Tuesday 11 December 2012
One Barnet: Apocalypse - well not now, exactly: it doesn't happen over night
Public Questions Special Cabinet Dec 6th 2012 from The Barnet Bugle Ltd on Vimeo.
Thanks to the determination of former Tory councillor turned blogger the Barnet Bugle, all our council meetings here in Broken Barnet, over the last couple of years, have been filmed and made accessible to residents who want to see how their elected representatives disport themselves on our behalf.
Barnet's bloggers of course produce written accounts and analysis of the events taking place in the Town Hall, but film footage also plays an important part in the function of holding our cabal of fumbling, furtive Conservative councillors to account for their ill deeds.
Take a look at the footage above of the public question time at last Thursday's tumultuous Cabinet meeting, where the privatisation deal with Capita, at least the NSCSO part of it, was approved by our doltish councillors. See the contemptuous dismissal by leader Richard Cornelius of the majority of questions by residents, the attitude of scorn: all questions are, in his view, rhetorical, as they can only be in an environment where real debate is not allowed.
(Mrs Angry's is at around 14.30: see Councillor Andrew Harper's look of excitement when Mrs Angry lets slip she is not actually Mrs Angry. Down boy). And Cllr John Thomas's body language is interesting, too: in fact during the last few meetings he has exhibited a markedly less complacent demeanour, in the face of so much criticism and hostility from the public).
That the councillors are deeply rattled is apparent in the second piece of footage, which was filmed once the public took over the meeting, requiring the councillors and senior officers to move into a small ante chamber next door, to the aptly named Heritage Room, where our elected representatives continued with their mission to sell off our heritage and assets - in this case lending our council customer services to Capita for their profiteering pleasure.
This really was an extraordinary meeting, in all sorts of ways. That a Tory leader and his Cabinet should be driven into private session by the ferocity of opposition from their own residents is bad enough, but the farce that ensued in the Heritage Room, participants crowded together like the guilty conspirators that they are, makes for some fascinating viewing.
As the meeting resumes, the noise of the residents' alternative debate taking place around the committee table resounds in the antechamber: like the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, they go through their pointless rituals, deferring to one another, admiring the cut of each other's One Barnet frockcoat, while outside the mob is howling for their blood. (Or no, in truth, pretending nothing is happening, like some Broken Barnet version of that scene in Carry on Up the Khyber, when Sid James and guests continue with their dinner party, plaster falling into the soup, while under siege from the enemy ... )
Carry on Broken Barnet: as residents mutiny outside, CEO Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, Councillor Helena Hart, and Captain Craig Cooper entertain themselves
Deputy leader Daniel Thomas's face is a picture: his eyes wide with the effort of assuming a nonchalance he clearly does not feel, presumably calculating, even as he speaks, the strength of opposition being enacted in the room next door, in terms of an indication of voting patterns in the year 2014 ...
Interestingly, his opening words betrayed a change in confidence by him about the miraculous healing powers of the medicine bottle labelled Capita: he told us, after an assurance that it was the job of elected members to make these huge decisions on our behalf, and that they do have a mandate, that they do not do this lightly, he said that the benefits of the deal would emerge 'over time' ... 'it doesn't happen overnight' ...
Oh: hang on ... so already they are preparing us for 'teething problems' which will last for a couple of years, until the next elections, when any problems will be all Capita's fault, and our Tory councillors will tell us that they have been misled, and are holding Capita to account and bla bla bloody bla ...
Thomas is no doubt hoping that at the next general election he will, as he did last time, be standing as a parliamentary candidate far, far away from Barnet, so whatever shit hits the fan here will have nothing to do with him. Please don't make that assumption, John Thomas: the magic of google will bring everyone back to what you did here, as chronicled, with such loving care, by the most attentive blogosphere in the country.
Robert Rams: the same applies to you. You have even less credibility. No: you have no credibility.
Rams takes the lead throughout this meeting, for some reason, not the actual leader and Chair, Cornelius, or the deputy leader.
This should in itself strike a note of fear in the hearts of all who care about the future of our borough. Robert Rams, the man who does not know, or care about, the difference between an options appraisal, and an in house comparator. The man who thinks, according to his statements here, that the examples of Capita's meddlings in Birmingham and Southampton are the best references for us here in Broken Barnet. The man who started a campaign to save his constituents from the boroughwide parking policy he has voted for. The man who builds invisible libraries, shuts perfectly good ones, shuts museums and sells off our heritage at auction, sits in the Heritage Room at the Town Hall, and sells us off to Crapita. The man who will lose his seat at the next local elections, in the marginal ward of East Barnet, and serve him right.
Earlier that day, Barnet had been served notice that there will be a very well founded application for Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme ( there are now two separate notifications, by the way) and many of the statements by loyal cabinet members and senior officers at the meeting were clearly panicky attempts to put on record the fact that they had done absolutely everything that the legal challenge will say they have not done: eg consult, consider, play by the rules. Too late, councillors.
CEO (interim CEO) Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers is, like all One Barnet fans, fond of using the word 'robust' as a lucky charm to ward off such potential challenges.
In his opening words to the reconvened meeting he is obliged to invoke the magic word three times, in relation to the taboo subject of procurement. A sensitive issue, here in Broken Barnet, in any circumstance: in regard to the competitive dialogues, oooh, dear me - robust, robust, robust. Close your eyes, keep saying it and maybe it will come true, Andrew.
