Barnet Council says ‘outsourcing leads to better services’ as private firms takeover public services

It has assumed many names and evolved over three years.

But the ramifications of Barnet Council’s drive for efficiency will be laid bare in the coming weeks as private firms formally tender their takeover bids for public services.

From a paper in spring 2008 to the infamous “easyCouncil” project, the Labour opposition claims that One Barnet is just the latest manifestation of a Conservative agenda for mass privatisation of council services.

But Conservative council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius told the Ham&High that One Barnet was not an ideological strategy but a financial one in the face of swingeing cuts to the council’s budget.

He said: “I don’t have any ideological problem with outsourcing where it’s going to deliver a better service at a cheaper price. None of the political parties in Barnet have – because we have all brought them in.

“It’s wrong to suggest it is some radical idea when Labour and the Lib Dems have outsourced as well.

“The scale is yet to be decided. It’s not a question of taking (political) sides, we have to do the best we can. The taxpayer is hard pressed and the correct balance has to be found – one has to be responsible”

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The council is considering paying private firms more than �750million to take on the running of council departments from planning to parking over the next 10 years or so.

Labour leader Cllr Alison Moore claims that it is the scale of outsourcing and an unwillingness to explore other options which concerns her.

She said: “In 2008, we gave a lot of genuinely held concerns about the plans. But neither am I a Luddite and I’m not absolutely against some forms of external service provision if they are the right thing for that area and if you cost it properly.”

She warns against “the fallacy that privatisation gets you a cheaper, better service” and suggests that public services should be encouraged to work together in a bid to save money.

But it seems the wheels are firmly set in motion although Cllr Cornelius admitted he was frustrated at the pace of change.

He described the procurement process as having “the gestation period of an elephant”.

“This is the public sector and, in many ways, we’re impaired by European procurement rules,” he said. “We have to advertise across Europe and wait for responses.

“It would really be nice if we could decide what we want to do, specify what we want without fear or favour.”

When bids are delivered to council officials, Cllr Cornelius promises a formal process of scrutiny before council services are transferred to the private sector in autumn 2012.