Friday 5 December 2014

The disappearing council: and a place where people live - a week in Broken Barnet

In September 2012, Barnet Council employed 3,200 members of staff (excluding maintained school staff).

In the wake of the One Barnet programme, and the massive contracts awarded to Capita, as of  September 2014, the authority now only employs a total of 1829.71 staff. 

Of those 1829.71 posts, should the latest round of outsourcing proposals proceed, a staggering 81% will also be lost, reducing the council to only 336 members of staff.

Does that matter? 

Your Tory councillors certainly don't think so.

Some staff members will be employed by Capita, or other private contractors, won't they?

Well, yes. Some. For a while. On terms & conditions only secured for a limited period.

And after that? 

Well ... let's see. Only this week it was accidentally Re-vealed, in the weekly newsletter to staff working in the new Capita 'Joint Venture', that some of them, at least, are now being employed on zero hours contracts. 

If those unfortunate employees had actually managed to earn any money, they had to get a claim in early, or lose out over the Christmas period, as the management cheerily informed their workforce:

Early deadline for December claims and payments
Due to the Christmas holidays etc. the deadline to submit overtime claims and zero hours payments, to guarantee payment in December, is earlier than normal.  Approved claim forms should be sent to redacted by close of play on the 2 December 2014.

The loss of jobs, and the removal of long term protection for pay and conditions might not cause any sense of disapproval from some residents, who may fall for the Tory line that they should not care who delivers their service, or at what rate of pay, but most people do care that others should not be exploited at work. And they understand the connection between standard of service, and rate of pay.
In the course of the creation of One Barnet, the disappearing council has been spirited away by the collusion of Tory members, senior management, private consultants and outsourcing companies.
Between January 2012, and October 2013, Barnet's Tory councillors approved the privatisation of the following council services:

Adult Social care, Parking services, Legal services, Customer Services, Estates, Finance, Human Resources and Payroll, IT Infrastructure and Support, Procurement, Revenues and Benefits, Commercial Services, Housing Options, Building Control, Planning Administration (Development Management),Strategic Planning and Regeneration, Transport, Highways Services, Land Charges, Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Licensing, Cemetery and Crematorium, Barnet Registration and Nationality Service.

Next up for , in the One Barnet knocking shop, are the following services, representing a huge number of additional jobs that will also now be lost:  

Street Scene - with 478.42 posts.  
Adult Social Care - 362.75 posts. 
Education & Catering - 336 posts. 
Early Years Children’s - Centres 170 posts. 
Library Service - 150 posts

Predictably, it is the last on this list of services to face the chop that has already provoked a reaction of fury from the residents of Broken Barnet.

As Mrs Angry has previously observed, the Tory council could slash as many children's centres and cleansing operatives' jobs as it likes, without the average Barnet resident lifting an eyebrow, but there are one or two areas which only the most abject fool would think of tinkering with, in this borough, without expecting a tidal surge of outrage. 

One of those is parking, and, oh dear, we all know what happened when  they let Brian Coleman loose with that ... the other, you may rest assured, is any threat to our public libraries. 

The story of Friern Barnet library, the library that refused to close, has been well chronicled, but our Tory councillors, instead of learning from the experience, have chosen to misinterpret the outcome as a reason to pursue a truly reckless policy, the total annihilation of our library service, seeking to reduce what was once Beacon status standard library provision to a collection of bookshelves, arranged over the terrain of Broken Barnet, in a parodic representation of a library service.

This is a grave error on behalf of our council. As the recent debacle over Moss Hall Nursery proved, even in a Labour ward, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, you don't mess with the middle class mums and dads whose children will be affected by the cuts you propose. 

Same with libraries. Already residents are making their views known at consultation meetings at their local branches, and forming campaign groups: and last week saw evidence of the strength of feeling that this issue produces at a meeting called by Barnet Unison, last week, with the challenging theme:

What is happening to our council services: and what can we do about it?

A number of speakers were present to address the meeting, in a hall packed with a range of residents, leaving standing room only.

Keith Goodes, who works at a day centre for adults with disabilities, spoke about the appalling situation faced by 'Your Choice Barnet' the Barnet enterprise which was set up to make profit from care, and then discovered that, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not possible, let alone morally acceptable as a proposition. 

