Since 2002, Barnet Council has been Conservative, before that it was a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. Between 2002 and 2006, the Tory administration was a sort of Heathite One Nation sort of Toryism, pragmatic, set on providing good services, balancing the books etc. The first act of that administration was a huge hike in Council Tax rates. They stated that this was vital to stop the council going bust. Following the 2006 council election, there was a right wing palace coup. The newly elected Tory Leader Brian Salinger was deposed and the hard right, Thatcherite Mike Freer took over. Freer was determined to run the most right wing administration that he possibly could. Central to his scheme was the mass privatisation and outsourcing of council functions. Freer believed that this would deliver huge savings to the council budget.
At the same time all manner of socially inclusive programs were cut back or scrapped. One of the first victims of the Freer regime was housing wardens in sheltered accommodation. Parking wardens were outsourced and incentivised to make as much money as possible from parking. Adult Social care, planning and various other services soon followed. Capita were brought in as partners and strange concepts such as gainshare were introduced (this phrase means that any savings Capita identify, they are given a share of. So if they identify that they can save £300,000 a year from the budget by shutting your library, they receive a handsome percentage of the savings).
If you reduce life to a financial transaction, I suppose that this could make sense. However, that is not the role of a council. A council is supposed to simply be the organisation that we elect to make our community work as well as possible and make our lives as good as possible. Historically, councils run parks and leisure centres, so that we can enjoy ourselves and keep fit. They run social care, so when our Mums and Dads get infirm and need help, there is a trustworthy and accountable organisation to help. They run parking, so that our businesses can see a regular footfall and residents can park. They run planning so that the residents are protected from greedy developers cannot simply ruin our neighbourhoods without check.
The bottom line is that the council is not a commercial concern. It is not run for the benefit of companies,
However, in Barnet, the idea of civic service and quality services is completely alien to the current administration. Our leisure centres have been hived off to private contractors. They have simply become an income stream for a huge corporate entity. Our parks are being monetised. This means that residents who pay for their upkeep can be excluded, so that private events can take place. Social care for adults has also been privatised. When you want someone to care for your mum when she is infirm, do you want the carer to be paid the absolute minimum on a zero hours contract, with no security? Or do you want a trained professional, who has the time and the training to care properly and is not constantly looking for another job which will mean the bills can be paid? Do you want parking wardens who are sympathetic and are there to make the traffic flow and only penalise people who are taking the mickey, or do you want parking wardens who pounce like vultures on the slightest infrigement? Do you want developers to be able to buy a premium development service from the council, to ensure that planning applications flow through with the minimum of fuss and residents are simply viewed as an awkward distraction?
The bottom line is that the council is not a commercial concern. It is not run for the benefit of companies, vested interests, councillors or council officers. It is supposed to be run for the benefit of local residents and businesses who pay taxes. I was at a meeting this morning, where I was told that the council are "keen to use local suppliers". This is not good enough, they should always use local suppliers, unless that is not practical or possible. There should be full democratic control of all services and proper democratic accountibilty. It appears to me that what we have is corporate capitalism gone mad. Proponents of Capitalism state that it is more efficient because there is competition, however there is none in the Barnet Council version. They just signed a massive contract with Capita for ten years and they run the show. My fellow Barnet blogger has written many a blog detailing how this isn't delivering value for Barnet, most recently one entitled
In October, we published a blog which proves beyond doubt that the outsourcing of planning is failing everyone. Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet fame details The Ultimate Cost, or - North Finchley: the life and death of a libraryin her most recent blog.
In May, local residents have the opportunity to change the direction, if they feel that the Council is not serving the local community. We believe it is time for a change.