I’m Still Writing Letters: One Barnet and Friern Barnet Library

A few months down the line, I’m still campaigning and I’m still writing letters. Here’s the latest one, off the back of the BBC Sunday Politics Show which Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council appeared on to defend the One Barnet Programme. He must be the only one, after Cllr Brian Coleman (yes, that colourful personality)’s hatchet job of it in various places – including on the Sunday Politics Show itself.

If you’d like to hear what Cllr Cornelius had to say on the contract please see the  following short clip;

My response to Richard Cornelius’ remarks are copied in below. I’ve emailed them to Richard Cornelius and  copied in his deputy Dan Thomas, Cllr Robert Rams and Theresa Villiers, my local MP.

Dear Cllr. Cornelius,

Thanks for your appearance on the BBC Sunday Politics Show this morning. It is kind of you to finally (try to) justify One Barnet. There are, however, a few discrepancies between some of your statements and the factual reality of One Barnet which I would like to raise. And I do have a few follow-up queries with some of your statements on behalf of the residents of Barnet. I have included this letter in my publicly available blog.

(1) Firstly, you state in this interview that it is only back office services that are being outsourced, not those that affect those on the front line. I am afraid that this puts the Barnet Conservative Party in a rather difficult position.

Either

– the Conservative Party has  been responsible for the expenditure of £1bn+ on exclusively back office functions – from which you expect to obtain a saving of £120m; which really would be financial imprudence – in which case the Barnet Council Conservative Party do not deserve re-election.

Or (and in light of recent events this is much more likely)

– the Barnet Conservative Party are not being entirely truthful.

In fact, the list of services transferred to the private sector as helpfully listed by Mrs. Angry in her latest blog includes;

Residential/ Supporting Living/ Day care services for adults with disabilities;  Council Housing Services; Hendon Cemetery & Crematoria; Music Service;  Public Health Service; Environmental Health.

If yourself and your colleagues are of the opinion that health, the environment, care for the elderly and disabled, bereavement and education services are merely back-office functions then that, unfortunately, says a lot about your attitudes to public service in Barnet.

Moreover you had the absolute gall to try to justify the One Barnet programme by saying that it was not ideological because, in fact –  recycling services were being brought back in-house! You did not mention that this was because outsourcing those services had proved to be such a disaster that councillors wanted them back in house.

That was a single service contracted out.

One Barnet is significantly bigger than that – it is a political gamble of £1bn+ of our taxpayers’ money. We are entitled to ask what makes your administration any more likely to succeed on this contract than on the numerous contractual failures it has presided over up until now. And you are required to, as our political representative, answer that question properly. Considering that you do not feel it is necessary to read the 8000 page contract you are signing up to; I would like to ask who in the local authority is going to read the contract, and are they in a position to be held democratically accountable to the electorate?

I would like to remind you that it might well be irrational, and therefore judically reviewable, to enter into a contract without taking the time to read and understand it. Would a reasonable local authority put their pen to a contract they hadn’t read, and then publicly state that this is what they will do? I think not.

(2) Secondly, you state in your interview that back office functions ‘such as human resources’ do not need to be under full democratic control. In fact, I quote, ‘wherever the human resources service is, it doesn’t matter’. I am afraid that this betrays the way in which you have been drawn into the officer-led managerialism that characterises decision making at Barnet Council. In case nobody pointed this out, ‘Human resources’ really means employee wellbeing, and employee engagement. To hear you dismiss the question of employee wellbeing in this way and then to state that these matters aren’t priorities because –

‘I mean we do have to look after people’ is shocking and betrays a lack of knowledge of organisational change.

(3) Thirdly, I was intrigued to hear a note of ambivalence as to whether the outsourcing of the development and regulatory service wing (DRS) of the One Barnet contract would go ahead – you did not say that it would. You will remember that I wrote to you about this earlier, highlighting the very shaky legal ground it was on. However, if there is still a possibility that this contract is going ahead, the resident is still entitled to know under what arrangements it will. The fact that it exists as a ‘black box’ with just a ‘One Barnet’ label upon it is untenable. I, and other residents are still no clearer now than before then on whether these services are going to be outsourced under a joint venture or a strategic partnership model; or now whether they are going to be outsourced at all. Yourself and your deputy Cllr Thomas still seem to have very different views on what should happen to DRS.

(4) Fourthly, I am pleased to finally note that you made a public remark about the importance of providing library services by saying that ‘it is very difficult to shut a library – we don’t want to do it.’

If you are really serious about this statement I would like to urge you to reconsider the  closure of Friern Barnet Library, especially after a recent announcement by Cllr Robert Rams that there will be no Landmark Library provided in the Arts Depot as planned – which was supposed to mitigate the impact of this cut to the community. If you really wish to keep libraries open, and if you consider yourself to be a truly democratic leader of the Council then you will listen to a strengthening local community campaign and commit to the reopening of the Council library. It is much more than a library as recent events have shown; it is a vital community resource – the only one in the local area. It is, as I am sure you are aware, in one of the most deprived parts of the borough, and has – and will continue to make a huge difference to the educational opportunities of young people, and in particular young disabled people. Furthermore, it is currently being run for free as a community resource out of an empty public building – even as representatives of the campaign groups have entered into negotiations with the Council about how best to provide the service at a low cost. This is the sort of proposal that your administration should be snatching up and accepting. Instead, we have seen a persistent refusal to enter into further discussions, and a persistent refusal to arrive at a confidential, community-based mediated solution between campaigners and the Council. This refusal has been characterised by nothing other than pig-headed stubbornness and the sort of behaviour one would expect from school yard bullies – not upstanding councillors who genuinely seek to represent and speak for the local community.

The community is committed to keeping the library open. If, as you imply, you would like to maintain library services, the door to mediation/negotiation remains open in order to find a mutual agreement. This mutual agreement would involve the provision of library and community services from the Friern Barnet building using alternative cost structures.

I look forward to hearing from you soon on these matters.

Best wishes

Reema Patel

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