Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The landscape is changing, or: the journey that we are on - back to school, in Capitaville

The landscape of Broken Barnet is changing ... Capita: et in arcadio ego.

The first rule of Broken Barnet is the only rule of Broken Barnet.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it: break it, break it up, pull it apart, burn it down, toss it away - or put it up for sale.

The former Tory administration, of course, has already performed a brilliant hatchet job on the body of our local council services, in giving away as much of it as possible, but one of the characteristics of this type of indulgence in serial capitalism is that once is never enough, and the perpetrators are always looking for new victims. 

Or in other words, what is left, to butcher, and display on a slab, on offer on that corporate market stall?

Education is something the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet like to think they are awfully good at delivering, and for which they should take all the credit, and none of the criticism.

It is fair to say there are some very good schools in Barnet, but the best of them, at secondary level, are highly selective, and packed full of middle class pupils from a huge catchment area way beyond the confines of the borough. 

And many pupils who live in the borough, and come from less comfortably placed backgrounds struggle to find a place at a good local school. 

Having inherited a tradition of well thought of educational establishments, however, is not enough for Barnet Tories. They are not interested in the thought of education for its own sake, just as they hold no interest in the provision of care for its own sake. 

The provision of care, as we see in the disastrous 'Your Choice Barnet' enterprise, must be made to make a profit, no matter how distasteful that might seem to many of us - and now education too is to be dragged into the marketplace.

At Monday night's Children's Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, members were asked to consider a report on the 'future delivery' of educational services. 

Before the meeting, Mr Reasonable wrote an excellent post exposing the inherent weakness of the claims made in this report, a blatant attempt to force us into a commercialisation of yet another public service: 

Already we see the case for an in-house option  deliberately misrepresented and minimised, so as to ensure an unbalanced preference for the involvement of the private sector. 

Clearly they want to ease the way for oh, let's see, some company like - just off the top of Mrs Angry's head - say, Capita, to take over, and add education to their already bulging bag of services, stuffed in there with such enthusiasm by our doltish Tory councillors, at the behest of the senior management team which has always been the real driver of One Barnet.

Much of the report is frankly rather comical in the absolute lack of awareness - or perhaps disregard - for the clunking way in which the way towards further Capitalisation of Barnet's services is being prepared.

We read, for example, that some market testing has already been carried out: 

3.3.2 Initial Market Research

Based on the initial assessment of the options, some assumptions required testing with the market. Due to the sensitive nature of the project it was decided that the most appropriate method of carrying out this research was to invite four industry representative companies to complete a questionnaire and attend a short interview with the aim of answering the following questions:

• Is there a market appetite for this type of contract?
• Is the scope appropriate? If not what could be added or removed?
• Would the role of schools as owners in the model be an issue?
• What level of growth is possible for the services in scope?
• What would be required to ensure a fair procurement process is recognised
as such?

Four companies were asked to take part, and three agreed to do so.  

Thanks to public questions submitted by residents Barbara and Bob Jacobson, we now know who those three companies were: Babcock, Carillion and erm, who was it now ... name escapes me. 

Ah. Capita. 

In other words, two patsies and one contender. 

And their responses? Mrs Angry's rude remarks in red.

• All respondents agreed that there was a market for this package of services 

Well, f*ck me. Who knew?

• All respondents identified the value in providing a single brand for educational services


• Some respondents speculated that some services may be subcontracted or delivered in partnership with co-bidders


• Some respondents identified additional services that could be added into scope including early years and libraries

Ah: libraries - but of course. If you think the Rams regime was a threat to libraries, readers, you need to prepare yourself for what is on the horizon now ...

• It was universally accepted that the role of schools as owners would be feasible. However, the details of this structure would need to be worked out through the procurement process

• All respondents identified that ownership carries risk.

Unless you mean ownership of say, YCB, of course.

If schools take an ownership role they inherently take on some of the responsibility for delivery of these services and some of the risks of failure

• The proportion of ownership was identified as a key factor, as a controlling stake for schools would be unattractive to some respondents. For those that identified a controlling stake would be acceptable it was made clear that the respondents would not guarantee results from a company in which they did not have a majority stake

In other words: give me a majority stake.

