Sunday, 30 December 2012

Citizen Barnet's review of the year 2012

Hello, it's time for Citzen Barnet's review of the year 2012. I use photographs I've taken throughout the year to illustrate an episode from each month of this year in the London Borough of Barnet, where we edged closer and closer to 'One Barnet' outsourcing bliss/blight.

Grab a glass, enjoy, and happy 2013!

January - you've been Johnsoned!

In some ways, 2013 was the year of Boris and Brian (more, much more anon).

On Tuesday 17 January Boris Johnson hosted a TalkLondon/ElectBoris roadshow at the Peel Centre, Aerodrome Road. He bestrode the stage like a colossal ****. Brian Coleman, his GLA running mate, was effectively muzzled by being made chair for the evening. Still, no one could miss in the (too) well-behaved audience - although Coleman did his best to - a vociferous group in bespoke t-shirts protesting against Barnet Council's new parking regime: this was my first sight of North Finchley traders' leader Helen Michael whom I now count as a mate! A year can be a long time in politics.

I didn't take a picture that night, so this month is illustrated with one of the odd pictures I made during his election campaign highlighting Boris Johnson's penchant for doughnuts and what I think of his politics generally: mouldy, old dough.

Freezing February - Barnet's marching season

February perversely was, as I remarked at the time, the month for three outdoor demonstrations!

On Saturday 4 February I paid my first visit to Friern Barnet to take part in a Save Friern Barnet Library group demonstration. On Monday 6 February I joined the North Finchley traders' funeral march. On Thursday 9 February, I supported the Barnet Unison picket at the council offices at North London Business Park. This was how I reported the strike:
Around 300 workers due to be transfered to private sector employment under the council's "One Barnet" outsourcing plan will be taking their fourth day of strike action.
They included 20-odd 'back office' staff of the parking service (pictured) - ultimately made redundant when NSL took over the parking contract (worth £15 million over 5 years) in May.

VICKI TIP: You can follow Barnet Unison on Twitter (a social medium that came of age in Barnet this year): @Barnet_Unison

March at the movies

On Monday 5 March Brian Coleman was found to have breached the councillors' code of conduct. A prize (of sorts) if you can guess how many months hence he will comply with his penalty.

Also in March, Barnet Tories began to attempt to repair their electoral arses by announcing a review into their new disastrous parking regime, and choosing Brian Schama as their new mayor and Kate Salinger as his deputy. As the year goes on, we will see how little this was and too late.

Monday 19 March saw the premiere of the film "A Tale of Two Barnets" by Charles Honderick (director) and Roger Tichborne (producer). The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley was packed out for this treat of a film which explored the lives, hopes and expectations of some of Barnet's residents as the borough gears up for the massive 'One Barnet' outsourcing programme.

Little did we or - I suspect - even Charles and Roger know that 2012 would be so busy that it would require a second film by the end of the year!

The picture below is of the orderly dole queue formed by protesters outside Downing Street on a warm Budget Day, 21 March.

April - adumbrations!

Foreground: Maureen Ivens, Save Friern Barnet Library group; background: Barnet Council Assistant Director Bill Murphy briefs an electrician on turning the power off.
Barnet Council went ahead and closed Friern Barnet Library on Thursday 5 April but could not carry through their plan without resistance! Some stalwarts of the Save Friern Barnet Library group, bolstered by members of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services and one or two members of the local Labour Party, 'sat in' at the library for five hours after the planned closing time of 1pm. We even thought to improvise a Twitter hashtag: #OccupyFB. Prophetic in a way!

May the merciless

Thursday 3 May was the day, the frabjous day, when the Labour Party's Andrew Dismore slay the Tory Brian Coleman to become Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, a richly deserved victory and defeat respectively. (Boris Johnson won his election, btw.)

On Thursday 31 May the Barnet Tories also lost a seat in a by election in Brunswick Park ward, left vacant on the death of former Council leader Lynne Hillan. The seat was won by one of the nicest men in British politics, Labour candidate Andreas Ioannidis.

