A few weeks ago, I sat through a meeting of the Futureshape scrutiny committee. (see earlier blog No Future/shape).
This was a puzzling experience, because no one actually talked about Futureshape, except in an immediately corrected slip up, like a reference to a disgraced family member that no one is supposed to mention.
It became evident, in fact, that like an unwanted baby left on the doorstep of the Town Hall, Futureshape, child of shame born out of the lurid affair between Mike Freer and his own ego, has now been formally adopted and renamed. One Barnet, as we must learn to call it, is now in the care of new parents, and frankly, they are struggling to cope with the demands of the new arrival.
Of course, we should not punish the child for the sins of its father (unless we are allocating housing, in the new morally judgmental Tory Barnet way) but try to understand the needs of the baby, and help it to thrive. Ah. Coochy coo. Thing is, it seems that One Barnet is not like other babies. It appears to be some sort of evil changeling, left by the fairies to wreak havoc in the mortal world of Broken Barnet. Like a changeling, no matter how much nourishment and care is given to One Barnet, it seems only to demand more, and more, and yet fail to develop as it should. What can be done? Soon the whole of Broken Barnet will know that the baby is possessed, and the villagers will come knocking on the door, demanding the child be given back ... But of course the bumpkin who fathered this baby has legged it to the big city, and left the parish overseers to support his mewling brat.
Mr Roger Tichborne, a blogger of this parish, yesterday published some very interesting correspondance on the subject of Futureshape/One/easy/Barnet. A report appears to confirm the suspicions of many that, despite bucket loads of money being thrown on this 'model' for local government, there is still not even yet a business plan, or clear understanding as to how this model will work in practice.
At the scrutiny meeting, it was clear from the questions put by Libdem and Labour councillors - oh and Tories too - that they were totally bemused by the whole project. They felt that they were not being properly informed about progress made, and that there was an absence of the necessary financial detail, but it seemed to me that that might be because little or no significant progress had been made. Questions were asked about really basic, fundamental issues such as, from Monroe Palmer, whether or not it was legal for a local authority to seek to trade at a profit: unbelievably, no one knew: no one knew! An officer was instructed to find out. This was, well, rather alarming, I thought, and hardly spoke well of the preparation for the implementation of the project.
Alison Moore commented on the lack of information being given to the residents, as well as councillors: where is the evidence that the council really does want a 'new relationship with citizens', to 'engage' with them, let alone start a 'dialogue with service users', whatever that means? Well, in truth, in the wake of Allowancegate, I would say they have managed to acheive a new relationship with residents, Alison - one of fear, loathing and mutual contempt.
Interestingly, no one seems to have asked why the whole thing has been rebranded with no thought given to explaining this to the people who are paying for the damn thing? Is it because they want the plebs to think that the discredited easyBarnet/Futureshape rubbish has been dropped?
Because we are paying for the damn thing, and paying a lot. More than two million pounds of your money has allegedly been spent, citizens, on consultants' reports, and such like, with more money committed to 'transformation reserves' for future years. How much money, exactly, and why they have not specified the amount? Come on, tell us! It's our money, and we have a right to know. It's hard to tell from official figures just how much this will be, year by year.
Have any savings been made yet, or has there only been extra money spent on this twaddle? What do you think, citizens? Ask your local councillor to explain it to you. I doubt that they will be able to: because in truth no one really understands what it all means. Take the amusing performance of Lynne Hillan in her marvellous tv interview a few months ago, where she appeared dumbstruck and totally unable to explain the fundamental principles of her predecessor's brilliant idea. This is, I would humbly suggest, was because there is nothing much to explain, as it is an incomplete theoretical concept, short on detail, and still undeveloped.
You might think that it is fairly obvious that you cannot run a local authority on the basis of an idea which is so little formed that even now it is having to be inspected or maybe reinvented by hugely expensive consultants. Obviously, councillors of Broken Barnet, in the past few weeks you have been head down with your noses buried in the trough and too busy to notice, but we in the real world are in the middle of an economic crisis, and we cannot afford for you to throw our money away on potentially unworkable experiments in local government. We would prefer it, if you don't mind, if instead of trying to create a Brave New World, you would get on with the job of running the borough: looking after schools, organising social care, filling pot holes, that kind of thing. If it's not too much trouble. Thanks.
At the last full council meeting Lynne Hillan submitted a motion celebrating the abolition of the Audit Commission. This was because they were so wasteful of public money. Other councillors lambasted the waste in the public sector, staffed by people without 'real jobs'. Yet here we are, nearly six months into the shambling, controversy haunted administration of another Tory council, still without a clear grasp of how they are going to administer the policy they claim brought them back to power, chucking our money after a facile, soundbite concept that is only costing us more and more, with no real profit in return. I think a reasonable conclusion would be that this is a recipe for disaster.
It's time to call a halt: and it's time for an urgent, objective, external assessment of the whole benighted Futureshape programme: to ascertain exactly what it has cost so far, what it will really cost if it is continued, and whether or not the tax payers of this borough are just possibly being taken for a ride, up a small sewage infested river inlet, without the necessary steering implement?