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Barnet council's Future Shape plans - anything but easy

You can download the Future Shape report  and other documents, passed at Barnet Council's cabinet meeting on 21st October, from the
council website here. Other items on the agenda were the Brent Cross regeneration scheme and the council's response to the recession.

Council unions, Barnet trades council, and residents opposed to the Future Shape privatisation lobbied outside Hendon Town Hall, the Burroughs, and several questions were tabled by the public. We also launched the manifesto for the public services. For more details email


A manifesto for the public services

Barnet council trade unions, Barnet trades council, and a number of residents have launched a manifesto for the public services to serve two purposes in the coming period:
- as a benchmark against which we will judge the policies of politicians seeking our votes

- as a set of principles to guide our own actions.
To summarise its contents at the moment: we will defend public services!

We are inviting residents' and other organisations in Barnet to join the process of discussing the manifesto, the issues raised in it, and proposing amendments. The manifesto will be finalised, taking on board people's suggestions, in the spring at which point organisations/individuals can decide whether they want to put their names to it or not.

If you would like more information about this, email Barnet trades council - - as they will be playing a coordinating role. Thank you.
Barnet council joint trade unions respond to Guardian reports of the administration's plans for Barnet "easyCouncil"

Barnet Joint Trade Unions Press Release: 28 Aug 2009

“Tories adopt budget airline service model”(Guardian 28 Aug 2009)

The Joint Trade unions would like to express our extreme concerns that any decisions about the future of public services in Barnet have been already made.

Consultation on the Future Shape project has been going on for the past 14 months. In December last year, Cabinet agreed a model which proposed to transfer most of the council’s services to another employer leaving a small core of staff to carry out a commissioning function.

On the 6th July 09 Barnet Council Cabinet Committee rejected the mass outsourcing model.

It is therefore disappointing to read a substantial article in a national newspaper which states the Council is suggesting public services could be run as effectively as the “easyJet/Ryanair model”.

This is the same Ryanair who are “looking at the possibility of installing a coin slot on the lavatory door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny.”

Public services are accountable to the tax payer and those requiring public services. It is important that those providing services are providing quality and delivering efficiencies which are then reinvested back into frontline services such as schools and social care services.

It is disappointing to read on the front page of today’s Guardian that the “council plans to make savings by outsourcing services and reducing the size of its 3,500 strong workforce.”

We have previously been told that Future Shape is not a return to the 1980s (‘Life on Mars’) of CCT which saw the mass sell-off of council services, which subsequently failed to deliver quality or value for money and had to be brought back in-house, all at the expense of the local tax payers.

The Trade Unions believe that directly employed staff are best able to provide high quality and accountable public services to residents. We would add that central government needs to allow councils greater financial freedoms to be able to deliver public services.

On 8 September Barnet Public Sector Trade Union leads will be meeting to discuss our response to the debate over the future of Public Services in Barnet.

Contact: John Burgess Barnet UNISON on 07738 389569 or email

Find key documents about Barnet council's 'Future Shape' programme here.
REPORT: Lively residents’ meeting in West Hendon discusses ‘Future Shape’

Seventy people took part in a meeting in West Hendon on Wednesday 4 March entitled ‘Barnet residents: we can Shape our own Future’. The title was a reference to Barnet council’s plan to privatise large parts of the council services, which they are calling the ‘Future Shape’ programme.

Professor Dexter Whitfield of research organisation the European Services Strategy Unit opened the meeting by setting Future Shape in the wider context of the financial and economic crisis, which has brought new anxieties about the involvement of private companies in the public sector.
There were contributions from members of the audience, who showed a high level of willingness to campaign for better local democracy and to defend public services.

Half-way through the meeting guest speakers from the Communication Workers Union outlined the case against the government’s proposed part-privatisation of Royal Mail, and Andrew Dismore MP in the audience got up to explain why he supports the part-privatisation. Both parties expressed their desire to debate the issue further.

In the second half of the meeting we organised smaller group discussions about the next practical steps for the campaign around Future Shape. A number of people volunteered to be on a residents’ campaign committee – meeting dates will appear on this website.

The audience included local residents who had come to find out more about Future Shape, and people already involved in campaigns in Barnet, particularly residents’ associations. A number of groups had stalls, including the Campaign for Better Transport and Barnet and Enfield Friends of the Earth. A collection at the end of the meeting raised £93.

