Friday, 22 March 2013

"Nothing About Us Without Us" - Why Barnet ended up at Judicial Review

On Tuesday and Thursday this week I have been at the Royal Courts of Justice listening in to the Judicial Review Hearing. There has been much written about the case and I would urge readers to visit Mrs Angry's blog for one of the most comprehensive and entertaining reads around. (For what it's worth I believe that Mrs Angry is one of the most talented writers in the UK and deserves much greater recognition of her talents).

The quote "Nothing about us without us" came from Maria Nash and it runs to the very heart of the problems in Barnet. The court hearing has revealed  that the Council have assumed that they know best and that residents are incapable of understanding the issues involved. The Council have made oblique references to what 'One Barnet Transformation Programme' was about and left it to residents to join up the dots. Barnet seem terrified of consultation in case residents say something the Council don't like. In summary it appears that the Council will do what they want irrespective of what residents think or want and worry about the consequences afterwards. 

Over the three days of the hearing not one single Conservative councillor has shown up to see how the case is going or to understand some of the reasons why this dispute has made it all the way to Judicial Review. Perhaps they were worried about the public opprobrium, perhaps they didn't understand the issues, or perhaps they simply didn't give a s**t. Whatever the answer, their absence speaks volumes about their disengagement from residents on such important matters. Maria's words clearly show that Barnet's stance is simply untenable.

Irrespective of what the judge rules, it is clear to me that the Council will struggle to recover from this case. They have demonstrated a contempt and disrespect for residents which at times was breathtaking. They have shown that there is a complete (and justified) lack of trust for the Council and that will continue with the current regime in place.  Without a regime change and a complete revolution on openness and true consultation, I suspect that that the Council will face many more Judicial Review requests and that risks bringing the Council into a state of complete paralysis.



  1. Indeed Mr Reasonable you would think that at least one cabinet member would have made the effort to attend, the bloggers did so despite similar time committments to councillors (I have 2 jobs just for starters). The councillors notable by their absence were:

    the "leader" Richard Cornelius and previous Leader Listens and LL Business Breakfast (the frying pan still occasionally gets heated up) events were cited as evidence of consultation. It isn't far from Hatton Garden to the Strand. Mind you as Richard does listen but then doesn't do anything there isn't much point in saying anything to him.

    Robert Rams, one of the 2 lead councillors of One Barnet. Robert it was who sent the letter to the Barnet Civic Centre stopping any further meetings with them after one in 2010 and yet that group was cited as having been consulted. As the Cabinet member for Customer Access and Parnerships one would have thought he would have wanted to show his support to his officers.

    Daniel Thomas, the other lead councillor of One Barnet. Maybe he was too busy crafting that blog post he has just written about Cuba outsourcing its hotel management. It makes Dan look like a red under the bed rather than a true blue. Anyway, for whatever reason, he didn't show his face.

    David Longstaff, the Cabinet member for Safety & Resident Engagement. If you really want to engage with residents you have to firstly find out what is bothering them and secondly try and do something about it. Where better to find out what residents don't like about the borough than a court case based upon lack of consultation. There is no substitute for first hand consultation.

    The nice man from Crapita (Capita regard being called Crapita as a badge of honour per him - I think he was bluffing) who is possibly smarter than all of the aforementioned was at pains to be friendly to the bloggers and was not shy of proudly admitting who he worked for. The bloggers are actually quite a friendly lot (and I don't just mean the famous five, the whole Barnet blogosphere and activist community is one big society of brotherly and sisterly love, respect and mutual admiration which covers the whole political spectrum) and so embraced the opportunity to engage with Mr Crapita and good natured banter ensued. Mr Crapita says he wants to listen to us and will genuinely try to fix any problems we raise (that he agrees with presumably) but the problem will be whether he has the contractual freedom to make changes or will his shoelaces be tied together by the council.

    If Mr Crapita gets it right and picks the best ideas out of our brains he could improve the borough but if he gets it wrong he has 10 years of hell to go through and of course there is no guarantee that the contract is going to run its course or that Mr Crapita will stay the course.

    Here is my first request Mr Crapita (as he reads the blogs). The number of employees based in Barnet is to remain the same (and we don't want some soulless call centre full of zombies as your fulfillment of that request).

    The second request. Could we have a copy of the contract please? You can redact the sensitive costings but Mr Reasonable and I in particular would like to read it, yes all 2500 pages, as unlike the councillors who voted for it, we can be bothered.

  2. "For what it's worth I believe that Mrs Angry is one of the most talented writers in the UK, and deserves much greater recognition of her talents."

    Yeh, yeh, whatever.

    1. Now come along baarnett don't be churlish you know it's true.

  3. Unfortunately, Baarnett is currently on Mrs Angry's Naughty Step. This is because of criticism that she failed to use hyphens in her missives (even though they were clearly necessary).

    The philosophy behind this disciplining technique can equally well be applied, Mr Reasonable, to the London Borough of Barnet:

    1} Give a warning.

    This is to stipulate the inappropriate behavior that you want stopped. In a low-toned voice, have one-to-one eye contact, and come down to Barnet Council’s level, so not to intimidate.

    Then walk away from the local authority, to give it a chance to think about what you have just said. But Mr Reasonable: If you see the behaviour repeated, go straight to #2.

    2) Take Barnet Council silently to the Naughty Step, sit it on it, and explain to it why it is now in 'time-out'.

    3) Walk away, and set the timer for one minute per year since it was set up under the London Government Act 1963.

    If the Chief Executive or a senior officer, whether or not paid their salary through a company that imposes a more favourable tax regime than PAYE, calls you from the time-out, ignore them.

    If the local authority gets up from its time-out, Mr Reasonable, take it back to the step, with no communication (the borough clearly understands that concept) and walk away, resetting the timer to the beginning.

    4) When the Council has sat there for the correct amount of time, go back to explain for a second time why it was placed on The Naughty Step.

    5)Tell it that it needs to apologise to its residents, including disabled members of the public, and local bloggers, and to say sorry for its behavior.

    This allows the local authority to understand the importance of reflection, and that its actions have had an impact, and that by saying sorry it can start afresh, particularly after internal elections within the majority party, but also after May 2014.

    6) Hugs and kisses after the apologies, Mr Reasonable.

    This is important, because it allows the borough to see that its own electorate is disciplining it, and that one or two people do still love it.)

    I hope that helps, Mr Reasonable.

    1. I would vote Baarnett for elected mayor - you would certainly keep the council under control.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Mr R. Mr Mustard: that was not a comment, that was a blogpost, or, as we say in the High Court, a weblog post. Baarnett: you are a sh**-stirrer: is that the correct use of hyphenation?

    The absence of any Tory councillor at the Judicial Review is significant, but in another way it is quite fitting - after all, the outsourcing programme is officer led, with the support of a very few ideological members.

    1. There is quiet satisfaction that Mrs Angry has morally lost the Battle of the Hyphens, but Baarett is keeping out of her way, by visiting the island of San Seriffe.