by Tim Lamden
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The leader of Barnet Council insists a last-minute court battle to halt its controversial £320million outsourcing plans will not deter the scheme – despite inevitable delays.
Cllr Richard Cornelius admitted the council has “no plan B” should the High Court rule in favour of disabled Barnet resident Maria Nash, 67, who has brought a judicial review into the legality of the One Barnet programme.
However, the council’s Conservative leader has absolute faith in the legal soundness of One Barnet and believes this will become clear when the judicial review begins at the Royal Courts of Justice on March 19.
He said: “I don’t believe this will scupper it, I think we will be okay. We believe we have crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is.
“People have the right to appeal to the court for a judicial review and the court is dealing with this in a timely way – this will hopefully be behind us by the end of March.”
Under One Barnet the first of two lucrative outsourcing contracts to run the council’s back office services for the next ten years was due to be signed by private firm Capita last month.
This was halted by the High Court decision to grant Ms Nash a judicial review.
Last month, a public petition calling for a referendum on One Barnet was presented to the council with 8,000 signatures.
Both Capita and the council must now await the outcome of the judicial review in March, set to last three days, before any contract can be signed.
This means that, should the High Court rule in Barnet Council’s favour, the switchover of back office services from the council to Capita, expected to take place on April 1, will be delayed by a month.
If Capita take over running back office services more than 200 council employees face having to move to Capita centres in places including Sheffield, Blackburn and Swindon – or accept redundancy.
Ms Nash’s court action – which accuses the council of failing to consult with residents about One Barnet and failing to meet equality obligations – has also halted another One Barnet contract.
Last month the council was due to choose a preferred bidder for the Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) contract to outsource frontline services such as planning and environmental health with a view to handing the services to a private firm in May.
The judicial review means no decision can now be made on the contract until the court case concludes, delaying the switchover of services by an estimated two months.
Cllr Cornelius insists residents will see no interruption to services as a result of the delays and believes One Barnet will still deliver on the multi-million pound savings promised.
“Obviously we would have to do something fairly dramatic were this to be delayed for longer but we currently have resources to cover us for a few months,” he said.
“So it’s not something that needs to be done as a kneejerk reaction but at the moment there is no plan B.
“I’m not waking up over this one. I think this will be fine and we’ll sort it out in court.”