Sunday, 28 September 2014

Rise like lions? Mrs Angry goes to the Labour Conference, and is disappointed




The weight of history, in Manchester, still bears down heavily on the city, eloquent in the architecture of the built heritage, a wealth of buildings paid for by the profits of Cottonopolis: the Town Hall, the Central Library, the Exchange: and the less grand but still imposing legacy of the cotton industry, expressed in more functional structures. 

Mrs Angry's hotel, for example, was a former warehouse, as documented by a worn inscription beside an entrance still marked with the name of the company that once traded there. 

But the history of Manchester, held fast in the stonework and bricks of the buildings of the city centre, is now put to use just as relentlessly as the workers who once toiled in the mills here: the looms may have stopped, but the machinery of profit grinds on, and now property development is the overseer. 

Warehouses become hotels, banks become restaurants and bars: leisure and tourism, the self indulgence of the bourgeoisie has taken the place of manufacture and industry.

And as part of the new culture of corporate hospitality, the Conference Centre, round the back of Peter Street, regularly performs its duty as the venue for the Labour party, in annual navel gazing mode.

The Labour conference provides an open opportunity, for all members who can afford the vast expense, to engage in a wider debate, or what passes for it, of the policies and ambitions that we hope will drive the next Labour government. Well, that is the idea, anyway, or was.


Let a great Assembly be 
Of the fearless and the free 
On some spot of English ground 
Where the plains stretch wide around.

Mrs Angry arrived in Manchester on Sunday, and wandered into the conference centre, passing, outside the security zone, two demonstrations, one against fracking, the other in support of our NHS.

Throughout the days of the conference there are what appears to be a diminishing number of protestors, campaigners and activists, standing by the turnstiles, trying to press into the hands of those with passes a number of leaflets lobbying for all sorts of desperately important causes, begging for attention like petitioners of the jaded nobility wandering up the steps, into the long mirrored corridors of a royal palace.

In the centre itself, a market place of stalls awaited the conference attendees: worthy bodies like the Howard League, and various unions, and the sort of organisations you might expect to see at a left of centre political event, and rather more random enterprises: a phosphate mining company, CAMRA and ... a company offering public convenience provision. Useful for the public sector commissioning councils wishing, and probably failing, to organise a piss up in a brewery, in short.

The only stall that offered anything other than leaflets and free biros - (Mrs Angry's friend Councillor Dr Kay managed to acquire a collection of 38, which we admired, one by one, on the train journey back to Euston) - was the political bookshop, on whose table proudly stood a pile of discounted books, for the less discerning reader and/or any MP thinking of joining UKIP:


The debate that was in progress in the hall was on the subject of education. A number of delegates spoke passionately about the impact of government experimentation on schools, and the way in which now education is becoming a privilege, not a right. 

Shadow minister Tristram Hunt made a fairly feeble speech, starting, as one might have hoped from an historian, with a reference to Manchester's Chartist schools, the history of the Mechanics Institute, co-operative schools, and the Workers Educational Trust. Education, he said, was a moral calling, and teaching the surest way to social mobility. Indeed it is, and on grounds of evading the call of morality and the obstruction of social mobility alone, must be interfered with by our Tory masters, of course.

Equalities next. Joanna Baxter, speaking in a quavering voice, still wrestling with the intense emotions of the Scottish referendum, and keen for us to understand the wider message of the campaign, and its result: that the people who voted 'yes' were doing so because they were offered hope - and Labour must learn from this, and offer this very thing, must become the party that offers change, that empowers, and inspires. Quite, thought Mrs Angry. 

Wandering out of the hall, through the stalls, there was one welcome sight: the People's History Museum, with a range of material for sale, including a short history of the Peterloo Massacre.

This event took place on the very ground beneath our feet, on St Peter's Fields, nearly two hundred years ago - ground spattered then with the blood of working class heroes - and heroines - now covered by a pair of luxury hotels and an enormous corporate conference centre. The gathering place of rebellious workers now resounding with the whispers of spin doctors, rather than the protest of spinners, and the chattering of media, the twittering of politicians, instead of the clattering of the cotton mills.

Later that night, Mrs Angry wandered along from her hotel room in the eaves of George Fraser and Sons warehouse, on Portland Street, to the grandeur of the Midland Hotel (where, comrades, Tory blogger Barnet Bugle accidentally bought Mrs Angry a glass of champagne, in honour of her preferred shade of socialism). Passing her on the way there, creeping along in the shadows of the Midland, a few seconds apart, their faces momentarily illuminated by a street light, was first Hilary Benn (poor man, whose picture with Mrs Angry on google image for some reason has been tagged 'Mr and Mrs Eric Pickles' ...) and then Andy Burnham: both of them looked pretty glum. Who could blame them?

Walking back late at night revealed a rather different side to the city: beggars soliciting for change outside the Midland and Radisson: a homeless man sleeping in a doorway,  open drug dealing down side streets, another man begging on his knees outside a shop, being patronised by a group of drunken men with conference passes round their necks.

Arriving at the conference hall next morning, with perfect timing, Mrs Angry managed to miss all but the last few words of Chuka Umunna's speech, and settle down to listen to the rather more inspiring thoughts of Unite's Len McCluskey. 

McCluskey was another speaker seizing on the result of the referendum to try to persuade the Labour leadership that it must change the course of its campaigning back to traditional party voters, ordinary working people whose interests were being ignored by all the main parties. 

Ignore them at your peril, he warned Labour. 

He dismissed the pundits in our own party who said class didn't matter, and rejected the idea of a constitution made by posh boys at Chequers. 

He called on the party to mobilise the imagination and aspiration of members determined to defeat the ruinouse coalition. 

As he always does, he received a standing ovation, furious applause from the vast majority of members in the hall: a fact that ought to worry the leadership, sitting nicely, with tight smiles on the platform, careful not to appear supportive of any controversial statement by a speaker who does not obey the rules and conventions of the offical party line of approved opinion.

The chair of this plenary session was the insufferably patronising Keith Vaz, * whose air of noblesse oblige never ceases to amuse Mrs Angry, in this instance particularly enjoyable was the patrician tone of his exortations to 'comrades' and 'sisters' to wind up their speeches and clear off the stage. 

 (*Note for Labour members and readers suffering from Catholic guilt: as in plenary indulgence, attendance equating to a penance necessary for the remission of sins)

At this point, Mrs Angry's attention, wandering as usual, was caught by a familiar sight: the figure of a woman, deathly pale and quiet, her hair coiled in an old fashioned french pleat, carefully slipping into a seat, dressed entirely in an outfit from the 1940s: linen suit, stockings, and a pill box hat, in straw, balanced at a slanting angle on her head. This woman was at the last Manchester conference too: solitary, silent, looking on, and Mrs Angry had the idea she might be a ghost: a manifestation of the past,bearing witness to the time when Labour had its finest moment, making real social progress in radical change, in the creation of a welfare state, a national health service, and the provision of a fair system of education for all. The conscience of the party, perhaps, up in the balcony, looking on in a state of unease.

Another ghost from another era, also dressed in vintage costume: Margaret Beckett, in one of her shiny eighties suits, delivering a starchy warning that the Tories were about to ramp up a campaign of smears and insults levelled at Labour policies, added and abetted by the media, willing to join in, because 'it's so much more fun' than reporting the truth. Isn't it, though? Especially as the truth is so hard to define, Margaret, so carefully spun, and lost in the warp and weft of the utterances of party leaders.

Try as she might, Mrs Angry had mistimed her arrival in the hall, aided and abetted by Comrade Chair Keith Vaz, who had, in his role of benevolent dictator, allowed proceedings to overrun by 25 minutes - and oh, dear, next up was Ed Balls.

He was pro business, Balls said, but not business as usual. 

He wanted, he added, to have an economy that works for - can you guess? The many, not the few. 

Ye are many - they are few ... sounds familiar.


He made a show of learning from 'our' mistakes, and listed the pledges he and the Labour party would make to the British people. As he did so, the reaction from those seated in the balcony area was less than rapturous. Some were muttering, for example, when he said that Labour won't pay for new free schools - in areas where there are extra places. In other words, they will pay for new free schools in other areas. Capping social security funding didn't go down awfully well, either. A man sitting next to Mrs Angry sat throughout the becoming increasingly impatient, refusing to clap, and staying seated at the end, with a mutinous expression on his face. Others were more polite, but unmoved. It was a disappointing speech. Ed Miliband, who sat turned towards his colleague, in a pose of absolutely rigid attentiveness, remained pretty much the same, although dutifully applauding with outspread hands, like a seal at the circus. Oh dear, thought Mrs Angry.

In truth, what is said by the shadow ministers on the stage of the conference hall is an irrelevance. The next day you can buy a copy of their speeches for a quid, if you are desperate: might as well sell them beforehand, and save people the bother of listening to it. The really interesting contributions are from the delegates who speak, and of course in the fringe events, where real discussions can take place, and the most important part of attending is probably in the chance encounters and conversations with members whose experiences and views engage you in a real debate, and give a real insight into where we are now, as a party, and as a nation.

