Sunday, 30 October 2011

Support the LFB Museum!

The London Fire Brigade Museum is again threatened with closure.

The chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman, tried once before to close the museum but it gained a reprieve. He made some very disparaging remarks at the time about brass helments - "once you've seen one..."

Please support the campaign to save part of our history - website for the Friends of London Fire Brigade Museum here.

BT curries favour in Barnet

BT is one of the multinationals bidding to run Barnet council services. I noticed this item on the Times series website, how they are suddenly putting up money to fund local training sessions on how to use the internet - how very Big Society of them!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Really nice street in Finchley pledges to remain really nice

When you write a blog, you collect a little store of ideas that you mean one day to write up. I've been gazumped on one of the best: Ravensdale Avenue in Finchley.

I think this is one of the nicest streets in Barnet. Admittedly I did first visit it in a glowing light - literally - on a summer Sunday afternoon once. Walking down there, marvelling at the lovely front gardens, was like stepping back in time to the 1930s and the most dreamlike suburb of imagination, where householders mow stripes into their front lawns and brush the earwigs off their dahlias as dusk falls.

Well, somehow or other, Barnet council have inveigled the street's residents' association into participating in their "adopt-a-street" scheme. The woman quoted in this report in the Barnet Press explains why she agreed to join the scheme:
Mrs Wildish said she had had some doubts about the scheme when it was first presented to the residents’ association six months ago.

“We were concerned that if we did the work that other people would be sacked,” she said. “But the council said that budget had been set and that no one would lose their jobs.”

She said that the scheme had already had a positive effect on both the look and the mood of the area.
Improved the look and mood of Ravensdale Avenue - now that would be something to see!

The back story to this is the council's desperate attempt to find a role for their white elephant Pledgebank site - they offer to help 10 further streets sign up to the scheme if they apply via Pledgebank - and to promote their "do-it-yourself" brand of local government.

Brian Coleman is quoted by the Press as saying: “This is Big Society in action and the council is delighted to support residents in this work.”

For agreeing to take part, residents get no money but "training, as well as tools such as litter pickers, shovels and bin sacks." You are going to need an awful lot of those to prettify most of the borough's streets.

Adopt-a-street, like Pledgebank, is yet another gimmick, a desperate attempt to distract people's attention from the deterioration in the borough's services and general appearance, and make us feel that if things are going wrong it must all somehow be our fault.

If we could all just invest in some bin bags and dibbers, round up our neighbours, and give up our Sundays, Barnet wouldn't be such a drab place after all! I'll do it if you will, Brian - darers go first!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Friern Barnet residents submit plan to save their library

The Save Friern Barnet Library campaign have submitted proposals to Barnet council which, they hope, will persuade the council not to close the library.

The council wants to close this and North Finchley library and run a service from the Arts Depot instead, but they have agreed nothing yet with the arts centre. Residents using Friern Barnet and North Finchley libraries face the prospect of their libraries closing soon with no alternative in place.

At the Cabinet meeting in July the council bought themselves some time by inviting residents to come up with ideas that would keep their libraries open but make it more attractive for the council to keep funding them!

Campaigners at Friern Barnet have come up with what sound from this Times series report like very good ideas. Of course, it is outrageous that the council should try to close the libraries. But they must at least give these proposals put together by - busy - residents proper consideration.

Friern Barnet library campaigners were due at the Barnet Alliance meeting tonight to give us the lowdown. But I couldn't go to the meeting and will have to rely on the minutes and other reports to get a sense of what is going on. I'll let you know what I find out.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Finally, I too get to moan about the cost of parking in Barnet!

I don't drive, but my significant other does. This week we have a young visitor and we wanted to take her to rhyme time at the community centre in West Hendon.

Blogger Miss Fezance (oh, you didn't know about her?) has compiled a valuable chart comparing the prices for parking in various places in High Barnet. It would be great to have these for all parts of the borough (no, I'm not volunteering).

At West Hendon we parked in the council's Perryfield Way pay-and-display car park because we were worried about being late. £3 for 90 minutes, £4 for up to three hours! Anyway, we could have saved our money because there were loads of free parking spaces around the West Hendon estate, with restrictions between 10-11am only. (Is it a Controlled Parking Zone? I have looked on the Barnet council website but can't find a list.)