Helen Michael celebrates the defeat of Brian Coleman in the plush surroundings of Alexandra Palace
June - Greece and an AGM

The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) held its first AGM on Tuesday 12 June at the Greek Cypriot Centre in Britannia Road, N12. We have had an incredibly busy year, meeting almost weekly, organising talks, marches, stalls, and so on. We also have a swish new website, helped by sponsorship from some of the unions that are also opposing cuts and privatisation in our public services.

Paul Mackney, Greek Solidarity Campaign, Greek party Syriza and Greek-Cypriot party AKEL spoke at a Barnet Alliance meeting, 7 June
Dodgy jobs in July

Barnet Council had a dishonorable mention at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in July for the number of senior executives it employs on contract rather than on the payroll (aka town hall tax dodgers), including its then deputy Chief Executive Andrew Travers. The Famous Five Barnet bloggers (who by now were having their elbows jostled by many excellent, new bloggers) wrote one of their year's many open letters on the issue.

At a BAPS conference "Barnet Council: not for sale!" on Saturday 7 July, blogger John Dix (Mr Reasonable) wowed the audience with his One Barnet black box trick, and public services expert Andy Mudd frightened them silly, presenting his daming report "London Borough of Barnet: Procurement and Contract Management", which concludes:
...there can be little confidence that Barnet has the capability, and perhaps more worryingly the culture, necessary to meet the challenge posed by the letting and management of contracts that, under the One Barnet plan, will be far bigger than anything the Council has previously dealt with.
John Dix shows how environmental health will be among those services disappearing into the One Barnet outsourced 'black box'
Angst in August

In August, if you could drag your gaze from the sporting spectacles on the telly long enough, you would notice that Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius got in a strop over One Barnet. While he was on holiday, senior officers let it out that one of the big contracts, Development and Regulatory Services, would be a Joint Venture, whereas Cornelius was not keen on this. For a while we could legitimately ask, and we bloggers did: who runs the Council, the elected politicians or the unelected officers?

A few months later it was clear that the answer is the unelected officers, but they have to twist the politicians' arms first, as Cornelius too came out favouring JV. Of course, there is also the question of who the elected politicians represent, when they have never consulted residents over the whole principle of One Barnet, let alone which particular model it will take. But that is the theme of the last third of the year.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Barnet Mayor Brian Schama showing his face at a community games on Grahame Park estate.

Good sports in September

Friern Barnet Library was re-occupied in September by people who know rather more about the business than we who attempted it in April; by activists of the Occupy movement. I've learned subsequently that they had little inkling of the battle that had raged and was still raging around the building, but a political compromise and cooperation with existing campaigns was quickly established, and the library re-opened to the public under workers and users' control, its shelves filled with donated books.

Barnet Council quickly had the occupiers in court but hadn't prepared well, as it took them till December to get a possession order.

Barnet Alliance stall at Chipping Barnet Library, Saturday 15 September
October - omg!

October felt like the most torrid month in a torrid year, outside Barnet, where Jimmy Savile's paedophilia was exposed, and we had recently found out about the disgraceful behaviour of the establishment around the Hillsborough disaster, and, of course, all year the Murdoch newspapers cases rumbled on. But also in Barnet we had our own torrid autumn.

Brian Coleman was involved in an alleged assault on Helen Michael; Barnet Tories shilly-shallied about how to respond, finally suspending him from the local party in November, but only after the national party had already stepped in to boot him out of its ranks.

Barnet Council Chief Executive Nick Walkley (one of literary editor Boyd Tonkin's 'barbarian bureaucrats' for his role in closing Friern Barnet Library, and a chief architect of 'One Barnet') announced he was taking his bad haircut off to Haringey for a pay cut. He was replaced by his deputy Andrew 'Town Hall Tax Dodger' Travers.

The Council thought better of outsourcing 'street scene' services, thus relieving residents of one massive headache.

