Sunday 3 March 2013

Your Choice? Bad choice: Barnet Council bails out its own One Barnet adult care trading company

Maria Nash:  pic Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Updated: see below

In just over two weeks time, the Judicial Review of One Barnet will be heard in the High Court. 

The judges will consider the case presented to them by the legal team working for disabled resident Maria Nash that the decision to endorse the One Barnet programme of massive privatisation of council services is unlawful, and should be quashed.

In a spectacularly bad piece of timing, it has just been announced that another pillar of the One Barnet programme is in a state of collapse, and that Barnet Council must throw a million pounds worth of taxpayers' money at supporting the failing enterprise.

 'Your Choice', the LATC, or 'local authority trading company' which our Tory councillors set up to take over the provision of certain types of adult social care, was formed on the basis that it would offer residents 'better control' of the services they require. It is of course meant to be a profit-based venture, and self supporting: more than self supporting, in fact, being expected to offset the losses incurred by other activities of the LATC.

The company is run by a board of unelected and unaccountable members, removing the scrutiny of democratic overview from its operations.

The proposals to form 'Your Choice', which operates under the 'overarching' structure of Barnet's trading company 'The Barnet Group', were the subject last year of a highly critical study by the European Services Strategy Group, in a report commissioned by Unison. 

This report concluded that the business case for the trading company was very high risk, deeply flawed, and likely to fail. 

It warned that the level of profitability required by the scheme was unsustainable, and that adult social services would be expected to produce the profit necessary to subsidise other services:

"Adult Services will be required to provide 90% of the Barnet Group profits: 
• The profit ratio (profit as a percentage of income) in Adult Services is forecast to increase rapidly from 1.5% in year one to 11.1% by year three and falls marginally to 10.9% in year four. 
• Ethical and moral issues concerning why Adult Services should be expected to have such high level of profitability are absent from the Business Case and the report to Cabinet. 
• In contrast, the net profit level of Barnet Homes remains static at 0.5% over the fouryear period. 
• It would appear that Adult Services is being set up to be the cash cow. It will not only be the sole provider of dividends to the Council, but will also, in effect, subsidise Barnet Homes. This is inequitable and unsustainable."

This report was ignored, of course, as the one dominant characteristic embodied by our Tory leadership and cabinet members, here in Broken Barnet, above all other features, is an absolute refusal to respect any view which conflicts with their own stupid, blinkered ideological principles. 
Barnet Tories see the word 'profit' and they see no further. 

They do not even read to the end of the sentence to see the word 'profit' qualified by terms and conditions: this is how we are now in the throes of bondage to Capita, and this is why they are now having to spend £1 million on patching up the 'Your Choice' fiasco, in a desperate response to a reckless scheme which places the most vulnerable members of our community at real risk of harm and a further deterioration of the vital services on which they depend.

Here is the press release issued on Friday by Barnet Unison:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Beware of the “Ides of March” – The One Barnet Social Care Experiment is not working! 

Today approximately 170 staff will be presented with a redundancy consultation document which contains within it the most draconian attack on low paid social care workers since the infamous Fremantle Care workers dispute. 

The Council Cabinet Committee back in May 2011 agreed to create a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) named ‘Your Choice’. The transfer of staff to the LATC ‘Your Choice’ took place on 1 February 2012. At the time the Council website issued the following statement: “Your Choice Barnet is projected to start delivering a surplus to the council from 2013/14. The surplus is projected to reach £263,000 by 2014/15 and £493,000 by 2015/16.” 

Today staff are to be informed that Barnet Homes are having to ‘bail out’ Your Choice with a loan of £1million in order to prevent Barnet Group defaulting on the contract with Barnet Council. The projected surplus figures quoted are clearly not going to materialise. 

Last year UNISON submitted several reports on the proposal to create a LATC. “The options appraisals and business cases for Adult Services and the Housing Service and the business plan for the LATC have serious weaknesses and the process has been deeply flawed. They Council should not be making decisions on the future of services and public assets based on such poor information, analysis and advice.” (UNISON January 2012).