Vicki Morris 
Publicity officer, Barnet trades council

A tale of two Barnets:
REPORT: Barnet Cabinet rubber-stamps 'Future Shape' privatisation plan; unions and residents rally to defend public services
On Wednesday 3 December Barnet council's Cabinet committee met and rubber stamped the latest Future Shape report. At a cost of £250,000, for the next six months the administration will look at the feasibility of privatising large parts of the council services. They had claimed that they would look at all the options for improving council services but they have really only had in mind one option: large-scale outsourcing.
    On Wednesday night the councillors rubbished the unions, painting them as dinosaurs, only interested in 'protectionism' and not wanting to improve services. All of this is lies.
    The unions ARE interested in protecting their members' jobs: doesn't everyone need a job!? The unions are interested in defending council workers' pay and conditions of service: the example of the slashing of the pay and conditions of elderly care home workers when they were transferred to Fremantle employment demonstrates that the unions have every reason to be worried. We are not talking about the unions defending wealth and privilege. We are talking about preventing gross exploitation and abuse. When unions defend their members' jobs, pay and conditions, they are also defending the standard of the public services those workers provide. How can services be done well when they are done by overworked, underpaid or poorly trained staff? It is outrageous for the likes of councillor Brian Coleman, who claimed £10,334 taxi expenses in one year on the GLA, to paint the unions as defenders of privilege.
   Worried residents, who had only found out about Future Shape because the unions have been publicising it, had submitted questions to the Cabinet meeting. Mike Freer dealt with them peremptorily, and in answer to one question said he didn't know how many members of the public had been aware of the meeting: they could find out about it if they wanted to through the usual channels.
    It is not good enough for the Cabinet to say that Future Shape is business as usual; that the public must find their way through the byzantine channels of Barnet democratic services to find out what is going on and then to try to have their say on it. Local democracy and public accountability are not being served by the current administration who are pushing through Future Shape without any public consultation.
   The trades council has got the opinion of the Plain English Campaign about the Future Shape report that was passed by the Cabinet on 3 December, and which forms the basis of their planned reorganisation. The Plain English Campaign calls the Future Shape report 'gobbledlygook' and says: "From a plain English point of view, it is an awful document". Is this the quality of the democracy that the would-be Member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer and the would-be Member of Parliament for Hendon, Matthew Offord offer us?
   Before the meeting on Wednesday night, hundreds of union members and concerned residents staged a rally outside Barnet House. The weather was freezing, but the atmosphere was warm and spirits high. We sang carols, heard speeches, ate mincepies and, most important, exchanged views. What a contrast in atmosphere to that inside Barnet House when we went inside to observe Barnet's anaemic democracy at work, and the rubber stamping of the Future Shape report, that has had practically nil public consultation and that could have dire consequences for Barnet's public services and the council workforce.
Barnet residents associations anxious about Future Shape
The Federation of Residents Associations of Barnet (FORAB) have written an open letter (28 November 2008) to Mike Freer, sent to the local papers. It expresses their concerns about the Future Shape process:
Dear Councillor Freer,

Future Shape of the Council

I am writing on behalf of FORAB to express our grave reservations on the current proposals for the future shape of our Council.

We expect Councillors to keep under constant review the services that the council offers and the way in which they are carried out to ensure that they are the services needed and that best value for money is delivered.

From the report that is going to Cabinet next week we see no evidence how either of these expectations will be delivered.

The thrust appears to be that outsourcing is the future for most if not all services based on contracts with the Council. Unfortunately the public are sceptical about the efficacy of such an approach eg NHS and cleaning and all Government departments' IT replacements. These shortcomings have been repeated in Barnet eg the inability to change the former recycling contract, the sale of the site at Underhill and the recent major expense on IT and visual equipment to name but three examples. The only winners are always the lawyers.

We are greatly concerned at the secrecy to date and undue haste with which it is being proposed to take the matter forward.

There may be some merit in the proposals but this will only become clear and possibly acceptable to the electorate if all of the proposals are exposed to examination and discussion with the people of Barnet who will pay for the services and are in the best position to decide if they are value for money. Furthermore they will be able to spot what is flawed and what is workable.

