Sunday 30 November 2008

The Barnet Future Shape Pledge Card

Barnet Council Outsourcing - The death of goodwill?

Barnet council have just paid a kings ransom to a team of highly paid beancounters to come in and tell them how to run the Council. It seems that the contributors listed on the report which the council will debate on the 3rd of December include the following :-

Richard Grice (on a secondment from a quango - IDeA)
Max Wide (on secondment from BT)
Clive Medlam, Director of Resources (The man responsible for losing £27.4 Million in Iceland)
Jeff Lustig, Director of Corporate Governance ( The man responsible for overseeing the sale of Underhill which resulted in enquiries costing £1 Million)

Does this team fill you with confidence?

The report suggests that the Council outsource everything they possibly can (apart from their own jobs rather surprisingly).

One key phrase of the report says :-

Development of proposals with potential private, public and voluntary sector partners for the re-configuration of services in the borough, including a detailed assessment of costs and potential savings, and when they would accrue

Now maybe I've misread this, but the way it seems they want the model to work is that the Public sector (e The council) provides the cash, the Private sector makes a handsome profit and the voluntary sector plugs the gaps. Now from a beancounting perspective, this is a great plan. Sack qualified council staff and get people to do the work for free (the voluntary sector).

Lets take the example of Mrs Beans aged 85(not a real person), who lives in Outsourcing Avenue. She was fit and sprightly for her age but was run over by a car hurtling down Partingdale Lane whilst walking her dog. She is now totally reliant on council services as she is severely disabled. Now at the moment Barnet council employ a care team to look after her. She's used to all of the people who she has to deal with and is happy and secure in her Council provided flat. Mr Beans is a relatively fit 87 year old who can make her a cup of tea and open the door for the care team.

Now a bloke from a quango and a bloke from BT have sat in a council office on a fat salary and decided that Mrs Beans needs a "different outcome". They've decided that what Mrs Beans really needs is a "transformed experience". Instead of the regular Council care team, they'll get carers from "". They'll give Mr Beans the number of a nice call centre in Bangalore to ring if anything goes wrong - You know "Select option 1 for a heart attack, Option 2 for a stroke and Option 3 for a broken hip)". Nor "" are a lean mean organisation. They have a fine team of very badly paid carers, who do there best, but are constantly leaving, not turning up. The Beans family suddenly find that they haven't a clue who is supposed to be coming. All of the staff who knew Mrs Beans and understood her situation have left. Now because the situation is getting too much for poor old Mr Beans, nice Mrs Counter down the road, has started popping in. When it all goes wrong she steps in, hangs on the phone to Bangalore, tells the constantly changing new carers what they should be doing and what they should know. She doesn't get paid (voluntary sector), she's put upon, but she knows without her the Beans family would not be able to cope.

There are plenty of other Mrs Beans and Mrs Counter's all over Barnet. Because of their transformed experience what happens (in our mythical ideal world) :-

Richard Grice goes back to his quango and gets a nice fat bonus
Max Wide goes back to BT (maybe to manage the Barnet Call centre Contract in Bangalore getting a fat bonus)
Clive Medlam, has saved a pot of resources so he gets a fat bonus
Jeff Lustig, has negotiated a fine contract with BT and, so he gets a juicy fat bonus as well.

As for Mrs Beans and Mrs Counter - well who really gives a stuff about them. If the stress kills Mrs Beans, that is yet another saving to be added to the pot ! Another value for money outcome. Does council Leader Mike Freer and councillor Lynne Hillan know or care about the vulnerable in Barnet? I suspect they have other priorities - Freer is hoping he'll be off to Westminster by the time it all goes pear shaped.

At least Mrs Counter can sleep peacefully at night knowing her efforts have helped all of the above get a big bonus. Now I believe in goodwill, helping your neighbour out and being a good citizen, but in the Brave New world of care in Barnet I think that these values may well be the very first casualties as people realise they are being taken advantage of.

I guess that they'll have to change the line from the theme tune to the well loved soap.

Neighbours, every body NEEDS good neighbours,
Thats when good neighbours become good unpaid dogsbodies filling the gaps in care provision left by the outsourcing of care services in Barnet".

Saturday 29 November 2008

Future shape - Role of the Council in future

For those of you following the future shape debate, here is another installment of my analysis of the report to be debated. As ever It is pasted from the Council's briefing document with my comments in BOLD ITALIC

9.3 The role of the Council in the future
9.3.1 In order maximise the value to citizens of Barnet’s public services, the Council should focus its energy on the activities where it alone can add value. It should therefore enable other organisations to do those things that they can do as well or better than the Council. Fundamentally, the Council should conduct those activities that only the Council can. This implies a number of principles on which to base the future shape of the organisation:

Only a consultant with no experience of real life could write such a load of rubbish about the functions of a Council. Let us think about the following statement "the Council should focus its energy on the activities where it alone can add value". In effect this statement says that the Council should abolish itself. There is no aspect of any Council activity which couldn't conceivably be provided by another organisation, be it Central Government, the GLA or - If we abolished elections and got recruitment consultants to pick the cabinet, who is to say they wouldn't come up with better candidates? Of course in a democracy, we don't do that, but surely that is the logical conclusion of this statement. Ridiculous as that may sound, with the future shape, in effect this is what we'll have as the people responsible for running the day to day council function will be working for private companies (SPV's as Barnet likes to call them). I have no idea what Councillors will actually do in the new order.

1. The democratic legitimacy of councillors places on the Council the responsibility for establishing a new contract with citizens that jointly defines our ambitions and shares responsibility for achieving them.

So if there is going to be a new contract, do we the citizens get to sign it? That is required in law for a legal contract. Will Future shape be opened up to a referendum. If it isn't, then "establishing a new contract with citizens " is a meaningless platitude, designed to disguise the truth of this proposal. Will we, the citizens, get proper, sound legal advice before we sign up to this new contract. If a contract is not fair and reasonable in law it is null and void. I hope Barnet have a few pounds in the budget for this legal challenge.

2. The future Council should be strategic rather than operational, focused on convening and working with its partners to prioritise and commission the public services that should be provided in the borough, rather than delivering services itself.

Yet again, this statement has the hallmark of a wet behind the ears, freshly scrubbed Consultant, sitting in his bath, planning to take over the world. We elect ward councillors and we expect them to sort out issues when the council fails to deliver. They our our local representatives. Let's imagine that a tree owned by the Council falls on my house and I can't get out of the door. What will happen in the future shape world. I will ring the Barnet Council Call Centre in Bangalore, after waiting for 30 minutes in a queue, having selected problems with trees. I will be kept waiting for an age as it has been windy and there are lots of trees down, eventually they will take my name and address. They will inform me that the problem will be logged and someone will call me back within 24 hours, which is the service Level agreement for dealing with priority 1 tree issues. I will then ring my local Councillor John Hart and tell him that I am stuck in my house and I want him to get the Council to sort it out. He will inform me that at the next Council meeting he'll discuss the priority of my problem and the cabinet will devise a strategy for getting me out. The actual situation happened to my family in 1975 and the Council sent around a team of tree surgeons. We were out of the house within 1 1/2 hours.

3. The Council must remain democratically accountable for outcomes and for all of the services it funds to achieve those outcomes.

I can't argue with this aspiration. I'm not sure how they can achieve it if a company has a contract to provide the service. If there will be a watertight clause that the council can instantly terminate any contract where the democratically elected Council decides for any reason (eg change of party in charge, Palace Coup to elect a new leader who is more sensible) to stop the contract, I really can't see a firm signing up.

4. The Council should be responsible for making policy, setting priorities, annual budget and Council Tax, and working with its partners to commission for outcomes for citizens.

So amazingly, several thousand years after the Greeks first invented the idea, a Consultant working for Barnet agree's that democratic control is a good idea for the council. I am interested that they use the term "should be". Has the democratically elected council accepted responsibility for losinjg £27.4 Million in Iceland? I am disturbed that the "partners" have equal say in the "commision for outcomes". That sounds to me like "off you go and write your own contract".

5. Senior officers in the Council should be the ‘senior officers of the whole borough’ working across current organisational boundaries, leading
programmes of work relating to key problems and challenges rather than service departments.

This seems to be saying that there will not actually be senior officers responsible for making sure departments work properly. I guess this means that if, for example, the Finance Department screw up and lose £27.4 Million pounds gambling on dodgy investments, then there will be no one responsible within that department. Mind you we'll have a senior officer allocated to deal with the key problem.

6. The Council must ensure that local public services provide value for money.

You may think that on the face of it, this statement sounds hard to argue with. Mind you, how would you assess whether a department has delivered "value for money". Lets take the case of baby P in Haringey. Did Social Services there deliver "value for money". Would we expect social services to say "Well we could intervene, but would it deliver value for money?" These type of statements are all very well, but how can you possibly assess what represents "value for money" in such a case. Had baby P been taken into care, then that would have placed an ongoing cost on the social services department. Leaving him with the Parents was far cheaper. Departments such as Social Services and Education have tough decisions to take every single day. How can these be assessed as being value for money, many services will never be "value for money", they are done because they have to be done. You give them the appropriate level of funding necessary to do the job.

Prejudice, Brian Coleman and the BNP

I've lived in Mill Hill virtually all my life. I know all sorts of people from all walks of life and I do my best to try and get on with just about everyone. I have very strong views about quite a few things. One thing I have a big problem with is prejudice of any sort. If you look at the word, it is derived from an abbreviation of Prejudging. Prejudging means that you think you can anticipate the actions of someone. If I was to set up a tent in Mill Hill Broadway and tell you that I was able to anticipate your actions, you'd probably think I was a nutcase. You would probably be right to think so. If I had that ability, I'd be living in Burmuda with my winnings on the horses. Prejudice means that you believe that someone is likely to behave in a certain manner, without any actual evidence they will. In it's mildest form it goes along the lines of "red haired people are hot headed". In a more extreme form, you get racial prejudice. This in effect means that someone is deemed to be a lesser person because of skin colouration.

