I have just returned from a lobby of Mill Hill ward Councillors at Mill Hill Library. Present from Barnet Council were councillors Khatri and Hart. Present for the lobby were nine local residents, most of whom I didn't know. It is worth making the point that both of these councillors are known to be sceptical about the program (or "to be convinced of some elements of it"). John Hart laid out the council position, which is that there is a funding crisis and something has to be done. The delegation stated that we don't believe a ten year outsourcing program, removing council control of services is appropriate. We cited the risks, quoted examples in Barnet and beyond, where such initiatives had failed and stated that the Association for Public Service Excellence had identified less risky methods of achieving savings.
The Councillors promised to report back to the leadership of the Borough, the concerns raised. Councillor Hart gave an eloquent description of how the decision making process works. He explained that once the Conservative group makes a decision, councillors are obliged to support it, even if they do not agree. The punishment for voting against proposals is removal of whip. Councillor Hart believes that he can do more within the party than outside.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from the meeting was John Hart's statement that Finchley & Golders Green MP, Mike Freer is the driving force behind One Barnet, despite having no official role in the council. The councillors made no attempt to explain how the program could deliver the savings that have been talked about or address the risks of the failure of the contracts or contractors racking up extra bills when in control of the services. They seemed concerned about the length of the contracts and acknowledged the risks of huge legal bills, which may well gobble up any notional savings.
It is pretty clear that many Conservative councillors support for One Barnet is based on the fact that they feel they have to do something and the ideology that private services do the job cheaper and better. Sadly the NSL parking contract shows that this is not necessarily true. This is a One Barnet contract that has already been let and is a million pounds in the red.
A couple of ladies who have experience of Your Choice Barnet, the LATC set up to provide care, gave some horrific examples of how badly trained or inappropriate staff supplied by this agency actually were. One carer had turned up when she was 8 months pregnant and informed the lady who required care that she was to tired to do anything!
Welcome to the brave new Barnet