And, then, would you credit it, after we had raced to the community centre, we found it padlocked up. Some nice guys from Barnet Homes came over and told us that the woman who had been due to come and do the rhyme times (two sessions on Tuesday) had phoned up to say she wasn't doing it today, but tomorrow.

We drove (naturally) instead to Brent Cross shopping centre, parked for free... and forked out a small fortune to stumble about in one of the soft-play areas at Topsy Turvy World. I feel like a true Barnetonian now! And I have an inkling of what it would like to be blessed by parenthood.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Head in the 'clouds', boot on the employer's foot

My union branch, NUJ London freelance, awards a monthly "Trireme Award - for the worst terms since I was last chained to the oars". It would be funny if low pay weren't so prevalent
Browsing the ES yesterday I found the nauseating "article" below. It is about how employers increasingly employ freelancers for very short periods, with all the onus of training and keeping skills updated falling on the freelancer. That is to say, in addition to employers not paying pensions, sick and holiday pay they now no longer even train their workers to use their systems. You take care of all that yourself.

As a freelance worker for many years, I increasingly recognise this "flexibility" for what it is: naked exploitation and the tendency to drive down the cost of labour at the expense of the worker. And with an army of unemployed people looking for work, the employer can now enjoy a field day!

A lot of flexible workers kid themselves that they have control over their own work. For the most part, however, for example in my trade, publishing, we don't have much more control than a docker before the abolition of the Lump, scrambling over each other's backs for a day's work.

I've emboldened the particularly irritating management speak in the Standard article in order to heighten the pleasure for jargon masochists among you.
New breed of flexible 'cloud' workers transforming recruitment

Rather than recruiting permanent staff, employers are increasingly tapping into an existing pool of contingent talent.

This "cloud" of flexible workers... around the core workforce, is already changing how we are recruited and how we work...

The need for "talent on demand" also means more of us will have to invest in our own upskilling if we want to be permanently employed on a temporary basis.

...says Jes Ladva, director of recruitment company Synarbor... "With so many organisations operating lean structures they need to bring in people who can hit the ground running. So they are asking recruitment companies to build a pipeline of talented individuals who can meet their exact needs....

"What we are increasingly seeing is that the temporary staff who are more job-ready are the ones who are often acquiring these skills themselves.

"The successful ones are the ones who want to upskill and understand the future needs of different clients."

Russell Beck, vice president of recruitment outsourcing business Carlisle Managed Solutions, ...says that being the right "fit" is also important.

"Companies in London are increasingly looking to adopt new ways of working and we are working with them to redefine what workforce flexibility, or the percentage of permanent to contingent labour, should look like to ensure talent is available on a 'Just in Time' basis," he says.

"...there is an increasing emphasis on identifying a candidate's cultural and behavioural characteristics and whether these are aligned to the company to maximise recruitment success."
They don't want much, do they?!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Banks' charitable donations: charity that sticks in the craw

Twice recently deserving causes have asked me to vote for them in a competition to win some money from a high street bank. In both cases, the money they want replaces money that the government would have given them, but no longer does.

The same principle lies behind Barnet council's so-called "Big Society Innovation Bank".

I find this really galling. Isn't the reason that we are having our public services, student finance, etc, butchered is because we bailed out the poxy banks in the first place? You don't see the people at the top of the banks tightening their belts.

I won't name who is bidding for what, because I don't want to embarrass anyone - or even jeopardise their chances! However, I feel very disinclined to join in this competition. The causes my friends are competing against are almost certainly deserving as well.

We need to stop competing against each other. We need to draw tighter together and show some solidarity in the face of a more formidable foe. I know that the people asking for my support basically think so as well so don't let's get distracted!

Barnet Unison strikers help out at charity

Barnet Unison members on strike yesterday against the council's outsourcing "One Barnet Programme" donated a day's labour to a Barnet charity, the Larches Community. Too often the media reflect right-wing politicians' image of union members, and strikers in particular, as selfish, greedy people. The truth, of course, is quite different.

In Barnet, Unison members are concerned for what will happen to their jobs if they are privatised, but they are also concerned about the quality of the public services they deliver. Council workers, after all, are members of the community as well, who value good schools, health and council services as much as everyone else.

