Category Archives: Public Services

Financial Meltdown in Barnet – Read Mr Reasonable

FULL POST HERE.

Yesterday Barnet published the agenda for the Policy & Resources committee next Monday which you can read here.  I am used to surprises but this one was gobsmacking. I blogged just a couple of weeks ago about the parlous state of Barnet’s finances including the Medium Term Financial Strategy  (MTFS) published in February. Yesterday Barnet published a revised MTFS.

So whereas in February they were forecasting a shortfall of £2.79 million in 2018/19 they are now forecasting a £9.5 million shortfall and in 2019/20 the shortfall jumps from £8.2 million to £19.3 million all in the space of four months. The long term prospects are apocalyptic with a shortfall of £42 million in 2021/22 and by 2023/24 a “high level calculation” showing a shortfall of £62 million. This means the council can no longer exist in its current form.

I simply cannot believe that in February – before the election – no one was aware of just how bad the financial situation was, in which case were the electorate misled?

5th of June: Environment Committee decides the fate of Street Scene services

5th June 6.30pm
Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, NW4 4BG
Environment Committee decides the fate of Street Scene services.
http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/5-June-A5-flyer-1.pdf

Street Scene workers have gone through many changes over the last three years. Senior managers have come and gone, and each one has brought their own ideas of how to run the service and in some cases this has meant cuts to staff and changes to the way you work. On Tuesday 5 June, 2018, Barnet councillors are being asked to agree a whole load of changes to Street Scene services, most of which will have an impact on staff and residents. In all of my time as a trade union organiser in Barnet I have never seen Street Scene workers turn up for a Barnet Council meeting. It is my view that for your voice to be heard, Street Scene workers need to turn up to meet the councillors who will vote on the proposed changes. Over the next few days Barnet UNISON will be issuing reminders to all of our members about the need to attend this meeting.
I hope that you will be able to join me there.
Solidarity,
John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON

The Return of Barnet Alliance for Public Services: Time to Kick Out Capita!

Last night, one of London’s longest running anti-austerity campaigns reconvened with a packed meeting at Finchley’s Greek Cypriot Centre. At our last trades council meeting on Thursday, we had resolved to get organising the re-elected Tory council as soon as possible, and this was an excellent start.

The initial presentation came from the one and only Mr Reasonable, John Dix, who had a comprehensive report on just how bad the past five years of mismanagement by Capita, the woefully incompetent and self-serving outsourcing giant to which the Conservatives have entrusted almost our entire borough. The Tories claim that the deal saves money, which might even be true if over-billing, contract variation and “special projects” weren’t absolutely rife. Combine this with the Tories failing to make even the most limited council tax rises for many years (even when their associates in other councils were doing so!) and the fact that Capita fees, astonishingly, rise with RPI inflation and there is a multi-million pound shortfall coming in Barnet’s finances. Auditors have expressed severe doubts that the Tories can possibly fill the gap by 2020 or 2021. You can read John’s full report on his blog.

John was followed by fellow campaigning blogger, Roger Titchbourne of the Barnet Eye. Roger issued a call to arms for activists from across the movement and different parties to unite under a simple slogan: Kick Out Capita! This is going to be the new focus for BAPS, and we’ll be starting with a series of musical and cultural events around the borough.

Finally, we were joined by a very special guest and great friend, John McDonnell MP. The shadow chancellor joined us fresh from address the PCS public sector union’s conference, and spoke about how that union was taking its own action to save essential services. He reiterated that the Labour Party has committed to ending privatisation and bringing failing contracts like Capita back in-house where they belong. Research by the University of Greenwich has shown that far from costing money, this approach would pay for itself in a matter of years. Answering question from some of BAPS’ members, John also touched on some other areas:

  • Labour intends to crack-down on the massive tax evasion and money laundering that goes on in London, which is estimated to be of the order of £92 million annually and strongly tied to international crime.
  • Labour has realised that simply dragging voters to the polls when election day comes will not win the next election. There has to be a turn to community activism and the party is appointing community organisers to help make this happen.
  • There has to be a renewed assertion of a right to a commons in Britain – including of land itself – in order to make society more just, and Labour is working with figure like George Monbiot on policy.

