Barnet’s Conservative councillors are spending £500,000 on six new press officers “for managing the Council’s reputation” while forcing £81m cuts through, according to a report published on 5 July. Labour councillors have slammed the decision as “focussed on totally the wrong priorities” and highlighted a recent proposal to cut £500k+ from allowances to special guardians of children in care.
The report states that “The council is set to embark on its most significant period of transformation as part of the work to close an £81 million pound budget gap by 2020.”
The report also hints at the need to improve communications following the massive privatisation of council services that has taken place. It says “Whilst a range of services are now delivered externally to the Council, it is essential that the central communications team remains accountable for managing the Council’s reputation. In response to this there is a need to review and restructure the team so that it is fit for purpose to effectively support the Council in this model.”
Three of the six new communications officers will be on two year fixed term contracts taking their employment up to 2018 when the next local elections will be held. The report states this is “to provide future flexibility to reduce on-going costs”. In other words, they won’t need them after that point.
The total expenditure incurred by the decision is £467,353 – just below the £500k threshold for reporting to a committee – with elected councillors excluded from calling it in.
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: “It is absolutely staggering that the Conservatives running Barnet Council have chosen to squander half a million pounds trying to shine up their public image before the local elections, while forcing through cuts of a similar amount to services for children in care.
“They have excluded this £500k communications spend from call-in by elected councillors, yet insist that any proposals to spend more than £5k on the council chamber must be decided at committee.”
“All this demonstrates they are focussed on totally the wrong priorities, and have done this below the radar hoping nobody would notice.
“Given their bungling of the London elections, parking charges, the library IT crash and so many other things, it is laughable that the Tories’ are scrambling around trying to make sure the communications department is ‘fit for purpose’. It is clearly their stewardship of the Council that is not fit for purpose.
“All I can say is – no wonder they have a reputational problem.”
- For a copy of the delegated powers report on the communications re-structure see:https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s33401/Communications%20Restructure%20Full%20Officer%20Delegated%20Powers%20Report.pdf
- Details of the proposed £500k+ cuts to Special Guardians allowances from 14 June CELS committee:http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s32452/Review%20of%20Special%20Guardianship%20policy%20and%20support.pdf
- Details of the Conservative Group proposal that spend of more than £5k on the Town Hall must come to committee (para 2.1) :http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s32794/Report.pdf
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568