The proposals contained within the consultation document issued to staff and the trade unions today if implemented will see care worker terms and conditions slashed dramatically.

This sends a message to potential new recruits to care work that these jobs are valued less than a shelf stacker in the local supermarket. 

One of the proposals is to reduce the number of waking night staff. 

 “For continence issues, those who require changing in the night do not require the use of hoists as they are already in bed.” (Paragraph 4.3). 

It takes two staff to safely use a hoist, the implications if the above cut is implemented is that if a service user is incontinent during the night they will have to wait until the morning before they can be helped. 

These proposals in our view are de-skilling and reducing management oversight and support at a time when the focus post 'Francis inquiry' is on need for better trained and skilled staff and more supervision. 

A ‘Your Choice Care worker said: “There is a sinister undertow to these proposals. The people who will lose out as always are the vulnerable service users who take second place in what is now a business not care provision” 

John Burgess, Branch Secretary said: “The proposals including within this report are quite frankly unacceptable. The recent decision to outsource back office services to Capita has led to a series of statements from the Council. “we will have £120 million to spend on public services in Barnet which we would not otherwise have. This will help to protect frontline services such as social care and libraries.” 

In which case the Council should follow the example set by Stockport Council and bring back these services under the direct control of the Council in order to ensure there is no erosion of service delivery to vulnerable adults in the London Borough of Barnet.”

The consequences of this disastrous development are immense, not only in terms of impact on residents and the poorly paid workers employed by this scheme: the implications reach far beyond the limits of 'Your Choice' or the LATC: senior management have indicated in the past that in the event of failure of either or both of the two massive NSCSO and DRS contracts, the LATC would be expected to 'provide the mechanism for rescue'. It is demonstrably the case that this is not a viable option.

It must be absolutely clear now,in fact,  if it were not already, that those who are wilfully rushing ahead with the implementation of One Barnet ideology in this borough, in the face of all reason, for whatever reason, are completely irresponsible, and dangerously incompetent. They must be stopped, before it is too late, and this borough is left bankrupt, and our local services are damaged beyond the point of repair.

Thanks to the courage of Maria Nash, the residents of Barnet have a chance to do just that:

Judicial Review of One Barnet: High Court 19th - 21st March


As Mr Reasonable points out in his blog today, see here:

... the business case for 'Your Choice' was of course prepared by Barnet Council's multi-million billing private One Barnet consultants at Agilisys/iMPOWER. 

Yes, the same consultants who are responsible for holding our hand throughout the negotiation of the Capita deal. 

Yes, Agilisys, the company that has just welcomed a new arrival as 'managing consultant': our former Assistant Director of Commercial Transformation - (no comment from the Chief Executive still, on that issue, by the way, for some reason). 

Perhaps he could ask for a refund for us, now he's there? Knock a million of your £5.8 running total in fees so far, gents, and we'll call it quits, maybe?


Ron said...

when they presented the first "so called" business case, i submitted a question to the cabinet meeting if they conducted a business feasibility study to verify their assumption. "nay" they said. "we know the market, there's no need for a study". just to make it more convincingly for the idiots, the authors changed the revenue assumption of first year from break even to a surplus of £56000. it cost us £1 million, + sadistic treatment of the work force (see the rate of absentee of the workers during last year), and even more, the unbelievable stress and agonies the clients and their carers were put under.

Mrs Angry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs Angry said...

How interesting, Ron. But this is typical of One Barnet ventures: a failure to create a credible business case, and a refusal to address the risks that will be presented by such a cock eyed scheme. And as usual the taxpayer picks up the bill for their incompetence.

And as you rightly point out, the treatment of the workforce is simply disgraceful: staff undertaking a very difficult and sensitive role on very poor pay now expected to take a cut in salary and work a seven day week?

This is what happens when you attempt to introduce a market economy into an area where it is grossly inappropriate, seeking to make profit out of the needs of our most vulnerable and dependent residents. The whole business is an absolute scandal.