Barnet Council finally admitted that the 'landmark library' they were negotiating with the Artsdepot to replace the closed Friern Barnet Library was a chimera. It didn't stop them continuing to pursue a possession order on the library, so as to evict the occupiers and sell the building. (But they weren't there and they aren't quite there yet...)

Brian Coleman finally apologised - very badly - for his insults to residents (see entry for March - if you guessed right, your prize is a warm, satisfied glow. Plus, please get in touch: your encyclopedic knowledge of Barnet trivia could come in useful for a fundraising quiz I am organising).

Charles Honderick and Roger Tichborne's follow-up film "Barnet - the Billion Pound Gamble" premiered at the Phoenix on 22 October.

The Barnet Alliance presented its petition calling for a referendum of residents over the One Barnet programme at a Council committee, the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which finally asked some awkward questions - including of Andrew Travers.

I helped design and edit a wraparound on the local newspapers which told residents more than they had ever been told before about the One Barnet programme. When I write up some notes on how we have run this campaign I will write in big letters WE SHOULD HAVE DONE THIS EARLIER!

It has never been difficult persuading Barnet residents - of whatever party allegiance - that One Barnet is a bad idea. All we needed to do was to let more of them know earlier what the Council was planning and we might have stopped it before it began...

(I did warn you October was mental.)

November nightmares

Brian Coleman became a saint of a kind yet still a sinner. He came out against One Barnet in an article in the Barnet Press. He also denied the charge of "assault [of Helen Michael] by beating and driving without reasonable care" at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court on 5 November - Coleman's case is due to be heard on Wednesday 6 February 2013.

Richard Cornelius finally consented to address the public over One Barnet, at a meeting organised by BAPS on 8 November. His performance failed to impress even those who had come with an open mind, in a packed room at the Greek Cypriot Centre.

Barnet Council workers learned that Capita had won the bid to provide a £750 million New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO) aka big call centre. They would soon find out that around 200 would lose their jobs which would be exported out of the borough.

The Council learned of the first of two legal challenges to One Barnet, from John Sullivan on behalf of his daughter Susan. Barnet Alliance is helping to raise money to support this legal case and that of Maria Nash (announced in December). You can donate here.

Richard Cornelius listens to Andy Mudd, Barnet Alliance meeting, 8 November
December deadlines
Many things came to a head in the final days of a frenetic 2012. 

Barnet Alliance disrupted the Cabinet meeting on Thursday 6 December where Barnet Tories took the decision to go ahead with the £750 million NSCSO contract (now transmogrified into a £320 million contract - I'm still not sure how: that's my homework). We could not sit by and watch this illegitimate decision go ahead without making a protest, albeit a token one.
On Monday 17 December Barnet Council finally got a possession order against the occupiers of Friern Barnet Library but I understand the - on the face of it - dodgy judgment will be appealed. And the battle to save the library is, dare I say it, only just joined.
On Thursday 20 December Barnet residents visited and protested outside the HQ of Capita in Victoria. I have a feeling that Capita will come to regret winning this contract. I for one will play my part in building a national campaign that turns the spotlight on the operations of the big public sector outsourcing companies in the way that groups such as UK Uncut and Occupy have successfully shone a light on the tax evading behaviour of the likes of Starbucks.
2013 looks like being as busy as 2012.
Happy Christmas, Capita, from the Barnet Alliance for Public Services

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

It's Crapita week!

Wonder if we can turn this around? Cartoon: Tim Sanders.
I'm laughing like a drain.

Capita have won the contract to run Barnet Council's New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO), worth between £320-750 million to them. But along with that licence to print their shareholders a tidy sum of money, they have also won the almost full and undivided attention of Barnet's growing activist community.

The implications of this must be starting to sink in for the Capita top brass.

For starters, the Barnet bloggers have declared this week 'Capita week', or 'Crapita week' or what-you-will, and are posting and tweeting stories about the misdeeds and failings of the multinational outsourcing company.