If you do a DNA test of just about anyone in the UK, you'll find strains of all sorts of races. There is one you are rather unlikely to find - that of the Pict's - the earliest dwellers of these Islands. We've had the Celts, the Romans, The Vikings, the Normans, etc, etc. All of these have left their mark on the country. None of them are indigenous. One thing you can be sure of, is that there are no political parties demanding that Great Britain be returned to the Picts (or the Celts, Normans or Romans). The BNP would like us to favour "The British" in law. Presumably at some arbitary point, a stake is nailed in the ground and that is the point where you become British.

Their assertion is that other races have nothing to offer us. A quick walk around London reveals some fine buildings. I have an interest in Victiorian Architecture. Buildings built when Great Britain ruled the world are amongst the finest in the world. Engineering feats such as St Pancras Station and Tower Bridge are fine examples of our creativeness, intelligence and technical prowess as a race. My point is that these fine buildings and the wealth of the Victorian era were based on "The British Empire". It wasn't just us. It was Africa, India, America and Asia. All contributed to our financial power. In the second world war there were armies from all over the Commonwealth fighting. Millions of men under the Union flag. These armies played a major part in the final victory.

Now what parties of prejudice say is that we are not grateful for these sacrifices. They say we've taken the wealth from the Empire to build up our country, we've taken the blood sacrifice of Commonwealth soldiers and now we want to slam the door in their face. The nurses, the bus drivers, the road sweepers, the doctors, the home helps, the hospital cleaners - they are deemed to be somehow inferior, their contribution devalued, their hard work, often for low pay, unappreciated.

When you put it like that, the message of racial prejudice is not really very appealing is it? As the British are a fair minded people, we don't really want to have anything to do with such a message. The BNP have recognised this fact and tried to find other ways to package their message. They are looking for some attractive wrapping paper for their views. Some sugar to hide the nasty taste. It seems that one message they have decided might work rather well is to draw attention to how tawdry, grasping and corrupt the mainstream parties are.

In a recent post, I drew attention to our very own Barnet Councillor, Brian Coleman and his rather excessive list of free lunches (often at fund raising events). His massive, taxpayer funded Taxi bill, has also been the subject of many lines of press. Well it seems that Brian Coleman isn't the only person who has benefitted from the hospitality and the free rides, he's received. I got an email asking me if I'd checked how many free dinners the GLA's only BNP member had. Any guesses? Well he's not declared a single thing. Now my first reaction was "Billy no mates" (or should that be "Dicky no mates"). I suspect few organisations or charities wish to be associated with Barnbrook or the BNP (of course the BNP draw a totally different conclusion). What the email told me is that Brian Coleman's largess is actually being used by the BNP. He is being used as an example of how "corrupt" the system is. The following is a quote from a BNP website about Coleman. This is just one of many :-

Speaking to a reporter for the London Evening Standard, BNP assembly member Richard Barnbrook, who also sits on the audit panel, said that Mr Coleman’s expense account “paints the assembly in a bad light” “We can’t have members being brought into disrepute, with papers making statements about the abuse of council tax money.”.

So there you go. Now the question has to be "Would the BNP comment on Colemans expenses unless they thought it would help them?" Of course they wouldn't. There are no stories about Andrew Dismore helping working class families on the Grahame Park Estate, they only post "useful" stories.

The mere fact that Coleman's taxi expenses are more than the rest of the GLA put together, shows that he is the exception, but he is causing major damage to the reputation of his colleagues. The problem is that there is no justification for his behaviour. His colleagues really must recognise this fact and address it, by refusing to do so they are condoning it and ultimately helping the BNP get their message across. Do his colleagues really want to hand parties of hate open goals? The sad truth is that Brian Coleman and his outrageous behaviour has become a propoganda tool for the BNP.

I run a recording studio. We have an old adage that "you can't polish a turd" - It doesn't stop certain people from trying very hard to prove the adage wrong - it seems that Coleman's expenses are applying the polish.

Coleman must go for the good of all London.

Friday 28 November 2008

Future shape of the council - Update

The above diagram is taken from the BarnetCouncil cabinet briefing paper, due to be debated on 3rd December. This is available HERE to download the full document.

What the big oval saying "Joint Venture" means is that these services are no longer under direct control of the council and there is no democratic accountability. A contract will be signed and that is that. Barnet Homes is run along these lines and we've all seen the stories about what happened there.

To help understand what this means, I've pasted a description of how this will work, from the document with a few comments of my own (Italic Bold)

9.6 Proposals for a model of service delivery: A Special Purpose Vehicle and the reconfiguration of services

9.6.1 To build capacity to work with delivery partners and to free up the Council to focus on strategic activity, it is proposed that we explore the feasibility of developing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help us to do this. The SPV could be a joint venture (JV), between Barnet Council and one or more private, public or voluntary sector partners. A JV is proposed because it creates a means through which the Council could attract expertise and innovation from other sectors, as well as one in which it has a major stake.

Barnet Council say that they can't attract "expertise and innovation" from other sectors? What on earth does this mean - do they want Louis Hamilton to drive a dustcart? Surely they should be concentrating on running the basic services properly. If there is a specific problem which needs addressing, then deal with it. I am intrigued by the idea of outsourcing "citizen access". Does this mean that if you need to query why your bin hasn't been emptied, you'll ring a continent on the other side of the world? My wife once tried to book a train ticket from London to Sheffield using the Midland Mainline call centre and was asked "What is a Sheffield?".

9.6.2 This SPV would take the outcomes defined by the Council and its partners and develop them into programmes for implementation. The SPV would have the capacity and expertise to change the way public services are currently configured in the borough and to re-order them to achieve the aims of the Council and its partners. It could attract expertise from the private, public and voluntary sectors and work closely with markets to test and develop models of service delivery. It would not deliver services itself but would be responsible for managing the alliances procured. In time it would be able to sell its services to other public sector agencies and thus a JV would provide potential for future income generation for the Council.

"test and develop models of service delivery"? I saw what happened when they tested and developed an outsourced meals on wheels service for my mum. Late or no delivery at all, Cold food, poor nutritional value. They are talking about providing vital services for vulnerable people, not launching a new brand of lipstick. In effect it is saying the council hires the SPV and then the SPV hires someone else to do the work. How on earth can it be efficient to have an extra layer of bureaucracy and an extra layer of contracts? I should imagine that the lawyers will be rubbing their hands.

9.6.3 Services might be combined and provided differently in order to achieve priority outcomes. For example, in many cases, public services might be better configured around critical challenges or processes rather than within traditional service boundaries. So instead of the Council, the PCT, and Jobcentre Plus all having customer access functions, there could be a single public service access organisation. Equally, in order to encourage citizen self-reliance and drive service improvement from citizens’ perspectives, the JV could procure a self-help and citizen advocacy service for the borough. Elements of adults and children’s social services and housing could be combined to create an organisation whose role is to build the resilience and support the independence of vulnerable people.

This is truly bizarre. Combining the PCT (ie healthcare) with the Jobcentre? So you go to the Doctor if you are unemployed? As to supporting the independence of vulnerable people. We have seen many cases of seriously mentally ill people falling off the radar due to care in the community. How on earth do you support the independence of a six year old child in care. Send them up the Chimney?

9.6.4 These are examples of a possible future shape of public service in Barnet (see figure 2 below for a more comprehensive picture). In order to further develop the model and its potential costs and benefits, it is proposed that the feasibility of reconfiguring services along these lines should also be investigated as part of the next phase of the programme, alongside exploring the feasibility of a SPV.

This really makes me sick. In effect this is PwC (or whoever drew this bit of the report up) recommending that they do more work for the council, drawing up more of these reports, written in meaningless jargon. How much per day do these consultants cost? All I see is very woolly examples of completely mad concepts being described. Is there no one in the Cabinet of Barnet Council with the guts to say "This is rubbish"? I've worked with consultants in the past and the one thing you can guarantee is that they always recommend is more reports and more expense. What we need is less layers of management, less layers of contracts and more people on the ground doing the work. Any scheme which introduces yet another layer of highly paid people in the middle of the decision chain is wasteful and expensive. I've been a director of various companies for many years now. I'm a member of the Federation of Small Businesses. I know how to achieve cost savings and efficiency and introducing the need for more middle managers, more lawyers and more accountants is not the way. Surely there are some competant businessmen in the Barnet Conservative Party who can have a quiet word in Mike Freer's ear?

Told off by a Tip Top Tory

It seems that my blog is reaching parts other blogs cannot reach. I got an email from an extremely senior and nationally well known member of the Conservative Party asking me to ring for a chat. He'd read my "open letter to Mike Freer" blog and been rather interested by it. He felt that I'd made my point well and that "it is a shame that there appears to be a lack of transparency" in the whole future shape discussion. He suggested that I remind the leadership of the council about what the Conservative Party should stand for.

* Open, Honest and Transparent Governance
* Pragmatic decision making
* Making Town Halls more accountable to Local people
* Restoring public trust in politics

The Conservative Party website (click HERE) says what the party stands for. If you compare and contrast this with the Tories plans for regeneration and Future shape, it is clear that they are not following Party Policy.

On the subject of Democracy, the Tories say "We need radical change to restore public trust in politics and increase public engagement in the decision-making process." (Click HERE to see their full views on Democracy).

