Tuesday 19 March 2013

An awful lot of narrative, and no analysis at all: One Barnet in the dock, Day One

Maria Nash, her solicitor Gerald Shamash, and residents from Barnet outside the High Court

Sitting in court before the hearing began, Mrs Angry fell into conversation with the agency journalist sitting next to her. What did Mrs Angry think about the case for the challenge of One Barnet, she was asked? She replied with a few points she thought were supported the case for the claimant. At the lunch adjournment the journalist said: all those points you predicted - the judge mentioned them all. Yes, said Mrs Angry, greatly to her own surprise: and so he did ... but how, in the end, would these weigh in the balance of evidence?

Today's opening presentation of the Judicial Review in effect, was a lengthy attempt by Judge Underhill, in his probing and teasing out of the case presented by Nigel Giffin QC, counsel for Maria Nash, to establish any proof of any meaningful act of consultation by Barnet Council in regard to the massive outsourcing programme.
The courtroom was packed with residents keen to watch the hearing, a press contingent, and three Barnet bloggers, Mrs Angry, Mr Reasonable and Mr Mustard, sighing in their seats as the overly familiar evidence was unrolled. 

To represent Barnet Council, in the hot seat was Mr Craig Cooper, Barnet's commercial director - or he was, anyway: not sure what he is in the new management structure, where senior officers now give themselves delusional, omnipotent titles such as Director of Place, and Director of People. 

Mr Cooper was accompanied in court by Jeff Lustig, Barnet's Monitoring Officer and a corporate lawyer of many years experience: but there was not a single Tory councillor present, for some reason. 

Still, in the afternoon, we were joined by Barnet's own spin doctor, Mr Chris Palmer, who watched over the proceedings with his usual sphinx like impassivity. 

Tomorrow we shall hear from the Council's counsel, QC Monica Carrs-Frisk, but today was really a two way conversation between Judge Underhill and Nigel Giffin. 

Judge Underhill asked how bidding was marked in advance, in relation to the type of outsourcing programme that One Barnet represents. He was told that the bids were marked 'on promise'. The judge then noted that as had been explained, the way criteria was prioritised influences the type of contract formed, and that consultation might well influence the criteria.

As the examination of the evidence continued, the judge suddenly interrupted: he wanted to 'get something off my chest'. He then criticised the statement submitted by Craig Cooper, an enormously long document with, he said, 'no analysis at all', 

 Nigel Giffin remarked that the statement gave 'an awful lot of narrative' which is a 'tedious task' to read, apparently offering 'all so much smokescreen' and 'no consultation worthy of the name'.

Moving on, the judge then noted, significantly, that 'Futureshape' is not, was not, the same as One Barnet.

Let's clear up one thing, he said. Futureshape was fairly specific. One Barnet doesn't really mean anything. (Laughter in the courtroom). It has no inherent meaning. It is such a general term you have to analyse it each time it is used to understand what it is intended to mean.

It includes, he said,  more than Futureshape implies. 

The term 'One Barnet' is first used for something more open, involving other public bodies.

Ah: a mention of Residents Forums: pre censorship, of course. The judge referred to an example of such a forum where concerns were raised about largescale privatisation.

Consideration of equalities and diversity issues only really took place, he said, at the final stage, that is to say for users, rather than employees. 'Wading through this' he said, the council from early days mentioned some form of outsourcing, but it was not at all clear what kind or on what scale. A lot was very, very general, one couldn't pinpoint anything precise.

After lunch, Nigel Giffin continued his long journey through the chronology and context of decisions that may or may not have been made, and debated their relative importance.

Referring to the subject and definition of consultation the judge noted the guidance in law as to what this should entail, and the use of the term 'representatives'. What did that mean? Elected members, or the local chamber of commerce, or residents' associations? The guidance was very limited. Mr Giffin thought Mr Pickles had been putting things in the shredder.

Judge Underhill mentioned a recent case in Haringay which involved consultation, and he touched upon the possible use of websites, personalised mailings, libraries, and advertising campaigns ...

Barnet's argument is that it used a Citizens' Panel, and discussions about 'the budget', and 'Leader Listens' sessions. Or a session, anyway. Oh, and an Ideas Website. Mrs Angry sat up, knowing all about the Ideas Website, as readers may recall.

There was some puzzlement then by the judge as to the strength of evidence supporting the claims of such consultation. He complained about the 'opaque' language in the statements, 'unhelpful and inadequate' evidence, and warned the council's legal representatives that they must offer an adequate response on these points tomorrow. 

The case continues, and is expected to last three days.

Maria Nash interviewed by BBC London this morning

1 comment:

Ron said...

Director of People.... reminds me of those people we made their heads rolled of the guillotine on those glorious days .... sticky nostalgia... i know...