consultants.
Instead of sitting back complacently, welcoming this overt act of carpet-bagging opportunism by the private sector, for God’s sake, before it is too late, sit up, man up and face the truth: you’ve been had.
Learn to say no to your officers, and the bidders, and the consultants, and remember what you have been elected to do: to serve the residents, taxpayers and voters of Barnet, and not to sell us and our public services into bondage to Capita, and their profiteering shareholders, for the next ten years."
continued in Part Two ...