I bumped into a friend who works for Barnet Council last night, at the local M&S. They told me a truly bizarre story, which I wouldn't have believed if it wasn't for the fact that the said person is a very responsible and sensibile individual, who's job requires a degree of discretion and trustworthyness. "I read your blog about the APSE seminar and the people who were attending it. Did you know that there are rumours that Richard Cornelius sent Sachin Rajput along, because Nick Walkley had banned him from attending". I asked the obvious question "Who told you this?" I got the obvious reply "Nick thinks that Corny sent Rajput along to see what it was all about, he is really pissed off". I said "hang on a second, I thought Richard Cornelius was Walkleys boss. He should be able to do what he likes". The reply was rather disturbing "You really don't understand Barnet then, do you". So I asked "Did you witness all of this?". The answer came back "The penny has finally dropped in Barnet. Many people who thought One Barnet wouldn't affect them have suddenly twigged that they could be out on their ear in a few months. What has happened in legal has shaken everyones trust in the executives" (Barnet legal has been flogged off to Labour Harrow Council and many staff have found that they have been effectively demoted. Others are now faced with an extra hours journey each way to work).
Now I've no way of knowing whether this analysis is true, but lets consider the facts. Had Walkley been enthusiastic about the APSE seminar, he would have encouraged Cornelius and the rest of his team to attend. They could have then had a proper discussion about the relative merits of the proposals. Had no senior Tories attended, then it would have been quite clear that they had boycotted the seminar on a party line. The fact that Sachin Rajput, a senior cabinet member attended, can only indicate that the political administration was, if nothing else, curious to find out what was being proposed. The idea that Rajput went along without Cornelius blessing is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The choice of Rajput to attend is also rather interesting. Unlike some of his colleagues, Rajput is not particularly ideologically motivated. He has a far greater appreciation of detail than many of his colleagues and would listen and process the information properly. Richard Cornelius knows that Rajput is far more likely than his cabinet colleagues to give him an honest opinion of whether there was some merit in what APSE were proposing. The other attendee of the seminar from the Conservative side was Councillor Lisa Rutter. As the outgoing Mayor, she is also one of the most sensible and likeable Conservative councillors. If I was Cornelius and I had to send along a couple of people to check it out, I'd pick these two. They are both discreet and open minded about the issues facing Barnet. I could quite imagine Richard Cornelius adjourning to a quiet corner of a local hostelry with them to ask their opinion and to get it.
It is 100% clear to everyone who knows the history and the politics of Barnet, that the One Barnet program is officer lead. Nick Walkley sees it as the way to make his name as a CEO and to make his CV bomb proof. There is widespread hostility to the program in the Barnet Council workforce and the wider community. Even Conservative Councillors are deeply worried about many aspects of it. The more in touch ones realise that it is likley to cost them the adminstration in 2014, as the One Barnet program gives the opposition a cause to rally around. The early examples of the program have been a disaster. So far it has been a complete disaster. Four years into the program, millions have been spent and no savings at all delivered. The political whirlwind has started with the outsourcing of the parking contract to NSL. The Barnet Eye is hoping to publish details of a very interesting story in relation to this later this week. What is clear is that wardens are behaving ever more aggressively as targets have to be met.
The bottom line with all of this is that the Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius is the democratically elected figurehead of Barnet Council. The 320,000 people of Barnet put him in the job and gave him his £37,000 allowance for one reason. This is to make sure the executive of Barnet Council act in the interests of the people of Barnet. There are no circumstances where the Executive should ever be in a position to "tell the Leader what to do". If there is any truth whatsoever in the story I was told, then in effect we've had a coup d'etat in Barnet and the 320,000 people of Barnet are being failed.
For the avoidance of doubt, lets just remind ourselves what the APSE seminar was all about. They promote excellence in public services and were outlining ways to cut costs and save the taxpayer money. I cannot understand why the Leadership of the Council and the Executive weren't falling over themselves to at least hear the ideas being suggested. As it stands, the best we can hope for is that when Councillors Rutter and Rajput had their little chat with the Council Leader, they gave him an honest and frank assessment of what they heard.
The time has come for the Leadership of Barnet Council to do what it says on the tin. They should show leadership and start acting in the interests of the people of Barnet. It is their job to make sure that the CEO, Mr Nick Walkley acts in the best interests of the people of Barnet, not in the best interest of his CV.
Barnet FC kick this season off with a trip to Port Vale. I hope Barnet Council kick the season off with a journey back to sanity.