Here is a joint follow up letter to councillors reflecting on the statement made by Brian Coleman yesterday.
We wrote to you recently about the impending vote on the motion of no confidence in Leader Richard Cornelius. We observed that there was a rising tide of concern in your ranks about the One Barnet programme of outsourcing, and we asked you to act to halt the negotiations for the privatisation of £1 billion worth of our council services. Now your former colleague Brian Coleman, who has been a senior member of the Cabinet and exerted considerable influence within the party, has chosen to speak out against One Barnet in the strongest terms, calling for its immediate rejection.
In his statement in the Barnet Press, Councillor Coleman refers to the proposed outsourcing as ‘an officer-driven juggernaut’ backed up by a ‘revolving door of endless consultants’ with a ‘promise of savings’. By implication, Cllr Coleman does not believe that One Barnet will deliver those savings.
‘The council needs to dump this flawed scheme and introduce a proper strategy which assesses where services belong, whether that is the private sector, shared services with other boroughs, the voluntary sector or indeed occasionally in-house - a mixed economy is what is needed.’
We would give far more weight than Cllr Coleman to considering the in-house option fully as services are reviewed, but we are glad that he is prepared to voice publicly the idea that large-scale privatisation of services is not the answer to all our prayers. He is not alone in this; many senior Conservative politicians in local government are saying the same.
He also says of his erstwhile colleagues:
‘I don't know any councillors who agree we should privatise the planning department.’
We invite those of you for whom this is true to speak out! We ask again: who controls the Council, senior officers or the elected Councillors?
We are pleased to see that at last a Conservative councillor is voicing in public the concerns that many of you have about One Barnet, especially since he has had to put aside loyalty to Richard Cornelius in order to do it. (Although, as he points out, Cllr Cornelius had become convinced that One Barnet will save money, he too was angered by the covert moves senior officers took towards adopting a Joint Venture for the DRS outsourcing.)
Cllr Coleman has also put on record the consternation that many of you felt when Nick Walkley pressed the button on his ejector seat out of the Barnet cockpit. Of course, we have many differences with Cllr Coleman. For example, his suggestion that Conservative councillors have gone along with the One Barnet proposals because the unions had their own separate objections to them seems far-fetched. We find it hard to believe that the Conservative philosophy has as shallow a basis as knee-jerk hostility to anything the unions say.
Notwithstanding that, and our very many differences with Cllr Coleman over the years, there is an indisputable truth in much of what he is now saying about One Barnet. It is only a pity that someone did not speak out publicly before!
A glance at what is happening with the parking contract recently outsourced to NSL shows the dangers ahead if the Council plunges ahead with One Barnet.
The parking contract has been in place for six months and NSL have still not got over their teething troubles; this contract was for £15 million over five years. If you scale up from a £3 million a year mess to £100 million a year how much havoc will be wrought in the lives of residents?
Opening his article, Cllr Coleman says:
‘Something has happened in the last few months in Barnet. Residents have been taking an interest in the way Barnet Council is proposing to operate in future, the so-called One Barnet scheme.’
He is right, residents are very interested in that, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Of course, like you, residents are concerned about the fate – for that is what it is – of their council services, and of the money they have paid out in taxes to secure them.
We hardly need to remind you that residents will also take an interest in who was in charge when their services were handed over wholesale to two large companies, and tied up in 10-year contracts. We all know who they will blame when the service delivery falls short of the high standards they have experienced up till now, or when there are contractual wrangles about service levels with the contractors BT, Capita et al.
Cllr Coleman suggests that Barnet Conservative councillors are behaving like lemmings heading for a cliff. That is not a very positive image but we have to believe that his comments do have some valuable insights and that there must be some truth in them that demand your urgent consideration.
We ask you now then to follow the instinct of your own common sense, stop behaving like lemmings, and abandon the reckless One Barnet programme before it is too late.