I'd suggest that "Future Shape" discussions would be a good place to start this radical change. I wondered why a senior Tory would bother to contact me. Rather interestingly, he'd been sent the link by a local Tory supporter who was worried about the discussions. It seems that the last thing the Tories want is a high profile council carrying on in this fashion in the run up to an election.

I'm rather hoping that pressure will be brought to bear in other quarters. I'm not a fool and I realise that a Tory Council will try and implement Tory policies. What both I and (it seems) some rather senior Tories agree about, is that the "Future Shape" discussions should be carried out in a more open and honest fashion.

Oh and by the way, what did he tell me off about? Well he said that he thought the future shape blogs were very interesting and informative. He said that I really should lay off the gratuitous Brian Coleman bashing if I wanted the blogs to be taken as seriously as they should be. I think "Future shape" is important enough to listen to this advice for the time being.

A bit of discreet and friendly advice never goes amiss. Unlike our beloved Council Leader, I'm prepared to listen to advice from people on the other side of the Political Spectrum when it is sensible.

Thursday 27 November 2008

The Complete list of Brian Coleman's achievements as a Councillor

Just to show that I am unbiased and fairminded, I thought I'd make a comprehensive list of all the great things Councillor Brian Coleman has achieved since he got into power in 2002 and became a "PLAYER".

1. Nothing

If anyone thinks this is unfair, please post something which justifies his huge expenses. This is an open forum so if anyone can show a tangible achievement for the good of Barnet Council Tax Payers, here's your chance to show what a fool I am.

Barnet Council - Future shape update

Over the next few days I will be focussing on the Future Shape discussions (unless the Cabinet minister for free dinners puts his foot in his mouth again).

Today we have a quick look at section 9.2.1 of this report. My comments are in bold italics.

9.2 The case for change
9.2.1 The Council has built its success on clear prioritisation (high performance, low cost) and strong performance management. This has worked well in delivering specific services reflected in our four star CPA status. But stubborn challenges remain and new ones are emerging in terms of the ability of services to achieve actual outcomes for our community:

So they have Four stars and the current system is doing well according to the report? I thought there was an old adage, if it ain't broke don't fix it. It strikes me that there is significant scope for the Outsourcing to damage services and incur costs. I am intrigued by the phrase "actual outcomes". What is the opposite of an "actual outcome"? This is management consultant gobbldygook designed to hide a lack of sensible, implementable schemes.

• A significant health gap remains in the borough – e.g. the number of deaths from coronary heart disease per 100,000 population in the borough’s most deprived wards is 50 per cent higher than in its most affluent wards

No surprise here? Poor people with rotten diets die earlier. I would have thought that promoting healthy eating in schools would have been one way to address this, but as Jamie Oliver showed, the budget for school dinners does not support good nutrition. There was a marked drop in quality when the Meals on Wheels contract was outsourced to Sodexho. I know, my poor old mum had to suffer the consequences of that debacle and it nearly killed her

• The Council spends £16 million each year on 300 children in the care system. Yet their life chances are still substantially different from those of other children living in the borough – e.g. 24 per cent achieve five GCSEs compared to the Barnet average of over 60 per cent

According to this figure, each child in care costs the taxpayer £53,333 - on the face of it a significant sum. Given that they are in care because something has gone seriously wrong in their life, it would be amazing if they didn't score significantly worse than the average. It is not as if they randomly pluck children out and hot house them at Eton. It strikes me that this is one of those statistics that whilst on the face of it shows poor performance, is actually a statement of the obvious - ie The 300 Children with the most difficult upbringing in Barnet will significantly underperform the average. Mind you, the children probably could be sent to a boarding school for £55,000 - so I suppose that is an "outsourced approach which may boost their GCSE performance

• Landfill tax is increasing by £8 per tonne. This means a £1 million increase in cost to the Council, the equivalent of a 0.65 per cent Council Tax rise. This is before taking into account the significant population growth predicted for Barnet and increasing waste production by existing residents

How on earth will outsourcing council services make people produce less rubbish? I have a novel suggestion for outsourcing. Make customers give the unused packaging back to the supermarket they bought the item from. Let the supermarket deal with the rubbish they generate. Charge residents £5 a collection for any supermarket waste in their rubbish. Draconian, yes, but it would deliver us a tax cut and boost recycling. It would only be a stealth tax if you were too lazy to take your waste back.

• Although our customer satisfaction rate is high compared to similar boroughs, it has shown no significant improvement for several years despite measurable improvements in service quality and value for money

No improvement for several years? Is this since the Mike Freer took over? Is this since the Tories took over? When did it all go wrong? We should be told

• Despite the relatively low cost of services the Council still faces a significant, year on year financial challenge.

Let me translate back into plain English "We're doing OK keeping costs down. We'll have to work even harder to keep them down in future" - I'd suggest that cutting down on fat fees for management consultants, who can't use one word when five will do would be a start.

And Finally .....

Section 9.2.2 contains probably the most nonsensical piece of management consultant waffle, I've ever read. Bear in mind this sentence probably cost the council about £50 (Lord alone knows how much the actual Henley Centre report cost), tell me what you think? "Research by the Henley Centre shows that people expect to see their needs defined in terms of how they live their lives rather than in terms of professional disciplines." How much would you pay for that piece of research?

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Future shape of Barnet Council - An open letter to Mike Freer

Dear Councillor Freer,

I am writing you an open letter regarding the current Future Shape of the Council discussions. I am hopeful that you will read this letter and be prepared to accept some constructive input regarding the process.

Given the importance of this process for many residents of the Borough and the huge implications of any poor decisions regarding the future of the council, there can be no argument that it is in everyone's interest for the right decisions to be made. As the Conservative group on the council has a working majority, in effect this means that the opportunity is there to impose whatever they decide, regardless of the quality of the decision.

Although the various stakeholders affected by these decisions will all have different views on "the best way to do things", the dominant position of the Conservative Council allows for the process to be implemented in a manner of their choosing. As with any tough decision, there are two ways this can be done.Decisions can be taken in secret huddles, behind closed doors, using the majority block to "rubber stamp" the decisions. The alternative is to hold genuine, open, honest discussions where outcomes are not prejudged and decisions are not foregone conclusions. Input from stakeholders into the process may give valuable insights, which Councillors in darkened rooms, far removed from the nuts and bolts of the daily functioning of a department may be unaware.

It seems to me that an open and honest process with input from all sides being welcomed is far more likely to result in an efficient, well run and capable Council. If the proponents of outsourcing can make a strong case that can withstand proper public scrutiny, then this is far more likely to be a successful project than one devised and delivered in secret. I cannot see why a council should be so scared of input that it is worried about holding open discussions and public consultations. If organisations such as the trades unions, the opposition and the public in general make observations, the comments either have merit and can be shown to have merit or are fatuous and can be shown to be fatuous. Ultimately input from critics can only strengthen a process and remove obvious pitfalls. It may well be that 90% of the input is ignored, but if the 10% you adopt improves the process and saves money, surely the process of consultation has been justified.

There is a great fear in the borough, not just on the left, that decisions have been made for ideological reasons, behind closed doors and will be steamrollered through Council. If this is not the case, then prove it by opening up the debate and having proper scrutiny. If it is the case, there is a strong likelyhood that the process will fail and cost the hard pressed taxpayers of Barnet even more money and deliver a poorer quality of service to the most vulnerable people in the Borough.

I cannot believe that an open, honest and modern leader of a London Council would wish to implement a flawed process so please consider the points I have made and open this process up to proper scrutiny. Please allow all affected stakeholders a fair say in the proceedings and do not make any decisions until all of the facts have been considered and the best case options identified.

Yours Sincerely

Roger Tichborne

Future shape of the Council - Latest

This is from the council's own briefing document

9.2.5 The Future Shape of the Council programme aims to develop these green shoots of ‘next practices’ that are already emerging across Council services and within the wider public sector. However, the current shape of the Council means that it is trying to do all of the following:

• Seeking continually to improve the cost and performance of all services
• Working with partners to ensure that priorities are aligned and services combined to achieve the best value for customers and tax payers alike
• Keeping track of how the borough is changing and the experiences of old and new communities within Barnet
• Understanding how to ‘transform’ services so that they fit the busy and complex lives of Barnet residents and businesses
• Working out how to intervene early in situations to prevent the need for costly service provision at a later date
• Finding ways to encourage self-help and develop networks that build social capital in the borough
• Making the best use of resources and dealing with budget constraints
• Constantly looking to the future to anticipate and manage the risk presented by changes in demography, technology, expectations, etc

I'm not going to add a comment right now, I'll let you all draw your own conclusions, based on their past form.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

example of "Leader Listens" in action

I want my money back. Mike Freer, Leader of Barnet Council seems to have been caught wasting our money. We, the taxpayer, have paid £400 for a blog for him. We've paid for the council to set up leader listens meetings in Barnet. We've paid for these meetings to be video'd and put on you tube. If the council spends a load of cash on a program called Leader Listens and then he goes to a meeting and say's he's not listening, surely he should personally pay the money back and apologise.

If I buy a Steak and Kidney pie from Tesco's and when I get home find out that it is made from Pork, I can get a refund as I didn't buy a Pork pie. Similarly if Mike Freer spends a load of cash promoting a program to say he's listening, then he goes to his meeting and say's he isn't, that's a Pork pie we didn't want as well Surely we deserve a refund?

So what am I on about. Well on the "vickim57 (currently residing in Barnet)" blog I found the following quote (Click HERE for full story)

A Barnet resident attended Leader Listens in north Finchley. She was rather dismayed by the reaction she got from Leader of Barnet council Mike Freer when she asked why Barnet council weren't informing the public about their 'Future Shape' deliberations. He said (I'm paraphrasing): the residents of Barnet voted for councillors to act on their behalf, to make decisions, without any necessity to get the opinions of local residents. If local residents don't like councillors' decisions, we can vote them out at the end of four years.

