Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hey Dave, choose me, choose me.

The fuss this week over Barnet Councils proposals to use the business model of a budget airline for running council services has caused quite a reaction. Indeed I had LBC radio phoning on Friday morning asking me to be interviewed by Nick Ferrari about the proposals. As I explained in the interview the problem is that we don’t actually know what these proposals entail because at the moment it’s all ‘blue sky’ and ‘out of the box’ thinking based on an expensive external consultants report as part of the Councils Future shape project.

The future shape project is really just out sourcing by another name, and we have been down this road before. The problem with outsourcing is that most Council services are not capable of being competitively tendered in a way that puts any market pressure to bear that would provide better services and /or reduce costs. In the world of budget airlines there can be competition between traditional carriers and budget carriers on a particular route. How many Council services can operate on that basis? I would contend that the answer is not many.

The examples given are ludicrous if you actually think about them. In the planning application example there is a set time period defined by the need to allow consultation with interested parties. This can’t be altered so there will always be a minimum period before any planning application can be determined. Why should anyone have to pay more to get a service that they should be getting in the first place? If the Council cannot determine planning applications in a timely fashion then it needs to look at its organisation and practices to see where it is going wrong. Barnet could easily fund more planning officers if it stopped wasting money elsewhere.

There is a simple answer as to why this is all happening now. The leader of the Council Mike Freer is the Tory PPC for Finchley and Golders Green. Under its new boundaries the constituency is notionally the 2nd most marginal Tory / Labour seat, (although currently held by Labours Rudi Vis). If the Tories win the next election then this seat will have almost certainly been won by them.

Freer therefore expects to be an MP and will want to have done something to attract David Cameron’s attention and this is obviously meant to be it. Freer of course will no longer be at the helm of Barnet Council and therefore not left with the responsibility of trying to work out how to implement the future shape proposals.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The madness of the CRB check.

If you do any kind of work where you come into contact with children you are required to complete a Criminal Records Bureau disclosure application form or to give it its more common name a CRB check. This form is submitted by the organisation that wants you to do the work i.e. a School, Church etc.

If you were to design a system with the aim of making it the most bureaucratic and idiotic system ever created then you could do worse that create a system like the CRB check.

So what are the problems with the CRB check?

Firstly you have to make a separate application for each organisation. I have already filled in at least two CRB forms as a Governor at my local infants school and as someone involved in youth work at a local church. I now am required to fill in a further two CRB forms providing exactly the same information because I am a substitute member of the new Children services committee and because I am no a Governor with another local school.

Secondly the organisation that you work for has to process the form and send it off to the CRB people. This is time consuming and any error on the form will find it rejected and cause even more paperwork.

There has to be a simpler less bureaucratic way of protecting children. There is one centralised list so it would make sense for anyone who is required to work with children to register on that list and provide the information and proof of identity once. Any organisation wishing to employ someone to work with children could then apply to the CRB with a simple consent form to see if the person they are employing is registered or not. If they are then the additional organisation that they are going to be working for can be added to the database. Far less work for everyone.