Sunday 30 November 2008

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".


Don't Call Me Dave said...


I can’t comment about the external advisors but the very idea that Lustig and Medlam should be involved in this project fills me with absolute dread.

In my view, the legal department is the very first which should be privatised. Is Lustig - the Borough Solicitor - going to recommend that? Turkeys don’t generally vote for Christmas.

As for Medlam, I wouldn’t even leave him in charge of the petty cash. He should have been sacked three years ago.

In principle, I do not object to outsourcing or privatisation. What concerns me, however, is that there will be insufficient scrutiny of the council’s proposals. The devil is always in the detail. The Underhill contract was screwed up because Lustig either didn’t read it (as he should have done) or did read it and did not notice what was wrong with it. Either way, do you have any confidence that he will draw up any privatisation contracts without errors?

Whilst supporting privatisation in principle (having previously stated that I don’t think all services/departments are suitable for privatisation) I acknowledge that the council does not currently have a mandate for introducing such radical changes.

These proposals must therefore be put to the electorate in a referendum or included in the party’s next manifesto. To try and introduce changes prior to 2010 without a mandate would be a significant abuse of the democratic process.

When the government introduces new laws which erode our basic liberties, they always say “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.” In that vein, I say to the council:- “If you are so certain that these proposals are right for Barnet, then why are you afraid to engage in a meaningful debate and allow the plans to be scrutinised?”

Julie said...

You mention 'fat salaries' and 'bonuses' a lot - that stance won't go down well with the people of Barnet, many of whom either earn fat salaries or aspire to do so - people may take the view that you're jealous of the money being made, which I'm sure you're not.

No doubt you will say that its not the amount its what they do for it.....not enough to hide the real reasons you keep mentioning it.

Rog T said...


What is my real reason for mentioning it?

I'd be intrigued to know. It doesn't occur to you that maybe some people are disgusted by people taking advantage of the system. Some of those who are disgusted (like me) are doing pretty well financially.