Friday, 27 August 2010

Bring back Question Time!

Not that annoying BBC1/Radio 4 programme, that's never gone away. But Barnet council public questions at Cabinet meetings. Since October 2009 we have been severely limited in what we can raise as topics at these meetings. We are confined to the Cabinet's own agenda, which is often highly technical and is lengthy - we simply don't have the time to read through and see whether our questions would be eligible.

Barnet council, since they changed the rules, have effectively ended Cabinet public questions as a means of residents holding the council to account.

But I have begun some investigations into how we might reverse the rule change to Bring Back Question Time! Watch this space...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Barnet council makes monkeys of residents

I was just about to plough through the Local Development Framework - almost 350 pages - when I realised what monkeys Barnet council is making of me, well, us.

When they changed the rules for public question time at Cabinet meetings last October I knew that it was an assault on the democracy of the borough. But it's only now when I try to play by the new rules that I realise how completely they have destroyed this already measly avenue we have to hold the council to account.

Residents have about a week to plough through whatever documents the Cabinet will discuss - how many Cabinet members will read these documents before they vote on them? They have to do this just to know whether or not the topic they would like to discuss is going to come up at the meeting.

You simply cannot tell from looking at the list of items for the agenda whether your question would be in order or not.

Local Development Framework. Bet you a penny to a pound that you could legitimately raise a question about any one of a dozen topics within this framework, but you won't know unless you read the document, all 350 pages of it.

They might as well have abolished public questions altogether. I'm so scandalised by what they've done that I'm thinking of boycotting it altogether, but I'm taking a twin-track approach: ask a question - not on the Local Development Framework though! - and find out whether we can overturn this dreadful rule. Which rule? The one that says that instead of being able to raise any item of council business, as you could in the past, you have to raise something that is on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting in question.

Watch out for progress reports on Operation Restore Public Question Time.

Barnet council's new relationship with residents: don't ask us any questions

I thought this might happen. Until recently, Barnet residents were able to raise any matter of council business under public questions at a number of council meetings, including the Cabinet, the body that takes all the big decisions. Then the Cabinet got bored of answering our questions - why, as much as 30 minutes of their precious time had to be given over to this part of the agenda!

They changed the rules so that we could only ask questions on a topic that was being discussed at the meeting in question. Since the public had to give eight clear working days' notice of what we wanted to ask the Cabinet, it made it impossible to ask any questions at all, because the agenda for the Cabinet meeting is never available that early.

So they have now changed the deadline. We can ask questions on any topic discussed at the meeting, and must give two clear working days' notice of what we want to ask. You now have till 10am on Thursday 2 September to submit your questions for the 6 September Cabinet c/o

I have only just found out about the deadline change, so I and a number of other people have submitted questions to the Cabinet which we now find cannot be asked. I would love to have a list of those questions - if anyone wants to send me their question, I'll publish them here.

The upshot of it is this - unless it is on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting on 6 September, Barnet residents cannot ask questions about:

- Mr Meakins
- Future Shape/easyCouncil
- councillors' allowances
- Brent Cross
- sheltered housing wardens
- Connaught
- Catalyst
- academies and free schools
- Icelandic banks

Well, you can make your own list of pressing concerns in which Barnet residents have a vital interest. I'm about to look through the agenda of the Cabinet meeting on 6 September (594 pages) to see what we can ask questions about. Hm, what can we do with this little lot, and can I get paid for this?
Report of the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee
5. Recycling and Waste Minimisation
Reports of the Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning & Regeneration (and of the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee in respect of item 6a)
6. Local Development Framework – Core Strategy – Publication Stage
6a Comments of the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee on the LDF Core Strategy
7. Local Development Framework – Development Management Policies
8. Local Development Scheme
Report of the Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships
9 Strategic Library Review
Reports of the Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Families
10. Barnet’s Corporate Parenting Strategy
11. Investment Strategy to meeting demand for Primary School Places
Report of the Leader of the Council
12. Audit Costs relating to the external investigation of the sale of land at Underhill
Report of Acting Democratic Services Officer
13. Referrals from Council

Barnet council haemorrhages another £6 million

Barnet council has partially lost a case against Catalyst Housing Group (I think it was actually Catalyst's case against Barnet). It will probably cost the council - us, in fact - £6 million. There are a few more details here (open the pdf and search for "Catalyst").

Catalyst was the partner of Fremantle, the company that took over the running of Barnet care homes and became notorious for slashing the pay and holidays of its workforce. This was a cause célèbre in the labour movement for a couple of years, and provides an ominous presentiment of what we face with the Future Shape programme.

The failure of another contract between the council and a contractor highlights what the council's own reports say: they are in no fit shape at the moment to handle a landscape of mass contracted out services. And I doubt they will ever be in a fit shape to do that. They shouldn't even try.

The Catalyst saga is another scandal for a council continually giving the Conservative party headaches and harming residents and employees in the pocket time and again.

Please join the campaign to stop the Future Shape madness, and to get rid of this lousy administration!
  • Lobby of the council, Tuesday 14 September, 6pm, Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, NW4 4BG
  • Public meeting, Thursday 23 September, 7-9pm, Emerald Suite, North London Business Park, N11 1GN
More details:

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Posters for the public meeting, 23 September

Barnet UNISON has done a lovely poster for the Barnet Alliance 4 Public Services meeting on Thursday 23 September. Two lovely posters, actually.

