Sunday, 18 August 2013

Barnet Council Cabinet - failing in their duty of care to the people of Barnet?

There are 63 elected Councillors in the London Borough of Barnet. You can click here to find your local Councillor - - sadly if your local councillor isn't in the cabinet (see this list ) then they are in effect a glove puppet, there to make up the numbers. For this role, they get paid an allowance of £10,597 a year. For this substancial sum of cash, all they have to do is turn up for two Council meetings a year. For the elite eleven in the Cabinet, they get paid the following amounts (click here for all allowances )

Deputy Leader of the Council
Cabinet Members (excl. Leader and Deputy)

In return for these handsome allowances, for part time jobs, they get to perform the following role (according to the Council website).
Members of Barnet Council's cabinet provide positive leadership and strategic direction for the council, both within individual portfolio responsibilities and as part of the corporate responsibilities of the executive. They bring a cross-service perspective to the council, encouraging integrated working across service areas focused on the council's political and administrative priorities.
The cabinet takes an active approach to ensuring that decisions made by the council are informed both politically and administratively, and the council's cabinet decisions are collective and made by the cabinet.
The cabinet members are democratically accountable to the public and are the public face of the council, such they act as ambassadors for the council's work in improving Barnet.
The cabinet meets most months. Meetings are open to the public and press except where confidential matters are being discussed

In short the cabinet make the decisions and the rest of the council rubber stamp it. For this role they get a significantly enhanced allowance, and for this large lump of cash, their job description says that they have to do the following


In addition to the duties of a councillor the following applies:

Role Duties and Responsibilities


Lead on all aspects of your portfolio.

Help develop and provide strategic direction for the council.

Contribute effectively towards the council’s delivery of high quality, value for money services.

Leadership/Strategic Direction

Champion your portfolio and develop policy for the services within it.

Be accountable for the services in your portfolio and drive forward high performance within budget and in line with council policies.

Help shape and develop the strategic priorities and vision of the executive and the council.

Work with officers to provide  briefings to Council Members on developments within your portfolio.

Good Governance

Work to the highest standards of probity and corporate governance for the well  being of the borough

Promote adherence to the relevant codes of conduct in the interest of achieving the highest standards of behaviour  in public office.

Exercise delegated powers in accordance with the council’s Constitution.

Ensure that the interests of the borough and its citizens are taken into account when developing policy and strategies.


Represent the executive and the council on external bodies, as appointed and feed back to the Cabinet any issues of relevance/importance.

Be the representative voice of the executive and the council in relation to your portfolio


Develop necessary skills and knowledge in order to effectively carry out your role.

Develop and maintain your knowledge of policies related to your portfolio at national, regional and local level.


Build effective and respectful relationships with Members, officers and representatives of outside organisations and work with them in developing policy and strategic direction.

Be aware of issues of importance to residents of the borough and other stakeholders concerning services within your portfolio.

(This information is on this page on the Council website )

This is what we expect the members of the cabinet to do. As the cabinet have executive power in the London Borough of Barnet, they have assumed a duty of care towards the people on behalf of whom they run the council. Within the Borough, there are many people who this duty of care makes a difference to not only the quality of life, but in some cases their personal wellbeing, health and safety. Here is a list of a few groups who decisions taken by the Council can have a life impacting effect.

* Children at School

* Vulnerable children

* Vulnerable adults

* Disabled Children and Adults

* Carers of disabled Children and Adults

* The Elderly

* People on the "at risk" register

As well as these groups, the Council also has a duty of care towards other people who fall into one or more of the categories below.

* Motorists who use non trunk roads in the London Borough of Barnet

* Pedestrians walking on pavements in the London Borough of Barnet

* Residents of the London Borough of Barnet

Should the Council fail to discharge its duties towards any of the above group, the Council has a financial liability to compensate them, in regard to this failure. For instance, should you trip on a badly maintained pavement in the Borough, you can sue the council for compensation. You do not have to be a resident, to be affected by such a failure.

For members of the first group, clearly the council has a far greater role in their day to day lives and a far greater responsibility. This duty of care is a serious issue, as stated above it can involve taking life changing decisions. So the question is this. Are the Cabinet failing in their duty of care to the people of Barnet.  We know the terms of reference they work within and we know that they are generously renumerated for doing this.

One of the more interesting requirements for a member of the cabinet is this

Develop necessary skills and knowledge in order to effectively carry out your role.

What this means is that any decision the cabinet make, they have to have done their homework. Since the last council elections in 2010, we have seen several large outsourcing contracts being signed. We have also seen changes to Parking charges brought in, resulting in massive increases in costs to residents.

Let us examine these decisions.

Outsourcing of Parking control to NSL - Many residents of the Borough have had major issues with this regime. My fellow Barnet blogger, Mr Mustard, has obtained figures for the number of appeals against parking tickets in Barnet since NSL took charge. His figures show a massive increase in the number of appeals in that period and even more disturbingly, OVER 50% of these appeals have been upheld (see Mr Mustards blog - ).

