Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Brian Coleman: the story behind those apologies - and his suspension

Last night the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet gathered for a group meeting, expecting, amongst one or two other pressing matters, to be asked to vote on the proposed suspension of their troublesome colleague, Totteridge councillor Brian Coleman.

Just before this could get under way, the news broke that Coleman had already been suspended as a result of action initiated by the national Conservative party board. 

Senior Tories had lost their patience, and tired of waiting for the shambling Barnet leader Richard Cornelius to do what he should have done weeks ago, and taken action to suspend Coleman, the former GLA member and chair of the London fire authority, as soon as he was arrested on suspicion of assault of a local woman. 

As reported in this blog some time ago, central party officials are said to be infuriated by the local Conservative associations' indulgent attitude to Coleman, and their refusal to follow constitutional procedure in dealing with allegations of behaviour likely to bring the party into disrepute. Last night David Miller, the former Tory chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative association, indicated in a tweet that it was indeed the 'dithering' of local Tories that led to the intervention by the party board.

Coleman's charges in relation to the alleged assault are charges only, and suspension is no implication of guilt, merely a precautionary action pending the full outcome of the legal procedure. 

It is however reasonable to expect that Coleman should already have been suspended in September on the grounds that he refused to apologise to the victims of his deeply offensive 'anti-semite' slur emails: he was not. 

Cornelius should have censured him for the insulting 'sad, mad, bad, and a couple of old hags' remark he made about residents in the public gallery at the last full council meeting: he did not.

And as we know, Cornelius failed to act when Coleman was charged last Monday with assault by beating and a driving offence: he indicated he would not be taking any action in relation to his colleague, for fear, he claimed, that it might prejudice the legal proceedings.

This nonsensical excuse provoked such an outcry that within twenty four hours Cornelius was obliged to perform a u-turn and announce that he was after all instigating the procedure for suspension. 

Clearly this response failed to pacify the concerns of central office, and no doubt the possibility that our craven Tory councillors would buckle and fail to vote to suspend Coleman compelled the board to take control of the omnishambolic affair and do the deed themselves.

Apologies from Coleman to Ron Cohen and Charlotte Jago, the victims of Coleman's abusive emails, arrived only yesterday, hours before the Tory group meeting which was going to debate their colleague's suspension. 

The announcement that Coleman would after all apologise was made last week at the time of Cornelius' u-turn. It is pretty clear, therefore, that the 'anti-semite' slurs and refusal to comply with the sanction of the Standards Board played a role in the party officials' intervention and decision to suspend Coleman.

These so called apologies are, quite frankly, a travesty of the sanction process:  forcibly, painfully extracted: weeks late, cursory, sloppy: littered with errors - the act of someone continuing to show contempt to the victims of his insults. 

But too late, anyway: it's all too late - the damage is done, to the Tory party, locally, nationally, to Coleman's own career. And he has no one to blame but himself. 

When he sits in his charity flat, over the next few weeks, scribbling away at his memoirs, plotting his comeback, perhaps Brian Coleman will take the time to reflect on the sequence of events which have brought him to this end. It seems unlikely, however: he appears to have no capacity for reflection, or self knowledge. 

And this is his tragedy, ultimately: his life's story is not a tale of power, political intrigue, and statesman like acheivements, the sort of life he imagines that he has led: it is a story of rampant egotism, boundless vanity, relentless confrontation with perceived enemies - and petty point scoring.

The Tories in Barnet have failed to keep Coleman in check, and have failed to censure him because they do not feel it is necessary. In many ways he is their animus: their archytype of self, the spoken word of their private thoughts. No wonder they are reluctant to dispose of him: what will the Barnet Tories do, without his looming presence in the dark shadows of their collective mind?

Senior Tory party advisers have now written off Barnet as a lost cause. The Tories have already lost the next general election here: but now - now it is time for Labour to prove that they deserve to win it.


The local Times paper reports this afternoon that Tory leader Richard Cornelius has declared himself to be 'feeling the strain' of the Coleman suspension. 

"I have found it very difficult to deal with because I know and like Brian. These allegations have come along and I’ve found it very difficult to handle."

Here you have the heart of the matter, the reason for the reluctance to censure anything Coleman does or say: a weak leader who puts loyalty to a friend before the duties of his post.