Please let people know about this event, as well as the lobby of the full council meeting at Hendon Town Hall on Tuesday 14 September.

We have had a few victories lately, but important as they have been they have been skirmishes compared to what is coming. See the Institute for Fiscal Studies report today showing how regressive the Tory-Lib Dem government budget is.

Fat cat poster.

easyCouncil poster.

Can Trouble Shooter save the wardens? And stop Future Shape? And get money back from Iceland?

Mark Shooter has set out his stall before the Tory group meeting on 7 September that will decide whether he takes over as group leader from Lynne Hillan. In an interview with the Times series, Shooter appears to promise the earth - to the likes of me. Alas, Mark, I don't get a vote.

He seems to say a lot of the right things - if you don't like the Tory council and everything they stand for.

Read the interview here.

In it Shooter says the council:
- screwed up over the Icelandic bank deposits
- should review its plan to scrap sheltered housing wardens
- might be wasting money on the Future Shape scheme where it could make savings through other "efficiencies"
- has a bullying culture.

Has he done himself any favours with this interview? I doubt it. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would think that he is doing work for David Cameron, reassuring Tory voters that the Barnet party has a nice wing as well as the nasty wing represented by Lynne Hillan and Brian Coleman, and that it is still safe to vote Tory! But I'm not a conspiracy theorist...

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Great news: Mr Meakins can stay in his home

Great news broadcast on the Barnet council Facebook page:

Barnet Homes has given a written assurance to Edward Meakins, of Cloister Road, NW2, that he will be able to remain in his current home.

The Chief Executive of Barnet Homes, Tracey Lees, wrote to Mr Meakins yesterday (Monday 23 August).

Barnet Council’s allocation policy stipulates that if a relative (non-spouse or partner) applies for succession to a tenancy and the property is deemed larger than the succeeding tenant requires, then steps may be taken to rehouse them in a smaller home.

Barnet Homes has agreed that this will be waived in Mr Meakins’ case, in light of his age and the length of time he has lived in the property.

The letter repeats Barnet Homes’ preference that Mr Meakins consider moving into a smaller home of his choosing, and so free up the three-bedroom council house for a family in need of this kind of accommodation.

Ms Lees said: “All cases of this kind are very difficult. We have to weigh up our sympathies for the individuals concerned against the number of families who have applied for council housing and are in need of a larger home.

“Given Mr Meakins’ age and the length of time he has lived at his property, we do not feel it right or proper that we should pursue any eviction proceedings against him.

“However, taking into account the intense pressure on council housing in Barnet, we have repeated our offer that Barnet Homes would support a move to a smaller property. Such a move would only take place if Mr Meakins is happy with this property and its location.”

Barnet Homes offers a Fresh Start scheme, whereby tenants are offered up to £4,000 to move to a small property. Around 70 households each year take up this scheme, which helps to ease pressure on council housing in the borough.
"Barnet Homes has agreed that this will be waived in Mr Meakins’ case, in light of his age and the length of time he has lived in the property." I think what Ms Lees meant was "in light of the public disquiet and campaign".

Another victory not for common sense - because Barnet Homes needed to be reminded what that is - but for concerted public action. Now, does this decision set a precedent? How many more Mr Meakins are there out there? We still need to campaign for more council homes so that no more elderly people need to go through an ordeal like this!

Alert: Brent Cross market research scam?

Brent Cross Coalition has published the following alert:
Misleading Market Research Calls?

The "Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan" believes there is possible confusion about phone calls being made to local households this week “about Brent and Barnet”. Some householders have gained the impression that it is "on behalf of Brent and Barnet".

These calls are surveys about the £4.5 billion Brent Cross redevelopment, but Brent and Barnet Councils are not involved (we are suggesting – awaiting replies from both councils).

Anyone might have commissioned the survey through Communicate Research/ICM Direct.

Whoever it is, the calls involve subtly slanted questions*. We are worried that this "survey" will be used - by persons unknown - to mislead the public, if and when the "results" are publicised.

Householders should be warned.

We are asking anyone who can record such a call to contact the Brent Cross Coalition, so we have a transcript. Please ask the caller who they represent, and complain about any questions you think are "slanted" and not neutral.

* Some questions fall blatantly into the category of “motherhood and apple pie”, asking e.g. whether new schools are a good thing, whether it would be desirable to replace an old waste handling facility with a new modern state-of-the-art-facility, etc. etc. Others are more subtle, or simply fail to offer negative options. With such a biased questionnaire design, there is huge scope for misinterpretation of the findings.

We are complaining to the Market Research Society that this survey contradicts Requirement B14: "not to lead the respondent to a particular answer".

Monday, 23 August 2010

Connaught contract shows dangers of Barnet easyCouncil

News that Barnet council is ending its contract with Connaught for repairs to council homes does not come as a surprise. The company is in financial trouble and has been falling behind on repairs. Council tenants hve been paying the price for the difficulties experienced by a private company. And Barnet residents collectively have to bear the difficulties that follow the council ending the contract.