• It was suggested that any procurement should be heavily weighted on quality over cost

In other words: the choice of final provider can be supported by ambiguous definitions of 'quality' if the cost is greater than a less popular bidder

• All respondents expressed a preference for competitive dialogue procurement process, as it allows constructive and iterative development of the solution, keeping the process fair and transparent

Fair, and transparent. Remember that.

• It was identified that scoring should be clear and transparent to ensure no bias to a particular bidder

Mrs Angry is entirely confident that no bias will be given to any particular bidder, of course.

Some other interesting information emerged from the questions put by the Jacobsons. They noted a reference in the report to the use of 'independent external support', and wanted to know who that was, and how much they were being paid.

Goodness me: imagine the surprise when it turned out to be from - no, go on, guess, our favourite consultants, iMPOWER, who have had millions of pounds of local residents hard earned taxes thrown in their laps already during the set up - the iMPLEMENTATION - of the One Barnet scheme. 

One Barnet: remember that? The Tories don't refer to this anymore, as it had become something of a toxic brand, before the election, and now must be only slyly nodded at as 'the change programme', or 'alternative delivery of services' or some such claptrap, rather than what it was and is: one of the biggest acts of privatisation of local authority public services in the UK.

Well, One Barnet is well and truly iMPLEMENTED, but there is still more profit to be screwed out of the marketing of our few remaining services, and here they are, with their dear little consultant faces, all keen and shiny and expectant, like puppies in a pet food ad on telly. Or a starving boy in a workhouse. Aww. 

Please, Barnet Council, may we have some more? Yes, of course you may. 

Take £26,045, for 17 days work. 

Nice work, if you can get it. And of course, the response informs us, they got it through 'a competitive tendering exercise that was carried out by the Council's Contract Procedure Rules'. Two bids were received, and iMPOWER were the successful bidder'. 

Mrs Angry can reveal that the other bidder was the bROKENBARNET consultancy, which through the course of a competitive dialogue, offered a service providing an unlimited supply of advice, and a generous amount of unsolicited and offensive criticism, at a cost of only £26,044, but the procurement process (run by Crapita) was of course obliged to go for quality, over cost. 


The work that we have now coughed up for was, so we were told at the meeting by Ms Val White, Schools, Skills and Learning Lead Commissioner, is for 'commercial modelling' - which conjures up all sorts of thoughts, doesn't it? Oh, and for 'testing some of our hypotheses'. 

Mmm. Good idea. 

Let's hope the commercial modelling isn't from the same mould as 'Your Choice Barnet', eh? Testing hypotheses, though: that sounds awfully sensible. Except, should we not be learning from the hypotheses that we have already tested in real life, like ... Your Choice Barnet? Which was conceived by ...iMPOWER ...

Tactless, Mrs Angry.

Question 8 by Mr Jacobson was to ask who were the members of the Project Team overseeing the proposals regarding Barnet schools. The response was that there was a Project Board, chaired by Ms White, and attended by 'the Director of Education of Skills' as well as the Customer Services Director and various others.  There was, we understood, no conflicts of interest in regard to any previous employees of say, Capita, taking part in the project.

The Director of Education, of course, is one Ian Harrison, who joined Barnet in this post last September. He introduced himself to Barnet schools in a circular, as you can see here:


As Mr Harrison explains, he arrived at Barnet straight from his post as Managing Director of Capita Strategic Children’s Services.

In his introduction he strikes an ominous note:

I am very clear that most schools are now very self-sufficient and require little or no support from the local authority.

Mrs Angry is clear that the writing was on the wall, wasn't it, only days after the Tory leader had signed off the contracts with Capita for so many of our public services, that education was likely to be next?

By 18th September, according to the online minutes of the 'Barnet Partnership for School Improvement' steering group, (good to see from the website that our headteachers are off for their three day annual jolly at the Sandbanks Hotel, btw) ... new Director Mr Harrison was attending discussions with some local school representatives about the future form of the schools partnership:

Neil went through the five options again and reminded the group that Option 5 had been favoured at their previous meeting because there was no loss of control:-

1.Remaining within the council
2.Combining with another authority eg Harrow
3.Becoming a Local Authority Trading Company – which would mean becoming part of a group of companies
4.Subsumed into a private company eg Capita
5.Spinning out to become a stand alone legal entit

Subsumed into a private company eg Capita? *

*Disclaimer: other supersized outsourcing companies are available, in your local private sector marketplace.