Leader Listens? All rather sad. I want my money back.

Monday 24 November 2008

Councillor Brian Coleman - You're an embarrassment

The London Fire Brigade Museum in Southwark Bridge Road could be shut down according to fire authority chairman Brian Coleman who told a City Hall committee that "when you've seen one brass helmet you have seen them all".

Earlier in the year, I organised a gig for Cancer Charities at the Bull Theatre in Barnet. Top of the bill was Madness Sax player Lee Thompson and the highlight of his set was the Madness hit "Embarrassment" which Lee wrote. This song is all about the situation a young girl finds herself in when she becomes pregnant. It tells how her parents view her behaviour as bringing shame onto the family. Madness are always rightly considered to be a fun band, but I think that the quality and depth of their songs is often overlooked.

I happened to be listening to the track over the weekend and a thought suddenly occurred to me. Do politicians ever get embarrassed by the behaviour of their colleagues? Do they ever think "oh my lord, he's making us all look like fools"? Do they ever think "He's bringing us all into disrepute"? Now maybe I'm biased (no maybe at all really) but I happen to think that Barnet Council is lucky enough to possess the biggest embarrassment on the whole British political scene. Who do I mean (as if you didn't know)? Brian Coleman. This blog isn't about Mr Coleman though. This is about his colleagues in the Conservative Party. Brian Coleman in a recent Newspaper article complained that bloggers are undermining trust in politicians. Councillor Coleman's colleagues should ask themselves this question :-
Who is responsible for the lack of trust?

I can only speak about my blog, but I write about items of interest and public record. If Councillor Coleman runs up a taxi bill at public expense greater than the rest of the GLA members put together, who has undermined trust? If he is in charge of road safety and he loses his license for speeding, who's fault is it? If he makes outrageous statements about British Athletes returning from their most successful ever Olympic games, who's fault is it? If he has a list as long as your arm of free lunches (many in aid of Charity) whilst earning £85,000 a year at the taxpayers expense, who's fault is it? If he complains about the lack of trust in politicians caused by unfair bloggers, yet makes unproven accusations about a deceased Prime Minister and Tory Leader's exploits in public toilets, in his now defunct magazine blog, who's fault is it?

Leader of Barnet Council, Mike Freer clearly thinks that Coleman is a shining example of a modern Conservative politician. He has given him a senior cabinet role. The North London Conservative Association think Mr Coleman is the best example of a Tory Politician, as they chose him as our GLA member. All of his Barnet Council colleagues clearly agree with his comments about the Olympic athlete's as not a single one offered the mildest criticism about him. The nearest I got to any sort of censure was a comment on Mill Hill Broadway from Deputy Leader Matthew Offord, who told me "Brian is Brian" when I asked of his opinion. The trouble is, Matthew, that he's not only "Brian", he's a senior Tory. He is an example of what you all aspire to. He is the highest paid Barnet Tory. He's the highest profile Barnet Tory.

Let me tell you a very sad thing about Councillor Brian Coleman. My children don';t read my blogs, they are not at all interested in Politics. My eldest daughter is a highly talented swimmer and at 13 is in the Olympic development program. When Coleman made his outburst about the British Olympic team, she heard about his comments in the Press and read his article. She was disgusted by them. Recently she had to receive a couple of awards from the Mayor. A few days before the presentation, she took me to one side and said "Is that guy from the council, who said those things about the Olympic team going to be at the reception". I honestly didn't know. She said that she didn't want to go if he was. I had to explain that the award was recognition from Barnet and that if he was their it was in his official role. I told her that if her career takes off, she would have to receive many awards from politicians she didn't like and she'd have to learn to be polite and have manners. As it was, Coleman wasn't their and she had a very nice chat with the Mayor, Councillor John Marshall, who impressed her greatly. She later asked me whether Councillor Marshall agreed with Coleman, as he certainly seemed to be interested in sports. The only honest answer I could give her was "I doubt it, we all know people who say silly things occasionally and politicians are no exception".

Councillor Coleman clearly doesn't care what I think of him. I suspect that his "I don't like my freer dinner to be disturbed by boring speeches" rant was a direct riposte to my blog about his free dinner list. The interesting question is what his Conservative Colleagues think. If they think he's what a modern Tory should exemplify, fine business as usual. If, as I suspect, they find him to be an embarrassment, who lurches from one gaffe to the next, consuming all free hospitality before him, surely they should do us, the taxpayer and their own reputations a power of good by sacking him.

To part with, here is a little ditty my dad used to sing to me when I younger. I think it rather describes the situation the Colleagues of Mr Coleman find themselves in. Maybe they should follow the example set :-

The Famous Pig Song

The Famous Pig Song
(Clarke Van Ness, music by F. Henri Klickmann)

'Twas an evening in October, I'll confess I wasn't sober,
I was carting home a load with manly pride,
When my feet began to stutter and I fell into the gutter,
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
Then I lay there in the gutter and my heart was all a-flutter,
Till a lady, passing by, did chance to say:
"You can tell a man that boozes by the company he chooses,"
Then the pig got up and slowly walked away.

Walked away, walked away,
He was really too particular to stay.
"You can tell a man that boozes by the company he chooses,"
Then the pig got up and slowly walked away.

I began to scratch the gravel, on my all fours I did travel,
I rambled down the road the best I could.
When I awoke next morning, just as the day was dawning,
I was in a hog pen away out in the woods.
Then the hogs began to grumble, I started and I stumbled,
I fell right in their midst and there I lay.
Then one by one they started, till all the herd departed,
Yes, every hog got up and walked away.

Walked away, etc.

Sunday 23 November 2008

"We ain't got nothing to hide" - Barnet Council's twelve nightmares

Being a music obsessed Punk rocker, I was rather amused to note that an ageing hippy seems to have joined the Barnet blogging scene. There have been various comments left on some of the local blogs by a certain "Dr Sardonicus". Now whilst I have no idea who Barnet's Dr Sardonicus may be, he is clearly a lover of late 1960's psychedelic rock music. The "12 dreams of Dr Sardonicus" was an album by psychedelic rock ensemble Spirit. Being vaguely aware of the album, I thought I'd refresh my acquaintance with the album and see why Dr Sardonicus had chosen his handle to comment on the political scene in Barnet. As a staring point I did a Wikipedia search (check HERE for the full details).

What amused me, was looking through the tracklist of the album, maybe we have a rather good commentary on the situation in Barnet. Maybe Dr Sardonicus has found his own "Da Vinci code" revelations in the Album. Here's my take on what he may have uncovered.

1. "Prelude – Nothin' to Hide"

The album opens with "Nothin' to Hide". Those of us who read the Barnet Council Watch story about Leo Bolands trip to Boston (click HERE) will see that this song is really one that Mike Freer should download and listen to.

2. "Nature's Way"

Well given the council's plan to transform the Sanders Way nature reserve into a two lane highway, maybe Councillor Harper should have a listen to this gem and reconsider this policy.

3. "Animal Zoo"

I must say that my recent trip up to the council meeting certainly reminded me a bit of this song. The way that all of the Tories manage to put their hand up to pass motion after motion congratulating themselves, certainly reminded me of the Sheep enclosure I visited at Queensland Zoo last year.

4. "Love Has Found a Way"

Well seeing some of the husband and wife teams on the council ( Tambourides, Palmers,etc) maybe there is something to be said for standing for council (other than the allowances).

5. "Why Can't I Be Free?"

This seems to be the Song Mike Freer's Leader Listens blog should be singing. Unlike everyone else's blog it costs the taxpayer £400.

6. "Mr. Skin"

Now clearly this is about Brian Coleman and it's full title should be Mr Thick Skin, following his latest column in the Barnet Press where he claims that his life is intolerable having to attend so many banquets, eat so much dinner and drink so much wine, at other peoples expense.

7. "Space Child"

Given that there are two stories in the Edgware Times (Click HERE and HERE) about major finds of Cannabis in Edgware this week, could it be that we are living in the new Ashbury Height? It certainly seems that the Barnet Drug and Alcohol service seem to think so with their scheme to roll out an incentive program for drug users (click HERE to read about this)

8. "When I Touch You"

This is clearly about the council's reverse midas touch. It seems that everything we read about them involves cost overruns, late delivery and poor service.

9. "Street Worm"

Could this be a reference to the many instances of playing fields being closed by the council, resulting in large groups of kids having nowhere to go and hanging around on street corners? Pavillion way being the latest example of this shameful policy.

10. "Life Has Just Begun"

Clearly a reference to our outgoing Chief executive, Leo Boland and his new job at the GLA on a salary of £210,000. It seems the nice business class trip to Boston for a leadership course(at our expense) has opened a whole new set of doors for him.

11. "Morning Will Come"

A song about the next election and the hope that maybe there is a change at the top of the Council.

12. "Soldier"

A song about the Council's plans to build yet another mini city on the site of the former Inglis Barracks at Mill Hill east, without thinking about the strain on schools, doctors, hospitals etc.

13. "Rougher Road"

Well as the interest from Icelandic banks was paying for the road resurfacing program, it looks like this is what we can expect in Barnet in years to come. Viva Mike Freer and his Midas touch with our cash.

14. "Red Light Roll On (Additional Single)" *

Now this can only be about our favourite Councillor Brian Coleman and his column amongst all the adds for brothels in the Barnet Press. When a Lib Dem asked him if he was going to ask the paper it writes a column for, whether they would follow the example of the Times and ban the Sex services ads, Coleman replied "Red Light Roll on" (Well actually he said "No" but it means the same thing doesn't it.

So there you go. I've no idea whether Dr Sardonicus had this in mind when he made his posts, but it certainly seems to be that he's hit the nail on the head. Now you may say "How come 14 tracks on the 12 dreams album?" Well unlike the 8% of Council reserve funds Barnet have lost, it seems with Spirit you got 16% extra free.

If anyone else out there reading this knows of any other obscure 1960's Psychedelic concept albums, predicting the shenanigans of Barnet Council, I'd love to here from you !

Friday 21 November 2008

Barnet Latest : Incentive scheme for Crackheads

Like most parents I'm really proud of my Kids. They are all really talented and bright. I was especially proud of my eldest daughter last week when she went along to receive a GLL grant from the Mayor, Councillor John Marshall at Copthall Leisure Centre. She is a swimmer and she came 2nd at National Swimming championships in Sheffield in the summer. At the ceremony, the mayor chatted with her and told her how impressed he was with her getting up 4 times a week at 4.30 am to train. In total she trains 9 times and swims approx 60 km a week. Later the same day, the Mayor bumped into her again as she'd won a Jack Petchey award and was receiving it at the Arts Depot in Finchley. Many other kids were also receiving awards and the Mayor rightly paid tribute to them.

I think that schemes such as the the GLL and Jack Petchey ones are a fantastic idea. They reward youngsters who excel and this promotes the concept of great role models. My own daughter was inspired in her swimming career by fellow Barnet Swimmer Sarah Price (now retired) who won gold at the Commonwealth games. If my daughter does as well as she hopes to, Sarah Price will be owed a large debt of gratitude.

So what has all of this got to do with crackheads? Well it seems that doing well in sport at a national level isn't the only way you can get a bit of sponsorship for your training program in Barnet. There is a report in this weeks Barnet Press that the Barnet Drug and Alcohol service is piloting a scheme for the NHS to provide up to £200 of gym vouchers for drug addicts (click HERE for link). Now while I thoroughly agree with the concept of rehabilitating drug users, you have to look at the wider picture. What message is this sending out to youngsters when they see a title in the Barnet Press "Incentive scheme to help drug users". Does it reinforce the message that they should be avoiding drugs? does it say to them "take drugs and you may ruin your life"? To me it says something completely different. It may well be that getting crackheads down the gym will help them rehabilitate themselves, but the concept of "rewards" in this context is repulsive to me. The article says

"Similar trials in the US have shown that participants stayed drug-free for twice as long as those not receiving incentives."

Thats all well and good, but what about the rest of us. What incentive do we get? Those of us who haven't fallen off the ladder. It seems that the harder you try, the less you get. There are millions of us who have gym membership, we all receive huge health benefits from it (lower blood pressure, less risk of heart attack). We all save the NHS a fortune, what incentive is there for us. If they want to have a free gym voucher scheme, open it up to everyone.

If you become a crackhead of a junkie, you loose it. That would be a fair scheme. This scheme stinks

Best Tory Councillor in Barnet Competition - Current Leader !!!!

Credit where credit is due. You may think that all I do is go around moaning about how useless various Conservative Councillors are and finding faults with everything they do. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth and I'm happy to write nice things about any Councillor who deserves it and is doing a good job.

One Councillor who is clearly doing a great job is Hale Councillor Richard Wieder. He runs a blog (a free one on blogspot). On his latest entry he has mentioned he's attending a Council meeting and is asking for us to give him any questions to ask which we may have. I think that this is a really interesting and innovative idea and hope that many people come up with useful questions.

It seems to me that Richard is doing what a local Councilor should in an interesting and dynamic way and deserves some recognition for it. I hope people use his forum and post good questions. That is how local democracy should work.

Click HERE for Richards blog

Thursday 20 November 2008

Brian Coleman - The man with no manners at all

"Manners maketh man" This was a phrase my mum often quoted at me. She didn't care how rich or poor someone was. She didn't care what they did for a living. She wasn't impressed by how well they dressed. If they had good manners they were welcome and if they didn't they weren't asked back. That is why every year, the dustmen collecting their Christmas box were asked in for a tot of whisky and a mince pie. It is also why she couldn't stand a very high profile, former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who was once a customer of my father's business and asked him to take his business elsewhere.

She brought me up to always appreciate hospitality. Any kindness no matter how small or large should be received with a humble thank you. Sometimes you may not particularly enjoy it, but all the same you show appreciation and good manners.

It seems that one of our local Councillors was brought up to have rather different standards. I had fully intended to write a blog about something completely different, but I picked up the Barnet Press and just couldn't let this pass.

Councillor Brian Coleman, my GLA representative has a column in the Barnet Press. It is on page 9. The title this week is "The real cost of my free dinner". It is an article about his recent attendance at the annual Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall.

Coleman says "Times may be hard in the City of London, but the new Lord Mayor, the rather sensible and level-headed Alderman Ian Luder, ensured that guests, led by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, enjoyed traditional City hospitality". In laymans terms a great big slap up dinner with lots of free booze (not your ASDA own brand either).

Coleman, complaining about a boring speech from Gordon Brown, continues
"In order to keep myself awake - as Boris Johnson said to me, the only way to get through this evening is to drink all the alcohol put before you - I started counting the platitudes that flowed effortlessly from the PM. 'We must go forward not backwards' he said as the chief commoner nodded off, 'look to tomorrow not yesterday' as the retiring Chief of the General Staff nodded sagely".

In this day and age when most city workers are worrying about their next mortgage payment, rather than their next free dinner, Coleman shows what he really cares about. Himself. Doesn't he realise that when you receive an invitation for dinner, it really isn't the done thing to complain in the press about how boring it was. Not only that but isn't it bad form to start implying other guests felt the same. If you have to attend a banquet and you are stuck next to Coleman, what indiscretion will he print about you in next week's paper?

In a world where many people in Africa are walking miles for a bag of rice to feed their family, Brian Coleman thinks a difficult meal is one where he has to be quiet and listen to someone else for ten minutes. I'd advise this note of caution to the many individuals and organisations who invite Coleman to all of his free dinners listed elsewhere on this blog. If he doesn't like your choice of speaker or finds something to taunt a fellow diner with in his column the following week, he will. The proof is there on page 9 of the Press. If I were you I'd find someone with grace and good manners to ask. Perhaps someone who would actually appreciate a decent slap up meal, rather than drone on like a spoilt 13 year old "it's all so dull".

You can just see a red faced, puffy cheeked, bloated Coleman at the end of the night, as he get's into his taxpayer funded cab home, exclaiming "The things I have to suffer for my constituents".

Memo to Boris and Dave : Is this really the face of modern Conservatism you want to project?

Wednesday 19 November 2008

The Barnet Eye Weekly News Round up

All part of the service. Here's a few news items and stories which caught my eye this week.

One that caught my eye was a story detailing the appalling way that the NHS treat elderly patients. Click HERE. This is a national scandal and credit to the Express for an excellent story.

On the local scene the Times reports of another car crash, the fourth since Partingdale Lane reopened. Click HERE. I suppose that Brian Coleman will be back in the news blaming the residents for having the audacity to park outside there own homes or some such other nonsense.

In the Barnet Press we have a story detailing how the £27.4 million lost (sorry I mean mislaid) in Icelandic Banks is going to affect the Barnet Schools rebuilding program. This is possibly the first tangible effect of this monumental cock up. Click HERE

Probably the most important local campaign is the fight against the Future Shape of The Council. This remarkably stupid scheme plans to "outsource" all of the council provided services. Avid readers of this blog know how good our council are at drawing up contracts (Underhill), managing Contractors (Aerodrome Road) and Outsourcing (Meals on Wheels) so I'd suggest you come along to the mass lobby of the Council Meeting. Here's a link to a video of the TUC public meeting on the 11th. It is well worth watching. A fine explanation by Professor Dexter Whitfield of what is going on. This is probably the best explanation of the process I've heard. No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, this will really help you understand what is going on. Click HERE. There is a great report from the Times HERE.

One interesting thing on the Barnet Council website. The Mayor and Mike Freer staged a reception for leaders of the Muslim Community. Click HERE for details. It seems this follows on from a reception for Cypriots and Hindu's. Am I being stupid in thinking it would have been better to get all of the various groups together for a reception, rather than holding separate events. This way divisions could be discussed and solutions to problems found. I don't think that giving a few top dignitaries a sausage roll really serves any useful purpose, whatever their denomination.

Anyway I'm off to do my Brian Coleman impersonation. Yes I've been invited for a free dinner at AWANA, London's finest Malaysian Restaurant in Sloane Avenue, near South Kensington. Joyce and Eddie who run it are good friends and they are celebrating it's third Birthday. Click HERE to find out how London Eating rates it.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Can we trust Mike Freer?

If a man is dishonest in small things, would you trust him with large things? If a man cannot be trusted, would we want him representing us? Would we want him to control a publicly funded information service?

Council Leader has a blog funded by the Barnet Taxpayer called LEADERLISTENS.COM

This is part of his Leader Listens initiative, to get him out and about in the community and to meet the people who elect him. His latest blog, entitled "Local Housing Allowance pays for £1m house, not the Council" (Click HERE for link)makes a rather disturbing claim.

Mike said :-

So why am I blogging about this? Well, if you scratch the surface of 90% of the e-mails I have received what you find is ignorance, namely the flawed Local Housing Allowance banding that can see in excess of £60,000 a year being paid to a landlord to house a family. A system that the Department for Work and Pensions won’t review or cap until April of next year at the earliest.

More worrying in my view is that most e-mails had racist tones and in some cases were just downright racist. They did not object to the tenant living in the property or the level of benefit being paid, they were more concerned about the colour of her skin and ethnic origin than the amounts being claimed.