And many more Destructions played 
In this ghastly masquerade, 
All disguised, even to the eyes, 
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, and spies.

After an interesting evening wandering about looking for lost Northern MPs (must have gone to bed early, as perhaps so should have Mrs Angry) and bumping into an assortment of familiar faces, and party grandees, Mrs Angry was unexpectedly treated to a more intimate encounter with Ed Balls later that evening - thankfully not as intimate as those famous fantasies of the mumsnet blogger - (be warned, ladies: read at your own risk, and prepare never to want to have sex EVER again) ... 

No, this was at a private Cooperative do, the purpose of which escaped Mrs Angry, except that it was unlikely to have gained the approval of Robert Owen, and the Rochdale Pioneers, but gave a clearly relaxed shadow chancellor the opportunity to sing and - my eyes, my eyes - gyrate with a couple of over excited middle aged women on a wobbly dais in the Labourlist tent. Mrs Angry, of course, behaved with impeccable dignity, made her excuses, and left. 

The next day was the day of the Labour leader's speech. 

Readers may recall that Barnet Tories deliberately rearranged the date of a full council meeting, in defiance of all convention, to coincide with this date, so as to make a cheap political point in the nasty war against their opposition party, and to cover up the fact that the previous date, as in the official calendar, would have meant many of their own members would have been absent, being on holiday, or otherwise engaged. This is the problem of the new committee system in Barnet: presenting our usually indolent backbench Tories with the necessity of actually turning up for the meetings they are paid to attend on behalf of their residents.

Mrs Angry's view, and the view of many others, was that the meeting should have been boycotted by the party. Instead of this, no one from the Labour leadership came to conference this year, which was a shame, and other members were asked to make the journey back to Barnet, directly after the speech - and in some cases return again that night - a round trip of 400 miles. Rather ridiculous, you might think, especially for delegates who are paid to attend conference on behalf of their party.

Thankfully Sarah Sackman, the wonderful Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, was present, and spoke at conference about some of the successes we have been involved in during the course of our struggle with the shabby Tory administration: the reclamation of Friern Barnet Library, the protest against their removal of funding of respite care for the severely disabled children of Mapledown School, and the outrageous attempt to slash the already pitiful wages of care staff working for Your Choice Barnet. Sarah alluded to the legacy of Thatcherism, in her former constituency, and explained how her taunting claim that there was no such thing as 'society' was being exposed as a lie by the collective efforts of our community. 

            

The long queue for seats in the hall for the leader's speech is a traditional process, beginning after the morning session, always with queues stretching through the building, outside, and sometimes even coiled back again. Usually everyone gets in, eventually, and Mrs Angry and a contingent of people from Barnet were very well placed, within sight of the beginning of the line. A long two hours followed, eventually broken by the sound of applause as Ed Miliband and his wife entered the hall, and strode swiftly though the room, noticeably at a distance from the queue, and not looking in that direction. Odd, thought Mrs Angry: we have not even been seated yet. 


Then we noticed that on the screens he had started his speech. A rumour came down the line: we were not being allowed into the hall to hear it: there was no room. 

No one could believe it. At no point had any staff come down the line and warn of any likeliness that no one would get in: many of those who had queued were elderly, and had made huge efforts to wait patiently for such a long time: yet priority had been given to more favoured ticket holders, apart from delegates - including VIPs, ex MPs, celebs, all seen planted in the audience. 

Of course the people left standing pointlessly for two hours, and then kept out of the hall, when those arranging the seating must have known the unusually limited capacity would not accommodate them, are the people who will be expected to deliver victory for the party in May, campaigning, leafleting, doorknocking, canvassing: a gross miscalculation of priorities, but a symptom and symbol of the disconnection between the party leadership and the party membership.

The contigent from Barnet led a walkout of the proletariat into, well: the decadence of the Midland Hotel lobby, to sit in overupholstered sofas, watching the speech on screens. But there was nothing much to hear, and we left for the more congenial surroundings of an old pub, aptly named the Briton's Protection, to debate the events of the day, and the conference, before going back to the rather more useful and important fringe events elsewhere.

A story picked up by Guido Fawkes, originally reported in the Morning Star alleged that Bernadette Horton, a disabled member and mother of four, who tweets as @PinkWaferBelle, and blogs about the impact of austerity measures, had been forced from the row of seating reserved all conference for people with disability needs by party officials who insisted other party members needed to sit there. She and others were obliged to try to climb up the steep steps of the balcony: she tripped and fell. At the end of the speech, she noted:

... all became apparent as Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walked to the back of the hall and shook hands with the long line of party members sitting in the reserved seats. Of course Ed himself would have been oblivious to the fact we had been ousted from this area, and the feeling of somehow nthat it was truly a time for working class MPs who have compassion and the human touch to be elected to change the make up of the current establishment.ot being good enough or photogenic enough for the cameras following him pervaded our thoughts. 

