Saturday, 28 April 2012

Barnet Council - a case study in Hubris

I did think about writing up the Audit committee on Thursday night but as ever Mrs Angry has done a much more effective and entertaining job. I asked a couple of questions and I gave a speech about what I see is an enormous gap in the internal audit plan that will leave the council very exposed when, in 8 months time, Barnet hands over the operation of most of the council’s key administration to a private company.

However, what continues to shock me is the level of hubris Barnet Council exhibits. I had to look up a definition of hubris to make sure I wasn’t talking nonsense and I found this one that sum up what it means to me: “extreme pride or arrogance often indicating a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power”.

The senior officers and cabinet members have taken us down the route of One Barnet Outsourcing, a high risk strategy. At the Audit Committee I raised a number of issues which I believe the committee members should have been asking about One Barnet. I got a sense that Cllr Palmer and perhaps Cllr Schama understand the risks, but the attitude of the Council as exhibited by the rest of the committee and all of the officers is so arrogant that I fear it will only lead to disaster.

We were told by yet another new consultant that they would be sorting out procurement. Back in June last year they put forward an action plan to sort out procurement that at the time I said would not work. We had a consultant then (Mick Stokes) who was going to sort it out. At the time I made the point that giving responsibility to a consultant on a six months contract would not provide the continuity needed to drive through the changes required in procurement. Sadly I was proved right and now we have another consultant on another six month contract starting all over again.

Last year I also said that there was a fundamental cultural problem at Barnet with an excessive level of self belief that One Barnet would solve all of the council’s problems. The arrogance of senior officers that they know the answer coupled with their loss of grip on reality has meant that the day to day functions of the council have slipped right down the priorities list.

I have worked with many large organisations and one of the phrases I use sometimes is “stop drinking your own bathwater”. I have seen organisations where ‘consultant speak’ has become the common language and the more it is repeated the more people believe it to be true. Sadly this often ends badly when reality kicks in and suddenly the organisation is plunged into chaos as all their reference points of belief are suddenly found to be false.
From my perspective this is exactly what I see happening in Barnet and this situation is perpetuated by the hubris demonstrated by the senior management team and a few dogma driven members of the cabinet. Their self belief and arrogance will ultimately bring about their downfall but sadly it will have dramatic consequences of all of the citizens of Barnet.

It is still not too late for the Council to change, but only just. Someone needs to get a grip on reality and get back to what they are supposed to do, deliver good services for local people fairly and cost effectively. Failure to do will only end in disaster.


  1. oh well said, Mr R ... hubris is exactly the word,and you are right, the more distanced from reality they become, the more prevalent the use of meaningless corporate speak, like some sort of superstitious incantation.

  2. I have another saying similar to your bathwater one Mr R and it is "High on your own supply". It's funny as bloggers often express doubt about what they are writing and ask oithers to check what they have written before publisihing which shows an understanding of our own human frailty.

    I plan, when I have time, which I never have any longer, to write to all councillors with a guide as to how to be a good councillor. More effort is required. Councillors were asking questions at Audit to which the audience of 3 bloggers all knew the answers because we have put the work into reading countless long and boring reports and undertsanding, as far as one is able to from outside, the detail.