Saturday, 1 October 2011

Barnet’ s budget consultation – A lottery of the future?

Good old Barnet Council. They really must be worried if the latest consultation wheeze is anything to go by. First of all you have to find the consultation page on the Council’s website not an easy thing to do so I have embedded a link here ensure readers can take a look at this wonder.

First we have Councillor Thomas with a professionally made video with lots of lovely chart telling like Private Fraser in Dad’s Army, “We’re all doomed,”. Take a careful look at the chart they show. The first one shows spending on Overseas Aid rising and Barnet spending falling. What’s the subtle message there Cllr Thomas? He then shows us another graph which seems to suggest that by 2022/23 adult social care and children's services will be consuming the entire council budget. Well I’m sorry but I simply don’t buy this one. Frankly I think this government will have been kicked out long before that happens. Also I don’t believe that council tax will not rise over the next ten years. It one of those clever little chart that are meant to frighten people without actually conveying any sense of reality.

So now we move on to the survey. Although I would absolutely not claim to be an expert I have carried out a few consumer surveys in my time. My golden rule is don’t ask a question unless you can do something with the results. What we are presented with is a list of 28 activities and then asked

Which of the following services are most important to YOU?
Which services do you think are the most important for the council and it partners to focus on FOR BARNET AS A WHOLE?

You are only allowed to pick 8 out of the 28 listed. It's a bit like picking your lottery numbers and hoping they come up. The list of activities is set out below.

1. Community safety services (tackling anti-social behaviour & crime)
2. Council owned leisure facilities
3. Doorstep recycling
4. Environmental health service
5. Fostering, adoption and children in care
6. Housing advice and housing benefits
7. Keeping vulnerable adults safe
8. Library service
9. Nursery and early years services
10. Parking services
11. Parks, playgrounds and open spaces
12. Planning and building control
13. Primary education (5- 11 yrs)
14. Provision for public space CCTV
15. Recycling facilities
16. Refuse collection
17. Repair of roads and pavements
18. Secondary education (11 - 18 yrs)
19. Street cleaning
20. Street lighting
21. Support for adults with a learning disability
22. Support for adults with a physical disability
23. Support for adults with mental health problems
24. Support for children with disabilities and special needs
25. Support to family carers of adults
26. Support to older people with care needs
27. Trading standards, consumer advice & licensing
28. Youth activities

Now let me see which ones are important to me? How do you prioritise secondary education over environmental health for example or how about fostering or refuse collection. And where do I think the "council’s focus for Barnet as a whole" should be? Support for adults with a learning disability, or repairs of roads and pavements.

The next question asks if there are any service areas you think the Council need to improve on.

The last question asks if you have used any of the services. Interestingly it appears to omit provision of public space CCTV, refuse collection, repairs of roads and maintenance, street cleaning and street lighting.

Now my question is what are earth are they going to do with this data. Are they seriously suggesting that if not enough people identify support to older people with care needs that they will stop providing it.

Perhaps if the council spent a lot less money on expensive lawyers and consultants dreaming yet more bizarre ways to “re-engineer the council”, hugely expensive IT systems, over paid senior officers on consultancy contracts and focused on running all of these services better we wouldn’t need to be answering such ridiculous questions.

If Barnet want to consult then let’s do it properly and based on informed decisions not some harebrained, petty, little on line survey.

Take it seriously Barnet and host open discussion sessions around the borough. If you can spend £30k of the pledgebank website (success 1 pledge)then surely you should invest a little in some decent consultation.

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