Monday, 3 December 2012

One Barnet - The risks and the reasons

This week, the cabinet of Barnet Council will vote to outsource a huge chink of the councils business to Capita. This will, at a stroke, make up to 300 local people redundant, in the middle of a huge economic crisis. The Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius,  makes ever inflating claims on the savings that this will give the Council. A montha go at the Barnet Alliance for Public Services Question time, the figure was £25 million. Yesterday on the politics show it was £120 million. One can only speculate on the conversation with Capita which lead to the new figure

Richard Cornelius : I am very worried that we are taking all this flak for a RISKY proposal that will only save £25 million.

Capita : Oh don't worry, we can save £120 million if we really try hard.

Richard Cornelius : Oh thank you, I feel much better now.

The one thing about One Barnet which nobody seems to know is how it will affect them. They say "what is actually changing"? Well here is the list of services being privatised/outsourced.

1.    Residential/ Supporting Living/ Day care services for adults with disabilities
2.    Council Housing Services
3.    Parking Service
4.    Legal Services Department
5.    Audit Service – the majority of the service is provided by the consultancy Pricewaterhouse & Cooper
6.    Services which are shortly to come off the Payroll
7.    Information Technology 
8.    Human Resources & Payroll
9.    Pensions
10. Health & Safety
11. Financial Services
12. Customer Services (Call Centre) which includes Social Care Direct Team             based in Adult Social Care.
13. Estates,
14. Property Services
15. ·Revenues & Benefits
16. Corporate Programmes (Project management)
17. Procurement
18. Electoral Registration
19. Trading Standards & Licensing,
20. Land Charges,
21. Planning & Development,
22. Building Control & Structures,
23. Environmental Health,
24. Highways Strategy
25. Highways Network Management,
26. Highways Traffic & Development,
27. Highways Transport & Regeneration,
28. Strategic Planning & Regeneration,
29. Hendon Cemetery & Crematoria.
30. Priority Intervention Team
31. Music Service
32. Public Health Service

These services are being privatised / outsourced in a whole raft of seperate projects. All of them are likely to take jobs away from Barnet. Some are being outsourced in a "benign" manner, such as music services, which is being moved from Barnet Council into a charitable trust, but as far as I am can see, none of these are being done according to the letter of the law.

Take for instance, the "benign" changes to Music Service. This affects my family directly in two ways. My son uses Barnet music services for his violin tuition. The Music service is also a commissioning service which purchases equipment and services from local companies, one of which I own. Under the letter of the law, Barnet Music Services has a legal obligation to consult people and organisations affected. As a parent of a child who uses the service, I have not been consulted at all. I have no idea how the changes will affect the provision of music services for my son. As a business, I was asked to attend one meeting at North London Business Park to discuss the proposals. I attended the meeting and was given a brief outline of what the changes were and how they would be made. I was promised that I would be kept in the loop as to how the proposal was progressing. I was also promised minutes of the meeting, which I never received.

There are 80 other independent music providers in Barnet. As I have received no information regarding the new service and no information as to how it will engage with me as a parent and as music provider, I have taken legal advice from a QC. It appears that I have grounds to launch a judicial review of the decision, based on the failure to consult.  As this is a costly and time consuming process and I have no idea whether the new service will be better or worse for my son and my business, I am left in a quandry. I am not someone who believes that legal action should be launched without good reason, not least because I will end up paying for it as a tax payer. One the other hand, I believe the London Borough of Barnet has failed in it's duty to consult.

Now you may think "So what, what has a stroppy blogger got to say to the London Borough of Barnet which may in any way be of benefit, other than to want cheaper lessons for his son?". Well this "stroppy blogger" has run a music studio in the Borough for 33 years. We helped Brit award winners Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash launch their career. We have musicians from all over the world using our studios. Only last week a track I co wrote with a young Sudanese female singer was picked up by the premier League Champions Manchester City FC TV and used as the backing music for the November goal of the month show - - my business is a private concern and it makes a profit. We have approx 1,000 musicians a week passing through. In short we have a wealth of experience that we are more than happy to share. Let me tell you one little thing which I did gather from the one meeting I attended to discuss the idea to shake up Barnet music services. The person chairing the meeting informed us that they were very lucky to have some "fantastic candidates" to act as trustees of the charity. I asked who they were, she replied that she couldn't say at the moment, but one was a lawyer and one was an accountant. I replied by asking if there were any young musicians. This suggestion was met with complete shock. All of the music providers present concurred that this would be a great idea. The response was "we'll look at that".

The issue I have with what is being proposed is that there is no democratic accountability. Barnet is ecellent at providing music services for young people who are interested in classical music, via the Barnet music schools. That isn't broken and doesn't need fixing, although I do understand the logic that more grants are available as a charity. What is not only broken, but has never really worked is what Barnet music services do for the musicians who want to play rock/pop/Hip Hop/ R'n'B and all of the other contemporary genres. This will not get "fixed" with the new setup. The reason? They never actually talk to the people who they are missing.

This is the same problem which plagues the whole One Barnet approach. There is no interest in actually providing the public with what they want. Look at Friern Barnet Peoples Library. That has been transformed, with massive footfall and huge public interest. Have Barnet been down to see what they could learn? They have a jewell on their doorstep, yet they won't even try and see if they could up their game and learn a few lessons.The lesson is repeated throughout areas such as Adult social care, where a new organisation was set up. Is this more responsive to the needs of the people it serves? Nope, but it has prettier marketing material. Even more disturbing is the way the new provider has become a virtual monopoly, whilst hiding behind the banner of choice.

As to the biggies. There was no attempt at all to engage with local business, service users, or even backbench councillors to ensure that problems are avoided and risks mitigated. Far from talking to people, the whole thing has been conducted behind closed doors. It brings us back to figures that Richard Cornelius quoted on the One Show. These figures are highly misleading. They are based on the basic cost of provision of services. They exclude all manner of figures and costs, many of which Barnet have no idea what they will be (most notably legal services and "out of scope services"). Barnet have moved the costs of managing the services to other areas, so it will be impossible to compare like with like. What we will see when Capita takes over (if things go well), will be a whole new section of costs on the published accounts for Barnet, so that whilst the cost of Capita services will show a figure which implies savings have been made, elsewhere in the accounts, all manner of charges and costs which didn't used to exist will appear. I have no doubt that the bloggers of Barnet will unpick these figures and show how the taxpayer is being fleeced, but by then it will be far too late.

1 comment:

Morris Hickey said...

Outsource that lot and there'll be no need for a town hall. Will they turn it into a community centre, or will it become another grotty Tesco?