Tuesday 8 November 2011

A risk of further disillusionment: seventeen minutes of democracy, Broken Barnet style

Cabinet Resources Committee

Well, last night Mrs Angry thought she would stroll along to the Town Hall, and take a look at the Barnet Cabinet Resources meeting. If you looked at the agenda, you see, you might be forgiven for thinking there were some important issues to be discussed, and agreed. Foolish Mrs Angry had forgotten that we live in Broken Barnet, where important issues are agreed, but not discussed. Important issues are agreed, in secret, at the pre meeting, half an hour before the public one. Discussion does not take place, in the pre meeting, or at all, in Broken Barnet.

Quite a lot of councillors were hanging about the Town Hall last night, as it happens, before the meeting. Yes: it was quite busy, wasn't it, Mr Mustard? And some naughty person had parked his car, we noticed, in the disabled bay by the front door, with no visible badge. Mrs Angry sincerely hopes it was not a councillor. Anyway, the car had vanished by the time the committee meeting was finished, so perhaps the culprit had had a sudden attack of remorse, or a dinner appointment.

Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard were politely greeted as usual by the very pleasant post MetPro Town Hall staff who attend the council meetings. Sadly, this warm welcome seems to evaporate as you walk up the slippery stairs, and drift down the corridor of power to the committee rooms. Senior officers walk past, pretending they cannot see you, and examine their One Barnet cufflinks, and councillors sneak mean, darting looks across the room when they think you are not watching ... Mrs Angry is always watching, of course.

Present last night were Chair John Thomas, leader Richard Cornelius, Robert Rams, Andrew Harper and Sachin Rajput. Someone had not bothered to turn up for the meeting, knowing no doubt that it was not necessary - perhaps he had been to the pre meeting and given his colleagues the benefit of his wisdom? Yes, no Brian Coleman. Hamlet without the prince, then - or perhaps Marat/Sade without the Marquis de?

It was ok, though, because Councillor Coleman's guiding hand on the tiller was not needed: this boat had already been launched and bobbed along nicely - or perhaps a more apt metaphor would be like floating like a turd in a sewer. No real questions, no debate, no concerns, no discussion. Democracy, Broken Barnet style.

Some feel that in Barnet we really have too many councillors, three for each ward - do we need so many? Any? Really, though, it would be much more efficient, and indeed economical if, in our One Barnet relentless drive for efficiency, we cut down on the number of cabinet members required to attend these meetings. The quorum is three, so why bother with the rest? They don't do anything. Fill up the seats with stuffed dummies, wax models, or automatons: no one will notice.

Anyway, time for some rubber stamping. Dollis Valley regeneration scheme? The unctuous leader Cornelius said it had been going on since 2003 and gone nowhere, and that residents should not succumb to 'false excitement' - Mrs Angry noted the report referred to a risk of 'further disillusionment' amongst residents, and 'reputational risk' for the council, and clearly this is a terrible thought, and something this Tory administration is keen to prevent. Despite the eight years of going nowhere, a senior officer present at the table was congratulated for a 'well run' competitive dialogue with tendering companies. Oh good. We like those, don't we?

Bla bla bla, no questions, agreed, agreed, bla bla bla, no questions, agreed. Item 7, oh hello, up pops Councillor Harper, raising some interest: he wanted to say, ha ha, there could have been a more felicitous phrasing of one line in the report because, oh dear, this'll make you laugh, people might think that community groups are not highly regarded in this borough ... oh how they all rolled about in merriment, councillors, council officers ... but not bloggers, who sat with stern disapproval.

Mrs Angry thought about something she read recently somewhere about another prince, the prince of Darkness, Peter Mandelson, who was once, as a young Labour activist, thrown out of a council meeting at Hendon Town Hall for heckling. Mrs Angry imagines that he was severely provoked, and indeed often has to struggle to contain an urge to yell insults, or throw pens in the direction of the councillors. Last night, short though it was, was no exception.

Item 8: the Catalyst Care Home Contract Renegotiation. The disastrous consequences of this contract - yes, we do have some, and look what happens when we do - is or should be, a warning from history for our One Barnet, one billion pounds worth of contracting out Tory council. Are they interested? No, they are not. The plodding Sachin Rajput told us it was all the fault of a Labour administration - twice - as of course his Tory colleagues have an outstanding record of procurement, tendering, contracting and payment, as seen in the MetPro audit report.