He referred  with contempt to the 'Strategic Director for Communities' Kate Kennally, and her comment that the care workers of YCB, already on pitifully low wages, should not object to the proposed cut in their wages of 9.5%, but should regard it as a rightful decision by their employers, 'a haircut', well deserved, and to be undertaken with due humility - while the directors and senior officers of Barnet Council enjoy their six figure salaries, of course.

Let Mrs Angry take a moment here, to mark the departure of another Director, Ms Pam Wharfe, to whom Mrs Angry, if you will allow her a moment of personal indulgence, would suggest a consideration of the rules of the law of karma. 

Bon Voyage!

Keith referred to the loyal and dedicated staff who provide care to the vulnerable users of YCB, who are now, he reported, whose morale is being destroyed, and who are lining up to leave: he explained the complex needs of these users, so carefully supported by experienced staff, whose interpretation of the subtleties of their limited communication takes years, in some cases, to create, their carers trying, as he put it, to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Parent and carer John Sullivan talked about the brutal regime in Barnet - comprised of Tories who, he said, do not care about disabled people.

Taibyah Shah, from Barnet Housing Action, spoke about the impossibly high rents in Barnet: around £1,200 for a 2 bedroom property, £1,600 for 3 bedroom flat, £3,000 for a three bedroom house: needing half a million pounds to buy a house. Ordinary working people are being priced out of even social housing, with the new Tory proposal to raise rents to 80% of market value. Homelessness was on the increase: people in temporary accommodation in 2009/10 numbered 364: this last year the figure was 823.

Alastair Smith addressed the issue of early years education: it is, he reminded us, the foundation for our lives, a vital part of social development. Politicians now want to measure children from an earlier and earlier age - this is necessary in order to comply with a culture of profit in education, and a part of the regime of fear instigated by the Gove approach to learning. 

He advocated the benefits of play for young children, using sand, and bricks, and dressing up, all ways through which they learn essential physical and social skills, and he pointed to examples of where an organised resistence and unity of opposition has succeeded, ie in the case of the St Mungo's workers. As he said: we can fight - and win.

Ah: libraries. Perhaps the issue which will galvanise support more than anything else. 

Sarah from Unite, and Greenwich Libraries, gave another inspiring and positive address to the meeting: she explained how staff that Greenwich had outsourced & TUPEd over to Greenwich Leisure, facing terrible threats to their working conditions, and the service, including the use of zero hours contracts, had taken a stand, stood up to such bullying - and won. Greenwich Leisure, after a ten day strike, completely caved in to all their - perfectly reasonable - demands. They won, she said, because of the support from members of the public, library users. Her only regret was that they had not taken such a strong position of resistence when Greenwich first proposed outsourcing libraries.

Two lessons there, for Barnet libraries, and those who want to protect them from the devastation planned by our Tory councillors.

The brilliant Alan Wylie also talked about libraries: a seasoned campaigner who described the Tory proposals as 'an onslaught'. Not one Tory member, he reminded us, had spoken up in defence of our libraries, despite their sweaty panic over their own local branches.

You can read his speech in full here, courtesy of the website of the brilliant writer and library campaigner Alan Gibbons, who has twice visited Friern Barnet Library, the library that would not close, despite the best efforts of our Tory councillors.

Next up was Professor Dexter Whitfield, an expert on local government outsourcing. He carefully, incrementally, trashed the Tory proposals for libraries, explaining the lie of 'mutuals' and ridiculing the idea of staffless 'open' libraries, as proposed in one of the Barnet options, based on what is referred to as a 'Scandinavian model', conjuring up associations probably more enticing to some of our Tory members.

Mrs Angry had a fleeting vision, as he spoke, of a councillor-less council: an 'open' council, a perfectly well functioning local democracy in which representation by, and engagement with, elected members was replaced by automated, holographic substitutes. 

And should we not, she wondered, rather than be seeking to shrink the size of our libraries from 5,000 sq feet to 540, be reducing the number of redundant councillors, and the allowances, parking permits and other perks they enjoy, at our expense? 

The disappearing council, taking with it the likes of Richard Cornelius, and all his colleagues, might not be such a bad thing, after all.

But then of course, Mrs Angry: this is, more or less, how things work at the moment, isn't it, in a post Capita, hollowed out, emptied out commissioning council? 

