The DRS proposal includes crucial and sensitive front line services like planning, licensing, trading standards, environmental health, building control, housing strategy, regeneration, cemetery and crematorium and highways.
Let's leave to one side for a moment the recommendation that Capita are now the preferred bidder for both 'One Barnet' contracts, and the fact that one large company would be controlling such a huge chunk of Barnet council services. The more striking news is that the model for this new DRS contract will be a Joint Venture company (JVC) - where the council owns 50% of the new company delivering the services, and the contractor owns the other 50%.
Residents may remember last year a rather tetchy disagreement between Conservative Council Leader, Richard Cornelius and his Deputy Leader, Daniel Thomas over whether or not a Joint Venture was the best model for this bundle of services. At September's Budget & Performance Scrutiny meeting Cllr Richard Cornelius denied seeing any reports recommending a JVC, and said it would be a "steep hill to climb" to convince him of the merits of a Joint Venture, while his Deputy Leader, Dan Thomas seemed rather more in favour.
More importantly, the Council's own analysis of Joint Venture at the options appraisal stage decided that a Strategic Partnership with the private sector would be a better model than a Joint Venture company. That report back in 2010 stated that:
On price - "Whilst capable of delivering a low price this [JV] would be a costly option to implement ‐ the joint venture procurement being more complex than a straightforward partnering arrangement. "
On performance - "Whilst performance can be high in joint ventures there is a risk that the focus on commercial goals and development of new business can be at the cost of service delivery."
On citizens & stakeholders - "JVs have the potential to enshrine old operating assumptions, which can limit the scope for transformation and therefore more radical change is less likely."
And concluded in regard to JV that - "...these options based on current evidence look less advantageous than a Strategic Partnership and we do not suggest they are actively sought, as it will be important to have clarity of objectives when working with the market."
Obviously we'll be reading the Cabinet report published late this afternoon very closely, but my first questions would be - why has the Council changed it's mind about Joint Venture for DRS? And, given the Leader seemed so unconvinced about the merits of a JV last year - will Cabinet actually agree to what was originally regarded as the more risky option?
More to follow.....
By Cllr Alison Moore
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group of Councillors