Thursday, 5 March 2009

Three Star Council, So what is Barnet Council really like?

I awoke this morning to find that Barnet Council has been downgraded by the audit commission from a four star council to a three star council. Now I couldn't find anything on the audit commission website that tells me what this really means to me. There is no definition of what extra services we should expect from a four star council. I had a look at the English Tourism website to see what the differences between a 3 and 4 star hotel is. This is easy enough for a dunce like me to grasp

At a hotel you will find: (in addition to what is provided at ONE, TWO and THREE STAR)

  • Accommodation offering superior comfort and quality; all
    bedrooms with en-suite bath, fitted overhead shower and WC.
  • The hotel will have spacious and very well appointed public areas and will put a strong emphasis on food and drink.
  • Staff will have very good technical and social skills, anticipating and responding to your needs and requests.
  • Room service of all meals and 24 hour drinks, refreshments
    and snacks.
  • Dry cleaning service available.
So I ask, should

a) All Council Houses have decent baths, showers and toilets. I certainly hope so.
b) Lets hope that with Brian Coleman being mayor, he uses his experience to give us these "very well appointed public areas and will put a strong emphasis on food and drink."
c) If the staff don't "have very good technical and social skills, anticipating and responding to your needs and requests" I certainly hope the council up's the training budget.
d) Council room service? A great idea. Now thatwould be innovative.
e) A council dry cleaning service? Just think, leave your washing out with the recycling and it comes back next day all nice and clean. Marvellous

You are probably thinking "That Rog T, he's off his rocker, what's he on about?" Well this is actually my point. How can stars mean anything in regards to an organisation as complex as a council? For a hotel, it's pretty easy to apply a star rating, but how would you compare Cumbria with Tower Hamlets. What does it mean? I attended a meeting to discuss future shape last night at in Hendon, I didn't count but I'd guess maybe 100 people turned up who were worried about the council. Maybe 50 were members of trades unions (who organised the event) I'd guess that 50 weren't. I suspect that of the 50 who weren't, most were people who'd had a bad experience with the council and felt they weren't being listened to. I think they were hoping that the meeting would give them an opportunity to shape the way the council delivers services for the better. The consensus seemed to be that this wasn't by privatisation. I know Council Leader Mike Freer reads this blog, so I'd say this to him. By all means fix those services which aren't delivering, but in your own blog today you say that the council is delivering. Therefore you risk the destruction of something which works well. Change always carries risk and if you really believe the words of your own blog, which is that the council is delivering four star services everywhere but at one museum, then you are crazy to change the way it's delivered.

There are two areas I can think of where Barnet has outsoured services previously. The refuse collection service was privatised in the late 1980's under a previous Tory Council. This was a disaster with rogue dustcarts regularly ramming cars and driving off and rubbish collections become sporadic. The Lab/Lib Council brought it back in house (the Tories didn't moan as they knew that it had fixed their mess). Even at the future shape meeting last year, Mike Freer himself said refuse collection was "excellent" - why go back to the dark days of the previous service?

Then there was meals on wheels. This was outsourced to Sodexho in April 1997. I know all about this as it badly affected my dearly departed mum. It was one of the things that got me blogging. She started using the service following a stroke and a fall. It allowed her to live indepenently for 2 years, when otherwise she may have needed to go into a home. She couldn't get out and she couldn't cook beyond the level of toast and tea. She relied on the service for lunch (we provided her evening meal). She had two days with no lunch when the service changed. The quality deteriorated markedly. The stress of the two weeks where lunch deliveries were sporadic as the new service was shown to be failing nearly killed her. Fortunately my sister was visiting from America and was able to stay with her. I suspect that many old dears with no one to fight their corner were killed by the stress. When I spoke of this last night at the Future Shape meeting, everyone paid attention. Afterwards people told me that what I said was moving and they hadn't really thought of the issue on a human level in that way.

Mike Freer described me as a "Lunatic One Armed blogger with a vendetta" (to paraphrase) in a recent podcast as because I criticise the way he runs the council. You can judge for yourself whether thats true. I'll say this though. If someone was so incompetent that the service they oversaw nearly killed your mother, who you dearly loved, would you think they were marvellous or would you criticise them? If you'd seen the sharp end of the stick with which they were poking your mother to save a few quid, would you sit by and let them poke other people's vulnerable relatives in the same way.

Barnet Council are in the process of abolishing the Warden service for many sheltered homes. A few are being retained. It is widely reported that Lynn Hillan who is the councillor responsible for this service moved her own mother to a place where the warden is being retained. I've had plenty of experience of dealing with Elderly relatives. I know what happens when the slightest change is made to their routine. They get upset and some die because of the stress. In the mid 1980's a friend of mine worked in an old folks home. One day she came back in tears. The council had cut the budget so the old folks were no longer getting a biscuit with their afternoon tea. They had all gone mad and she'd been completely stressed out. It ended up with low paid staff and relatives providing biscuits, but she told me a couple of lovely old people had strokes that week due to the stress.

I've no comment at all here about Barnet losing a Star. The system is mad and Mike Freer is as right this year to point out the stupidity of the system as he was wrong last year to trumpet getting four stars. It means nothing.

1 comment:

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Rog, are you suggesting that OGL should receive a few more votes on the hypocrite poll?