The very core of our local democracy is under threat!
I would like to begin by reminding you all that being a councillor means you must act in the best interest of the people of this borough. We are the taxpayers who pay for your allowance and for all the activities of this council. Therefore we should be consulted when such huge decisions such as selling off 75% of our services to private companies are made. You cannot just give away Our Public Services without consulting us, that is in breach of you statutory obligations and Judge Underhill’s ruling of the 29th April agrees with me.
We pay our taxes in good faith and with trust that they would be spent for the betterment of our borough and our communities. Giving our money away in complex and risky 10 year contracts to a private profit-making company, behaving unlawfully and disrespecting residents is a direct betrayal of our trust.
Regulatory services by their very nature entail oversight on how things are done in order to protect the public and the environment. When these services are publically funded and publically delivered at least there can be some hope that the interest of the public can be protected. But when the responsibility is handed over to a profit-motivated private company, the interest of the public is no longer relevant. The company’s profit margins and their share-holder dividends will be priorities. What is there to protect us from corruption, reduced quality of service, price hikes, and ineffective oversight and regulation that could harm us, our children, our environment and our communities?
You think you’ve got it all covered? You come to us with your empty expressions of a ‘golden share’, and with your legal fudges that are nothing but convoluted schemes to circumvent the law. Your officers, supported by Cllr Cornelius, actually told the scrutiny committee that capita are ‘honour bound’ to give up some of their profit if they slip up. Are you really that naive, that you think Capita has any honour to be bound by?
Just look at the many examples of Capita’s failings. Look at the case with Sefton Council which has now terminated the contact with Capita Symonds and is taking services back in-house. Look at Sefton and imagine looking in the mirror a few years from now. That would be the faith awaiting Barnet Council, at a huge cost to Barnet residents and taxpayers.
It is the taxpayer who will suffer while Capita rakes-in the profit, which is by the way, Our money! So why should we pay these taxes? Why do we need a council at all? Why should we bother voting when Capita runs the borough and elected representatives have no power to affect the provision of services, and all our money is locked up in massive 10 year contracts benefiting Capita? The very core of our local democracy is under threat. In fact this threat to local democracy is so obvious that a councillor raised this concern at a recent scrutiny committee meeting!
But I don’t think you are naive. I think you know full well that once you sign these services over, you will have no power over how they are implemented and no power to bring Capita to justice if they fail the public. Yet you are carrying on gambling with our money and jeopardising the quality of our services because you really don’t care about us and what’s right for us. You have no interest in taking your responsibilities as public representatives seriously and your decisions are purely based on party ideology and your own career ambitions.
But be warned, the people of Barnet are more powerful and more resourceful than the sum total of your feeble imaginations can foresee. We will continue to fight for our communities and for our services. We will continue to fight against you individually and against your illegal, anti-democratic plans and WE SHALL OVERCOME.
‘we can get round the law’
Thank you for the opportunity to address you, which we all understand is not a guarantee that you will really listen to what I and the other speakers have to say.
This attitude has been made clear in person and in print. For example, at the Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting two weeks ago, after many questions and speakers had revealed problems with and flaws in the DRS JV proposal, Cllr Finn told his colleagues that the point of scrutiny was not to criticize but to be positive, thereby of course dismissing the flaws and missing the chance to redress them. Cllr Marshall, like a carnival hawker selling snake oil, repeated his few soundbites about the unproven and unlikely benefits of the Joint Venture. We were all amazed to hear that the point of the JV was to benefit staff, providing them with new career opportunities, whether they wanted them or not. Cllr Marshall is quoted in the Barnet Times on 13 June as saying ‘There have been many opportunities for local residents to consult on One Barnet, at meetings like this and in the residents’ forums.’ Someone – anyone – please explain to the councillor what he should know: Our attendance at your meetings is not consultation, the judge ruled that the council had failed to consult, and no one is allowed to discuss OBP at residents’ forums.
Cllr Marshall also said “I’ve been canvassing twice this week and no one has complained about the One Barnet programme.” Twice! Imagine that! Twice! I wonder how many people he spoke to and about what. Maybe no one complained because they didn’t know what he was talking about. BAPS, on the other hand, has canvassed more often. Please show Cllr Marshall the 8000 signatures on the petition asking for a referendum on OBP. We’ve already provided him with a magnifying glass. We can show him the signatures on a petition against the DRS proposal too.