The seriousness of the charges now facing his chum should have been dealt with in absolute fairness to all parties, and without favour. Cornelius claims in this report that the suspension imposed by the party board last night was always possible as his colleague has a 'presence' outside Barnet, but he goes on to admit that he was taken by surprise, on the way to the group meeting, when told of the party's decision. 

As well as his reluctance to suspend Coleman from the whip, in the light of the current charges, Cornelius has always refused to condemn his many acts of rudeness to members of the public, and indeed appears to find them rather amusing. 

Mrs Angry suspects that the last laugh, Councillor Cornelius, will be on you: hopefully next week, if your colleagues remember where their balls are, if not their brains, and support the vote of no confidence.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Sorry really was the hardest word: Coleman apologises at last

In an age of miracles, and on a day when invisible libraries become even more invisible, here is something almost as hard to find, as rare as hen's teeth: an apology from Councillor Brian Coleman, to a Jewish victim of his ludicrous and offensive 'anti-semite' slur emails, received, in timely fashion,  just as Coleman's Tory colleagues gather for their group meeting, which is reportedly considering the suspension of a certain councillor ....

Ahem. Please note that any grammatical errors are as found, and that this may not be the best advertisement for grammar school education (that's Mrs Angry, if you are wondering).

The apology was dated 19th October, but arrived with the monitoring officer of Barnet Council only on the 29th October. Terrible, the postal service in Finchley (excepting my lovely postman, of course). Brian said:

'In line with the recent standards board rulling. I hereby apologies for any offence caused by the emails in question.

Yours sincerly.


Councillor Brian Coleman

Update: unconfirmed rumours on twitter tonight suggest that Coleman may now have been suspended by action instigated by the central party, rather than local Tories. 

... and updated again, 9pm, it's official: Coleman has been suspended by the Conservative party, rather than by local Tories: see statement tonight by leader Cornelius, confirming this:

 "Cllr Brian Coleman has today been suspended by the party board from his membership of the Conservative Party. This means that he will not be participating in the Council as a Conservative until the legal process is completed. He remains innocent until proven guilty."

Indeed Cllr Coleman remains innocent until proven guilty, but why has it taken this long for his suspension to have taken place, and why has it been activated by central party decision, rather than by local Tories, and by Barnet leader Richard Cornelius?

Joint letter to Barnet's Tory councillors: seize your opportunity to halt One Barnet

Dear Councillors

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.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Monday, 29 October 2012

Smooth operator: BT, outsourcing, and some Cornish connections


Marconi, busy inventing the first Cornish telehealth call centre

Cornwall has a unique place in the history of modern communication systems: the first transatlantic radio signal was transmitted from Poldhu Cove, in 1901, 'pip pip pip' heard far across the Atlantic by Giuseppe Marconi, waiting and listening in Newfoundland, using a glass tube filled with iron filings, and antennae held high in the air by balloons. 

Those three pips, spelling out in code the letter S, signified the genesis of a new age, in which the world was to be transformed by broadcasting, telephone networks, satellite systems, mobile technology and the internet. 

Marconi wrote: I now felt for the first time absolutely certain that the day would come when mankind would be able to send messages without wires not only across the Atlantic but between the farthermost ends of the earth.  

Broadcasting, phones, the internet: messages without wires: the business now of global communications companies: big business in which diversification is endlessly pursued in the inevitable wider and wider search for profitable markets. And no company better exemplifies this commercial enterprise,  perhaps, than BT. 

On its website, BT describes itself as the world's oldest telecommunications company, and even has a helpful family tree which explains how, several generations ago,  the Post Office married various telephone  companies and gave birth to British Telecom, which was then privatised, and grew and grew into the global monster it now has become, with interests in industries and services a universe away from its communications origin, and with a seemingly insatiable appetite for more and more business opportunities. 

This appetite is so voracious, in fact, that its hunger can no longer be contained within the limits of the private sector, and over the last few years has been running wild in the new jungle of the public sector, feasting on the opportunities offered by local authority outsourcing, in competition with a small pool of rival competitors.

So: one of the most revisited posts here in Broken Barnet is this one:

... in which  Mrs Angry explained some of the ways BT has approached the public sector market, by means such as the 'Vital Vision' programme, whose alumni include many Chief Executives ,whose value and interest to BT was explained in a now withdrawn document, 'Vital Vision Final', from 2005, in which we are told that one of the benefits the program delivered was by  'Influencing the thinking of the chief executives to shape their agenda'  ... 