Except we carry on paying our shameless troughing Tory members their allowances, while they strip our services away, and divest themselves of their responsibilities.

Talking next of Adult Services, Professor Whitfield pointed out that councillors were choosing, either wilfully, or because they were being misled, to sanction a strategy that maximised risk to the service, and in terms of impact on users, and minimised democratic accountability.  This is true of all service delivery models other than in house, of course.

He urged us to 'move onto the offensive' in support of retaining our local services. He reminded us that we are only one councillor away from the Tories losing control of the council. He also recommended that we impose new demands on the Labour group to be effective in opposition. Hear, hear, yelled someone in the audience.

This was a theme returned to by other speakers, who now took turn at the open mike session. Unfortunately the Labour leader was not present to hear these criticisms, but Labour councillors who were present included Paul Edwards, who represents the new intake and more radical tendency within the Barnet Labour group, as well as Finchley and Golders Green parliamentary candidate Sarah Sackman, who is absolutely committed to the campaign to save libraries and heading the Labour working group (which includes Mrs Angry) focused on this aim.

No Labour leader present, but we are happy to report that the People's Mayor, Councillor Lord Shepherd, was present, and that the meeting was therefore quorate, and fully constitutional. 

On Tuesday this week the budget cuts proposed by Barnet Tories was back on the agenda for another Policy and Resources meeting.

Outside the Town Hall a protest took place, with residents and activists standing resolutely in the cold and rain, in solidarity and determination to voice their opposition to the decisions about to be taken in their name, by their elected representatives.

Those elected representatives not only didn't give a damn about the views of those residents protesting outside, they were clearly equally contemptuous of the opinions and questions put to them at public question time, by stalwart local activist Barbara Jacobson.

It was, frankly, a repugnant performance from the Tory members of this committee, who sat throughout her number of perfectly acute, reasonable questions, and address to the meeting, sniggering, deriding her statements, and at times their behaviour was both disrespectful and bullying: typical of the underlying arrogance and misogyny that is deeply ingrained in the attitude of Barnet Tory councillors.  

How comical it was, next, to hear Richard Cornelius, alleged leader of the Tory group claim that their guiding principle was ‘to serve the people of Barnet'. This from the man whose party will not engage with, nor listen to the people they represent, and whose idea of service would seem to be based entirely on the solitary activity of self pleasure, rather than a mutually satisfying relationship with their electors.

His administration had improved the standard of services, boasted Corny: I am proud of it.

Oh dear. The level of heckling is usually fairly constant, at such meetings, but this one had more than its usual of angry voices (not so much Mrs Angry, who was tired, and feeling a bit below par).  

A protestor who had been yelling some delightfully impertinent, and yet pertinent, observations, now stood up and wandered over to the table, with a large 'cheque' which he said, was for Capita, who seem to be rather keen on taking money from the residents of this borough. 

The Tories tried to ignore him, and used diversionary tactics now, deploying their most effective weapon of mass destruction, a speech by Sachin Rajput, which, like mustard gas, is a silent killer, paralysing all who listen, depriving them of oxygen, of life itself, by degrees, and leaving victims praying for an early death. Stop: just stop. Please.

Dear Christ, in another underhand move, they played their most deadly gambit: an address by the pompous young twit in charge of education, libraries etc: Reuben Thompstone. Surely this form of torture, thought Mrs Angry, stuffing her fingers in her ears, eyes filling with tears, must be in breach of the Geneva Convention?

Bla bla bla ... hold on, now he was talking about children and disabilities. Really? Clearly he thought he could speak with expertise on this subject.

Have you been to Mapledown yet, asked Mrs Angry? 

Ah. Now Councillor Dean Cohen was discussing his Environment budget.

Will it all be spent on your own ward, asked Mrs Angry? 

Councillor Antony Finn is Chairwoman of the contract monitoring committee. He said they were going to start monitoring contracts.

Better late than never, said Mrs Angry, kindly, always keen to encourage positive moves in the direction of travel of our less intellectually gifted Tory councillors.

Time for Labour members to have their say.

Barry Rawlings pointed out that the Capita contracts left the council with little if any flexibility to adjust their budget policies to a changing economic reality.   

