EasyCouncil, Easy Go, Will You Let Me Go?

‘Bismillah, no! I will not let you go!’

(So says Cllr Cornelius, current Leader of Barnet Council, in any case).

The voters in 2014 might have a very different take on that matter but that’s by the by for the moment.

Tonight I was listening to Alison Moore; Leader of the Barnet Labour Group speak on BBC London radio about the failures of the One Barnet privatisation programme. This programme looks to outsource £1bn of Barnet Council’s public services including the commissioning of those services; removing them from the structure of democratic accountability that is at least in part guaranteed by a political organisation.

It was notable that, such is the arrogance of the current Barnet Council Tory administration, they declined to respond to any criticisms and to the invite from BBC London to speak about One Barnet. The fact that they refuse to engage is simply making matters worse.

Alison Moore as Leader of the main opposition party, was challenged on the need to innovate, to find different solutions in these pressured times. There is no dispute about the need to innovate or to find different ways of delivering public services. Very few people would disagree with that-  our public services in 2012 are not going to be our public services in the 80s or in the 9os.

Technology alone and the rate of change in our society guarantees that. There will always be a need to change. There will also always be a need to listen – and to engage with the public.

But that requirement has to be balanced with the need to safeguard those who are most dependent on our public services – who happen, by definition, to be some of the most vulnerable in our society. Taking a £1bn gamble with our public services is not like having a punt on the stockmarket.

credit: Michael Hanley

Taking the sort of gamble Barnet Council under the Tory administration is doing, without proper, democratic accountability, without a remotely-clearly thought out business case, and entering into discussion with bidders when it is far from obvious what the business model of the programme is, is just reckless.

You know that you are entering into a risky, and doomed-to-fail venture when one of your most controversial, ideological and pig-headed councillors (Brian Coleman, in case you didn’t realise who I was talking about) articulates that it is risky and doomed to fail in the local press. You know that you are entering into a risky and doomed-to-fail venture when no local Tory MP for miles around wants anything to do with it (except for Mike Freer of Finchley & Golders Green I suppose…). And when local councillors from your own party (Cllr Sury Khatri, for one) explicitly voice their doubts. You know that it’s a risky and doomed venture when your Chief Executive Nick Walkley…well, walks. Off to Haringey Council.

And you know that you are entering into a risky and a doomed to fail venture when some of your most vulnerable residents are turning to that obscure legal tool – the judicial review because there is simply no other way to make this stubborn administration that is so far removed from the local people listen.

We’ve heard that One Barnet is going to be judicially reviewed by John Sullivan, the father of a disabled woman. It’s appropriate that this is happening, and admirable of him to do so. There must be sufficient interest by the person who brings that challenge; and the risk that this programme takes with services will affect those who are dependent upon those services the most – including the disabled.

A  judicial review is a legal challenge to a public body’s decision; specifically, to the way in which the decision has been made rather than questioning the merits of the decision (a matter that has been traditionally reserved for politicians and not for judges). That the Tory led administration has failed to conduct their decision making properly simply shows their utter contempt for the way in which decisions should be made; as well as their utter contempt for the standards required to run public services in political life.

I’ve long been an advocate for a return to values in public life.

The reason this administration is falling foul of public media is because it is the epitome of what has been vilified and continues to be vilified nationally; the sheer vacuousness of a series of politicians who use public office for nothing other than their personal gain and public profile and who drive through ambitious initiatives without any regard for the impact those initiatives will have on people. It is unclear what any of the current administration believe in, or hope to achieve for the interests of Barnet’s residents in the next year (through One Barnet or otherwise).

That would probably be because they haven’t bothered to tell us.

So transparency isn’t just about ticking a box. It’s about showing to your residents that you are taking them seriously, you are taking the time to listen, and using the immense talent that is your political electorate to design and deliver services that are in that electorate’s best interest.

If you fail to do that, or to take the time to do that? Well I think it says a lot more about you than you intend it to.

A young Freddie Mercury was more than just a little prophetic when he ended his rhapsody (because, of course, it will end…) with the line,

‘nothing really matters…to me.’

 
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