The think tank Localis has published a paper by Cllr Richard Cornelius, the leader of Barnet Council, on his council’s decision to go adopt the commissioning model. It says it allows “the capability and flexibility to respond to the challenges ahead.”

Cllr Cornelius adds:

“Our approach is already paying dividends, by allowing us to cut Council Tax bills to all residents next year.”

Barnet’s appraoch is delivering cumulative savings of £275m over ten years – thus allowing frontline services to be maintained. The response of the Labour Party has been to attack it without offering a credible alternative of where they would find savings. A time wasting Judicial Review delayed the process by a few months thus wasting Council Taxpayers money on lawyers and delaying progress in making the savings.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, is much taken with the approach. Mr Maude says:

“Every part of the public sector has to adapt to tough economic times. For local government, the challenge of providing services on reduced budgets means taking a fresh look at service delivery and finding imaginative ways of delivering more for less. But we know that the voluntary sector, SMEs and mutual or joint ventures offer the chance to drive up productivity everywhere.

“Barnet is rising to the challenge by becoming a Commissioning Council. Instead of delivering all services directly, it is working with a range of service providers in the public and private sectors, and involving communities in the design and delivery of services. This is the sort of flexible, innovative approach that is needed to produce better value for money and better outcomes for citizens.”

Capita are being used for customer and back office services – to save £125.4m over ten years. The service for adults with learning disabilities is being provided by a local authority trading company – that has reduced overheads and provided greater choice and control to service users.

There are shared service arrangements with the London Borough of Harrow for public health and legal services. A charitable trust to provide music services to schools.

The approach is not just about saving money but adapting to provide what local residents want. Transparency is important as a way of involving residents. The two major contracts with Capita were published online with minimal redactions. Cllr Cornelius adds:

“Providing data about spend on services, as well as their effectiveness, should empower community organisations and others in the market to consider how they might take on the running of certain services at lower cost.”

Between 2012 and 2013 resident satisfaction with how Barnet Council runs things increased by 11 per cent to 74 per cent overall, and the number of residents who feel the council is doing a good job increased by 5 per cent to 77 per cent. Of course, the verdict that counts will be the one delivered in the polling stations on May 22nd. The Labour Party have made Barnet one of their targets. UKIP will doubtless help them along. Although these are local elections some will vote on national issues. The council has made mistakes – for instance a short lived proposal to hike councillor allowances.

Still, Cllr Cornelius has shown that he and his colleagues deserve to win because they are taking the borough in the right direction. That is not a bad starting point for their campaign.