Strike action sees council workers march on town hall to stop privatisation

More than 150 Barnet Council workers marched on the town hall to show their anger at plans for mass privatisation of council services.

Large-scale industrial action has been brewing for weeks and the fallout from last week’s pensions row between unions and the council tipped disillusioned staff over the edge.

Workers object to the principles of the council’s flagship One Barnet programme which will see the private sector take on swathes of council services for multi-million pound contracts.

Strikers, bolstered by a number of unions and public service campaigners, gathered outside the town hall on Tuesday (September 13) armed with flags, whistles and a megaphone as the council returned from its summer break.

One protester in the development and regulatory services department, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s really a very dangerous time for democracy. I think it’s an abomination that people who are democratically elected are prepared to turn around and give that democratic right away to what effectively become private shareholders.”

Leader of the council Cllr Richard Cornelius said: “I am disappointed that even a small number of our staff have taken this step. No-one benefits from such action, least of all residents.”

Opposition councillors challenged the Conservative council over the proposals in the council chamber.

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Deputy leader of the Labour party Cllr Barry Rawlings said: “They (the unions) are not my masters nor my leaders and I’m quite happy to stand by those people who are protecting the rights of the people of Barnet. They consider it (One Barnet) a false ideology, a toxic brand and I think it’s a disgrace.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Cllr Jack Cohen said: “The responsibility for providing important council services such as planning, highways, adult social services, parking, and others, will be scattered to the four winds. The only ones who are going to benefit are the large multinationals who are greedily eyeing up the contracts.”

But Cllr Cornelius said privatisation was about getting the best service for the best value.

“There is no money,” he said. “We looked at everything and we need the best possible value and the community is behind us in seeking that.”

Union leaders have threatened mass walkouts over increased pension contributions and UNISON’s Barnet branch secretary John Burgess promised more industrial action locally.

He said: “It’s just an indication of how appalling people feel they have been treated and it’s a taste of what’s to come.”