There are plenty of stories to go around, and we are busy keeping readers informed.

Then, this Thursday 20 December, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, and anyone else we can interest, will visit Capita HQ between 5-6pm at 71 Victoria Street, SW1 for a small protest. Please join us if you are free.

The most joyous aspect of all of this is that we wrote to Capita CEO Paul "£14k a week" Pindar to ask him for a meeting. Since his company is taking over a huge chunk of Barnet services and running them, and since he claims to value the views of Barnet residents, surely he would be happy to meet us on Thursday?

Paul Pindar has, get this, replied, saying that since Barnet Council's deal with Capita is still not sealed it would be inappropriate for him to meet us. But - he has replied! This has opened the floodgates on a generous correspondence flowing - increasingly in one direction, toward Capita - with Barnet residents.

I hope to post some of the letters on the Barnet Alliance website soon for your edification and delight.

When Capita were announced as the winners of the NSCSO contract, I tweeted that Paul Pindar would soon rue winning the contract. I am pleased to see my prediction coming true.

Capita, we are going to shine such a spotlight on you that you will beg to be put out of your misery! (Please excuse that rather violent imagery which rather goes against my peaceable nature. On this occasion, it is just making me laugh so much...)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Party and rally to save Friern Barnet Library

The battle for Friern Barnet Library enters a new phase next week. Barnet Council will return to court on Monday 17th to try to get a possession order to evict the Occupy activists who re-opened the library.

Please support the library campaigners and occupiers at court. I think the hearing is early in the morning, but will find out and confirm. The address is: Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Marys Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3 1BQ.

Tonight, Saturday 15th, they are hosting a cabaret evening at the Library. This might be your last chance - in the current phase of the campaign - to party in Friern Barnet Library so get along if you can.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas cheer, North Finchley, Saturday 15 December

At long last, some good news for traders and shoppers in North Finchley, and a party for all who can get along there. (Barnet Alliance will have a stall at this event and distribute leaflets for our protest at Capita on Thursday 20 November, 5-6pm, 71 Victoria Street, SW1H. But that's not till Thursday so here are the details for this Saturday.)
A Christmas Event for North Finchley

Visitors to North Finchley are in for a treat this Christmas as local traders organise ‘Tally Ho Ho Ho’, a town centre event packed with free family activities and entertainment. Saturday December 15th is the date for your diaries when the event kicks off with a flourish.

Father Christmas will arrive by horse and carriage at 10.00am and he will be carried through the town distributing chocolate, gold coins to children. From 11.30am children will be able to visit Santa with two live reindeer and a barn owl in a beautiful grotto at the Bohemia Bar on North Finchley High Road.

Peppa Pig and George will be making public appearances at intervals on Tally Ho Corner from 11.30am until 3.30pm where stalls will sell mulled wine, chocolate marshmallows and other sweet treats.

Children can make Gruffalo badges in the artsdepot cafe and a small stage will be erected outside the building for musical entertainment. Other activities include cupcake decorating, wreath making, carol singing, face painting and street entertainment.

In the lead up to the event children are invited to participate in a bauble decorating competition. Perspex baubles can be picked up from Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe on North Finchley High Road and children are asked to decorate them with a Christmas scene before returning them to the to the town Centre Christmas Tree during the Tally Ho Ho Ho event. Judges from Design for London will select a winner to receive a toy hamper and all baubles will be placed on the tree for public viewing.

The Tally Ho Ho Ho event has been funded by the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund, Barnet Council and local businesses. It has been organised by the North Finchley Traders Association.

Chair of the association Helen Michael is excited about the event and thinks that it will be good for the town: ‘We are providing a real alternative to shopping centres and online shops. North Finchley has a town centre Christmas tree; we have successfully campaigned for reduced car parking charges, we have a wide range of specialist shops and cafes and this event will enable people to relax and connect with their community.’