Bernadette wrote a very interesting post about her experience at conference:



She had not been able to afford the expense of coming to Manchester, and had crowdfunded her way there. She intends to stand as a candidate in 2020, having concluded:

that it was truly a time for working class MPs who have compassion and the human touch to be  elected to change the make up of the current establishment.
  
She observed, as many others did, that the real benefit of attending the conference was in the ordinary people whose stories pay witness to the reality of what is happening to the most vulnerable people in our society: including the truly admirable 91 year old Harry Smith, whose address to conference was so moving. As she puts it:

... he weeps as he tells of his sister dying from TB aged 10 because there was no NHS. These speakers told the real stories of conference. The stories that were happening to ordinary people. To me these were far more important than any policy announcements taking place in the main hall as they told the real story of what is going on under the watch of Cameron's Britain.

Bernadette thanked the many people who had contributed funding to enable her to come to conference and hoped that something can be done to help improve access to ordinary party members in future:

I am eternally grateful to the many people ( including MPs) who put their hands in their pockets and paid for me to attend. I then began a campaign which I will continue to take up with Labour Gen Sec Iain McNicoll entitled #ForTheManyNotTheMoneyed

For the many, not the moneyed: for the many, not the few: ye are many, they are few.  


Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.

Shelley wrote the ninety one verses of  The Masque of Anarchy in a storm of fury, his 'blood boiling with rage', after reading reports of the Peterloo massacre, enacted on the very soil beneath the secured territory of the Labour conference: around eighty thousand people, about half the population of the area around Manchester then, were present: men, women and children, on a beautiful summer's day, under a cloudless sky, to hold a peaceful protest, and to make a demand for representation in parliament.

Faced with what they viewed as an act of revolution, the authorities sent in the cavalry to charged the unarmed gathering. In the mayhem which ensued, including, it seems, an early example of kettling which undoubtedly led to a greater toll than would have otherwise been the case, eighteen were killed, and 653 people injured.

Peterloo ended in chaos, injury and loss of life, but the movement for reform began, and the fight for widespread franchise: the fight for democracy.

If you go to the fabulous People's History Museum, in Spinningfields, Manchester, you will find a fine collection of prints and cartoons depicting the events of Peterloo, and the consequent birth of a radical political movement in Britain - as well as the story of the Labour party.

Because, let's be honest: what happened on St Peter's Fields, in 1819, that moment of such significance, was never meant to evolve into the party we see now, back on the same sacred territory, locking the doors on its own members, accessible only to the privileged few who can afford the cost of attendance, not a venue encouraging real debate but one in which handpicked audiences dutifully attend the stage managed grandstanding of shadow ministers, and applaud the platitudes of a third rate speech by the party leader, and protestors are kept at bay not by charging cavalries, but behind a metal barrier manned by a privatised security company. 

The spinning of politicians has replaced the profits of Cottonopolis, and the annual conference brings in an estimated £25 million to the city of Manchester. 

Who knows how much the conference itself makes from the exorbitant charges to members, or the payments from lobbying companies keen to flog their wares on a stall in the centre, dangling temptations in the hands of potential commissioning public sector employers?

It is a real disgrace, on the ground where people paid with their lives for demanding a fairer society, and a voice in government, to see their cause, and the rights of the latterday workers, exploited just as much as they ever were, ignored, and excluded from the process of debate.

Peterloo, and the history of our struggle for democracy, a voice in government, and social justice may seem irrelevant to some people, and something to ignore. And this is exactly the mistake made by the leaders of the Labour movement today.

In his wonderful, unforgettable speech, dedicated to the threat to our NHS, Harry Smith, whose childhood and his unbearably vivid memories of the needless loss of his young sister, in the absence of the ability to pay for her recovery must have evoked the past of not just my family, but those of almost everyone listening, he pleaded that we should learn the lessons from the earlier era of austerity, otherwise, he warned, your future will be my past

                     
My life is your history, he added: we should keep it that way.

We must repeat that truism again: those who forget the past are condemned to relive it: it's time for the Labour movement to take a look behind the scenes at the museum, remember the People's History, and remember who we were, where we come from, and think again about where we are going. 


An exhibit in the museum: the Beveridge Report

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


Ditto.

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

Charitable.

• 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. 

Shame.

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
y



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:  

So

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.