How you could do things differently to One Barnet

Instinctively we all know there is something profoundly wrong with the way our Borough is being run. Some people feel it's about putting up parking charges too high, others feel it's about cutting cherished services like Sheltered Housing wardens, and Children's Centres, closing Libraries or mass-privatisation of council services.

What all these things have in common, however, is the way that people feel they have been treated by the council.  With each of the policy decisions listed above, either residents made it clear in the council's consultation that they were overwhelmingly against the proposals or residents were just not consulted at all.  The council has proceeded regardless in each case.

This demonstrates a complete failure by the council to listen to local people, and it is partly what is causing the feeling of unease amongst a growing section of our community about the way the council operates.

Councils across the country have had their funding from central government cut by more than a quarter, with another 28 per cent cut due soon. So, at a time when local government is having to make very difficult decisions about what services it can no longer deliver it is more important than ever that councils work in partnership with local residents on proposals put forward.

This partnership is simply not happening in Barnet.  People feel they are not being treated as part of a community - part of OUR community.

There is a distinct sense that we are all just 'customers' to a faceless bureaucracy, and many feel that this will get worse once it is a huge private corporation that is delivering customer care and many other crucial council services after the award of the two huge One Barnet contracts for New Support & Customer Service Organisation (NSCSO decision due on 6 December) and the Development & Regulatory Services (DRS decision due early next year).

The preferred bidder for the first One Barnet contract for back office services (NSCSO) is Capita.  So it is likely that from next year Capita will be delivering the council's customer care service, council tax collection and benefits service, and will also be running the council's finance, HR, I.T., procurement and estates departments.

I have many concerns about the concept of this One Barnet proposal, and have written about them before on this blog.

Just three of those fundamental concerns are:


1. It is completely undemocratic. The contract will run for at least 10 years - across at least two local election cycles - and there will be no way to exit from the contract without paying a huge financial penalty to the contractor, unless the contractor defaults on the contract. If there is a political change in the leadership of the council at the next election, the new administration will not be able to do things differently without incurring extra costs to the council tax payer.

2. We simply do not know if outsourcing these services really represents the best value option. The business case for outsourcing the services has not been properly made: no proper assessment of the current in-house service was done. No assessment of whether the in-house service could make the required savings was done. No proper public sector comparator was done.

3. The public has not been formally consulted on the proposal. The NSCSO contract is huge - originally estimated at around £750 million, and it includes critical council services that affect real people’s lives. Every time a resident calls, emails or visits the council, they will be dealing with Capita.  This is too big a change in the delivery of council services to not consult the public.


At the recent Barnet Alliance for Public Services Question Time on 'One Barnet' I talked about what Labour would have done differently if we were running the council.


Here are just 5 of the things that we would do differently:

-         Cut spend on consultants and agency staff – about £20m per year is spent on consultants and agency staff.  If we only reduced this by a quarter - £5m – you would be saving £5m each year, which in cumulative terms is about 70% of the core savings the council say they will make by outsourcing the NSCSO.

-         Use new powers to increase income to reinvest in local services – the government has brought in a new General Power of Competence which allows sweeping powers for local councils to do anything that isn’t already proscribed by law. This means that councils could bring in more income from trading to reinvest in local services.  This is a different approach to selling-off services to a private contractor who then pockets the profits.

-         Look seriously at in-house service transformation – and undertake a public sector comparator. This was never seriously undertaken by the council.  Other councils who have stepped back from major outsourcing projects have then successfully worked with staff and the Unions to reconfigure services and make savings. For example, Edinburgh City Council undertook a Public Sector Comparator as well as look at outsourcing. The Public Sector Comparator showed they could make at least £38m savings over ten years, and they decided to go for this option. We really must properly assess the in-house service before deciding to outsource to make sure what represents best value for money, presents the lowest risk and provides the best service to local people.

-         Where in-house transformation will not produce a better and cheaper service – we would undertake proper options appraisals, with gateway reviews, including options to work with social enterprises and co-operatives, and to work with local community groups who may bid to deliver local services. This keeps a more public service ethos and will help ensure that jobs and services are not lost to the local economy.

-         Consult and engage with local residents on what services they want us to deliver – councils tend to be monolithic organisations that think they know best and do not listen to local people. Where resources are stretched it is even more important to have an ongoing and meaningful dialogue with local residents to ensure that the services you are delivering are actually the services that local people want and need. With every annual budget it is prudent to look at every pound that is spent and whether every pound that is spent is being spent on something that people want (excluding those services that we have to deliver by law).  If we engage with local people we get a better idea about what their priorities are and what we can stop spending money on.


We are not pretending that the financial challenge all councils are facing is not huge, it is. We know we have to make savings and protect frontline services, and we think there are better, less risky ways of doing this then the current One Barnet outsourcing proposals.

Most importantly we believe we are here to understand, serve and represent local people, and therefore we must take their views into account when changing local services. Unless we do this we will not be creating a Better Barnet for all.


By Cllr Alison Moore, Leader of the Barnet Labour Group


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