As you know the Council is embarked on a massive outsourcing project, the One Barnet Programme. This programme has never been put before the borough’s residents for their comments let alone their approval. It was not in the manifesto of the winning party at the local government elections.
No Conservative councillor or senior Council officer has ever appeared in a public forum to defend the programme. It has been left to concerned residents such as ourselves to make their own investigations into the scope and scale of the planned changes.
We have recently seen a copy of the core principles adopted by senior council officers in March 2011, early in the process of beginning the outsourcing. They would alarm any resident who cares about the state of the borough. You can read the document here:
We do not know whether these principles have been modified in the course of the process. The fact that we do not know in itself is a matter for deep concern and only highlights the fact that residents are being kept in the dark about what the Council is doing with their own services and their money. We must insist on residents’ right to know more about One Barnet.
Of course, it might well be that councillors themselves are also in the dark about what the Council is doing. You have a duty to represent your constituents and we think you should share information about One Barnet with them. You should represent any concerns they have to the Council Cabinet and senior officers.
We think that the principles we have seen probably are those along which the One Barnet Programme is proceeding. The points from the principles that alarm us most and which we think particularly need public discussion are highlighted below.
One Barnet is likely to cost jobs in the borough
The Council appears to have decided that there will be no requirement on the companies awarded contracts to create new jobs within the borough. Moreover, they have decided that services do not have to be delivered locally: that is, staff currently employed by Barnet Council could be made redundant and their jobs done by people in another part of the county or even overseas, most probably in a call centre.
Staff made redundant will be offered basic TUPE terms, which, as we have already seen with outsourced services in Barnet, usually means that sooner or later staff will be re-employed on worse terms. That is bound to affect the quality of the service to residents.
There is a risk that residents will foot the bill if it goes wrong
The document is shot through with concerns about who will bear risks, including financial risks. For example, the Council is looking into taking out insurance against contract failure, and is worried about the implications of outsourcing for paying the pensions of transferred staff. Here is one particularly startling quotation regarding the pension fund:
"At the end of the contract period, there are risks of potential large deficits being built up by the new employer during the contract period. A recovery plan will need to be put in place well before contract ceases."
The ostensible reason for going down the outsourcing path is to save money, but if contracts fail in any way, it will cost us money and disruption in our services. Other areas of provision will need to be cut to make up any gaps in the Council’s budget.
The quality of our services is in jeopardy
In the document senior officers acknowledge that contractors are interested in the One Barnet Programme for one reason alone: to make money. Take this, for example:
"There are... many examples of long-term partnerships where the commitment and enthusiasm of the provider has waned over the duration of the contract. Major... organisations will generally resource extensively during the first year, or two, of a new contract but this level of resourcing diminishes as the contract moves to a more stable business as usual position."
Residents, however, are interested in the quality of their services, and councillors should be too.
We believe that councillors have a duty to inform themselves about these issues as a matter of urgency so that they can discuss them with constituents. Moreover, it is in your interest to do so.
The One Barnet Programme has major implications for the future of the Borough’s services and finances and for the way it is governed. One day the discussions behind closed doors must spill out onto the streets, as residents feel the impact of the changes to their services.
That will be too late for them and you suddenly to be involved in the debate.
We therefore urge you to take an active interest in One Barnet now. Speaking for ourselves, we oppose the programme; we believe One Barnet will jeopardise local finances, the quality of services and democratic control over them.
Please let us know what you think.