Mrs Angry is rather confused. Please help her understand.

We are about to look at the possible outsourcing of educational services in Barnet. 

Our procurement is now run by Capita. 

Capita was one of those three companies involved in the initial 'market research'. 

Capita is likely to want to bid for any contract. 

The Director of Education, who is directly involved in the process of forming the review of options and the choice to be made on the future of our educational services has come straight from a managerial post with Capita's education section.

How does this not represent a massive, tangled web of conflict of interest?

Without implying any personal wrongdoing or intentions at all by Mr Harrison, of course, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude these circumstances raise a serious question of, at the very least, the perception of a major conflict of interest, and this really should not be tolerated in any authority with a robust risk strategy, let alone any standards of probity.

Mrs Angry: this is Broken Barnet.

Sorry. Forgot where we were, for one moment.

Carry on.

Back to the questions: around the possibility of a Joint Venture - remember when our senior management team announced 'We have decided on a Joint Venture', and remodelled the DRS/ Re contract, without consulting the Tory leader? Awfully fond of JVs, the outsourcerers, see, because more risk ends up on the shoulders of the Barnet taxpayers ... 

Barbara asked for clarification on the degree of satisfaction that would be considered acceptable from residents on such a proposal but received no clear answer, but more babble from Ms White on the lines of something to do with partnership boards. Eh? Asking for a response to the question she asked, and objecting to receiving the wrong answer, she was tersely cut off by Chairwoman Reuben Thompstone. 

It's the answer you've been given, he snapped.

Ms White, like most senior officers at times of stress, was by now resorting to her default corporate language setting. 

This language, in fact, is an interesting patois, found only in low lying outsourcing regions, and high levels of contract management, used as a form of communication between senior officers, and private sector executives, a type of secret code between peers, like Cockney rhyming slang, polari, or rogues cant. 

Like all such phraseology, it is meant to signal warning to others, and build a sense of camaraderie, but more importantly, it confuses the enemy, and acts as cover for real intent. 

There are certain phrases that are used, over and over again, like prayer, or as invocations against the threat of discovery.

Direction of travel. Overarching. Mystical references to journeys, and landscapes. Mrs Angry particularly likes the latter: conjuring up a view of Broken Barnet not as the primeval swamp it has become, but a rural idyll, with nymphs and shepherds (or at least Mr Shepherd) frolicking in the arcadian fields, untainted by the incursion of the industrial revolution, and its bastard child, the rise of capitalism.

So, as our officers would say, do say, at the beginning of every utterance they make at meetings:  


We are on a journey with schools. F*ck knows where we are going, although ... I think we can guess, can't we, readers? But this journey, you know, is through a landscape, and: the landscape is changing

Et in arcadia ego.

As for consultation, the council will be 'teasing out' the views of residents. 

Of course Mrs Angry rather enjoys teasing people, if she is particularly fond of them, although prone to be upset if anyone does it to her, which is silly.  

So: please: no teasing, thank you, senior officers of Broken Barnet, and Crapita. In or out.

Let's have some grown up, full blown, full on consultation: no need to be shy. We are consenting adults, alone in the privacy of our own borough. No one's looking. Well, actually, yes they are: but don't let that put you off ... oh. Oh dear. Never mind. We still love you: really we do. There, there.

More of the secret language of corporate claptrappery followed, courtesy of Ms White.

There were of course key drivers to the 'project'. Awfully important, but Mrs Angry was bored, and forgot to write them down. And a relentless focus on educational outcomes. I know, that sounds rather Dotheboys School, but it refers to the 'relentless drive for efficiency' which is - oh, hang on, was the leitmotif, the raison d'etre, of One Barnet. Bit old hat now, isn't it, as well as - well: not true?

Then we heard that, ah yes, good: one of the drivers was financial, of course, and all sorts of complex factors, but our senior officers were pretty sure there were ways we can harness this in the new landscape.  

Hmm. Mrs Angry, whose dinner had consisted of half a banana and two old sweets found in the bottom of her bag, had a vision of herds of lovely wild horses running free across the nuclear wasteland of Capitaville, being rounded up by a stern faced Mr Harrison, and Ms White, dressed in a fetching rhinestone cowgirl outfit. A charming scene.