After doing picket line duty, that included street theatre showing the likely effects of privatisation on services, several of the Barnet workers went over to Edgware to help out with various tasks - some photos below taken from this great set. It looks tiring, but it probably beats standing around a brazier!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Support the Barnet Unison strike on Tuesday 18 October

I can't do better to explain what is happening tomorrow when Barnet Unison members will stage their second one-day strike, than reproduce the Barnet UNISON Press Release from this morning 17 October 2011. Please note, there is a packed programme of events, where Barnet residents can catch up and support the strikers, defending their jobs but also the quality of our services:

300 UNISON members will be taking one day strike action on Tuesday 18 October as part of a Trades Dispute which concerns the identity of the employer.

Unlike other strike action there is a twist.

On the picket line outside the headquarters of Barnet Council (North London Business Park) UNISON members will stage a short piece of street theatre to demonstrate the dangers of the One Barnet Programme to residents, services and staff.

There will be two performances at 9am and 9.30 am.

At 10.30 am a number of strikers will be taking a coach trip across the borough in order to provide help and assistance to a local charity which is in desperate need of help. The strikers will spend the rest of the day carrying a number of tasks for the charity.

UNISON members are calling on the Leader of Barnet Council not to pocket the money he has saved from the strikers and instead donate that money to the Mayor’s Charity.

• Barnet Young Carers And Siblings 'BYCAS'
• The Outward Bound Trust
• The Alzheimer's Society

Later on the same day other UNISON members are supporting ‘Operation RESDIENTS MUST KNOW!’ by handing out newspapers and leaflets to Barnet residents outside tube stations across Barnet.

The day’s activity will end with a Candlelight Vigil outside Hendon Town Hall from 6.30 pm before the Planning Committee begins.

Barnet Easy Council is promoting the ‘One Barnet Programme’ (OBP) which is being rolled out across all council services. They previously identified up to £3 Million to implement what was called Future Shape policy. The latest brand, the One Barnet Programme, has £9.2 million budget to pay the bills of expensive consultants to carry out this mass outsourcing programme. The workforce implications of OBP could be that 70% of the council workforce could be transferred to the private sector in little more than 15 months' time.

John Burgess Barnet UNISON Branch Secretary said:

“The Council is gambling that the private sector can deliver £100 million savings over the next 10 years. We have seen no evidence to substantiate these claims. In other parts of the country we have seen the consequences of such blind allegiance to public sector bad private sector good. Our members are not daft; they can see that redundancy and cuts to jobs and services are behind the transfer from the council to a private sector contractor.

"Strike action is always a last resort, for the last three years we have been asking for a genuine dialogue with the council to explore ways to save money, improve services.

"Barnet UNISON is asking for the One Barnet Programme to be put on hold whilst meaningful talks with staff, trade unions and residents take place to look at alternatives to the One Barnet Programme."

Contact: John Burgess Barnet UNISON on 07738 389569 or email:

Friday, 14 October 2011

Brent library campaigners resist library closure

An inspiring story this evening of how campaigners for the six libraries facing closure in Brent are resisting the closure of Kensal Rise library.

So far they have prevented council workers from boarding up the library, simply by standing outside it in numbers. If anyone fancies a stroll in the autumn sunshine this weekend, please pay them a visit or at least send them a message of support. You can follow them on Twitter at @SaveKRLibrary. Their blog is here.

Our own library campaigners will be busy in Friern Barnet tomorrow, so if that's closer to you please go and support them from 2pm for their family fun afternoon.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Barnet CPZ Action quiz night, 12 November

The date is now confirmed for the fundraising quiz night of the Barnet CPZ Action campaign: Saturday 12 November. Details below. (For the prizes, I reckon they mean the Bald Faced Stag in East Finchley, not the Bald Faced Stag on Burnt Oak Broadway...)
Barnet CPZ Action Quiz Night and Promises Auction - Saturday, 12th November 2011

East Finchley Constitutional Club, The Walks, (Off Oakridge Drive) London N2 8DF

8pm on Saturday 12th November (doors open 7.30pm)

Test your knowledge against some of the best minds in Barnet and raise money for the legal campaign

Bid for great prizes in our auction including a week in a Majorcan holiday cottage
Match tickets and a tour of Lords Cricket Ground
Portrait Photography for children
Healing/Hypnotherapy Sessions
Dinner for Two at Bald Faced Stag
and much more...

