Tuesday, 30 August 2011

One of our banners is missing

The Barnet Alliance's banner is missing - the one in citrus shades pictured here outside the HQ of outsourcing company Capita earlier this summer.

We have another one that can do service at the lobby of Barnet council on Tuesday 13 September. However, we would like our main banner back!

It went missing at the Friern Barnet summer show, taken and left somewhere either by Father Adrian Benjamin or Councillor Brian Coleman or Councillor Rowan Turner or one of their goons.

Can you imagine the Barnet Conservative Party shrugging it off if someone had misappropriated their banner? I can't either. And neither will we give up so easily!

I am offering a reward for the banner's safe return. Please email me via the trades council info@barnettuc.org.uk if you have any information. Any information. Thank you.

P.S. If you like your local politics pretty surreal our missing banner has a Twitter identity - no, I had no part in it. You can follow Mr. Banner @TheLostBanner.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Barnet Independence Day - Tuesday 13 September

As part of their industrial action against the proposed change in "identity of employer", Barnet council Unison members who are engaged in the work-to-rule will hold a one-day strike on Tuesday 13 September.

They are calling this "Barnet Independence Day".

Perhaps some of the first paragraph needs explaining. Barnet Unison opposes the mass outsourcing One Barnet Programme. Staff don't want to be transferred to private sector employers who will, sooner or later, cut their pay and "terms and conditions" of employment (things such as getting holiday pay).

Around 400 of them - about one-tenth of the workforce - have been engaged in a work-to-rule for a few weeks now. That means they only do what it says in their contract, not doing extra work for no pay, and not doing overtime. And they are not cooperating in the work gearing up for "One Barnet" privatisation.

The industrial action has been effective, especially in the revenues and benefits department.

The strike on 13 September is quite a brave step: anyone who thinks that workers lightly "down tools" these days is wrong. I think it is in residents' interest to support their action.

Having workers delivering council services who are low paid, unmotivated, scared to stay at home when they are ill, etc, does not make for good services! Nor does having them delivered by unaccountable private firms who are looking for ways to cut corners and boost their profits.

On 13 September there is a council meeting, and I hope residents will join Unison strikers at the lobby outside Hendon Town Hall from 5.30-7pm.

Barnet Unison have produced a lively video promoting "Barnet Independence Day".

Thursday, 25 August 2011

So-called "fairer contributions" - action group formed

We had some speakers last night at the Barnet Alliance who are setting up a campaign around Barnet council's new "fairer contributions", ie, charging more people for adult social services.

To go by what we heard last night, if nothing else, the new policy is extremely confusing for people. Yet Barnet council is sending out demands for money - sometimes for the wrong amount - and people are frightened they must pay. Below is the notice about the new campaign.
“Fairer Contributions” action group for disabled people, dementia sufferers and their carers

ATTENTION all disabled people, dementia sufferers and carers in Barnet.

Join our new action group if you’re unhappy with the “Barnet New Fairer Contributions Policy”, with the lack of meaningful consultation, with having to now pay for services based on your ability to pay rather than need.

We intend to fight this inhuman policy with gusto, so contact us now and give us your support and help us to help you.

For more details email John Sullivan – john@jjsullivan.wanadoo.co.uk – or Janet Leifer – janetleifer@tiscali.co.uk.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Garden Suburb Library at the Institute? Has anyone asked them? Or: Another Barnet council smoke-screen disperses to reveal yet another library cut

A revealing and dismaying item in the Ham & High by reporter Josh Pettitt: "Adult college dashes council hopes that it will provide home for Hampstead Garden Suburb library".

The Barnet council Cabinet meeting in July talked about plans to 'merge' North Finchley and Friern Barnet libraries at the Arts Depot when the two libraries close in October. In fact, there are no firm plans in place to replace these libraries at the new venue.

Now it seems that the Tory group's plan to run a library service from the Institute in East Finchley to replace Hampstead Garden Suburb library which they want to close is likewise just a fiction.
Chief executive of the adult learning centre in East Finchley, Joy Solomon, said she had never held any detailed discussions with the council.

