Thursday, 21 February 2013

Shoddy journalism at the Barnet Times is a complete disgrace

I was disgusted to read the following article in the Barnet/Hendon Times by Chris Hewitt

Mr Hewitt's article is perhaps the most biased and one sided piece of journalism I have seen from any of our local papers. A casual reader of the article would conclude that Maria Nash is simply a serial protestor and trouble maker. Mr Hewitt writes
Maria Nash, a protestor and member of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, instructed lawyers to request a judicial review into the decision on the grounds the public were not properly consulted.
What Mr Hewitt fails to mention about Maria Nash is the fact that she is severely disabled, is confined to wheelchair and is completely reliant on Barnet Council for all of the services which allow her to live independently. Mr Hewitt has not bothered to speak to Maria or to even properly read the details of the legal challenge she is bringing against Barnet Council.

As Mr Hewitt can't be bothered to properly report what Maria is challenging, the Barnet Eye will. This is what Maria is challenging the council on.

1.         Breach of the Council's duty to consult Barnet residents, businesses and community organisations about its plans, the result of which is that it has spent millions of pounds – the Agilisys contract alone has cost over £4m and is likely to rise to £6m – on professional consultants helping it to run the procurement process, but has not once asked local people for their views.

2.         Breach of councillors' duty to the residents in their area, to make sure that their decisions represent the best available value for public money. In order to be sure that they are getting best value out of this or any other contract the Council must compare the costs, benefits and risks of outsourcing with the costs, benefits and risks of retaining services in house but reforming the way they are provided to optimise value. Despite having been urged to do this, and despite the fact that it has been done by other local authorities, like Edinburgh, Barnet has refused to do it.

3.         Breach of the public sector equality duty: the Council must take issues of equality into account when making important decisions which affect people’s lives, like making radical changes in the way Council services are run.  The “equalities impact assessment” done in the One Barnet case was a pure paper exercise, which took no account of the views of people who would be affected by the changes.

4.         Breach of public procurement law, which requires that this contract be awarded to the company submitting the “most economically advantageous tender from the point of view of the public body”, i.e. the provider that gives the “best value for money” , taking into account the council’s responsibilities. Lack of consultation with local people, lack of consideration of equalities and lack of an in-house services comparator means the council cannot state that Capita gives the best value for money.  Such a breach of the public procurement rules leads to cases like West Coast Main Line.

5.         Breach of councillors’ duty to make up their own minds: Individual councillors must by law make up their own minds how to vote after informing themselves on the issues.  They are not allowed blindly to follow the party line.  Councillors have been starved of information and have not had the opportunity to understand the highly complex proposals for the contract, so they cannot legally vote to do anything other than defer a decision so that they can inform themselves and come to a proper view. 

Mr Hewitt also accepts verbatim the Councils figures regarding savings. There is no mention of the fact that the Council claim they have not even completed the contract, so none of these savings can be tested or verified. There is no mention of the fact that Public Sector outsourcing contracts have a history of going bad and costing the taxpayer millions of pounds. There is no mention of the fact that Barnet Council have a history of mismanagement of procurement, wasting millions.

Mr Hewitt also does not mention that to receive legal aid, Maria Nash had to prove that their was a legal justification for the case she was bringing. Legal aid is not granted in such cases for frivalous challenges.

All we get is a one sided and extremely biased report, which does no justice to a very brave decision by a frail, disabled old lady to stand up for her rights. Mr Hewitt should issue an apology to Maria immedately for his biased and unfair reporting of her challenge and not carrying a response from the Barnet Alliance for Public Services or Maria. This article cannot be defended as being fair and unbiased. No doubt Mr Hewitt will claim he simply reported "facts" but as these have solely been provided by the council and there is no balance the article cannot be defended as being anything other than unfair. At the very least he should have accurately reported Marias status and why she is bringing the challenge, along with all of the grounds for the case, not just the Consultation issue.

Barnet Council spends huge amounts of money on advertising with local papers. One hopes that this plays no part in the editorial decisions of the newspaper. Surely we should expect higher standards from our local papers? In general the local press have been very fair and decent in reporting of stories concerning One Barnet. We sincerely hope this article was an abberation and an off day. We expect to see the problems rectified ASAP with Maria and BAPS being given the opportunity to respond.


Morris Hickey said...

It's just another local rag. Accuracy and objectivity does not sell their papers - sensational headlines might. It's quite usual for Newsquest publications.

tirza waisel said...

Maria Nash is NOT a member of BAPS and has never been. She came to some of our public meetings, as hundreds of other resdients, but this does not make her a member.

Please view our constitution on the barnetalliance web site on details how to became a member.

concernedcarer said...

In trying to find the second part of Mr Hewett's article, I searched under old copies of the Hendon and Finchley Times where previous journalists reported accurately, without bias and with statements from all parties. Mr Hewett might find some balance in his writing if he were to spend a day with Barnet's courageous Maria Nash!