Connaught workers themselves were first transfered to Barnet Homes and then to Connaught when repairs were outsourced. They have been moved from pillar to post. Needless to say, their jobs have only got harder as they have moved further away from direct council employment. Now, at least, they hope to come back closer to inhouse, and be transfered back to Barnet Homes.

The Connaught saga shows the dangers of adopting the easyCouncil outscourcing model. As far as possible, we should keep services provided inhouse, where they can be accountable to Barnet residents, and all the money spent on them goes into providing a good service, not the profits of a private company.

Read the Times series report here.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Mike Freer backs Hillan - maybe - and Meakins - definitely

A man of few words, on the Finchley and Golders Green Conservatives website, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, acknowledges the u-turn over allowances by Barnet council leader Lynne Hillan:
"The decision to rethink Councillor Allowances shows a mature Leader who listens to concerns. I am delighted that the new scheme will save taxpayers over £90,000 a year."
Perhaps he is giving a steer to his fans among Barnet Conservative councillors to support Hillan in her upcoming ding-dong, knock-down, drag-out fight with Mark Shooter.

He also backs Edward Meakins against Barnet Homes over the question of whether Mr Meakins should be kicked out of his home of 74 years:
Mike has contacted Barnet Homes about Edward Meakin's case

He said, "I have written to Barnet Homes asking them to reconsider their decision. I am aware that there is a shortage of family homes in the area but because of the exceptional circumstances their policy should be overruled on compassionate grounds."

Times series' irritating audio adverts

Every time you click on the Times newspaper series website at the moment there is an irritating audio advert - for a prep school, what is more!

Sometimes people have good reasons for not wanting some sound suddenly blurting unbidden out of their computer - sleeping babies, eg.

Times series, please drop this kind of advertising.

Advertising is so obtrusive, we are often not consulted on what we will wear and what we won't. For example, the video adverts projected onto the side of the Tube tunnel - to avoid watching them, you have to look at your shoes. Or the boring video adverts that hem you in as you go up some escalators. To avoid looking at them, you have to narrow down your field of vision in a most unnatural way - staring at the people travelling down the other side!

With adverts on television, at least you have the option of switching over or leaving the room - here we are a captive audience and have no such choice. To all those that sell advertising, before you invent "new and innovative" ways for people to flog us goods and services, why don't you find out what the involuntary consumers of advertising think of it all?

The commercialisation of public - and now private - space has got out of hand. Times series, plesae don't add to it.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A tale of two leadership contests

The tension is mounting here in Barnet as Tory group and council leader Lynne Hillan prepares to go head-to-head with Mark Shooter. This bout is scheduled for Tuesday 7 September, at an undisclosed location (well, I don't know where it's happening).

The odds are shortening on Hillan (I can't remember how I know, but I know!). She has done enough, backing down over Allowancegate, and she has enough cronies about her to see off the challenge from the plutocratic whippersnapper. But her career has almost certainly been shortened by this episode, and Shooter might make a name for himself and go on to greater things. (Or he might just be a nice, ineffectual posh boy who... goes on to greater things cf Matthew Offord.)

I forget why I started this blogpost... oh, yeah! The other party...

The other one, no, not the one that's being led by the nose by David Cameron's Tories. The one that ran the country (ha!) until a few months ago. The Labour Party.

Of course, the Labour Party have their own rather less interesting leadership contest going on, for leader of the party nationally, the man (or woman!) who would be PM.

Hendon Constituency Labour Party is endorsing Ed Miliband in this contest. It's only an endorsement and is not binding on anyone's votes. Members of the Labour Party and affiliated trade unions and Labour MPs will all have an individual vote - they'll just be weighted outrageously heavily in favour of MPs. Ain't democracy grand?!

Predictably, I (yes, I get a vote!) am going to vote for Diane Abbott, the most left-wing candidate (I'm not sure she actually qualifies as left). I think the worst of the candidates I have seen is Ed Balls. He gave the most creepy and inept performance in the "Newsnight" debate a few weeks back; he has been the most willing to tap into xenophobia; and I saw him in action at the teachers' unions' lobby of Parliament against the axing of Building Schools for the Future. (Ridiculous pic below of Balls trying to look noble next to a dishy blonde.)

Ad Miliband (I call him that because he sounds adenoidal) will be answering questions at an event organised by Hendon CLP this Sunday. I'll miss it, as I will be stuck in motorway traffic heading back into London from Milton Keynes (see previous blogpost) - hmm, not such a bad idea going there, after all.

In spite of the strong challenge by his younger brother, I predict David Miliband will win ultimately. But is anyone watching?

Here's that pic of Ed "Queen Bee" Balls I promised you:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Milton Keynes, here I come! Plus dates for your diary

I'm off on my hols tomorrow - two days in Milton Keynes (don't ask). As I'll probably be too busy - moping around thecentre:mk or getting lost in the Milton Keynes grid road system - to write any blogposts I thought I'd offer you some diary dates to think about.

Wednesday 25 August, 10am: deadline for submitting public questions for the next Barnet council cabinet meeting. Email questions to

Saturday 4, 11 and 18 September: community stalls in Burnt Oak, Finchley and High Barnet. Email for details.

Monday 6 September: Barnet council cabinet meeting, 7pm, Hendon Town Hall. Come and hear the public questions and see, possibly, Lynne Hillan's last performance as Barnet council leader, because...

