“We have to bear in mind that Barnet remains part of one of the world’s great cultural capitals and we’re fortunate to have a rich variety of arts provision, much of it free, just half an hour or so away on the Tube."At the time what struck me about this statement was only the philistinism: he doesn't much care about keeping art and cultural activities in Barnet, in any case, he doesn't see it as part of the council's job to promote arts and culture in the borough.
But as I sat on the lush, springy turf of Golders Hill Park, licking an ice cream and wondering what to visit first, the flower gardens, the butterfly house or the zoo, a second aspect of this statement struck me, more egregious than the first.
Golders Hill Park is one of the nicest parks in London and the citizens of Barnet are extremely lucky to have it on their doorstep. The point to note, though, is that it belongs to and is maintained by the Corporation of London. The wonderful Hampstead Heath, which Barnet citizens can and do use, is not owned or maintained by Barnet either. If you want a lively night out you go to Camden or into the West End. Etc. Who picks up the tab? Someone else. Not just someone else: in part, the ordinary residents of other boroughs.
Other boroughs mow the lawns, empty the bins, let out the refreshment stands, and, in the case of Camden on a Monday morning, clean up after a weekend of debauchery. Barnet gets all this for free.
I recently did a political science degree, and one of the concepts we were taught is "negative externalities". This is when one political authority does something that costs, but they don't have to pay, by accidents of geography, or so on. So if there is a nuclear accident in Ukraine, countries downwind get some of the fallout - but that's not Ukraine's problem (it has enough problems of its own). Less dramatically, when the customers from burger restaurants leave the wrappings in the streets, that's not the burger restaurants' problem - until the council makes a regulation that they must provide bins outside their shop. (Regulation is often the answer to negative externality problems.)
So we, I'm ashamed to say, residents of Barnet are negative externalities, when we go out of the borough for our entertainment which must be provided at their expense by other authorities, local or central.
Robert Rams' casual philistinism was worse than I had at first thought. There is another negative aspect to his statement, of course, that it is just plain stupid. The more amenities that close in Barnet the fewer people want to live or spend their money here, the more of a shithole it becomes, etc.
P.S. I picked up a copy of the North London Arts Guide in the library yesterday. It covers Barnet, Enfield and Haringey. Church Farmhouse Museum, listed there, is now closed, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams, cutting its grant. Barnet Museum faces an uncertain future, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams. Barnet's contribution to the culture of north London is dwindling, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams. Haringey and Enfield councils, think on!
UPDATE: Another Barnet blogger put me onto this film about arts in north London: the only amenity mentioned in Barnet is the Arts Depot - which, of course, had its grant from Barnet council cut recently.
P.P.S. And that's without mentioning Brent Cross or Pinkham Way!