Councillor Helena Hart: yes, a woman, but one of mature years, so allowed to be a Tory councillor under sufferance, and even allowed to speak occasionally, on subjects of leaden worthiness, while the men smile politely and stifle their yawns, spoke now to say what a shame it was that the ungrateful residents outside were not present to hear the searching discussions (ie half truths and twisted justifications) between Cabinet members that would now follow.
Helena Hart, eyes darting about as if to say, look at this, me having to ask such unnecessary questions, asked the sort of questions that might have been acceptable at this stage if a. you were a. not a Cabinet member, b. not even a councillor, c. had never heard of outsourcing, or One Barnet, and d. had been living on Mars for the last two years (with the rest of the Tory group).
Would the call centre be Abroad? No.
Would customers be asked if they were satisfied with their experience of phoning a Capita owned slave somewhere Up North? Yes.
Had anyone had a bit of a word with any other councils in hoc to Capita, to see what they thought of them? Good idea, Helena.
Robert Rams told the meeting, rather astonishingly, but with no sense of it being at all unreasonable, that Capita had thought about having the call centre in - wait for it - South Africa. Yes, really. South Africa.
Yet again, with a lack of shame that only someone who really has no grip on reality could assume, he cited the experiences of Birmingham and Southampton as the best examples of partnerships with Capita. (Oh please: Mrs Angry just can't be bothered: have a look at my earlier posts on these particular councils, if you want the truth). Robert said their corporate bondage had worked well, as will our ours, and I believe him, don't you, citizens?
Hello: up stands a man at the side of the room who wants to confirm the sterling examples of Capita success stories Cllr Rams has just mentioned. Suddenly a familiar voice is heard interrupting his blather. Brian Coleman demands to know who he is. John Newton. Who? Is he a council officer? He says he is the Commercial Leader for the contract. Oh. An officer? He is forced to admit he is 'an outside consultant'. Aha. For whom do you work? An almost imperceptible hesitation, but there is one: iMPOWER, he says. Ah ... iMPOWER. Friend of Max?
Cllr Andrew Harper asks about the financial responsibiliies of bringing back services in ten years time. Here is another example of a Cabinet member asking something he should have asked long, long before now. How does he not know the answer to a question like this, and why is he asking it at the meeting where he is present merely to approve the deal, worth up to a possible £750 million? Such a casual approach to such fundamental issues is simply not good enough, especially in a man who prides himself on having such a firm grasp of his portfolio. You're all talk, Councillor Harper.
CEO Travers eventually says it is impossible to really estimate or predict something that may happen in ten years time - well, yes: yes, Mr Travers, it is.
Kind hearted councillor Tom Davey also asks about redundancy payments to staff at the end of the term, not wanting Barnet to have to pay off any more staff ... oh and by the way, what happens if Capita goes bust?
Travers says airily that in regard to future redundancies at end of term, well, that will be 'the job of our successors' - yep, because none of them, not Tom Davey, and especially Andrew Travers, will be hanging around for very long after One Barnet is all signed up, will they?
One Cabinet member who has noticeably kept very quiet on the subject of One Barnet is Sachin Rajput. He sits through most meetings these days in sphinx like stillness, head raised, watching without comment. As a barrister, he must know quite how unsatisfactory has been the preparation, or lack of it, for the programme. At this point in the meeting, he decided to repeat the question Mrs Angry had put to the scrutiny committee the week before: why had the 'confusion' arisen over an apparent disparity between the value of the contract in the OJEU notice and the value given in all press releases since the announcement of the successful bid by Capita.
Now, as a lawyer, as well as a Cabinet member, you might have thought Rajput should have thought of this question himself, without taking the lead from Mrs Angry, but such is the state of things in the Tory administration, citizens. They are unable to think for themselves. Mrs Angry tries her best to guide them, but sadly, they do not always listen.
Robert Rams tried the line of oh, it was meant for the 15 year period, and then, it was just a nominal maximum cap. Well, which is it? Who did the original valuations? Why did no one explain this five year extra value factor to the councillors? So many questions, Robert Rams, and so few answers. You will note that neither the leader nor deputy leader answered these points, and clearly the leader is completely in the dark about most of the detail of this contract.
No further question of any real challenge was made: not that it would have made any difference, or been appropriate at this late stage.
There was a sudden rush of enthusiasm now by Tom Davey and Richard Cornelius to show gratitude to officers who worked so hard on the contract and the dialogue. They hoped there would be scope for some of those to 'transfer over' and thought they might even include that happy thought as a recommendation. Mrs Angry is confident that some of these senior officers will indeed go on to have long and happy careers, wherever that might be. She looks forward to following their progress.
Davey twice made the point of stating that his boundless gratitude to officers was based on the fact that they had helped him to make an 'informed' decision. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. It's not a bad idea to try and get that on the record. An informed decision. Wonder how other Cabinet members and Tory backbenchers feel about that, and goodness me, might that even be part of the grounds for judicial review? Surely not, Mrs Angry.
They nodded the deal through, of course. But their rubber stamping may just have been irrelevant in a way they had not previously imagined. If the JRs are successful, then all their plotting, and planning, and pushing and shoving of the One Barnet madness will come to nothing. We can only hope and pray that that will prove to be the case, anyway. Let's see what happens next.