Monday, 24 December 2012

Dimly lit, Reality Ballroom - what lurks in the shadows

Have you ever woken up with a strange feeling of unease, for no reason at all? You have a feeling of impending danger or doom. You stop, listen, look around. You check your pulse to make sure you are still alive. You check the mobile phone to ensure it is on and there are no missed messages. And then you realise that everything seems OK. The world hasn't ended, your heart is still beating, you decide that your concerns were unfounded and you get on with your life.

And everything does seem OK. Because there is no mad axeman in the house, because no one has texted to say there has been a tragedy, because all the children are tucked up snugly in bed, because the dog is asleep in her basket, everything is OK.

So you settle down, have a cup of coffee and a bowl of coco pops and get on with your life. And then all of a sudden you have a moment of realisation. Despite a four and a half years of writing a blog, producing two films, writing countless emails to councillors etc, this is the year that the One Barnet outsourcing contract with Capita has been signed. Barnet Council have put their chips on the roulette wheel for the billion pound gamble. Barnet Council has become Barnet Capita Services Ltd. We are now customers of the council rather than residents and council tax payers.

Barnet Council is run by a cabinet. These eleven people have dragooned through the process with no consultation and no debate. Internal critics in the Conservative group have been slapped down and allowances have been used as a tool to whip errant councillors into line.

Council leader Richard Cornelius believes the project will deliver £120 million pounds worth of savings, despite the fact that Barnet bloggers detailed around 20 major Capita public sector projects that have gone wrong and not delivered what has been promised. Mr Cornelius believes that because they have a "watertight contract" Barnet will avoid the problems elsewhere. How silly these other organisations are, not having watertight contracts?

As I sit scoffing my smoked salmon bagel and quaffing my green tea, I realised that, like my irrational fear when I awoke, the problem with One Barnet is not what we know. It is what lurks in the shadows. It is not what the contract has specified and covered, it is what it hasn't specified and hasn't covered. Imagine life is like a grand Ballroom and Richard Cornelius is dancing in the spotlight with his beautiful partner Ms Capita. All eyes are on Richard and Ms Capita as they twist and turn and pirouette. The oohs and ahhhs as they perform are a joy to behold. Sadly for poor old Mr Cornelius, Ms Capita is not all she seems. Whilst he's distracted by her pale blue eyes and her sensual moves, Ms Capitas devious partner has taken his credit card from wallet and is emptying his bank account. Ms Capita will sit down with Mr Cornelius, gaze into his eyes and say "Richard, I've never met a man with such moves before", as she pours him another glass of champagne. Silly old Richard hadn't noticed that her pale blue eyes had carefully noted his pin number as he paid his bill.  He will go home a happy man. It is only when he wakes up in the morning, with a hangover and  a silly grin and goes to buy a pound of sausages from tescos that he realises something is wrong. Oh dear, all the money is gone. How could that happen ! He didn't tell anyone his pin number?

Now of course Capita have not stolen Barnet Council's pin number. They have not plied Richard with Champagne. The seduction was far loner and more subtle. But what they do have is a contract which Barnet cannot get out of without handing over tens of millions and even then only when they have suffered a massively catastrophic failure.

And that is Reality Ballroom. We do stupid things, not because we think they are stupid, but because we think we are more clever than we really are. They say a fool and his money are easily parted. What about when that fool is spending our money?

1 comment:

Mr Mustard said...

One small suggestion Roger. Richard would not buy his sausages at Tesco but at Waitrose as it is just up the hill from Cornelius Castle. His allowances will easily run to the higher prices.

Have a merry christmas. I look forward to our joint efforts in 2013.