Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A Useful Exchange of Ideas: Your Choice Barnet - another masterclass in consultation, One Barnet style

*Update, June 14th: a new legal challenge to 'Your Choice Barnet': see below ...

In the previous post, Mrs Angry reported dramatic scenes at last week's board meeting of 'Your Choice Barnet', the LATC - a Local Authority Trading Company - set up by Barnet Council last year, in order to make what they imagined would be a nice fat profit out of delivering care to vulnerable and disabled adults. 

The surplus from marketing such services, they thought, would help to subsidise the activities of Barnet Homes: an interesting concept, rather like a mouse being expected to balance an elephant on its back, and therefore a business plan which was clearly never going to work, but which, in the way of One Barnet, was pushed through, regardless of all opposition, by the unholy alliance of our gormless Tory councillors and their persuasive senior management team. 

At the end of last week's meeting, as you can see from this footage, (pinched from the New Statesman), residents and family members of YCB users protested at their exclusion from any debate about the future of these vital services, with the result that the board members walked out, and informed the members of the public that YCB was a private company, and making it clear that in their view, there was therefore no obligation to answer their questions.

The storm of fury which this action has provoked has clearly caused some political disturbance, and Barnet Group CEO Tracey Lees, who earns a very nice, six figure salary for her efforts, has written to staff to inform them of the following brilliant idea in a letter  which Mrs Angry now publishes, with her own comments in red:

"Dear Staff Member

As you may be aware, the Your Choice (Barnet) Board met on Wednesday 29 May.  There were several positive agenda items discussed during the public part of the meeting, which was attended by a strong representation of relatives, carers and service users."  

Several positive agenda items? This is the equivalent of saying, while the Titanic is sinking, look, everyone: aren't the deckchairs lovely?

A strong representation of relatives, carers and service users ... whom we treated with contempt, and whose questions we refused to answer.

"The Board praised the CQC report on the findings from Supported Living’s recent regulatory inspection, and noted that the CQC approved action plan is following up issues raised in the report."  

The CQC report mentioned here relates to a snapshot inspection made before the new regime is in place.

The 2013/14 Your Choice Operational Plan was also approved by the Board. 

This is meant to instil confidence, is it? The Board which has presided over the last year of financial disaster?

And does someone want to explain why the former Chair of YCB, Mr Deep Sagar, resigned, or what happened to Ms Amanda Jackson?

"At the close of the public session, a number of relatives requested a meeting with members of the Board to discuss their issues and views going forward."

And you refused to respond, and walked out, because you were then of the opinion that they had no right to raise these issues, or 'views going forward', whatever that means ...

"Engaging with our customers is a key goal and we are therefore writing to all customers inviting them to meet members of the Board on Monday 10 June.  The maximum number of attendees for a useful exchange of ideas is 20, so places for the first meeting will be allocated on a first come, first served basis."  

This would be laughable, were it not such a profoundly serious matter: by 'customers' you mean residents with disabilities dependent on support, and really - 'engaging with our customers is a key goal'? Not a goal, Ms Lees: a legal and moral obligation, in the form of consultation, for example, but one which YCB has been avoiding at all cost, hence the protests last week ...

"Further meetings will be arranged if all interested customers cannot be accommodated at the first session.  It is important to understand that these open forum meetings will not impact on the imminent Board decisions based on outcomes of extensive consultation with staff and the unions."

This is simply ludicrous: you say you are going to invite all interested customers - how many thousands of residents does that include? And then you tell us only 20 will be allowed to attend. 

Only 20. Because more than that would not constitute 'a useful exchange of ideas' ...  perhaps you mean you would lose control of the argument, if forced to face the real strength of criticism of your Board's actions? Further meetings? How many will it take?

But then - the most outrageous statement - you declare that such meetings 'will not impact on the imminent Board decisions'.

What then, Ms Lees, is the point of this 'forum'? 

Do you understand the meaning of the word engagement, or consultation? 

Probably not, as this is Broken Barnet, and in Broken Barnet, there is no significant engagement with the community this authority claims to serve. This attitude, you may recall, is exactly why One Barnet was challenged by Judicial Review, where the judge found there had been a complete failure to consult, an argument which is about to be presented to the Appeal Court.