Mike's previous jobs include being a bookie (working in retail gaming according to his profile) and a banker. As such, we've got to assume he's pretty numerate. Accuracy with figures is essential for both jobs. His statement about the contents of 90% of emails, means that Mike received a minimum of 10 emails on the subject. He claims that "Most Emails had racist tones". From his statement, this means that a minimum of 6 emails were potentially racist (it could possibly have been 60 or 600?). Now one of the BNP's favoured tactics is to claim that there is a huge, suppressed groundswell of support at grassroots level. They claim that "real people" support them. Fortunately this is not borne out by election results or any other method of measuring the views of "real people". In many areas the BNP consider getting 5% of the vote a big success (so much for the groundswell). The mere fact that Mike Freer made the claim about his postbag has given a propaganda victory to the BNP. They can quite honestly claim that the Leader of Barnet Council stated that most of his postbag on the case was from racists.

As if that isn't bad enough, he then added the following comment in response to a question as to whether he intended reporting the racist emails to the police (sending of such emails is illegal).

He said :-

In reference to comments with racist overtones, the email was a from a member of the BNP - a racist organisation - but sadly a legal one and of course whilst an individual on a video clip can be identified, many people hide behind false names and email addresses.

Now all of a sudden the postbag has changed from being most of the emails (of which there was a minimum of 10) to just being a lone BNP fanatic. Which statement is true Mike? they can't both be, can they? Mike has put himself in a position where the BNP can make use him both as a propaganda tool and an example of a mainstream politician lying.

Now I'm going to give Mike Freer the benefit of the doubt on this one. Let me tell you what I think happened. He got a few emails from various sources all telling him a few things he didn't like. In amongst that was a BNP supporter having a rant. Mike was upset by this and wrote his blog. He probably hoped that his blog would nip in the bud any attempt to hijack the story by the BNP. He later realised what he'd done and set out to ensure that he limited the damage caused by the earlier blog which could be construed as useful to the BNP.

Whether my take on it is correct or not, Mike really needs to clarify what he's said. I think the blog has shown poor judgement on his part. He really has to learn to engage his brain and think things through before making statements in the public domain. In answer to my headline - Can we trust Mike Freer? - I guess that I may be able to answer that when we see what he does next.

Monday 17 November 2008

Future shape of your Council Tax bill

Were you a Railtrack shareholder? Depending on whether you sold at their height or when they went bust, you either did very well or lost a potful of money.

Do you commute to work on the railway. If you do, is it a pleasant experience? Has it got better or worse since the demise of BR.

What about your gas bill? Have you noticed that it has gone up recently? Did Sid tell you that it was going up?

What about your electricity bill? What about your water bill? Did you travel through Terminal 5 in the spring (or not as the case may be)?

Well whatever your answer to any of the questions above, there is a common theme running through them. Every question is related to an industry that used to be publicly owned. All of these industries were denationalised in a huge fanfare of publicity. We were told that lean, mean companies would deliver huge cost savings. Prices would tumble, service levels would improve, we'd all become shareholders, we'd all become rich. Well it hasn't really worked out like that has it. As I read that we may have power cuts this winter (see this article in The Daily Mail - click HERE) I wonder whether we've all been had. Our energy companies are in foreign hands, old Power stations are being closed and new ones are not being built, in short the assets are being stripped and the profits not reinvested. As supplies run short, prices go up. The foreign owners make more money for less expenditure. WE PAY. Has privatisation delivered? Lets be charitable and say the jury is still out (29 years after Mrs Thatcher first got elected and started the process). We've actually had to Nationalise banks this year to save the Country. Oh and before I get all of the "Swivel eyed Trotskyite" comments, the Tories nationalised broken banks themselves during the 1979-1997 period.

I'm not anti private companies. If it wasn't for the likes of Freddie Laker and Richard Branson, I'd not have had the great holidays I've had. Lord help us if we'd had nationalised record labels (see what that did to the music scene in the USSR). A nationalised car company would never have created my favourite car, The Corvette. Having shopped in GUM in Moscow in the Soviet years, I can safely say Marks and Spencers certainly do know what they're doing. It is blatantly obvious that the private owners are doing a far better job with The Dome (now the O2) centre, than the Government ever did. It's just that whilst private enterprise does some things well, it's not a universal answer. There are some things where Profit should never be the primary reason for making decisions.

You may wonder what point I'm trying to make? Well Barnet Council are in the process of putting together a new strategy for council services. This is called "Future Shape of the Council". This strategy is based on outsourcing every possible Council service to Private Contractors. My family has had personal experience of Outsourcing of the meals on wheels service for my dear, departed Mum's lunches. This used to be provided by a volountry service, but the Council "outsourced" it to Sodexho (a multinational company). My mum was 82 at the time and disabled. She relied on the meals to allow her to live independently. When the service changed, Lunch didn't come on the first day. The second day it came at 5pm and was inedible. This went on for a week. Because our family made a massive fuss (I'm a stroppy sod and my sister is a Barrister), they made my mum the first drop off. That sorted her out, but what about the poor old dears who had no one to make a fuss for them? I've often wondered just how many were killed by the stress. Not only that but she got a letter 8 months later, just before Christmas, saying they had not taken the direct debit and she owed hundreds of pounds.

So what does this tell us about Barnet council's ability to manage outsourced contracts? To me it says they don't have the expertise. The most important issue when you outsource a contract is to have it properly drawn up. What sort of track record has Barnet got with matters legal? Well they sold Underhill to Barnet football club Holdings. They made such a hash of the sale that various investigations and court cases ensued and they spent over £1 million pounds. All of that for a contract of sale for £15,000!!! They spent hundreds of thousands on legal bills reopening Partingdale Lane. This legal department, with it's truly awful track record, will now become the lynchpin of the council. Every drafting error in every contract will have the potential to cost millions.

If you are a Council Tax payer in Barnet, ask yourself these questions.

a) Do you believe that Privatisation delivers better services?

b) Do you believe Privatisation is guaranteed to cut tax bills?

c) Do you trust Barnet Council's legal service to not make a single error in any contract it drafts?

If you can honestly answer YES to all of the above questions, then you must know something that has passed me by.

If, like me you don't, then you'd better do something about it. I'd suggest that the best way is to make your presence known to your councillors. You can either go to the Council website and get their email address (listed under Councillors) or even better, turn up to the relevant Council cabinet meeting and let them see the strength of opposition to this mad policy. I personally think that Barnet Council have taken quite enough risks recently.

details :-

Wednesday 3 December 2008
Lobby of the Cabinet Committee discussing Barnet Council's future
Rally: 6pm; meeting: 7pm
Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ (nearest tube: Totteridge & Whetstone/Northern Line)
Directions: Barnet council site

Just remember that we, the voters of Barnet can sack Mike Freer, Brian Coleman, Lynne Hillan and all their chums who seem to think this is a good idea at the next election. The more people turn up, the more emails they get telling them it's a bad idea, the more likely they are to change their minds. If you are a Conservative and you think the policy is risky, they are even more likely to listen to an email from you, telling them in a nice way to think again. You'll be doing them a favour in the long run. As to our councillors, I know a few of you read this from time to time. Why not put this policy to one side and concentrate on managing the council properly and cutting costs in ways which do not entail huge risks.

Hope to see you there !

Sunday 16 November 2008

Former Barnet resident : Chief Abiola - an example to Mike Freer

Barnet Council has decided to spend £400 of Taxpayers money setting up a blog for Councillor Mike Freer, Leader of Barnet Council. It is called and if you want to see what Mike has to say, click HERE. Now it may surprise you to know that I think that Mike Freer having a blog is a great idea. I thoroughly disagree with his colleague Brian Coleman (Click HERE to find out about him)who says that blogs are a waste of time and Twitter is for twits (presumably why he thought his leader set up a Barnet Council Twitter site. Click HERE to see what our local twits are up to). Now Mike Freer used to have a blog on the local paper (The Times Group) which he got free of charge. It seems he stopped that when he started his new blog. My blog here on Blogspot is also free. Anyone can have one and even someone (me) described by a certain local Tory Councillor as "an imbecile who's blatherings are only of interest to himself" can easily put one together. Now why Mike needs an expensive blog, when everyone else gets one for free mystifies me, but hey he's not paying, so I guess he doesn't really care.

Having said that I didn't write this to moan about that. I'm writing this blog to have a little discussion about his Blogmaster policies. He's presumably justified the expense of the blog on the grounds that it's a public service. He says he'd love to hear from us, but I know of several people who've posted comments to the blog which have never appeared. In fact the only comments which have been successfully moderated were four comments that were posted between 14:13 and 15:19 on the 4th November. Strangely enough these four comments, the only ones to appear, were all rather tame and were posted on the day of the last Council meeting, when Mike knew he had a plethora of questions regarding his blog from Lib Dem Duncan MacDonald. Now far be it from me to cast doubts about the motives of "Amanda", "Sam" and "Gloria" who all independently posted their questions in a period of just over 1 hour on the day of the council meeting, but it does look rather fishy doesn't it?

In his latest blog Mike bravely puts the boot into the racists who've sent him nasty messages about the single Nigerian mother living on benefits in a house valued by some at £1 Million at taxpayers expense. Now I've had much experience of Nigerians over the years. I worked for a building firm which had many contracts arranged by the Nigerian embassy. One of the last projects I worked on was a large house in Temple Fortune owned by Chief Abiola (click HERE to find out about Chief Abiola). Chief Abiola at the time was running a campaign to become president and replace military rule with a civilian Government. He eventually won an election, but the result was nullified by the Military and they refused to let him take over. Chief Abiola was a highly intelligent man who would sit down with us, share a cup of tea and discuss politics. He was a highly impressive man who had a great understanding of human nature and the way politics works. One of the things which has always stuck in my mind was his analysis of what was wrong with Nigeria and the political system. He stated that as soon as he became president he'd completely abolish all censorship of the press. He said that it was impossible to have a successful country unless you knew what was going on. If you relied on your secret police to tell you, you'd find out nothing. He said that many African leaders clamped down on the press because they didn't like reading nasty things about themselves. He said that they were fools and just censoring the comments didn't stop people saying them. He said that all happened was people ceased trusting the press and believed every rumour, no matter how ridiculous.