Pay bar and food from the Lazy Sally Cafe available

How much? Just £5 per person

Tickets can be bought directly in advance on a first come first served basis through our blogsite using the Paypal function, but please remember to quote "Quiz" in your details.

Cheques can be sent to 88 Summerlee Avenue, East Finchley N2 9QH payable to Barnet CPZ Action. Please remember to leave your contact details and quote "Quiz".

Matthew Offord MP places third in best owner competition

MPs' dogs have been voting for who has the best owner. Hendon MP Matthew Offord placed third behind two fellow Tories. His dog Maximus growled:
Matthew is not the brightest in the pack, but he's pugnacious and he certainly sticks up for me. If it weren't for him and his opportunistic appeal to the Human Rights Act (you don't imagine he believes in it, do you?) I'd be stuck at home every day chewing the furniture instead of scratching myself in a corner of his office. I can't speak for his constituents and what they think of him. You'll have to ask them.
Oh, we will, Max, we will.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Putting you out of your keyword misery #1: Put the kettle on mother

Any blogger will by now have amused themselves and their readers with a discussion of the words (keywords) that people use to find their way to their blog. Often quite inappropriate words.

I am starting a new and occasional series on my blog called "Putting you out of your keyword misery" where I attempt to put searchers out of their misery by supplying what I think is the answer to their search.

Today: I believe that the answer to the question of who said "Put the kettle on mother" is 1960s Radio 1 DJ David Symonds (witness). (I know, I know, the things that keep people up at night...)

Put a pennny in the pint glass on your way out, if you please. (My catchphrase.)

Family fun at Friern Barnet library this Saturday

Barnet council have put out a press release this morning advertising a fortnight of events in its libraries:
Family fun comes to Barnet libraries

A fun-filled fortnight offering families the chance to learn a new skill kicks-off across the borough’s libraries this weekend (Saturday 15 October).

As part of Barnet Libraries Family Learning Festival, residents are being given the opportunity to try their hand at more than 30 free activities, including learning Chinese, pot planting and dance classes.

The national festival, which this year follows the theme ‘starting new adventures together’, also features a family chess show, creative crafts, local history scavenger hunts, computer workshops and maths workshops.

A special Rhyme Times session will also be held for toddlers to attend with their dads, granddads or uncles.

The African Cultural Association, Barnet College, the Institute in East Finchley and the Maeda Japanese School have all come together to work with Barnet Council’s library service and host the largest ever Family Learning celebration in the borough.

Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships, Councillor Robert Rams, said:

“Here in Barnet, following significant investment, our libraries have become more than just places to store books. They are at the centre of our communities, offering activities such as the Family Learning Festival, allowing families to come together, enjoy the facilities and events on offer and hopefully also take away a new skill or two. A fantastic array of interesting activities are planned across our library network over the next fortnight and so I urge residents to take advantage of the festival and all it has to offer.”

Barnet Libraries Family Learning Festival runs from Saturday 15 to Thursday 27 October.

For a full list of activities taking place, drop into your local library or visit
Robert Rams' comment that libraries are at the heart of their communities is exactly what the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign has been saying. That is why they want to keep their library open, not close it down as the Council wants to do.

As luck would have it, the campaign has organised an event this Saturday 15 October at 2pm on the green beside the library. Join them for family fun including apple bobbing, pumpkin faces and leaf bookmarks. More details on the Save Friern Barnet Library blog.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Barnet bloggers respond to Councillor Gordon’s defence of Barnet Council residents’ forums

Five Barnet bloggers have this morning sent the following letter to Barnet Councillor Brian Gordon.

Dear Councillor Gordon,

A letter was published last week in the Press group of newspapers from you concerning the Barnet Alliance for Public Services residents’ forum held on Tuesday 4th October.

We must correct a factual inaccuracy in your letter. The forum was not "private", it was open to all. All Barnet councillors were invited and would have been welcome to attend.

You state that Barnet Council’s own residents’ forums are not in any way hampered by the new rules governing them. Is this your opinion, we wonder, or have you asked the residents who attend? We think they would have a different view.

You state that the forums are "marred occasionally by the irresponsible actions of anti-council agitators". We ask you to withdraw this offensive remark. The undersigned have all attended numerous residents’ forums and have never witnessed an "anti-council agitator".

We have witnessed many local residents who disagree with the policies of the current administration, and we believe their comments are born out of deep concern for the direction of the Council and cannot be in any way construed as "anti-council".

