Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The sparse scrutiny of One Barnet

The blind leading the blind

Dear Councillor,

We are about to hear which company has been awarded one of the two massive contracts that constitute the £1 Billion One Barnet privatisation scheme.

Barely a week after the recommended bid is announced, Cabinet will vote on the proposals, and this borough will surrender control of a huge number of its services to an unaccountable private sector provider, for a minimum period of ten years.

Leader Richard Cornelius has written to a resident of Barnet stating he feels that a week allows sufficient time for the scrutiny by councillors of a contract of this size and significance, one that has taken four years in creation, by a process which has itself cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in fees to consultants.

We suggest to you that a week is self evidently a completely inadequate length of time for councillors to inform themselves of the details and full significance of what is clearly a hugely complex undertaking, and one with enormous implications for the future of all residents.

One Barnet is the most ambitious privatisation exercise that has ever been attempted by any local authority.

Despite the unprecedented scale of this project, NO independent assessment has been made of the enormous risks such an enterprise must inevitably present.

Equally astonishing is the fact that the internal assessment, the One Barnet Risk Register, has never been presented to the council's own Audit Committee.

Not only does this represent the most irresponsible disregard for the security of local residents' investment in One Barnet, it quite clearly makes the authority liable to legal challenge on the basis of failing properly to consult with members and residents, as required by the demands of the democratic process.

We ask all councillors to consider the very real concerns we raise: resist the demand to rubber stamp a decision from which, effectively, you have been excluded by the leadership and senior management team of this authority. Ask yourselves why you have been excluded from the process of scrutiny.

And then please have the courage do the job you were elected to do: to protect the best interests of the residents and tax payers of the London Borough of Barnet, and act immediately to call for a suspension of this reckless programme.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

(the famous five Barnet Bloggers)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Listen up councillors

The bloggers of Barnet sent this joint email to every Barnet Councillor today.

This blog also contains a video recorded by John Sullivan explaining why his daughter Susan has launched a legal challenge against Barnet Council over its One Barnet programme.


Dear Councillor,

Susan Sullivan is launching a legal action to secure a judicial review of the One Barnet programme.

As concerned Barnet residents, we believe that it is vital for the financial wellbeing of this borough that this programme is halted. We have seen no evidence that justifies the claims of savings, and plenty of evidence that signing 10-year contracts is highly risky. We do not believe that anyone knows where the economy will be in five years, let alone 10 years.

To illustrate the point, in 2007, nobody would have predicted the Credit Crunch, and RBS were embarking on a reckless takeover of ABN AMRO. The markets and the private sector trumpeted this deal as good value for the shareholders of RBS, but it brought the organisation to its knees, and the company would have gone bankrupt had it not been bailed out by the taxpayer.

BT, Capita and EC Harris, who are bidding for the One Barnet contracts, have nothing like the market capitalisation or financial strength that RBS was perceived to have in 2007; it cannot possibly be claimed that there is no risk.

Gambling, speculation and risk are matters that should not be entertained in the provision of services to vulnerable people. Yet they are precisely the values at the centre of the One Barnet programme. As such, we fully support Susan Sullivan in her action.

Her father John Sullivan has been interviewed and gives his reasons for opposing One Barnet and helping his daughter to launch her action.

We urge all Barnet councillors and every resident of Barnet to listen to John, as he eloquently sums up the reasons why One Barnet should be abandoned.


Link to youtube

Signed,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Friday, 2 November 2012

Brain Coleman is correct about One barnet!

http://thinkbright.co.uk/

Dear Councillor

We wrote to you recently about the impending vote on the motion of no confidence in Leader Richard Cornelius.

We observed that there was a rising tide of concern in your ranks about the One Barnet programme of outsourcing, and we asked you to act to halt the negotiations for the privatisation of £1 billion worth of our council services.

Now your former colleague Brian Coleman, who has been a senior member of the Cabinet and exerted considerable influence within the party, has chosen to speak out against One Barnet in the strongest terms, calling for its immediate rejection.

In his statement in the Barnet Press, Councillor Coleman refers to the proposed outsourcing as ‘an officer-driven juggernaut’ backed up by a ‘revolving door of endless consultants’ with a ‘promise of savings’. By implication, Cllr Coleman does not believe that One Barnet will deliver those savings.

The council needs to dump this flawed scheme and introduce a proper strategy which assesses where services belong, whether that is the private sector, shared services with other boroughs, the voluntary sector or indeed occasionally in-house - a mixed economy is what is needed.

We would give far more weight than Cllr Coleman to considering the in-house option fully as services are reviewed, but we are glad that he is prepared to voice publicly the idea that large-scale privatisation of services is not the answer to all our prayers.

He is not alone in this; many senior Conservative politicians in local government are saying the same. He also says of his erstwhile colleagues:

I don't know any councillors who agree we should privatise the planning department.

We invite those of you for whom this is true to speak out! We ask again: who controls the Council, senior officers or the elected Councillors?

We are pleased to see that at last a Conservative councillor is voicing in public the concerns that many of you have about One Barnet, especially since he has had to put aside loyalty to Richard Cornelius in order to do it. (Although, as he points out, Cllr Cornelius had become convinced that One Barnet will save money, he too was angered by the covert moves senior officers took towards adopting a Joint Venture for the DRS outsourcing.)

Cllr Coleman has also put on record the consternation that many of you felt when Nick Walkley pressed the button on his ejector seat out of the Barnet cockpit.

Of course, we have many differences with Cllr Coleman. For example, his suggestion that Conservative councillors have gone along with the One Barnet proposals because the unions had their own separate objections to them seems far-fetched. We find it hard to believe that the Conservative philosophy has as shallow a basis as knee-jerk hostility to anything the unions say.

Notwithstanding that, and our very many differences with Cllr Coleman over the years, there is an indisputable truth in much of what he is now saying about One Barnet. It is only a pity that someone did not speak out publicly before!

A glance at what is happening with the parking contract recently outsourced to NSL shows the dangers ahead if the Council plunges ahead with One Barnet.

The parking contract has been in place for six months and NSL are still experiencing serious difficulties as a result of 'teething troubles'; this contract was for £15 million over five years. If you scale up from a £3 million a year mess to £100 million a year how much havoc will be wrought in the lives of residents?

Opening his article, Cllr Coleman says:

Something has happened in the last few months in Barnet. Residents have been taking an interest in the way Barnet Council is proposing to operate in future, the so-called One Barnet scheme.

He is right, residents are very interested in that, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Of course, like you, residents are concerned about the fate – for that is what it is – of their council services, and of the money they have paid out in taxes to secure them.

We hardly need to remind you that residents will also take an interest in who was in charge when their services were handed over wholesale to two large companies, and tied up in 10-year contracts. We all know who they will blame when the service delivery falls short of the high standards they have experienced up till now, or when there are contractual wrangles about service levels with the contractors BT, Capita et al.

Cllr Coleman suggests that Barnet Conservative councillors are behaving like lemmings heading for a cliff. That is not a very positive image but we have to believe that his comments do have some valuable insights and that there must be some truth in them that demand your urgent consideration.

We ask you now then to follow the instinct of your own common sense, stop behaving like lemmings, and abandon the reckless One Barnet programme before it is too late.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne