Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How to do something really bad, in Broken Barnet, and what to say about it in the Guardian: a guide by Richard Cornelius

Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius, at North London Business Park 

Tomorrow will see the announcement of the lucky winners of the One Barnet One Billion giveaway competition, in which one of two candidates, Capita or BT, will be given total control of almost all our council services for the next ten years. Mrs Angry's prediction is that, surprise, surprise, Crapita has it all sewn up, but then, one must be careful, as a certain amount of misinformation is being thrown about at the moment.

And talking of misinformation, here is a good example. 

As our lazy, feckless Tory councillors sit back and watch the One Barnet juggernaut head straight towards disaster, the leader and Cabinet members are feeling a little sweaty around the collar. There has been an awful lot of media attention on the One Barnet issue, with a particular interest in the resistence by residents to their shabby proposals. In the Comment is Free section of the Guardian this morning, look: up pops leader Richard Cornelius, holding his nose, and appearing in a Left Wing Newspaper. Oh, the shame: but Richard is clearly feeling rather panic stricken: Mrs Angry's rude retorts in red ....

Forget public v private. We just want the best value for taxpayers' money

Barnet council is doing its best to protect vital services at a time of dramatically reduced budgets
Sorry: have to start here: a complete inversion of the truth. Barnet is not doing its best to protect vital services: it is tearing away all protection, and laying them open to exploitation by the private sector.
"Barnet council's change programme is described by John Harris – "privatisation writ large" – in terms reminiscent of 1980s politics (this is rich coming from a Tory group whose values and mindset is so firmly rooted in this era)  (Outsource to easyCouncil? Not in our name, 12 November). He says that our policy "denotes 70% of the council's functions – first supposed 'back office' services, and then such core functions as environmental health, planning, transport, even crematoriums – being handed to the private sector".
Harris's apparent belief in public sector good, private sector bad, is completely at odds with how councils of all parties are dealing with the challenges of a greater demand for services from those who most need them, at a time when our budgets are dramatically reduced. Private sector and public sector are unhelpfully simplistic terms. We need to talk about how we can best use taxpayers' money to support a successful society.
Over the last year we have turned one of our services into a local authority-owned trading company ...
Whoa: is that, by any chance, a reference to 'Your Choice', whose projected deficit in September was £700,000, three times the amount envisaged in the business plan? Possibly not the best example to give.
 ... our legal service is now jointly provided with Labour-controlled Harrow; (normally Cornelius refers to this as 'socialist' controlled Harrow) our music service is to become a registered charity;( erm?) and our recycling services are being brought in-house. (Yes, after you panicked a couple of weeks ago, in the face of so much concern over One Barnet from your own party)  
And we will shortly publish details of how to move many of our back office services – phones, IT, payroll and HR among others – to a private supplier. (Your coy description of the £1Billion outsourcing of profit to Capita or BT is perhaps slightly inappropriate, in the circumstances ...) This can give us a better quality service while taking tens of millions of pounds out of our costs. 
You thinking 'it can' is simply not good enough. There is absolutely NO guarantee of either of these claims.
The simple fact is that we will do what is best for Barnet. Harris describes our decision to keep waste services in-house as "surprising". I would argue it is not so if you understand that we approach each problem with an open mind.
He says that "on the really big stuff, the ruling Tory group ... are holding their nerve". But the really big stuff isn't the back office, as anyone with a knowledge of local government will tell you: it's social care. In Barnet more than half our core spending goes on supporting people traditionally described as vulnerable – from children at risk to adults needing considerable support to stay in their homes. Ask John and Susan Sullivan what they think about your strategy in social care. They are so concerned they are applying for a judicial review of One Barnet. 
In particular, the gratifyingly longer lives of people with complex health needs means we have a fast-growing demand for support. Ah: this is progress, though  -here is another coy reference - to the infamous Barnet 'Graph of Doom', which has been proved to be a deliberate misrepresentation of data, and caused so much offence by its title, presenting the needs of elderly citizens as a burden. For the purposes of an appearance in the Guardian, Richard Cornelius has clearly bowed to whispered advice from the Tooting Twister, and taken himself into the uncharted territories of political correctness. From old codgers - and  old hags - making a nuisance of themselves by staying alive too long, to people with 'gratifyingly longer lives' ... well done. 

If we are to provide these services over the coming decade, at a time when we need to make savings of over £70m on a core budget of about £300m, we will need to take tens of millions out of our back-office costs. Indeed, I would argue that we all have a moral duty to reduce back-office costs given that the alternative would be dramatic cuts to frontline services. 

A couple of winters ago, in a response to the potholes that littered Britain's streets, we worked with social enterprise My Society to develop a Barnet-specific app so that residents could report a pothole via a smartphone. Residents used the service in their droves. And no one questioned whether the person who came to fix the hole was employed directly by the council or by a contractor. They just wanted the damn hole fixed."

Oh dear God: give me strength. Here, in this piece by Cornelius, you see the problem we are dealing with, in Broken Barnet. 

Yes, there is a damn hole that needs fixing, Richard: it's the one in the front of your face, which spouts all this One Barnet drivel, with no thought, no conscience, no sense of the absurdity of your own utterances.

Cornelius' response to criticisms of One Barnet is to remind us that when once we had a hard winter and a lot of potholes in the road, they didn't do the obvious thing, and go and fix them when reported by a resident to a council phone line, no no no, that would be too easy ... they paid yet another consultancy to develop a smart phone app to report the problem. This, Cornelius thinks, is a mark of success: throwing more of our money to a private company, to produce something that only those residents fortunate enough to own a smart phone could use - if they even know it exists.

 The waste of money, the waste of effort, the wildly extravagant dependence on consultants, the total failure to consider the huge numbers of elderly and less affluent residents who are excluded by such gimmickry - here you see the sickness we are fighting, in Broken Barnet: a delusional administration, completely out of touch with the realities of life facing the vast majority of the electorate, in charge of a billion pound business negotiation, with no understanding of financial risk, and no concern for the devastating impact that will fall on every resident of this borough when they pass us, as they intend, naked and bound, to the salivating embrace of Capita for what - a handful of empty promises.

Richard Cornelius: there is only one thing left that you can do to redeem yourself now - call a halt to One Barnet: and then resign. We really deserve better than this, don't we?

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