We are also concerned by the description you give of the appropriate way to deal with residents and taxpayers. The phrase "with firm chairmanship, those individuals are fairly swiftly subdued" has highly oppressive overtones and clearly implies that residents are not welcome to express views at odds with the chair.

We would like to remind you, Cllr Gordon, that the forums exist for residents’ benefit, not for that of the chair.

We would also like to remind you of the circumstances in which you became chair, when it became necessary to instigate an investigation into the behaviour of the previous Conservative incumbent.

We remind you that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has praised the concerned citizens of Barnet for their efforts in exposing the shambles that your administration allowed to develop in the Council’s purchasing department.

We are pleased that you have drawn attention to the next set of Council residents’ forums. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your comments with you and your colleagues at these events.


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Monday, 10 October 2011

Free tonight? Lambeth bash for Boris...

I don't have tickets to the Conservative Party fundraising bash for Boris at Lambeth Town Hall tonight (seriously?), but I am invited to the Lambeth Save Our Services gig - and so are you! Details:
Please join us for the Bailout Boris (and all South London Conservatives) Bash! Our response to the Lambeth and Southwark Conservative Association fundraising drinks do at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton.

Lambeth Save Our Services and others would like to celebrate the men and women who brought us the Big Society, and since we cannot afford tickets to all be in it together, we are holding our own fundraiser on its steps. We will be collecting donations for the Conservatives' favourite causes: banks, reduced taxes for the rich, arms-dealing, but do feel free to bring a collection bucket labeled with your own personal favourite! If you do not have any cash, we know they will also happily accept symbolic representations of your job, your shrinking pension and what they have not already stripped of your services, such as adventure playgrounds, libraries, day centres for the elderly and the NHS.

We would ask that formal dress be worn; bring your champagne flutes and martini glasses in the hope someone will provide some drink, and join us in trying to ensure that everyone may eat cake. (Leftovers will be donated to the new Norwood Foodbank, recently started up to prevent starvation in South London).

When: 6:30 pm, Monday, October 10th
Where: The front steps of Lambeth Town Hall
Why: Bit cheeky of the conservatives to fundraise in Brixton, don't you think?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Brian Coleman and the red button

Here's a frightening thought. What if Brian Coleman were not to lose his Barnet and Camden seat on the Greater London Authority next May? What if his political career were not stopped in its tracks? What if he were to go higher? It doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

Why, one day he might be put in charge of something seriously important, strategic, something where his mistakes might put people's lives in danger. Er, hang on a minute, he already is: the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority!

P.S. Film quiz points for the name of the film and the character depicted here.

Film quiz: but who's this?!

One point for the actor and one point for the film. (The likeness is uncanny, isn't it? So uncanny I think I might post some more pics some time.)

P.S. I'm in training for the Barnet CPZ Action quiz night. I trust there will be a film round!

Barnet CPZ in the news + fundraising quiz

Barnet CPZ Action, campaigning against Barnet council's exorbitant hike in parking fees for those living in a Controlled Parking Zone, features large in the Sunday Times today. Here's their blogpost refuting what Barnet council has said about CPZ charges in the article.

On the CPZ Action blog there is also an advert for a fundraising quiz night they are holding soon. (I had thought it was very soon, but it looks as though the date has been moved back.)

I hope to take part when the time does come. Perhaps the various groups of disgruntled Barnet residents could each field a team. In that case, they had better hire an aircraft hangar to hold it in.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Save Middlesex University! Oppose the job cuts!

I feel Middlesex University is a very undervalued asset to Barnet. I know some of the local residents near the Hendon campus are disturbed by the traffic, lack of parking space, etc. But the students and staff bring money into the local economy.

We are also surely missing a big trick if we don't look for ways to tap into the knowledge contained within the Middlesex walls, and make more of the chance to meet young people, particularly the overseas students, who spend three years in our midst.

Middlesex is one of the universities that is particularly feeling the squeeze of reduced budgets. That is behind management's attempt to cut 300 jobs, around 15% of the staff!

They have opened campuses in Dubai and Mauritius; and plan to open a campus in India. In one nightmare scenario one can imagine a privatised Middlesex Uni deciding it would be better off closing its UK operation and shifting overseas totally. We would miss it if it went!

We should support the staff and students union in their bid to defend the quality of teaching at Middlesex and oppose the job cuts.

