Well, I know which I would choose, if I were Barnet council's ruling group: move to restore trust. I am talking, of course, about the council's relationship with MetPro Rapid Response (MRR) and MetPro Emergency Response (MER) which, while not the same company, merely a successor company, does, to my untrained eye, bear many of the features of being a phoenix company.
I realise I might be courting a libel writ, but, hey, I'm an inveterate thrill-seeker! Not.
I'm afraid raising the question of Barnet council's relationship with MetPro feels risky. But it needs talking about! I am a lowly Barnet resident, let me remind you and, in my view, residents who want to get to the bottom of this affair shouldn't be put in the position of feeling that we are embarking on dangerous ground. Yet, that is how it feels.
A number of residents have submitted FOI requests to Barnet council about Barnet and MetPro: so far, no answers and, for some concerned, the deadline by which Barnet should have replied has already passed.
Almost all of Barnet's regular bloggers, me included, today published a statement calling for a public inquiry into Barnet council's relationship with MetPro.
What would be the ambit of such an inquiry? Well, that would be up to the chair, but I hope it would be wide. We are getting conflicting versions of events from different actors in the story - we need to know who is right; and there are some other plain vexing questions which I would want to have answers to if my confidence in the council were to be restored.
My proposals for inquiry include:
- what was the chain of command on the night of 1 March at the council meeting in Hendon Town Hall? We know that the police had a view on how things should proceed, council staff had a view, councillors and senior officers had a view, and MetPro had a view. But were they all on the same page? Who, for example, should take responsibility for the decision to bar entry to the Town Hall to a group of distinctly unrowdy residents (see film on Rog T's blog).
Residents need to know, in order to ensure that our rights of access to council meetings are clearer in future.
- were residents filmed at the meeting? Have residents been routinely filmed at meetings for much of the time that MetPro have had responsibility for security at council meetings? If they have, how far back does that go? 2006, when MRR first got the contract?
If residents were filmed, did Barnet council know about it and did they order it? There are conflicting statements on this from Mr Sharkey, a director of MRR, and the council.
Residents need to know. They need to know whether MetPro or a successor company, or the liquidator dealing with MRR (which has gone bust, with debts of over £400,000 including £245,000 owed to HM Revenue & Customs) has film of them, and what they have done with it.
A number of residents are now taking this matter up with the Information Commissioner.
- has Barnet adequately handled its relationship with this contractor? Residents need to know. It fills me with horror that Barnet bloggers seem to have had wind that MRR was going bust before Barnet council did.
Barnet council is planning to outsource almost the entire council services to private companies. Many commentators have given warnings in the run-up to the implementation of the One Barnet plan (now in full swing) about the council's lack of capacity to handle mass outsourcing.
On the evidence so far, including this affair and the recent discovery of legionella bacteria at Fremantle care homes, residents have a great deal to fear in the Brave New Outsourced World of One Barnet.
- how did MetPro get the contract at Barnet? Forgive me if I am speaking out of turn, but when we already see a catalogue of doubt and confusion surrounding Barnet council's relationship with MetPro, I for one need my mind putting at rest about how MetPro got contracts with Barnet council in the first place.
If there is no wrongdoing, let's have it all out in the open. Residents need to know.
Barnet council needs to restore residents' trust. It shouldn't embark on a game of brinkmanship but open the windows on this whole affair!
To all councillors who might read this, particularly from Barnet Tory group, I would like to suggest that the biggest danger for you in this affair is not that Barnet bloggers might appear to be scoring points off Barnet council; the biggest danger here is losing your reputation for good with Barnet residents.