Friday, 26 October 2012

One Barnet - Billion Pound Gamble? You bet!

The Ham&High newspaper have an article today called 'One Barnet - a Billion Pound Gamble?'.

They attended the premiere on Monday night of Charles Honderick and Roger Tichbourne's new film 'Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble' (which is very good, by the way - list of free, local screenings here).

It's good that they've written such an article, trying to explain One Barnet in some detail. But it's actually pretty limited and gives Barnet Council far too much of the benefit of the doubt.

There are also some plain errors in it.

I have posted a long comment - they haven't approved it yet, perhaps they're combing through it for accuracy/libel, etc. I actually think they should give Barnet Alliance a chance to respond in their pages. I'll ask them for it!

My comment is below. It's a comment on the bottom of an article posted on a website, so it's not 'fully rounded', but I think it's useful.
Thank you for covering One Barnet in some detail. There are a few corrections I would like to make.

One Barnet did not start life in 2010, but earlier. I think it was mooted around 2007, and started going through the council committees in late 2008. When it began life it was 'Future Shape'. The national spending review in 2010 only gave the council a new propaganda reason to say it was necessary.

For sure the council say it will be done to save money. But will it? Many large-scale outsourcings have gone wrong and ended up costing money, eg, BT in Liverpool. Cornwall Council - led by the Conservatives - this week voted to pull back from a large outsourcing project. There are numerous more examples. It IS a big gamble, and while we might gain - might - we also lose a lot of control and accountability

Moreover, the One Barnet umbrella doesn't just include three big and one small outsourcing contracts (two large contract negotiations are far advanced; a large street scene contract will follow soon; parking has recently been outsourced to NSL with a severe drop in the quality of the service).

One Barnet also includes such things as: service reductions (cuts); 'efficiencies'; raising charges for some services (this really DOES fit with the easyCouncil model) including adult social care and parking for residents living in CPZs - currently being fought by residents through the courts. So a lot of the 'savings' are really just cuts!

One Barnet is also highly ideological: a lot of the savings they hope to be made are through fostering 'a different relationship with citizens' - and this boils down to getting us to do more things for ourselves. OK for some; on the whole, not OK. Services in Barnet are hardly extravagant at the moment, and generally people really need the services they use.

There is also a simple belief by the Conservative administration that private sector is best; it is often demonstrably not so. We are also worried about the lobbying role that the outsourcing companies have conducted on senior council officers who then prevail on councillors (who frankly know shockingly little about One Barnet) to go along with privatisation. BT, one of the bidders for the £750m NSCSO contract, had a man seconded to Barnet Council for a long period, for example.

Am I going on a bit? I'm sorry, but there is so much detail that people need to know more about in order to see why we are worried, and why we are working so hard to oppose One Barnet. People can read more on the Barnet Alliance website:

I think the final thing I would want to take issue with is Cllr Thomas's claim that the administration has a mandate for One Barnet. In no sense was the policy 'out there'. The Conservatives' manifesto in 2010 had 3 points: council tax freeze; weekly bin collection (whoopee!); we won't allow building on the green belt.

That's it! They have repeatedly said they don't think residents care about how their services are delivered - but never thought to ask them. We are finding as we tell residents about One Barnet that they do care, and that they oppose the programme.

Vicki Morris
Barnet Alliance for Public Services publicity officer

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