Tuesday 7 September: Tory group meeting - secret location - Lynne Hillan vs. Mark Shooter (blow-by-blow accounts available, hopefully, on Barnet Bugle blog).

Wednesday 8 September: Barnet TUC meeting, 7-9pm, venue to be confirmed.

Tuesday 14 September: lobby of Barnet council against cuts, privatisation, loss of BSF money, Barnet Homes' treatment of Mr Meakins, senior councillors' allowance hike. 6-7pm, Hendon Town Hall, the Burroughs, NW4 4BG. More details:

Thursday 23 September: public meeting against cuts and privatisation, 7pm, Emerald Suite, North London Business Park, NW11 1GN.

Barnet council should appeal over Building Schools for the Future money

Barnet Unison write about the loss of Building Schools for the Future money:

Ravenscroft School – an outstanding school

Ravenscroft was one of six schools which were due for improvements under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. The other Barnet Schools are Bishop Douglass RC, Copthall, Oak Lodge, St Mary’s CE High, The Pavilion.

The reason given for the projects to be scrapped by Education Secretary Michael Gove was: “The whole way we build schools needs radical reform.”

Barnet Schools were not the only schools to receive this bad news. However, some councils responded differently. What was Barnet Council’s response?

Councillor Andrew Harper, Barnet Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for education, children and families, said: “Of course it is disappointing that the funding earmarked to improve six Barnet schools will not be available, but we knew this day was coming.”

Some Councils decided that there was a need to fight this decision.

· Sandwell Council in the West Midlands has already appointed lawyers in a bid to retrieve funding worth £200m.

· Nottingham City Council and Bradford Metropolitan District Council are also considering legal action.

Sign our petition asking Barnet to appeal the decision to withdraw funding from Ravenscroft and the other five Barnet Schools.

To obtain a copy of the petition email or telephone UNISON office 020 8359 2088.


Vicki comments: unlikely as it might seem, given their track record in the last few weeks, Barnet Tory administration seem in this case to be doing everything they can to help the central government. They don't want to embarass Cameron and Gove for knocking BSF on the head! What about the interests of Barnet residents, parents, students and education staff? Was it not at least worth an appeal?!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Join Ted (Edward) Meakins' official Facebook group, and challenge Barnet Homes' callousness

There are a number of Facebook groups supporting Edward Meakins' campaign to stay in his home. Please join this one, organised by Mr Meakins' great-niece Sharon Keep:!/group.php?gid=140220136014801&ref=ts
This looks like another campaign that we can win, since the press coverage is massive (even if the content is not always that great), and Barnet Tory group needs bad publicity like it needs a hole in the head right now.

Just when they thought Allowancegate had died down, another front opens up against Lynne Hillan. And Barnet Homes. Let's not forget that the true villain of the piece here is Barnet Homes, the arms-length company to which Barnet's council housing has been transferred. Arms-length companies - in case you didn't know, they are Barnet Tories' preferred option for running Barnet easyCouncil...

The contact page for Barnet Homes is here. There is no general email address given for enquiries, unfortunately. Councillor Helena Hart is the Conservative councillor on the Barnet Homes board. I suggest you contact her with any views on Barnet Homes' treatment of Mr Meakins - contact details here.

Support Edward Meakins! Build more council homes!

The first injunction "Support Edward Meakins!" is addressed to Barnet residents. You can read the story of how Barnet Homes wants to move Mr Meakins to a flat, so that they can give his house to a family, in the Times series here. Mr Meakins, 83, has lived in his house in Cricklewood, with his family, since he was a boy, and a move would, let's face it, not be good for his health.

It's up to Mr Meakins and his family what they want to do about this situation in the spring, when he is expected to move, but I would urge all Barnet residents to pledge to do what they can and what is necessary to support Mr Meakins should he simply refuse to budge.

The second injunction is to councils and the government, to the political classes as a whole, if you like - because Labour failed dismally when they were in power to do what is needed - build more council homes!

What kind of weird world do we live in when an Orwellianism such as "affordable homes" has become an everyday part of the language? What the hell other type of home should there be? Do we not all need a secure roof over our heads?

As for the report in the Daily Express today, using Mr Meakins' story to put the boot into benefit claimants... The family of 12 they lambast don't even live in Barnet - the Express has just spliced two completely different stories together in order to make an objectionable political point.

If the Express actually gave a shit about old people they would be clamouring for the government to build AFFORDABLE (there, I said it) homes for everyone. It's only in conditions of such scarcity that we end up fighting like starving dogs over the scraps. The disgusting thing about the situation is that the scarcity is entirely artificial and man-made.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Lynne Hillan's brass neck

"Cllr Hillan said her announcement today was a direct result of her 'listening' to colleagues and residents. She did not mention Cllr Shooter's leadership challenge."

Lean on me... but not too hard

The London Daily News, a bizarre "news" website which spins Barnet council stories in favour of the Tory regime, has a lovely take on Lynne Hillan's "spectacular U-turn" (Times series) over councillors' allowances.

The LDN headline (no, they don't employ a subeditor) is:
Hillan "overall cut to the budget for member’s allowances of around £95,000."
And there's a truly cringe-making picture of Lynne Hillan literally leaning on Mike Freer, her forerunner as Barnet council leader, now MP for Finchley and Golders Green. In fact, Mike Freer has not been very supportive of Hillan throughout this whole episode.

