So what are they planning. Here's a recent quote from the Council
We're reviewing the options for the delivery of our planning and regulatory functions through a new arms length organisation, to be run on a partnership basis. A number of possible models for this joint venture are being explored, including a management buy-outThe reason you elect councillors is so that there is democratic oversight of regulation. Barnet want to remove these checks and controls. As to planning, this is completely bonkers. It is an emotive subject at the best of times. You want an extension, your neighbour doesn't like your plans. The Council is the referee. For small decisions, officers have delegated powers to decided, for bigger decisions it goes to the planning committee, which is a panel of councillors. At present officers and councillors work for the same organisation. They have a vested interest in doing the job as professionally as possible. How will it work under the new system. There are two possible models I can envisage.
1) The new firm does it on a Time and Materials basis. The longer they drag it out, the more they can charge the council. Numerous site visits and re-referrals will ensue. Every little thing will be an extra cost.
2) They do it on a fixed price basis, where they get a set amount for every set of plans. The staff will be under pressure to push decisions through as quickly as possible. The result? Due diligence will be the lowest priority. Net result - more appeals and more costs.
It's bad enough when your request to build an extension is turned down by an overzealous council officer or when Councillor Maureen Braun's planning committee allows your neighbour to build a supersize shed, but imagine it if the decision came from "Plans 'R' Us"? You'd ring up and say "How could you possibly turn down my extension when it meets all the rules" - The voice at the call centre, half way across the world would inform you "Sorry sir, computer says no".
I was chatting to a Barnet Council employee yesterday, who was on his way to a protest to save the Whittington Hospital A&E department. I asked him this "Are the people who work for Barnet Council proud to be public servants?". He told me that a recent staff survey had shown that this was one of the major motivations for working for the council. I was sounding him out about the Mill Hill Lib Dems plans to get Barnet Council employees, such as dustmen, to be asked to report potholes and other local hazards back to the highways department. The idea is simple. As the dustcarts do their rounds, the drivers have a form. If they see a pothole, damaged street sign or other hazard, they fill in the details and location when they stop to allow the bin to be emptied. When they get back to the depot, they hand the form in. The dustmen cover every street in the Borough on a weekly basis, so they could provide up to date intelligence. Simple really. I asked if staff would consider doing this. "Of course, they are proud of the Borough". What would happen under easycouncil, if a third party company were providing the dustcarts. "They would charge extra for this"
Time and time again, Conservative councils have tried to outsource departments. The same problems always occur. Shoddy service, low staff morale, higher than expected costs for extras and massive legal bills when the wrangles start. Part of the Future Shape budget is £5 for legal fees. You could save the sheltered housing warden service ten times over for this.
Now don't get me wrong, everyone knows that public services are in for a torrid time, due to the poor shape of the economy. My niece's husband is a fireman in Ireland. He's just had a 20% pay cut imposed on him, as part of an austerity program. Our nasty medicine is being delayed until after the election. Whoever wins, we are in for massive cuts. The Leader of Barnet Council, Lynne Hillan should be engaging the trade unions now to ensure that staff in front line services are retained and if cuts come, they are made in areas where Council Tax payers don't suffer too much (executive pay would be a prime contender for a 20% cut). Sadly, it appears that Lynne Hillan just doesn't get it.
If you want to remove democratic accountability from regulation and planning, civic pride from council staff and spend £5 million on fees for fat cat lawyers, I suggest you contact Lynne Hillan and join the Barnet Conservative party. If you don't then please email me and I'll try and tell you ways in which you can help change Barnet for the better (CLICK HERE TO EMAIL ME).