Sunday, 16 December 2018

It's not just Barnet that's broken - it's Broken Britain

This week is one that will go down in history as a series of dreadful mistakes and missed opportunities both nationally and locally. It started with the national TV debate which in the end didn't happen (although the Channel 4 debate did shine a light on Caroline Lucas). Next came the Brexit vote that was cancelled mid-way through the parliamentary debate.  I watched the madness in parliament with a feeling of despair and hopelessness. National politicians grandstanding for the sake of ego sickens me and when this was followed by the vote of no confidence in Theresa May's leadership it was yet another example of selfish individuals screwing millions of ordinary people who are just trying to get through life.

I watched Prime Minister's questions and was given the impression that I was living in a parallel universe. Employment at an all time high - well, given that you only have to work one hour per fortnight to qualify as being in employment and there is immense pressure to take any work with the threat of benefit sanctions, that is hardly surprising. The problem is that it forces people into the wrong jobs. Many years ago I learned about frictional unemployment: that period of unemployment while people search for the right job that matches their skills. To my mind it is an acceptable form of unemployment because it helps to optimise the skills of individuals where they can maximise their productivity. In Britain we have high levels of employment but falling productivity. Forcing people to take the very first job offer irrespective of their skills just seems like a waste of talent and an inefficient use of resources. There is a classic example of this in today's Guardian which typifies the plight of many graduates who have been convinced to make a massive investment in their education, piling up huge student debts, but betrayed by government who have failed to come up with a coherent industrial strategy to boost high value, high paid jobs.

The government also talk about wage rises. That's not the feedback I get from friends and relatives who are stuck on minimum wages. The minimum wage is going up next year by 4.9% - sounds great doesn't it. But when you look at what that actually means in cash money it is just 38p an hour. When you look how much energy, food and rent are rising by then you realise that 4.9% of f*** all is still F*** ALL.

This week also saw Capita come in for even more criticism of their failings in the National Health Service and Army recruitment yet they still keep their contracts, propped up a government who seem to accept poor performance in return for keeping privatisation of the public sector.

What I see is a cruel, self-serving, remote and out of touch Government that seems to demonize the poorest in society and reward the privileged and wealthy.

This translates from a national level to local politics in leafy Barnet. This week we saw approval given to £68 million of cuts to frontline services, including Children's, Adults', Environment and Housing services.
To save money, Barnet Conservatives agreed to changes in council tax support that will see thousands of people worse off, without allowing any public comment and questions. The contempt was magnified when the Council's Monitoring Officer appeared to say that public comment and questions have no value.  Dr Julia Hines recorded this contempt at the meeting.
At the same meeting Conservatives decided that it was okay for officers to ignore the unanimous request of Cllrs to prepare full business cases for the in-sourcing of Capita services. This means that we will have to put up with paying for failing services like pensions, payroll, customer services and IT for even longer.

Then, to round off the week, Barnet published the unredacted version of the Grant Thornton Report into the £2m fraud. It set out in detail the evidence of the fraud, one missed by both the Council's internal auditor and the Capita-run Finance Department. What was most shocking was the statement Capita released which seemed to shirk responsibility, undermining the credibility of the report even though we know it happened and the offender is in prison.
Barnet is a reflection of Conservative Britain; contemptuous, selfish and happy to make the wrong decisions for a few short term savings. We need to start again with a fresh agenda, a clear vision of what we want Britain to deliver to its citizens, of how society should treat its most needy and the role of big business in that plan. We have a nation of good, talented, hard working people who deserve so much more from their government than what we have been served up this week. We need and deserve change. Let's hope we get it in the New Year.

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