I was very disappointed that the public consultation was cancelled so it was some comfort that Cllr Thomas agreed to ring me yesterday to listen to my views. I will not report what Cllr Thomas said. I respect his privacy and I do not want to mis quote him but I will share my side of the conversation with him.
My starting point was that before we start salami slicing individual services it is important to look at the structure of Barnet Council and how the Council is run. My view is the council is remote from the views and ambitions of the residents and the splendid isolation of North London Business Park (rental cost £1.7 million in the last six months)simply reinforces that disconnect.
I expressed my concern that there is insufficient control over spending and that is evidenced by some of the invoices coming through on the suppliers list. Barnet publish a magazine called Everyone's A Winner and it is distributed at leisure centres amongst other outlets. Great, except according to the accounts this magazine cost £117,154.69!
Why, at a time when people are being made redundant, have the council spent £397,283.38 on job adverts. Why has the Council spent £5.5 million on agency staff in the last six months including £1,292,856.83 since July with Calco Services. I know there is the debate about flexibility of agency staff and the ability to get rid of them when they are no longer required but I question the scale of usage of agency staff.
I have worked on out sourcing projects for many years and I have seen some organisations who see outsourcing as a way of getting rid of problems rather than facing up to them. I fear this could be the case with Barnet.
This led me on to another issue and that is the role of consultants at the council. According to the suppliers list Barnet has spent £19,052,664.44 in consulting fees the last 6 months. Before we start looking at how we cut front line services like the libraries we need to start making inroads into theses big non-essential costs first. I touched on a number of other areas during our 1 hour discussion but I finished up on the point that the Council needs to start talking and listening to residents; we aren't stupid and we do have a contribution to make. I sincerely hope Cllr Thomas listens and takes on board the views of residents. If not I suspect that they will achieve the worst of all worlds, making hideous cuts to services but failing to realise the savings they are looking for.
Please note that all of the figures I have quoted have been taken from the Barnet Council Vendor Payments over £500. I have tried as far as possible to be accurate in analysing the figures but going through the 25,662 separate entries occasional errors may occur.