Thursday 5 May 2016

The price of freedom: on the eve of elections, Barnet Tories panic as their Capita run disability pass 'renewal' scheme is exposed

Disabled Barnet residents' Freedom Passes, cancelled by Capita - why? 

Pic courtesy Times Series

*Updated Monday 9th May:

Tory Cllr Rajput has now told Mr Jamie Blake, the senior commissioning officer responsible for this process, to respond to Mrs Angry's questions put to him, ie Rajput, about the continuing ordeal of families whose disabled relatives have had their passes cancelled. 

Dear Cllr Rajput

You told me late on Wednesday night that the 'renewal' programme for disabled residents' Freedom Passes had been suspended. I believed you.

Can you please explain, therefore, why the parent of at least one resident affected by this scheme, a disabled student whose pass was wrongly cancelled, is still being told she must go through the process of appeal in order for her pass to be reinstated? And how many other victims of this debacle are also continuing to experience severe difficulties because of the apparent determination of Capita to carry on with processing these spurious 'renewals'?

Mrs Siobhan Fairclough has given me permission to draw your attention to the fact that a Capita officer named Matthew O'Connor has been in contact with her, I think yesterday morning, and insisted that the same criteria, invented by Barnet council, still apply, ie that despite the fact her daughter Jenny has autism and serious health problems, attends Oak Lodge School, and has held a pass for years, she must be 'known' to the Learning Disabilities Team and the Dennis Scott Unit at Edgware Hospital.

To me, and more importantly, to Jenny's family, this does not in any way indicate that there has been a suspension of this iniquitous process. It may be that no new approaches to residents will be made, but that is too late for the many cases already in progress.

This exercise has caused huge distress, disruption and financial loss for many of the borough's most vulnerable residents, who quite clearly have a statutory right to these passes. 

That in itself is shameful, but to claim the process is stopped, without failing to ensure those residents have their passes immediately restored and not subject to further distress is simply unacceptable. 

It also leaves your administration open to legal challenge, as I am sure you know.

I think this matter indicates only too well to what extent your administration has lost control of the management of so many services and failed properly to scrutinise the delivery of those services by your private contractors. How tragic that it is those least able to take the burden who must deal with the consequences.

Mrs Angry will be asking Cllr Rajput to respond as well, taking the view that he is ultimately responsible for what has happened, along with the rest of the Tory administration.

*Updated Sunday 8th May: 

At midnight on the night before the election last week, Tory Cllr Sachin Rajput, Barnet's Chair of Adult Care and Safeguarding, emailed Mrs Angry to say that the disgraceful council/Capita run process of cancelling Freedom Passes for many disabled residents had been suspended. Mrs Angry believed him.

Despite this assurance, it would seem from the experience of Siobhan Fairclough, whose fight to reinstate the pass wrongly taken from her daughter Jenny is described below, that the process continues, as she has been told she must continue with an appeal in order to be considered for a possible 'renewal' of this pass, so vital for her daughter, who has autism, and serious health problems. Jenny has had a pass for many years, and quite clearly meets the definitions of the statutory eligibility criteria. 

As she comments here - and Mrs Angry has her permission to mention - why does Barnet Council think it may add its own criteria to the process which provides such passes?

"I cannot see that being known to the Learning Disabilities Team in Barnet is part of the legal requirement as stated by London Councils and TFL etc. 

Another criteria is being known to the Dennis Scott Unit at Edgware Hospital, how can they be allowed to add their own criteria? 

 (Redacted) at Capita only called to state that he had received my appeal, another parent had emailed on my behalf as she had managed to get her daughters Freedom Pass reinstated. I believe he was called me with regard to that AND NOT the councils claim that the procedure had been cancelled ..."

And why on earth are Barnet Council and Capita continuing to persecute the disabled residents and families whose passes have been cancelled, sometimes with no warning, leaving the pass holder to face the humiliation and confusion of finding themselves stranded, unable to board a bus or enter a tube station?

How many residents have wrongly had their passes taken from them?

How many residents are struggling financially as a result of having to pay transport costs that the passes should cover?

Why, as well as a suspension which now appears to apply only to new 'renewals', has there not been an immediate apology to residents affected, and the implementation of an urgent process of returning the passes to those who should never have lost them anyway?

Mrs Angry has written again to Cllr Rajput to put these points. 