Cllr Gordon simply, and I do mean simply, said that the decision had been made and ‘we can’t change our minds’. No point in a scrutiny meeting then. And why not change your mind? Isn’t that the intelligent course of action when presented with reasonable arguments? Your Choice Barnet board has done just that, first refusing to consult, then changing their mind and agreeing to. Sure, it took the threat of legal action to make them reconsider, but, still, it’s progress.
Cllr Rayner knew we weren’t being consulted. He told us that the scrutiny committee met to ‘educate’ the people in the public gallery. What an education it is. We learn that the Tory councillors are unwilling to recognise the problems or consider the potential solutions put before them, clearly and sensibly by people such as the very reasonable John Dix. Instead they are condescending to a public that raises questions they can’t answer and possibilities they haven’t thought of, possibilities that expose the lack of thought they have given to the proposals in the DRS JV. We learn that rather than examine their opposition colleagues’ concerns about the potentially illegal and impracticable joint-employee contracts, they breathe a sigh of relief when an officer replies with a blithe ‘we can get round the law’. So that’s what you’re here for.
They accept and repeat, learning by rote, that Capita will always do its best for Barnet because it’s honour-bound and has its reputation to consider. A white rabbit ran through the room declaring he was late and we all knew where we were.
The fact remains that the DRS JV is flawed, seriously and probably fatally flawed. The article in the Environmental Health News points out some of the basic problems, as have and will other speakers tonight.
We are given very little time to do so, and it is at the discretion of the Chair. Although you have the authority to restrict our speech in this room at this time, and although you may have the authority to award these financially flawed and morally bankrupt contracts, you have no right to do either.
No more cuts!
In 2010 they sent a man from BT into Barnet council. His brief was to transform citizens into BT customers. He used tried and tested methods to achieve this. “Never waste a good crisis” was his motto. That was how they privatised Iraq and privatised the country. Now Europe is in crisis: 26 million young people without jobs education or a future. Spain, Portugal, Ireland….In Greece 1/3rd of the population has no income at all and there are thousands of suicides: children dumped in orphanages. This is a great opportunity to grab £trillions of public assets.
The method is simple: it’s a sort of protection racket: To starving African villagers they said: “privatise your water or we cut off your aid.” In Barnet, they say: “Take our ONE BARNET PROGRAMME or we cut your services even further”.
At the last scrutiny committee meeting they justified this by claiming that it is all part of the government’s deficit reduction programme. Now deficits do not vary much from generation to generation, hovering at around 4% of GDP. The SUnday Times Super-rich 1000 wake up £100 million richer every morning. The increase alone could more than pay off the deficit. [* NB: This was not put correctly. I should have said the increase alone could cover the loan interest repayments the government has to make annually] The industrial revolution was built on a 100 years’ national debt of over 100% of GDP.
After the war, national debt was at 250% the 1945 and the government built a million decent council homes, brought in rent controls, education for all and the NHS and brought the debt down. That is what a mild Labour Government did and the Tories carried on the same way for the next 20 years: think what eccentric socialism might have achieved!
But they give another excuse for offloading their responsibilities: plain incompetence. At the time of the NSCSO contract they claimed“The Council does not currently have sufficient capacity or expertise” And now they say they just can’t go on providing DRS to standard: “Many of the services would benefit from the introduction of private sector expertise, procedural efficiencies, enhanced IT, and general commercial capability.”
Here are some examples of their lack of expertise and some suggestions for improvement:
- The present administration tells us that £6 million a year goes to top council officers. Save £2 million by paying no more than senior civil servants and MPs
- It spent another £6.3 million on consultants for the ONE BARNET PROGRAMME. No more overpaid outside consultants!
- No more contracts known fraudsters! Follow OFT guidelines. In one month alone it gave over £1.5 million to a construction company fined for defrauding councils of £millions.
- No more PFI! It signed up to PFI deals at around £30 million a time, which are paid for 4 times over and are so profitable that they are sold on. Barnet Hospital now belongs to HSBC.
- No more dodgy deals!They spent over £1 million in unauthorised payments to a band of uniformed bullies which went bust after keeping citizens out of council meetings. This evening it proposes handing over vulnerable and disabled people to a business which it had to compensate to the tune of £10.8 million when it failed a year or two ago. They lost £1 million in a failed attempt to turn care into profit. Bring Your Choice back in house!
- Bring back Barnet Homes
- Bring back parking and road and direct labour house building and maintenance…
- No more confidentiality clauses.We don’t even know how much we are paying to paint a road sign.