Activities take place from 10.00am until 4.00pm; for further details contact event organiser Sally Williams, Retail Revival Ltd; 07889 173101.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Residents take over the town hall, Or: A lesson in manners

I've returned from a weekend away recharging my batteries after the last manic couple of weeks campaigning against Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' outsourcing programme. On a personal note, I suppose, I was keeping a low profile as well, since I was one of the 'ringleaders' of the residents' brief sit-in at Hendon Town Hall on Thursday 6 December and, you might be surprised to hear, I don't much like being the centre of attention or making a fuss in public.

The Cabinet was meeting to vote on whether to approve an outsourcing contract with Capita for a New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO), worth at least £320 million over 10 years. The champions of One Barnet say this means 'back office' services, things such as getting cheaper human resources management and stationery. They say - and said in the meeting - it wouldn't directly affect 'front-facing services', and residents wouldn't notice the difference.

Of course residents will notice the difference, because one of the big chunks of the NSCSO contract entails channeling all of our telephone calls to the Council through a Capita call centre. 200 jobs at least are likely to be lost from the borough and 'exported' to another city, for example, Belfast, Blackburn or Sheffield, as a result.

There are just two examples of the difference that NSCSO will make to Barnet residents.

At the Cabinet meeting, Barnet Alliance for Public Services decided to disrupt the vote. We knew that the Cabinet members would adjourn to another room to take it and that our protest was only symbolic, but we wanted to make the point that the public, insofar as it has even been told about One Barnet, rejects it.

At the meeting there were public questions, Labour leader of the Opposition Alison Moore spoke (and was challenged by the Tory Cabinet), and we didn't want to stop those. In the event, we timed our intervention slightly wrong; we thought Daniel Thomas was about to announce the vote, and started our protest prematurely, but in fact, when the Cabinet adjourned to another room, there was still some comment from the other Cabinet members. It's a shame we did not hear it, but I wonder, also, whether the Cabinet members' questions would have been any more probing or less stagey than usual.

For example, something along the lines of the box-ticking you usually hear:
"Has the Leader considered the potential impact of x proposed policy change on disabled people in the borough?"

"Yes, I can reassure the member that we have carried out a full Equalities Impact Assessment."
The necessity of carrying out Equalities Impact Assessments was a hard-learned lesson for Barnet Council when they first lost a legal challenge over their proposed (and carried through) policy of removing residential sheltered housing wardens.

There are now two legal challenges being brought against One Barnet, as Maria Nash sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to the Council on Thursday to add to the action already initiated by John Sullivan on behalf of his daughter Susan.

I am learning that a lot of what Cabinet members say in public is more for the benefit of lawyers in case of a potential legal action, than for us the residents.

Why we disrupted the Cabinet meeting

The purpose of our intervention on Thursday night was not so much, as I have already said, to make impossible a vote, as to make the point that none of the decisions the Council is taking in relation to the One Barnet Programme has democratic legitimacy.

After the Cabinet members had adjourned to a side room to conclude their deliberations, we residents 'took over' the committee table and held an impromptu residents forum.

In May 2011 Barnet Tories changed the Council's constitution - possibly illegally - to BAN residents at the Council-run residents forums from talking about:
  • policy
  • Barnet-wide issues
  • anything discussed already in the past six months.
What this effectively was, was a ban on public discussion by residents about the One Barnet Programme.

The disruption we caused on Thursday night was noisy and not particularly polished - we are only learning how to protest - but it got a lot of publicity for our basic case: residents have not been consulted about One Barnet. Residents should have been consulted about One Barnet. We should be fully informed about and, if we want it, involved in ALL decisions that affect our Council services and the expenditure of our money.

Much as it causes me some personal embarrassment to be captured on video as the woman on the chair (I took my shoes off first, I'll have you know), leading the chanting, I'm very glad that we took the decision to protest in this way and, even more, that we had the guts to carry it through. Possibly contrary to appearances, I think the Barnet Alliance is growing up politically.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Protest against One Barnet, Thursday 6 December

Not time to say much more than I'm protesting against the One Barnet programme tomorrow - twice! Please join me!

