Dear Councillor Cornelius,
We wrote to you last week in regard to the announcement by Pam Wharfe, Barnet Council’s ‘interim’ Director of Environment, Planning and Regeneration, that a decision has been made to abandon the One Barnet Strategic Partnership proposals for the outsourcing of £275 million worth of our local services in favour of a ‘Joint Venture’.
You have since contradicted her statement, saying:
“No decision has been made. No case for a jv has been made beyond the suggestion that there might be such as case. The decisions will be made by elected members in due course.”
In a subsequent message to staff Ms Wharfe has informed staff that:
“...the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussion with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option.”
Neither the DRS project board nor the Corporate Directors Group includes any elected members of the council. Membership of the DRS project board, we understand, is restricted to a small number of senior council officers and two consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER, the company working as ‘implementation partner’ to One Barnet, at an average cost to local tax payers of £250,000 per month.
It would appear that Barnet Council is preparing to commit the financial security of this borough to a new model of outsourcing – one that its own consultants’ advice identified as more risky and costly than the one originally chosen, and that this decision has been made by senior officers before any consideration or approval by the elected members of the council.
Ms Wharfe’s own comments about the new Joint Venture seem to suggest that senior management are not at all concerned by the increased risk of failure that this new commitment will entail, or the increased responsibilities for the authority that this option would involve, as a result of guaranteeing more favourable terms for the successful bidder at the conclusion of the dialogue process.
As residents, however, we are concerned: and we believe that you should be too.
We would ask you and your colleagues to consider the real possibility that in the event of the new Joint Venture failing, the council will still be left with the duty to provide the affected services, whilst the successful bidder may simply walk away with no obligation.
We believe that Councillors have clearly not been fully informed as to the details of the Joint Venture, and that the scale of risk that the One Barnet programme presents is simply not fully understood by members. It seems that the need for members to be fully informed of developments and involved in the formation of policy at all stages of the dialogue process has been deliberately overlooked.
Perhaps as well as a decision to pursue a new model of outsourcing, the council is committing itself to a new form of local government, in which the democratic process is set aside for a bureaucratic dictatorship, entirely controlled by the senior management team.
If Barnet is indeed determined to bypass the democratic process, and to give the role of policy and decision making to senior officers, rather than to the political leadership of the Conservative group and the Cabinet, we would suggest this makes the role of the elected members completely redundant, although of course it may well offer a new opportunity for cost cutting exercises in the withdrawal of members’ allowances.
Failing that, may we ask you to assert your authority as leader of the council, recognise that the outsourcing programme has been totally discredited, and instruct your own officers to follow a course of action which is the result of proper consultation and policy formation rather than one shaped by the motivations of their own agenda.