Back in May 2010, some 16 months ago, the Conservative voters of Barnet saw fit to re-elect the Tory administration for another four year term. I wonder how many of those Conservative voters would have been happy with the complete and utter mess the Council have got themselves into now.
Today some Barnet Council staff are on strike. Perhaps the Daily Mail readers amongst you will boo and hiss at this stage. Well I know John Burgess of Unison and I know a lot of people who work for Barnet Council and frankly I think they have been given no other choice. They have been pushed into this position by what seems to me a blind adherence to political dogma from Conservative Councillors whilst ignoring both common sense and the facts.
Even before the last election I was voicing my concerns about the whole Future Shape/One Barnet project. As a management consultant for the last 25 years I’ve learned the language of bulls**t and psychobabble and I can smell it at 50 paces. The Council is spending millions of pounds each year on very expensive consultants to dream up these harebrained schemes but sadly the supporting evidence is completely absent. I read both of the business cases in detail and if I had ever produced work of such weak quality I would have been sacked.
When you are embarking on contracts with a total value of £1 billion you need to be absolutely sure that :
• You are doing it for the right reasons;
• That you have considered all possible options;
• That there is strong and supportable evidence base to back up the assumptions;
• That you have considered and analysed in great detail all of the risks; and
• That the benefits are tangible and realisable.
I would say the current business case for this mass outsourcing fails on just about every count. Please be clear; I am not opposed to outsourcing. In fact I have earned a living over many years helping companies carry out outsourcing projects. The difference here is the scale and structure of the outsourcing. There are no trials taking place; no testing of just one service at a time. No, this seems to me to be the gambler’s all or nothing strategy. The problem is that this gamble impacts hundreds of council staff and if it all goes wrong, services will suffer and it could end up costing every council taxpayer in Barnet a pile of money.
Some people will say that this strategy is unavoidable because we have to make savings. Well we may have to make savings but from what I can see:
a) Staff have already made great sacrifices – 140 were made redundant at Christmas and there have been big budget cuts even before a single outsourcing company has set foot in Barnet.
b) There are still great saving to be made in areas such as hugely expensive consultants and lawyers – the budget for the company helping to implement One Barnet is £2 million and £500,000 for the lawyers to help draft the contract.
c) Employing consultants to fill full time senior council officer posts. For example, the Deputy Chief Executive is a consultant on £1,000 a day and last year he cost the council £206,000; the Assistant Director of Human Resources, cost £133,975; Assistant Director Barnet Communications, £114,912; Assistant Director Commercial Assurance, £105,204 and that figure doesn’t even represent a full year. I cannot believe that with so many unemployed we cannot find good staff at much more realistic salaries.
d) The huge amount being spent on implementing the SAP IT system (total cost to date in excess of £23 million).
e) And little things like buying every councillor a brand new laptop costing over £1,600 each, wasting at least £30,000 on the pledgebank website which so far has only had 1 successful pledge, £70,000 a year spent on the Council’s Barnet First magazine which I only see when Igo to the council offices.
Today is the strike. Staff wanted to strike only for the afternoon to minimise disruption to the public so what does the council do but locked them out this morning as well. We face library closures. Services to some of the most vulnerable are being cut, they got rid of crossing patrol staff, they have whacked up parking charges and allotment fees. They have closed the only two museums in Barnet and have cut the funding for the Artsdepot. It now looks like they are going to savage the leisure services. The opportunity to debate this with the Council has been stifled by the draconian new rules for the residents forums (contrary to the council’s own independent research) which now excludes any question on council policy.
Come on Conservative voters, is this really what you voted for?