I don't know how old this picture is. Lynne looks happy, perhaps as she tries to shore up her political career. To judge by the disgusted look on Freer's face, it could have been taken about five minutes ago.

Senior Barnet Cabinet members face destitution

When Lynne Hillan and her Tory group pushed through the changes to councillors' allowances that saw senior Cabinet members getting massive rises (you mean Allowancegate - Ed) there was uproar among the people of Barnet.

Defending her corner in an interview with the Barnet Press, Hillan said:
"The new system only allows for one allowance, and doesn’t mean a councillor suddenly loses or gains more money overnight – councillors have mortgages to pay and families to keep as well."
Now that Hillan has been forced to back down on the changes, the prospect therefore looms of senior Cabinet members becoming destitute. Have a heart! It behoves us all to show generosity at a time like this.

If you see an indigent Lynne Hillan or Brian Coleman round your way, slip them a fiver, check in the larder and see whether you haven't a Fortnum and Mason hamper going begging.

(It ill becomes me, this sarcasm, but I think you get my drift! Congratulations to Rog T on getting the scoop. What shall we win next?)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Two Jags and the posh git

John "Two Jags" Prescott; Brian "Many Taxis" Coleman: you'll only spot the difference when they open their mouths.

I'm speculating as to why might be a particularly good time for David Cameron to pull strings and see Brian Coleman gets the push. Of course, Coleman has his fingers in so many pies, it will be hard to extricate him from all of them. I'm sure he won't go quietly - there will be gravy on the floor before he leaves!

But now might be an opportune moment, before he can cock up a really big issue. I'm talking, of course, about something like... the dispute with the London firefighters.

The last time that the Government was in dispute with firefighters, Labour was able to deploy John "Two Jags but I've a Hull accent and still maintain I'm working class" Prescott against the FBU. Prescott was the Deputy Prime Minister, in charge of negotiations, and always happy to explain why the firefighters didn't deserve an average salary of £30,000. (I don't know what Prescott was on at the time, but he was doing pretty well for himself.)

For all his working class credentials, however, he was unable to impress the firefighters. The chatroom air was blue whenever anyone mentioned Prescott's name. In fact, he was almost as unpopular as the then general secretary of the union, Andy Gilchrist.

Jump to 2010. Who, basically, is in charge of the London Fire Brigade, and behind the scenes of the "negotiations" with the FBU? Brian Coleman. In many ways, he is the spitting image of Prescott, who clearly likes his dinners almost as much as Coleman. But there are some obvious differences (just a few!). Coleman does not have a trade union background; he is not now and never has been a member of the working class, as is evidenced, among other things, by his plummy accent.

He is personally arrogant in a way Prescott is not; and he clearly hates, just hates, the FBU. With Prescott you never got the sense that any of it was personal or even ideological; he just had to face down the union, or Labour's business-friendly image would be tarnished.

Prescott had several factors on his side in the dispute with the FBU; Coleman has practically none. Firefighters already despise him. Anything he says or does in a dispute with the FBU is only going to inflame (ahem) the situation. If Prescott got the firefighters' goat, how much worse are Coleman's pronouncements going to sound to firefighters' ears in an all-out battle?

If, like me, you witnessed the astonishing support the firefighters had during their, in fact, fairly short campaign in 2002-3, you would realise that a full-blown dispute with them is something the Tories will want to AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE! Braziers on the forecourts of London's firestations as winter approaches? With the Tories trying to push through enormous cuts, and impose a pay freeze (or, as it was known in the 1970s, "wage restraint") on public sector workers. That would have to be the Tory-Lib Dems' absolute worst nightmare.

So, I'm sorry Brian, I think your days really are numbered.

Cutting into healthy tissue

I have started compiling a list of cuts in Barnet that result from the Tory-Lib Dem war on public services. If you have any things to add, please email some details to Thank you.

In the meantime, the Independent has made a sample list of 100 cuts from around the country, just to give a sense of the sorts of valuable things that are falling victim to the government's vandalism.

Read this list and wonder what on earth is going on. Here is the introduction:
Coalition: 100 days. 100 cuts

David Cameron and Nick Clegg may be [there's no maybe about it, they are] smiling their way around Westminster but across the country things are already looking gloomy. As the coalition marks its first 100 days on Thursday, Matt Chorley and Brian Brady list 100 cuts, large and small, which are already biting. Some are the result of George Osborne's £6.2bn 'emergency savings', others have been applied by cash-strapped town halls and health trusts already deep in debt. And, ahead of the October spending review, one senior minister warns: 'This is only the start – you ain't seen nothing yet.'

Saturday, 14 August 2010

A walk up a hill, a poem, a plate of pasta

I don't do sport but I am turning into someone that walks everywhere. In fact, the distances I cover are not that great, but it is very satisfying to stand in north London, look at the distant Telecom Tower and know that you will be there in a couple of hours and that you will have got there under your own steam. I'm not boasting about it, mind you. I'm recommending it as a leisure activity!

