At the recent case at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Barnet Eye got involved in a conversation with a man from Capita. It may strike you as rather odd, but this was actually the first conversation I'd had with anyone from Capita about the relative merits of the One Barnet project. Given that this blog has covered the topic for five years and that perhaps 30,000 of 1 million hits are from users accessing the site from domains owned by Capita, it seems rather odd that this late in the day, they want a chat.
Anyway, the man from Capita posed an extremely interesting question. If Capita could demonstrate that the One Barnet project and their services would be for the overall good of the London Borough of Barnet and its residents, would the Barnet Eye change its stance? To the surprise of the man from Capita, I said "I would not oppose anything that could be demonstrated as fundamentally positive for the Borough". He then asked if that could be demonstrated, would the Barnet Eye write positive stories about Capita and One Barnet? Now this is a fundamentally different question. Is it the role of a citizen journalist to plug the services of a private company free of charge? I don't think it is. I would certainly report the truth, however as there has been no such evidence laid before the Barnet Eye to validate any such claims, it is all hypathetic.
Anyway, thinking about this issue, I did some research. Now it appears that it is not without precedent for companies to buy off troublesome bloggers (not that I am suggesting that this is what Capita would like to do). There is a very interesting article that says you can buy bloggers for .2p per word - http://guestbloggingtactics.net/how-much-should-blogging-service-companies-charge-for-a-single-post/ - doesn't sound much, does it?
So I then did some math. My average blog is approx 1,000 words. Last year, I posted 785 blogs at .2p a word. That works out at £157,000 - not a bad little sum to donate to the people of Barnet, is it? That is without the pictures ! So now I know my true worth. It may (or may not) surprise you to know that I have never been paid to write a blog by anyone. The blog now has well over a million hits and has been pretty influential. Would that be the same, had I been paid that sum? I guess (and I may be wrong?) that had someone said to me, here's a £157,000 you have to publish what we tell you, the blog would in some way have been even better. I would immediately have recruited a couple of trainee journalists and paid them each £30,000 a year to churn out the stuff to order. I would still have had nearly £100,000 in the pot for me !
I could then have also employed a professional website designer to build the Barnet Eye into a truly spiffing looking website. Say I paid £15,000 to a decent young website designer, I'd have something pretty damn good. And I'd have £85,000 a year for my trouble. It would have enabled me to spend my time blogging about things where perhaps I could make a difference - dyslexia & cancer are two issues close to my heart. Local charities, sports groups, organisations such as the Sea Training Cadets? And what about the fight against One Barnet? Well if as the man from Capita says, the stance of me and my fellow bloggers is completely wrong headed, then I'd have no problem reversing my stance.
So I made a simple suggestion to Mr Capita. You give me full, open access to every shred of information about the project two weeks, contracts the lot. I will sign a non disclosure agreement and if at the end of that time, Capita had demonstrated to me that the case for One Barnet and their services is so compelling that I change my stance, I will say so. I made a small caveat that I'd like Mr Reasonable to assist me (assuming he'd be prepared to sign the NDA as well).
So what happened next? Well my email address is available on the side of the blog. No one from Capita has taken me up on the offer yet. In fact at no point has anyone from Barnet Council or Capita ever seriously tried to sit down with myself or any of the other bloggers and make the case for what they are trying to do.
No I find this seriously odd. Barnet is a Conservative regime and as best I understand it, the Barnet bloggers exemplify what Eric Pickles wants citizens to do. Capita claim that they have a great product, which will be for the benefit of the Borough, but they have never once tried to convince the critically minded bloggers of Barnet, who I believe are the biggest thorn in their side, that they can make a change for the better.
If the court case launched by Maria Nash fails, we are likely to see "men from Capita" swarming all over Barnet, dismantling the infrastructure that has kept the council running for years. Jobs will move out of the Borough and departments such as planning will come under their remit. Once all of that infrastructure has been taken away, it will be nigh on impossible to put it back, if Capita fail. The Barnet Taxpayer will end up picking up the tab.
In truth, I am heartily sick of writing about the subject. It was clear what the issues were five years ago and they have not changed. I would rather employ a team of young journalists to professionally investigate this and sit back. Sadly, no one wants to pay me £150,000 to do what many people consider vital work. Sadly for my bank manager, the reason Capita won't get in touch is because they know that they can't make the case for One Barnet to me or to Mr Reasonable or to anyone else who has bothered to look.
I happen to believe that between us all, the bloggers of Barnet are worth a million a year. With our work on Metpro, RM Countrysides etc, we've saved the council a bundle of money. Sadly those savings have been given to consultants to design the One Barnet project and take a huge gamble with our cash. Many of those consultants are on well over £1,000 a day, paid for by the taxpayer.
So to sum up. Given that in five years, Capita and the London Borough of Barnet have failed to provide any Barnet blogger with a single shred of evidence that their schemes stack up. Given that every document leaked to me has shown that in fact the whole scheme is dangerous, risky and a massive gamble and at best a massive risk, why on earth does the man from Capita seem to think that there is some secret document that will completely change my mind. Unlike the army of highly paid One Barnet Consultants, I am not in it for the cash, I do this because I live in Barnet and want the best for the Borough and its taxpayers, so there won't be a cheque in the post any time soon.