Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Barnet Council Cabinet Meeting 24/6/2013 - Democracy in Action?

Last night we saw the Cabinet of Barnet Council hold a lengthy debate to scrutinise in detail the proposed DRS contract. As is fitting in an open and transparent democracy a whole selection of local residents expressed their democratic rights to ask questions of the cabinet and to address the cabinet. The cabinet listened intently to these submissions and then asked various questions of the members of the public. The Barnet Eye was truly heartened to have taken part in the process, as one of those residents who addressed the cabinet. Like all of those present, I was completely reassurred that our elected representatives had done a good job taking our concerns into consideration, prior to making the decision, which was passed unanimously, to award the contract.

Ok, you guessed. There is a small degree of irony in the above paragraph. I daresay that this describes accurately how the cabinet viewed the proceedings, but for the rest of us who attended, the whole thing was a complete charade. The Barnet Eye addressed the comittee.I raised two main issues in the allotted five minutes. The first thing I mentioned was the plethora of court cases which Barnet has found itself embroiled in, largely due to its inability to consult residents. The Barnet Eye suggested that the council could have saved millions had they done what they are supposed to do and followed proper procedures for consultation. The second point, which seemed completely beyond the grasp of the councillors, was that the business case for the DRS outsourcing was claiming that money generated from "extra income" (presumably price hikes) could be listed as "savings". Barnet Council claim that if Capita don't take over the services, they will have to make swinging cuts, but given that 4/5ths of the supposed savings they detail are from "extra income" this is clearly nonsense.

As to the issue of consultation, the Deputy Leader of the Council shot back that the Council had won all of the cases listed by The Barnet Eye. Sadly Councillor Thomas hadn't been paying attention. So the Barnet Eye reminded him of the status of these cases.

David Young won the case against the Council over sheltered housing wardens.
The CPZ case is trundling on.
The Maria Nash case against One Barnet is in the Court of Appeal, still going through process.
The Catalyst Case was lost by the Council, who racked up £2 million and had to pay £8 million compensation (The council is re-awarding the contract to the company).
John Sullivan has won an injunction against Your Choice, forcing them to consult.
Unison won a case against Barnet regarding agency workers.

The Deputy Leader suggested that nationally there was a trend towards more legal action and asked the Barnet Eye to agree this. Our response was that in such a climate, the council should try and do things properly, so they weren't open to such cases. The legal aid rules state that there must be a better than evens chance of getting a determination to win before aid is granted, so clearly the council has not done its job.

Fellow Bloggers Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable also tried to persuade the council to see sense. Both failed. Mr Reasonable, as ever asked a whole range of sensible questions regarding the process. As ever, he was given a whole range of non answers. As ever Mr Reasonable made clear that he was not making the points out of political motivation, he merely wanetd value for money. As ever, his reasonable remonstrations were ignored. Mrs Angry treated the council to a withering blast, summiraly dismissing there arguments and business case, for the claptrap that anyone who has read the thing would conclude. She also managed to berate Councillor Robert Rams for his lack of manners. Barbara Jackson treated the councillors to a our de force in how to analyse a very poor decision making process. The Council Leader shifted uneasily, not enjoying the experience.

Then we went on to the "debate". Councillor Rams concluded that the Labour party agreed with him, as no Labour Councillors had addressed the committee. I suppose he thinks Arsenal fans agree with Spurs fans that it s great when Spurs score a goal in the Derby because they sit there moping as the Spurs mob shout their heads off. He then said "I know what the silent majority think" A naughty person in the public gallery shouted "How can you know what they think if they are silent, you moron". Councillor Rams replied that you know you've won the debate when your opponents abuse you. It didn't seem to occur to him that in most peoples eyes, if you treat them like idiots and say extremely stupid things, you are liable to receive the odd cat call. It was interesting to note that no other councillor got the same response as Rams. Councillor Dean Cohen was very concerned that Capita would not manage supplies of grit properly. Certain members of the public shouted at the good councillor for this observation. I tended to agree with his observation that this was actually the type of thing residents cared about.

Anyway the public was dismissed for the commercially sensitive part of the debate (we all stood outside and listened, as they had their microphones on and we could hear everything) and then passed the motion.

And that my friends, is Democracy in Action in Barnet. Councillor Jack Cohen, the Lib Dem leader, asked me if I'd enjoyed seeing Democracy in Action, with a very deeply sarcastic tone. Indeed I had. I enjoy a good farce.


Gwen Swinburn said...

Barnet Eye, good morning. You have no idea what a fortunate position you are in... Really!!!!! At least at the Cabinet in Barnet you get to speak and then all the members can ask you questions- and you can even answer!! Not much to ask in an open democracy, you might think - even if your comments are completely ignored. WRONG!

So now cast your eyes further north-to the fair city of York, the capital of Yorkshire!! Here citizens may, giving a full days's notice plus [approved] topic, speak for three minutes. Thereafter they get to sit down and the meeting moves on. At the first webcast meeting the Leader even commented on several of the submissions those that had no agenda item. The 'rules' say citizens may not be spoken to by the members and God forbid if they do!

Pity then the hapless (temp) chair (Libdem) of the Audit and Governance committee earlier this year.This citizen, fed up with the numerous democratic flaws and deficit in our great city, got up and spoke of (some) of the failings with a request that the Audit and Governance Committee broadens its reach beyond the standard audit and annual [corporate not democratic] governance statement - to address the multiple democratic flaws, and indeed breaches and abuses of legislation.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, after I spoke, a number of the members from all parties spoke enthusiastically on the topic, asked me questions, which I answered!

I stayed as a courtesy until kicked out at the end for a private matter.

Imagine my surprise some time later when a councillor from that committee told me an old labor councillor had raised, without notice, an item at the end under so-called urgent business. Guess what it was? He was complaining that I had been spoken to and answered members questions, it was against the rules!!! can you IMAGINE?

Of course he himself was allowed to break the rules by even raising the so-called urgent item, especially as the only member of the public, indeed the target of this vitriol didn't even know there was a further item!

So my wonderful friends at Barnet, we don't have the One Barnet hassles and outsourcing hell you are going through- but when it comes to having your say, there are places worse off than you- if you could ever imagine it! And I know you will be disappointed to know that this proud city Is labour controlled. So when it comes to bad democracy it is certainly not the prerogative of Barnet Conservatives, indeed they could learn a lot from York staff and councillors on how to ride roughshod over citizens.

PS unfortunately the Libdem temp chair then went onto blot his hitherto partially! marked copy book by writing to this hapless citizen telling her not to tweet in meetings as councillors didn't like it! All she had done was post a thank you for listening tweet when she got home!!!! That would be another story...

Gwen Swinburn
Citizen of York

Mr Mustard said...

and no-one got the chance to talk to the Cabinet Resources Committee as all requests were refused by the chairman as sadly the constitution gives him that power.

The reason one other speaker was refused was that it wouldn't help the committee reach their decision. Well how would they know that if they haven't heard what he has to say. The point of letting residents speak isn't only to aid decision making, it is to show that you are open to the views of residents. Not in Barnet.