Wake up, Mrs Angry, from your crapitorial reverie: now we hear of worrying plans to put all our resources into a critical mass ... Sounds rather Boson Higgs, doesn't it, readers?

There is, we learn next, a strong appetite in Barnet to work with us. Us, who? You? Quantify appetite, in this context? Oh, and these potential punters are all desperate for more information.  

What is the ask, they want to know, said Ms White, as Mrs Angry, and Mr and Mrs Jacobson wept, in the public seating.

Seems to Mrs Angry the only ones with an appetite for dumping our educational services are excited about this only as a result of enticement (one of Mrs Angry's favourite words, although something she is clearly very bad at), enticement by those evangelists, keen to lobby for a new and almost certainly commercial provision.

If it ain't broke ...

Time to discuss the report and whether of not to approve it. Labour's Anne Hutton raised the point about the need to consider in-house provision - an option strangely ruled out at an early stage in the previous outsourcing, and not favoured in this one. 

Then, by some miracle, Tory Dan Thomas agreed to add the option to the motion being agreed for future consideration.

Showing a display of insight rarely seen amongst our Tory members, or clairvoyance on a scale usually only entrusted to the far seeing eye of Mrs Angry, he said he sensed there was some cynicism about how an in-house option was being treated. There was, he said, no harm in us looking into it

Flipping heck.

Yes, thought Mrs Angry, nor was there with the two previous contracts, and why did you not speak up then? 

Still, we must encourage our young Tories when they show some sign of latent intelligence, so - well done, Cllr Thomas.

Ian Harrison, Director of Education, and Tom Pike

Some question now about the involvement of the unions, as of course many jobs are at stake here. Mr Harrison said that there had been a joint negotiation meeting two weeks ago. In fact it emerged that there had been a one sided briefing, which did not amount to a dialogue, and then, rather perplexingly as the meeting came to a close it became apparent that Unison secretary John Burgess, who had expected to be invited to make some comments to the committee, was overlooked.

John Burgess is a man of immense integrity, and courage: a hardworking union leader who has continued for years now, against all the odds, to battle for the protection of workers facing redundancy in the face of an attitude from the Tory council ranging from indifference to one of active obstruction, exemplified by the loss of facility time earlier this year. He and his union reports, usually compiled with great care by local government experts and academics, are continually overlooked. It't not hard to see why.

Never fear: Mrs Angry happens to have a copy of what he would have said, if he had been invited to the table, like a grown up: 

Dear Councillors

Thank you for allowing me to address this committe on behalf of the joint trade unions. You will have seen the UNISON report on the proposals before you tonight. 

We have tried to keep it brief and succinct in order to allow the reader to understand the critical issues and concerns we have with this report. 

We have reason to be concerned when we read a business case which recommends outsourcing based on growth. 

I refer of course to Your Choice Barnet, which is an example of what happens when the financial experts advising the council get it wrong. 

Before I start I would like to add a caveat. 

The Trade Unions have not been provided with the detailed financial evidence behind many of the assumptions made in this report. 

I am assuming all members of this committee have seen this evidence. 

In the interests of transparency please can this information be shared in order we are able to understand the rationale behind the recommendations of the report. 

Without this information the report reads as biased & ideologically driven. It fails to acknowledge or recognise the hard work of loyal council workers. 

In house services have consistently had to deal with year on year cuts and increased demand & yet still provide first class service to residents. 

This resilience in the face of diminishing resources is simply not recognised in the flawed Scoring Matrix in Appendix B. 

The issues facing members of the committe are:

  • Dwindling financial support as a result of the cuts to local government.

  • The need to develop a service delivery model which can sustain & grow in order to maintain excellent services for our community.

Councillors: you have a live example of a thriving innovative in house service which has won business from both public and private sector in and out of this borough and is even providing services in the House of Commons. 

I am referring to the Catering Service. 

In the report at paragraph 1.35 it states the 'in -house model would have less capacity for growing traded services'. 

This is simply not true, the service has been doing just that for many years. 

The Catering service is already operating within a competitive business environment yet has managed to increase the number of schools wanting to purchase the in house service. 

The Catering service is a genuine  traded service which has operated as a true business for many years returning significant profit to the council every year. 

