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Delivery of services is still unclear
The man who holds in his hands the fate of Barnet’s public services admits he has no idea yet who will deliver them in the future, but has ruled out widespread privatisation.
Richard Grice faces the unenviable task of figuring out how to improve Barnet Council’s services while delivering budget cuts worth millions.
He is the council officer at the heart of a programme of change, which has already provoked anger from trade unions who insist the council is preparing to outsource jobs to the private sector.
Speaking this week, Mr Grice played down those concerns and insisted the Future Shape of the Council report, approved by cabinet members last week, is a necessary response to the situation.
“If we carry on the way we are, several million would have to be cut from the budget each year for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“The trade unions argue that jobs will be at risk. Jobs and services are at risk if we carry on doing what we’re doing now.”
He added: “The report isn’t a mass outsourcing or privatisation of services.
“It isn’t mass engagement with the private sector. It’s not huge job losses — this is a further stage of research.”
The cabinet’s approval means Mr Grice will spend the next six months undertaking a £250,000 feasibility study, consulting with staff and potential partners to figure out what the future will look like — and how much it will cost.
The report suggests the preferred solution would be to create an organisation along with one or more partners from the private, public and voluntary sectors, which will deliver services, while a “strategic core” anticipates and finds solutions for future challenges.
The aim, Mr Grice said, was to join services —whether from the NHS, police, or housing department — to work to prevent people beginning to need services, rather than offering a patch-up job when they do.
“The advantage is that we can free up the capacity in the council to look at the difficult challenges we’re going to have going over the hill in Barnet, and bring in the skill potentials from other sectors.”
However, for the time being, the details of the project are necessarily vague because until the next stage of research is completed, it is not yet known how it will work.
Closer interaction within the public sector, between Barnet Primary Care Trust, Barnet Police and the council, is not a new aspiration, and Mr Grice extolled the virtues of the voluntary sector.
But the most controversial aspect of the programme, and where the eyes of critics will look when the vision becomes closer to reality in June, will be the role of the private sector.