“We (the Institute) had a meeting and decided it was not a satisfactory solution.

“It’s not that we’re not prepared to help, it just doesn’t meet the needs of mothers, children or elderly people,” she said. “To be honest, our role in the library thing is so marginal that we were kind of the flea which belonged to the leg of the dog. It was just a sentence or something that was discussed. It was never a big thing.”

When Barnet’s cabinet approved closure plans last month, libraries boss Councillor Robert Rams claimed that the council had “very positive conversations” with the centre which was “very keen for it to happen”.
Has Councillor Robert Rams lied about this?

The Ham & High article goes on to say:
Deborah Warland, leader of the Save Our Suburb Library campaign, said that the botched deal did not trouble them as the group was still looking to keep the 60-year-old library open in its current location in Market Place.

“We didn’t want the library to move to the Institute because we wanted to keep the library where it is. The only form of transport was a logistical nightmare for elderly members so we will just keep going,” she said.

The group has mustered 30 volunteers to help run the library. But the council has told the campaign that it has to run the entire operation on its own if it wants to stay open.

Mrs Warland said: “For the betterment of all school children, all the reading groups for the under-fives, it seems crazy to suggest a volunteer service can fulfil all those obligations.

“Barnet wants to do everything on the cheap without putting anything into our community service.”
If you are not already involved, get ready to fight for these libraries. The way it is looking at the moment, when they close and in spite of the Barnet Tories' disarming blandishments, there will be no replacement service!

Brian Coleman protects his assets at the Friern Barnet summer show

Brian Coleman remonstrates with anti-cuts protestors outside Friern Barnet Summer Show 2011

Brian Coleman and lackey whupped by Mr Whippy
This weekend gone was the Friern Barnet summer show. I had flu and missed all manner of shenanigans but I've got some idea what went on through reports and pictures fed to me by EYE-WITNESSES.

The anti-cuts campaign, Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS - one day I'll explain how we wound up with that lousy name) had initially planned to take a stall at the show. But then we were told at the 11th hour that we couldn't: we rather suspect that there was some POLITICAL INTERFERENCE in the matter.

For Councillor Brian Coleman AM has a big finger in the Friern Barnet summer show pie. The entry of his interests on the GLA webpage includes:
Friern Barnet Summer Show Limited (25% of the shared capital – no dividends) and Chairman of the Board of Directors (unremunerated)
It's not like Coleman to do anything unremunerated. What's going on? We can only think that one day he will hope to profit from his involvement with the enterprise. One day - soon? - when he is less in the public spotlight than he is now.

On Saturday and Sunday, I am told and there are pictures (above) to prove it, Coleman showed REMARKABLE ACTIVITY at the show.

He went and attempted to chase BAPS off from leafleting at the entrance to the show. And he REMONSTRATED WITH AN ICE-CREAM VAN outside the show. After all, they might be nicking trade off the van that had paid a fee to park inside.

Mrs Angry has a nice picture of Coleman checking on the VIP tent, taken by her daughter.

We don't know what hand Mr Coleman might have had in BAPS being chased off the showground on Sunday - I don't want to say too much about that yet as the BAPS banner is still being held hostage.

We can only assume that Coleman's frankly surprising willingness to get his hands dirty is a sign of the lengths he will go to in order to protect his own precious assets.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Give our kids a future... that includes Barnet!

Last Saturday I joined in the 'Give our kids a future' march from Dalston to Tottenham Green. It was called and organised in just three days by anti-cuts and Kurdish and Turkish community groups in Hackney and Haringey, two of the boroughs worst affected by the riots.

The march had several demands:
• A culture of valuing, not demonising youth and unemployed people.
• Support for those affected by the rioting, including the immediate re-housing of people made homeless as well as grants for affected small businesses.
• Community led regeneration and restoration of damaged areas.
• Reversal of all cuts to youth services in our boroughs.
• No cuts to public services! Instead, investment into and regeneration of our communities, including housing, jobs, education and sports facilities.
• An independent community inquiry into policing methods in our boroughs, and an end to discriminatory stop and search.
• Availability of legal support for all those arrested by police - young people face potential sentences that will affect them, their families and their wider communities for years to come.
Those organising the march knew that it might be misinterpreted, and that feelings are still raw in the area, but they felt that it was important that a different political response be aired to simply "lock them up and throw away the key".