The relaunch was an excellent step in the right direction. Now we have to get the message out there and take the fight to Capita. BAPS will now be meeting every Tuesday at 6.30pm in the Cypriot Centre. Why not come along and join the movement against corporate greed to make Barnet a better place to live?

Change is Coming: How Can We Achieve An Anti-Austerity Government? National People’s Assembly 2018

Saturday 2 June, 10am – 6pm, St Pancras New Church, Euston Rd, London NW1 2BA

For nearly a decade falling living standards has been the reality for the majority. Our public services have been cut beyond recognition, our wages have fallen, access to education and decent housing is becoming more difficult as a result of austerity policies. But the last year has seen a turbulent time in politics, with the Conservatives in an internal crisis, with no majority in parliament. This situation is untenable, change is coming! But how do we build a movement that forces this Government from office? And when that happens what exactly do we need from a new Government that can reverse the damaging austerity policies that the Tories have presided over?

John McDonnell MP | Gary Younge (columnist) | Diane Abbott MP | Danny Dorling (author) | Amelia Womack (Dep Leader Green Party) | Steve Turner (Unite the Union) | Lindsey German (People’s Assembly) | Jonathan Bartley (Leader Green Party) | Sam Fairbairn (People’s Assembly) | Emma Dent Coad MP (Kensington & Chelsea) | Ben Chacko (Morning Star) | Dr Louise Irvine (Health Campaigns Together) | Alex Kenny (National Education Union) | John Rees (People’s Assembly) | Louise Regan (NEU) | Barry Gardiner MP (Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade) | Rachel O’Brian (NUS Disabled Students Officer) | Faiza Shaheen (CLASS) | Liam Young (Journalist & Author) | Cllr Ali Milani (Labour Party) | Glynn Robins (Axe the Housing Act) | Des Freedman (Goldsmiths UCU) | Moz Greensheilds (TUC JCC) | Andrew Murray (Unite the Union) | Jonathan Ashworth MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) | & more to be announced

Sessions include:

How much nationalisation do we need & should we compensate corporations? | Could councils fight austerity? | Is our NHS fit for purpose? | What would a national education service look like? | What would a national investment bank do? | How can we fight an establishment backlash? | A charter for working women | How many houses will solve the problem? | Strikes & solidarity: what do they look like? | Environmental justice and Social justice: How Green Policies can help working people? | Does our economy need immigration?

Barnet Alliance for Public Services is back!

To mark the occasion, Barnet Alliance have arranged for Mr Reasonable to provide a short overview on Capita and their relationship with Barnet Council.

Facebook event here.

As an added bonus they have incredibly managed to secure John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, he is speaking at PCS conference earlier that day but has said that he hopes to drop in at some point during the two hour meeting. John along with Jeremy Corbyn have a long association of supporting Barnet Alliance campaigns. Both them still talk about the Barnet Spring march that took place in a blizzard.

Barnet Alliance, will be both organising and supporting local campaigns in Barnet.

If you want to get involved in positive campaigning here in Barnet to help fight to support and save public services then start making plans to attend the weekly Barnet Alliance meetings.

Barnet Alliance meetings will be taking place every Tuesday from 6.30 to 8.30 at the Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Rd, London N12 9RU

Barnet Trades Union Council Statement on Local Election Results 2018

Barnet TUC notes with dismay that the Tories have won yet again in our borough, despite running a dysfunctional and discredited administration that has and will cause misery to large numbers of people. Despite broadly positive results in the rest of London and a slight vote increase since 2014, Labour did not succeed in unseating conservative councillors. Our movement now has to face four more years of serious attacks on the conditions of working class people, and we have no time to lose in organising for this.

