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Disabled pensioner’s legal battle against One Barnet reaches High Court

PUBLISHED: 18:53 19 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:30 19 March 2013

Maria Nash (centre) with supporters outside The Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Maria Nash (centre) with supporters outside The Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Archant

Barnet Council was accused of creating a “smokescreen” to mask a lack of consultation with residents during the opening of a High Court challenge of its One Barnet outsourcing scheme today.

Lawyers instructed by 68-year-old resident Maria Nash met with the council’s legal team at the Royal Courts of Justice today to contest the legality of One Barnet.

The programme was set up by Barnet Council to outsource up to £600million worth of services to two private companies over the next 10 years.

Ms Nash, a disabled pensioner who lives in New Barnet, has called the judicial review on the grounds that Barnet Council allegedly failed to consult with residents about One Barnet.

Her lawyers also claim that the council failed to meet equality obligations in relation to the plans.

Judge Mr Justice Underhill, hearing the case, criticised evidence provided by Barnet Council’s legal team as “unhelpful and inadequate” as he examined a detailed breakdown of One Barnet and the decisions taken by the council.

He was particularly critical of a witness statement from the council’s director of commercial services Craig Cooper which he said contained “no analysis or summary”.

Nigel Giffin QC, representing Ms Nash, told the court Mr Cooper’s statement was deliberately vague to create a “smokescreen” intended to “disguise a lot of stuff”.

He said: “In reality there [was] no consultation [on One Barnet].”

He added: “It is very important that the decision-making process functions correctly and we suggest that this is perhaps exactly the kind of situation in which we would expect the public to have a voice through consultation of them.”

Mr Giffin also questioned the council’s plans to transfer more than 15 per cent of its services to two companies, describing it as a “big-bang approach of handing over all these services at once”.

He raised concerns about whether council services would become “geographically dispersed” when run by companies based elsewhere in the UK.

During the hearing, Mr Justice Underhill also questioned the name – “One Barnet” – given to the outsourcing programme, referred to at various points in the court papers.

He said: “It doesn’t actually mean anything, it has no inherent meaning. It is such a general term you have to analyse it every time it is used to know what it means.”

Throughout the morning court session, Ms Nash sat in a wheelchair beside her legal team at the front of the courtroom listening intently as her case was put forward to the judge.

The hearing is expected to last three days.

Campaigners who oppose One Barnet also gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice for a vigil in support of Ms Nash.

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