Town Hall Protestors – they did themselves no favours

If you take time the read the so called “barnet blogs” you will be painted a one sided picture of events of the full council meeting on Tuesday. The reality was very different.

Yes there was a small protest outside – the same people we see most full council and cabinet meetings.

Yes there was lots of heckling – again by the same people but this time it was embarrassing to themselves and did their argument no favours at all. It was so over the top and we ran out of time debating the one barnet motion – which was a real shame.

At the break I met with John Burgess of Unison. He introduced me two of his colleagues whose names sadly I have forgotten. I hope they don’t mind me saying that they looked embarrassed by what was going on and one of the ladies tried to point out to me that not all the members of their union were like this.

I passionately believe that what we are doing is the right thing – and it is obvious that they are passionate in their views – but Tuesdays performance by a small group of people did themselves no favours.

It must be remembered that we are in this situation and forced down this path because of the former Labour Government – whom I am sure many of the protestors supported.

One Barnet – Something a bit different!

Last night as part of my one barnet speech to the full Barnet Council I talked about our community coaches scheme which is working with some of the most ‘troubled’ families in Barnet.

This is a One Barnet scheme we are now moving into the second phase after a successful pilot and is developing real results.

A recent analysis of a set number of case studies showed a 45% reduction in chaotic behaviour of families following the intervention of a Community Coach. This coach coordinates work from across the council with the family as well as offering support and help. The coach comes directly from the community.

These results and other evidence have helped to create a business case to continue this already successful programme into the future, which is having a real impact on some of the most ‘troubled’ families in the borough.

I questioned why we need a referendum on projects such as this.

The Leisure Challenge

Barnet Council has published details of a Strategic Leisure Review ahead of the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 14 September.

As we face what is likely to be a decade of public sector austerity, we are likely to be spending less on almost all non-statutory council services, leisure included. This means that every pound becomes more important and we have to make sure it is spent on getting the right outcomes for the people of Barnet.

The council’s spend, currently £1.7 million, is a comparatively small amount compared to the overall leisure spending in Barnet. The total residents spend on leisure in the borough is estimated to be around £340 million (around £48.10 each week for each household). That means that the most sensible use of council money is to support the development of opportunities that the private sector cannot provide alone, and to work with public sector partners on an agreed set of outcomes. This review will explore just how we can do this.

Council spending is, of course, centred on encouraging people to take some form of exercise rather on the broader definition of leisure. This is entirely sensible as we need to work with partners to support the health of Barnet residents. There is obviously a clear public good in supporting swimming that is not so immediately apparent in subsidising tickets to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

So in running the review we will look at how we meet the changing needs of the boroughs population. In Barnet we have both a growing number of young people and a growing number of residents over 65.

We will need to work with colleagues in the health service to ensure that we meet the needs of these groups. The population of young people is literally expanding – childhood obesity has risen as comparatively sedentary pursuits such a video gaming replace sport as many young people’s leisure activity of choice.

This, of course, will have to be balanced with the need to support the health of older people. We will explore how council spending can limit future demands on the health service and if it is possible to align health service and council budgets around agreed aims.

I’m particularly keen to see the role in wider wellbeing as well as health. There is for instance a great plenty of evidence to show that an element of exercise is very good for mental health.

Such challenges mean that we will need to have a wide ranging review of our work with partners. As well as a role for the National Health Service, we will be exploring how we can work with the Police and the Mental Health Trust in developing a co-ordinated approach to supporting the health and wellbeing of the borough’s residents.

In developing this review we have taken as a model the consultation the council ran over the future of the library service. Our library review looked beyond simply supporting bricks and mortar, to look at the purposes of the service for the future. We concluded that getting young people reading was a priority. It is possible that this review will see getting young people exercising as equally important. We have also had great success supporting reading groups through the library service and it would be interesting to explore if we could support residents exercise groups along similar lines.

That review saw us speak to existing service users, those who no longer used our facilities as well as a large number of groups with an interest in the service.

Every one of Barnet’s residents will have an opportunity to give us their views on the council’s support for leisure activities and what they believe our objectives should be.

I hope we will hear from as many people as possible.

You can access the Cabinet papers from the Barnet website.

Library strategy discussed at Overview and Scrutiny

Last night, the Strategic Library Review was discussed by the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee having been called in by a Labour councillor.