On the Thursday before, I attended a meeting of Haringey Alliance for Public Services, Haringey's counterpart to our own Barnet Alliance for Public Services, where the march was discussed. On Saturday I helped to leaflet public onlookers as the march took its course. What I learned from those suggests to me it was a correct decision to organise the march. Onlookers were neutral to positive, and nothing went wrong on the day.

The government has announced an extra £10 million each for Tottenham and Croydon to recover from the riots, in addition to the £50 million it is giving London-wide. But what about the cuts? Can anyone honestly say that they think riots and anti-social behaviour generally are less likely as a result of Haringey, for example, being told to cut £40 million from its budget this year?

And what about Barnet? We got off relatively mildly in the recent riots - but what about the future? And why should we wait till trouble comes to our doorstep before we take notice of what is going on? Services for young people in Barnet, and public services generally need to be defended and rebuilt, not cut, as Barnet council plans to do. Roger Tichborne at the Barnet Eye blog has noticed that Barnet council plans to sell off yet more playing fields and community buildings. Property developers are likely to benefit from this, but not the young people of Barnet.

The rot has to stop; anyone who cares at all about what sort of society we live in has to take up this demand: give our kids a future!

Pictures from the march here.

Working to rule is good #2: Barnet parking service

Unison members in Barnet's Parking Service are the latest group of workers to join the work-to-rule. They are objecting to being forced into employment with a private company as part of the One Barnet Programme.

I am not a driver and probably understand the parking service very little. I do know that the work-to-rule means that the staff will only do their allotted hours, not overtime. I have heard that each member of staff has been taken to one side and spoken to by management, told that if they joined the industrial action they could kiss goodbye to any overtime in the future.

When the union movement was numerically and industrially stronger it had a position of opposing overtime. The reasons are clear:
1. overtime has the potential to lead to overwork and harm health;
2. employers should be hiring more staff if there is more work to do - this would benefit the unemployed;
3. accepting overtime tends to undermine the fight for better basic pay.

We are where we are, however. The 'suggestion' made to the parking staff by Barnet management is clearly intended to scare them out of their industrial action. It's shameful stuff. I wonder what pay the management who are acting this way are on.

The union, Unison, should stick to its guns. Parking staff are not the most popular public servants, but imagine a privatised parking service: use of targets for issuing tickets is likely to be greatly extended. (I understand something like a 'target' culture is already in place in Barnet.)

I understand that many tickets can be appealed, but people don't usually have the time.

I send all my solidarity to the parking staff! Many of them have worked for private companies before and already know that private companies pay worse and offer worse conditions of service. Parking staff are a welcome addition to the growing army of Barnet staff fighting the One Barnet Programme - no to easyCouncil!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Revenues and benefits picket #2

Today (Saturday) was a full day! I got up at 6am to go and support Barnet Unison branch's picket line.

Their members in Revenues and Benefits are currently working to rule, which means they don't do overtime, or duties beyond what it says in their contracts. This is part of their campaign against being transfered, against their will, to employment by whichever private sector company wins the contract for this work under the One Barnet Programme (aka easyCouncil).

It was drizzling this morning, but there was a bigger turnout for this week's picket than for last week's. We were pleased that we got to speak to some of those who are breaking the strike by doing overtime on a Saturday. It seems that their efforts are making scarcely any dent in the backlog of work that is building up.

Five staff went to work last Saturday. The workforce is about 140, supplemented with 50-odd agency staff. Pretty much the same people went in this week.

The agency staff had initially been brought in to clear a backlog arising from problems with the new computer system. They have been kept on by the council almost certainly in order to undermine the industrial action. They are costing £9,000 a day or £45,000 a week or £2,340,000 p.a. (figures: Mr Mustard blog).

Apparently some of the agency staff who had been due to work last Saturday had second thoughts when they realised they would have to cross the picket line; perhaps that happened this week as well.