The story, incidentally, has now been covered by the Standard, see here:

One has to wonder to what extent Cllr Rajput has any idea - or control - over what Capita is doing, even now, after all the revelations about this matter. There is no excuse for not knowing how this programme has been operating, and continues to operate: but this is the inevitable result of an outsourced, privatised service, handed over to a profit making machine that sees disabled residents not in terms of their needs, but how much money can be saved by depriving them of a travel pass.

And it must be said, in all honesty, that the Barnet Labour councillors' handling of this scandal has been less than impressive. The leader has still not acknowledged the email copied to him by Mrs Angry on the 29th April about the scheme, and another senior Labour councillor only replied to two emails sent over several days, on the day after the election. 

Eventually, the group response, on May 3rd, was to announce a petition to reinstate cancelled passes. (And, as you will see - it makes no mention of physically disabled residents, including those being subjected to the degrading process of 'assessments' by Capita, involving walking up and down stairs, or to a bus stop, watched by a Capita employee ...) The response from parents in contact with Mrs Angry is, in one case at least, unpublishable: to put it politely, they feel very let down.

Too little, too late, and missing the obvious point: why get the public to beg the council to give back something that was taken away, rather than demand evidence that the programme was lawful in the first place? 

Reports to councillors of what had been happening had first been made some time ago - and Mrs Angry has seen correspondence between residents, councillors and Capita officers - but it was only once this indefensible scheme was exposed by local bloggers that anything effectively was done by the Tories to stop further 'renewals', and - we hope - the whole damn process. 

The Labour party in Barnet is very good at organising leaflet drops, and knocking on doorsteps. They have still to realise that they need hard hitting, campaigning issues to put on those leaflets, and raise on those doorsteps, as proof that they are an effective opposition.

That said, the real shame here, of course, is to be hurled at the Tory administration, led by Richard Cornelius,  which apparently condones the penalising of disabled and vulnerable residents like Jenny, and Karen - and so many other residents who are too scared of reprisals to be publicly named. 

They may say they knew nothing about it, as they instigate an enquiry: this would be entirely a disingenuous if so - some councillors certainly knew about it, and if they did not, this would clearly demonstrate yet again, that they have lost control of their own contracted, privatised services.

And here is the point where we turn briefly to the outcome of the election results, here in Broken Barnet (more in next post), and the failure of the Tory candidate, Dan Thomas, to win the Barnet and Camden seat from Andrew Dismore. 

Thomas has been complaining on twitter about the impact of the electoral cockup which saw voters turned away from polling stations on the morning of the election. 

He no doubt wants to imagine that the incompetent handling of the electoral registers - of course by the administration of which he is deputy Leader - is to blame for his failure.

No, Cllr Thomas. The reason residents failed to be persuaded by your candidacy is quite simple. 

They do not like the things your council is doing to this borough. 

They do not want their public services torn apart. 

They do not want their libraries turned into DIY, unstaffed book clubs. 

And they do not want to see disabled family members, friends and neighbours have their travel passes confiscated by your profiteering contractors, while you and your Tory colleagues drive around Barnet enjoying the self awarded privilege of a free parking permit, subsidised by taxpayers.

Now do you understand?

Wednesday 4th May:

It's been six years now, since this blog was launched, and Mrs Angry began to chronicle, in loving detail, the never ending saga of corporate idiocy and grubby politics that delights us rather too much, here in Broken Barnet.

What is it, about this borough, that so many stories that arise here become the focus of not only the local blogosphere, but so much national interest, and media attention? 

Some days it is hard to walk down the street without bumping into yet another documentary film crew, or news team, in search of footage to illustrate the latest act of political extremism perpetrated by our lunatic Tory council. 

Every day, it seems, another cockeyed pilot scheme comes to light that has been adopted by this administration, desperate as always, of course, to be seen as the flagship of Conservative policy, revelling in its own glory, only begetter (or so they would like us to believe) of the 'easycouncil' model of mass outsourcing, the hollowed out, commissioning council.

Here in Broken Barnet we residents are no better than rats in a cage, the objects of experimentation in social engineering, in an ideological laboratory for the latest new preoccupation: a pioneer of any new idea, as long as it is punitive, profitable, and bound to the ideals of Tory Barnet, a factory of dogma forged in the era of Thatcherism, still wheeled around the borough like the relics from an ancient cult, dying slowly on the edge of the known world.

