Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Big Brother in Broken Barnet: CEO Walkley loses the plot

If you ever doubted the dystopian vision of Broken Barnet brought to you in this blog, or in any other Barnet blog, be prepared to set those doubts to one side now.

Today has been an extraordinary day in the history of Barnet council's increasingly bizarre attempts to impose its will on the thousands of employees it is trying to sell off to the highest bidder, along with around one billion pounds worth of service contracts.

As you may know, the senior management team of Broken Barnet has, over recent years, persuaded the Tory administration to commit to a large scale outsourcing of council services in the guise of the easycouncil/futureshape and now One Barnet programme. Whatever you call this pile of shite, it is still a pile of shite: a hastily conceived, ill designed project with no viable business plan, and based on a fundamentally flawed, unworkable concept, one which has still to provide any savings and is in fact costing millions of pounds to create.

Barnet's employees are expected to go along with this idiotic plan, meekly, like lambs to the slaughter, facing the loss of their jobs, or at best, re-employment on worse terms and conditions with none of the legal protections they deserve and have rightly received - as council workers. The fact that the services they will provide, if they are lucky enough to retain a post, will deteriorate under the pressure of market forces, will only serve to make their jobs more precarious, and inevitably many services will have to be returned in house to the local authority, in a predictable sequence of events already witnessed where massive outsourcing has been applied.

Here in Barnet council employees are feeling more and more inclined to stand up to the self interested management team which is trying to force through the One Barnet programme, despite all doubts raised about the practicality of the programme, emphasised by the toxic findings of the MetPro audit report, and everything it told us about the leadership and management of this authority.

On September 13th, workers in one section of the council have decided to take a half day of industrial action: their union Unison have called this 'Independence Day': the motive behind this action is explained in a press release issued yesterday:

6 September 2011


On Tuesday 13 September up to 400 UNISON members working across the following services will be taking strike action

Trading Standards & Licensing, Land Charges, Planning & Development, Building Control & Structures, Environmental Health, Highways Strategy, Highways Network Management, Highways Traffic & Development, Highways Transport & Regeneration, Strategic Planning & Regeneration, Cemeteries & Crematoria; Parking Services, Revs & Bens,

The Trades Dispute concerns the identity of the employer. Barnet Council is promoting the One Barnet programme which is just a ‘remix version’ of the ‘contracting out’ ideology from the 1980’s. There are already several contracts out for consultation with the private sector. The value of the contracts (fast approaching almost £2 billion) has already attracted the big Private sector FAT CATS.

Up to 70% of the council workforce could be transferred to the Private sector in little more than 16 months time.

Dave Prentis general secretary message to Barnet UNISON.

“To the 400 UNISON members taking strike action: UNISON members across the country are standing shoulder to shoulder with you as you challenge this council – a council that refuses to listen to its workforce, a council that refuses to listen to logic or sense, a council now embarking on a reckless gamble

“Last week our union commissioned a report on the impact of outsourcing on the council’s pension scheme. The report gave a damning assessment of the serious financial risks to the pension scheme as a direct result of One Barnet programme.

Heather Wakefield UNISON's head of local government,

'The widescale privatisation at the heart of One Barnet should be placed under the severest scrutiny by Government, Barnet's scrutiny committee and the people of Barnet themselves. The council's failure to ensure procurement procedures and the obvious detrimental impact on the Local Government Pension Scheme of privatisation of local services are just two good reasons for challenging the path that Barnet has chosen. The third is the waste of public money involved in the procurement process through payments to consultants, procurement costs and payments to shareholders - money which should be invested in local people and local services.'

John Burgess Barnet UNISON Branch Secretary said

“The Council need to recognise that ‘political dogma’ also known as One Barnet programme cannot be allowed to continue to expose residents, services and staff to a high risk strategy and expect them to pick up the bill.

What we mean by ‘independence’

A recent article Greensquare Field – Planning to Outsource Planning posted on the local Barnet Eye Blog encapsulates conflict of interest’s issues:

“At the moment Barnet Council is in the middle of tendering to outsource a number of services, one of which is the planning service. In the running are a number of companies: Capita Symonds, Atkins, Jacobs and E C Harrison. The planning consultants who represent Higgins Homes plc, and have done through 2 planning applications, 2 planning appeals, a village green application and the draft LDF, work for Capita Symonds. If Capita win the tender, they will decide any future planning applications.”

As council services for Barnet as a place to live and work, our decisions must be 100% independent and free from any ‘conflict of interest’.

Barnet Alliance have recently published a newspaper their front page spells out the dangers of the One Barnet here

Barnet UNISON is asking for the One Barnet programme to be put on hold.

This morning, Mrs Angry received a statement from Unison which referred to:

'a letter written by the Chief Executive which has been distributed by hand to all staff who have been currently legally balloted for industrial action. In the letter he states the “council are presenting an injunction application to the high court” this is a serious matter and UNISON will be responding in due course.'

By lunchtime today it was reported that, in an extraordinary move, giant billboard posters with some of the contents of this letter by the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, had been installed, in Big Brother fashion, all around the council offices at North London Business Park.

Just to make the situation even madder, a second version of the letter was sent to employees this afternoon, in which the threat of High Court action is withdrawn.

How very interesting: why is this, do you suppose?

Clearly there is a concerted effort by the senior management of Broken Barnet to 'persuade' employees that all their fears about the future of their jobs is misplaced, in a campaign which is both misleading and intimidatory. As the Chief Executive's letter clearly states, terms and conditions for any staff members transferred to external employers will be protected for only one year: experience in similar situations has proved that after this period, employees are at the mercy of their new masters and face the real prospect of lower pay, longer hours, loss of leave entitlement and more. And they know that the services they will be offering the residents of Barnet will inevitably be affected by a sharp deterioration in standards.

Council staff are right to be concerned at the effects of externalising services: while the overpaid senior officers of this council, and their friends in the fat cat companies, have everything to gain from throwing business into the hands of the private sector, ordinary employees - and the residents of Barnet - have everything to lose.

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