The council had got a bit tougher this week; there were three managers of sorts there, just inside the gates, to see what we got up to. In fact, all we wanted was the chance to speak to those going in and to hand them a leaflet asking them to think twice about what they are doing: undermining their own and their colleagues' future standard of living.

These staff are also being used by Barnet council's Conservative administration to push through a privatisation programme which is highly likely to save residents no money whatever. A programme, then, that looks more and more as though it is driven purely by dogma.

Who else was at the Business Park this morning? Oh, yes, six Police and Community Support Officers, stationed in front of the gate. They pretty much left us alone.

One man driving in accelerated as he took the corner into the Business Park. Very dangerous for the pickets and the residents who had come to support them: stupid behaviour.

I took some pictures of the picket line action today, and added it to my Revs and Bens album on Flickr.

After the picket, I went to Hackney for the "Give our kids a future!" march, which went from Dalston to Tottenham. The march was organised by anti-cuts campaigners from two of the boroughs worst affected by this week's riots. But I'll have to blog about that anon, it being late now! Suffice to say, for now, that it was - on the whole - a positive experience.

P.S. I trust Mr Hope is pleased with the increased turnout this week! I know how much he likes to see mass pickets!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Brian Coleman abolishes pay and display parking in Barnet – bloggers call for Cabinet call-in and consultation

It has been brought to our attention that Councillor Brian Coleman has signed off, using delegated powers, a decision abolishing pay and display parking in the London Borough of Barnet. We believe that this is much too important an issue to be left to just one councillor to use delegated powers, and we call for the cabinet to call the paper in for review by the full cabinet.

The relevant report states that call-in must be done by 15th August.

The people of Barnet deserve better than to have such important decisions passed without debate. This change affects many residents, businesses and visitors to the Borough. We call on the cabinet to reject this change and follow the example of other Boroughs, where residents, businesses and other impacted organisations are properly consulted, before such changes are approved.

12 August 2011

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Update: this item has been called in by Labour and Lib Dems; I think that means it goes to scrutiny before it goes to Cabinet for rubber-stamping, sorry, approval.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Barnet council's latest attempt to break revenue and benefits action - hold firm!

Barnet council has now made explicit the link between the overtime it is offering to staff in revenue and benefits, for going to work on Saturdays, and its plan to break the staff work-to-rule against being transfered to a private sector employer.

The council has asked staff who want to work this Saturday to sign the following statement:
In agreeing to work overtime on Saturday 13 August 2011, I understand that this means I am giving notice that I no longer intend to participate in the industrial action outlined in the notification of my Trade Union to (Unison) to LBB on 9 June 2011 and which started on 16 June 2011.

For the sake of clarity this means I will agree to work overtime and amend my hours of attendance (subject to any personal commitments) as I did prior to the current period of industrial action, and I will agree to attend meetings and/or undertake work related to the One Barnet project.
I would urge residents to support the Barnet Unison work-to-rule. It is aimed mainly at stopping cooperation with councillors and work on the One Barnet Programme. It is not in residents' interest to have staff forced into the private sector where their pay and holiday and sickness entitlement are likely to be cut.

Good services are delivered by staff on decent pay and employment conditions. Work on setting up the One Barnet Programme is costing residents a fortune, with only the most hazy prospects of savings being made. (Mr Mustard has blogged extensively on the topic, eg, here.)

The One Barnet Programme looks to me more and more like a dogmatic exercise in privatisation for privatisation's sake, with nil advantages to residents, and considerable harm to Barnet council staff. Only the private companies and the consultants working on the project look like they will benefit.

The revenue and benefits staff work-to-rule is beginning to bite. Good. The less appetizing a prospect Barnet council becomes to private sector bidders, the more likely it becomes that the Conservative administration will see sense and drop this wasteful programme.

Spirit of the Blitz? Reclaim the streets!