One of the best walks is from one of the Northern Line Edgware branch stations to another one further along the line. Today I walked from Camden to Golders Green. It's slightly uphill... all the way to Hampstead Heath. At Hampstead Heath you have the reward of sitting at the top on one of the benches by the remodelled pond. The second part of the reward is when you drop down into Golders Green and can stuff your face in one of the cafes or restaurants. My new favourite, after just one visit, is Charlie's.

But first, a poem. I think it's autumn. I start saying it's getting autumnal in June usually, but now I think it really is autumn. Sitting on a bench at the top of the Heath this evening, watching the mist forming in the hollows, smelling the slightly mouldering vegetation, I thought, it's definitely autumn.

Ah! What's that Keats poem? "To Autumn".
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Keats is not my favourite poet, but who am I to judge? He's written a nice autumn poem there... actually, he's written a nice autumn poem here, because, of course, Keats lived in Hampstead! He probably sat not far from where I was sitting this evening when he composed those lines. That really makes them all the sweeter.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Shooter to replace Hillan? So what!

That headline will seem rather rude to those people who've taken the trouble to fill me in on some of the background to this story - Mark Shooter to challenge Lynne Hillan for leadership of Barnet council Conservative group.

But it's a political stance, rather than a personal opinion. Of course, it's great fun to see the Tories ripping themselves apart just because David Cameron can't be doing with the PR disaster that is Lynne Hillan (or does he have bigger beasts in his sights?).

But, at the end of the day, will Barnet be spared any cuts with smoothie Mark Shooter in the leader's swivel chair? Is he going to stop Future Shape privatisation?

From the Tories' point of view, can Shooter revive the Tories' reputation in Barnet? I doubt it, frankly. The whole government and, by extension, Barnet council strategy stinks. We don't need public service cuts, we need more public services! We don't need privatisation, services run like businesses for profit by bosses out to screw their workforces! We need democratically accountable public services, that treat their employees like an asset.

If Barnet Tories (and the people that vote for them) can't grasp that, no shuffling of the pack in the Barnet Conservative group is going to change anything fundamental.

But if I haven't put you off yet, and you are determined to know more about Shooter's motivations (and chances), you can read the details on Dan Hope's Barnet Bugle blog - any time now, I would think!

P.S. As an amusing aside, Hendon Conservatives website informs us that Shooter teaches "Enrichment" classes at a local school. I trust he won't be looking to enrich himself in his new post.

Gone... cuts in Barnet

I am compiling a list of cuts in Barnet due to the Tory-Lib Dem government. It won't be comprehensive - there are just too many cuts to keep up with! But it should indicate what we are losing as a community because of the skewed priorities of the government.

If you have any cuts to add to the list, please email some details to Thank you.


P.S. Here's the list so far:
- Building Schools for the Future projects
- grants to voluntary bodies including East Finchley Advice Service and East Finchley Neighbourhood Contact (merged with Age Concern Barnet)
- Henlys Corner improvement plan under review
- Stonegrove Playscheme

Government gunning for London's firefighters

This story has been lurking about in the background for a while. Now, in an attempt to impose shift changes, London Fire Authority, which employs London's 5,000 firefighters, has given them 90 days' notice of termination of contract. According to this Morning Star report:
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson wrote to the government and Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leader Matt Wrack to tell them the authority was opening consultation on "terminating the contracts of these staff and offering to re-engage them on new contracts of employment."

...London FBU executive council member Ian Leahair said members will be balloted for action short of strike immediately, with the possibility of a city-wide strike at the end of October if the authority does not rescind its threat.

During the last major firefighters' dispute in 2002-3, the strikers were covered by soldiers using the ageing Green Goddess appliances, which have since been retired.

But this time, Mr Leahair said, the authority planned to call on privateer Assetco - which leases fire engines to the London Fire Brigade - to "roll out the red fire engines" crewed by a "dad's army of retained firefighters and security contractors" given only three weeks' training.
We know who has been dining at the expense of AssetCo, don't we? Our own Brian Coleman, chair and leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). Tory Troll blogger Adam Bienkov has drawn together the threads of this story.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Do YOU trust the private sector? Or, the Astonishing story of Princess Park Manor's illegal East Wing

There's an astonishing story here of a property developer, Comer Group, completely flouting planning permission, to put 83 flats into an old building when it said it would put 64 in. And getting away with it, eventually, after a long, legal battle with Barnet council, and on pain of making a pay-off of £4 million - "towards affordable homes", the headline on the article says.

It really makes you despise the private sector, who are, after all, in most things only for the money and not for the good they might do.

The inhabitants who have been trying to enjoy their "luxury" rabbit hutches for the past few years while the development was in legal limbo - all but one of them - finally come out of the affair unscathed, at least.

P.S. I think the offending development is featured here on the front page of the Comer Homes website!

P.P.S. They're not short of a bob or two, are Brian and Luke Comer, who set up Comer Group. They were 1,203 on the Sunday Times rich list in 2009.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Barnet cuts will affect us all - protest 14 September

One can already, just a few months into the Tory-Lib Dem government, compile a list of the cuts affecting ordinary Barnet people. There will be many more in the months and years to come.

Today someone sent the trades council an email about their local park keeper service - it is going to be cut from one full-time park keeper (who has won awards for their work) to a team visiting once a week. The person that wrote said they were worried that the park would be taken over by "yobs", and go downhill. They also drew a direct connection between the priorities of Barnet council leaders - increasing their allowances - and this cut.

