Barnet Council 'unhelpful and irrelevant’

On Monday 12 July Barnet UNISON attended an Extra-ordinary meeting of the Corporate JNCC and it really was an extra-ordinary meeting!

The words ‘unhelpful and irrelevant’ were used by a senior officer of the council in our two and half hour meeting with councillors. I know staff are angry, upset about in-house being disregarded. The explanation given at the meeting went something like this:

The Future Shape Cabinet report which was passed on 21 October 2009 is now policy. The policy is that the Council has taken a strategic decision to become a commissioner rather than a provider of services. In which case any talk of in-house bids/options is ‘unhelpful and irrelevant.’

For almost an hour we spent discussing how Adult Social Care decided that there would not be an in-house option. There was confusion because the Acting Director of Adults said no decision had been made. However the Trade Unions referred to a Briefing sent to all staff which said the following:

“Care and Health Solutions recommended that the option to transfer these services to a Local Authority Trading Company with Barnet Homes as a sister company, should be explored in detail at the next stage to develop a final business case.”

I think that is pretty clear to our members that a decision has been made, there will be no in-house option.

The Trade Unions agreed to send the Staff Briefing to councillors and the 46 questions we asked about the Options Appraisal process for Adult Future Shape project.

Councillors did ask if staff in Adults wanted an in-house bid. The Trade Unions said that they did; but the response from management side was there had been no feedback from managers in the setting that staff wanted an in-house bid. I made a note of that comment and will be asking our local reps to carry out a ballot of members views.

We made it very clear to that the adult project had been conducted in secrecy and information withheld despite 46 questions raised by the trade unions.

We made the point that we had seen no economic evidence or business case as to why in-house options are not being considered for Adults, Support Services, Regulatory Services, Transport and any future projects.

We said it was our view that Future Shape programme in its current format was a mass privatisation programme.

I will now report back on the how they responded to our recommendations:

a) In-House Options and bids i.e. resources are made available to enable staff, trade unions and senior managers to be involved from the outset and understand the rules.

RESPONSE: There will be no in-house bids.

b) The Council invites the Newcastle Chief Executive to send the Director responsible for developing an in-house bid alongside a tender bid from BT for back office services to come and address a meeting of the top 100 managers and to speak at a meeting of Council staff.

RESPONSE: They have agreed that our Chief Executive will invite Newcastle to come down to speak to the top 100 managers, a staff meeting and a meeting with councillors as to how they run in-house bids.

c) A guarantee that TUPE will last for the length of contract.

RESPONSE: The promised to respond by September.

d) TUPE Plus is adopted by the Council.

RESPONSE: They promised to respond by September.

e) Our Pensions questions are answered before any decisions to outsource are made.

RESPONSE: This is linked to TUPE Plus response.

 f) Public Public Partnerships with other local authorities and public bodies are included in the Options Appraisals i.e. cross borough solutions to the funding crisis.

RESPONSE: They said they were committed to exploring these options in the Options Appraisal process. I pointed out this Option has not been looked at in the Options Appraisals I have seen to date.

g) One Barnet Option is included in Options Appraisal for Support Services Project i.e. we have seen no evidence that any of our Barnet Public Sector Partners are giving any commitment to join to form a Public Public Partnership model for Support Services delivery.

RESPONSE: They agreed this Option must be included in the Options Appraisal process. I pointed out it has not been included in the projects I have seen so far.