I don't watch a lot of TV, but the other night sat through an entire hour of Anita Dobson (Angie in "EastEnders") talking about how people were entertained on the Home Front during the Second World War ("Ration Book Britain: Entertaining the Home Front"). As well as getting to see Anita jitterbug - not a young woman, she's a real advertisement for keeping fit and fun-loving - I learned that people flocked in greater numbers than ever to the cinema, in spite of the risk of getting bombed.

I don't want to over-do the comparisons, but there are some with how we behave in the current climate. This evening I went to Angel for something to eat on the way home from a meeting. It was locked down; the streets were almost deserted. At each important junction, a pair of police officers were mounted on sentry duty looking for malefactors.

Instead of bars and restaurants full of people on a warm evening, behind the blinds of their flats, yuppy fear was palpable.

I do think we should be on our guard against potential trouble, but I don't think we should hide away. Whole communities don't have that luxury, in any case. One of my friends lives on the Pembury Estate in Hackney. Last night she and her family hunkered down in their own home while a pitched battle raged outside; today they have to go out and shop, go to work, share tales with their neighbours.

Things are bad, but it's not the Blitz! Reclaim the streets.

P.S. I understand there was a disturbance in Burnt Oak this evening. I'll try to find out more. For once I had decided to come back to Colindale tube station.

Wake-up call - for the labour movement

I expect you all have your own experiences and reflections on the events of the last few days. I'm probably not alone in thinking of them as a wake-up call, although everyone who has thought that will then go on to think that their own solutions should be applied - 'solutions' ranging from far-left to far-right.

My own 'solution' is for the labour movement to get off its collective arse and act before it's too late. We all know that parts of our inner-cities are rapidly becoming shit holes and too large numbers of people are getting left behind. Too many young people are simply being left to rot. A minority of them (let's remember that) are turning nasty.

The Tory/Lib Dem government's cuts are only making things worse.

The labour movement has to fight those cuts; we've got to fight to improve the communities where the young people are coming from that are going on the rampage (though it's not all young people); we've got to win young people to positive political action, not destructive, acquisitive rage.

Something else we must face up to and challenge: our society is rotten from top to bottom. A Labour MP pointed out this evening that Parliament has been recalled twice this summer: once for the Hackgate scandal and now for the riots. There is a connection. How can society lecture young rioters for having no moral qualms when in recent times important parts of the establishment have shown no moral qualms? From journalists hacking people's phones after a story; policemen who will sell a tip--off to a newspaper; MPs who will sell their influence to the highest bidder and submit bloated, even fraudulent expense claims; greedy and reckless bankers.

Commentators have been quick to put pen to paper; some of what they are writing is worth reading! I thought the following observation, by an academic, Professor Colin Talbot, who studies public administration, was useful:
It is not just the ‘under-class’ that has opted out – it is also the uber-class of financiers, directors, derivatives traders, newspaper moguls and others who have decided the ‘normal rules’ don’t apply to them.

Britain has experienced a massive financial crisis brought on by greed and recklessness of epic proportions. No-one has been put on trial, much less gone to jail, for what appear to most honest and dishonest people as grand theft auto-bank. Instead, the banks have been bailed out by the tax payer, their bonuses were reduced, a little, for a while, and then everything returns to business as usual.

The banks have just been found guilty of mis-selling payment protection insurance on a truly gargantuan scale – billions of pounds worth – but is anyone going to prison for this swindle?

‘Legal’ tax avoidance is running at massive levels, with a huge grow in individuals and corporates using tax-havens to avoid paying their fair share of even the direct taxes on them that have been reduced substantially over the past 30 years.

The phone hacking scandal has revealed that some parts of the uber-class who run our media see themselves as well and truly ‘above the law’. So much so that we have just ‘lost’ the Police Commissioner for the Metropolis just a few weeks before the riots erupted. This latest decapitation of the Met – the second in three years – coupled with massive cuts to police budgets and radical reforms in process certainly won’t have done much for Police morale or leadership.

Britain has also experienced a massive spiral of wage inflation for the directorial class with top pay reaching stratospheric levels. Only last week it was also revealed that Directors of our large private institutions were continuing to gold-plate their pensions whilst stripping their workers of theirs. Many now retire on large multiples of what their staff earn for working. Inequality has surged.