Reflecting, as some of us were, the other night, on the stories that have emerged, over this period, from the MetPro scandal, to the current revelations of the failings of the massive Capita contract, it is hard to imagine anywhere else, in this country, that has produced an unceasing narrative of events so clearly defining the issues which are at the heart of our political landscape. The landscape of Broken Barnet is the story of Broken Britain, painted on a backdrop, for your entertainment. Take your seats.

Forget about all the other tales that have played out on this stage: the mass outsourcing of our public services; the lie that is 'regeneration', acted out in the annexation of the West Hendon estate, sold to developers for £3; a housing policy that introduces criteria of approval based on moral judgement, fast tracking for the deserving poor, but only for housing that can last no longer than five years; the commercial exploitation of even the dead citizens of Broken Barnet by the Crapitorial control of 'Easycrem', the former Hendon Cemetery.

Set aside the the constitutional amendment that censored any heretical reference by residents at local forums to any aspect of council 'policy'; the attempts to destroy our library service; the abandonment of responsibility for meals on wheels - or the shameful story of 'Your Choice Barnet', a business model dreamed up, at our expense, by business consultants, to make profit, as of course they felt they must, from the provision of care to vulnerable adults, which failed, and had to be bailed out by the local taxpayer. 

If you recall, YCB's failure was then addressed by making savings: not from the inflated six figure salaries of senior officers, but by slashing the salary of already desperately low paid care workers by ten percent,  justified by one of those privileged senior officers as being necessary because these workers needed to take 'a haircut'.

All of this, readers, fades into the background, for a while, at least, when we look now, on the eve of another election, here in London, at what is happening in Broken Barnet.

Today it was laid bare, the ugly truth that lies at the heart, if there is one, of Tory Barnet. 

A story that has emerged, piece by piece, only by the courage of those families whose loved ones are being affected, but were too worried about the consequences to speak out: families of disabled residents in this borough, in this capital city, in 2016, whose mobility has been taken away from them not by disability itself, but by the public authority entrusted with the defence of their well being.

Yes: this is  perhaps the most shocking story of all, or at least the one that best demonstrates the sickness that is eating away at the core of our public services, here in Tory Barnet: the story of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme.

For some time now, vital passes have been taken away, sometimes with no notice, from disabled and highly vulnerable adults and young people, whose right to travel free of charge is one protected in law, yet who have been subjected to a humiliating and distressing process, supposedly necessary in order to renew something to which they are entitled anyway until 2020. 

In some cases, disabled residents have been summoned to ' assessments', to check their physical capacity. In a comment left yesterday on the previous post, one woman with mobility problems reports being called to a humiliating and distressing interview in which she was made to walk up stairs, and to a bus stop, watched by an 'assessor', presumably provided by Capita, but whose qualifications are unknown. 

i feel very anxious and very down. If they take it from me, i wont be able to cope financially, as i can only carry a small bag of groceries at a time..certainly not enough to live. I cant afford all the bus fares, i cant walk to the shop to top up..frankly, im terrified. My son will have to give up his job to care for me. I hope i will get the chance to appeal. The letter said, if you get high rate mobility you didnt have to have an interview...but if you can walk to a bus dont get high rate mobility! Its a trick no one can qualify!!

In another case reported today in the local Times, Jenny Fairclough, a teenage pupil with autism - and other serious health problems - has been brave enough to describe the distress she has undergone since losing her pass - see photo above.

It is simply heart breaking to read about this hugely upsetting experience, and know it has happened to countless others, unable to speak out, now having lost their access to public transport, unless they can afford to pay full fares.

Why has this been happening? 

The blame has been put on a change of criteria of eligibility  by London Councils: not true, as the eligibility is statutory. The real reason is easy to guess: in order to create a pretext for removing some residents' right to a pass, and make savings as a result. Savings which may or may not result in reward for the private contractors overseeing the scheme: one of several aspects of this issue which must now be investigated.

Capita is administering this process, on behalf of the council. But they are not doing this on their own initiative, in secret, but with the approval of your Tory councillors.

You may think that there could be nothing more shameful than what they have done: and yet they had no sense of shame, until this matter was forced out into the open, by local bloggers, first the Barnet Eye, and now Mrs Angry.

Only once pressure was put on the council last week, was the process suspended, and a temporary stop to the spurious renewal scheme. 