Cornelius thought, and heaven only knows why, that any risk resulting from this would be borne by the contractor. Yeah, right. He quickly deflected the debate to Chief Operating Officer, Mr Chris Naylor, who has just announced he is leaving the sinking ship of Capitaville and going to Barking, and when Mrs Angry bumped into Mr Naylor outside Santa's Grotto in Brent Cross recently, she promised she would not make any jokes about inverse nominative determinism, so - she will not.

Mr Naylor, whose boundless optimism is bound to be why he persuaded the people of Barking to take him to their bosom as their new Chief Executive, said that he thought that there was scope within the strictures of the Capita contract for a 'downward adjustment'. 

Nope, I don't know what the f*ck that means, either. Are we meant to know?   

Cllr Ross Houston's area of specialism is housing and he has been the driving force behind the Labour housing commission which, in the absence of any interest from the Tories , is trying to address the terrible crisis in housing engulfing this borough, run by a neo Thatcherite Conservative administration intent on driving the poorest and most vulnerable residents from Barnet, whilst disguising private developments of luxury homes as 'regeneration'.

Ross praised the efforts of Labour run Camden Council to address the challenge of social housing need. As he did so, the young Tory housing lead member, Tom Davey looked less than impressed, as you might expect.

Cllr Houston then picked up on a question raised by Barbara Jacobson, in which she quoted an abominable statement in one of the reports, stating:

'Barnet is a place where housing helps individuals and families who add economic, social, civic or cultural value to communities, to live as owners or renters of property ...'

Barnet is a place, you see, where you are only welcome if you register on a scale of value, because in the privatised paradise that is Capitaville, worth is measured by your usefulness as a commodity, or your ability to manufacture profit.

Councillor Houston, who is an honourable man, of quiet intensity, and a strong sense of social justice, revealed himself, with remarkable patience, to be in disagreement with this Tory view of the way of things.

Barnet, he said, as if trying to explain to a particularly obtuse group of pre school children, is a place where people live. 

It is their home.

The Tory members, as ever, looked on with a range of expressions, from indifference to open derision.

Labour's Cllr Paul Edwards is particularly good at challenging the capital funding sleight of hand that appears to be in charge of all financial reports submitted to scrutiny committees: truth lost behind a veil of commercially sensitive agreements to which we are not party, and may only guess the outline.

Kate Kennally, who is now Strategic Director for Communities, looked solemnly across the table and did her best to patronise Cllr Edwards, who, she graciously conceded, raised an interesting point ... Oh, well done, Cllr Edwards, thought Mrs Angry.

In Broken Barnet, of course, the norm is that councillors leave the running of the council to senior officers like Ms Kennally, who know better than our elected representatives what is best for us. Newbie councillors take a while to adjust to this idea, and some Labour members are proving rather slow to fall into line. 

Some fun for any body language experts: displacement activities at the committee table ...

Kennally's colleague Mr Naylor may be clearing his desk and looking forward to his new job in Barking and Dagenham, but he was still keen to contribute to the meeting in the language of doublespeak that is the usual Barnet senior management house style. Murmured references then, to 'the gateway process', and 'keeping a close eye on the market of social care'.

Marvellous stuff. Bet that will go down awfully well with the comrades in Barking, the massed ranks of the Dagenham girl pipers, and, of course, the cast of Towie.

Oh, shut UP, Mrs Angry.


Just when Mrs Angry decided she would rather, on balance, go home and watch Edwina Currie being tormented by cockroaches in the Australian jungle - or rather: watch cockroaches in the Australian jungle being tormented by Edwina Currie, than remain in committee rooms one, and two, at Hendon Town Hall: hello, Reuben Thompstone was off again, with his own form of antipodean entertainment.

With all the gravitas and ponderance of a papal envoy in the age of reformation, Cllr Thompstone decreed that there was no concept of  'predetermination' in the library nonsultation.

Not so much in the sense of a predestination of souls doomed to eternal punishment, but any foregone decision on the fate of Tory library closures and cuts in service. 