And of course the parliamentary expenses scandal – very small beer compared to the above – but yet another nail in public confidence in our rulers.

A society in which the uber-class see themselves as exempt from the normal rules of taxation, cream-off ever larger personal rewards unrelated to performance, cause huge financial catastrophes, rip-off their customers see themselves as ‘above the law’ cannot expect the under-class to behave themselves.

Labour has talked recently about the ‘squeezed middle’ – there may be more truth in this than even they realised. The vast majority of ordinary people pay their taxes (more or less), obey the laws (mostly), and ‘keep calm and carry on’ even when things get rough. Are they now squeezed between two irresponsible, immoral, tax-avoiding, lawless, classes at the bottom and the top of society? If so, it's fairly clear that those at the top carry far more moral responsibility for what’s happening than those at the bottom. How long before they start retreating to their gated-communities, US-style, and leave the rest of us to it? [Emphasis added; full article here.]
The labour movement needs to wake up alright.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Dollis Valley Green Walk - what is Barnet council playing at?

Where's the bike?
A while ago the Mayor of London granted £400,000 to do up the Dollis Valley Green Walk.

Barnet council even ran a competition to choose a new logo for the revamped walk. The competition was completely absurd, asking residents to choose between five nearly identical logos. Don't say Barnet council never consults its residents on anything important!

Now they appear to have cooked up some scheme with TfL to turn part of the Green Walk into a shared cycle and pedestrian path and local campaigners, Friends of Windsor Open Space (FoWOS), who helped to win the money for the scheme, are protesting. What they say sounds reasonable to me.
[Barnet's] Greenspaces Manager then entered into an arrangement with TfL to turn most of the walk into a joint walk/cycle path. “As TfL came waving a cheque for £250,000 it’s easy to see the temptation”, says FoWOS chairman Dennis Pepper, “but not the decision to renege on voters. It is quite clear what people voted for and it wasn’t to have cyclists on the walk.”

FoWOS approached Pam Wharfe, Interim Director of Environment, who came up with the ingenious solution that it is all right if cycling is permitted so long as it’s not promoted. Not as far as walkers are concerned it isn’t.

Brian Coleman, Barnet’s controversial councillor for the Environment, signed off the agreement with the GLA even though it incorporated cycling alongside walking....

Dennis Pepper points out that Cllr Coleman will be asking for votes if he stands for re-election to the London Assembly next year. “Will he expect to take his place if he secures the most votes, or will he be happy for officers to arrange for someone else to do so if they think this would benefit more residents?”
FoWOS say they are not anti-bike, just that Dollis Valley Green Walk is... a walk, not a cyclepath, and it should stay that way. I'm not anti-bike either, but it is nice to have some places that are just kept for walking.

And what of that competition to choose the new logo for the refurbished Green Walk? None of them had a cycle in it...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Crack-of-dawn picket-line success in Barnet

I went and supported the Barnet council Unison picket at North London Business Park this morning. They were responding to short notice that the council planned to bring in agency staff today (Saturday 6 August). The task: to work on the backlog in Revenue and Benefits.

The backlog has two sources:
1. the new computer system failing to work properly in the spring

2. the current work-to-rule by permanent staff objecting to being transfered to the private sector as part of the One Barnet (outsourcing) Programme (OBP).
There are around 140 [I initially put 80] staff in Revs and Bens. 53 temps have been working alongside them since the spring; Barnet council is retaining their services, now, probably, mainly to use them to undermine Unison's industrial action.

News of Unison's hastily organised early morning picket had the effect of making the council think twice - or the agency workers themselves. 44 people had signed up to come in and work; in the event, no agency staff came to work and only five permanent staff who have not been supporting the industrial action.

I spoke to a couple of them. They had feeble excuses for letting down their colleagues - and potentially cutting their own throats into the bargain. "I've got a mortgage, and a family to support." Obviously the guy who said that is not unique in this - everyone taking action is in the same boat. The difference is that most people recognise that working in the private sector is likely to mean lower wages, and reduced sickness and holiday pay, and are prepared to resist it.

