Cllr Mark Shooter is undertaking a challenge for the leadership of Barnet Council. The ballot among members of the Conservative Group takes place on Tuesday. This is a letter he has sent too his colleagues givinghis final pitch:
I wrote to you on 12th August announcing my intention to stand and asking for your support. I hoped for the support of a few, who like me had come to the view that we just can’t on go like this, but have been truly inspired at the number of Conservative Councillors who have privately pledged their support. Should all of you who have pledged support for my campaign vote for me on September 7th, we can start to restore the Conservative Party’s fortunes in Barnet and bring new and exciting politics to the borough.
I am writing to you directly to fulfill the promise I made to write with further details based on the principles I highlighted in my letter of the 12th August.
Putting the allowance fiasco to bed, for good. Before the public will listen to us on the wider Council agenda we need to put the allowances fiasco to bed. Politically opportunistic cynical partial u-turns just won’t wash with our voters. We need to fully erase the decisions of that flawed Council meeting of July 13th; the allowances will then revert to the previously agreed scheme. Then, calmly and methodically using independent people sitting in public, invite evidence from the public and interested parties (not behind closed doors, advised only by Council Officers), ensure that the allowances paid for each role match the responsibility and workload.
Effective leadership. To me, leadership is a lot more than cobbling together some decisions with a few friends and then bullying others into submission. I agree with leadership expert Alan Keith who says: “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”
I want to work with you as equals. As David Cameron said, ‘we are all in this together’.
Transparency. Barnet Council has edged slowly and cautiously to follow the demands of the public to open all of its workings to scrutiny. We are Conservatives, I am proud that Margaret Thatcher used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to introduce a private members bill to open up local Council meetings to the press. We need to go further, we must stop fighting those residents who want to help us eradicate waste, extravagance and, where it occurs, malpractice at the Town Hall. These people are our allies in our battle, we must join Eric Pickles in encouraging our ‘armchair auditors.’
Positive engagement with the public. We are blessed with a largely intelligent and articulate local population. Mike Freer MP in his maiden speech reminded us that Finchley and Golders Green constituency has the highest percentage of graduates in London. So let us harness their ideas; allow them to shape their own communities in the way they want
The internet is our ally, in this respect, let some really bright innovation come out from the crowd. Let us then showcase examples of the public’s ideas being brought into practice and encourage more to come forward. At the moment few bother to engage with the Council as they see it as a real waste of time.
Active participation of Councillors. One of the greatest disappointments in my time on the Council has been to see the waste of the talent of Councillors. Before Labour’s change to the law in 2000, all Councillors ran the Council. This had worked well for a very long time. They forced Councils to restrict those who can really take part to ten. This divides our group into two classes of Councillor and is hugely wasteful. Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles will introduce legislation to allow Councils to use all of the Councillors fully so committees can be formed to carry out the Cabinet’s responsibilities. The current leadership has spoken enthusiastically about going down to two Councillors per ward and is wedded to Labour’s local government legislation. I will give you the chance to vote to involve all Councillors as soon as Eric Pickles’ legislation passes into law.
Prioritising value for money, improving efficiency and stabilising the Council’s finances. Scouring the Council’s finances for waste is going to be a very high priority for my administration. Right up there too will be looking for ways to provide services that residents will be enthusiastic to pay for and complement our existing offering. The current leadership tells us we have to pay over £1million a year in director’s salaries as it is necessary so to do to attract the talent we do. Why, if our highly paid directors are so skilled in local government affairs do we need to spend millions of pounds on consultants? One of the other has got to go.
Our residents, and we as Conservatives, need to take a good, hard look at the services that the Council provides to make sure they are delivered in the way the public expect. Council Tax payers don’t care if it is provided by the public, private or voluntary sector but they care a lot that they are efficient, responsive and competitive.
I do not believe Soviet bureaucratic initiatives like One Public Sector, Labour’s Total Place (and Barnet’s Future Shape / Easy Council) ideas are not the way forward. Having a board of, almost exclusively, unelected public sector technocrats writing jargon laden reports with only two of Barnet’s 63 Councillors allowed in the room and the public thrown out is a scandal and a direct challenge to David Cameron’s Big Society and whole drive for local government. Just as Labour’s bloated PFI schemes are going to end up cost many times the original cost I can easily see Councillors in years to come moaning and complaining at how much more the complicated Future Shape contracts ended up costing. This isn’t new, how many businesses got stung in the 1980s and 1990s with photocopier contracts and servicing arrangements that cost many times more than just buying the machine.
I will immediately ask all council staff to identify their areas of financial waste and will look at canceling payments to expensive consultants on Future Shape projects, cut down the £7m per year on IT projects, streamline the £2m loss from not filling in forms correctly and eradicate environmental fines.
By saving money on this waste and extravagance we can avoid morally dubious decisions such as the scrapping of the warden service, the closing of libraries and the selling off of the allotments.
We need to turn our Libraries into real community hubs, provide rooms in them for local groups to rent, add services to bring in much needed income and so on. Having overpriced, unwanted and unsellable merchandise sitting in dusty display cabinets that no-one can probably find the key for has got to end. Almost 80% of children in our area between ages 5 and 10 visited libraries in the last year, encouraging and enabling them to read.
We should not be closing libraries, but asking instead what we want them to do, and using imaginative methods to make sure they can do this efficiently.
Joining in with the Big Society and Eric Pickles local government revolution. I was really pleased to see David Cameron becoming PM and that he appointed Eric Pickles, someone who really understands local government’s problems, as Communities Secretary. As a Conservative Council we need to be at the forefront to enthusiastically working with our PM and Communities Secretary to bring in the Big Society and radical reforms to Councils and not haranguing them in the main stream Press.
The choice that you face next Tuesday is a stark one. It is between:
Having instructions barked at you with menaces on the big decisions or a leadership that treats you as an equal and want you to put forward your ideas.
It is between:
A closed and secretive approach battling all and sundry who want to expose waste and bad play at the Town Hall and my leadership that wants to fling open the windows and let the disinfectant of sunlight pour in and an army of armchair auditors find savings to help us in our task. An administration who treats the public with contempt and my leadership who wants to harness the passion and energy of our residents to give us great ideas to make Barnet a better place.
A failed administration where money is lost in grants, frittered away on consultants, putting libraries and allotments at risk and my leadership that will work to provide value for money, stability to the Council’s finances and brings business expertise to the Council. Ugly rows on TV, radio and in the national media with Ministers defending the indefensible and my leadership that will embrace and promote the radical Conservative local agenda that people voted for in Barnet in droves.
Your vote on Tuesday is secret. It is between you and the ballot box.
Please vote for me and allow me, with you, the chance to repair the damage that has been done to our party and borough by poor judgment and weak political leadership.
Thank you for reading this, please contact me with any questions you have.
Cllr Mark Shooter