When we first published the Strategic Library Review back in March, it received considerable cross-party support. In comparison to the plans put forward by many other London boroughs that face similar budget cuts, Barnet’s plan for local libraries is very positive. The council has made a commitment to focus on literacy, spend an extra £10k on books and increase library opening hours.

I take my responsibilities seriously, I care about the future of the Barnet’s library service and I’m proud of the strategy that has been developed.

While I can understand that political point scoring always plays a part in the democratic process, much of what was discussed last night centred on issues of trust.

You may have seen comments in the press last week that implied the council hadn’t had any meetings with the artsdepot about our plans to create a new landmark library at the North Finchley site. This is simply not true. Below is a statement from Tracey Cooper the Chief Executive of the artsdepot.

“artsdepot has been discussing with the council proposals for a joint artsdepot-library service in North Finchley for several months, including officer meetings with the artsdepot board. While the planning of detailed proposals are at an early stage, with a lot to cover before we can finalise an agreed model, our two organisations are jointly overseeing the project to confirm the detail of what will be offered and both are excited by the possibilities. Our initial project delivery meeting was positive and artsdepot looks forward to the detailed next stage of work.”

After yesterday’s meeting, libraries in Barnet have a clear future despite the financial pressures faced by the council.

Library strategy approved, community ideas welcome

Back on 26 July, Cabinet agreed our plans for the Library service.

The objectives of the new library strategy are to:

  • increase reading, literacy and learning opportunities for children
  • promote reading and learning opportunities for adults
  • engage with communities and offer improved community spaces, access and resources
  • provide easier access to wider world of knowledge and information.

The main highlights are –

  • spending an extra £10,000 per year on more books
  • offering longer opening hours
  • giving a better online service
  • setting up new schemes to reach those with low levels of literacy
  • making sure every building is accessible and fit for purpose
  • merging back offices with one of our neighbours.

The strategy aims to move Friern Barnet Library and North Finchley Library in to the artsdepot to create a new landmark library. Officers will now commence detailed negotiations with artsdepot trust. We also proposed working with the Garden Suburb Institute to move the Hampstead Garden Library into their premises, though we will also consider any community proposals which come forward.

Cabinet gave community groups until the 31 October to come forward with community ideas about how they can carry on running a community library facility in their areas. Libraries services wouldn’t have to be run from the same location but would need to be run at a low cost to the council.

We listened when the community said they wanted a library service based on literary and learning and we will listen to the community’s ideas for their local library services.

We will seriously consider the proposals we receive for running Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb libraries and welcome the contribution from local people. If you have a proposal please email Tom Pike, Head of Libraries. Tom is on leave for the next couple of weeks but will respond on his return.

Back office and customer service project given the green light

Last night (29 June), the business case for the New Support and Customer Service Organisation project was approved by Cabinet Resources Committee. This decision gives the council permission to proceed with the procurement process to find a strategic partner to deliver back office and customer services.

The private sector is well placed to provide support services at a lower cost than the council ever could. Specialist suppliers provide these services as their core business; they have access to industry expertise, they can take advantage of economies of scale, and they can access the latest and best technology to help them deliver better services.

Barnet’s customer services need significant investment to improve resident access to council services but the council simply doesn’t have the money. The private sector can provide the financial support we need to improve and modernise customer services.

I don’t believe residents are concerned about who provides back office services to the council. Indeed every time we, or other councils, ask residents how they want us to deal with a reduced budget, we are asked to reduce back office costs. Residents seem far more interested in Barnet doing what councils are supposed to do – delivering the best quality front line services. Over the life of the contract, we will make significant savings, which will free up resources for our highly rated core services.

You can read the business case on the Barnet Council website.

Adults In-House Services business case approved

The business case for the Adults In-House Services project was approved by Cabinet Resources Committee on Tuesday evening (24 May). This decision gives the council permission to set up a local authority trading company to run adult social services in Barnet.

We need to set up this company because the way eligible residents receive money to pay for adult social services has changed. An increasing number of people who access these services receive the money to pay for them as direct payments.

Direct payments are good for service users and their carers, they allow them to manage their own social care budgets and let them choose which services they want to purchase. Central government wants everyone eligible for social care to receive direct payments by 2013.

But if you receive the money to pay for adult social services as a direct payment you cannot buy these services directly from the council. By setting up a local authority trading company to run adults social care we will allow people to continue to use our services and access our centres.

The new organisation will be wholly owned by Barnet Council but will manage its own operations and have its own board of directors, which will include service users and carers. Back office costs will be shared with Barnet Homes.

You can read the business case on the Barnet Council website.