Thursday, 21 March 2013

Maria Nash: Barnet's fight for democracy


Mr Justice Underhill is not going to give an immediate judgment on the Judicial Review brought by local Barnet Resident Maria Nash against Barnet Council and their One Barnet mass privatization of council services.  He wants to consider the evidence at length as important questions are being raised for council practice in the future.
The current hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice goes into its third and final day today and it is a matter of how councils consult the people on whose behalf they run their borough, the same people who pay their wages and whose money they spend.
There has been a great deal of hair-splitting on how much consultation is the right amount by Barnet Council's QC, Miss Carss-Frisk. Yesterday she asserted that it would be impractical for a Council to consult their residents on every little matter or they would be consulting every week, month and year. But One Barnet is hardly a little matter. If it goes ahead it will change the way the council is run. Services will be run by private companies for profit, outside Barnet from anywhere in the world, through a call centre in Blackburn, with local jobs lost and no guarantee that the ten-year contract will yield the anticipated savings. The council has chosen Capita to run their largest contract. Capita is not named Crapita by Private Eye for nothing. Its record is abysmal. And Private Eye bestowed the honour of Rotten Borough of 2012 for outsourcing on the Tory Council of Barnet.  The words of Andrew Dismore, Labour Member of the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden, repeatedly came into mind over the past two days when he said we must not be misled by modern political parlance: "savings means cuts, outsourcing means privatization".
But the Judicial Review is about procedure. Did the Council consult or didn't it? And the whole case could be lost on a technicality.  Has it been brought in time, and if not will the Judge extend the time so that a judgment can be made? For both sides it is all very tense and uncertain.
So off to Court to join the public gallery of Barnet Council officers (no Tory councillors have attended though it was ten of their number, the Cabinet, who were the sole decision makers on One Barnet); Labour councillors and representatives; arguably the finest bloggers in the country, Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard, Citizen Barnet and Mr Reasonable, to whom reference has been made repeatedly and edgily by Miss Carss-Frisk. Then there are representatives of Barnet Alliance (BAPS) and of the Press, and residents from all backgrounds and of all political persuasions or of none. This is a case of The People fighting for their democratic rights.

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