Monday, 4 March 2013

My, My, My My ............

Always in a daze Always in a dream  
Always find that things are not what they seem

These are two lines from the piece of music I have requested I have played at my funeral. Don't worry (or celebrate), to the best of my knowledge that day is in no way imminent (but who really knows). These words are insightful. Those of us who live in Barnet,look out of our windows and things seem strangely calm for most of us. 
But are things what they seem? 
For many people living with disability in Barnet, an organisation named "Your Choice" provides care provision. It is a private company delivering services formerly provided by the state sector by Barnet Council. Your Choice Barnet was a fundamental cornerstone of the One Barnet reorgainsation. The staff who provide the services now through Your choice used to work for Barnet Council, but were spun off into a Your Choice. Your Choice is a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC). 
The Council set up Your Choice as it believed that this was the most cost effective way of providing the care people require. Many local residents queried whether this was a wise move, given the importance of the work done by Your Choice. The answer was that the quality of care would be the same, but without the scrutiny and control of the local authority, the organisation could be streamlined and more work could be done with less money. A business plan was produced that "conclusively proved" that the LATC model was more cost effective. A team of highly paid consultants validated all of these savings and pronounced the scheme as the best value for Barnet taxpayers and the only way to avoid huge cuts in servces.

Less than a year later, rather sadly we find that Your Choice Barnet is technically insolvent and requires a "loan" of £1 Million to keep on delivering services. Now all manner of businesses screw their figures up all of the time. All manner of businesses implode. It is a well documented fact that businesses usually fail within the first three years of incorporation. After that they actually know what they are doing and usually survive. 

So the questions are, why has Your Choice failed and why does it need a bale out. Under Barnet Council, departments had budgets and were managed withing the budget. Where has all of the extra costs come from? Has the revenue not met expectations? Well as far as I am concerned, these questions are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that the model has failed and it needs sorting out. There are two options. The first is to return it to local authority control. This may not be ideal but at least Barnet could balance the books. The other alternative is retain the service in the private sector. I am sure that there are armies of consultants who can prove that keeping the service in the private sector is the way forward. Sadly such consultants have now got a track record of getting such projections wrong. With the massive One Barnet outsourcings planned, this rings huge alarm bells. 

I've spent years warning about these risks in this blog. What do you want me to say. I have said it all a hundred times. I said it before the process started, during the cutover and afterwards. I am not Mystic Meg and I'm not psychic. I just bothered to read all of the reports that were available. These struck me as highly dubious. The questions I asked never received sensible answers. In the words quoted above "Always find that things are not what they seem". These words were never truer than with all of the One Barnet consultants reports which "prove" that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. I got sent a whole stack of reports on the issue. The sender has spent the whole day badgering me for my response. All I can say is "My, My,My,My...."  Having been highly sceptical about the whole business from day one, the implosion of Your Choice Barnet has been even swifter and more dramatic than I dazedly dreamed in my worst nightmare.

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