Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Better Barnet

The Better Barnet website has been up for a few days now, and plenty of signatures have come in against the One Barnet program. I recap the arguments below.

Many residents are more aware and concerned about the plan to tender 70% of the Councils services into one contract, worth  £1 billion over the decade. I am concerned that this contract will not deliver value for money, and will lead to inflexibilities that will hamper and worsen services.

First off, there are examples of good contracts, even in Barnet, that work. It's just that as far as Barnet is concerned, we are famous for when we mess up, like Metpro. Given that we deliver services well, but don't have a great record on contracts, you might have thought that we would be careful about what gets contracted out. But important core services, like environmental health and planning, are going to be provided by a private company. Even the most rightwing councils like Wandsworth, Westminster and Hammersmith don't take such risky gambles with their resident's services!

We actually deliver most services well, and what is unfair about the tendering process is that there is no opportunity to put together an inhouse bid. This does not seem to be in the spirit of competitiveness, which is a shame. Perhaps the administration have not been enjoying the Olympics?

I have concerns about the transparency of services. the Barnet Bloggers know, the Council are none too keen on freedom of information requests, with Mr Mustard still waiting over a year for one to be answered. What will it be like, when our services are subject to sensitive commercial data rules? They will not publish, or allow for inspection the information that residents want. Mind you, they do this anyway. What will it be like when you have large companies who crave their privacy?

When you come down to the actual services, given the the current staff work their socks off and are already understaffed and overworked, you wonder how much more efficiency can be got out of them, without them starting to make mistakes in their work? You need to retain control over core services, because these are what a council does, it's their raison d'etre. If you take that away you are not providing a service properly.

And what becomes of us councillors? What real power will any of us have? When we deal with officers on behalf of our constituents, they can't brush us off. What happens when the staff are not accountable to the Councillors or the public? Casework is the biggest consumer of my time, I simply can't see how One Barnet will improve anything on this side of my job.

What happens if circumstances change? What happens if we are forced to make more cuts, due to Mr Osborne's incompetence? we will have a contract and funding agreements with these companies, we won't be able to back out of them just like that. As Cllr Rajput said, long term contracts are inflexible, and these are the most unpredictable of times.

What really worries me is that after the contract is signed, the "council" becomes a shell. It provides no services itself, other really than members services and the Town Hall. We will not ever again have the ability to bring back services in house again, because the expertise and experience will have been lost. We won't know how to do it.

I would also like to puncture a myth. The Tories think that, because we did not make any amendments in the budget to the One Barnet "savings", that we accepted them, rubbish. The savings have to be anyways, regardless of One Barnet. Given that these programs never really make saving, let alone on the scale they are being asked to, I don't see how One Barnet makes the slightest difference. In fact i wonder if it will cost more in the long term.

So I hope you will sign yourself up to the Better Barnet website and join our fight against these proposals. We need real help from members of the public, Labour supporters or not. All residents will be affected, so please help.