Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Would like to meet? Love and outsourcing in the One Barnet House of Fun

Mrs Angry's attention was caught this morning by a remark in interesting article in the Grauniad, published a day or so ago about the Polish 'cultural theorist' Slavoj Zizek.


Yes, yes, that Slavoj Zizek, you know, who wrote 'Less than nothing - Hegel and the shadow of dialectical materialism' ... oh, you haven't read it? No? Well, anyway, Slavoj, once described as - ha ha - the Borat of philosophers, shares with us some intimate details of his rather surprisingly restrained intimate life, and says he is really an old romantic, although, the article says, "He's appalled by the promise of dating agencies to "outsource" the risk of romance".

Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Outsourcing really has become an established feature of our cultural references, then, hasn't it? The idea that the potential risk of any encounter or transaction has now to be managed, and that all relationships, whether commercial, social, or emotional, can be and should be rationalised though a formalised system of introduction, rather than by chance or on an individual basis has really taken a grip of us.

From internet dating to public sector procurement, the opportunity now is always there for profit to be made from the simple needs of one party trying to find another, for mutual satisfaction. Just as we have replaced the randomness of reckless romance, or the solitary pursuits of lonely hearts ads with the safety of internet dating, we have abandoned the principle and practices of public service and community centred councils with the market driven procurement of commercial enterprise. Romance may be dead, but capitalism is flourishing.

Of course here in this borough, things are never quite what they seem. The outsourcing of council services, though now subject in theory to the new principle of formal introduction, is in practice run in a rather more casual fashion. Instead of the safety of a third party agency making the introductions and ensuring the best interests and safety of the happy couple, our facilitators are not so demanding, opening the door, pocketing the fee, shrugging their shoulders and then sitting in the back room while the bed springs creak. It's called One Barnet.

Last night Mrs Angry attended a talk on the subject of One Barnet given by Dexter Whitfield, an academic who is an expert on public sector outsourcing. Dexter is Director of the European Services Strategy Unit, and an associate professor at the University of Adelaide: in other words, he knows what he is talking about. His talk last night was to explain the real cost, and the inevitable consequences, of our borough being forced, without the understanding or consent of the residents and voters, into the role of the One Barnet commissioning council.

If the outsourcing agenda of One Barnet is allowed to continue to the point of agreement we are, he told us, in his view, as a borough, only four months from disaster.

He explained why.

No other local authority has ever attempted to outsource its services on the massive scale that Barnet is now trying to do. None. We are unique in trying to flog off ONE BILLION POUNDS worth of our services to the private sector, and we are also unique in that we are foolish enough to try to run TWO huge outsourcing competitive dialogues at the same time.

One Barnet is an experiment. We are the guinea pigs. One Barnet, if you like, is the shampoo that is going to get rubbed in your eyes by the mad scientists at North London Business Park.

Dexter also pointed out that the mad scientists at North London Business Park have the most appalling record when it comes to commissioning, procurement, and contractual procedure, as the Barnet bloggers have proved, over and over again.

He showed us the results of a study with data revealing the success, or failures, of rather less grandiose but comparable schemes undertaken by other authorities acting in 'strategic partnerships' with the private sector.

In this study, there were eleven commissioning partnerships with private companies. Twenty five per cent of 44 contracts incurred serious failure in delivery, in some cases, 9.1 per cent, requiring termination of contracts - these were authorities in Bedfordshire, West Berkshire, Sefton and Essex.

Another 9.1 per cent were forced to make major reductions in scope of contracts, with some services returned in house - Redcar & Cleveland, Somerset, Rochdale and Swansea. And then 6.8 per cent had 'significant problems' in contracts - Liverpool City Council, Birmingham, and Oldham.

The Liverpool example is interesting: this was with one of our contenders here in Broken Barnet, yes: BT. An overcharge of what was it - £19 million? Long story.

You may not be an expert on the subject of outsourcing: nor is Mrs Angry, but then this is really only a matter of common sense. Look at the evidence: the huge risk involved in any major privatisation of council services, the unprecedented scale of ambition in the One Barnet agenda, the doubts expressed not so long ago by the council's own auditors as to the lack of preparation for the scheme, the consequent revelations, post MetPro, of the staggering scale of incompetence amongst the current council administration in regard to commissioning, the lack of compliance with contractual obligations, legal obligations ... and now ask yourself, do you trust these people to give control of your council services to a huge profit seeking company like BT, Capita, Serco, or any of the cosy cabal of private companies now feasting off the public sector, at our expense?

Well, do you?

Why does the market have to be introduced into the public sector, anyway? Because this is a completely artifiicial activity. A market has been created where it should not belong. Why has it been created? Is it to benefit us, the residents? Or has it been created to benefit the transnational companies looking to increase their profits?

Funny, isn't it, though, that the theory of market forces only applies in the outsourcing of local authority services when supported by a huge investment of residents money, your money, my money, to make those services 'attractive' to the private sector. Remember the idea that One Barnet was going to make vital savings? Even though it has in fact already cost us millions of tax payers' money, and the examples elsewhere clearly demonstrate that the huge savings promised simply do not materialise?

Ask your local councillor how much money has been spent on One Barnet so far: how many millions spent on consultants, or on activities such as tarting up the cemetery where many members of my family are buried, so as to make it an effective 'sweetener' for the predatory private companies bidding for One Barnet profits?

Ask yourself why public money, so much public money, is being used to facilitate the commercial benefits of private companies.

If the One Barnet outsourcing goes ahead, we will be locked into at least TEN YEARS of bondage to our lascivious clients in the private sector. They can screw us any way they want, for as long as they want, within that period.

As Dexter Whitfield asked: What is is going to be like? We can write the script now. It is going to have devastating consequences.

The most obvious change will be in the role of the council as a commissioning agent.

Barnet wants to be what is known as a 'thin client'. Or, as they would put it, an 'intelligent client'. Ha. In Broken Barnet? You having a laugh, Professor?

In essence, being a 'thin client' means enacting the least amount of involvement in the process of scrutiny as possible. Cast your mind back to MetPro, and all those other non compliant contracts which Barnet runs, on our behalf, without the formal sanction of European procurement regulations. You know, without proper contracts, and really just a casual arrangement whereby money, your money, my money, is handed over, with few, if any questions asked.

Welcome to One Barnet.

Don't like it?


You have four months to make your objections known.

After that, we belong to whichever company, or possibly two companies, persuades the senior management team of Barnet Council to choose them to deliver almost EVERY council service you can think of. Local jobs for council workers will largely be a thing of the past, and if you have any complaint about any council service, madam, or sir, you can forget about anyone giving a shit. Service standards will inevitably decline, as the new companies providing the service have to struggle in the new reality of the market economy. Their profit will come before your welfare: what did you think would happen? They are not there to subsidise your need. This is One Barnet, plc, accountable to private sector shareholders, not you.

It's not too late to withdraw from this madness, however.

Earlier this year Edinburgh council withdrew at the last moment from a large scale outsourcing agreement, despite previously showing every intention to proceed. What changed their mind?

Fear of massive electoral damage.

Uh oh.

Barnet Tories have just witnessed a series of three devastating electoral defeats. East Finchley, The GLA, and Brunswick Park. All results which they would not have predicted, in their worst nightmares, only a short while ago. The truth is that there is now not a safe Tory council seat left in Barnet, and even the three local Tory MPs are panicking at the prospect of losing their positions in the next general election.

One of those MPs, Mike Freer, was responsible for promoting the prototype of One Barnet, when he was leader of Barnet Council. Remember easycouncil? He liked to imply that this was the product of his own creative genius, a new model for local government. The truth is that this private sector friendly commissioning model has been fostered and encouraged by BT, and all the other big players in the outsourcing game, over the last decade. It is now proved to be an outdated concept, a fatally flawed and dangerous concept and especially when enacted on any large scale.

Here in Barnet the dimwitted Tory councillors do not have the brains to see this - yet, and the senior management team has too much to lose by changing course.

The Barnet Spring, the movement of resistence to the catastrophic course of action being engineered by our Tory council, is alive and well and after recent triumphs, is galvanised into further opposition to the policies being foisted on the residents of Broken Barnet.

At last night's Barnet Alliance meeting, where Professor Whitfield delivered his blistering appraisal of One Barnet, there was a room full of an audience of residents burning with resentment over their council's idiotic behaviour.

A swift assessment of the demographics of this audience was enough to assure Mrs Angry that the Tories are in serious trouble: no party can afford to alienate the sort of voter that has been politicised by recent political events here in this borough. Barnet's Conservative councillors care only about one thing: being re elected, and retaining their allowances. If they really want to persuade the electorate of this borough to return any of them to office, there is only one thing to do: dump One Barnet, before it is too late.

Romance is dead, in Broken Barnet, that is an undeniable truth. All we can hope for is an honest transaction, between consenting adults.

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