Below are some press reports of the UCU and Unison strike at Middlesex University on Tuesday.

Times series - "Strikes and pickets welcome students to Middlesex University"

Barnet Press - "University staff strike in battle over job cuts"

The UCU branch issued the following strike leaflet:
University and College Union Middlesex University - 4 October 2011 strike

Join local academics in saying:

  • No to £10 deficit budget savings

  • No to staff cuts

  • No to compulsory redundancies

  • Support the strike!

  • Protect future academic provision!

  • Help protect the quality of students' higher education!

  • Save Middlesex University!

  • Staff at Middlesex University are taking strike action on Tuesday 4 October in an increasingly bitter dispute over job cuts and changes to staff terms and conditions.

    Members of UCU have called on vice-chancellor, Professor Michael Driscoll, to meet for urgent talks in an attempt to avoid disruptive strike action.

    UCU members are joined on the picket lines by their colleagues in UNISON, who have also voted for strike action today.

    Staff are furious that the university wants to introduce cost-cutting measures that will result in up to 300 redundancies, with half of the savings to be found by cuts to academic staff.

    UCU said the job losses would have a devastating effect on the quality of academic provision and the student experience.

    The university is refusing to rule out increased workloads for staff who survive the jobs cull, which the union believes is in breach of nationally-agreed conditions of service. Next year, Middlesex University will charge some of the highest tuition fees in the UK (£8,602, after financial support is taken into account).

    UCU branch chair at Middlesex University, Arthur Husk, said: 'It is a shame that things have had to come to this but the university's cost-cutting measures will have a devastating impact on academic provision, the student experience and staff morale. We still want to avoid any disruption, but the vice-chancellor needs to get round the table with us and genuinely look at ways to resolve the dispute.'

    UCU general Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'UCU members at Middlesex want a negotiated settlement, but unless the university is willing to shift its position staff will take the appropriate steps to defend their jobs. I urge the vice-chancellor to get around the table and work positively with us for a resolution.'

    Barnet TUC website and a hot autumn

    I am the publicity officer for Barnet trades council (TUC), but the Barnet TUC website hasn't been updated for ages because, basically, I can't get into it anymore!

    Perhaps you have experienced this yourself, some IT programme you use is "improved"/"upgraded" or something and thereafter becomes unusable or, at best, not as good as it used to be.

    When I have a day spare - ha, ha! - I'll get to the bottom of the problem. In the meantime, I am thinking of setting up a blog that I point the address at, and in the more immediate meantime, I'll put some of the items I would have put on the Barnet TUC website here on my blog.

    So, as well as amusing tales of Barnet life, I'll be posting more purely labour movement-oriented items. Seeing that, this autumn, issues such as pension cuts are going to affect a lot more people than they have in recent years, the blog shouldn't become too unutterably dull and esoteric, I hope!

    Tuesday, 4 October 2011

    Barnet bloggers look forward to meeting Cllr Thomas to discuss Barnet council’s priorities

    Five Barnet bloggers have sent the following letter to Barnet Councillor Daniel Thomas today:

    Barnet bloggers look forward to meeting Cllr Thomas to discuss Barnet council’s priorities

    Dear Councillor Thomas,

    We, bloggers of Barnet, are most pleased that in your recent YouTube broadcast* you express yourself keen to engage with local residents and discuss ways to improve Barnet.

    As you are no doubt aware, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles recently commended the bloggers of Barnet for their great work exposing the MetPro scandal. The subsequent investigation has highlighted all manner of problems with Barnet Council's procurement procedures which we are promised will now be rectified.

    Since we are all motivated by the desire to help you improve Barnet still further, we are pleased to invite you for a live, televised discussion, to be broadcast on, at a time to suit you.

    We are sure that there are many subjects about which we could have an interesting and informative discussion.

    As public spirited citizens we are willing to meet all the costs of staging this event and broadcasting it live on the internet. We also guarantee to afford it maximum publicity and coverage through our blogs.

    We are happy to discuss any topic and suggest that if you let us know in advance the topics you want to cover, we will do our homework so as to ensure a fruitful discussion.

    We would be happy to broadcast either from the Barnet Council offices at North London Business Park or a venue chosen by us.

