“In a way, all of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us.”
–Steve Martin, ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
And while you know my personal El Guapo is the black despair that still occasionally (but fortunately not for a while) grips my heart in paralysing horror, it seems the London Borough of Barnet has its own El Guapo to face: the One Barnet billion-pound mass-privatisation scheme, which was the subject of a couple of short films shown in a committee room of the Palace of Westminster tonight.
Yes, your friend and humble narrator, O my brothers, did indeed attend the seat of our national government (and became the first man since Guy Fawkes to enter with honourable intentions… no, just kidding, I wasn’t the first anti-One Barnet man there!). We had a huge turnout, including all the Barnet bloggers, and I learned some things about the crazy scheme that I didn’t know before:
- Under the scheme, even our own councillors (i.e. the people we — ahem — elect to represent our views) won’t be able to find out what’s going on with our council services, as information will be protected under “commercial sensitivity”. Yep, it seems “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” only applies to us citizens, and not to Big Business, even when it’s providing public services.
- Jobs will get exported to other parts of the country, or even abroad. Imagine calling up to ask why your bins weren’t emptied, and having someone with no tie to your area, and no reason to care about your problems. Just like the banks, except you can’t switch to a different local council except by moving!
- It’s all been done with no public consultation, though the Barnet Conservatives claim they have a mandate, simply because the plan (under a completely different name) was known during the 2010 election — you know, the time when nationally we were intent on kicking out Gordon Brown’s “New” Labour. There’s never been a public consultation on One Barnet, apparently because what we think is of only passing importance compared to party politics.
- They said before that it would cost an extra £4m if they were to freeze council tax, but a few weeks later they’re planning to freeze council tax as a blatant vote-winner, so where’s the money coming from, considering things will cost more under One Barnet if private companies are taking their cut on top of the actual cost of services? Already services to the elderly and disabled are being cut back, along with libraries being closed.
- It won’t help that we can vote out the incumbent party in 2014, because we’ll be stuck with the outsourcing for at least ten years, with no option to break out!
- The Conservative councillors are, by and large, ignoring the concerns of Barnet residents, in some cases ensuring “deleted unread” receipts are being returned to correspondents — this is the same group of people who wouldn’t suspend Brian Coleman when he was accused of attacking a resident, leaving it to the central Conservative party to step in!
Yeah, I know, it’s another political blog, but too bad, you can wait until later in the week for me to write something about my feelings. Well, okay, how about this: I only moved to Barnet in February, and if One Barnet goes wrong I could just as easily up sticks and move again, but I’m not going to turn tail and run when things get difficult. This is where I stand, and if I can help the people of this borough fight back against a corrupt political establishment, then I can find the strength to overcome my own trivial problems. Or did I already say that?
Anyway, we have less than 18 days to convince our political masters in Barnet not to press ahead with this lunacy. I learned tonight we convinced one Conservative to vote against it, and our friend Brian Coleman has also, following his shaming, voiced his opposition (though naturally by calling it a “New Labour” scheme, with incredible chutzpah). I hope it’s enough, or in January I’ll be phoning some small village in the Scottish Highlands to ask why our rubbish hasn’t been collected, and being put through to four different people before being cut off…