9 June 2012

Councillors & public - put 7 July in your diary (please)

Councillor: I can't see anything wrong with One Barnet
If the One Barnet programme is robust it will be able to withstand proper scrutiny. I don't mean some feeble committee which will ask a few questions and then vote for what their colleagues have decided upon without proper understanding, real research or penetrating questions. I mean the sort of study that questions the fundamentals of something and gives them a good shake to see what happens.

Imagine that the purchase of a table is proposed.

Under proper scrutiny one would ask what is the purpose of the table, is it the best size of table, is it the best shape of table, is the surface properly finished, can sufficient people sit at the table, will it withstand the effect of hot tea cups, can one stand on the table (tables are not for standing on but it will happen at some time so best to plan for the probability) does the table have enough legs, what could we use instead of a table, do we even need a table, have we gone out to tender for the table?...............etc (you get the idea)

If a One Barnet table is proposed the scrutiny committee would probably coo over what a lovely OB table it was, ask the officer if other tables had been considered and get the answer "Yes, but they weren't as good" and then not ask any penetrating follow-up questions and go on to vote in favour of the table.

(The next chance for the public to see scrutiny in "action" is on Monday 11th June at 7pm when Business Management Overview & Scrutiny committee meets. Be at Hendon Town Hall by 7pm and see for yourself whether you think scrutiny is wonderful or woeful)

Many people know that the council is embarked on possibly the largest local authority outsourcing project ever seen. Other councils have started down this route, looked over the edge of the cliff and pulled back. The first section to be outsourced was parking ticket issue and enforcement on 1 May and already one of NSL's managers has had to be removed because he had tried to buy an iPhone using a fake credit card. Hardly a good start and an illustration of how outsourcing leads to lack of control.

Mr Mustard has looked at a lot of One Barnet reports and has yet to see a fully worked Cost Benefit Analysis. Mr Mustard does not mind if some services are outsourced if that would lead to economies of scale but for most services the council already has those. Take the parking contract. There were 75 people working on it. That is an organisation that is big enough to have economies of scale. Show Mr Mustard a service with just 2 employees and then he would agree that if say 10 of the councils in London got together that they could manage with less than 20 people and outsourcing might well make sense but even then it would be cheaper if one of the 10 councils took charge and simply spread the cost.

Unison exists to represent its members and can foresee that if One Barnet proceeds to the end that they may lose 70% of their local membership because their jobs could be exported to anywhere. We have already seen that 25 parking back-office staff have been made redundant and their jobs have been exported to Worthing. The council don't listen to Unison although they say they do (which is a different matter and will be the subject of a future post) and so Unison decided to commission an external consultant to study One Barnet. The consultant is called Andy Mudd and he is from APSE who say this about themselves:

The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) is a not-for-profit local government body working with over 300 councils throughout the UK promoting excellence in public services. APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

So you would think that if Unison arrange for APSE to run the ruler over One Barnet and produce a briefing that councillors (especially the conservative ones who run the council) would want to see it because it will vindicate their course of action? One would hope that was the case but sadly it isn't. Conservative councillors are showing a reluctance to attend any presentation by APSE (10 out of 63 councillors of all political hues have so far said they will attend the briefing being put on especially for councillors. The Salingers are notable, as ever, for their willingness to listen). What on earth can the rest be so worried about? Maybe that their grand project does not stand up to expert scrutiny (they can try and brush off criticism by Unison claiming ideological opposition and by Barnet's bloggers although they are possibly a bit harder to give the brush off to given the mounting readership and visibility that they are getting) but scrutiny is necessary and scrutiny is what you will get.

The public know very little about One Barnet, they have not been asked to vote on it by the local conservative candidates (although that is coming from opponents as the Brunswick Park by-election recently demonstrated) and residents are not allowed to ask questions about it at residents forums as it is a banned question, being about policy. Opponents of One Barnet have decided that if conservative councillors won't tell the public about One Barnet then they will. Surely councillors, you want to ensure complete accuracy, openness and transparency by being involved. Here is a second chance if you can't make the private screening. A public presentation by APSE, Professor Whtfield and Mr Reasonable (details copied from the Citizen Barnet blog) three men who know a lot

Barnet Council Not For Sale
Saturday 7 July 12–3pm,
Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road, North Finchley, London N12 9RU

A special conference by Barnet Alliance for Public Services and Barnet Unison

Speakers include:

Prof. Dexter Whitfield, Director of the European Services Strategy Unit
Mr. Andy Mudd, Principal Consultant in the Association for Public Service Excellence
Mr. John Dix, resident and "Mr Reasonable" blogger.

Refreshments provided. (councillors like free refreshments don't they?)

There is a small free car park at the centre for the first people to arrive but otherwise you are going to have to use pay-by-phone parking or do what Mr Mustard will do which is to drive about 250m north up the High Road (A1000) until you reach the end of CPZ zone sign and then park for free. Councillors can park for free using their any zone permit (if they haven't handed it back due to misuse) because this would be classed as on council business.

Mr Mustard hopes to see you there. This is only a mile or two from your home in Totteridge, Councillor Cornelius. Have a look in your diary and see if you can make room for this meeting. An easy walk also for Robert Rams and for Lisa Rutter who both also live in N20.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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