It is shocking that this viciously rightwing administration has survived. The extreme version of public service cuts and privatisation that the Tories have pursued under a variety of glossy buzz phrases, such as “easycouncil” and “One Barnet”, have resulted in an overblown, under-bid contract with the failing outsourcing giant Capita. The threat that a Carillion-style collapse of Capita could potentially take our essential services down with them was so serious that earlier this year that a question was raised about it in Parliament. There have been myriad other stories, many of them concerning massive mismanagement by the uncaring Tories and their outsourcers, but probably the most horrific was last year’s Oftstead report into children’s services in Barnet. The regulator found that the council was entirely inadequate in all levels, including the protection of vulnerable children. The increased suffering of the vulnerable is the inevitable and greatest cost of the extreme, market-driven ideology of Barnet Conservatives.

With such a dire leadership, the Tories should not have been unbeatable, and we in Barnet TUC believe they were not. In some ways, we have suffered from problems that had been seen in other parts of the country, as Labour did not make many of the big gains that had been hoped for. Writing The Times, Dr Faiza Shaheen of the leftwing thinktank Centre for Labour and Social Studies, had this analysis of the big picture:

…The 2017 general election perhaps gives us better ideas about how to move forward. General elections provide the opportunity for political parties to lay out their policy agenda for the UK. The Labour Party’s manifesto resonated with voters and it showed in the end election result. During local election campaigning I noticed a distinct change in our approach: I had less to offer on the doorstep and ideas were missing from the national conversation. I think it is fair to say that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have been offering a positive vision for the UK in recent weeks.

There were some issues that didn’t get the airtime expected, most notably the scale of cuts to local authority budgets. A recent report by the National Audit Office found that since 2010 local authorities have seen an average reduction in funding of 49.1 per cent. Weirdly these cuts were spoken about continuously during the general election campaign but not during the local elections. It seems that voters failed to make the connection with poorer local service provision, including social care, and Conservative party policy. Yet many voters, including a majority of Conservatives, feel that public spending cuts have gone too far.

Barnet Labour’s local election strategy was not significantly influenced by the 2017 manifesto or campaign. It had six pledges, some of which were very neutral-sounding (“Low council tax”, “Better roads” and “Free parking”) and did not tap into anti-austerity feeling. This was in strong contrast to the sort of themes that had played well in the general election. The unions, led by local government Unison (which organises the largest group of workers affected by the Capita crisis) had brought well-worded proposals on cuts and outsourcing to all three constituency parties. There were also excellent proposals on how to campaign around the issues by respected bloggers like Mr Reasonable. The councillor group rejected all this good advice.

In a bitter absurdity, the Tories realised that Labour’s service campaign was weak and did a completely dishonest, but highly effective, attack on that flank. A leaflet was distributed throughout key wards claiming that Labour would not only put up council tax, but change bin collections from weekly to fortnightly. For impact, they illustrated with this with a picture of an overflowing wheelie bin being raided by a fox. Neither of these claims about Labour policy were at all true, but with only around 48 hours before polling and no existing material on services such as bin collection prepared by Labour, it was very difficult to counter. Further panels on the leaflet utilised misleading statistics to pretend that Barnet is doing well in both affordable housing and education, which was also totally untrue but added up to a very clever attack. This demobilised the Labour vote and allowed the Conservatives to absurdly win on the very issues they should have been weakest on! And so, the Tories won with complete rubbish – in every sense of the word.

A lot of the national debate on Barnet has focused on anti-Semitism and perceptions of it in Labour in particular. The council group completely failed to defend Labour’s positive record on racism and allowed the narrative on anti-Semitism to completely overshadow the media narrative on the election. We believe that anti-Semitism absolutely needs to be fought, but there needs to be a discussion about all the racism that has been manifested recently: and this has to include the victimisation of Black Britons over the Windrush scandal, the alarming rise of Islamophobic stunts like “Punish a Muslim Day” and the recent mobilisation of thousands by the far right “Football Lads Alliance”. There needs to be a renewed anti-racist movement and Barnet TUC will do whatever it takes help make one happen.

However, we will also need a renewed offensive against the Tory council. Our public sector workers and those members of the public who depend upon them will once again have to form a resistance to what will doubtless be an even more hard-line set of policies. There will very likely be industrial action, but in the shorter term and from now on, we also need to wage a strong propaganda campaign. The Tories stole victory by lying about their intentions, and we must expose them every time they put private profit ahead of people’s needs.

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