Whether it is a lcoal area Forum, where discussion of council policy is banned by the new constitution, or this YCB 'open' forum, where a hand picked selection of privileged 'customers' are allowed to speak, but whose views will be discounted - this contempt for the opinions of residents is nothing more than a complete defiance of the fundamental principles of democracy. 

You claim to have been consulting with staff and unions. It was the unions who warned you that the Your Choice Barnet business plan was fatally flawed and bound to end in catastrophe. This warning was ignored, and here we are now, a year and more later, with YCB bailed out by more money demanded by the very people with whom you refuse to consult - the taxpayers and residents. Are you now going to take any notice of the views of staff and unions, or is the statutory consultation with them simply lip service?

"Consultation is now drawing to a close.  The Executive Team and the Board are reviewing outcomes and will be making their final decisions on 10 June.  We appreciate that for some of you this has been a very anxious time, and we will let you know key outcomes as soon as possible after this date."

Full 'Consultation' has not taken place. The 'customers' whose interests you are supposed to put before all other considerations have not been asked about the impact of the disastrous handling of YCB services on their lives, and here you are, at this late stage, scared into pretending at last to listen, but reminding us all that what any of the service users, or their families and carers have to say is irrelevant to the decisions that you will make, in secret, with no involvement by us, and with no scrutiny from us, or our elected representatives.

"On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank you all for your support during this exciting, if challenging, period in our development.  Together we can look forward to securing a future for Your Choice Barnet.

Best wishes

Tracey Lees"

'Exciting, if challenging' ... 

Please go and visit some of the residents whose care is going to be affected by the cuts in staffing and the decreasing standard of service, and the rise in charges necessitated by the Board's failure to extract enough profit from them in the last year. 

Ask them how excited and challenged they feel, and then do get back to us. 

We will be interested to hear your views going forward - although of course you must understand, Ms Lees, Mr Henshall, and Mr Rogers, that it is unlikely to impact on the decision we have made to demand the immediate return of Your Choice Barnet to direct control of the local authority, and a deservedly ignominious end to this reckless, shameless, hopeless attempt to make money out of the care of vulnerable residents.

Best wishes, 

Mrs Angry

 *Updated Friday 14th June:

Mrs Angry has just received the following statement from Barnet resident John Sullivan, whose daughter Susan has Downs Syndrome, and relies on care support from 'Your Choice Barnet'. 

It seems that yet again, the lack of consultation with the residents and tax payers of Broken Barnet over the privatisation of their public services has led to a legal challenge, and that yet again, the arrogant disregard for the due processes of the law will lead the authority to the High Court, and another Judicial Review. As John Sullivan explains:

“I have instructed Irwin Mitchell solicitors on behalf of my daughter to challenge Your Choice Barnet’s consultation process and decision (if the decision today was to implement the proposals). Irwin Mitchell have sent a letter before action to Your Choice Barnet and await a response. If the challenge is successful it may result in staff members being able to stay in their current posts without any changes. I am aware that some members of staff have already shown interest in taking voluntary redundancy and would want them to be aware of the possibility that they could keep their current jobs, if this challenge is successful.”


Mr Mustard said...

If I was a stranger to the Borough of Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry, which in a way I was until 2 years ago when I woke up and smelt the coffee (actually I much prefer tea, milk no sugar thank you) I would think that your blog was a work of fiction based upon such a letter written by someone earning over £100,000 a year. It is no surprise that Barnet Homes are like their master, Barnet Council, they are petrified of losing control, except they don't really have any. They don't want to consult ebcause they think they know best. they are as a friend says, high on their own supply.

Anonymous said...

Interesting fact of the day - a company wholly owned by public bodies is in itself subject to the FOIA...

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, indeed, Anonymous: let's see what happens if we ask questions, shall we?

Mr Mustard: I would like to say what I really think of the whole YCB fiasco, but I think it might get me into trouble. I would suggest that we have seen only the beginning of this particular story, however.

P.JOHNSON said...

We also was at the meeting on the 29th May2013. We then received a letter inviting us to a further meeting on the 10th June .
What has annoyed us is the fact that in the letter it stated the meeting was well attended by a strong representation of relatives, carers and service users, what a joke there was 6 of us all parents for only three service users, false representation
I think.
P. Johnson