10 September 2011

Travers's twitterings ( Walkley's warblings not available )

As you know each week the staff of Barnet Council are "treated" to an email which Mr Mustard assumes is meant to show leadership, be inspirational or informative or have some point; Mr Mustard is not sure from reading them exactly what the point is. When the Chief Executive non-stick Nick Walkley is on leave then Andrew Traversty sends the message. As they come from a FirstTeam email address and the deputy chief executive simply signs himself as "Andrew"  Mr Mustard doubts that half of the staff even know who he is and couldn't pick him out in an identity parade.

So Mr Mustard is going to give you this week's ra ra ( blah blah ? ) message in Barnet's corporate colour of sea sick blue ( technically the colour is Teal apparently ) and his comments in red as per usual. 

Given the planned industrial action in this coming week, I thought it is probably worth outlining again why we developed the One Barnet programme in its current form. If you didn't already know that there is going to be a strike, because you don't notice huge posters, then you do now. This of course assumes that staff don't delete messages from First.Team unread as the example has been set by some councillors. If staff don't know by now why the council are flogging the dead horse called One Barnet then internal communications have truly failed.

Some of this will be familiar to those of you who attended the budget briefings last year. What happened in 2010, can you remember? Not all of you attended the budget briefings.

Over the past few years, the council came to the view that the continued growth in public sector spending was not sustainable and that at some point there was likely to be a marked reduction in funding available for local authority services. Too vague. When are the past few years? So, if you came to that view at the council did you prudently put money away in a secure place?

The international financial crisis has, in fact, made the position for public service funding even worse than predicted and led to a faster reduction in our spending. Why and show me the figures. This is old news. The deputy chief executive of the time  produced a report to Cabinet on 21 October 2009 "Responding to the recession in Barnet"

Over a four year period our income will drop by 30%. We obviously need to make a similar reduction in our spending. It would be nice to see the figures to back up the 30%. One of the things that the council is doing is quaintly called Revenue Income Optimisation ( RIO ) which is just a misleading way of saying that charges are going up.

This drop in income has produced two different responses from authorities across the country. Mr Mustard expects that there are more solutions than just the two.

Some have embarked on change programmes very similar to One Barnet, looking at how they can continue to provide services, but in a more cost-effective way. Which ones have embarked on change programmes of the One Barnet kind and how are they getting on?

Others have had to dramatically reduce services and staffing numbers. Which? and besides, every authority has a different budget and different needs & some have good ideas.

Last year, two councils reduced their staffing numbers by around 2,000 people. Which ones? How many staff did they have? If Mr Travers is thinking of Birmingham City Council they have 35,000 staff so a cut of 2,000 is appreciable but not dramatic.

Newcastle, which had been cited as an example of how to keep staffing in-house, reduced its staff numbers by around 500 people. Newcastle City Council employed over 10,000 staff so that is only a 5% reduction.

Other councils are making wholesale reductions in terms and conditions of staff. Wholesale is not defined. No list of which councils.

Barnet made around 145 people redundant at the same time. In which departments and when?

In large part, this was because of the savings built into the One Barnet programme. What does this mean?

In the programme, we see savings being realised in part by working with the private sector with some posts likely to be outsourced to those providers, but also by providing services more efficiently to the public. No analysis of what proportion will come from outsourcing to the private sector and those from correcting in-house inefficiencies which should in any event have been removed in the last 2 years.

The library strategy is a good example of this, where a saving of around 20% through a reorganisation that will have a net result of leaving us with one less building, but increasing the stock of books, lengthening opening hours and providing more support for childhood literacy. The library strategy is not a good example of anything except how to annoy thousands of residents. One less building! Which one, Friern Barnet library or Hampstead Garden Suburb library? What will be removed to make room for more books and where? In the library strategy it mentions an extra £10,000 spent on books. A trivial sum even if it is spent. If the actual figure is larger Mr Mustard is sorry that he didn't find it as he has to wade through hundreds of pages of hundreds of documents on a very bad website, that the of the council. Cllr Rams probably looks at this blog and is welcome to provide illumination in the comments box.

It will be a cheaper but better service and we are expecting only minimal job losses in the service (other London boroughs are slashing their service, including halving the number of their library buildings). The service in Hampstead Garden Suburb library & Friern Barnet library will not be better - they will be closed. ( It is irrelevant to Barnet what other booroughs are doing and they are facing legal challenges )

However, I have to stress that the protection of jobs is a by-product of protecting services. ( There you go staff, you are a by-product ).

All of us face the challenge of providing the best possible services with the funding we have. ( And my funding is a fee of £1,000 a day )

But if we cannot provide these services more efficiently and at lower cost, we will end up simply providing fewer services with a corresponding reduction in the number of people we employ. ( Barnet Council has not properly managed its services as it has been too busy implementing One Barnet )

I appreciate that the changes that local government as a whole will inevitably go through in the coming years could be a cause of concern for some of you. ( Mr Mustard suspects that staff in Development and Regulatory Services are more worried about what is happening at the moment )

I know Nick Walkley is keen to discuss these with staff and will be running a series of meetings with staff about our business planning for the coming decade later this month. Mr Walkley is on leave and will expect you to come to him when he returns. A good manager would be out and about finding out what happens at the coal face. He can see a decade ahead!!!

I hope as many of you as possible take the opportunity to attend these and speak to Nick. Mr Mustard hopes that One Barnet gets cancelled and internal efficiency savings are sought.


Mr Mustard wonders what employees make of this kind of missive. For himself he finds it to be very disappointing. Mr Mustard would rather like to see this latest epistle done again with full detail.

Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

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