What else is falling victim to the cuts in Barnet?
- Building Schools for the Future: Bishop Douglas RC, Copthall, Oak Lodge, St Mary's CE High, The Pavillion and The Ravenscroft all lost the funding for rebuilding
- grants to voluntary bodies including East Finchley Advice Service and East Finchley Neighbourhood Contact (merged with Age Concern Barnet)
- Henlys Corner improvement plan under review

These disparate issues need to be drawn together. The Allowancegate scandal is a galvanising focus for the anger around the different cuts. The Times series reports today on Barnet unions' calculations of how many frontline staff the councillors' allowance rise could fund.

And former (Tory!) councillor Dan Hope's "Barnet Declaration" is gathering support, alongside the many petitions that have been started.

There is a full council meeting scheduled on Tuesday 14 September at Hendon Town Hall. The public can go and watch proceedings from 7pm, the trades council is also organising a lobby outside from 6pm. Come and let Barnet's council know what you think of Allowancegate and the cuts. Allowancegate: they think it's going to go away, but it's never going to go away.

Support the Tubeworkers to support your Tube service

So the RMT Tube workers have voted for strike action against job losses - 800 planned across the network, particularly affecting ticket offices and leading to many closures.

As a friend of mine said to me last night, prepare for a wave of anti-Tubeworker bigotry in the press. The point lost on papers such as the Evening Standard is that fewer Tubeworkers means a worse service. When Tubeworkers go on strike to defend their jobs, they should have the support of the public.

If the public were to contact TfL or their local MPs, or the Mayor of London, or the government to protest against the planned job cuts, perhaps they would not go ahead. Perhaps the government would find other ways to save money, and preserve the service.

It's a service that the whole of London, business particularly, benefits from. Why can't we unite to make it better? Answer: we can.

To find out some more background, and hear the Tubeworkers' case, visit the Staff Our Stations website of the RMT union, and prepare to back the Tubeworkers. The RMT - it's not just Bob Crow, you know (although it is partly Bob Crow!).

Friday, 6 August 2010

I hope you like meetings... and lobbies!

As Barnet council's Future Shape/easyCouncil agenda proceeds, there is a plethora of meetings this summer and autumn that the concerned public might like to attend. The trades council, council unions, and disgruntled residents of all stripes will be organising lobbies before each one.

We don't have much say in what goes on in Barnet, but by congregating on the grass (not on the flower beds, please) in front of Hendon Town Hall, as the councillors hotfoot it into the building for their meetings, we can show that we are watching, and care about the decisions they make.

Next Wednesday 11 August is the next meeting of the council's FUTURE SHAPE OVERVIEW & SCRUTINY PANEL. The meeting starts at 7pm, there will be a lobby from 6pm. The public can attend the meeting, but we are likely to be kicked out when the real meat and potatoes business is discussed. According to the relevant page on the council website, these are the items we mustn't be around to hear about:
X1 - Development and Public Health Services
X2 - Adult Social Services
The motion to exempt press and public will be on the grounds that these matters, in the case of X1, include
Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations matter arising between the authority or a Minster of the Crown and employees of, or office holders under, the authority.
And in the case of X2 just
Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
These categories for exemption strike me as pretty broad! Never mind that one of Future Shape's three overarching aims is "A new relationship with citizens". The novelty clearly doesn't extend to letting us in on the secrets of what they have planned for our council services. After all, as Barnet's Tory administration reminds us pretty often, we aren't interested in such things as who delivers council services.

Even when we patently are.

The papers for the meeting - those that we are allowed to see - are available here. See you on the barricades, sorry, on the lawn in front of Hendon Town Hall.

As an aside, it will be interesting to see whether Kate Salinger is allowed to attend as one of the Tories' members of the panel - she was appointed by them to this post when it was set up.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Firefighter - ladder - window cleaner - bingo!

During the firefighters' dispute of 2002-3 I used to follow the thinking of the rank and file FBU members on their "30k" website (£30,000 was what firefighters were fighting for as an average wage). Firefighters resented the fact that improvements in fire safety meant a bit less work for firefighters meant politicians and management scratching their heads trying to think up other things for firefighters to do.

Typical management mentality, in short, ranking alongside such abominations as hot-desking and just-in-time production.

In short, as soon as the job had got a bit less stressful, fire chiefs would try to re-introduce a bit more stress. I'm reminded of that in this clip featuring David Cameron, telling a firefighter that he wants the current cuts to be "sustainable". Painful, yes, but, were national finances to improve, not such that what had been cut could be restored!

This really gives the game away as to what these "inevitable" cuts are actually largely about: ratcheting down public sector workers' pay and conditions of work. Permanently. Sorry, sustainably.

In the clip, Cameron describes a visit he made to firefighters in Liverpool who, reading between the lines, are being made by their fire chief to do other things besides put out fires - in this case, bid (do what?) to deliver council services. The mind boggles. What sort of services? I can imagine the Local Strategic Partnership in Liverpool calling in the fire chief and asking what secondary uses his staff might put their hoses, ropes and ladders to.

I bet Liverpool firefighters are over the moon.