Yesterday Mrs Angry asked the authority's Monitoring Officer to investigate whether the scheme was in fact lawful, in principle and practice, and was not discriminatory: and now today, after a story in the local press, we hear words of contrition - now that they have been caught out - from a senior commissioning officer at Barnet Council, Jamie Blake:

“We understand that freedom passes are a highly valued means of getting around by those who use the scheme, which is why it is important to ensure that only those who are eligible can use them. We would like to apologise for any distress that may have been caused. Residents who have had their pass withdrawn will be contacted by us within the next seven days to discuss their circumstances.” 

Do they really think we will believe this apparent apology 'for any distress' is sincere? 'Ensuring only the eligible can use them ...' As opposed to what? 

Are you suggesting residents who originally received these passes because they had disabilities are now somehow recovered, and fraudulently using a travel pass? 

The eligibility criteria have not changed, but Mr Blake perhaps may think that thousands of disabled residents have somehow become able bodied, whilst forgetting to inform the council. 

Do they think we believe that the senior management of this council had no idea this process was taking place, and that enormous distress was being caused to so many residents and their families? 

Who authorised it, then? 

Either they knew, or Capita was acting without authority - which would be a very serious matter, another very serious matter, on top of all the other troublesome developments which this contract has recently seen. 

But you will notice something else very interesting too. Not one Tory councillor has spoken publicly about this scandalous practice, now revealed for the shameful piece of exploitation that it is. 

Oh: hang on, while writing this late at night, Mrs Angry has just heard from Cllr Sachin Rajput, who is the Tory lead on this matter: 

There is a suspension now in place. As far as future renewals of passes or the issuing of new passes in the future is concerned, this will be the subject of policy review I understand. 

Mrs Angry has pointed out that suspension should have taken place long ago, when concerns were first raised, and anyway such a policy should never have been sanctioned. 

Rather than draw attention to elected members, just before an election, the council has taken put a senior officer in the firing line, and allowed the political culprits to maintain absolute silence. 

In fact we know now, from several sources that at least some members and officers were perfectly aware of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme, and the distress it was causing, and yet no action was taken to stop it. 

Let us repeat the point: action is only being taken now because it has been dragged out into the public domain - on the eve of an election. 

In the meanwhile, while some of the most vulnerable residents of Barnet have lost their vital travel passes, and wait to hear if the council may now graciously restore them - no mention of compensation for financial loss, incidentally - your Tory councillors continue to travel about the borough enjoying the free parking permits which they award themselves, so no need to worry about them, anyway. 

Apparently the only eligibility criteria for this nice little perk is to be a Conservative member (Labour members refuse to take them) and an innate sense of entitlement. No renewal scheme required. 

Well, in the morning, this morning, you have the opportunity to vote in the London elections. 

The Tory candidate for Barnet and Camden is Daniel Thomas, who is also the Deputy Leader of Barnet Council. 

He has refused to comment about the Freedom Pass scandal: but then his entire campaign - probably wisely - appears to have consisted of keeping as low a profile as possible, forming no opinions on any issue of importance, and not expressing the opinions he does not have. 

The Labour candidate and current AM, Andrew Dismore, on the other hand, has written to Tory leader Cornelius, and has said: 

"Disabled residents & their relatives have been “caused exceptional anxiety and distress ... There is now a pattern of systemic failure associated with the Capita contract.” 

Dismore is now calling for an independent external inquiry into Capita, and options for cancelling the contract. He is absolutely right to do so. There is no other option now. 

This week's last, worst, example of the Capitalisation of Broken Barnet has made that perfectly clear. 

When you go to the polling station, please think very carefully about the options you have before you. 

If you want to live in a capital city, in a borough, where, as we have seen all too acutely this week, profit comes before the interests of our most vulnerable residents, those who need housing, support, and care, then go right ahead, and vote for the Conservative candidates. 

But if you still have hopes for a London where community, fairness, dignity, equality and justice have a chance of survival, you have only one choice: give your vote to a Labour Mayor and a Labour Assembly member - to Sadiq Khan, and to Andrew Dismore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done Mrs A . & you are perfectly correct in that one thing after the next comes out into the light , the next big thing is that refuse collection is just about to be outsourced & part of that deal is fortnightly collection of waste so a 50% reduction in service yep about right for us Barnet tax payers .