You might wonder, as did Mrs Angry on reading this, quite what business it is of BT, a private company, to shape an agenda which is supposed to serve the policies of a democratically elected administration, but there you go: we live in a world where localism is no more than a doodle on the notepad of secretaries of state, and local authorities are run by senior officers, rather than those representing the wishes of the local taxpayers.

BT has been a particularly good friend to the London Borough of Broken Barnet: council leaders, Chief Executives, senior officers - some are Vital Visionaries, some have worked for BT, come to Barnet, gone back to BT. And where Bt has softened up the market for huge outsourcing programmes, its fellow big league bidders have benefited too: Capita, Serco and so on. In these large scale procurements, if one company gets the contract in one bid, another will get it next time: all the gentlemen bidders in the house of fun get their turn, eventually. 

The house of fun is facing hard times, however, and every week we hear tale of more and more outsourcing contracts which are ending in tears and recrimination, or are not reaching the final stages of agreement because of a sudden flurry of uncertainty about such huge commitement involving increasingly high risk - and no guarantee of benefit to the local taxpayer's investment.

Most recently we have seen the dramatic rejection in Cornwall of the Tory leader's failure to push through a controversial privatisation deal involving a joint venture: a vote by the council expressing opposition was initially ignored by the leader, his deputy resigned, a vote of no confidence led to the loss of the leader's position, and a petition to council was voted through which has effectively thrown the plans out of the town hall window - BT, the sole remaining bidder, will have to have its fingers prised from the window ledge, it seems: look at this article in Computer Weekly: here , with the heading -

Cornwall caught in bed with BT as councillors raise red card

Councillors might have put Cornwall's privatisation on probation. But the council had already begun acting as a joint venture partner with BT.

They voted unanimously Tuesday to suspend a proposal to put up to £800m of public services into a company in which BT would own a majority stake. 

BT planned to transform it into a hub from which it would manage the privatisation of other council services around the country, and to operate a telehealth business. 

Councillors withheld their approval and said they wanted to scrutinise the deal properly before approving it. 

But a "confidential" BT brochure mailed to councillors by Cornwall's own executive last Friday said Cornwall was already working with BT on bids for business from other public authorities. 

"We are already in three competitive bid situations for Telehealth/care with Australia Telehealth, Northumbria Telehealth and Hampshire Telecare; where we have named Cornwall as our partner," it said. "And have an expression of interest from others including Surrey."

According to this article, Cornwall's Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery once worked for BT as head of local government. But then again, to be fair: who hasn't? A significant number of our senior officers here in Broken Barnet, past and present, have had links of some sort with BT, or Capita, or Serco. The world of outsourcing is smaller than you might expect. The ubiquitous Mr Max Wide, for example, now working for iMPOWER, the same consultancy company which, with Agilisys, is being paid millions of punds of our money to implement One Barnet, our own sad, mad and bad outsourcing plans, used to work for BT as Director of Strategic Development, Local Government, and was of course seconded for a nice long stay at Barnet, while they had one or two of our officers in return.

Of course both Kevin Lavery and Max Wide are men of undoubted integrity, and very experienced professional managers who have a broad and very useful experience of many aspects of the private and public sectors - and arguably the boundaries between the two are immaterial now, with so much interdependence. 

The question must be asked, however, from the wider perspective: does the free, and in Barnet, anyway, demonstrably unregulated travel of senior employees between private sector to local authority, and back again, in any way enhance the best interests of the local taxpayers, in terms of expertise, value for money, transparency, accountability, democracy, or does it, in the context of the procurement of such hugely ambitious outsourcing projects, represent a serious and far reaching potential conflict of interest? 

When the veil of 'commercial sensitivity' is used to hide even from elected representatives the details of huge outsourcing bids, can this really be a process that is properly open to scrutiny?

Incredibly, the article tells us that only when the other bidder dropped out of the Cornish dialogue were councillors made privy to the details of BT's plans: and what plans they were:  

"BT wanted to build a "Global Centre of Excellence" for telehealth and telecare in Cornwall. It would do this by assimilating assets acquired from Cornwall's NHS Trusts. It would turn Cornwall into one node in a network of "business hubs and Centres of Excellence" it was building from its outsource deals across the public sector. Telehealth would become Cornwall's specialism in the national and global economy."

