I was on my way to Tolpuddle to take part in the annual celebration of Dorset’s most famous sons, the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival.
I needed a break and I thought a couple of days by the coast would set me up nicely. Where then? Why, Poole’s in Dorset, I thought, and it’s also the location for the Sandbanks Hotel, beloved of Barnet council executives for “working breaks”. While I’m in Poole, I’ll have a look, I thought.
I booked a cheap train ticket then checked hotel prices – pretty steep for what you get. After all, Poole has become a playground for the rich, and the Sandbanks peninsula a place where billionaires make their home.
I looked on a late booking site: a single bed at Sandbanks wasn’t a lot more expensive than anything else on offer and I would be able to find out for myself just what is the appeal to Barnet council senior executives. I would find out how the other half live - at our expense!
So what is Sandbanks like? It’s a four-star hotel; it’s nice. It’s got everything you need plus bags of room. But it’s not super-luxurious.
The main point to Sandbanks is its location. Now, obviously, it’s a long way from Barnet in north London – about 120 miles, two and a half hours by train from Waterloo. In that sense, it’s a completely lousy location for a work meeting and particularly for a work meeting that aims to help you think about Barnet and its problems. But, no, it’s an excellent location! Why, it’s bang on top of one of the best beaches in the UK and close to wonderful countryside.
I took some work with me, of course, on my own trip to Sandbanks. A book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein. It’s a favourite read for the likes of Barnet chief executive Nick Walkley, racking their brains for a way to persuade feckless Barnet residents to behave in a more socially responsible manner.
I thought: if I can read that book I can maybe understand how they think, these senior council execs. But, do you know what, once I got down there, got a sight of that lovely sand, the blue sea, the bar by the beach, I just couldn’t be arsed. Nudge stayed unread. Instead, I went for some lovely walks, had a swim in the sea, enjoyed the serene atmosphere of the dining room... (Not like any seaside hotel I’ve ever stayed in before, I’ll admit.)
Our council execs come here to think about Barnet, which they’ve left miles behind them. Frankly, if any of them manages it they must be mad. You would have to be mad to go to Sandbanks and work! To save them from this appalling dilemma, I have hit upon an excellent solution: no more work trips to Sandbanks! It’s simple. I’m submitting a petition to the Barnet council website and I urge you to sign it and get your friends, family, neighbours and workmates to sign.
I’ll share the link here - just as soon as it is approved...
Stalker or investigative journalist?
I felt vaguely creepy coming to Sandbanks, like some kind of stalker, but why? It’s not as though I am following our senior council execs on their private holidays. I don’t give a stuff where they go or what they do on their own time. The point is that Sandbanks trips are done on Barnet time and at Barnet residents’ expense. It’s not a holiday and we have every right to know where they are going and to imagine how much work they do when they slope off down to the South Coast.
If they want to get away from things to do some brainstorming, a suite at the Holiday Inn Brent Cross would be far more appropriate. They’re always telling us how nice Brent Cross is. They can keep tabs on the development plans while they are there!
I have nothing against the Sandbanks Hotel – it’s a nice place and, my goodness, Barnet bloggers have given them plenty of free publicity over recent months! I just think it’s inappropriate for the senior employees of the council to be spoiling themselves using residents’ money and at the same time as they parcel the rest of the workforce up for the private sector where, without guarantees, they are likely to see their pay and leave entitlements severely reduced. Day trips to Bognor more the order of the day, all round, I think, if the One Barnet Programme goes ahead. (And, yes, I have been to Bognor as well so I know what I’m talking about.)
Finally, in my own defence, at least I can say that my trip to Sandbanks was funded solely by me!