Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Barnet tries nudging: a resident responds

I am reading a great trade magazine (I earn a living from trade magazines, so I'm not sneering) called the Local Government Chronicle. I had always thought the LGC was left-leaning, but it doesn't look to be now.

There is an article written by the editor, Karen Day, which is pure Freer-speak, or is Freer speaking Karen Day? Read it here.

It's so much like the gobbledygook that the Future Shape report is written in, and since I have an interest in language for its own sake, I'm inspired to go and look at other things on the LGC website: there are some gems, humorous and simultaneously alarming, about Barnet, such as 'Barnet tries nudging' ("the intention was to encourage the notion that socially desirable behaviour was normal") and 'Barnet's Boland switches to GLA' (" the helm of Barnet, Mr Boland has overseen the borough's development as a 'city suburb' and its behaviour change programme" - what's that? I'm starting to feel like some kind of Barnet lab rat).

The website has a page called 'Thought Leadership Zone':
"Welcome to the Thought Leadership Zone, where practitioners and commentators can share their vision for local government. This zone features analytical and thought-provoking pieces, examining where local government is now and the challenges ahead.

"...(The LGC Thought Leadership Zone includes sponsored articles.)"
Of course it includes sponsored articles! It just would, wouldn't it?!

I think I am going to become an avid reader of Local Government Chronicle, well, at least an occasional visitor to its website.

This article underlines to me how depoliticised government has become, becoming replaced by governance (as councillor Harper - or was it Offord? - proudly pointed out last week), done by experts whose job it is to keep us all... happy? Quiet? Productive? Quiescent. They do the thinking, we are just bodies (I am indebted to my other half for this observation).

Leader Listens seems to be in this vein. The Leader meets a random sample of the people: it's like testing blood. How is the patient doing this week?

The vision of Barnet in the Future Shape report seems to fit with this: Barnet residents are individuals, with complex needs. In the future they will turn up to some sort of pan-public sector [see LGC] 'service station' where they will have their complex needs met - or not [LGC, Mike Freer et al can't seem to decide which needs it is legitimate for us to have met at the Future Shape service station and which we will have to meet ourselves and which - whisper it - might have to go unmet].

Future Shape offers a horrible, atomised vision of Barnet residents not as they are, a community, albeit one that debates policy and competes for resources, but as atomised, individual bags of wants.

It's obvious also that we, Barnet residents, are the 'them' and Mike Freer et al are the 'us', whose well-paid jobs it is to satisfy our wants (although only as resources, in this case Local Government Finance Settlements, allow).

Freer et al seem to take people's being turned off politics - I'm not pretending that isn't real - as a sign that people don't WANT to be involved in politics. Wrong, they're just turned off politics, and no wonder.

Last week after the farcical Cabinet meeting that rubber-stamped Future Shape we found out that hardly anyone ever submits a question to the Cabinet. Does this show that Mike Freer and his Cabinet are getting everything right? Should they be congratulating themselves? No, it's a sign that democratic channels in Barnet are in a lousy state: people don't know how to hold their 'leaders' to account, and they probably despair of getting a hearing if they tried.

I wrote to Democratic Services after the Cabinet meeting: I wanted to know whether we could have in writing Mike Freer's answers to our residents' questions: my shorthand skills are not what they should be, and I have no written record of his answer to my question. I want to know whether the residents asking questions who could not make it on the night will be granted an answer from the Leader. I want to know whether there will be any written minutes of the public question time, and whether it will be published on the council website, where other members of the public might see it. I've asked all these questions, and Democratic Services have told me they will consult the Leader on my behalf about them.

I'm looking forward to the Leader's response... should it ever come. But what a horrible vision of the future we are being offered, and what an alarming state of affairs we have in the here and now.

Next on vickim57: Barnet Council wrote on their own wall, and other cringe-making forays into social networking


Citizen Barnet said... - a favourable assessment of Barnet's 'cringe-making forays into social networking'. It's all about the life-world, stupid.

Rog T said...


Complete nonsense. It is a "lets talk management speak cobblers fest" Lord help us all if these are the type of people influencing the council