Ah, which brings us to Item 10: Adults and Children's Service Contracts. Yes, the good news, post MetPro, is that we are going to have some. Contracts. For the hundreds of children with severe special needs and elderly people in care, that is. Because, post MetPro, they admitted that there were around SIX HUNDRED contracts that were not contracts, 'non compliant' and most of these were to do with the care of our most vulnerable residents, so no one had noticed - or cared.

Councillor Thomas has a way of speaking, in a smooth, monotonous, manner that glosses beautifully, if somewhat chillingly, over any unpleasantness and/or failure to provide an adequate system of democratic local governance. He told us that there had been some 'necessary action' taken in order to 'regularise' contracts, or as he put it, while Mrs Angry laughed darkly and scanned her collection of pens for the most aerodynamic missile - 'Contract Housekeeping'.

And there has never been any real need for concern: no, no, no, Mrs Angry ... Councillor Rajput told us so, and he said, and I believe him, that there has never been any risk to residents. Safeguarding? This is of course an area of expertise for us here in Broken Barnet. Remember the at risk children who had contact with unlicensed, non CRB checked MetPro security? There was no need to conduct any inquiry into any possible risk then, and no need now, one imagines, in this case either. And after all, children with special needs and elderly people with dementia probably can't remember anything, can they, and they're not likley to kick up a fuss?

A senior officer from Social Services also agreed there was no need for concern about any risk to those affected by the casual 'arrangements' which should have been provided by compliant contracts, but were not: she told us so, in a nice, soothing Woman's Hour sort of voice: she welcomed the report, and thanked her colleagues in procurement for rather belatedly pulling their f*cking fingers out (Mrs Angry is paraphrasing) or, as she put it - 'seeking to work to improve things, and to be the best in class'. Marvellous. Well done. Better late than never, eh?

At this point, the Chair, Councillor Thomas, said that, on behalf of himself and Tory leader Richard Cornelius, he would like to thank the Barnet bloggers Mr Mustard, Mrs Angry, Mr Reasonable, Mr Tichborne and Citizen Barnet for the outstanding work they have done in uncovering the incompetent contractual and procurement procedures of the London Borough of Barnet, and indeed thanked them for all the sterling voluntary work they do, in the true spirit of localism and the Big Society, and then Mrs Angry was poked in the side by Mr Mustard, and she woke up, and the meeting was over, in seventeen minutes, record time, and then we went to the pub, (and so did one or two senior officers, she can tell you) only I probably shouldn't mention that, because being seen in public with naughty Mrs Angry is a reputational risk that strikes fear into the heart of all men in the greater London area, and indeed several of the home counties.

I can't think why: can you?


Mr Mustard said...

I had 17 minutes free Mrs Angry so also wrote a report. It doesn't say anything because there really wasn't anything to report. No wonder you had to make up the final paragraph.

Mind you, the tips we got in the pub from officers will certainly come in handy very soon.

Mrs Angry said...

don't buy many rounds, do they? Make up what paragraph?

Mrs Angry said...

yes, I have taken a look at your report: mine is much funnier, Mr Mustard, and I fail to see what a report on indoor sex workers has to do with anything: at least they earn an honest living.

Mr Mustard said...

Your report is much funnier Mrs Angry. Mine did at least contain the business that was sadly transacted in a terrible hurry ( does sound like paid for sex - not that Mr Mustard would know! )

Outdoors is fine by Mr Mustard ( although not when it is below freezing )

Mrs Angry said...

hmm ... forgot to read this properly, Mr Mustard, tut tut: still, Mrs Angry is very broad minded, as you know, and as the saying goes, as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses. I would advise you to keep your vest on, however, now that there is an autumn chill in the air.

Mrs Angry said...

oh, and as the next post explains, Mr Mustard, Scratchwood open space is very pleasant at this time of year, if you are keen on outdoor pursuits. There may be a small charge in future, but Councillor Coleman and Ms Pam Wharfe are going to install PayPoint facilities for the benefit of visitors.