    Subjects we think you might be interested to discuss are: One Barnet, Cabinet Members’ allowances, executive pay, waste within the council, the number of highly paid contractors working for Barnet, cost overruns on projects such as Aerodrome Road, CPZ charges, Icelandic investments, overdevelopment and the strain it puts on infrastructure.

    We look forward to hearing your response.

    Best wishes,

    Derek Dishman
    John Dix
    Vicki Morris
    Theresa Musgrove
    Roger Tichborne


    Monday, 3 October 2011

    Strike against redundancies at Middlesex University, Tuesday 4 October

    Middlesex University plans to cut around 300 posts, spread across academic and admin staff. There are no guarantees at this stage that some of these job losses will not be compulsory. Unison members among admin staff and UCU members among academic staff have voted for a one-day strike in protest against the job cuts. The strike is on Tuesday 4 October (tomorrow, as I write!).

    There will be picket lines from 8-10am at the Hendon, Trent Park and Archway campuses.

    The students' union is closing its offices in solidarity and has issued the following statement:
    MUSU fully supports Unison in its continuing struggle against the cuts. MUSU passed a motion 'Oppose cuts throughout the public sector' on October 20th last year that stated:

    'The Union Resolves:

    1) To mandate the Students’ Union Executive to oppose all cuts.

    2) To work with and support the campus Trade Unions in their struggle against cuts.'

    MUSU sabbaticals will be around the picket lines on the day to inform students as to why we are supporting this action.

    In Unity

    Manojkumar Iyer, President
    To send a message of support to the Unison branch, email The Unison branch has a blog:

    To send a message of support to the UCU branch, email the branch secretary John Hammond:

    I suspect that all universities tend to be little worlds unto themselves, only scarcely integrated with the surrounding area, but last year Barnet trades council did forge links with the students' union, and the campus unions have sent representatives to trades council meetings. I hope we will continue to build this collaboration.

    Sunday, 2 October 2011

    Ban Killer Jeans! Or: My morning on Bond Street

    What a day yesterday turned into. I went to photograph a protest organised by Labour Behind the Label. Their "Killer Jeans" campaign calls for the banning of a technique of sandblasting denim which is causing respiratory disease in the workers that do it, and killing many of them.

    Sandblasting is done manually in countries such as Turkey and Bangladesh. Workers fire sand at the clothes under high pressure. The dust in the environment exposes workers to silica which causes a lung disease called silicosis. The disease is incurable and workers eventually die because they can't breathe properly.

    Sandblasting is not the only way to get that highly prized, distressed look into your jeans - ever thought of just wearing them out, for example? (Never mind the sarcasm...)

    LBL are targeting some of the posher brands at first, to get them to ban sandblasting in the production of the products they sell. Versace and Gucci, and the less posh Levi's and H&M have all agreed to stop sandblasting. But Dolce & Gabbana were holding out. Even though the evidence was presented to them of what sandblasting does they said they just weren't interested in discussing the campaign.

    So LBL took a few people to the D&G shop on Bond Street yesterday for a protest. Among them was Abdulhalim Demir, a Turkish guy in his 30s and a former sandblasting worker who is ill from silicosis. This is what he says:
    My illness has progressed to 46 percent of my lungs. I can’t do physical work, I can’t run or climb. If I catch a cold, it is very dangerous for me. I am short of breath all the time and I can’t talk. In many cases I have to go to hospital for a month and get direct oxygen.
    Halim has three children.

    When I got to Bond Street I discovered that I had been cast as an undertaker. That is how I came to be standing in the baking heat in a top hat and tails outside Dolce & Gabbana, being snapped by tourists and a professional photographer. I don't think I'm holding my cane correctly, but I do think I actually make quite a good lady undertaker. I notice too that I look more and more like my dear departed paternal grandmother each day. (Best not speculate on whether this latter fact is connected to the former. I muttered to the guy on my right, fellow campaigner Justin Baidoo, that perhaps we should go into business.

    We persuaded Abdulhalim that if he wanted to catch his flight back to Turkey he probably shouldn't put a paving stone through D&G's window; he took a turn in the top hat and tails instead. In the picture below you can see him against a backdrop of a D&G shop minion carrying Madame's bags to her waiting chauffeur-driven car. D&G is that kind of shop.

    Please join in this email action to shame Dolce & Gabbana into joining the increasing and much needed ban against sandblasting - Dolce & Gabbana: Ban Killer Jeans