Barnet gets ready for a right royal party!

Following on from yesterday’s post – about how the council will cover the insurance costs of royal wedding street parties held on April 29 – I notice that twelve people have already signed to hold a shindig via Barnet’s PledgeBank website.

This is a tremendous start. The street party pledge only appeared on the website yesterday, so the amount of early interest is a clear indication of how community minded we are in Barnet.

The UK has a fine tradition of commemorating momentous events with street parties – from VE day to the royal wedding of Charles and Diana – so get involved, register for your own event and celebrate with your neighbours, you’ll be helping to build a closer community too!

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The Royal Wedding and PledgeBank

There is not long to go until the wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton, which will take place on 29 April 2011. As you know, the day of the royal wedding is a public holiday and most people won’t be at work, so it seems a perfect opportunity to hold a street party! Having sampled one of these as part of the Big Lunch I know how fun they can be!

Once possible to organise at the drop of a piece of bunting, running street parties has become sadly more complex – in part because of the need to hold appropriate public liability insurance policy. It is with this backdrop that the council has just announced plans to simplify this – arranging free insurance for any royal wedding street party held on 29 April, (we will do the same for the Big Lunch in June) if three households in a street sign up to a party on the Barnet Council Pledgebank. If you have not already done so, check out the Pledge Bank website.

All you need to do is visit the website, sign up to the Royal Wedding: Street Party in your street pledge and then fill in a simple application form to let the council know which streets will be closed on the day. The council will then sort out the insurance cover and let you get on with the important business of arranging your party. You can find out more about planning your event on the holding a Royal Wedding street party page of the website and get useful tips for throwing the perfect party by visiting http://www.streetparty.org.uk.

Barnet’s PledgeBank is a One Barnet initiative that’s been set up to encourage our local community to get together, to get things done. Pledges work on the principle that you’ll agree to do something if x number of people agree to be involved. I’ve recently sign up to this pledge:

“I, Mark Healey, will organise a team of volunteers to clear a patch of land opposite the Green Man Community Centre of litter and debris but only if 6 other people will agree to take part.”

The Green Man Community Centre in East Finchley is run by local residents and is home to several community organisations and I’m more than happy to help with the clean up. So far, five people have signed up to the pledge so we only need one more person and it happens!

Why not have a look at the other pledges and see if there is anything you can do to help your community. Or have a think about something you’d like to happen in your local area and suggest a pledge to encourage other people to get involved.

And if you are after some flags, just ask me about my friend who has recently started a flag company just to sell flags for the Royal Wedding!!

Last night in Hendon

Last night (2 March 2011), I presented two papers at Cabinet Resource Committee, the committee that considers reports of a financial nature. (I’m aware that the way the council makes decisions isn’t clear to everyone, so I’ll try and explain the purpose of the various committees, meetings and processes as I mention them). The committee dealt with all agenda items very quickly, so I thought it would be helpful to go into a bit more detail.

The first paper I presented urged that the committee accepted the recommendations of the Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation options appraisal. The options appraisal process is used by the council to identify and evaluate the various choices that are available when thinking about how to change a council service. A joint options appraisal took place to consider how we should deliver customer and support services.

The Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation projects are part of the One Barnet council transformation programme. The options appraisal recommends that the council finds a strategic partner to deliver seven services; reorganises and improves four of those services prior to the transfer to a strategic partner; and transforms one service in house. The committee accepted these recommendations and we will now be putting together a business case for these services.

There are a several reasons why working with an external provider to deliver services is beneficial for the council, these include: private sector investment, something that is increasingly important now we will be operating with a reduced budget; access to expertise and knowledge not available within the council; improved technology; and reduced costs due to economies of scale.

The second paper sought Cabinet approval to update Registration and Nationality fees and charges from April 2011. Broadly speaking, we are bringing charges for weddings, and nationality and settlement checking in line with the market rate, specifically the rates charged in neighbouring boroughs. The fees we charge to perform a marriage ceremony on a Monday to Friday don’t cover our costs, so an increase is definitely required. At the moment it only costs £40 to get married on a Monday or Tuesday!

There was also a paper about the Award of the One Barnet Legal Partner Contract. The paper concerned the appointment of an external legal firm to work on the One Barnet programme. It is important that we have access to expert legal advice, particularly with complex projects that involve procurement and contract management. The recent media coverage of the previous administration’s botched contract with Catalyst is a timely reminder of how costly it can be when things don’t go according to plan.

The budget, a transformation project and another Barnet blogger

I decided to start this blog to add some narrative around the work I do as a Barnet Cabinet Member. There’s plenty of blog based banter about what we do, but none of it comes from anyone involved in running the borough. By adding my voice to the fray, I aim to give you an informed insider’s view. I’ll try and update the blog regularly with considered, topical posts.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the downturn in the world economy has hit the UK hard and Central government has severely reduced the funding it provides to local authorities. Newspapers are full of stories about how councils across Britain are struggling to deal with the financial shortfall. Unfortunately, Barnet is not immune from these challenges.

Barnet’s budget was approved by Cabinet on 1 March and it is, without a doubt, the most difficult budget I’ve worked on. We arrived at the final version after extensive consultation with staff, residents and service users and I believe we’ve delivered the best possible budget for Barnet in the circumstances. We are protecting the most vulnerable, not those who can shout the loudest.

Over the next three years we need to find £53m in savings. I understand that some of the decisions we’ve taken won’t be popular with everyone but I’m not sure pleasing everyone was ever going to be possible.

Barnet was better prepared for cuts to local government funding than many other councils. We’ve recognised for some time that increased funding doesn’t always lead to better, more popular services. In fact, over the last ten years we’ve seen a rise in both spending and services standards but a slight drop in public satisfaction. We understand that if we want to improve services we need to deliver them in a better, more efficient manner.

The council has already begun a major transformation programme – One Barnet – to radically change the way we deliver services and save £100m over the next ten years. Many of the proposals within the budget are linked to the One Barnet programme, which has been designed around three principles: a new relationship with citizens; a one public sector approach; a relentless drive for efficiency.

If you want to find out more, the One Barnet framework and the Budget Papers are available from Barnet Online.

I’ll be blogging more about the progress of the programme in greater detail over the coming weeks and months.

Please note:  I will moderate comments before they appear to ensure that they aren’t defamatory, abusive, hateful or capable of damaging the reputation of a person or organisation.