Tuesday 11 December 2018

Barnet Council Special - Is the Capita Deal working for the voters of Barnet

Today the Barnet Policy and Resources committee vote on what course of action to take with regards to One Barnet.  Regular Barnet watchers will know that five years ago the Conservative administration of Richard Cornelius signed a deal to let Capita take over running much of the operations of the Council. Voters were lead to believe that this would lead to permanently  low council tax rises and better services. How has all of this worked out? I was struggling to work out how exactly to demonstrate this. One of the benefits of having written a blog for ten years, I have a wealth of examples to quote, but I was drawn to a comment left on my blog. I'd posted a blog detailing how there had been four extremely negative stories concerning Mike Freer, then leader of the Council (now MP for Finchley)

A public spirited resident, who described himself as a "floating voter" and "not a member of any political party", set out a spirited defence of the record of the local Conservatives. I was rather intrigued, not least because the IP address was exactly the same as a string of other comments I'd seen from people working in Mike Freer's office. I thought that the said individual must have been very publicly spirited indeed, breaking into Mike's office in the middle of the morning to rifle through his private papers and check all of the facts when leaving comments. But 'Jack's' comments about the Tory regime of the time are well worth a revisit in light of the current malaise at the Council. Here is what he said back in 2009. Does this description of Barnet then make you think things have got better. I thought I'd add a few tweets from the last year to illustrate this wonderland. 'Jack's' comments are in Large Italics

So the positive things Barnet Council have done:
Let’s talk about the achievements:
Road resurfacing - my own road was neglected for 12 years, massive potholes, wobbling kerb stones and uneven pavements. This problem has now been corrected and I have a road with no potholes, no wonky paving slabs and kerb stones in place.

Pot Holes Fixed - as above, Barnet was horrific for potholes, driving round Barnet is part of my job and now it is very rare I come across them and when I do, instead of my emails being ignored - 99% of the time get a response and it is fixed. 

Town Centres - The once dilapidated Temple Fortune, Tally Ho and Mill Hill Broadway are now totally different looking places to what they used to be. Rusty benches, litter, pavements with gaps and cracks in them, streetlights not working and so on... now what I see is some improvements being made especially with the new streetlights and it is amazing what a lick of paint does! 
Bin collections are still weekly despite the Government wanting them to be every 2 weeks something which is just abhorrent in this day and age 
Plastic and Cardboard is now being recycled (the previous administration always fails to admit they tied the council into a long contract which didnt account for this)
Local parks actually looking like places we want to visit thanks to money being invested in them. Victoria park in Finchley is always looking wonderful when I drive past it in a morning 
Less Graffiti - One thing, which always annoyed me, was the amount of graffiti across the Borough of Barnet as a whole; it was embarrassing to drive around with clients. Now I would estimate 90% of it has gone. 
And I could go on and on and on.

These are the key things that the Conservatives wanted to be judged by in 2009. If their policies were working, they would be even better now (especially as we've had Tory/Tory lead governments for nine of those ten years). So nine years down the line, how are they measuring up. Lets start with the marvellous new road surfaces and pavements, which clearly impressed 'Jack'. Sadly these are as wonky and the surfaces as dodgy as they've ever been. I can honestly say I can't recall the halcyon era of 2009, when Mike Freer's administration made sure they were all fixed, but lets take Jacks word. Freer was the architect of the "Zero Council Tax increase policy" (only just abandoned in favour of maximum tax rises)  which ensured that such roads and pavements are simply a warm memory.

As to potholes, sadly the intervening nine years of Conservative rule later and we've never seen more potholes than last winter. As we lurch into another winter, doubtless all of the patches and bodges will start falling apart once more. At the bottom of my road, Millway, NW7 the road surface is simply deteriorating. I hate to think what it will be like after a few frosts.

It also seems that back in the halcyon days of Mike's rule Tally Ho, Temple Fortune and Mill Hill Broadway were free of litter, pavements were perfect and no wonky streetlights and dilapidated street furniture. Sadly they all look shabbier than they ever have these days.

In Mike's days, you could set your watch by when the dustmen came. A recent reorganisation has left some residents dreaming of a fortnightly bin collection, let alone weekly ones. The service has literally fallen apart since the new bin rounds were introduced.

Mike also took recycling seriously. Sadly, due to the financial mismanagement, the current administration, food waste recyclng was stopped last December (although residents were only told after the election in May).

It is interesting to read the comments about Victoria Park. The council has recently flogged off the Lodge there, to be replaced by a block of flats. As to other parks, local residents have had to organise their own litter picking groups to keep the parks usable and pleasant.

As to graffiti, this is a scourge that is now worse than ever, a topic we covered not too long ago in detail.

So what has gone wrong? Why has the council crumbled from the halcyon days of Mike Freer? The answer can be summed up in one word - Capita. The contracts that the council signed with Capita have resulted in the council completely losing focus on what its core function is.  In many ways 'Jack' had a point. Under Freer, they were at least doing the core things councils were supposed to do. Bins were collected and potholes were filled in, All of the management changes, designed to transform the Council into  a "future shape" commissioning Council have resulted in a council without effective management. Procurement of services is not controlled by the council, it is outsourced to Capita, as were financial monitoring. What we have now is the result. The only parts of the Barnet Council empire safe from cuts is the parts run by Capita, as these are protected by contracts. Sadly these guarantees have not translated into better services. Previously well run in house services, such as bin collections have had to be decimated to ensure there is cash to pay Capita its dues.

I wonder what a "floating voter" such as jack would find to cmmend Barnet Council for today? I'd love 'Jack' to update us. Let's just hope that tonight at the meeting of Barnet Council, we start to see the end of all this outsourcing madness.

---- 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.

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

Just point out that the Lodge was put on the for sale list, I believe, when Freer was in charge of the council. Also that the easycouncil nonsense was his policy. What is happening now is the result of decisions taken years ago, and the natural consequence of predictably ill conceived and extremist policies.