It's a long journey, isn't it, from Marconi's pioneering radio station in Poldhu, to a twenty first century call centre dealing virtually with the personal care needs of dependent older citizens? From communications that connect, to communications that disconnect, here in Broken Britain.

The article continues, and refers to a Cornish Libdem councillor, Nigel Pearce, who said in Tuesday's debate:

 " ... The problem with this bid is there's too much marketing. There's very little information on the finance," he said. "And also about the operation, how its going to work, the nuts and bolts. We do need to avoid some of the flannel-speak." 

The choice, however, was clear. It was the difference between the soothing noises made by BT's army-sized sales and marketing department and the infamous Barnet Graph of Doom that claims to show how council budgets will be squeezed so severely by 2030 that they will need to flog off their services.

Oh dear: the infamous Barnet Graph of Doom ... wonder how that made its way out west to Cornwall? And yes, please note 'claims to show' ... this piece of tosh has been clearly demonstrated by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable to be a discreditable work comprised of data wilfuly misinterpreted by unscientific and subjective assumptions, but is, regrettably, being used spuriously to serve and support the ambitions of a wide range of politically motivated parties.

In the brave new world that will result in the carve up of our NHS, and the savaging of our care services, clients looking for business in the side streets of our wanton local authorities will be spoilt for choice.  Down in Cornwall, last week,  BT got a slap across the face, and was shown the door: back here in Broken Barnet, the door is still wide open, and house of fun awaits. BT and Capita are sitting nicely on the sofa in the parlour: which one will get to go upstairs with us? Well, friends: probably doesn't matter much, in the end - they all look the same in the dark, don't they? Either way, courtesy of One Barnet, we are all going to get screwed.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Brian Coleman: clinging to the wreckage - last night's scrutiny meeting

Dealing with a badly behaved child is something all parents have to face, at some point. Tantrums, fighting, arguing, a whole range of misbehaviour that must be met by firm discipline: of course Mrs Angry never quite got the hang of this, and was always puzzled by the advice given in parental guides that bad behaviour should be met by sending your errant child to sit on the naughty step, or upstairs to his or her room. Mrs Angry's daughter would simply wobble her lip, and cry, and make Mrs Angry feel dreadfully guilty, and her brother would fold his arms defiantly and say: No. I won't: and you can't make me. Boys, see.

Earlier this week, Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius, in a belated response to the news that his chum Councillor Brian Coleman had been charged with assault by beating and a driving offence, indicated that his colleague would not be suspended, as that might prejudice his trial, but would merely be asked to 'take a back seat' in the political life of Broken Barnet. 

This reaction  provoked a universal reaction of astonishment and indignation, including, it seems, within senior Tory ranks, and Councillor Cornelius was obliged to perform a speedy u turn, announcing that he was instigating the procedure to suspend him. 

Last night at Hendon Town Hall saw the meeting of the Budget and Performance Overview and Scrutiny committee, a committee chaired by ... Councillor Brian Coleman. Would he be allowed to chair this, in view of the proceedings to suspend him? Surely not, you might think. Surely Brian would feel that his position was untenable and would agree to stay away?

No. I won't: and you can't make me.

And when we arrived in the committee room, there was his name in the Chair's place at the table, and look: as members took their seats, in came a familiar figure: the elephant entering the room.

There was a lot of coughing, (and not just from Mrs Angry, who is still suffering, yes, thank you for asking) and a fair degree of repressed amusement in the public seating - which was in fact filled almost entirely by senior officers. 

Councillors sat opposite the Chair with bemused expressions.

The Chair tapped his little hammer: Coleman is the only Chair of any committee who uses such a prop, of course, appealing as it does to his need to feel omnipotent, Thor like in his super powers. Last night's opening tap, however, was rather less confident than the performance at the previous meeting he chaired, in which he treated members of the public and fellow councillors with gobsmacking officiousness and condescension.

Coleman was clearly on his best behaviour, in fact: subdued, quiet, no grandstanding, no ranting, a few timid attempts at the odd mildly humorous remark, but nothing on the usual scale of performance.

What was on the agenda seemed hardly of any importance, compared to the the extraordinary circumstances of the meeting itself, but on we went.

Alan Schneiderman pointed out that the so called savings in the library budget were nonsense. A senior officer tried to make out that they were real. A typical One Barnet argument, in fact. 