Year / period to Appeals Won %
31 Mar 11 1222 504 41
31 Mar 12 941 524 56
31 Mar 13 2217 1571 71
15 Jun 13 681 395 58

This indicates one of two things. Either NSL staff are completely unaware of the laws they are being paid to enforce or they are deliberately issuing tickets to raise money for their organisation and for Barnet Council. If the former is true, then the cabinet are breaching their duty of care, as they are not complying with the requirement
Be aware of issues of importance to residents of the borough and other stakeholders concerning services within your portfolio.
Because this is surely an issue of importance to residents. If the latter is true, then surely they have also breached this requirement.
Work to the highest standards of probity and corporate governance for the well  being of the borough
Can it possibly argued that the Cabinet have discharged their duty of care?

Then we move on to the second big outsourcing. Barnet Council set up a company called Your Choice Barnet Ltd ( This is a private company that is wholly owned by Barnet Council. This provides services for people with disabilities. This was formed as part of the Conservative Council's drive to turn everything into a commodity.  Prior to the organisation being formally approved, local campaigners listed many objections and concerns about the corporate structure. The trades unions asked Professor Dexter Whitfield, an internationally recognised expert in such matters,  to review the proposed scheme and he supplied many weaknesses pointing out that the structure was doomed to failure. Reminding ourselves that the Cabinet have a responsibility to
Develop necessary skills and knowledge in order to effectively carry out your role.
I ask what response we have seen to all this by Cabinet members? Well very little at all. I can however report that one Cabinet member has put the following tweet on twitter

Now, you may think that maybe Councillor Rams was simply stating that Mr Whitfield has no crystal ball. Sadly he didn't need one. Councillor Rams put this tweet out on 23rd July 2013. He wasn't responding to Professor Whitfields original comments. He was responding to a follow up report, commissioned by local disabled campaigners, following Your Choice Barnet being given a £1 million bale out by the taxpayer. In short, as predicted back in 2012 when Your Choice Barnet Ltd was set up, the business case was flawed. The shame of it is that none of the cabinet did their homework and as a result the taxpayers have been put out of pocket and the disabled people of the Borough are suffering service cuts. All of Mr Whitfields initial concerns were shown to be completely justified. As if it wasn't bad enough that Councillor Rams ignored the original criticisms, he hasn't even bothered to acknowledge that he got it wrong and Councillor Whitfield got it right. Surely no sane and rational could argue that the cabinet has discharged its duty of care towards the disabled residents of Barnet by failing to read the business case properly or even consider the input from experts in the field.

Then we come to the two recent contracts signed with Capita. Now as these have only just been signed, we are yet to see how they will work out. What is clear is that Capita have issues with other outsourcing projects. These are well documented. The Barnet bloggers have repeatedly emailed the cabinet and other Barnet Councillors to draw their attention to these problem contracts and ask what assurance Barnet Council have that these problems wont crop up in Barnet. Perhaps the highest profile Capita failure is the Court Translation outsourcing scheme. This has been an unmitigated disaster. Given the ever increasing number of non english speakers ending up in court, this service is vital to the function of the legal system. If the court cannot provide proper translations, then guilty criminals walk free. This is a very serious matter, yet there has not been the slightest acknowledgement from Barnet Council that Capita has a chequered record with public sector outsourcing. The Barnet Eye has identified over a dozen Capita projects, many with local authorities, which have gone wrong. We have asked for a response from Barnet Council cabinet members but received none. I suspect that like Councillor Rams, many believe that if they get an email from a blogger asking them to look at a high profile Capita outsourcing failure, it must be ok, because a blogger told them about it.

Perhaps even more disturbing was the fact that both the High Court and the Appeal court found that Barnet had not discharged their legal responsibility to consult residents about the project. Sadly, due to a technicality concerning the timing, the courts could not actually compel the council to do their job properly. So much for  
Be aware of issues of importance to residents of the borough and other stakeholders concerning services within your portfolio.
How on earth they can discharge this duty without consulting residents, I don't know, but it doesn't seem to stop them raking in the allowances.

The final case we examine is the recent victory for the Barnet CPZ campaign, getting the High Court to declare Barnet councils parking charge policy illegal. Documents obtained by the campaign show that the Council were well aware that there was a strong probability that they would lose. They still continued to charge residents the exhorbitent fees. They still persisted with the court case. They used our money to fund a case against there own residents, in spite of this requirement
Be aware of issues of importance to residents of the borough and other stakeholders concerning services within your portfolio.
They lost the case and now have to spend even more cash, setting up a scheme to pay everyone back the cash they are owed. Have the Council cabinet discharged their duty of care appropriately? Have they fulfilled the terms of reference of their job? Next May, we all have the opportunity to tell them at the Council elections. Personally I think the answer could not be more clear cut.

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