Monday 19 May 2014

One Barnet: 'a brand that has served its purpose' - let's take back control of our democracy, say Barnet's bloggers

Over the last few years, the activities of the current Conservative administration in Barnet have been closely monitored and reported by a group of bloggers, determined to hold to account the elected members who have so blatantly defied the principle of democratic government, and fundamentally betrayed the best interests of the residents of this borough.

We have covered every faltering step of the course followed by the Tory councillors, from their first act, on being re-elected, and lecturing residents and staff on the stark economies necessitated by the demands of austerity, but voting themselves a big fat rise in their own allowances, closely followed by the MetPro scandal, a theme which set the tone for the next four years.

The MetPro affair involved the use by the Tory council of an illegally operating private security company, which barred residents from a council meeting, secretly filmed local bloggers and activists, had close contact with vulnerable children, and was being rewarded by casual but substantial payments, in the total absence of any contractual agreement.
Barnet’s bloggers subsequently revealed that far from being a single case of failure in proper regulation of procurement and contractual management, the council had thousands of legally non-compliant arrangements.

Local tax payers’ hard earned cash had been given away in these agreements, unquestioned: a real scandal, and on an unimaginably wide scale.

The next outrage we reported was perhaps one we should have foreseen: the silencing of dissent at all residents’ meetings, with enforced censorship rules, backed by a deliberate amendment to the local constitution,  meaning no member of the public was allowed to criticise, or even refer to anything deemed to be ‘council policy’.

The reason for this soon became clear.

Barnet was to be privatised, with a massive outsourcing programme, from which an in-house solution was excluded because, we were told, we needed a large amount of capital investment from a commercial partner.

There had been no mention of these plans in the 2010 Conservative manifesto.
Despite the lack of mandate, the Tory administration pushed these plans through, at the behest of senior management and private consultants.

Needless to say, as well as failing to present these plans to residents at the time of election, there was no consultation over the privatisation: a serious breach of regulations, and one criticised in the High Court by Judge Underhill last year.

Another policy imposed by Barnet Tories that was brought to account in the High Court was the catastrophic parking policy, which overnight sent the borough’s high streets into fatal decline, and alienated vast sections of the Conservatives’ own natural electoral base.

The Barnet Conservative manifesto for the 2014 elections is even more enigmatic than the version they offered voters four years previously.

When asked by the Barnet Press why there was no mention of One Barnet leader Richard Cornelius declared that it is a brand that ‘has served its purpose’.

Indeed it has, but whose purpose, and for whose benefit?

Certainly not the residents and taxpayers of Barnet.

Already we have seen the real motives of Capita exposed by their attempts to begin the commercial exploitation of this borough in the form of the development of ‘memorialisation’ of the dead in Hendon Crematorium, and the grossly insensitive removal of benches commemorating loved ones in the grounds, taken away and dumped in a corner of the grounds.

It seems an apt metaphor for the exploitation of our borough, by private enterprise, at our expense, sanctioned by our Conservative councillors.


And we must ask - if the privatisation of our borough, and the sell off to Capita of our local services has been so successful, why are Barnet Tories not rejoicing in this fact, and sharing their sense of satisfaction with voters? Why are they being so evasive about the real plans that they intend to impose, should they be returned to office this coming week?

Is it because the One Barnet brand is now so toxic, it must be dropped, and forgotten, and voters duped into approving another Tory council whose agenda is unstated, but is clearly going to endorse the privatisation of council service and expand this policy wherever possible?

We have read this week of plans to privatise child protection services. There can be little doubt that if they are returned to office, without consulting residents, Barnet Tories will be likely to extend the process of privatisation to any other council function they care to delegate. And increased pressure to make massive savings will inevitably lead to cuts in services on a scale as yet unprecedented.

There will, of course, be no proposal to deprive themselves of the same level of allowance they still enjoy, despite the limited function they will retain, in a borough where our vital services will be run not for our benefit, with direct control by them, but by a private company, for profit, at our expense.

In the accompanying footage here,John Dix, blogger Mr Reasonable explains why the takeover by Capita of our council services presents such a threat to the wellbeing of our borough, and what the future will hold for all of us in Barnet, should the Conservative administration be re-elected this week.

The choice for voters on May 22nd is clear – vote Conservative, approve the delegation of control of your borough to private enterprise, and the shareholders of Capita – or take a stand, and begin to reclaim your democratic right to control your own destiny.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne


Anonymous said...

I think what a Lot off people do not understand is that should the contract run its full course , which I am highly doubtful , without year on year investment into the company ie , the council at the end of the ten year contract ! It will not be possible to bring back in house the services without a massive investment in staff equipment & i t let alone the buildings to house those staff ! In ten years there will be nothing to come back ! Capita is a ticking financial Time Bomb !!!!

Red Sonia said...

It will surely not be beyond a new majority to go through the contract with a not-even-very-fine-tooth comb and find legal reasons for its cessation. The sooner it ceases, the sooner things can be put right.

Mrs Angry said...

I think whichever administration is in charge in a couple of years will have plenty of reasons to pull out, if the will is there. Excuses for poor performance can only be sustained for so long and remain credible. And also residens will become more conscious of the impact of change on their services, so political pressure will increase.