Cabinet member for libraries, Robert Rams, sat at the table, swinging his little legs, clearly bored, covertly looking at twitter on his phone. Mrs Angry sent him a stern tweet, reprimanding him for sitting at the table tweeting, rather than listening to the committee. He turned round and laughed. Another councillor who should be sent to his room, preferably until well after the next election.

Councillor John Marshall had made it to the meeting, with arm in sling, after falling in the park the other day. Mrs Angry had commiserated with the old boy at the beginning of the meeting, and tried tactfully to establish whether or not anyone had pushed him, but apparently not. There may however have been an undetected blow to his venerable old head, as he now piped up, in his peevish patrician voice, and suggested that Councillor Robert Rams was now one of the 'heroes' of Hampstead Garden Suburb for his wonderful support for their - ha - 'community library' with its millionaire Tory volunteers: proof, he said, of the Big Society in action. Marvellous. Wonder who Councillor Marshall thinks is the hero of Friern Barnet, and their small society venture, the people's library? Occupier and community librarian Phoenix?

 After an awkward mention of street lighting, and erm, a legal challenge of the procurement process, we moved swiftly on to ah ... oops, parking. This was, of course the highly contentious issue which has galvanised the borough's political insurgence, and played a major part in the political downfall of the Chair, Brian Coleman, at the GLA elections, and in his previous capacity as Cabinet member for environment. 

Again, much debate about whether or not any of the mythical One Barnet savings have been produced, as promised by the privatisation of the parking payment contract so fortuitously awarded to our friends at NSL - or whether in real terms, income has dropped rather alarmingly. 

No: Ms Pam Wharfe was very reassuring,  and seemed to think it would all balance out nicely in the end. Aww. That's nice. Mrs Angry likes a happy ending, don't you?

There followed a rather unfortunate performance at the table by Councillor Dean Cohen, who is the successor to Coleman's cabinet post, referring, with Freudian slippage on a grand scale to, oh dear, incidents of illegal parking, CCTV, and suspension  ...  of parking bays. 

A matter of real public concern, of course, in all our high streets.

Following in his new role of One Barnet sceptic, Tory Councillor Hugh Rayner remarked that he did not see why we should pay for any inefficiencies of our parking contractors, despite the fact that, as Ms Wharfe informed us, the contract made it impossible to demand real changes in the way the parking is run. 

Oh dear, oh dear, elected members and senior officers of the London Borough of Barnet: no, and this is the point which you have refused to address: you are about to surrender control of £1billion worth of our council services to the private sector, and the history of total incompetence in this borough's management of procurement and contracting hardly inspires one to believe that the new contracts will address the needs of residents affected by the new provision of service delivery, does it?

Ah, but - more worrying signs of confusion from Cllr Marshall. He wants to tell us that  of course residents are now getting a much better service, as a result of the newly privatised parking services. 

Erm: no, Councillor Marshall, dear sir - no, they are not. 

Parking attendants do not have targets to meet, he informed us, with the authority of someone who knows nothing about the finer details of any given subject,  but has been educated to sound like he does.

Finally a discussion about the committee's ability to scrutinise the One Barnet process. Labour leader Alison Moore thought it was clearly a good idea to look at recent examples of failure, or where authorities had withdrawn from such proposals, as in Cornwall, Somerset, Suffolk, Edinburgh, etc etc. 

Of course at last night's meeting, new interim CEO Andrew Travers had been asked which sort of similar case studies his officers had looked at, and he could not quite recall, but agreed to come up with a list, one which Mrs Angry would certainly like to see, although she suspects it will be rather short.

Alison also reminded the Chair of the need to establish clearly what is happening with the last minute proposal - by the senior management team, acting without authorisation from the members - to change the model of outsourcing for one set of services to a joint venture. 

Coleman announced grandly that there would be no joint venture, as the leader had categorically informed the committee last time. Ah. Funnily enough, the new CEO had referred again to the consideration of this new model only the night before, with absolutely no suggestion that it had been discounted. This is, of course, because the senior management team are really the driving force for One Barnet and have every intention of promoting their own favoured option.

Coleman, continuing his finely observed portrayal of understated martyrdom, and dignity in adversity, remarked that in regard to the Labour leader's concerns, 'I don't disagree with anything you say' ... his only objection was really as to the sort of advice the committee ought to take.

