A funny thing happened on the way to the Royal Courts of Justice. I bumped into my old mate Mr Gupta who was taking in the Fleet St sunshine and about to head for some lunch in Covent Garden. "What are you up to" he asked. I told him I was making my way up to the Royal Courts for the appeal of Maria Nash against Barnet Councils One Barnet program. Mr Gupta was keen to share a very important piece of information with me "My word for today is W*nk*rs". Mr Gupta informed me that the downfall of organisations happens when a "W*nk*r" is brought in at a senior level. To safeguard their position, they ensure a plethora of other "W*nk*rs" are then inserted into key roles in the organisation. They then promote each other and give each other large pay rises, until such point as the whole thing collapses in a heap and they all move off to repeat the job somewhere else. He said that the "really clever "W*nk*rs" manage to leave before "the sh*t hits the fan".
It may surpise you to know that Mr Gupta is not a Barnet resident and was not talking about One Barnet. He did however manage to aptly capture my mood and sentiments as I approached the Court. Mr Gupta asked if anyone could attend. I said yes. He'd never been for a look at the Courts, so he joined me.
We entered Court 71. Before us on the bench was the
Master of the Rolls himself, Lord Dyson, his left Lord Justice
Davis, and on the right Lady Justice Gloster. Maria Nash was parked in her wheelchair to the judges right. Her legal team of solictor Gerald
Shamash, QC Nigel Giffin, and barrister David
Gollancz sat by her, Mr Giffin at the front and in full flow. The Councils representative Dinah Rose QC was to Mr Giffins right.
Behind these two rows, we had a row of various people, including bloggers Mrs Angry and La Blogguese. We also had a couple of Barnet Council lackies including Captain Cooper, commercial services supremo. And who was that man with the sun reflecting off his head? No, it couldn't be. Yes it was, none other than his Royal Highness, Leader of the Council Richard Cornelius. It is the first time I'd seen him at any of the many court cases I've seen.
He sat through Mr Giffins submission, gurning and scratching himself. Richard is a nice enough chap and he clearly found the proceedings fascinating. As Mr Giffin pointed out that the council could have avoided this train crash at any time, simply by doing what it was supposed to do and consulting the public, Richard had the look of a Imperial District commissioner, watching with interest as the locals did a tribal dance. He seemed rather detached from the process. Odd really given that he is the Leader of the Council
Then I looked at Dinah Rose QC. I do wonder if it is possible to be a nice person if your job is to defend the indefensible. Apparently she has done rather a good job. If there were an award for looking smug and self satisfied, she'd certainly win the gold medal. From my position at the side of the court, I saw all the smug little grins and grimaces, made towards the team sat behind her. I have doubt the bench could see, but I do know I found it mightily annoying, given that she was hoping for something to occur which seems likely to have a terrible effect on the place I live. Of course to her, it is all a game and a very lucrative one at that.
Mr Gupta had seen enough. He went off for his sandwich, as he left he had one word. I will leave yoy to guess what it was. As he left Sarah Sachman QC entered. Sarah is one of the rising stars of Barnet politics. She had come along to lend some support. She timed it just right. Mr Giffin was reaching the crescendo of his summing up. He made some extremely salient points regarding the timing of the case (the key issue). He seemed to make a bit of headway. The crux of his argument was that a Judicial Review could not have been launched earlier, as Barnet were still at a stage in the process where a consultation could have been launched. Until such time as that was impossible, then a judicial review would most likely have been struck out. The Council had even assured a resident, John Dix that it would do a consultation, only to renege on this undertaking. At this point Richard Cornelius seemed to find the wooden bench he was sitting on rather uncomfortable.
Mr Giffin gave a good illustration of how the precedent in the Burkitt case (seemingly the best case law) would work in the One Barnet scenario. His logic seemed compelling. Ms Rose who had looked supremely smug and confident for the whole process, suddenly, just for a second had the slightest furrowing of a brow. She turned (minus her smug grin) to gesture to her team. As she turned we made eye contact. I could swear she noticed that I'd spotted the little Poker tell she'd given as the skin in her forehead instantly tightened and the furrow and the grin returned. Too late my darling, that is not a Royal Flush in your hand, it is a pair of eights. Never mind, I won't tell a soul.