Why would the Council want to share any of the profits this service generates with another partner? 

Councillors, I am speaking to you, as you are the Employer. 

How can you ignore a success story just because it is an in house service? If an in house service can achieve the success Catering has delivered, why can't Education and Skills services? 

336 council staff are watching and waiting to see what you do next. 

Another 1600 staff are also watching. 

There is a view within the workforce that the Council doesn't really value the staff. 

This is reinforced every time a service delivery model proposal disregards the in house option and recommends outsourcing. 

Staff working in Libraries, Street Scene Services and Early Years Children's Centres are all watching and waiting to hear how you deal with this latest outsourcing proposal. 

Senior officers advise, but you Councillors decide.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

At risk: the victims of domestic violence, penalised by Barnet Tories

Last month Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans for consultation over plans to redefine the laws on domestic violence, and create a new offence of domestic abuse, in which behaviour that is abusive in ways other than direct physical assault may be taken as seriously as physical violence is now. 

The law can already be considered to cover such abusive behaviour, but is not necessarily regarded as such by the courts, or by police, so clarification is welcome, but there would appear to be a grossly neglectful examination, within these proposals, as to the real problem facing women - as victims mostly are - caught in circumstances such as those addressed by the law as it stands now, or as it will be once re-defined.

In our deeply misogynistic society, as this article in the Guardian explained, domestic abuse is on the rise, with on average around two women every week killed by a current or former partner. 

The prevalence of abusive behaviour that does not end in death, or physical violence, but causes so many women to live lives of quiet desperation, unable to escape, or take legal action to protect themselves and their families from harm, is harder to quantify, but is undoubtedly worsening, at a time in which family life, in living memory, has never been under greater stress as a result of the economic crisis, the political dogmatism of the Coalition government, and their relentless dismantling of the foundations of our welfare state.

Worst of all is the impact that the removal of access to legal aid for so many people in dire need, but without the means to pay for what used to be considered a right, the right to justice.

Even access to limited sources of free legal advice is becoming almost impossible, as law centres and helplines close, due to loss of funding, and the burden on those few bodies remaining becomes harder and harder to sustain.

For women who are victims of domestic abuse - and it is generally women, but can of course can be men too - this loss of support and protection in law is truly disastrous. In some areas a decrease in refuges - specialist refuges decling in number from 187 to 155, since 2010 - for women needing escape from violent partners, put them and their children at enormous risk, and may even cost them their lives.

Here in Barnet, sadly, the cultural values of the Tory administration create a perfect environment for the cultivation of a culture of misogyny.

Here where the role of council committee chair has been redesignated as Chairman, because 'the ladies' won't mind, and female Conservatives are expected, despite the still looming shadow of Margaret Thatcher, to take a back seat, and accommodate themselves to the patronage of a male dominated party, it came as no surprise to wait in vain for local Tories to disassociate themselves from the act of their then colleague, Brian Coleman, in beating up a female resident in the high street, simply because she had caught him in breach of his own much loathed new parking system.

No sympathy for Coleman's victim was expressed publicly by any Conservative councillor, then, or consequently. In fact many of them continued, and some still continue to support him. 

This is a clear reflection of their own attitudes: firmly entrenched in the past, when women did not challenge the authority of men.

Along with their aversion to the principles of equality, let alone feminism, Barnet Tories have embraced a set of housing policies which also sit comfortably in the past: the distant past, a happy time when women knew their place, as did the lower classes, whom Tory housing spokesman Tom Davey would prefer did not entertain the outrageous idea that they might be entitled to live in this borough, and indeed he has commented that he wants to see only the 'well off' living here.

In accordance with this broadly accepted view, Barnet Tories have pursued, and are pursuing, a reckless policy of gerrymandering 'regeneration' of the poorer, Labour voting areas under the rule of their administration.

As we see in the West Hendon example, the principle of social housing and any commitment to protect the life of an established community is being gleefully supplanted, here anyway, by a new Barratt development with penthouse flats for, as Davey put it 'Russian oligarchs', and a number of expensive propertiest that will no doubt ollow the fate of Beaufort Park, and end up as speculative investment properties, some buy to let, affordable only to the priviliged few. 

