I know John Burgess, the leader of Unison on Barnet and I have heard him say many times that he is willing and eager to discuss how savings can be made but that the Council are unwilling to listen. This came out yesterday time and time again. There is a huge amount of talent and knowledge within the Council workforce that could help to meet the tough budget cuts imposed on the Council by Central Government. What the current Conservative regime has failed miserably to do is utilise all of that talent and goodwill to deliver responsible and considered change in Barnet. Instead the Conservatives have been sold a model out mass outsourcing which has a dreadful track record at other local authorities and which is costing rate payers millions of pounds in consultants and legal fees.
Solving such a challenging problem of the budget cuts needs a clear vision and an ability to be creative in the way the council provides services. The outsourcing model the council have been sold shows no vision whatsoever and is a crude blunt instrument which assumes that the private sector have all the answers - which they don't.
What saddens me most is how the most vulnerable are being impacted by this crude and insensitive cost cutting model. They have few votes and they are votes the Conservatives seem prepared to sacrifice to push through their discredited outsourcing programme. If One Barnet is pushed through there is a very high likelihood that it will fail. McKinsey's published a report in 2008 showing that 70% of major organisational change programmes fail. One Barnet is such a programme and already the signs of failure are apparent.
In questions to the Leader and Cabinet at Tuesday's Council meeting tucked away at question 69 there is a response from Cllr Joanna Tambourides which highlights the corrosive and damaging effect that One Barnet is already having on the operations of the Council. In response to why the planning service is failing to meet satisfaction targets Cllr Tambourides says,
"The Planning Service has had an unprecedented number of officers leave their posts either permanently or temporarily over the last year. Filling the vacant positions with suitable replacements has been challenging. As a consequence, remaining officers have had to take on significantly larger case loads than normal and these have proved to be difficult to manage. This has resulted in planning applications, on average, taking longer to deal with and this has impacted on customer satisfaction, together with the reduction of time officers are able to spend with customers on the phone. Every effort is being made to ensure the Planning Service has sufficient resource to deal with demands. The recent changes to delegated powers will also help in reducing the amount of time officers spend on processing planning applications for presentation at committee. It is anticipated that customer satisfaction will improve as the backlog of planning applications is reduced. The Service is confident of meeting customer satisfaction targets before transfer to the new provider and the new provider will be required to continually improve customer satisfaction."
What a surprise! Tell staff that in 12 months time they may not have a job and then show surprise when they all start looking for new jobs and why would new staff join the Council when they could be out of a job in less than 12 months. I said this would happen over a year ago at an audit committee meeting. Exactly the same thing happened when Government announced the intended closure of Primary Health Authorities. Key staff started leaving straightaway with no chance of recruiting new staff.
There is a very simple solution to One Barnet and that is to put it on hold. Start engaging with the staff and the community about creative solutions that have the buy in of everyone and they are much more likely to stick. This can happen quickly because the ideas are there and there is a will to make change happen.
Cllr Cornelius, there is most definitely an alternative solution to the problems we are faced with but you need to have the will and the courage to stop the One Barnet Programme now and start working with staff and the community to deliver a better, cost effective and more harmonious Barnet.