Sunday, 26 January 2014
Those people: a gesture, a gimmick - and a car crash appearance for Barnet's Tory leader on the Sunday Politics Show
Poor Richard Cornelius. It's not been a good week for him, has it? After his crass, mean mouthed performance at this week's council tribute to Nelson Mandela, he has further demonstrated his lack of political gravitas by a cowardly refusal to face residents at this week's Question Time in Edgware, and now this morning excelled himself by a shambolic performance on the London section of the Sunday Politics Show.
The Tory 'leader' appeared after an introductory film exploring the impact of the Barnet Tories' decision, matched only by one other authority, to go further than even dear uncle Eric wanted them to go by freezing council tax, and to indulge in some ideological grandstanding, by cutting tax, by 1%.
This tiny cut may seem insignificant, and it is, in terms of returns, £1 1/2 million, and a few pence each week for each resident, but this will mean one and a half million pounds less in the budget that is so desperately needed in order to support our vital services.
Already the council has begun consulting on cuts to services such as adult social care. Is the real hardship that this will create for vulnerable residents really justified by such a small return?
The BBC spoke to Janet Leifer, an elderly resident whose husband died recently, after suffering from advanced dementia. Her quiet and dignified description of her own struggle, after a policy change by Barnet council, to pay for vital day centre respite care, which had previously been free, was in marked contrast to the shameful self justification which followed from Richard Cornelius.
Some footage from this week's Question Time in Edgware - see previous post - included a contribution from Libdem leader Jack Cohen, who remarked that the Tories' tax cut was 'a gimmick'.
This was a suggestion followed up by Tim Donovan in the following discussion, with Cornelius, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, and not very much support for Cornelius, it must be said, from Tory MP Greg Hands.
As Cornelius smiled, Donovan asked him if the cut was indeed a gimmick. No, it was 'a gesture'. It shows, he claimed, 'a direction of travel'. An aspiration.
Hmm. Tim Donovan referred to the case of Janet Leifer. Cornelius stated that it was important that they are 'fair' in everything they do. He claimed that the policies which had created the burden borne by people like the Leifers 'had proved popular', and that they were fair. The £37 a day charge to Mrs Leifer, who herself has disabilities, was 'not a shock'. She was, he said, 'treated very kindly'.
Tim Donovan suggested again that the tax cut was a gesture, or a gimmick, timed for the forthcoming election, which of course it most certainly is.
No, said Cornelius, in his unctuous way. It was important to 'give something back'.
Jeremy Corbyn's turn.
He pointed out that Barnet has spent £80 million in preparation for the privatisation of council services. Democratic control over these services has been lost. This act was damaging for the very poorest and most vulnerable residents. Barnet's housing strategy was all about building houses for sale, when there was a desperate need for housing with an affordable rent. The Barnet model for local government makes easyjet and Ryanair look efficient. The cut was an awful proposal, and it was not popular with residents. And I can't understand, he said, why you can't go to a public meeting to defend it.
It hasn't cost £80 million to prepare for privatisation, retorted Cornelius.
He's right, in fact.
It cost £82.9 million, as Mr Reasonable demonstrates here:
As for the sell off of Barnet's council services: it was not a sale. It was an outsourcing. Ah. A giveaway, then, not a sale?
No, no: a contract, a payment for someone to do something, that we were, frankly, less able to do efficiently.
And there, readers, you have it. The admission that is the most telling thing he could have said.
Capita has got a contract with Barnet, in which the most profit is to be had from procurement. And yet it was the Barnet blogosphere which uncovered the culture of institutionalised incompetence in procurement, and which revealed there were literally thousands of non compliant 'contracts' with suppliers, which had wasted countless millions of local taxpayers money.
The action necessary to put this appalling lack of efficiency was perfectly within the grasp of Barnet council. But it chose to submit to the pressures from its own senior management team, accompanied by the blandishments of various private consultants, and the interested parties in the outsourcing industry, and bring in Capita to sort it out, give Barnet some pocket money in the form of very limited savings - and pocket the rest, in the form of huge profits for shareholders.
More interesting claims from Cornelius. He repeated the folktale about the mass privatisation of our council services being no more than a handful of 'back office' functions.
This is NOT true. There are very few council functions left inhouse.
It was, he said, a 'no brainer'.
Clearly, Richard. Or you would not be promoting it, one suspects.
Oh: recycling. Our Tory leader wanted Britain to know that Barnet had taken back recycling, and this was proof that they were not 100% committed to outsourcing.
The truth is that Barnet have cocked this up too: spending £4 million on new bins, and a staggering £8 million on new lorries - outright, not even leased - when it seems this equipment may not be compliant with new legislation that takes effect in 2015. No, they didn't check it out properly. Who will pay for this? You and me. Cornelius claimed that we will see the savings the recycling programme will achieve in the next cycle. Has he factored in the expenditure of £12 million?
You're believing the hype, said Cornelius to Tim Donovan, that was from some of those people at that meeting ...
What do you mean, asked Jeremy Corbyn, 'THOSE PEOPLE?' They are the residents of your borough, you should be more respectful of them!'
'... who occupied and disrupted a council meeting', snapped Cornelius. He meant this:
Yes: a proud moment in the history of Broken Barnet, for Mrs Angry, and all of us who value democracy, and justice, and who refuse to lie down and let Capita extort profit from what should be a public service, given to each according to their needs, and according to their means, rather than in order to facilitate the shareholders of a private company.
Tim Donovan commented then that in May it would be the people, those people, Councillor Cornelius who would decide what mattered.
And so it shall.
Here is the footage of the Politics Show item. Watch it, and decide what matters: the needs of Janet Leifer and her husband, and the most vulnerable residents of our borough - or a gesture, a gimmick - an extra £21 a year for the millionaire residents, and Tory donors, of Totteridge and Hampstead Garden Suburb.