On Friday 30 January the Trade Unions had a meeting with Leader of the Council & Lead Cabinet member for Adult Social Services.
On 16th January 2009 the Acting Chief Executive launched Phase Two of Future Shape programme (See the Barnet Intranet Future Shape website). The launch made a request for staff participation in the Future Shape Groups, high profile forums meant to meet monthly and report back to Members in June. However it was the absence of any role for the Trade Unions in these Groups that left them no option but to seek a meeting with Councillors. The Trade Unions were also concerned that regular meetings with the Future Shape team were not taking place and that the formerly amicable relations were starting to break down
There has been a lot of information about Future Shape. There have been some allegations that the Trade Unions have been scaremongering about the dangers of mass privatisation (something we have always denied). However closer scrutiny of the last two Cabinet Reports and Future Shape Groups on the intranet quickly reveal good reasons why both staff and Trade Unions feel uneasy about the direction Future Shape is heading.
More recently it has been revealed the remit of the Barnet Transact Future Shape Group (see below) …
“Barnet Transact aims to identify all of those services that are not the core business of the Council, or that are not part of the value chain of services that are, and seeks to find alternative ways to provide these services. On the basis that the Council should only do what it is obliged to do, this group will develop outline business cases for services where the quick wins can be generated.”
The Trade Unions and staff were interpreting this and other comments to mean that the Council was going to carry out a comprehensive review to identify what are the statutory services they have to provide (“only do what it is obliged to do”) and everything else could be prepared for procurement ‘quick wins’.
The Joint Trade Unions view is that the majority of staff work in services that are not statutory hence our concern that there was going to be mass procurement/tendering of services/staff. That was until last Friday when we aired our concerns to the Leader. We had a frank exchange of views. It was in one of these exchanges when the Leader provided a comment on his and the Cabinet’s view of Future Shape so far.
He was unequivocal that no decision had been made, was proud of the excellent services being provided by the staff adding that Cabinet were still to be convinced of the merits of the model being proposed for Future Shape. We said that it would be good if staff could hear this statement themselves, so as promised, the Leader has provided the following statement:
“The staff work streams are focussing on the ‘how’ before we move onto the ‘who’. Once we get to look at the ‘who’ it may be that we partner with other organisations to provide a service in a different way. Equally, it may be that we continue to provide a service because we are the only organisation that can achieve sufficiently high quality at sufficiently low cost. This is an interpretation the Council does what only the Council can do. Clearly we have many excellent services and we would not embark on unnecessary disruption, but we would be in favour of change if we were confident it would bring significant improvements in quality and value for money”.
What followed was a discussion about where we were in the process. The Leader felt the Trade Unions had ‘jumped the gun’, we were told the Groups are brainstorming sessions looking at ‘How’ we could provide services in the future. Clearly the next stage would be looking at ‘Who’ could provide those services. This crucial distinction is important as the Trade Unions are concerned that possible “service delivery models” could be identified in June 09, with little time and resources available for work to be done on in house services. We asked that a detailed explanation on the timetable and key milestones on Future Shape be provided on the Councils intranet/website.
Finally we had discussions about possible working across public services in Barnet, the Group which will be looking at this is called:
“Barnet Support incorporates the full range of ‘back office’ functions, HR, ICT, Legal, Finance, Audit, Procurement. Public private partnerships in this area are already reasonably commonplace. The focus for this group is to determine the future requirement for these services in the context of a Council that is externally focussed on the place rather than on itself as an organisation. Might there be, for example, a trading opportunity to sell a set of support services to Businesses in Barnet or to other London Boroughs?”
There is still quite a long way to go. Communication is clearly going to be important. The Trade Unions have had their proposal to sit on the Groups rejected so we will not be able to feedback on the progress of the Groups. We will be submitting comments to the Groups and will communicate our contributions to our members…….watch this space……………