Coleman, for all his faults, is a pragmatist, and knows that One Barnet is doomed. Hugh Rayner knows it too: and so does almost everyone now, it seems, apart from the leader and deputy leader of the Tory group.

The Labour group has now called for a vote of no confidence in leader Cornelius over the One Barnet fiasco. 

This will take place in the next few days. Between then and now, a lot of interesting manouvres will be taking place, Mrs Angry would imagine, as the increasingly open dissent amongst the Tory backbenchers comes into play. 

Many of them are deeply worried - at last - by the extent of the enormous committment to One Barnet and they are also concerned by the continual flow of negative publicity related to their colleague Brian Coleman. They know that their chances of being re elected in 2014 are fatally compromised. They have an opportunity to do something now, and frankly if he loses his position, Cornelius has only himself to blame.

And that was that.

Coleman took his little hammer and tapped it, lightly, just once, declaring the meeting ended. People drifted out of the room. He left quietly.

And that, citizens, is how the world ends, in Broken Barnet: not with a bang, but a whimper. The slow, painful recognition that finally, the impact of the things we do, and the things we fail to do, catch up with all of us, eventually - and then we have to face the consequences.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Quite challenging: One Barnet and the Tory councillors thinking the unthinkable - they might have got it wrong

Councillor Hugh Rayner, Chair of Business Management, Overview and Scrutiny Committee - and One Barnet sceptic?

Before last night's scrutiny committee, Councillor Jack Cohen told Mrs Angry rather sternly that her posts are getting too long. That is because, Councillor Jack Cohen, EVENTS are getting too long, and Mrs Angry only has limited time to sit and whittle them all down to one paragraph. So: here is an experiment in brevity, except, look - see, it's already taken me a paragraph to say that ...

Committee: present -chair Hugh Rayner, ex military, no nonsense, and thankfully no bullshit. 'Interim' acting CEO, Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers. Libdem Jack Cohen, Labour: Rawlings, Johnson, Moore, Tories: Salinger, Braun (in a trance) Rowan Turner. Apologies from Tories John Marshall, who has fallen over in a park, like an ancient oak, and will be left there to provide a home for stag beetles and other wildlife. Concentrate, Mrs Angry. And apologies from Andrew Strongolou, whose purpose Mrs Angry fails to understand, as this young man, who, according to the register of interests, has no employment, lives at the members' room at the Town Hall, and has no email contact for his work as councillor, usually sits silently in the gloom of council meetings wearing shades, and looking sulky.

The meeting was to be presented with the One Barnet petition (against, not for, in case you were wondering). Mrs Janet Maddison spoke eloquently on behalf of residents who object to the corporate prostitution of our council services. Councillors listened. The Tory Chair spent the rest of the meeting more or less agreeing with her, which was disconcerting. He asked all the right questions: deciding now that a £1 billion worth of outsourcing is 'quite challenging', especially as we don't know what will happen in the next six months, let alone the next ten years. In his own experience of contracts, he understood how the loopholes which exist will benefit the companies, and facilitate their profit margins.

Yes, Councillor Rayner. Well done. Well spotted. 

Why didn't you ask these f*cking questions two years ago?

Clearly all the other Tories felt the same profound sense of doubt about the massive scale of privatisation, the huge amount of  financial commitment, and the contractual stranglehold they are about to put around our necks. (All except Tory Maureen Braun, who was, as usual, inert and almost asleep.)

The Tory councillors have sleepwalked us all into this mess, by their laziness, lack of interest and abject failures as our elected representatives, notably, in this case, by failing properly to scrutinise the One Barnet process. Now, at the very last minute, as they begin to understand the impact this terrifying programme will have on the borough, and of course on their electoral futures, they have begun to wake up, panic, and run about like scared rabbits.

Black Hole sat at the table and made the most feeble defence imaginable for the One Barnet concept. He spoke at some length, (Mrs Angry imagines he is being paid by the yard, spinwise, rather than the set rate £1,000 per day now he is acting up as CEO) mumbling on about robust processes, appropriate advice,  satisfactory and appropriate levels of consultation (with the bidders, presumably, rather than the electorate) bla bla bla. He didn't really seem to have convinced himself, let alone put any effort into persuading the rest of us. 

