Friday, 28 November 2008
Future shape of the council - Update
The above diagram is taken from the BarnetCouncil cabinet briefing paper, due to be debated on 3rd December. This is available HERE to download the full document.
What the big oval saying "Joint Venture" means is that these services are no longer under direct control of the council and there is no democratic accountability. A contract will be signed and that is that. Barnet Homes is run along these lines and we've all seen the stories about what happened there.
To help understand what this means, I've pasted a description of how this will work, from the document with a few comments of my own (Italic Bold)
9.6 Proposals for a model of service delivery: A Special Purpose Vehicle and the reconfiguration of services
9.6.1 To build capacity to work with delivery partners and to free up the Council to focus on strategic activity, it is proposed that we explore the feasibility of developing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help us to do this. The SPV could be a joint venture (JV), between Barnet Council and one or more private, public or voluntary sector partners. A JV is proposed because it creates a means through which the Council could attract expertise and innovation from other sectors, as well as one in which it has a major stake.
Barnet Council say that they can't attract "expertise and innovation" from other sectors? What on earth does this mean - do they want Louis Hamilton to drive a dustcart? Surely they should be concentrating on running the basic services properly. If there is a specific problem which needs addressing, then deal with it. I am intrigued by the idea of outsourcing "citizen access". Does this mean that if you need to query why your bin hasn't been emptied, you'll ring a continent on the other side of the world? My wife once tried to book a train ticket from London to Sheffield using the Midland Mainline call centre and was asked "What is a Sheffield?".
9.6.2 This SPV would take the outcomes defined by the Council and its partners and develop them into programmes for implementation. The SPV would have the capacity and expertise to change the way public services are currently configured in the borough and to re-order them to achieve the aims of the Council and its partners. It could attract expertise from the private, public and voluntary sectors and work closely with markets to test and develop models of service delivery. It would not deliver services itself but would be responsible for managing the alliances procured. In time it would be able to sell its services to other public sector agencies and thus a JV would provide potential for future income generation for the Council.
"test and develop models of service delivery"? I saw what happened when they tested and developed an outsourced meals on wheels service for my mum. Late or no delivery at all, Cold food, poor nutritional value. They are talking about providing vital services for vulnerable people, not launching a new brand of lipstick. In effect it is saying the council hires the SPV and then the SPV hires someone else to do the work. How on earth can it be efficient to have an extra layer of bureaucracy and an extra layer of contracts? I should imagine that the lawyers will be rubbing their hands.
9.6.3 Services might be combined and provided differently in order to achieve priority outcomes. For example, in many cases, public services might be better configured around critical challenges or processes rather than within traditional service boundaries. So instead of the Council, the PCT, and Jobcentre Plus all having customer access functions, there could be a single public service access organisation. Equally, in order to encourage citizen self-reliance and drive service improvement from citizens’ perspectives, the JV could procure a self-help and citizen advocacy service for the borough. Elements of adults and children’s social services and housing could be combined to create an organisation whose role is to build the resilience and support the independence of vulnerable people.
This is truly bizarre. Combining the PCT (ie healthcare) with the Jobcentre? So you go to the Doctor if you are unemployed? As to supporting the independence of vulnerable people. We have seen many cases of seriously mentally ill people falling off the radar due to care in the community. How on earth do you support the independence of a six year old child in care. Send them up the Chimney?
9.6.4 These are examples of a possible future shape of public service in Barnet (see figure 2 below for a more comprehensive picture). In order to further develop the model and its potential costs and benefits, it is proposed that the feasibility of reconfiguring services along these lines should also be investigated as part of the next phase of the programme, alongside exploring the feasibility of a SPV.
This really makes me sick. In effect this is PwC (or whoever drew this bit of the report up) recommending that they do more work for the council, drawing up more of these reports, written in meaningless jargon. How much per day do these consultants cost? All I see is very woolly examples of completely mad concepts being described. Is there no one in the Cabinet of Barnet Council with the guts to say "This is rubbish"? I've worked with consultants in the past and the one thing you can guarantee is that they always recommend is more reports and more expense. What we need is less layers of management, less layers of contracts and more people on the ground doing the work. Any scheme which introduces yet another layer of highly paid people in the middle of the decision chain is wasteful and expensive. I've been a director of various companies for many years now. I'm a member of the Federation of Small Businesses. I know how to achieve cost savings and efficiency and introducing the need for more middle managers, more lawyers and more accountants is not the way. Surely there are some competant businessmen in the Barnet Conservative Party who can have a quiet word in Mike Freer's ear?