Anonymous said...

The reality being this is not a ten year contract, it has cost in excess of £80 million to set up One Barnet, all of the in- house staff are being disbursed and in even just two years it will be beyond the fiscal capabilities of the council to return any services in-house even if they had the will to do so.
Labour have already signed up to the idea the contract cannot be challenged, they have also agreed YCB services fo disabled adults are better off privatised . Even though the second YCB attempt at a business plan is also failing and service quality being eroded..

With the combined attitudes of Tory and Labour councillors, One Barnet is for life and was never ever intended to be a ten year term. Anyone believing there is any hope of bringing our public spices back in house, is dreaming, because it is never going to happen. Which allows Capita to hold a gun at the heads of Barnet residents and like Oliver demand more.

Barnet residents have been conned for life so deal with it, and all the voting in the world will not alter that simple fact

Mrs Angry said...

I disagree, Anon, when you say Labour have already signed up to the idea the contract cannot be challenged. That does not represent the feelings of the majority of Labour members and activists, and any leader of a Labour opposition who fails to attempt to challenge either the Capita contracts or YCB will not have my support.

Anonymous said...

With respect Mrs Angry even though the OBP contract was signed without being read Labour have still refused to make it plain they will review OBP. They have from my reading of there literature accepted there is nothing they can do about the contract except to ensure it is being properly adhered to.

They claim they will consult with residents yet refused to consult with any parents or family carer during the recent T&F enquiry whitewash into Your Choice Barnet.

If they oppose One Barnet why are they in the same way as the Tory administration refusing to look again in depth at a contract that like the Tories they have never read and have little or no idea what it contains.

Furthermore where would the millions come from to fund bringing services back in house, it has cost in excess of £96 million to date to set up OBP, so there is no way they could fund a reversal of the contract. That is the reality so weakly and without challenge accepted by the Labour leadership in Barnet, like it or not.

Red Sonia said...

Rubbish Anon - if we could set up a National Health Service just after the war I'm damned sure we can sort this too.

If we sat back and said "We are powerless to change things" we'd still be burning witches and sending kids up chimneys. Which would make me and Mrs Angry very worried for ourselves and our offspring!

Mrs Angry said...

Anonymous, what I am trying to say is the current leadership may have shown less than overt support for the challenging of the Capita contracts, but leaderships come and go ... when you say 'Labour' who do you mean? One or two people do not constitute the position of an entire party, and all policies are only as fixed as long as the majority agree. There must be a free and open debate about such matters within the party, especially should there be a change of leadership post election.

Red Sonia: exactly. Being wildly overoptimistic in all the wrong parts of my life, I agree with you - we must believe we can change things, or why get out of bed in the morning?

Actually, why get out of bed in the morning? Often wonder myself.

Anonymous said...

I am only commenting on what the current local Labour group have said and done t o date, it took courage to fight for and create the NHS courage the current Local Labour Party incumbents do not have.

You think as I think but to challenge OBP will take courage, and to date like it or not the Local Labour Group have made it clear they will not challenge OBP. That is why for the first time in my life I will not be voting Labour and will not use my vote.

Trust me Red Sonia I do not sit back and do nothing normally, but Local Labour like the Local Tories have knowingly betrayed Your Choice Barnets disabled clients, an act I will never forgive.

Anonymous said...

I find that the Last thing to do ! Is to give up & give in , what we have is community & community coming together can change everything ! Unfortunately or politicians & career chief officers have forgotten who serves who ! What we need to do is get the politics out of our town halls & replace it with service & integrity ! When it comes to the point were there is no service , just Tax , that's when we stop paying & do it ourselves & hey far fetched you say ! There is a Homless night shelter , Food Banks community support groups for mental Health , stroke , Age concern & Barnet Carerers to name but a few ( sounds Like social services ) so Roll on an End to complete incompetence !!!

Anonymous said...

I know nothing whatsoever of any of the Labour Party candidates. However, if any have intentios of reviewing the Capita contract then surely they would be canvassing as such, and indeed their manifesto would indicate same, if only to scrutinise upon value for money or under due diligence.

In reality I would imagine that should matters begin to go pear shaped then Labour will use this as a political stick with which to beat and blame the Tories. Much like the Tories still beat on Labour over the national deficit following the world recession. In other words when the shit really hits the fan.

Whoever gets in, needs to manage Capita. However, exactly what control the council has in practice, no doubt leaves an awful lot to be desired. One thing is for sure, the longer the council remain in bed with Capita the more difficult it will become to get out of bed, while in the short term it will no doubt prove too expensive.

I don't see Barnet as an out patient......... more bed ridden, bound and trussed.

Anon 2

Red Sonia said...

You can't campaign on a contract that doesn't actually give you access to the figures you need and which the contractor won't allow you to see ---- privileged information, even to the group commissioning the services.

And if the Tories campaign on the savings to be made - they are lying as they don't have access to this information either.

Mrs Angry said...

Even if they did, Red Sonia, most of them are too lazy or stupid to make the effort to understand. They approved the contracts without informing themselves of the details, and some of them have even had the cheek to complain after the event that they were allowed no proper access before the formal approval. I have no sympathy for their failure to speak up, and think they deserve to be thrown out of office on these grounds alone.