The One Barnet Roundabout – Joint Venture. Latest Letter to Cllr Cornelius…

Round and round the roundabout we go. It is becoming increasingly clear that nobody has a clue what One Barnet is – never mind whether it has merits/demerits.

Please see my latest open letter which expresses this to Cllr Cornelius. It follows some revealing correspondence between Pam Wharfe, the senior officer leading on the dialogue with bidders for the DRS tender, and Mrs Angry – Barnet blogger.

Dear Cllr Cornelius,

I write again in relation to the One Barnet programme and in particular the DRS tender of the One Barnet programme .

I understand now from the more recent correspondence between your officer Ms Wharfe and Theresa Musgrove (‘Mrs Angry’) that the option for a Joint Venture was never thoroughly discounted and was still a possibility at the business case stage for the DRS.

The provided reason for switching this late on, apparently is that ‘although initially our preference was for a Strategic Partnership, the JV has developed as a progressively more attractive option following detailed discussions with bidders.’

I have three points to make here. Firstly, there is a complete absence of evidence to justify this sudden change of course bar unsubstantiated assertions that the Joint Venture model is preferable.

Secondly, the implication here is that potential bidders are influencing the Council’s decision on what model to opt for and in particular on the merits of those decisions. This is extremely worrying especially as the concept of a joint venture is, on its own, devoid of any content.

This is my third concern. Ms Pam Wharfe says that the Council ‘would have a minority interest in this organisation and would appoint a small number of individuals to the senior management team of the new organisation’. This is so vague as to be completely unhelpful. The nature of the Joint Venture model proposed itself remains unclear and lends credence to the complete absence of transparency that your administration is demonstrating at present in its decision making.

Whilst this is the case – it is unclear how any valid assessment of the merits/demerits of the joint venture is at all possible or how either yourselves or your officers could coherently argue that a joint venture was preferable to a strategic partnership.

A joint venture of some kind appears to be proposed by the LA with some local authority interest in it; as an ‘option’ which, it is presumed, is likely to be taken as a decision. What sort of interest will the local authority have? Financial or managerial? Both? Who will be the shareholders? Under what kind of business model? A company? A limited liability partnership? A LATC? A PPP or PFI? None of this is clear but is critical to any assessment of the merits of the decision and to any assessment of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of a joint venture with a strategic partnership.

To illustrate this point further using a rather basic, but hopefully effective example, – whether the Council will be a minority holder of (a) shares of 1%, (b) 10%, or (c) 49% will affect the extent of control the Council has, and therefore will affect the merits/demerits for all of these models. This is important as in recent court decisions about mixed public/private bodies (I refer you to the recent Brent Mutual Insurance case, for instance) have relied upon the extent and also the nature of Council interest to decide questions of what local authorities are responsible for. I imagine this trend will continue with regard to other issues that crop up with mixed bodies in this very uncertain area of the law.

In conclusion, the public is entitled firstly

(1) to know what model is being considered (which I am afraid the term ‘joint venture’ does not accurately capture as it is far too broad for that, and

(2) to a proper business case which sets out the merits, demerits, risks and liabilities to the Council for this model

– and before a decision is taken and contract awarded.

I hope to hear from you soon on this crucially important matter to Barnet’s residents.

Best wishes

Reema Patel.

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