Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Guardian - A case study in why you shouldn't make your staff redundant and outsource your core business

In the past week there have been two truly appalling articles on the Guardian website. The first one, written by a freelance journalist was a case study in bad journalism. The article claimed that the decision in the One Barnet legal challenge was good for local democracy. You can find the drivel here


The author, a jobbing freelance journalist hadn't actually bothered to study the judgement or the background to the case. She hadn't bothered to speak with local opponents of the project to see if her thesis held water. As a result the Guardian was inundated with complaints about the article and had to print a hasty response from a few of the people who have been involved at ground level with the issues http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/aug/13/one-barnet-decision-threat-to-local-democracy#start-of-comments

As if that wasn't bad enough a second article has popped up in support of One Barnet. This one is written by a member of the legal firm "Trowers and Hamlins". This is the firm which has been advising Barnet Council on One Barnet. The company has made a small fortune out of the project. Strangely, the fact the company has been Barnet Councils legal advisers was not mentioned in this rather dodgy article.


So do you suppose the author from Trowers and Hamlins thinks what has happened in Barnet, largely through the firms legal advice is a travesty?  Strangely enough no. Could this be anything to do with the lucrative contracts her firm has? Perish the thought. The article makes all manner of misleading claims. Perhaps the one which brought the wryest smile to my face was this

There are also investment proposals to stimulate the local economy such as business support for local traders

As a member of the Federation of Small Business and the owner of a business which is occasionally a supplier of services to Barnet Council (as well as someone who writes a blog and closely monitors the Council), this is news to me. The only effect on local business will be a drop in trade as local people lose their jobs. It wouldn't surprise me if a team of consultants has been commissioned to see how "local businesses can be helped" in the Ivory Tower offices of Barnet Council at a nice juicy day rate", but they could get this advice for free from the FSB if they asked. This would deliver suggestions from people who knew the issues at ground level and had a vested interest in their success. Sadly Barnet never seem to trust locals.

The article makes no reference to the facts of the legal judgement or that the judges in both lower and appeal court found that Barnet Council had failed in its legal duty to consult in both lower and high court.  This was the basis for the legal challenge and had Maria Nash correctly timed her application she would have won the case and Barnet Council, expensively advised by Trowers would have lost. I find it appalling that someone who knows the details of the case choses not to mention this key fact. This part of the judgement has set case law. The next Maria Nash fighting outsourcing will know that the timing of a challenge is key and will get it right. That is the real lesson of this case.

Both articles are demonstrably, at the very best, misleading. Unlike many people in Barnet I welcome the second article, the one by Helen Randall of Trowers and Hamlins. The fact that Ms Randall deliberately chooses to mask her association with the One Barnet process tells us a lot about the true purpose of the article. For a casual observer, unfamiliar with the structure and history of the One Barnet program, it merely looks like a little bit of interesting legal debate. Once the fact that it was written by a senior staff member of a company, operating in stealth mode,  which made huge profits from the One Barnet program is taken into consideration, it becomes something far more revealing. 

It is one thing for Ms Randall to choose to neglect her firms role in the project, it is quite another for the Guardian editorial team to keep schtum. It is a fact that the Guardian has been making people redundant. It now seems they are outsourcing the writing of content on their website to jobbing freelancers and members of firms who contract for councils and they are not making this clear. What on earth does this tell us? One has to conclude that this policy of outsourcing content at Guardian is doing nothing for the reputation of the paper.

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