In the next few days you will be asked to vote on a motion of no confidence in the Conservative party leader Richard Cornelius.
You will no doubt be asked to express your loyalty to Councillor Cornelius and to defeat the motion.
As local residents we would like to ask you to think very carefully about the consequences of such an action.
We know that many of you are now deeply concerned about the future of the Conservative administration, that you have profound misgivings about the viability of the One Barnet programme, and that you are also concerned by the response of the leader to issues arising from the arrest and consequent charging of your colleague Councillor Brian Coleman, in relation to an alleged assault. The announcement today that the much trumpeted Landmark Library plan has fallen through can only add to your sense of misgiving.
The continuing difficulties felt by residents and traders over the contentious parking policy has caused enormous damage to the relationship of trust between this administration and the residents of Barnet, and now it has become abundantly clear that the massive scale of privatisation of a further £1 billion worth of council services envisaged by the One Barnet project is hugely unpopular not only amongst residents and voters, but within your own ranks.
Last week Andrew Travers, the newly appointed ‘interim’ Chief Executive of Barnet Council, affirmed to a committee that the ‘Joint Venture’ model was still very much under consideration, despite the fact that elected members have not been involved in the discussions for such a proposal, and that the leader has stated previously that he was being excluded from such discussions.
Councillors must ask themselves why they are being distanced from policy decisions of such vital significance. Who is in control of this council, councillors or the officers of the senior management team?
Once the £1 billion contracts are signed, of course, elected members will effectively lose all control over almost all of our council services, which will then be in the hands of unaccountable private companies for a period of ten years, with huge financial penalties to the authority, that is to say to residents, should any serious difficulties arise, which they inevitably will.
Councillors must also ask why there never been an independent assessment of the risks posed by the One Barnet programme, and why there has been such a clear failure to mitigate the risk of conflict of interest raised by the exchange of senior officers between the council and the private companies bidding for contracts as part of the One Barnet programme.
Such an apparent lack of regulation might reasonably be said to have compromised the whole procurement process, and to have exposed the authority to legal challenge, a prospect already a clear possibility on the basis of the blatantly inadequate consultation with the residents and stakeholders who will be bearing the full impact of the privatisation of almost all our council services.
Another question that must be addressed is the extraordinary level of cost to local taxpayers of Agilysis/iMPOWER, the consultants who are acting as the One Barnet ‘implementation partners’ – newly released figures reveal that their bill for September alone cost us nearly half a million pounds, and spending on all consultants, wildly out of control, is now estimated to reach a staggering total of £9.5 million.
Such extravagance with taxpayers’ money at a time of austerity, with no return in the form of savings is clearly a reckless indulgence, benefiting no one other than the consultants themselves. In combination with the loss in revenue as a result of the newly privatised parking service, it perfectly illustrates the improbability of the delivery of any of the promised savings from the outsourced profit of the One Barnet programme.
Last week Cornwall County Council voted to halt their own Joint Venture proposals at a late stage in the negotiations, due to the extent of concern felt by councillors and residents over the plans for their large scale privatisation of council services. The Conservative leader lost a vote of no confidence, having shown a determination to proceed with the plans in the face of enormous opposition.
Now here in Barnet you, our elected representatives, face the same choice as your Cornish counterparts - and now is the time for you to have the courage to act.
Please use this opportunity to bring a halt to the One Barnet programme and instigate a fundamental review of a commitment which will place the long term future of our borough, our services, our residents, in the hands of unaccountable private sector companies using us for their own profit.
Please take this last opportunity to stand up for what you know is right, and what is the sensible thing to do.