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.
Just two things I'd pick up.
Firstly, this is not going to be lead by Councillors. At huge cost consultants are going to dream up Pie in the Sky proposals. By the time it reaches Councillors it will be too late make substantial changes.
The principles of this project should have been the subject of full public debate and a massive exercise by the Council's Scrutiny function. Days of day long hearings should have been taken place waying up evidence from elsewhere and expert witnesses called.
Secondly, the Conservative Group won't be fully involved in this, they will presented with a fait accompli. I doubt most of the Cabinet will be fully engaged. By this I mean by that spending hours and days working through this. Most Cabinet Members will be most preoccipied with defending their own department.
However when it comes to the crunch one has to question whether the Turkeys will vote for Christmas. What will be the point of being a Councillor anymore the ability to meddle on behalf of the residents? Once outsourced with Barnet's usual incompetent contractual negotiations, they will be left explaining to their residents that they are impotent.
I've read some of the report and I suspect that you are correct about it being put together by consultants. It's full of jargon and badly constructed statements full of rather long words. The English language can be a beautiful thing, but this tortures it.
You are also spot on with your analysis. Major changes need public scrutiny and proposed changes should be robust enough to withstand this process. I suspect that the reason this isn't being done is not because they are frightened of Labour, the LibDems or the Unions ripping it to shreds, I think they are scared of the reaction of ordinary Tories.
The crazy thing is local Tories would probably back it if it was done properly and subject to proper scrutiny. As it is, this will be a pigs ear and they could well alienate many people who would have backed well thought out proposals. They'd never win my vote with a scheme such as this, but I've heard a few rather surprising comments from various local true blue's. Let's just say it was one such conversation earlier which inspired this blog in it's form.
Your open letter is well argued. It would be hard for anyone - on the left or right- who genuinely believes in democratic accountability to suggest that your request was unreasonable.
You talk about a fear that decisions have already been taken behind closed doors. However, your logo - the future is pear shaped - whilst being very clever, suggests that you have already made your mind up on this issue as well!
I hope the council will heed your call for open and honest discussions with residents and allow for proper scrutiny so that we can make a decision based on facts. If the council wants to implement these plans before 2010, then we need to have a referendum because the changes will so fundamental.
I genuinely hope Mike Freer takes heed. I doubt I'll agree with the the final outcome whatever he does, but if it is conducted in an open and transparent fashion, I will accept the process has been done in a democratic fashion. I can't say that is the case at the moment.
What is the most mind boggling of all is the timing of this. This is the kind of operation you do immediately after an election. It will take two years to get the crap out of the way; screaming, strikes etc.
Only then will possible benefits accrue. So two years before a Council and General Election, they unleash this.
They have lost all sense of political reality as well as 'the plot'.
I bet the dreadful Alison Moore can't believe her luck. What a hand Freer has dealt her.
"I've read some of the report and I suspect that you are correct about it being put together by consultants. It's full of jargon and badly constructed statements full of rather long words. The English language can be a beautiful thing, but this tortures it."
I hate to say it but submit it to the Plain English people as part of making a broad point about how obscurantist jargon is deliberately deployed to deny the electorate a chance to understand, or input, and is therefore intrinsically anti-democratic.
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