- I won’t mention Iceland, but let use the money we’re getting back, and let us use all council savings and
- contingency funds.
Those are some of the savings that we expect from a competent council. To do as Barnet Council and no other council has done: simply to abolish the housing register of 17.5 thousand households and imagine you have abolished the problem is no saving. Exporting citizens you can’t or won’t employ, train or provide for is no saving nor is ditch responsibility for the education of our children – nor taking away youth facilities, wardens, park keepers, children’s centres and welfare advice.
The council could be raising funds and improving and extending the range of services it provides in a number of ways:
- a house legal buy/sell service,
- a wholesale food store in cooperation with local farmers to supply schools and care homes and to sell on to market traders.
- Joint ventures to supply solar panels, telephone and broadband: other sustainable energy projects to save energy bills and sell to national grid.
Offgem wants to break stranglehold of big energy companies and to encourage small players.
- A licence to distribute gas, electricity, broadband and telephones could bring in returns for Barnet as it does for Asda and Sainsburys. A council could use this to offer concessionary rates for those in need.
Similarly with banking, the OFT is planning a new study into ways of encouraging small banks and credit unions.
- P2P or modest savings and loans banks would be comparatively easy and cheap for a council to set up perhaps as part of a cooperative venture.
To sum up: what we want from the administration that takes over next year is an undertaking to
- take back all that has been sold off in the ONE BARNET PROGRAMME
- restore lost services
- do all in the power of a council to ensure that there are no further cuts.
I have offered some first suggestions for how that might be done. This is a very small part of a series of reforms which are urgently needed. Some of us in BAPS have formed a group OUR BARNET to discuss possibilities. We would welcome any help in developing these policies.
Contact Julian Silverman [02084466799 - [email protected]]
You have been had…
Theresa Musgrove (Mrs. Angry)
When you were elected to office three years ago, one of the first acts you undertook, under the pretext of an emergency motion, was to vote yourselves a handsome increase in the rate of your allowances.
After a public outcry, you were forced to withdraw this self serving attempt to screw more money out of the taxpayers of Barnet, except for those of you fortunate enough to be Chair of a committee, who now receive a 54% increase in allowance, even if, as in one case, the committee meets only once a year.
These allowances are meant to be in recognition of the responsibilities you bear on our behalf. Responsibilities which demand a real commitment to the role you have been given by your constituents, and to show respect and consideration for their views.
In the course of this administration I’ve observed Conservative members fail at every level to fulfil the demands of their role: failing to scrutinise the reports written by senior officers, failing to read reports, failing to ask questions, failing to turn up to meetings, or turning up late, or sitting at the table, clearly bored, tweeting - or even falling asleep.
I’ve sat through countless meetings where residents have tried to engage in the democratic process of local government. Their questions have been ignored, swept aside; they have been treated as a nuisance, an imposition.
You have refused to consult residents on the One Barnet privatisation, and voted to prevent any meaningful debate on any council policy by censoring the issues we wish to raise at our own Forums. The consequence of this has brought you to the High Court, when your failure to consult us was recognised by Judge Underhill, and is the reason the matter has been referred to appeal.
Still you continue to betray the best interests of this community by forcing through the approval of a second contract with Capita.
Have the residents of this borough been consulted on either of these contracts?
They have not.
Have members properly informed themselves of the contents of either of the contracts, or properly considered the implications of this massive act of privatisation?
They have not.
I refer you to the meeting of 6th December, when the first contract was due to be approved, and Cabinet members were asking the most fundamental questions which should have been raised years earlier, clearly showing the depth of ignorance of the enormous undertaking they were agreeing.
The leader admits he has relied on the assurances of senior officers, and allowed himself to be persuaded to abandon a position of scepticism about One Barnet, and then the Joint Venture, an issue which is crucial, not just in its immediate significance, but in the way it demonstrates the catastrophic failure of the democratic process in Barnet.
The decision to change to JV was made not by you, the Cabinet, or the Leader, although you have now dutifully approved it.
It was made in secret, by senior officers in un-minuted meetings with private consultants and bidders, under the guise of Corporate Directors Group, a body with no executive powers, acting in defiance of the principles of transparency and accountability.
Why you have been ‘persuaded’ to commit us to an arrangement which abandoned one high risk proposal to one which creates an even higher level of vulnerability, and lays the burden of risk more heavily with us?
Who benefits from this change of policy? Is it us, or Capita?
