Friday, December 07, 2012

How not to oppose "One Barnet"

Last night brought back feelings of nostalgia .

I was at the Town Hall to listen to the Cabinet Meeting that we all knew was going to unanimously agree the "One Barnet" contract with Capita .

However there was   process to go through .

The meeting took place in Committee Rooms one and two which soon became full to the extent that badly briefed security guards attempted to exclude elected Councillors , not helped by the fact that the Leaders Wife, Cllr Mrs Cornelius had distributed various coats , scarves and items of winter clothing across two rows of seats at the front like a demented German tourist with the sun loungers .

The Cabinet were all present , some looking a little sheepish and the meeting started with the usual thirty minutes of public questions. The usual suspects who submit these questions are often their own worst enemies and I am completely at a loss as to whom they think their target audience is . There were two sensible and important questions in the whole half hour but the rest just frankly seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices knowing in advance what sort of answer they will get. The local journalists do not bother writing anything down and Mr Silverman , not even the most committed opponent  was listening to your endless monologue which just seemed to go on and on and selfishly wasted time at the expense of other residents. The most sensible issue raised was the collection rate of Council tax which currently stands at a very respectable 98.2 per cent and which privately no Councillor thinks can be significantly approved upon by Capita or in fact the Arch Angel Gabriel!

The Leader of the Council was obviously pursuing a policy of charm and reasonableness, both qualities that he possesses in abundance ,  towards residents but sadly this was at the expense of attempting to keep any sort of discipline in the public gallery . Councillor Rams on the other hand , had clearly been attending courses at the Brian Coleman School of Charm (but Robert you never completed the course )  and I suspect was taking secret pleasure at winding up the sad , mad and the bad and the occasional  reasonable resident.

Councillor Hugh Rayner as Chairman of one of the relevant Scrutiny Committees and on behalf of the the Chairman of the other , who was not able to attend ( a wedding I suspect !) mentioned very little and had to be reminded by the Leader of the four points he was supposed to have mentioned so that the relevant Cabinet Member could give the scripted reply and so that  they all knew where they is the pre distributed scripts . The Leader of the Opposition spoke , slower and more authoritatively than usual but she knew she was just going through the motions . Nice ( always a damning word in Politics)  , pleasant and hardworking as Cllr Alison Moore is her failure to proper harness the opposition to " One Barnet" , and her failure to outline cogently the alternatives has allowed the unreformed 1980s lefties to dictate the anti agenda

Once the cabinet had begun to discuss the report before them in a clearly orchestrated move a number of people in the public gallery stood on their chairs and started chanting in a clear stupid attempt to stop the meeting . All that happened was that the Cabinet , Officers, Other Councillors present and the press just adjourned into the neighbouring "Heritage" Room , ironic really as the Cabinet were busy destroying the Council's Heritage, which had been already set up to deal with such an eventuality.

The sensible residents who had come along to listen to the Cabinet debate the matter and are genuinely interested in the issues found themselves excluded as the lunatics attempted to take over the asylum. The demonstrators achieved absolutely nothing except made themselves beyond the pale to reasonable middle of the road residents . It was a massive own goal and handed the Cabinet a huge PR victory . Remember "One Barnet" will only be defeated if those of us who believe in democratic politics persuade enough of our colleagues to come with us and form a united front with "Mr and Mrs Average Barnet" . Mr and Mrs Average Barnet would run a mile from last night's disgraceful behaviour .

The resulting debate in the Heritage Room would win the "Olivier award" for best original script and several cabinet members struggled to adopt the "concerned face" look which was clearly in the stage directions as they asked their scripted questions which all seemed to begin with " I am concerned about X , can I be reassured about .....................?

Surprise , Surprise all the Cabinet were duly reassured about their concerns .

I will spare the blushes of the Cabinet member who duly read out their allocated lines whilst I knew jolly well they did not believe a word of it . As long as you can sleep at night Councillor .

However the answers did give a lot of useful information especially about guarantees that Capita has given about quality of service and scrutiny . The problem is that these are meaningless. How do I know ? I have been there and got the T shirt !

The vast majority of the current Cabinet have little experience of running anything or of dealing with the awarding of large and sensitive Local Government contracts .

In 2001 I was Leader of the Opposition Conservative Group on the London Fire Authority (LFEPA) when the then Labour Chair ( Val Shawcross) brought forward proposals to out source the ownership and management of the entire vehicle fleet and the workshops of the Fire Brigade . I and my Group were somewhat sceptical, not least by the length of the contract , but after endless Officer briefings , some minor changes and much discussion we supported the Labour Group proposals , why ? because the contract was with a subsidiary of British Gas , there were guarantees from the parent company so nothing could go wrong and anyway British Gas was a huge company , with lots of experience . Sound familiar ?

It was not long before British Gas sold the contract on and after various deals it ended up being run by a company called Asset Co and then finally (this Summer)  by an eccentric Northamptonshire Baronet who collected vintage cars when the brigade finally brought it back in house before outsourcing it again !

The losers last night were the ordinary residents of Barnet , they deserve better than the Cabinet decision and they most certainly deserve better than the howling mob who should be ashamed of themselves

No doubt several bloggers went home with moist gussets thinking they had achieved some great victory over the Council , they achieved nothing except the betrayal of the residents they claim to represent . It is time for the usual suspects to shut up and allow the sensible , reasoned opponents of this process to take the floor .


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