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One Barnet - worst fears about outsourcing are being realised

Many people will have followed - especially at the end of last year - the fight put up by Barnet residents, unions, bloggers and campaigners to stop the mass-outsourcing of council services. The council went ahead with the first of its big contracts with Capita anyway.

In this post, Barnet Unison branch secretary John Burgess talks about the effects outsourcing is already having in Barnet, as jobs are cut and privatised and low-paid workers like careworkers bear the brunt of the privatisation ideology:

In my role as Branch Secretary, I am currently taking part in consultation over the transfer of over 550 staff from Barnet Council to Capita Group.

Unfortunately, I have had extensive experience of transfers of staff out of Barnet Council - more so in the last 12 months.

However, the Capita transfer is the biggest and most complex transfer I have ever been involved in.

The big difference with this transfer to Capita is that Capita have announced that the majority of the jobs will be based out of the London Borough in Barnet. The jobs are being exported to Belfast & Carlisle, Blackburn & Southampton to name but a few destinations. The impact of these proposals is that hundreds of local jobs will be lost to our local community at a time when there is need for jobs.

In the discussions with Capita, we are trying to negotiate an alternative to jobs being moved out of Barnet in order to keep jobs and prevent redundancies.

However, last week I was shocked and upset by the news that the first One Barnet Project ‘Your Choice’ (a "local authority trading company, or LATC" that was set up to run adult social care for adults with disabilities) was failing - so badly that it needed a £1million loan from Barnet Homes just to survive.

But the loan is not enough. ‘Your Choice’ submitted a proposal which, if implemented, would decimate low paid careworkers' salaries, terms and conditions.

I take no comfort from saying “we told you so!” Last year, UNISON submitted several reports on the council's then-proposal to create a LATC. We said: “The options appraisals and business cases for Adult Services and the Housing Service and the business plan for the LATC have serious weaknesses and the process has been deeply flawed. They Council should not be making decisions on the future of services and public assets based on such poor information, analysis and advice.” (UNISON January 2012)

Unsurprisingly, Barnet council's Cabinet Committee ignored our comments.

BUT now we can see our worst fears have been realised.

The problem is that instead of ‘biting the bullet’ and admitting this One Barnet Project had not worked, ‘Your Choice’ is trying desperately to hang on to a business model that simply won’t work.

Take a look at the ‘Your Choice’ consultation document. There is no information or evidence to explain why the Council's business case - produced in May 2011 - could be so WRONG.

A lot has been made of the money spent on consultants and legal advisors for the One Barnet projects. Many a time, councillors defending the One Barnet Programme have said that they have learnt lessons from previous mistakes. In which case - why is the council not publishing the ‘One Barnet Lesson Learnt reports?’

UNISON is asking the council to honour the council's business case (which stated in Business Case at paragraph 7.4 “Commercial risk ultimately remains with the Council and in the unlikely event of failure, the services will need to be brought back in-house.”)

We need to learn the lessons from Winterbourne and the Francis inquiry.

We believe the proposals in the Your Choice consultation document are de-skilling and reducing care support at a time when the focus post Francis inquiry is on need for better trained and skilled staff and more supervision.

What does this mean for the other One Barnet projects?

The stakes are so much harder for the Capita contract and the Development & Regulatory Services contract. What worries me is that if the council's business case could be so wrong for the Your Choice contract, what is the chance that the bigger One Barnet projects could also go the same way?

Read the rest of the post here.


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