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Council accused of 'creating smoke screen' over One Barnet programme
Barnet Council was accused of “creating a smoke screen” to hide a lack of consultation during the opening of a judicial review into its outsourcing scheme this morning.
Disabled campaigner Maria Nash is challenging the One Barnet programme on the grounds the authority failed to consult residents on its decision to outsource almost £700million of its services to private companies.
Ms Nash believes the quality of council services for disabled people will be jeopardised by the scheme and argues the decision breaches the Equality Act.
At the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, Nigel Giffin, representing Ms Nash, laid out the concerns of his clients and a large number of her supporters, some of which gathered at the hearing today.
He said: “It is a concern of whether an outsourced company, which exists to make a profit from the services it provides, can deliver the same quality as the in-house system it is going to replace.
“The number of staff providing these services will be sharply reduced and located away from the borough. These are real concerns, especially, but not exclusively, for those in Barnet with disabilities.”
Evidence submitted by the council’s legal team was denounced as “unhelpful and inadequate” by Mr Justice Underhill, hearing the case, as the court grappled with the detail of how the authority agreed to outsource large contracts to the private sector.
Judge Underhill criticised the council’s legal team for producing a witness statement from director of commercial services Craig Cooper that contained no analysis or summary.
Nigel Giffin QC expressed his belief that the confusing evidence was “a smoke screen and an attempt to disguise the fact there was no consultation on the One Barnet scheme.”
Earlier, the barrister explained why his client felt consultation on the scheme was so vital.
He said: “It is important the decision-making process is performed correctly and this is a situation in which you would expect the public to have a voice and in which there would be plenty of things for consultees to say.
“But there was nothing here that comes within even measurable distance of compliant consultation to proceed with contracts of this kind.”
The court heard how the council had been discussing an outsourcing scheme since at least 2009, when it was given the name Futureshape.
Judge Underhill said it was important to establish what the One Barnet scheme entails as the new name “doesn’t really seem to mean anything”.
The case focuses largely on the biggest One Barnet contract – a £320million package to run the council’s customer services departments, which the authority handed to Capita in December.
Barnet Council has also put on hold a tendering process for a £210million contract to run its regulatory services, including IT and planning, as it is also mentioned in the judicial review.
The authority is thought to be fighting its case on a timing issue and will argue the judicial review has been brought too late when its legal team gives its side later in the three-day hearing.
Supporters of the scheme from the Barnet Alliance for Public services held a demonstration in support of Ms Nash outside the courts this morning.
The hearing continues.