This was, thought Mrs Angry, an interesting announcement, especially when followed by a statement, tinged by just a hint of desperation, that Cllr Thompstone would 'welcome' alternative ideas from residents taking part in the current round of faux consultation. Mrs Angry's notes contain the observation, at this point: ... the Tories are FRIT

They know they have cocked up again, like they did with the parking, upsetting too many of their own voters, due to their innate inability to judge the political impact of their idiotic, blindly ideological obsession with outsourcing, but ... they imagine they will be able to bluff their way out of this corner by saving strategicly chosen branches, the ones in the most sensitive Tory or marginal wards.

Behind the scenes, even as we speak, Tory members without the balls to speak openly in criticism of this administration’s cultural revolution and war on libraries are lobbying frantically for their own libraries to be spared the axe.
(More on libraries, and Mrs Angry's contribution to the nonsultation events, in the next post, God or Google willing, if Blogger will stop losing Mrs Angry's drafts and driving her to tears, and over the edge of sanity. What is left of it, after being shrunk in size, from 5,000 square feet, to 540).

In order to try to cover their own shame, of course, the Tories resorted to the usual tactic: pointing the finger at the opposition. What, Richard Cornelius wanted to know, were Labour’s proposals?

A fair point. No one is entirely clear, yet, because the traditional Labour leadership style is to oppose things, sort of, but not give any detailed policy proposals, as they think they can’t promise anything they cannot deliver in power. 

We have seen this posture forced on the group in the previous administration, in regard to YCB, and budget proposals.

There is a fatal flaw in this argument, of course. 

You have to get into fecking power first, see, before you have the luxury of worrying about something you should not worry about in the first place, ie following the Tory policy agenda.

And you are not going to win votes by a wishy-washy response to what is by any standard the most ruthless, destructive and indefensible assault on what was once a nationally acclaimed public library service, about to be raised to the ground by the vandalism of mindless, pointless privatisation and a reckless disregard for the real, immeasurable value of reading, culture, education, access to information - and social justice - by this appalling excuse for a Conservative administration.

Time for a clear stand, a hard head, and a campaign of overt, relentless resistence from the opposition, and every resident in this borough. 

Today it is your library, your home, your nursery, your care services at risk: tomorrow it may be too late and the future of public services this borough will already have been trafficked over to the private sector, to be used, abused and never seen again. 

If you don't want to see that happen, open your mouth now, and speak out.



Anonymous said...

Mrs A . We have in this Borough the finest councillors Money can Buy . How else can you Explain the decisions that this council have taken !!!

Mrs Angry said...

There are as many explanations as there are councillors, Anon. But most of the Tory members do it because they have a need to enforce their own sense of status, and because of the allowance, and the free buffets. Others think - ha ha - it will be the launch of a brilliant career in politics. The vast majority of them, in my view, should be ashamed of themselves, and remember their colleague, Cllr Sussman, who more properly saw his role of one of civic duty, and never took a penny of any allowance in the many years in which he served the community.

Anonymous said...

Ah but Mrs A - what do Barnet Tories consider to be 'their' library branches? Do they close East Barnet and Osidge libraries assuming they have lost those wards forever?
And how will they justify closure of others in some Labour wards? Closure of East Finchley will reap the whirlwind of the vociferous local user group as well as incurring the wrath of potential Tory voters it being on the cusp of Hampstead Garden Suburb - the late unlamented cllr Rams found out the dangers of closing libraries in HGS.
Justifying the closure of Burnt Oak may yet incur judicial challenges. At the nonsultation there the independent when quizzed about why the library was selected for closure rifled through his papers. He couldn't say why but said those selected for remaining open were based on being at a transport hub and on economic need. The incredulous audience forcefully pointed out the tube station next door, the 6 bus routes that pass the door and the inconvenient truth that Burnt Oak is the most deprived ward in the borough.
Clearly Cllr Tombstone hasn't realised what he has let himself in for and has left his consultants cruelly exposed.

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm, Anonymous #2. I think they will take a gamble on which libraries they think they can destroy, either by total closure, or slashing staff/hours. I say they think, because like you I believe this is far too unpredictable, and reveals the stupidity of their own half baked proposals, in the impact it will have on their own electoral support in the GE, as well as locally. And of course at any time there could be a by election which would, with a background of library cuts, leave them fatally exposed to loss of the council. Serves them bloody well right.

I had a most amusing and informative morning at the Golders Green nonsultation event, which will be the subject of the next post, if I can summon up the will.