Am I my brother's keeper?

At the present time, when major cuts are necessary, there is not much 'fun' in being a local Councillor. There is a funding gap of £42 - £48 million over the next three years. Barnet's plan, One Barnet, is to keep rates down and cut expenditure by outsourcing to two multi-national companies with a £1bn 10 year contract.

Residents and local businesses may well be concerned about this when we are hearing constantly of the lack of expertise of even national government (Labour or Coalition) in drawing up, monitoring or regulating such contracts (PFI, G4S, the 'nationalised' banks). But what, also, about democracy?

Until now, we have voted in Councillors who are responsible to us. If dissatisfied, we can vote them out at the next election.

But with the proposed ten year contract, they will be entirely unable to make changes, or, the costs of doing so would be prohibitively high.

Even monitoring is likely to be virtually impossible. Companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so residents and Councillors are unlikely easily, without a great deal of determination, to penetrate the secrecy which is claimed under the general heading of 'commercial sensitivity'.

This seems a far cry from the government's localism or 'big society' as we have understood it. Of course, change is essential. Let's have a full, speedy and proper consultation.

Why should such matters be of concern to residents? In Barnet, many of us are getting older. Though at present direct care of the elderly (and of schoolchildren) are excluded from the outsourcing - there is no difference between this and privatisation, by the way, merely a matter of preferred terminology - we are likely to find it more and more difficult to complain and for our Councillors to advocate on our behalf.

Equally, we may have concerns about others who are more vulnerable than ourselves - those who are disabled, physically or mentally, those who for whatever reason find it difficult to get jobs or are on welfare, or have housing needs. Community is based on the concept that we care for one another, which is why I have become concerned in these past few weeks since beginning to learn about the plans.

Voting in local and national elections is low and falling. It is said that there is widespread apathy and no-one cares. We need investment in local democracy but One Barnet appears to limit it severely. At the very least, Barnet should immediately endorse the Sustainable Communities Act.

The One Barnet programme, according to the initial report, has one overarching aim:

"To become a citizen centred organisation". But the means must embrace the aim and the way that  'citizens' are currently excluded from discussion and consultation bodes poorly for the future.





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@ retweeted @BetterBarnet 2012-07-21 16:22:33 +0100
Check out Rabbi Jeffrey Newman's article on the 'One Barnet' democratic deficit
@_MrMustard tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-20 09:45:01 +0100
published this page in News 2012-07-19 17:23:40 +0100
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