First the good news (for Barnet Council). My car has packed up. This meant I couldn't make it to the town hall last night as Mrs T (the missus, not the blogger) had far more important things to do with her car. As a result, I completely missed all of the fun to be had watching Barnet Council completely ignore the people they are supposed to represent. A petition with seven thousand signatures was presented. This was summarily dismissed. Councillor Dan (AKA John) Thomas called it "trivial".
In truth, the real action is happening outside of the Town Hall. A Barnet resident, Maria Nash has launched a legal challenge to the One Barnet outsourcing program. Maria and her story gets half of page 7 of the Guardian today http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/22/tory-council-challenge-high-court . This blog has warned Capita on numerous occasions what sort of publicity they would receive if they signed this deal. The contract cannot now be signed until the legal challenge has been heard. Whatever the outcome, this will affect the cashflow and profits of Capita, as revenue they have accounted for in their business plan, will not arrive. Should the legal challenge prove successful, then we can expect similar challenges up and down the country. That may have catastrophic effects for the company.
Councillor Thomas welcomes the fact that the process has been "fast tracked". Maybe he should have spoken to Council lawyers about why Ms Nash is challenging the council. The case is not frivalous and to get this far, the expectation is that there will be an absolute minimum of a 50% chance of a positive outcome for Ms Nash. Being a betting man and given Barnet council and their history with legal challenges, if I were Councillor Thomas, I'd not be taking these odds. I know many top lawyers, my sister is a barrister, and it is fair to say that the view is that the case is rather strong.
Like many things at Barnet Council, the one element missing in the way the Council are behaving is common sense. All down the line, the One Barnet program has been swathed in secrecy. What makes it worse is that the alleged "One Barnet principles" espouse the opposite. If the council had said all along "complete secrecy is vital to ensure the success of such a complex project" they may have been able to blag the judicial process. As it is, they talk about "a new relationship with residents". In my experience, when a relationship consists entirely of one side dictating the rules, ignoring the considerations of the other side, not seeking consent for actions affecting the other party and using intimidation to force through actions, it is not a relationship at all. It is a rape. This is exactly what has happened with the Barnet Tories and the people of Barnet. Their 2010 manifesto mentioned nothing of One Barnet and wholescale privatisation. Even one of the Tory Councillors, Sury Khatri stated this in a meeting of the Tory group. At last nights Council meeting, the Leader of the Council even expressed objections to the Trades Unions publicising the fact that our services are being decimated. His view seemed to be that Unions are fine as long as they go along with whatever Barnet Council wants to do. Many a rapist will use the defence that "she wanted it" or "she asked for it". This is exactly the same sort of thing our local Conservatives are saying about One Barnet. They have never sought a mandate for One Barnet, they have never consulted residents on their views on outsourcing. Petitions have been ignored and attempts to publicise the effects have been derided. Yet despite not asking us what we think, they say "this is what the people of Barnet want". when all of the evidence available says the opposite. They tell us that because people voted for a commitment to keep taxes low, we want the destruction of public services. This is like a rapist saying "because she dressed up in appealing clothes, she asked for it, that was her consent". Well I'm sorry, but there is no mandate and there is no consent.
I am sure that some people will be offended by the analogy I've drawn here. How can you ever compare the horror of a rape with the restructuring of public services? Well if you read what Maria Nash tells the Guardian about the sleepless nights, the fear of being cut adrift, the worry that she will lose her independence, maybe the two things are not so different in their effects. Maria Nash will have her rights to independent living threatened. She is not the only one. These changes will throw local people out of work and will remove democratic accountability from local services. As I have repeatedly asked "where is the mandate for this, where is the consent of the people of Barnet?".
The Barnet Alliance for Public Services collected 7,000 signatures and presented them to Council last night, asking for a local referendum on One Barnet. If the local Conservative administration believed that the proposals were popular and would win the consent of local people, surely they would have jumped at the chance to get a specific mandate. It would have killed the arguments of BAPS and the Unions if they won.
They voted to reject the call for a referendum. They voted to specifically reject the opportunity for the people of Barnet to grant consent. Here is what BAPS asked for at the meeting and what the local Conservatives rejected. They are completely anti democratic and lack any semblence of common sense.
It is rather sad for Capita shareholders that this is who they have got into bed with.