Such freeloaders do annoy me: they are quite happy to take all the benefits that have been achieved by trade union action over the years, but not to put in any of the effort made to get it.

One of the other scabs - sorry, I have to use the word, it's not nice but that is the word that the English language has found for people who rat on their workmates in this way - said that she respected the people picketing, but...

She doesn't respect them at all! She was sticking two fingers up to them today and deserves the cold shoulder on Monday. I hope she gets it. I'm sorry to sound harsh, but industrial action is not easy and sometimes you have to decide which side you are on. Right now, she is on the side of the privatisers and the union busters.

It felt strange to be witnessing a real picket line in Barnet, but Barnet's pursuit of the easyCouncil holy grail was always likely to lead to this - given the pig-headedness of its bungling Tory administration it was likely to. I don't think it will be the last picket line. Let's hope they are all as successful as this was!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Working to rule is good #1: Barnet council revenue and benefits

For the past few weeks Barnet council revenue and benefits staff have been "working to rule". For those born after the 1970s this archaic term probably needs explanation!

It means that the workers do their job. And that's all they do. They don't do more than the hours they are paid for, they don't "help managers out when they are in a tight spot", etc. They say "no" to all the little ways that workers in this day and age are exploited that little bit more than they signed on for when they took their job.

The staff are doing this because they object to the council's plans to transfer them to another, private sector, employer, eg, Capita. This is due to happen if the One Barnet (mass outsourcing) Programme goes ahead.

Barnet council staff anticipate, with very good reason, that transfer to the private sector will sooner or later result in them having their pay, holiday entitlement and sickness and holiday pay cut. This has happened after all the smaller transfers that have already happened in Barnet, eg, Fremantle homes.

Let's face it, cutting staff pay and attacking their conditions of employment is how the big companies will make their money if they win the contracts Barnet council are offering.

Barnet council now, instead of talking to their own staff about their worries and dealing with their representatives, the unions, have chosen to try and break the industrial action by bringing in agency staff this weekend to clear the backlogs that are building up (what results when staff simply do what they are paid to do instead of working sometimes for free).

Barnet Unison sent this message to their members this morning:
Use of Agency workers to break the strike

I have to report that the Council have agreed to pay agency workers to come in to work on Saturdays to break the strike action taking place in Revs & Bens. I can report UNISON members are angry and upset at this action. The use of agency workers in the service has already come under public scrutiny by one of our local bloggers (Mr Mustard).

Mr Mustard submitted a Freedom Information Request on the number of agency workers in Revs & Bens and has now disclosed on his Blog:

“On the 5th of July 2011 there were 53 agency staff working within Revenues and Benefits. Based on the hours worked and the hourly charge rates, the total estimated spend on this specific day was just over £9000.

"So that is £9,000 a day or £45,000 a week or £2,340,000 p.a. for temporary help that the department itself says it doesn't need but management says it does. How can the staff possibly get their work done with 53 temps in their way. Who tells them what to do?”

No doubt the costs will rise as a consequence of the Agency workers coming into NLBP on Saturdays.

In response to this attack UNISON is organising a picket line outside North London Business Park tomorrow morning from 7.30am.

If you are able to join the picket line please contact the branch on 020 8359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk.
Yes, it has come to this. Barnet council's Conservative administration, through their half-baked outsourcing plan, have revived the industrial strife of the 1970s in our fair borough. See you on the picket line tomorrow, brothers and sisters!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

MetPro urgent questions for Barnet councillors – survey results

Five Barnet bloggers who exposed the scandal of Barnet’s Council’s relationship with the MetPro companies emailed nine questions to the 62 Barnet councillors on 13 July 2011. (The questions are printed at the end of this document.)

The questions sought to gauge councillors’ knowledge of the MetPro scandal, and their views on what the bloggers thought were the main issues raised by it. We did this in the wake of a damning internal audit report on the issue. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had paid tribute to the efforts of bloggers in uncovering the MetPro scandal. We thus felt the survey would be useful to Barnet residents, and told councillors we would publish the results.