Who has benefited already from the One Barnet programme? Is it us? Or is it the private consultants who have billed us for millions of pounds, on the basis of a programme supposed to make savings which now, as we hear, are pathetically small because ‘the bidder has identified a more modest figure’?
How many senior officers involved in the One Barnet programme have had links with the companies who were bidders in this process? How many have taken jobs, or previously held jobs with them? Some most certainly have.
Why did the auditors, only after a year and a half of being asked, investigate the issue of the regulation of declarations of interest in the NSCSO and find so many failures, and why did they ignore the DRS process?
Why did you only approve a more robust regulation of the risk of conflict of interest to take effect after the tender process was over?
Why did you refuse to commission an independent risk report of One Barnet, and why did you ignore all the union reports which tried to explain to you the real dangers? Look at the warning given to you, and ignored, about Your Choice Barnet, whose business plan was written by the same consultants.
And finally: why were you so determined not to consider an in house option as an alternative to One Barnet, when this was the most obvious course of action to follow?
It is quite likely that the appeal will be successful, and the Capita deals struck out. Cllr Cornelius has again been persuaded that this would necessitate the imposition of punitive measures: savage cuts and mass redundancies. Punitive is the right word: it would be vengeance for its own sake.
We all accept the need for greater efficiencies and savings – but this is not the way to make them.
Look at the huge amount of profit Capita will make from running procurement, and remember with shame the grossly incompetent way you ran it, until we exposed what a mess you’d made of it.
Do it yourselves, with your own highly skilled staff. Dump the overpaid senior officers, and cut out the predatory consultants.
Instead of sitting back complacently, welcoming this overt act of carpet-bagging opportunism by the private sector, for God’s sake, before it is too late, sit up, man up and face the truth: you’ve been had.
Learn to say no to your officers, and the bidders, and the consultants, and remember what you have been elected to do: to serve the residents, taxpayers and voters of Barnet, and not to sell us and our public services into bondage to Capita, and their profiteering shareholders, for the next ten years.
What about a second opinion?
John Dix (Mr. Reasonable)
As I have stated many times, I have no ideological issue with outsourcing per se, so I come at this contract from a perspective of: will it work, will it deliver the promised results and do the risks outweigh the rewards? And risk is my biggest worry with this contract.
Risk number one - are you going to be able to manage this contractual relationship once the contract is signed? I am gravely concerned that over the last two years you have been deskilling the council with interims and/or Agilisys fulfilling so many key roles. When this and the NSCSO contract start there is going to be a massive skills vacuum on the council’s side and that will place you in an incredibly weak position in the JV. You only have to read through the council’s accounts to see how many senior posts are filled by interims. I have been going through Agilisys invoices as part of the inspection of accounts and their reach within the council is shocking. You have created a consultancy dependent culture in the council and you are going to pay for that dearly when this contract kicks into gear.
Risk number two – will entering into a joint venture force you, directly or indirectly, into making unpalatable decision. The shareholders’ agreement will set out rights and obligations on both parties. We have heard a great deal about Capita’s obligations but I have not as yet heard a single council obligation. Do you think there aren’t any? If there aren’t then I doubt very much it is a JV because by the very nature of the agreement both parties have responsibilities and obligations. Whilst you as a shareholder may insist on certain actions being taken or not taken, your directors on the JV board through which you decisions can be enacted have a fiduciary responsibility to the JV and that is where the problems will arise. I have a horrible feeling that when certain services are deemed unviable or when income streams don’t materialise your directors who sit on the board of the JV will be obligated to make some pretty difficult decisions which you as councillors may disagree with but you will be powerless as they are your representatives.
Risk number three - will there be a cultural fit? There will be a massive cultural difference between Barnet and Capita. You are a not for profit organisation focused on delivering services and for want of a better phrase doing the right thing. Capita is a FTSE 100 company focused on shareholder return. That cultural mismatch can work satisfactorily in a straight contract but when you form a JV it becomes much more difficult because you have to adapt to your partner’s culture and that I fear will be a massive shock for Barnet. No mention of cultural fit has been made at any stage of this contract and that suggests it has been either overlooked or ignored.
There are many more risks that I could mention but sadly there is no time. However, the one thing that you could at least do to test these risks is undertake independent due diligence. I simply cannot understand why you have refused to bring in an independent expert to carry out financial and commercial due diligence. You have had only one set of opinions, those of your expensive advisors. All the way through they have been advising you to continue with this process – well they would wouldn’t they because this project is generating millions of pounds in fees for them.