Sitting furtively in the audience were deputy leader Cllr John Thomas - eye glinting, clearly plotting his future as leader, when the floundering  Cornelius is moved on  - and Cllr Andrew Harper - clearly trying to expand his portfolio, back to the eye wateringly high status he held in the reign of Lynne Hillan, deputy leader, then acting leader, then potential leader and then, and then  - oh, whoops: it was all over, like a lovely dream. As they sat very still, watching the proceedings with evident unease, the mention was made of the ever increasing bill of several million pounds being thrown in the lap of the One Barnet consultants and 'implementation partners', ie Agilisys and iMPOWER. 

Harper looked meaningfully at Thomas, at this point. It is clear they know that the myth of One Barnet, that it will deliver huge savings, is entirely discredited by the parasitical drain on our local taxes enabled by this dependence on such consultants. What do they do for this money? How exactly is it spent? We do not know. We are not allowed to know. It is 'commercially sensitive'.

At the end of the discussion it was agreed that a recommendation should be made, via Travers, to the Cabinet. There was much confusion as to what should, what could be submitted, but it was agreed, rather astonishingly, if rather too late, that the range of serious concerns raised by residents in the petition and by committee members should be noted.

All that will happen now is that the Cabinet will completely disregard this warning from its own backbenchers, and carry on walking us - and their own electoral chances - right over the cliff.

Mrs Angry has discovered that One Barnet and our council's competence, or rather incompetence, in procurement was the subject of a question in parliament on Monday: 

·         Local Government FinanceShadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will request the London borough of Barnet to comply with their external auditor's recommendations and produce a stakeholder engagement plan for their transformation programme.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,  Brandon Lewis: How the London borough of Barnet responds to any recommendations from their auditor is a local matter. An auditor has powers to act when he has serious concerns about a council's actions, including qualifying the council's accounts, issuing a public interest report which the full council would be required to consider, and even, in the case of unlawful actions, seeking a judicial review.

·         Local Government FinanceHilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what communication he or officials in his Department have had with the London borough of Barnet regarding the procurement practices of that authority.

Brandon Lewis: There have been no recent communications between the Secretary of State and Barnet council regarding their procurement practices.

The Department does not routinely collect information on communications between officials and individual local authorities.

As a matter of public record, in a speech in 2011, the Secretary of State made a reference to procurement practices in that local authority. The speech is online at:

·         Local Government FinanceHilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether it is his policy that outsourcing of regulatory services by local authorities should be subject to consultation.

Brandon Lewis: This Government believes that local authorities are best placed to decide how they fulfil their statutory functions. As locally accountable bodies, they have strong incentives to consult local people, and are under some specific duties to do so. The duty of best value, introduced by section 3 of the Local Government Act 1999, requires authorities to:

“make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which its functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”.

The legislation further requires that they consult local people on how they should fulfil this duty.

·         Local Government FinanceHilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps he has taken to ensure that local authorities which commission regulatory services such as planning, licensing and environmental health from third parties ensure that the public are protected, with particular reference to circumstances where third party suppliers fail to meet their obligations.

Brandon Lewis: Councils retain ultimate accountability for ensuring that the services for which they have statutory responsibility are provided. Where they contract services out to third parties, they need to put arrangements in place to ensure that those parties can fulfil their requirements.

What is so amusing about this is the fact that the speech to which Brandon Lewis refers with such enthusiasm, is the one given by his boss Eric Pickles last year to the CIPFA conference, praising the work of Mrs Angry and her fellow bloggers. Ahem.  

Do you think, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet , that Eric and Brandon are trying to tell you something?

There are some wild rumours flying about tonight about the future of Tory leader Richard Cornelius, who was forced to make a rather humiliating u -turn this week over his failure to suspend his chum Brian Coleman following his charge for an alleged 'assault with beating' and an alleged driving offence. 

Last night's meeting demonstrated clearly that Barnet Tory councillors are now openly voicing concerns about the viability of the One Barnet programme, and interim CEO Andrew Travers' less than erm 'robust' defence of the proposals did little to assail their anxieties.

Tonight's committee meeting is due to be chaired by Councillor Brian Coleman. He has not yet been suspended or voted from his position. Will he turn up, or will they prevail upon him to stay at home?

All will be revealed soon: watch for update on twitter, and here later.

(PS: sorry, Jack - I did try, but ... events, dear boy, events ... )