A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Constitution, Ethics & Probity Committee when the Council were proposing to stop people asking questions at Overview & Scrutiny Committee Meetings. I talked about whether the Council viewed residents as a valuable resource or an adversary. In my opinion the Council definitely put residents in the latter category. However I was somewhat heartened that at the follow up meeting of this committee the council dropped the proposal to stop people asking questions at Scrutiny Committees.
Cllr Jack Cohen had suggested that allowing people to speak informs the debate but that asking questions shuts down debate. My view then and now is that we need both. There are times when a question will elicit a specfic answer whereas other times, talking to a committee allows resdients to provide qualitative evidence. So for Scrutiny both will remain in place. There was also a subtle shift in the stance of cabinet meetings where rather than expressly forbidding speakers it would now be at the Chairman's discretion.
And so it comes to tonight's cabinet resources committee. An expert on procurement and value for money had asked to speak on the topic of CCTV that the council wish to introduce. This expert had benchmarked the proposed contract and believes that it may not represent good value for money. Now if I was the Leader of the Council I would welcome someone who has valuable information to offer with open arms. "Please come along and give us your views. Help us be more efficient and save money".
Well not in Barnet. The Chairman of the Cabinet Resources Committee, Cllr Dan Thomas has declined to allow this expert to speak at the committee meeting tonight. I wonder why? Is it because he doesn't believe this person - unlikely as this person has a track record of identifying poor procurement and waste. Is it because this subject is controversial - not really it is just a CCTV contract. Is it because CRC simply don't want to listen to anyone because actually this is a rubber stamping meeting - almost definitely. Finally, is it because this expert is none other than apolitical Barnet Blogger, Mr Mustard, who has relentlessly identified problems with council contracts - ah well there you go. Cllr Thomas actually believes that public question time is "adequate for public participation during the meeting".
So in Barnet we can on have free speech if it adds little and doesn't have any impact on what the council does. Anyone with good ideas, good business sense or an eye for detail are definitely not welcome. Cllr Jack Cohen said that questions shuts down debate. Well tonight that is precisely what Cabinet and Cabinet Resources want - no debate.