Friday, 28 November 2008

"From a plain English point of view, it is an awful document"

Protocol dictates that I remove the post that was here until Wednesday 3rd.

We sought the opinion of the Plain English Campaign about the latest Future Shape report, and they have to give Barnet council a chance to explain themselves before we are allowed to publicise their opinion about the document.

My feeling is that Barnet council will say, oh, well, that document was never meant for public consumption (far too 'technical'!?), in which case why put it on your website? But at least it means they will then be more or less committing themselves to producing some Plain English information about Future Shape. So... watch this space.

Hold the front page

Mike Freer has told the local Times newspaper: “The Future Shape model has been prepared in consultation with our staff and users to see how we can deliver our services better." Tell that to... well, staff and users, and I think they would laugh in his face.

The council might be regretting its decision not to inform residents about what is going on, because the only people who ARE providing information are Barnet trades council (Barnet TUC) and, in the first place, the council unions (eg, Barnet Unison).

We have been getting a lot of coverage in the local press and this week a front page (well, you know, once you've taken the advertising wrapper off, but those are the times we are living in):

Times series, Thurs 27 Nov: "Privatisation looms?"

Other reports this week:
Barnet and Whetstone Press, Thurs 27 Nov: "Fears of privatisation of council services..." and "Unions suspicious of motives..."

Rog T dissects Future Shape

I promised in an earlier post to cover the latest Future Shape report from the council in detail, but Rog T is already dissecting it very well at this blog Rog T - The Barnet Eye - I recommend you take a look.

However, there is so much that is awful in the report that we would have to work in relays to cover it all, so perhaps I will have to take over at some point.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Future Shape: it IS pear-shaped

From this to this. And it took them a whole 7 months.

The Leader's report on 'Future Shape' to the Cabinet of 6 May 2008 ("The Future Organisation of the Council") was, from my point of view, a politically worrying document, but fairly coherent. The latest report, "Future Shape of the Council", which is what they will discuss at the Cabinet on Tuesday 3 December, is full of management speak, muddy, and downright sinister in places.

Have a look for yourself. I hope to cover some points from it in the next few days.

This Saturday 29th November, join or visit one of the trades council's public stalls informing the public about Future Shape:
10.00-11.30am - outside Chipping Barnet library
Please note: the stall previously advertised for Whetstone Waitrose is not now going ahead - unless someone else would like to organise one! Please get in touch:
10.30-11.30am - outside Tesco, Burnt Oak
11.00am-12 noon - outside Tesco, Finchley Central

Monday, 24 November 2008

Future Shape of Barnet council: If you had just one question, what would you ask?

In the build-up to the Council Cabinet public meeting which will discuss 'Future Shape' (7pm, Tuesday 9 December, preceded from 6pm by a rally organised by trade unions and Barnet residents), I will examine different aspects of our campaign to bring the matter to public attention.

A Barnet resident attended Leader Listens in north Finchley. She was rather dismayed by the reaction she got from Leader of Barnet council Mike Freer when she asked why Barnet council weren't informing the public about their 'Future Shape' deliberations.
He said (I'm paraphrasing): the residents of Barnet voted for councillors to act on their behalf, to make decisions, without any necessity to get the opinions of local residents. If residents don't like councillors' decisions, we can vote them out after four years.

By this account, Mike Freer's definition of democracy is the very crude one that democracy = putting a cross on a ballot paper every x years.

In the trades council we think otherwise; we know that democracy involves a whole lot more than that. For example, we believe that it means an active citizenry! And there are plenty of Barnet residents out there who know how to use the avenues that exist to HOLD OUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES TO ACCOUNT, not just at election time, ie, for councils, on one day every four years, but in between times as well.

I am trying to turn myself into an active citizen (well, an active resident - I've always been active in the trade union movement). With some other residents I contacted Barnet council's Democratic Services, to find out how to put questions to the Leader (hate that term! Wouldn't you hate to be called 'the Leader'?) and Cabinet at their meeting on 3 December. We spent part of the weekend looking over Future Shape material that is in the public sphere, and devising the questions that we would most like to have answered. From what I have seen, Future Shape raises enough questions to fill several Cabinet meetings, but on Tuesday 3 December the public will be able to put only 20 questions, or half an hour's worth, whichever is the longest. Please be there to hear what we have come up with!

Straw poll - Whetstone Waitrose: er...?

Not quite the detail I was looking for, but the people running the stall outside Whetstone Waitrose to inform the public about Barnet council's 'Future Shape' deliberations ('We do it, because Barnet council won't') said 'the stall went very well'. I take that to mean that in Whetstone, just as I have been finding in Burnt Oak, there is NO PUBLIC APPETITE FOR PRIVATISATION.

I walked around Whetstone a little bit on Sunday looking for places to leaflet about the lobby on Tuesday 3rd December (6pm rally, 7pm attend public meeting of the Council Cabinet). Barnet House, where the rally and meeting will take place, is a bleak spot, built on stilts with a chill wind whistling underneath. We shall have to wrap up warm for our lobby and come with chants prepared to keep our spirits up.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Straw poll - Burnt Oak Tesco: No public appetite for privatisation

For a couple of months past I and a couple more people from Barnet trades council, reinforced by members of Barnet Unison and a friend who lives in Kingsbury, have organised a stall outside Tesco on Burnt Oak Broadway on Saturday morning (10.30-11.30, in case you pass that way on a Saturday).

We ask people to sign the trade unions' 'Future Shape' petition (text here Barnet trades council (Barnet TUC)).

Its basic demand is that the Council should give the 'inhouse' option a fair crack of the whip when assessing it against any other option they can dream up, all of which would involve some sort of outsourcing to private companies/Third Sector or arms length organisations, or what have you.

I can say, hand on heart, based on this consultation exercise - as far as I know, the only one so far conducted over the council's Future Shape plans - that there is NO PUBLIC APPETITE FOR PRIVATISATION/OUTSOURCING. People visibly groan when I tell them what is being contemplated. OK, a few people scuttle past, with their heads down, their body language telling me 'I don't want to talk to anyone on the street about anything ever'. A few people say 'the council's rubbish, anyway' and have given up on the idea of doing anything about it. And on one occasion a business Masters student from China politely discussed with me why privatisation MIGHT be a good thing. But, apart from that, the overwhelming sentiment of the public using Burnt Oak Tesco is: privatisation, no thanks.

This Saturday, some of my colleagues ran a stall outside Waitrose in Whetstone High Road. Socio-economically speaking this is a different kettle of fish from Burnt Oak Tesco, so it will be interesting to hear what the response is there. I bet they get a few more people prepared to support privatisation, and ready to argue about it. But I bet it's still not a majority. I'll report back here when I've found out.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

What's the point?

The aim of this blog is to supplement material on the Barnet trades council (Barnet TUC) website, which I administer in the capacity of publicity officer of Barnet trades council.

Here I might, from time to time, give more detailed reports about what the trades council is doing; however, to be clear, this is a personal blog and does not represent the views of Barnet trades council.