(Thanks to an anonymous friend for tipping us off about the clip.)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Eric Pickles or Barnet Conservative group? There's only one way to find out...

The Times series has caught up with Barnet councillors Kate and Brian Salinger after they were invited to tea by Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government. This happened a few days ago; the invitation was meant to signal the Tory government's displeasure with Barnet Tories.

Kate Salinger, you will remember, was stripped of her council responsibilities by the Barnet Tory group after she abstained in a vote that raised the allowances for the council leader and cabinet members.

Brian Salinger was absent the night the vote was taken, but has aid he would have abstained as well. Read the Times article here and admire the pic.

I wouldn't enjoy tea with Eric Pickles, in fact, I think I'd choke on my fishpaste and cucumber sandwiches, but it certainly is interesting to see the upset in the Tory party over Barnet's tendency to go its own way.

Until recently, Barnet was enjoying a reputation as a trailblazer in local government circles (undeserved, I think), but under Lynne Hillan and Brian Coleman it is now blazing trails to places the government doesn't want to be seen going.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Barnet Public Services Alliance launch, Thursday 23 September - and why we need it

Last post for today, on a busy news day in Barnet. This only reflects the quickening pace of the cuts, privatisations, fake consultations, etc, that are going on, and that's just in our little London borough.

This story, again culled from the Times series, is about the cuts in pay and conditions of the Street Scene Department. This is basically the blokes (mostly) who clean the streets and do the dirty jobs that others would rather not do.

They are angry at the cuts that are being threatened to their pay, particularly in the light of the rise Tory councillors have voted for senior councillors' allowances, and they are muttering darkly about strike action. (This is not just rhetoric: staff in LB Barnet really are miffed at what they see as councillors' hypocrisy.)

Read the story here.

This only makes me all the more happy to tell you of the public launch meeting of the Barnet Public Services Alliance. This is an anti-cuts, anti-privatisation campaign for residents and workers in Barnet. The meeting is on Thursday 23 September, from 7.30pm at the Emerald Suite, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, N11 1GN.

We are lining up guest speakers now, but the main business of the evening will be to share ideas for concrete campaigning. For more information please email We will have street stalls around the borough on Saturdays 4, 11 and 18 September to build for this.

There is a statement to sign, which reflects the core positions of the trades council. If you or your organisation or campaign would like to sign, please email We would like to publicise the names of those who have signed, so please get in touch if you are happy to go public!

You don't have to agree with the full statement in order to attend the meeting or get involved with the Alliance. We hope we can provide a meeting point for disparate groups and views.


We champion democratically accountable, high quality public services. We reject the idea that public services should be cut in order to bail out the banks.

We reject Barnet council’s plans for mass outsourcing of its services – no to easyCouncil!

We oppose privatisation and cuts to public services, whether NHS, education, or local authority, and will resist them.

We oppose free schools and the extension of academies.

We demand that Barnet council reverses its recent decision to pay the council leader and cabinet members higher allowances.

Consultation on Barnet's plans to cut the housing waiting list by, well, cutting the housing waiting list

Barnet's Labour group is urging Barnet residents to have their say on the council's plans to change the way council housing is allocated in Barnet - and to reject them.

There is an article about it here in the Times series; the consultation can be accessed here.

The council's plans, according to its website, are:

To replace the existing points system with a banding system that prioritises people in high need but also recognises the valuable contribution that people who are working or volunteering make to their local community

To replace bidding with a system called assisted choice where staff help those in housing need choose a property that meets their needs from those that are available

To close our open housing waiting list so that we no longer accept applications from people who are not in high housing need who would have little or no chance of being rehoused by the council.
The comments I would offer are: it sounds like they only want "good citizens" in future - just what sort of things do people have to offer to get on the list? And saying that someone has "little or no chance of being rehoused by the council" is not the same as saying that they do not need council accommodation!

Barnet should set out to make more accommodation available, rather than shifting the goalposts.

The consultation ends on 15 October.

All in this together? Then support your LEA!

A prospective Ravenscroft parent has written to its headmaster, explaining why he opposes the school going for academy status.

You can read the letter here on the website of Barnet Anti Academies Alliance.

Kali vs. Ken: the London contest I would really like to see

I can't get excited about the prospect of Ken Livingstone being the Labour candidate for London mayor. There's so much not to like! I don't believe Oona King will beat him; moreover, I don't think she deserves to. What an uninspiring field London Labour Party members have to choose from.

For a few days I thought about whether there was someone more inspiring that the Labour left could put up but I thought about it too late, and if the person I did think of hadn't thought of it by themselves by then, my last-ditch prompting wasn't going to sway them! So Ken it is...

I have been enjoying "Mongrels" recently on BBC3 (actually, on BBC iPlayer). It's my ideal "comedy": extremely dark with lots of toilet humour and cute animals. Real cute animals, with bites taken out of their ears and tattered feathers.

She wasn't my favourite character at first, but Kali the vengeful pigeon has grown on me. She wants to avenge all pigeonkind against the wrongdoer man (even though man has given the rock pigeon a plentiful supply of places to roost and plenty of crappy food to eat).

I would think Ken Livingstone an ideal symbolic first target for Kali, if she ever gets her bird-brained scheme off the ground. "I would like to see that, I would really like to see that."