Wednesday 28 November 2018

Can the new intake of Barnet Tories salvage the parties local reputation and credibility?

In May, 18 new Tory Councillors took their places on the Tory benches of Barnet Council. Some were awarded relatively safe seats to reward loyalty to the party, in a bloody process that involved shafting some well established councillors (Joan Scannell in Edgware, Sury Khatri in Mill Hill, Maureen Braun in Hendon), some got in because they were prepared to work their socks off in wards that the Tories thought were unwinnable (West Hendon, Hale). All of them have one thing in common. They have no reason to want to share the collective blame for the mistakes of the past. Those in the marginal wards must be well aware that the conditions that gave them their seats are reasonably unlikely to be prevalent in four years time. If they are to hang on, they'd better work hard and carve themselves out a role for their constituents. The new term has not started well. The bin round reogranisation has been a disaster. As the Tories made efficient bin collections a key election theme, they have walked into a minefield. There is also the little matter of the huge budget defecit that the Tories hid from the public before the election. Tomorrows Environment committee papers detail just how bad the deficit is. To plug this works our as £150 per household
Looking forward, it is anticipated that these challenges will continue. Through refreshing the council’s Medium-term Financial Strategy (MTFS), the organisation now faces an anticipated budget gap of  £69.9m to  2023/24. This includes the savings of  £17.3m already identified for 2019-20, plus a further gap of £52.6m to 2023/24.
I don't believe that the new councillors expected this to be what they found themselves responsible for. Unlike the old guard, they can reasonably claim this is not their fault. We've already seen some welcome signs of independent thought with Councillors Prager and Jajeh breaking ranks in the Audit committee. Another positive sign has been the fact that they are keen to distance themselves from the misogynism and sexism of the old guard. This has seemingly upset one of the biggest dinosaurs of the modern Tory era. Most readers of the blog will know of how disgraced ex Tory Mayor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to "assault by beating" of shopkeeper Helen Michael. Councillor Weedon-Sanz posted a perfectly reasonable tweet, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, but rather revoltingly drew the ire of Coleman. I hope that all of the new councillors are aware of the legacy that they have picked up, as demonstrated by Coleman.

The Barnet Tories, especially the new new breed would do well to make sure that such behaviour is consigned to the dustbin of history. As they are a large group, they have the ability to shape the way Barnet Council deals with the challenges.  This is a key time for the Council, perhaps the most important in the next five years. A review of Capita is currently being undertaken. It is clear that the deal isn't working. The new councillors have an opportunity to make a big difference. I fully understand that they are Conservatives, but they should be aware that most Tory Councils have run a mile from Capita style mega deals. We have recently seen the CEO of Barnet John Hooton trying to sidetrack the democratically agreed decision of the PRC to get proper business cases for the three possible options for the way forward for Capita. New councillors should make it clear that this isn't good enough. If a business case can be made to demonstrate that Capita is the best option for Barnet, I would not criticise the new councillors for supporting it. If they meekly allow themselves to be steamrollered into approving a deal without proper numbers and proper scrutiny, then they will be as cuplable as the old guard. I run a business, I understand the need to take difficult decisions. I understand that sometimes you have to change the way you do things and this puts existing staff on the defensive. I also understand that this should only be done on the back of a robust business case. And it will only ever be done if I am happy with the numbers. So long as all of the new councillors can look the residents of Barnet in the eye when the decision is passed and say "I read the business cases and we approved the best one" then they will have done their job. That will go a long way to salvagining their reputation following the bins scandal. If they can't say that, sadly the people of Barnet will form a rather different conclusion.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

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