Barnet Tories are  keen on encouraging the rental market of course, and indeed quite a few of them are private landlords, as we know from the tale of the Mayor, Hugh Rayner, who recently escaped all censure from a highly controversial 'disciplinary panel' hearing, after allegations were made about his behaviour as a landlord, and apparent conflicts of interest between his business and council activities - and as we know from the successful attempts by the Tory group to gain a dispensation allowing them to take part in meetings, despite their interests. 

The Tories are also keen to promote home ownership, and to stifle any signs of dependency on  social housing. 

Such dependency they see as lacking in aspiration, and a thing to be discouraged at all costs.

Discouragement came in the form of a new system of allocation, with lucky applicants fast tracked to the front of the queue, if they could show their betters that they had made a 'positive' contribution to their community - served in the armed forces, started a youth club, that sort of thing. 

If you do get offered a property - you have no say in where it is, or any choice, turn it down, and that's it. 

And if you are lucky enough to be allocated housing - it might not be in the borough, because clearly we prefer to export our feckless poor, over the border, oh, and - it will be only for a maximum of five years. 

A house is not a home, in Broken Barnet: it is interim accommodation, to be removed from your grasp before such a time as you may begin to put down roots, and consider yourself part of a community. Communities are to be discouraged, in Broken Barnet. They lead to a sense of empowerment, and represent a potential threat to the establishment, of course.

Now local Tories have excelled themselves with a soldering together of two key components of Coalition government policy: the limitation of access for those in need of support, and the narrowing of a definition of the right to priority of housing. 

Women - and men -considering fleeing from the control of domestic violence, if they live in Barnet, and if a new proposal is not opposed, will now face the added difficulty and anxiety of being told that in order to be rehoused, they must declare themselves to be homeless.

As this recent story in the Barnet Press revealed, 

"... housing experts and domestic violence charities have argued the system will unfairly penalise those trying to escape violence by removing their priority status on the housing waiting list and reduce the likelihood of them being placed back in council accommodation.

Previously, those escaping violence were immediately placed in the highest band one priority for rehousing – but under the new scheme such residents would be told to declare themselves homeless and therefore find themselves placed in band two or even band three, depending on their community contribution.

Giles Peaker, a housing and public law solicitor for legal firm Anthony Gold, said: “It is clearly an attempt to reduce the number of people who would be eligible for social housing. By putting them into the homeless category, the chances of them getting social housing would be very slim.

“I don’t think there is a justification for that reduction in priority.”

Mr Peaker added that since the 2011 Localism Act had enabled Barnet to discharge its homeless duty via the private rented sector, those trying to escape a violent home would most likely find themselves rehoused in the private rented sector".

A boon to the landlords of Broken Barnet, no doubt, but at what cost to the victims of domestic violence now being exposed to even further degrees of hardship? There is a very real risk that now those individuals, largely women with children, will be dissuaded from attempting to escape abusive homes, and remain at risk of harm. 

Incredibly, it seems that with their usual disregard for equality issues, the council has not even carried out an EIA:  Equalities Impact Assessment, on their latest proposals.

Labour Councillor Reema Patel, elected in May to represent Coppetts Ward, is a bright young lawyer - and Secretary of Fabian Women - and has condemned the new Tory proposals, as you can read here , commenting:

"Forcing the victims of domestic violence to make themselves homeless and stripping them of their tenancy and right to be considered a priority for permanent housing is a cruel policy that needs to be stopped. 

We are supposed to protect the victims of violence and crime, not the perpetrators. I would like to encourage as many people as possible to sign the petition to get the Tories to see sense and stop this change to housing policy.
The council should withdraw these proposals and undertake a proper impact assessment to make sure the new allocations proposals properly accommodates survivors of domestic violence."

In the usual way of things, in Broken Barnet, it happens by chance, or not, that perhaps the most notorious woman beater in literature, Bill Sikes, in Oliver Twist, was placed by Dickens in Hendon, during his attempt to escape justice after murdering Nancy. He tries to take refuge there, we read, but the locals were suspicious, and he is forced to moved on. 

Here we are, back in Hendon Town Hall, in the twenty first century, where rather than showing their disapproval, our retro Tory councillors are about to reward the latterday Sikes, at the expense of their victims. 

If you disagree with this proposal, please sign the petition, and help us all move forward into an era where the rights of the abused take precedence over the rights of their perpetrators.