Fast forward four years. At last nights meeting a hundred people turned up to hear a discussion about the cabinet placing a commercial contract. The meeting was disrupted and the public took over the council chamber. I was pondering on what had changed. In short, the public have woken up to the fact that the Council can affect their lives and the current adminstration gives no regard to them or the law. The Town Hall is awash with letters informing the council that legal action is pending. Friern Barnet Library has been closed and reopened by the Occupy movement.
Who is the architect of all of this? None other than Mike Freer MP, who was leader at that first meeting I attended. He set up the One Barnet project. He boasted about sponsoring the bill outlawing squatting, which lead to the arrival of Occupy at Friern. Occupy now has a "special interest" in Barnet. Mike Freer is their number one pin up. They have realised that Barnet is democracy gone bad. They have taken on the role of custodians of the Library and become folk heroes.
Why are we here? The council has completely failed to engage with local people. They tried to abolish Sheltered Housing and ended up in court. They did a consultation and 85% of residents rejected their plans. They ignored it. In Mill Hill, they wanted to impose a match day CPZ for Saracens. The time period was 1pm-6pm. Locals unanimously rejected this plan. They ignored the public and their own ward councillors.
With the One Barnet program, they haven't even bothered to consult. This is one of the major grounds for the legal action. Even more disturbing, is the fact that the Leader doesn't even know what is being outsourced. A member of the public asked for a list of services being outsourced. The Leader replied last night that he couldn't answer because it was "impossible" to say. He didn't even know whether planning was being outsourced at all. This is the bloke leading the council.
Councillor Robert Rams, who Richard Cornelius drafted in to answer questions he couldn't manage, bothed his lines. He didn't know the difference between an options appraisal or a public sector comparator. As he spoke, a member of the public yelled "Porkies". The most telling thing was that Richard Cornelius creased up laughing. Rams has become a discredited laughing stock, mocked by even his own leader. The Friern Library debacle is all his doing. Sadly he is too stupid to see that the sensible thing to do would be to reopen the library. Perhaps the most telling point in Rams discourse was the point where he said "Capita are investing £20 million in new systems, where would the council find this money. They would BOWWOW IT". This revealed that Rams does not understand finance. Capita expect a 17.5% minimum return on investment. Using this formula, given that base interest rates are 0.5% and the council can borrow at 3.5% (I believe), they could borrow the £20 million and after payng interest, receive a handsome 14% return. That is called good business. As it is Rams would rather that cash go into the pockets of Capita shareholders. In short, Rams wants to give Capita £2.8 million a year (ie £28 million over ten years) for spending £20 million. To me that is completely bonkers.
I asked a question at last nights cabinet meeting. I asked whether Brian Coleman was right when he wrote on his blog that councillors were being bullied. All the Leader could say was "like anyone writing about a meeting they didn't attend, it wasn't completely accurate". I don't agree with Brian Coleman about much, but I do agree that One Barnet is an omnishambles and the administration is making a complete hash of implementing it.
People in Barnet are not stupid. That is why we are where we are. The video below is what happens when people get sick of the subversion of democracy. I find the fact that this has happened very disturbing. I don't want anarchy in Barnet, I want good governance and a council which cares about and represents the people. By ignoring us, they have shown they don't care.
One other little nugget I picked up yesterday. It appears that Barnet Council are privatising by stealth and setting up a Private company to run its services. The blurb says
"The Barnet Group is a new group of companies being set up by Barnet Council. It will be a Local Authority Trading Company that will provide learning disability and physical & sensory services through its subsidiary Your Choice and Housing management and maintenance services through another subsidiary Barnet Homes. This is an innovative venture that will establish a new relationship with citizens in the borough whilst providing a more flexible and efficient service."
I was rather intrigued to see this. I wondered exactly what "Common Purpose" were. It sounded a bit odd. Here is what their website says about them?
Common Purpose is an international, not-for-profit organisation that has been running leadership development courses which mix people from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors since 1989. We help people, organisations, cities and regions to succeed, by broadening the horizons of their leaders and developing their ability to work together to lead complex change.
It all sounds a bit strange, doesn't it. Could this lot be the driving force behind "One Barnet"? I'd be rather interested to know just who in Barnet Council has attended these "Leadership Courses". I would suggest that if they have "inspired" the leaders of Barnet, the only place they've lead us is up the garden path. I'd suggest that if Barnet Council have sent people on Leadership courses, then given what has happened they should ask for their money back.
Here's a good conspiracy theory for you. Click this link about Capita's outsourcing services.
Paragraph three starts -
"Capita’s huge range of services has a common purpose"
Sadly, nothing would surprise me, having watched what has gone on in Barnet for the last four years.