Last night's question time on the One Barnet outsourcing programme must have made Cllr Richard Cornelius feel very uncomfortable. Several hundred residents crammed in to the Greek Cypriot Centre to tell the conservative councillors their concerns about the huge risks and unknown consequences of outsourcing so many core services to the private sector.
There were many telling comments like Andy Mudd, (consultant from APSE) who said that Barnet was probably one of the worst contracting authority he had come across. Jack Cohen talked about being kept in the dark and Richard himself said that he didn't know what was in the contract. A
However, for me the most telling moments were the comments made by residents. Many expressed their concern, alarm and incredulity that the council should be entering into such long and complex contracts without knowing any of the detail. A council employee talked about the problems with the outsourced parking contract. Barnet Homes tenants talked about the problems arising when the outsourced maintenance contractor went bust. Someone from Somerset also spoke up about the problems at SouthWest One.
I was sat close to conservative councillors David Longstaff and Lisa Rutter and Cllr Rutter looked particularly concerned during the meeting. It may be that she is worried about the lack of details and transparency on One Barnet. It may be that she is happy with the policy but worried just how badly the council have communicated the concept to Barnet residents. It may be that she is entirely comfortable about the whole process. However, I suspect that this morning many conservative councillors will be wondering if embarking on this high risk programme is really worth the risk, risk of it going wrong and risk of them losing their seats at the next election. This isn't going to go away. Barnet residents are asking a lot more awkward questions, the national media are putting Barnet under the microscope and it is receiving widespread coverage.
Many people have shown that there are alternatives to this massive outsourcing but the conservatives' commitment to the policy suggests that they are either bankrupt of ideas or ideologically wedded to the concept irrespective of the evidence. We have a window of two weeks before councillors decide on whether they are going to commit every single Barnet resident to what may be a financial disaster or to call a halt to proceedings. Conservative councillors, please use your common sense, halt the process and at least take some independent financial advice on the nature of the proposed deal.