Thursday, 27 November 2008

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?

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