Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Bristol opts for the Barnet model?

The announcement that Bristol has recruited Max Wide to become the city's 'Strategic Director for Business Change' raises some alarming questions. Not so much about the new man, but on the agenda of those who chose to recruit him.

It doesn't look good. Mr Wide has history, inside and outside local authorities. His CV shows he has 'worked with over 60 local authorities delivering change programmes' either as employee, on secondment from BT Local Government (the IT services arm of BT), or with consultancies such as iMPOWER. There's one constant theme running through the lot – outsourcing and privatisation.

Local government watchers will be well aware of 'Broken Barnet', the London borough whose political leadership has gone to unprecedented lengths to cut services and farm out what's left to expensive and inefficient 'services' companies. Mr Wide was very deeply involved in making it happen.

Then there was Suffolk CountyCouncil, with much the same agenda (since abandoned) . And the West Midlands borough of Sandwell, where the management of Children's Services was contracted out to Mr Wide's iMPOWER, led (oddly enough) by their newest employee, Suffolk's director of Childrens Services. After that it was Doncaster, where the government insisted that management of the failing Children's Services be privatised – and iMPOWER got the contract, at least until an 'independent' trust can take over.

So that's what Max Wide is about. Privatisation and outsourcing is what he does. And now he's been invited to take up a lucrative post in Bristol.

But the real story, surely, is to ask who chose him, and why... what's the political programme he is to carry out?.

It's inconceivable that his record as an arch-privatiser is not the reason.


The Bristol Blogger said...

The Greens are part of the administration. Perhaps you should ask them?

Woodsy said...

If Bristol opts for the Barnet model, this will ultimately result in the city becoming Crapitaville Mk. II.

Barnet has outsourced most of its activities - apart from sitting in the council chamber itself - to one of Private Eye's regular incompetents, Crapita.

Stockwood Pete said...

... and sitting in the council chamber has become pretty meaningless in Bristol.

There seem to be a lot of 'services' firms making a complete cock-up of public services these days, though they still seem to walk off with the cash.

The 'Famous Four Barnet Bloggers' give a pretty good idea of what's going wrong there.

The Bristol Blogger said...

So why are your party helping to run an administration that's intends to bring in 'services' (your scare quotes) firms en masse?

You appear to be avoiding the simple question.

Stockwood Pete said...

No, it's a fair question and there's no easy answer. I can't speak for the Green councillors, but if I was in their position I'd probably do the same. Opt out and you don't change anything.

Where I would draw the line is at giving public support to Cabinet/Mayoral decisions I didn't agree with. So far as I know, the elected Greens haven't fallen into that trap, but I can see how easily it could happen.

I should imagine there are loads of decisions that mean selecting the 'least bad' option, especially with the ideological cuts being imposed now - but Crapitaville would be a mile too far. I'm glad I don't have make them.... I can just sit and blog!

between the lines said...

"I can just sit and blog!"

Um. But the next time there's an election, won't you have to go out and defend Bristol Green Party's record in the council?

Stockwood Pete said...

Damn! Can't get away with that then, btl!
Show me someone who really agrees with everything a party (or its councillors) does, and I'll show you a liar.

I'm not sure exactly what hypothetical policy challenge I'd face on the doorstep, so I can't be specific unless you or BB enlighten me..... but occasionally (once, anyway) I've been faced with a potential Green voter who is as uncomfortable as me about some aspect of policy. I've just pointed out that you vote for the candidate who comes closest to representing all your views... Vote for anyone else, or don't vote at all, and you're making the problem worse. (Having said that, I've spoiled my ballot paper more than once!)

I should think that anything said on the doorstep is more likely to be about stadia than about cuts, given the Post's coverage. I can't see that stopping. Speed limits and parking will be up there as issues, too. Privatisation and outsourcing won't, sadly. Perhaps the biggest difficulty for all canvassers will be to explain how we hope to have real influence under the mayoral system.

Mr Reasonable said...

Hi Pete,
Based on our experiences in Barnet, examine every single word they say and at the first and slightest hint of outsourcing go for judicial review. In Barnet we were consistently lied to and then when the decision came we were told we were out of time for Judicial Review even though the Judge agreed with us that the council had made no attempt to consult residents. The consultants who were helping Barnet implement One Barnet are iMPOWER who in a joint bid with Agilisys have billed over £8 million in consultancy fees, Mr Wide's previous employer (or is he on secondment?). Ask lots of questions about Mr Wide's role, whether he is on secondment, what his job description is, who approved his employment, where the job was advertised etc, Ask lots of questions and create an audit trail. In Barnet the council said virtually nothing about outsourcing so as a result most people were blissfully unaware until the decision was taken to appoint Capita by which time it was too late to do anything about it.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes: please learn from the history of what happened here in Broken Barnet and watch very carefully every proposal made from now on in regard to the direction of council policy. Demand engagement with residents, and proper process of consultation over any plans to outsource, and don't allow them to ignore in-house options on a spurious pretext. Be vigilant about the use of consultants - and make sure that there is a robust policy for dealing with conflicts of interest, so as to prevent senior officers coming to and from companies and consultancies either contracted to the council or bidding for contracts.

Stockwood Pete said...

Thanks to both of you for that. I'm sure most Bristol councillors, apart from the Tory minority, would agree and I hope they'll take note.

With the mayoral system here, the decision making powers are almost entirely with the mayor - even his chosen Cabinet just have an advisory role. Elected councillors seem less and less relevant. For me as an 'outsider' the whole process is looking more and more opaque.

Bring back the committee system! Except that we're not allowed to do that :(

between the lines said...

Pete: "I should think that anything said on the doorstep is more likely to be about stadia than about cuts ... Speed limits and parking will be up there as issues, too. Privatisation and outsourcing won't, sadly."

Too true. Long, depressing experience of trying to motivate people to do something about how badly malfunctioning society is for most people in the world (let alone the holocaust against our fellow species) rather than just moaning about it, shows that most of us quite simply cannot be bothered to get up off our increasingly fat backsides and do anything to change the things we're moaning about. Let's face it moaning and grumbling is quite satisfying enough for most - and a hell of a lot less physical and intellectual effort than actually challenging the status quo.

It looks like most people won't do a thing unless and until their own personal livelihood is sufficiently under threat that circumstances force them to take action, eg they are literally homeless or hungry themselves.

So, for some seasonal cheer and inspiration this video is a beautiful illustration of the wonderful things that people can do - when they have to:

It's called "Detroit: Rising from the Ashes". Filmed by Reel News, not sure why it cuts off at the end ...?

I'd have liked to put a comment there only Google have now excluded from comment anyone who won't conform to their G+ scam.

Best wishes Pete, thanks for all your blogging and have a great new year 2014

Eye on George said...

Cllr Mark Bailey raised noted this at the budget meeting in February: "I think George believes in small council. I think if George has his way this council will be half the size it is now."

You should have a listen if you haven't already: