Public Interest Lawyers, acting on behalf of Susan Sullivan, a concerned Barnet resident, has today notified Barnet Council (at 9.39am) of her intention to seek judicial review of the “One Barnet programme”. The pre-action protocol letter sets out her claim against the Council. She alleges that the Council is acting unlawfully, both as to the process it has adopted and the substance of its proposals. The One Barnet programme is unprecedented in its ambition and scale nationally, yet it has never been the subject of a consultation of Barnet residents nor an effective equalities impact assessment.
The letter seeks the immediate suspension of any further contracting decisions by the Council and the carrying out of a full and effective consultation and equalities assessment. She contends that the results of any such assessment/consultation would cause the Council to re-evaluate the ill-advised programme.
The Claimant argues that the Council has breached the following legal duties:
a) The Public Sector Equality Duty – this requires the Council to have “due regard” to equalities considerations and the impact of its decisions on protected equalities groups throughout its decision making process. The Council has failed to have regard to this duty both in relation to the timing of its equality impact assessments –postponed until too late in the contracting process; and in relation to the form of the few assessments that have been carried out. They have failed to evaluate the most important question: what is the impact of a wholesale and irreversible contracting out of the Council’s functions? High-flown contractual promises of bidders lack essential rigour and detail and are no answer to this question. There has been inadequate consideration of mitigating actions.
b) The ‘Best Value Duty’ in s3 Local Government Act 1999 – this duty requires the Council to obtain ‘best value’. This includes community as well as financial value. Statutory Guidance requires consultation to take place. This has not happened. An evaluation of value requires the consideration of maintaining in-house services. This has not happened.
c) Public law duties of consultation and information. In failing to consult, and to consider viable in-house alternatives, the Council has unlawfully closed its mind to valuable democratic considerations.
Speaking today, John Sullivan, the father of Susan Sullivan stated as follows:
“The Council has robbed Susan and her family of their democratic voice in failing to consult on what is a wholesale privatisation of local government. If this happened nationally, there would be outrage. Why should it be any different for our beloved Barnet? The national contract failure rate is 25%. When these contracts collapse, who will be left to pick up the pieces? No-one but the poor, the disabled and short-changed Barnet service users, residents and taxpayers.”
Speaking today, Daniel Carey of Public Interest Lawyers stated as follows:
“The law requires the Council to consult residents and carefully evaluate the impact of its decisions on equalities groups. Yet, in the biggest decision the Council could possibly take – to effectively cease to be a Council as we know it – it has failed to do so. I hope the Council will now listen to the legal arguments and give proper and lawful regard to residents and their concerns.”
For further information, contact:
Daniel Carey, Solicitor