Tuesday, 15 February 2011


My cheeks are burning, I am a shy person but I behaved uncharacteristically badly on Monday evening, heckling the Barnet council cabinet meeting.

It was just intolerable sitting there spectating, while the Tory cabinet droned and intoned their way through 600pp worth of business, all of it bad news. £54.4 million cuts which, she tells us, it pains council leader Lynne Hillan to inflict on us - but she and her cabinet still manage to find justifications and excuses for every last measure.

So putting up charges for social services - cutting social services - is repackaged as 'fairer charging'; abolishing the youth service is 'freeing up volunteers from bureaucracy so that they can get more involved in providing positive activities... for the young people of Barnet'; and so on.

There were many different groups there representing people using services which are suffering direct cuts or rises in charges. They included a large and lively contingent of children, parents and staff from the schools that are having their crossing patrols cut; and the residents who are being forced to pay much more for having the temerity to live in a Controlled Parking Zone and own a car - or be visited by someone in a car, such as a volunteer befriender coming to check on an elderly person, perhaps.

At the end of the evening, I think, Yvonne Hossack, the lawyer for many sheltered housing residents in Barnet, was planning to serve papers on the council legally challenging Barnet's second attempt to remove the sheltered housing wardens.

I left the meeting quite late on as Daniel Thomas, Cabinet member for Resources and Performance, was toiling through his preamble to the budget plans proper, on why the cuts are necessary. On my way out I toyed with the idea of smoking a cigarette in the ladies' loo to trigger the fire alarm and thus, potentially, delay the fateful decision to another day - but I don't smoke. The Cabinet was going to pass its cuts budget.

That isn't the end of the story. The budget will be ratified at the council meeting on Tuesday 1 March. Anti-cuts protesters will have a lobby outside Hendon Town Hall from 6pm.

I am already ideologically opposed to Barnet's Tories, but, above and beyond that, seeing them in action always reveals one or two purely distasteful moments. The first tonight was when Andrew Harper detailed how £1 million saving would be achieved by charging more disabled Barnet residents for the social services they need to lead decent lives. Basically, taking £1 million away from vulnerable people. The second was the way the cabinet ganged up to grill Gillian Gear, who is the archivist at Barnet Museum and has volunteered there for 30 years.

Dr Gear is the sort of person that, two or three years ago, Tory councillors would have liked to shake hands with, maybe, posing for a snap in the local paper, while they extolled the virtues of volunteering and keeping open a valued cultural feature of a successful suburb.

Tonight, the political demands of the time have changed, and so they set out to humiliate and belittle Dr Gear. How many hours is the museum open? asked Brian Coleman, in a tone that implied that the volunteers who run the museum were not giving a very good service (actually, it is quite likely that the council just wants to sell the building). Why, asked Andrew Harper, trying to be hard-nosed but just making himself look deeply unpleasant, should all Barnet residents pay to keep the museum open?

Why, Mr Harper? Well, because we are a civilised people who value knowing something of our history, where we came from. I didn't always behave in a very civilised fashion yesterday evening, but I do understand that a country that closes its museums is a civilisation in decay. Barnet's Tories don't seem to have clocked that.

More information: Barnet Museum, currently battling for its life; and Church Farmhouse Museum, similiarly imperilled.

P.S. It's only right to acknowledge that the staff of the council's governance and democracy department did a great job preparing for this meeting and working to keep it on track. Sorry we were such a pain.


Rog T said...


Put it this way. I believe that respect is earned. With their behaviour, Barnet's Conservatives have earned the opposite. They treat people like s**t so they are reaping the whirlwind they have sown.

My supplimentary question was "Are the cabinet stupid, or do they think the people of Barnet are". Hillans response "Well the people around this table are not stupid"

Says it all really. She could have said "I think neither are stupid" but she gave away her true feelings

Mrs Angry said...

... she was very naughty, readers, I can vouch for that - but who could blame anyone for being enraged by last night's performance? Un be feckin lievable.

Moaneybat said...

"The first tonight was when Andrew Harper detailed how £1 million saving would be achieved by charging more disabled Barnet residents for the social services they need to lead decent lives."

Harper should begin with me I'd could save him a few quid, I get naff all help anyway, so Harper Barnet and anybody out there supposedly providing me with clinical care, all could do me a favour -- a one way ticket to Zurich clinic or cheaper still give me the Nembutal.

Good Luck and keep up the good fight

David Duff said...

That Andrew Harper, I like the cut of his jib; or do I mean, I like the jib of his cuts? I don't know but I think I should be told!

And, Rog, well done, old fruit, what an incisive question you asked. You really can speak as well as you write!

Rog T said...

David Duff likes the cut of Andrew Harpers jib. Turds on the heather, stick together