If the proposals are sound you will be able to implement them with much public support and if they are flawed the Council tax payers of Barnet will be saved from a very expensive disaster.

We urge you to slow down the programme and consult widely with all interested parties including individuals and groups who have a variety of expertise.

Yours sincerely,
David Howard, Chair of Federation of Residents' Associations in Barnet (FORAB)
December 2008: Read the council unions' response to the Future Shape report "Failure to Assess Options for Future Shape of the Council" here.
The council's Future Shape report is

Watch the video of the Future Shape public meeting on 11 November 2008 here.
Future Shape - make sure it's not pear-shaped!
The administration in London Borough of Barnet is planning wholesale changes to the way services are delivered (in short, they would like to privatise a large proportion, with the council itself reduced to a so-called 'strategic hub' looking at 'big picture' issues such as obesity and climate change - or so the rhetoric goes!). They have embarked on discussions about this, called 'Future Shape'. The council unions are briefing and consulting members at a series of meetings.
Check Barnet Unison website for details of the council unions' response to 'Future Shape'.
REPORT: Future Shape public meeting, 11 November
by Vicki Morris, Publicity Officer Barnet TUC; photo © Barnet Unison
The public meeting organised by council unions and the trades council at the North London Business Park on Tuesday 11 November 2008 was a resounding success!  300+ council workers, Barnet residents, and supporters from other London boroughs watched a video about Somerset council's experience with a process similar to the planned 'Future Shape'. They heard a presentation from Dexter Whitfield of the European Services Strategy Unit, who is helping Barnet council unions to prepare their response to the Future Shape process and proposals. There were also speeches from Stan Davison of Barnet 55+ Forum, Austin Harney, secretary of Barnet trades council, and John Burgess, secretary of Barnet Unison. There were spirited contributions from the floor and the meeting broke up resolved to inform Barnet residents about Future Shape plans, organise large numbers for the lobby of the Council Cabinet meeting on 3 December, and press the unions' case.
    Several local residents thanked the trades unions for bringing the matter to their attention - without our leafleting they would not have known what was being planned.
    The real measure of the meeting's success will be our ability to go on from it to mobilise more people to support the unions' key demands:
  • full consultation over plans with Barnet residents, council workers and trade unions;
  • a fair chance for the in-house option: we believe that council services can be improved by keeping them in-house and involving the public and council workers in discussions about how they can be improved rather than any of the outsourcing options being contemplated;
  • no council worker to be transferred to another employer on conditions worse than they have at present;
  • no cuts in posts.
See reports in Barnet and Whetstone Press, 13 November 2008 and Hendon Times, 16 November 2008
Barnet Council's gone to Iceland
It somehow comes as no surprise that Barnet Council is one of those that stands to lose most from the collapse of Icelandic banks, reportedly to the tune of around £27 million (This Is Local London). The latest news is that a representative of Barnet Council has flown as part of a delegation to Iceland to negotiate the return of the missing millions (Local Government Chronicle).
We urge people at this time to think as well about the impact of the crisis on Icelandic people. The trades council has sent messages of solidarity to trade unions in Iceland. You can find out more about one union that organises public sector workers here: BSRB, Federation of State and Municipal Employees.

Informing the public about Future Shape – how you can help
Barnet residents are being kept in the dark about the Council’s Future Shape plans.
We think they have a right to know about what is being contemplated, and if the Council won’t tell them, we will.
If you can help run a public information stall in your area, please contact  
We can provide advice and materials to help get you started with your own stall or put you in touch with stalls that are already up and running.

Financial turmoil: council unions call to suspend 'Future Shape'
Since we cannot be sure from one day to the next which private companies might go bust, it seems madness that Barnet council is contemplating privatising large parts of the council services. For the sake of guaranteeing public services the council unions are calling on the council to suspend the 'Future Shape' reorganisation until much more work has been done on finding the best way to improve council services. The unions are calling for more involvement of the public and council workers' unions in deciding what Barnet council's Future Shape will look like. Given the increase in unemployment likely with the coming recession, it also seems essential that the council remain as a major employer in Barnet. Barnet residents will, more than ever, need good public services staffed by workers who, for the sake of the local economy, are earning a decent wage and are securely employed. Read the text of the council unions' letter to council leader Mike Freer here.