Thursday, 29 January 2009

Squeeze on public finances - nothing efficient about Future Shape

An article on the Local Government Chronicle website cites Barnet as one council 'thinking the unthinkable' in its bid to make ends meet. In fact, the article cites few examples of councils planning to go down the road of mass outsourcing. It also points out that many will be reluctant to cut local government jobs during the recession, as local government is often an important local employer. However, LGC clearly thinks councils SHOULD be going down this road, so we will still take this article as a piece of propaganda.

The magazine has announced its second annual Efficiency Week, from 9-13 March 2009.

They are correct to publicise the squeeze going on on public finances. Myself, I believe that with different priorities, spending on public services can be maintained and even extended, even in this climate - I'll look for areas where I think efficiency savings can be made, and report back...! We could start with the 'Future Shape' report from PricewaterhouseCoopers which apparently cost a staggering £130,000. No more like that, thank you very much!

I invite ideas from other people.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Brian Coleman's interests - the wordle's out

I have idled away an hour making a Wordle ( - hours of amusement guaranteed) from Brian Coleman's entries into the Greater London Authority Mayor and Members Register of Gifts and Hospitality. It's a fair mathematical representation of what Brian has entered there, based on word frequency: the bigger the word, the more often it has appeared in the Register. I hope you enjoy this picture as much as I do. The smallish word on the bottom line is 'Whetstone'.

"I wish I'd thought of that" - Essex County Council outsourcing

We've rightly bemoaned the lack of consultation there has been over Barnet council's plans to privatise large parts of the council services through their Future Shape programme. But imagine living in Essex, where Tory-run Essex County Council is seeking tenders for a £5.4bn contract to provide services over eight years. The first that the council unions or Labour opposition (Lib-Dems are backing the proposal) knew of this plan was when they read the tender notice in the EU Official Journal.

There are probably a few Tory politicians in Barnet wishing they had been so audacious in their contempt for democracy. Mike Freer, believe it or not, is a long way down the list of Top Nasty Tories, and still has much to learn.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Tory councils, investment advisors, and the Iceland banking fiasco: it's not what you know, but who you know (unfortunately)

I will study this article in more depth in the next couple of days, to judge just how 'scandalous' - or not - it is, but it is certainly interesting. It's about Barnet council - among others - taking investment advice from Butlers, a company run - for profit - by the Conservative Party treasurer Michael Spencer.

According to a report in the Independent newspaper:

"[Butlers] gave investment advice to almost half the councils facing a funding crisis as a result of the collapse of Iceland's banks, an investigation by The Independent reveals. Councils who paid Butlers for strategic advice were almost twice as likely to have lost money in the three main Icelandic banks as those advised by other companies.

"...The scale of Butlers' involvement in the crisis will embarrass the Tories, who control many of the affected councils. It is also a blow for Mr Spencer, the chief executive of ICAP [Butlers' parent company] who holds a 20 per cent stake in the listed company."

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Freer receives richly deserved accolade from Private Eye

The local Times reports that Private Eye has given Barnet Council leader Mike Freer their 'Banker of the Year' award for his role - knowing nothing about it - in the £27.4 million loss of Barnet money in failed Icelandic banks. It doesn't look like the story is reported on the Private Eye website yet, but soon perhaps.

In the meantime, enjoy the joke. And then let's get down to the serious business of opposing Freer's disastrous budget cut proposals. In the first place, we need to save Barnet Welfare Rights Unit!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Nudge, nudge...

“We will innovate and move away from being a groundhog council”.
-- Mike Freer, Local Government Association innovation conference, 20 November 2008.
No doubt Mike got a big round of applause for this pronouncement (and for proclaiming “Barnet: a positive nirvana in north London”, scroll down about four screens), but... what does any of it mean?

I am exploring the arcane world of local government management-speak and hope to produce a glossary soon. The phrase that annoys me most is 'behaviour change programme': apparently there has been one going on in Barnet. I can think of a few Barnet folk whose behaviour I would like to change but I think I would have the courtesy to tell them to their face before I tried.

The worst aspect of all this local government jargon is they haven't the guts to tell us, the residents, what they think. If they think we are a bunch of feckless, obese, litter louts, why not say so, instead of simply trying to 'nudge' (another favourite catch-phrase) us into behaving ourselves better?

Who would you nominate to be nudged into better behaviour? Take part in this week's poll!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow... is 2009!

I enjoyed the Christmas messages from the 'great and good' of Barnet published in the Press newspaper at Christmas (25/12/2008).

My favourite was from Brian Coleman: 'Put the worries on hold and try to relax'. I somehow have the feeling he doesn't find it all that hard to do. There's something naive-sounding - or even hypocritical - about his advice, as though he doesn't really need to worry about the same things as most people - and forget concerns about global warming - Brian evidently doesn't have any (or, it would seem, heating bills)! Here are some extracts:

'The credit crunch, rising unemployment and increasing economic gloom have meant uncertainty and worry for many families...

'So this Christmas my advice is to close the front door, turn the heating up and forget the outside world, and celebrate Christmas with family and friends and count your blessings.

'Sadly while we may be in the middle of a bleak midwinter, next year looks bleaker still. As for new year's resolution for both the country and individuals - it should be to reduce debt and live within our means.

'This time of year is a great period for refreshing one's batteries in the long break, so I suggest we all put our feet up, watch our favourite DVDs and worry about our problems in the new year.'