Wednesday, 11 September 2013
The Golden Thread - or: the art of spin, in Capitaville
Two meetings in two consecutive nights this week: a feast for the Barnet blogosphere, after the famine of the summer break, and a dramatic start to the new reality of life in Capitaville.
The two meetings, taken as a pair, perfectly demonstrated the bipolarity of the mind that now serves as the directing force of theTory administration of the former London Borough of Broken Barnet.
On Monday night three of the Barnet bloggers attended a meeting of the General Functions Committee. On the agenda were two items: the handing over to Capita of their new wage slaves, and the approval of some new guidance for the new arrangement's directors in regard to conflicts of interest: an area of risk which Barnet and the external auditor steadfastly refused to address adequately during the procurement process, of course.
The sound system used in council meetings is not fit for purpose, at the best of times: this is not something which bothers our councillors and senior officers, as in their view it really is not our business to expect to be able to hear what they are saying, but it bothers Mrs Angry as she has dodgy hearing, and is actually quite interested in what they are saying. She therefore was obliged to ask Ms Pam Wharfe, the Director of Plaice, please to speak into the mike, as she could not hear her. In response, Ms Wharfe made a horrible face at Mrs Angry: or at least it seemed so, difficult to tell. That wasn't very kind, was it?
We were out of the meeting, and in the pub, in a matter of 25 minutes: the second item taking almost no time, and merely nodded through.
The first one could and should have taken much longer, and would have done so if the union's views on the matters about to be rubberstamped had been allowed to be brought to the table.
Joan Scannell was chairing the committee, with all the aplomb and authority of the manager of a suburban shoe shop, circa 1969.
Scannell is the only sort of woman that the deeply misogynist Tories will entrust with such heady responsibility: quiet, lacking in assertiveness, a reliable pair of hands, safely following the party line. She knows her place.
The lawyer from Harrow, Linda Cohen, expressed the dangerous thought, in her carefully modulated voice, that although the unions had no 'collective dispute' that entitled them to speak at the meeting, the Chair could allow it. The Chair chose not to allow it.
That there were very serious matters still unresolved, even at this late point before the handover, which needed discussion, was demonstrated by some interesting questions from deputy Tory leader Daniel Thomas, who seemed anxious to put on record his concerns that the new arrangements for staff, who are to hold joint employment status, might lead to issues that would end in Judicial Review.
Sitting in the room, at the table, and in the public area, were various 'consultants' whose names may have been stated but whose affiliation was unclear. And this is how it will be, from now on, for ever until the end of time, or the end of the contract with Crapita, whichever comes first - and who knows how that will turn out.
One member of this floating personnel was Jennifer Burt, who was questioned by Labour's Barry Rawlings over the confusion arising from staff being transferred when the detail of their status was still not clarified. He asked if they were not signing their new contracts under duress? Ms Burt thought not, that the confusion was something one should expect, in the form of a lot of 'activity' in the run up to these sort of transfers.
Helen Randall, from legal advisers Trowers & Hamlin, the woman who wrote that marvellous piece praising One Barnet in the Guardian recently, failing to mention that her employers had been been the lucky recipients of generous amounts of taxpayers' money in the course of implementing, erm, One Barnet, told the meeting that everything would be alright in relation to the new use of staff, as her company had taken advice from 'Queens Counsel'.
Aha. This is an awfully good idea, and a practice which her company have got the hang of since the One Barnet Judicial Review, when it emerged that legal advisers had failed to compel Barnet to follow the statutory obligation to consult residents over, erm, One Barnet.
Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable and Mr Mustard felt deeply reassured by this, and thought that this must mean that nothing now could possibly go wrong with the hand-over.
For some reason, Cllr Thomas and the other Tory councillors did not seem quite so convinced, which is odd, isn't it, when you think how keen they were to tell us that One Barnet was such a marvellous scheme?
You might even be forgiven for wondering why, at this late stage, when it is too late, in fact, why they felt compelled to ask if Barnet would still retain its statutory obligations and control, now that they have surrendered the borough in bondage to our new masters.
Oh yes, murmured Ms Wharfe, who explained that there is a 'golden thread' that runs through the layers of responsibility, one that runs, one imagines, all the way from our elected representatives, the leader, the cabinet, the senior officers, the officers, to Capita, and their officers, to the taxpayers and residents of Broken Barnet.
Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, as the bloggers tittered in the public seats: a golden thread, a magical thread, woven from the empty promises of an impossible dream.
The Tory councillors fell for the spin, and have to face the reality, now, of what they have done. Already it is clear to see that they do not have a clue how any of the new regime is going to work, or what their role will be. What can they do? They can only revert to type, and avoid the consequences as long as possible by pretending nothing has changed.
See the next post then, coming along any minute now:
Full Council, an evening of Tories, 'twats' and tantrums.
Pretending nothing has happened.