It seems that Chief Abiola could teach Mike Freer a thing or two about gaining the trust of your electorate. Mike doesn't publish posts he doesn't like. This makes his blog a highly ineffective medium for communication, and as such it is an even bigger waste of the £400. As the blog is run by the council, to encourage two way dialog, surely Mike's editorial policy is actually an abuse of resources. I don't really have a problem with any of the information he's posted, but I have a massive issue with the fact he apparently accepts comments from the general public, but only prints the ones he likes. In an answer to Councillor MacDonald at the Council Meeting, he stated that the one response he'd had from me was unsuitable for publication. Councillor MacDonald allowed the comment to be printed on his blog (click HERE to see), but Freer wouldn't explain why he'd banned it.

It is quite painfully clear that Mike Freer is censoring his blog. There is a great tradition of free speech in Great Britain. Politicians, especially those standing for Parliament need a thick skin. If you can't stand the heat, you really shouldn't be in the kitchen. All Mike really needs to do is read the comments, publish them, think about the issue raised and post a response when he's got a proper answer. If he has no answers, then I'm afraid he's in the wrong job. Trust the judgement of his readers. If someone posts a ridiculous or unfair comment, then people will see through it. I'd like to see the Leader Listen format work. I think it's a good thing that Mike Freer is going out into the community and taking public questions. I just think it's a shame he ruins it with his Pravda inspired blog policies.

We all know about regimes which are keen on censorship, both past and present. Unlike Tory Councillor Daniel Thomas, I would never compare a mainstream politician to an extremist Party, as that would be most unfair and quite ridiculous. I do however think that history is there to guide us and teach us lessons. The lesson I've learned is that censorship doesn't work.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Councillor Brian Coleman - The Free Dinner register

I happened to be looking at the Gifts & Hospitality register for the London Assembly. There are 25 members. Any gifts or hospitality received from any person which has an estimated value of £25 or more is registered. This is available at the London Assembly website (click HERE)

I was interested to see that of the 311 entries for all the members, just under a quarter were made by one member. You guessed it - our very own Brian Coleman. Here's the list and who's been treating him. For a man on £85,000 a year (paid by us), thats rather a lot of free dinners !!!! There are many things I could say about the list, but I rather think it speaks for itself. I've listed the date, detail and provider as per the register. You can have a look at the other members entries as well.

I would suggest that with all those nice free dinners and nice drinks, maybe one of his rich friends may wish to donate him a cholesterol check and a liver function test.

British Retail Consortium Dinner at Grosvenor House Hotel
British Retail Consortium
Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood & Keats House Management Committees Dinner at Salters Hall, EC2
Corporation of London
Corporation of London Dinner at Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool at the Hilton Hotel
Corporation of London
Dinner at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool
Sita UK
Conservative Friends of Israel Conservative Party Conference Lunch at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool
Conservative Friends of Israel and Mr David Lewis CBE
Visit to Cyprus to attend events organised by the Municipality of Morphou to protest against the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. Flights with Cyprusair to and from Larnaca, 3 nights bed and breakfast at Hilton Park Hotel in Nicosia.
12th October,
Dinner at Cyprus sporting Centre Nicosia.
13th October,
Formal Dinner at Hilton Park Hotel Nicosia.
14th October
lunch at Annivas Restaurant, Astromeritis,
14 Oct
Dinner at Miloi Restaurant Dhali Village.
15th October
Lunch at Evohia Restaurant, Nicosia
Morphou Municipality, 16 Z. Sozou, 1075 Nicosia, Cyprus
Lunch at Byzantino Restaurant in Laiki Geitonia, Cyprus
Union of Municipalities of Cyprus
Illustrated book about Morphou
"Morphou Municipality, 16 Z. Sozou, 1075 Nicosia, Cyprus
British Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group 15th Anniversary Banquet at the House of Lords
British Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group
Two Tickets for the The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival Mayor of London Gala performance of Lust, Caution at the Odeon West End & after film party
The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival in association with Universal Pictures International, Focus Features, the Mayor of London, Film London and The London Development Agency
Cripplegate Ward Club Annual Banquet at Butchers Hall, EC1 at which I was the guest speaker
Mr Andrew Hardy, Master
Lunch at the Offices of the Board of Deputies of British Jews as guest speaker, Glass paperweight
Board of Deputies of British Jews
Lunch at the Haven Restaurant, Whetstone, N20
Mr Tom Nathan, Gerneral Manager Brent Cross Shopping Centre
Printed T Shirt Coalition to Investigate the Presecution of Falun Gong in China
Museum in Docklands Annual Dinner, Book Rough Crossing by Simon Schama
Museum of London (corporate event- no name given)
Bottle of wine (thank you present for opening art exhibitions)Finchley Art Society
4 Grandstand Seats to view Lord Mayor's Show Procession,4 Tickets for Lunch at the Barbican, 4 Tickets to view Lord Mayor's Show Fireworks
Corporation of London- David Lewis
Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall
Lord Mayor (David Lewis) and Sheriffs of the Corporation of London
Lunch at the House of Commons
NHS Confederation
Association of Rizokarpasso Annual Dinner and Dance at the Pendridge Banqueting Suite, N11 - attended by myself and Mrs Gladys Coleman"
Mrs Mary Karaolis, Association of Rizokarpasso
Dinner in honour of the Mayor of Morphou
The Greek Brotherhood
Lunch at Number 12, Ambassadors Hotel, 12 Upper Woburn Place, WC1Cllr Keith Moffitt
Democratic Party of Green Cypriots in England Annual Dinner and Dance at the Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way, Russell Square, WC1Mr Michael Ellinas.
Democratic Party of Green Cypriots in England
Democratic Rally UK Annual Christmas Dinner and Dance at the London Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, W1
Democratic Rally UK, Mr Andreas Papaevripides
1 bottle of Armenian brandy 1 book about Armenia (Diary)
The Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in London
London Government Dinner at the Mansion House
The Lord Mayor of London
Showing of Film ""No Country for Old Men"" at the Phoenix Cinema, as part of Phoenix Theatre Restoration Project Launch"
Mr Paul Homer Chief Executive Phoenix Cinema Trust
Phoenix Cinema 52 High Road, N2 9PJ
Greater London Scouts Annual Regional Dinner at New Scotland Yard
Mr Dean J Milton, Regional Scout Commissioner for Greater London
2 tickets for Annual London Mayors' Pantomime and reception at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford
The Mayor of Redbridge Cllr Mrs Joyce Ryan
Lunch at Gilgamesh Restaurant, NW1
imon Pitkeathley, Chief Executive Camden Town Unlimited
Bottle of Wine
Mrs Sandra Berzon Chairman Hampstead Synagogue Ladies Guild
Lunch at the Haven Restaurant, Whetstone, N20
Cllr Ian Clement
Lunch at ""Le Cage Imaginaire"" restaurant, 16 Flask Walk, NW3"
Alderman Bob Hall
Book on the Luxembourg Palace, Leather Writing Case
Cross Party Group of Members of the French Senate on official visit to City Hall
Bottle of Glenfiddich Whisky
Chairman of the Camden Chinese Community Centre 9 Tavistock Place, WC1, Ms Kim Suan Tan
Lunch at the Haven Restaurant, Whetstone, N20, Bottle of Greek Brandy
Mrs Ellie Adreopoulos
Pair of ""gold effect"" cuff links
City of Osaka
Worshipful Company of Gardeners Banquet at the Mansion House
Sir Gavyn Arthur QC, Master
Greek Orthodox Community of St Katherine Annual Dinner and Dance at London Marriott Hotel, 128 King Henry's Road, NW3 3ST
Mr and Mrs Euros and Ellie Andreopoulos
Lunch at Lloyds of London
Lord Levine, Chairman, Lloyds of London
Community Security Trust Dinner at Grosvenor House
Mr Gerald Ronson, Chairman, Community Security Trust
Westminster Civic Dinner at Lord's Ground, Marylebone, London NW8The Lord Mayor of Westminster, London Borough of Westminster
Local Government Chronicle Awards Dinner at Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, W1
Chief Executive, London Borough of Barnet
Rotaract European Conference Grand Buffet Dinner and Ball at the Novotel in Hammersmith
Mr Colin Matthews, District Governor, Rotary in London
Lunch at The Haven Restaurant, Whetstone
Katie Davies of the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette
Lunch at the Cavalry and Guards Club
Mr Vahe Gabrielyan
Lunch at the Butlers Wharf Chop House
Mr Martin Day of Government Affairs (Services) Ltd
Lunch at Strada, More London SE1"
Tim Donovan, BBC London TV
Lunch at Wolseley Restarant, Piccadily, SW1
Mr Tony Hutt
Dinner at Stanmore Golf Club for 2 poeple.
Potted plant in return for speaking engagement.
Mr Peter Leapman, Stanmore Branch Conservatives
English Heritage Commission dinner at Westminster City Hall
Lord Bruce Lockhart, Chairman English Heritage"
Conservative friends of Israel annual business lunch at the Dorchester
Lord Steinberg and Mr Andrew Heller, Conservative Friends of Israel
Ashmole School Grand Ball
Mr Jeff Kaye, Chairman of the governors, Ashmole school
Opening reception and dinner of the 2nd International Conference on Gonadotropins at Theobalds Park, Cheshunt, Herts where I gave the ""Welcome to London"" speech"
Professor Ray Iles, Associate Dean - Research Middlesex University
The Board of Deputies of British Jews President's Dinner
Mrs Flo Kaufman, Vice President, Board of Deputies of British Jews
Lunch at the Haven Restaurant in Whetstone, N20
Mr Julius Oberegger
2 tickets for North Middlesex Golf Club Summer Concert by Barnet Schools Wind Orchestra and refreshments
Mr Alan Henshaw, North Middlesex Golf Club"
Bottle of Red Wine
Mr Paul Davis, Chairman, Totteridge Residents Association
Lunch at La Cage Imaginaire, 16 Flask Walk, London NW3
Cllr Edward Argar
Dinner to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the Boys Brigade at the House of Lords
The Boys Brigade
Dinner at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Birmingham
Mrs Theresa Villiers MP
Corporation of London Dinner at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham at the Malmaison Hotel, Birmingham
Mr Stuart Fraser, Corporation of London
Conservative Friends of Israel Conservative Party Conference Lunch at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Birmingham
Mr David Lewis CBE, Conservative Friends of Israel
2 tickets for Loomba Trust Gala Diwali Dinner at the Banqueting House, Whitehall SW1
Mr Raj Loomba
Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Keats House Management Committees Dinner at Tallow Chandlers Hall
Alderman Bob Hall, Chairman of the Hampstead Heath Committee, Corporation of London
Visit to Cyprus to attend events organised by the Municipality of Morphou to protest against the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. Flights with Cyprusair to and from Larnaca, 3 nights bed and breakfast at Hilton Park Hotel in Nicosia. Dinner on the
10th October
lunch and dinner on the 11th and 12th October and lunch on the 13th October in Local Restaurants.
Morphou Municipality, Government of Cyprus, Union of Municipalities of Cyprus
Royal Society of St George Lunch in London's Living Room at City Hall
Mr Stephen Lane
Dinner at the Haven Restaurant in Whetstone
The Mayor of Barnet, Cllr John Marshall
Cyprus Independence Dinner at The Atrium, 4 Millbank, SW1
Mr Haris Sophoclides The Greek Cypriot Brotherhood
Bottle of wine received as thank you present for speaking engagement
Mr David Berzon The Bnai Brith Raoul Wallenberg Lodge, Hampstead"
Lunch at the Butler's Wharf Chop House
Matt Nixson News of the World
Boat trip to and from Greenwich, buffet supper and refreshments and presentation aboard HMS Illustrious
The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band KCB ADC Royal Navy Presentation Team
Lunch at the House of Commons
London NHS Confederation
4 Grandstand seats to view Lord Mayor's Show Procession, 4 tickets for lunch at the Barbican, 4 tickets to view Lord Mayor's Show Fireworks
Corporation of London
Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall
The Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of the Corporation of London
Two tickets for Music for Youth Concert at the Royal Albert Hall and refreshments
Michael C Doughty, Music for Youth

