'Unprecedented' level of outsourcing in One Barnet will come 'once-in-a-generation' (From Times Series)
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'Unprecedented' level of outsourcing in One Barnet will come 'once-in-a-generation', says judge during judicial review at high court
Barnet Council is engaging in an “unprecedented, once-in-a-generation” level of outsourcing with its One Barnet programme, a court heard today.
Justice Nicholas Underhill, overseeing a judicial review into the scheme, said the authority’s plans represented an “extreme change” in the way it delivered its core functions.
The high court had earlier heard how allegations that the council failed in its legal duty to consult on the controversial scheme “do not get off the ground.”
Putting her final points across on behalf of Barnet Council, Monica Carss-Frisk QC said the legal challenge put forward by the claimant, Maria Nash, fell down on every point.
Addressing the court on the final morning of the three-day hearing, Ms Carss-Frisk summed up the authority’s defence against the legal claim.
Ms Nash is challenging the programme on the grounds the public were not properly consulted. She also argues the council broke the Equality Act by failing to consider the impact a service delivery change will have on people with disabilities.
Ms Carss-Frisk repeated her earlier point that the claim has been brought out of time but added that, even if that were not the case, the council had fulfilled its statutory duty on the equality issue.
She argued the outsourcing programme simply meant a change in the provider, not a change in services, and an appropriate equality impact assessment would be carried out if the services delivered were likely to change.
The council’s legal team had earlier faced some awkward questions from the judge on the amount of consultation it carried out.
Under the Local Government Act, the council is obliged to carry out consultations on changes to its functions but Ms Carss-Frisk argued it is under no direction as to how much to consult.
But Justice Nicholas Underhill, hearing the case, questioned whether the scale of the outsourcing projects should have warranted greater consultation among the public.
He said: “This was promoted by the council itself as a huge change. However much discretion there is for local authorities, if the consultation is to mean anything at all, surely it has to be billed as such?”
He later added: “We’re dealing here with an extreme change, a once-in-a-generation change – surely that should be consulted on by the council?”
Ms Carss-Frisk pointed to consultations on the authority’s 2011 budget, which contained references to One Barnet, as well as a ‘leader listens’ public forum as evidence of consultation.
And there were audible gasps of discontent from a busy public gallery when the QC also referred to residents’ forums, in which discussion on specific council policy was banned, as further evidence of asking for public feedback.
She said: “Unless you can say the council didn’t do anything that could be conceived as consultation, the challenge must fail.”
The hearing is due to conclude this afternoon.