Mr Mustard, Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable sat in the front row of the public gallery last night, the resolute guardians of the public interest in Barnet. The meeting had two main agenda items: first the proposed change from a cabinet system to a committee system and second changes to the residents forums.
First up were public questions submitted by myself and Mrs Angry. Mrs Angry had asked if the council had taken legal advice on whether the previous changes to the residents forums had breached the human rights conventions. Cllr Melvin Cohen tried to head this off by saying that he was planning to reverse the changes to the residents forums to allow people to ask anything they wanted. However what became apparent was that they didn't take legal advice previously.
I asked about whether they would hold public meetings to discuss the introduction of the committee system. Although the answer was unhelpful and non committal later in the meeting it was agreed that yes they would hold a public meeting - not just consult the secretive citizens panel.
Next up came the speeches to the committee. Dan Hope (Barnet Bugle) asked for the new committee system to be pushed through post haste and was concerned that Officers were prolonging and complicating what was a simple change. Richard Cornelius agreed and said that some of the language was unhelpful and not clear. Personally, I would like them to consider it more carefully. With Capita taking over the running of so many services I think they need to see how that works out in practice and then develop a system that is most appropriate rather than dive into a system which we will be stuck with for the next five years which may prove inadequate to deal with the commissioning council model.
Next up was my turn. I gave a presentation on my alternative residents forum survey. You can see the presentation below:
The Committee then debated the change to committee system and the residents forums. The net result is we will get a public meeting to discuss the change to a committee system of governance and the residents will be allowed to discuss anything at residents forums and the meetings will start at 6.30pm even though the council's own survey and mine suggested 7.00pm would be a better time. In terms of being able to ask questions on the evening that was a step too far and even though Cllr Schneiderman argued that it had worked perfectly well in the past he was outvoted.
There was a small addendum to proceedings when an officer was asked to explain changes to the procurement rules which allows officers to approve contracts to a single bidder for contracts up to the value of £173,000 so long as they have "tested the market". There was some to and fro between the officer and Cllr Cornelius and eventually it was agreed that they should have sent the assistant director who could explain exactly what they were trying to do.
Overall a very small victory for residents forums but certainly what what residents deserve and expect. BTW the survey will remain open for another week in case you haven't filled it in already and I will update the results.