Mr Giffen the explained that Ms Rose argument that Barnet Council had spent too much money didn't hold any water. Councils will always say this. The bidders committed to the process knowing their were risks. That is part of the package for commercial companies. And as to the costs to the public purse. Many Barnet residents feel that One Barnet is a far greater risk than the alternative. As there has been no consultation, the council has never made the case for it to anyone, beyond a few mindless platitudes.
And that was that. Just before 1pm, Mr Giffin finished up. The Master of the Rolls informed us that it was unlikely that their Lordships would manage a verdict before the "end of term". Ms Rose suggested that they may like to give some sort of a date as Barnet Council had "commercial considerations". Their Lordships suggested that they would endevour to decide by the end of September.
As we left, Richard Cornelius had a quick word. He said "That was fascinating!". I said that i'd certainly found it interesting. I suggested that I was pleased he'd enjoyed it because there are likely to be a few more such cases. Richard bade me good day with a smile.
The various members of the Barnet uprising colluded outside. Sarah Sackman confided that she was sorry she'd missed Ms Rose, as she has a reputation for being a bit of a star performer. We picked over the bones. I had a chat with Maria Nash, who asked what more we could do. I have such great respect for Maria. Today was a hot sticky day and it cannot have been comfortable for her. Despite this, her fighting spirit is not dulled. I suggested that whatever happens with the verdict, it has been worth it, as if nothing else, the action has made the council think twice about a whole plethora of other uber right wing nonsense. Since the case was launched, the architect and instigator of One Barnet, Councillor Brian Coleman has been convicted as a criminal and slung out of the Conservative Party. He was the man who put Mike Freer MP in charge of Barnet Council and has been the man keeping everyone in line as we reached squeaky backside time. Since he was kicked out, he has turned on the process. One suspects this is purely to cause trouble. It is clear to me that the Tories will run out of steam for this nonsense.
The Barnet Eye has one major concern. Whatever happens, Barnet Council has spent a fortune fighting this case. All of this could have been avoided had the council done its legal duty and consulted. The council has failed in a monumental manner to do its job in respect to engaging with citizens. This has exposed it to huge legal costs. If you accept the councils arguments (which I don't) that the One Barnet contract will save loads of money and be marvellous, why didn't they shout it from the hilltops? Why did they hide everything and fail to involve anyone but a few highly paid consultants.
I have seen dozens of secret papers related to the project. Sadly the law has prevented me from revealing any of this, but I know for a fact that the Council has shirked it's responsibilities. There have been all manner of deficiencies in the business case. The contract has been written in such a manner that the interests of Capita are defended in a manner which the interests of the residents are not. Of course you'll have to take my word for this, I may be completely wrong. Sadly in the absence of any independent scrutiny, we will only find out when it is far too late. Companies like Capita have vast experience of negotiating contracts like this. They have teams of highly paid legal experts. Barnet Council have nowehere near the expertise available. They have employed highly paid law firms, but these do not have the commercial axe to grind that Capita do. Capita clearly know where the money is to be made in such agreements and would word it accordingly. The Councils team would be more concerned with ensuring that risks are minimised and procedural irregularities covered. Before anyone from the Council send me anymore threatening letters, nope I didn't keep copies. I have simply read the documents and either given them back or destroyed them. I am not a legal expert, but I have a lot of experience of contracts and other such matters. My sister is a qualified Barrister and I also have a de-facto team of my own, who do it for the price of the odd pint of Gunness and a curry, out of a desire to give a little back to the Borough they live in.
One day, I will have the bittersweet feeling of telling everyone that I'd been warning this would happen all along. Sadly, like the court fees, as a long term Barnet resident, I will end up paying. As Mr Gupta may say "W*nk*rs".