Any sensible, rational person would have said, “before I make this massive decision I need a second opinion, I need to double check the thinking and what is on offer”. If you had had a second opinion on the Catalyst contract perhaps you wouldn’t have been landed with a £10 million bill. If you had had a second opinion on the Your Choice Contract perhaps it wouldn’t be in financial crisis.
Three weeks and £40,000 would give you at least some comfort that you were doing the right thing. But you have resolutely refused to take a second opinion. Well that, in my opinion is probably the biggest risk of all; it is arrogant and it is reckless. You still have time – think again - get an independent second opinion.
You confirmed my worst fears about privatisation and outsourcing.
I am a resident of this borough who has no background in economics or business, but does have a bit of common sense.
When I voted in the local elections, I had hoped that the councillors elected had all three: some understanding of economics, knowledge of how to run a borough, AND common sense.
I had hoped that I colid trust them to manage this borough’s affairs wisely, using my council tax money to look after my interests.
I was very happy to leave all matters of council affairs in what I then thought were your trusted hands.
Sadly, I was wrong.
- I know I was wrong because I have watched our town centres dying slowly, and witnessed the sad decline of our local economy.
- I know I was wrong when I speak with close friends who work in the council and who have lost or are about to lose their jobs,
- I know I was wrong when I hear the cruel and arrogant Cllr Tom Davey plan to send Barnet residents who use the social housing he is in charge of, away from the borough – loyally following his Leader, who stated ‘there is no place for people on benefits in this borough’ while finding £1 million pounds to bail out the incompetence of your creation - Your Choice Barnet.
- I know I was wrong when I hear about my friend’s daughter, a woman with Down’s Syndrom, who is unsettled and depressed following changes in her day centre’s provision, brought about by the first of One Barnet contracts – Your Choice Barnet,
- I know I was wrong when I hear about a severely disabled men whose special needs are ‘too expensive in staff time’ and are being dragged around aimlessly ‘in the community’ instead of being engaged in meaningfli activity in the purpose-blilt day centre - as before the creation of Your Choice Barnet.
Your Choice Barnet demonstrates my worst fears about privatisation and outsourcing.
If evidence were ever needed, Your Choice Barnet demonstrates what happens to services when they are run for profit, in market conditions, and out of the public’s control.
THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK THAT OTHER ONE-BARNET CONTRACTS – DRS and NSCSO –WILL BE ANY DIFFERENT.
Looking at your plans for the One Barnet Programme, I realise that you, dear Cabinet members, who are entrusted with the present and the future of this borough, don’t really understand these matters more than I do.
You certainly don’t seem to employ any common sense in your role. You certainly don’t seem to scrutinise and question those highly paid conslitants and top officers with vested interests, who recommend you to put your trust in Capita, a company notorious for failing to provide public services.
Although I did not study business, I know that I need to forget my natural optimism and my trust in the human race when it comes to dealing with businessmen and contracts, and I need to read the small print VERY careflily as if I expect to be cheated.
Yet when fellow resident John Dix, who DOES understand business and economics, asked you questions – or sholid I say - spoon-fed you with the questions YOU sholid have been asking; or when Theresa Musgrove, who DOES understand the true meaning of scrutiny, asked you sensible and intelligent questions - neither he nor she nor any other resident in this and in other committee meeting, got any meaningfli answers.
So, before you make a decision to award the DRS contract too, like thep style=”font-family: arial; color: black; font-size: 12px;” align=”left”> NSCSO, worth £275 MILLION pounds of OUR money, to an unreliable mlitinational and turn Barnet into Capitaville, please ask yourselves:
Will Capita protect the health of our public if it threatens to reduce their profit?!
Will they supervise Trading Standards, Blilding Control & Environmental Health properly?
And who will monitor THEM and ensure they DO?!
Will you have employ an objective and accountable public servant to monitor the monitoring officers of Capita?!
And whose liability will it be if risks to public health DO materialise?
Will anyone go to jail or even lose their job or bonus if residents are hurt? Did any individual pay a price over the death of Yuk Kiu Lee and the illness caused by H&S failures in Fremantle???!!!
I implore you on behalf of myself and all the other Barnet residents who want to be able to trust you to protect their health and well-being:
Do NOT RENOUNCE transparency and accountability!
Do NOT outsource these services.
Do NOT put the health and safety of Barnet residents at risk!