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One year on, leader of council talks about tackling budget cuts, One Barnet and parking
One year after becoming leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius believes he is sticking to his promise to provide better services for less money.
Despite the council needing to cut £43million from its budget – Cllr Cornelius’s “biggest challenge” – he remains confident residents will not suffer the consequences.
He said: “It’s a big achievement that we're coming in on budget. It's really quite something. We're delivering these 28 per cent cuts and remarkably few people have noticed any diminishment in the services.”
Cllr Cornelius says One Barnet is pivotal in helping the council successfully cut-back. It aims to save the council millions of pounds over the next decade by allowing privite companies to run many key services. But, the controversial scheme has many critics - some fear the council will lose control of services, redundancies will be made, and others worry One Barnet could end up losing cash instead of saving it.
Admitting he was once a sceptic, Cllr Cornelius said: “I’ve been converted. It seems to be going to deliver big savings and I don’t think the public notices that for example the recycling service in Barnet is outsourced and the rubbish collection is done by Barnet’s employees. They don’t notice the difference.”
Asked whether the council runs the risk of losing control over its services, he said: “I don’t see that we will lose control at all.
“The key is that the contract needs to be written robustly. And, as the council we will have to monitor the contract both professionally and democratically.”
The council is keen to cooperate with other boroughs, merging services where possible. Last month, Harrow and Barnet Council merged their legal services in a bid to save £4.4 million over the next five years.
Cllr Cornelius said: “I think cooperating with other boroughs is a good thing to do. You can cut down on the number of chiefs running a service and hopefully get a better service for a lower cost.
“The joint legal service with Harrow will actually see us being able to employ some specialists where as in Barnet we wouldn’t be able to keep them busy all the time.”
Starting his second year as leader, Cllr Cornelius says his main aim is to deliver two more outsourcing contracts – the New Support and Customer Service Organisation, including customer support services, and the Development and Regulatory Services which includes the planning department and various inspectors such as building control and environmental health.
He also hopes to help the borough’s unemployed into work with apprenticeships and internships, and believes the council is “resolving” parking problems.
Both shoppers and traders have campaigned against the council’s decision to get rid of pay-and-display machines in favour of a cashless payment system, saying it has destroyed local highstreets.
However, Cllr Cornelius said: “The four hour residents’ visitors’ permits will get underway and credit card machines will be ordered now. I think that should answer quite a lot of the criticisms.
“The North Finchley Parking Review is also underway so we should know what all the traders think rather than just those who are most vocal. I think it’s important to know what the shopkeepers actually want.
"I think their worst nightmare would be if they end up with a commuter parked outside their shop all day – that really would mess it up – so hopefully we will get that right and then there will be a question of balancing that with the revenue implications as well.”
Shopkeepers will also be given a five per cent discount on parking vouchers which they can sell to their customers, making a profit.
Cllr Cornelius added: “We hope that the shopkeepers will pick up the baton and do this now.
“Their PR campaign has been really very successful but unfortunately they have actually persuaded people that it’s difficult and expensive to park so they’re shooting themselves in the foot with this and we hope they will see the benefit of these vouchers.
“The pay and display machines were perpetually breaking or being vandalised and it was expensive to collect the money – so, it was a rational decision to remove them.”
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