Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday joke: As a community leader, we accept that Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services...

Residents crowd into the Barnet Alliance public meeting about 'One Barnet', yet the council claims "Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services"
Last night's Barnet Alliance public 'Question Time' with a panel of Barnet Council Leader Richard Cornelius, Labour group leader Alison Moore, Lib Dem group leader Jack Cohen, and Andy Mudd, a consultant with the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), was remarkable.

The hall at the Greek Cypriot Community Centre was packed; estimates vary but... it was packed! People standing at the sides and back and even outside the main room, in the cafe area. I arrived late and snapped the crowds around the door (above).

I missed the opening speeches, but they will be available on film soon, I expect, at the Barnet Bugle blog.

Richard Cornelius got a hard, but fair, ride. His basic arguments were: the massive One Barnet outsourcing programme will save us money, and stop us having to put up (even by inflation?!) council tax; we don't know what's in the proposed contracts, but we'll see in a few days' time - then Councillors Will Decide.

The audience had sent in questions in advance and a representative sample were chosen to cover various themes raised by One Barnet, including transfer of jobs out of the borough; how councillors will represent voters and residents in future, when all services are wrapped up in contractual agreements; what happens if the contracts fail?, who will foot the bill?, etc.

Extra questions and contributions were made from the floor throughout the evening. The level of debate was high, and, although Cornelius was clearly whipping boy for the evening, I thought fair and reasoned.

Richard Cornelius (Con); Alison Moore (Lab); Andy Mudd (APSE)
One of the final contributions from the floor was most telling; a woman who declared herself party neutral said that she had found Cornelius's answers utterly unconvincing. She got the biggest round of applause of the night.

The meeting lasted more than two hours, and most people stayed to the end. I feel that this evening's meeting was a small but overdue watershed for democracy in Barnet. The Conservative group simply hasn't put its plans before the electorate for its consideration, but now, finally, they have been forced to stand and defend their plans in public. And the public don't like them. Now what happens next?!

These are, let's be clear, massive changes they are proposing - in the way services are delivered, in the governance arrangements of the council - not to be undertaken lightly.

Andy Mudd probably had the most telling line of the evening, fairly early on, when he said that of all the councils he had looked at, Barnet was the worst at letting and monitoring contracts - and so far we have only been talking about relatively small contracts. Barnet now plans to outsource £1 billion of business, affecting 70% of council services.

My favourite contribution came from a man who used to work for the in-house parking service but now works for the outsourced contract with NSL. He reminded people how the service has deteriorated; earlier on Derek Dishman (aka blogger Mr Mustard) pointed out that 25 jobs had gone from the borough when parking was outsourced. Is this the sort of thing we have to look forward to for all of our services in future? It is, under One Barnet.

P.S. I was looking for the Tory councillors' favourite quotation that Barnet residents don't care who delivers their services, private or public sector, as my headline to this report. I couldn't find which Barnet Tory politician said it, but I did come across yet another Barnet Council website with a quote to that effect, except it seems to be given as a sort of official mantra for Barnet Council.
As a community leader, we accept that Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services as long as they are of a high quality, effective and publicly accountable.
What's the status of this website? It seems to be aimed at people thinking about working for Barnet Council. The tone is appalling!

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