What would you say is the mark of a civilised society? Is it measurable in terms of say, prosperity, or levels of educational achievement, or the rates of criminal activity, or the extent of liberal laws? Or is it in our attitudes to the less advantaged - to the poor, the sick, the elderly - to those with disabilities?
In the past, disability was seen as something other, a freak of nature, a visitation from God. Those of us who had such needs were dependent on the charity of others, the care of family, or parish, without rights, or protection from the state.
In a more enlightened age, the age of inclusion, such attitudes have been abandoned, or so we claim, in favour of the extension of a more positive approach, and the impowerment of disabled or differently abled citizens.
Oh: but of course here in Broken Barnet, we follow a different line.
Here in Broken Barnet, where market forces rule, disability is not so much an issue of inclusion, and empowerment, exactly, as rather an exciting business opportunity.
With all the zeal of nineteenth century showbiz entrepreneurs, our Barnum and Bailey Tory councillors - or ratherled by their noses, like performing circus animals, by the senior management team and their associates, our high maintenance private consultants, have created the Greatest Show on Earth, that is to say One Barnet, in order to extract the maximum profit from a gullible audience - from us, the residents and taxpayers. Nothing is safe from their exploitation, as almost every council service is forced to sing for its supper, under the watchful eye and swishing whip of our new ringmaster, Crapita.
One Barnet: the greatest show on earth, starring your very remarkable Conservative councillors
On the sidestage, another show has already started - roll up, roll up: look, Your Choice Barnet!
This marvellous production is based on an inspired theme: how to make money out of disability.
Who would have thought that the care of adults with special needs and physical impairments could be so lucrative? You didn't, did you? But our Tory council did. It washed its hands of direct responsiblity for such service provision and set up 'Your Choice Barnet', a company which not only would be self supporting, we were told, but would be able to generate enough profit to subsidise the mammoth enterprise that is Barnet Homes, the 'At Arms Length Organisation' that is another part of the Barnet Group, whose board is led by Tracey Lees, the Chief Executive, who is rewarded for her efforts with a six figure salary. This salary would appear not to be performance related.
Unfortunately, Your Choice Barnet has not proved to be a box office success.
In fact, it is a turkey of a production, and in any other circumstance would have had its neck wrung as soon as it became obvious earlier in the year that not only will the scheme not produce the profits we were promised, it would need to be bailed out by Barnet Council in order to keep it going.
And the immediate effect of this disastrous failure, it is clear, has been in terms of the impact on service users, the very people whose dependency and vulnerability makes any change in care support so significant.
Cuts in staffing levels and downgraded duties place an intolerable burden on a demoralised workforce already working in very difficult conditions on very low pay. The service they can provide is necessarily below the standard appropriate to users' needs, and worse still, may put residents at real risk of harm.
Another way in which the failure of Your Choice Barnet is being borne by users is in the truly scandalous hike in charges for certain services - up to 66% in some cases.
For clients with personal budgets, this is disastrous, as the care on which they have come to rely may prove too expensive.
The distress caused by this sort of constraint on a resident with a learning disability, to whom continuity of care is so important, is difficult to explain, not to mention the impact on their families.
There was a 'Your Choice Barnet' Board meeting last night, at Barnet House. This was only the second time that a Board meeting has been attended by residents. An earlier meeting this year which some of us went to was reported here.
Mrs Angry was not able to attend last night, but her spies were there, to lobby the Board and demand the return of all services to the direct control of the local authority. You can see here, in the New Statesman article by Kate Belgrave and Alan White, how they got on -
Whoah: hold on.
Hold on, just one moment. This is not a private company.
This is a body set up by a local authority, to provide local services, and one that is failing, and which has avoided collapse by being subsidised by local authority funding, that is to say by the tax paid by me, and you, and all the residents of Broken Barnet.
We, the residents, are effectively the shareholders of this company, and if we want to ask you questions, Ms Tracey Lees, and Mr Troy Henshall, and Mr Terry Rogers, you can sit at the table and bloody well give us some answers.
If this was a private company, would failure on such a spectacular scale be tolerated? No.
You would all be sacked, and looking for a new position.
This is not a game, and your responsibilities are not just to yourself, and to your careers, they are to every resident, and every service user.
Your failures are having real consequences on their lives.
And don't say you weren't warned: the business plan so lovingly created at such vast expense by One Barnet implementation consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER was clearly demonstrated as flawed from the start by a report commissioned by Unison, which was of course you all ignored. Shame, isn't it?
That so much of the One Barnet shite is based on an assumption of profit from 'growth', or selling services to external buyers is one of the fundamental, fatal weaknesses of the whole programme. What a shame that our auditors do not agree with Mrs Angry's analysis, and seem happy to approve all these high risk plans, with such a low guarantee of success.
Hmm. Take a trip across to the Brent Cross blog now: (but come back, don't want to encourage him) ...
Sideshow Bob: Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius
"We are proposing that the contracting organisation will be a joint venture so that if there is other business that can be picked up by the new venture from different councils, the profits can be shared with the taxpayer."
"if there is other business" ... if there is other business ... but just a moment, is the DRS contract not heavily dependent on other business - up to 86% dependent, in fact?
If that goes wrong, will we not face another catastrophe like South West One?
Do any of these people know, or care, what they are doing with our money, our lives, our future?
Ladies and gentlemen of Broken Barnet, roll up, wake up: this is One Barnet -one billion pounds worth of contracts with Capita - all the DRS , and NSCSO services. When problems occur, just as we are seeing with Your Choice Barnet, all real control will be outsourced to a private company, and just as last night, no councillors were present to ask any questions on your behalf, (why?), your interests will not be represented in any meaningful way, and your right to scrutinise the decision making processes of your own council services will no longer apply.
This is no longer Broken Barnet, see: this is Capitaville Plc, a private company.
Leave the room now.
And please close the door on your way out.