We know that the vast majority of the councillors received and read the email. We chased up non-response with a second email on 21 July. Not all Labour councillors had replied by that date but we did not email them chasing a response, since Barnet Labour group had by then sent a group response. (Available at: http://alturl.com/dbyoy)

We have produced two tables to summarise the results of the survey:

Table 1. Response rates by party.

Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions. Several councillors also made comments.


Table 1. Response rates by party
The Conservative councillors did not respond to the survey. We therefore do not know what they think about the questions asked. A handful of Conservative councillors did reply to our initial email. The replies we received were:

Brian Gordon: I'm not wasting my time answering bloggers.

David Longstaff: Please remove me from your mailing list. As to your ‘urgent’ emails regarding procurement, which I found slightly manipulative, I’ll decide what’s urgent in my life, not you.

Hugh Rayner: I am not going to complete my questionnaire. I am a member of the Audit Committee and have (and will) express my views and opinions in that forum.

Table 2. Labour and Lib Dem councillors’ answers to the questions
Bloggers comment

The refusal to respond by Barnet’s Conservative group is extremely disappointing. The Coalition government has made a point of talking about empowering local government and about councillors’ accountability to residents. Barnet specifically has been mentioned as a borough that has not done this well lately, and this was a chance for the Conservative administration to start to make amends. They failed.

The response of the Labour and Lib Dem groups shows a better attitude to accountability. They have taken the trouble to tell residents what they think about these issues, and their replies to some of the questions show them agreeing with the reasonable expectation that councillors keep up-to-date with important issues (Q1), seek to affect events (Q7) and read important reports (Q8). It is disappointing that no one has answered that they have approached the Leader of the Council about the issue (Q4); neither, probably, is this only a result of the recent change of leadership. It would have been interesting to see whether Conservative councillors had spoken to the (Conservative) Leader, or whether this was just a matter of parties.

In comments, and in the Labour group response, opposition councillors referred to their wish to have more influence over the Council, and their sense of frustration that the scrutiny process was not working well. We share these frustrations and want an end to Leader and Cabinet government in Barnet which does not work well for local accountability.

The views of the Labour group and the responding Labour councillors and of the Lib Dem councillors on the substantive issues (Qs 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9) coincide with those of the bloggers.

Q2: In our view, the Council should have responded to the MetPro scandal with an independent inquiry that also included consideration of the security aspects of using MetPro. These were not addressed by the internal audit and show no signs of being addressed voluntarily.

Qs 3 and 9: Barnet Council’s Internal Audit needs more resources if it is to do its job properly; this is particularly important given the failings in Barnet Council’s procurement and contract monitoring, exposed by the MetPro internal audit and the Internal Audit Opinion on Barnet for 2010-11. We oppose the recent decision to cut staff from the procurement team, and to outsource procurement.

Q5: We believe that there are many more problems to be discovered in Barnet Council purchasing and we are submitting a number of FoI requests to uncover some of them, and continuing our own investigations.

Q6: We are opposed to the One Barnet Programme (OBP) and call on the Council to abandon it. We doubt that the advertised savings will materialise and we are alarmed at the cost of implementing the Programme and that Barnet Council is giving up control over vast, important areas of its services. But, in any case, we strongly believe that the Programme should be halted at least until Barnet Council’s outsourcing and procurement practices are improved substantially.

The questions

1. Are you aware of the issues concerning the MetPro security companies and Barnet Council?
2. Are you satisfied that the Council has managed the issue properly?
3. Do you agree with Lord Palmer that Barnet Council’s Internal Audit is under resourced?
4. Have you spoken to the Leader of the Council about your views on the MetPro scandal?
5. Besides the MetPro scandal, do you believe that there are other serious problems with purchasing in Barnet Council?
6. Do you think a halt should be called to the One Barnet Programme while investigations continue and basic procedures in procurement and contract monitoring are improved?
7. Do you think councillors have a responsibility to prevent such scandals arising in future?
8. Have you read the internal audit report into the MetPro scandal?
9. Are you happy with the decision to remove nine staff from Barnet Council’s procurement team?

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

4 August 2011