I don't know the back-story of how Barnet council's half-baked Future Shape plans (which many councillors themselves are going lukewarm on) made it onto the front page of the Guardian on Friday 28 August, and on several pages inside, but here, here, here and here it is. David Cameron's response, I understand, has been quite lukewarm as well, with him saying that Barnet is not necessarily the Tories' blueprint for local government - but perhaps he is just seeing how it plays. This analysis suggests that. Barnet is more like a guinea-pig than a flagship in many ways.
One reason why Barnet's Tory administration and its chief executive might have sought to grab the headlines in a good way (they think it is in a good way, even if no half-rational human would) is because they knew the "Panorama" programme, critical of the council's decision to axe sheltered housing wardens, would be broadcast in August.
Whatever the PR calculations of Freer & Co., the Guardian articles are going down like a lead balloon with Barnet council workers who are supposed to be consulted about all this guff before it's trailed in the press, and won't like it appearing over a bank holiday weekend the week before the kids go back to school, ie, when people have their minds elsewhere and it's hard to respond adequately.
Barnet council trade unions (Unison, GMB, NASUWT, NUT) have responded, however, quickly. Hopefully the Guardian will see fit to print the letter they have sent. Meanwhile, read their press release below.
Barnet Joint Trade Unions Press Release: 28 Aug 2009
“Tories adopt budget airline service model”(Guardian 28 Aug 2009)
The Joint Trade unions would like to express our extreme concerns that any decisions about the future of public services in Barnet have been already made.
Consultation on the Future Shape project has been going on for the past 14 months. In December last year, Cabinet agreed a model which proposed to transfer most of the council’s services to another employer leaving a small core of staff to carry out a commissioning function.
On the 6th July 09 Barnet Council Cabinet Committee rejected the mass outsourcing model.
It is therefore disappointing to read a substantial article in a national newspaper which states the Council is suggesting public services could be run as effectively as the “easyJet/Ryanair model”.
This is the same Ryanair who are “looking at the possibility of installing a coin slot on the lavatory door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny.”
Public services are accountable to the tax payer and those requiring public services. It is important that those providing services are providing quality and delivering efficiencies which are then reinvested back into frontline services such as schools and social care services.
It is disappointing to read on the front page of today’s Guardian that the “council plans to make savings by outsourcing services and reducing the size of its 3,500 strong workforce.”
We have previously been told that Future Shape is not a return to the 1980s (‘Life on Mars’) of CCT which saw the mass sell-off of council services, which subsequently failed to deliver quality or value for money and had to be brought back in-house, all at the expense of the local tax payers.
The Trade Unions believe that directly employed staff are best able to provide high quality and accountable public services to residents. We would add that central government needs to allow councils greater financial freedoms to be able to deliver public services.
On 8 September Barnet Public Sector Trade Union leads will be meeting to discuss our response to the debate over the future of Public Services in Barnet.
Contact: John Burgess Barnet UNISON on 07738 389569 or email email@example.com