Friday 14 November 2008

How many old ladies would you kill for £50 a year?

My dear old Mum passed away in August aged 83. In December 2001 she suffered a stroke, and in January 2006 she fell and broke her hip. The stroke robbed her of her ability to easily communicate and the broken hip robbed her of her ability to get around. Having said all that she was probably the toughest, most feisty person I think I'll ever know. She was fiercly independent and she decided that she wanted to live her days out in her own home, living on her own. Due to her difficulties with mobility following the broken hip, she began receiving the Barnet Council meals on wheels service in March 2006. At the time this service was run by volunteers. My mother enjoyed the meals and liked the people who delivered them. Anyone who has ever had dealings with the elderly and disabled knows that they like a routine. As my mother had become prone to panic attacks, late delivery of the meals could be a major issue for her. Fortunately the volunteers knew this and it was virtually unknown for problems to occur.

All of this changed at Easter 2007. The contract was taken from the volunteer service, and awarded to Sodexho, a big multinational conglomorate. My mother was very upset that the people with whom she'd built a relationship would no longer be coming. Fortunately for her, we are a very supportive family and there are lots of us. Unlike many old folk she'd see at least two of us every day. Chatting with the delivery people, we soon realised how lucky she was. When the service finished, my mum gave the lady a small present and she gave my mum a chocolate and wished her well. My mum used to always get lunch by noon. On the first day of Sodexho, no dinner came. Fortunately for my mum, my sister was visiting from the USA and staying with her. Phonecalls were made, apologies were received. We were assured it would be delivered tomorrow. It was, at 5pm, stone cold. By the third day my mother had taken to her bed. She knew she needed the service to maintain her independence and she knew it couldn't be relied on. At this point I emailed, my local Councillors. I kicked up the mother of all stinks. Councillor John Hart turned up and personally assured her that she would, in future, be the very first delivery on the run. True to his word, a week after the nightmare began, she started to get her meals on time.
The quality was nothing like the old service, it would sustain her, but we started to cook her an evening meal as well and send it up the road on a tray. The kids loved it as Grandma would give them a £1. Seeing the effect it had on my mother, who had family on the scene, it is obvious to me that the stress of this probably killed a good few lonely old dears in Barnet. I remember a friend who worked in a nursing home telling me that three of the patients had died when the council stopped giving them biscuits with there afternoon tea in 1984. Not getting your main meal would clearly be far more devastating and thousands relied on this service. I've never asked or submitted an FOI to find out, as I felt guilty that my mum got her dinner before all the old dears with no one to kick up a fuss. I don't feel good about that, but I'm sorry to say, family came first for me.

I got a couple of grovelling emails of apology, they are still on my laptop, from Lynne Hillan. Here is just one of them
Thank you for your email. , Unfortunately the Leader is away this week so your complaint has been passed to me as the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services and therefore responsible for the meals service. I share your disappointment and concerns but would like to have a little time to investigate the situation before I respond to you fully. In the meantime, I can tell you that, whilst I expected some teething problems with the new contract, I have already had cause to question Sodexho regarding late delivery.

You are quite right, this should not have happened and we have arranged for Council Officers to be in attendance this morning to ensure that this does not happen again today. I will come back to you as soon as I have received a full explanation. In the meantime, please do convey my sincere apologies to your Mother.
The truly amazing thing is that having cocked the delivery up, they then forgot to charge my mum on the direct debit. Now in her prime, my mother would have spotted this immediately, she was a pretty succesful businesswoman. Trouble was her eyesight failed and she didn't notice that the direct debit wasn't going out. Not until just before Christmas when she got a demand for hundreds of pounds worth of arrears. Merry Christmas from Barnet Council Mum. Do you think all of this has given me a good or bad feeling about "outsourcing and privatisation"?

So why have I decided to kick this "sleeping dog" back into life. Guilt, on my part mainly. You see, I knew what happened was appalling, but I expended so much energy just getting my mum through her problems, that I didn't think of all the other poor lonely old ladies in Barnet. Well now is the time for me to pay my dues. What am I referring to?

Well you may think that with such an awful experience of outsourcing services, Lynne Hillan may have realised that this is a rather dangerous policy. You'd think that any decent person with an ounce of compassion would have started an investigation, published the results, and concluded that protecting our most vulnerable members of society should be the no 1 concern of Adult Social Services. You'd think she would be looking to defend services and improve them.

Well it seems that someone in the Tory finance team has decided that they could save the average Council Tax payer £50 a year and this would win them the next council election. Winning the election means that all our councillors keep their juicy fat allowances, so it is clearly worth their while. How will this saving be achieved? There is an initiative called "FUTURE SHAPE OF THE COUNCIL". This is what the Tories like to call blue sky thinking. The policy they want to develop is to privatise everything they possibly can. All that Barnet Council would do in their ideal world is sign contracts with private companies. These companies then deliver the service. Now I am not against private enterprise. I run my own company, I've made a pot of cash from the various businesses I run. I built them from scratch and my customers are mostly the general public. I passionately believe in genuine private enterprise. The trouble is I don't believe that these big public companies with government contracts are private enterprise in the true sense of the word. Look at the rail franchises. They are a license to print money and channel taxpayers money into the pockets of directors and shareholders. How can a truly capitalist contract have a "guaranteed profit"?

If I listed all of my objections to these fat contracts paid for at the taxpayers expense, this blog would be a million pages long. Let me just briefly list my main issues here. 1. My experience of outsourcing with my mother was a nightmare. No one should be subjected to such disruption. 2. The hidden costs of Outsourcing are always discounted from business cases (extra legal fees, costs of clearing up the mess when it goes pear shaped). 3. Contractors pay poor wages and treat staff badly. This results in poor delivery, shoddy work and extra long term costs. 4. Companies pay huge director salaries and bonuses. Shareholders reap handsome dividends derived from the Taxpayer. 5. When it goes wrong, the most vulnerable people suffer. 6. The delivery companies have no vested interest in doing a good job, only in making a profit.

The future shape of the Council is not agreed policy yet. We can stop it in it's tracks. The way to do this is to express your concerns as loudly as you can to you local councillors. Remind them that they are there to protect the vulnerable. Remind them that there are lots of elderly people in Barnet who deserve to be treated with dignity. There are plenty of Council employees who deserve a decent wage. There are plenty of people who have nice cars who don't want them dented by badly driven Dustcarts. There are plenty of people in Barnet who don't like piles of muck being left outside their house by shoddy council contractors. There are plenty of people who don't want to break their legs on badly laid paving stones. The list is endless. Chances are it'll be the old, the weak and the vulnerable who pay for the £50 tax cut. I don't know about you, but I personally wouldn't kill an old lady for £50 a year.

I'm lucky, I don't have to rely on the council for much, apart from emptying my bins and mowing the grass at my parents graveside. Thing is though, if we wait until we need the services to say something, it'll be far too late.