Residents say ‘no’ to outsourcing of our Council services!
We invite you to join our protests:

Thursday 6 December: 7.30-9am, North London Business Park,
Oakleigh Road South/Brunswick Park Road, N11.
“Don’t let Capita in!” protest at the site of Barnet Council’s main offices.


Thursday 6 December: 5.30-6.30pm, Hendon Town Hall, the Burroughs, NW4.
Protest at Town Hall ahead of the Cabinet’s meeting (7pm) to decide whether to approve an outsourcing contract with Capita worth at least £320 million.

We are protesting on the day that the Cabinet of Barnet Council decides whether to approve an outsourcing contract for back office services and a call centre, with the multinational outsourcing company Capita. The contract is worth at least £320 million.

This contract is part of the One Barnet Programme (OBP). Under OBP most of Barnet Council services will transfer to outsourcing giants such as Capita, whose main skill is winning contracts and who only exist to make profits for shareholders. We think this is wrong!

Barnet Council wants to outsource on a scale never attempted before in local government. All over the UK councils are backing out of similar schemes, as they go wrong or the risks become clearer.

But here in Barnet the Council wants to go ahead with a scheme they have no mandate for and which they have refused to discuss with residents.

In the process they will make at least 200 Barnet workers redundant, and force residents to phone a call-centre in another part of the country when they want to contact the Council.

Please show your opposition! Please join our protest! *

Sign the petition calling for Barnet residents to decide the future of our services:

Friday, 30 November 2012

Love-in at Friern Barnet Library, Saturday 1 December

You knew it! Those occupy types currently keeping Friern Barnet Library open to the public are really just a bunch of hippies, sharing their possessions - and perhaps more besides - in common!

Tomorrow (Saturday 1 December) they have organised a 'Love your library' day to which we are all - very - warmly invited! See you there, baby!

Saturday 1 December 1.30-5pm - FRIERN BARNET LIBRARY, A LOVE STORY, PAST AND PRESENT - Our love libraries event - everyone welcome, please contact other libraries that are under threat and invite them to this event. Poster attached. Timetable:

1.30pm Introduction

1.35-1.50 Happy Birthday Friern Barnet Library – Presentation by Rosie Canning

1.55-2.10 Save Friern Barnet Library Campaign - Martin Russo (Chair) and Maureen Ivens

2.15-2.30 Slide show of Friern Barnet and surrounding area - Mike Gee

2.35-2.50 The Friern Hospital Story - David Berguer

2.50-3.20 BREAK - Food and Drink

3.20-3.35 Ollie Natelson

3.40-3.55 BAPS/One Barnet

4.00-4.15 Direct Action/FBL Occupation – Occupiers: Tiffany/Mark/Mel

4.15-4.50 Local campaigns - Jamie KF/Pinkham Way/Other Libraries

4.50-5.00 Conclusion – Occupiers: Arun/Jamie KF

5-late Music/Social/Share Food

Bring food & conversations to share. This is a friends and family event! All welcome.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Brian Coleman sticks the boot into One Barnet - and so must we

A busy weekend that took me away from Barnet as far as Lewisham! On Saturday I took some photos at the inspiring demonstration to defend Lewisham Hospital where the A&E, and maternity and other services are threatened with closure.

Why are they at risk? Not because they're not good, or needed, but because the hospital trust is going broke. Why? Because of the disastrous PFI deals they are lumbered with.

Despite the teeming rain, thousands of local people turned out to object to this latest assault on their public services in the name of tackling... "austerity"? Or just incompetence? I expect this campaign to be very important in the fight to defend NHS services more generally.

You can see my pictures here.

Today took me all the way to King's Cross, Angel, King's Cross again, Old Street and back home. God, it's a busy life I lead!

This evening I looked in on Twitter (@vickim57, in case you want to know). One Twitter mate was asking whether Brian Coleman's blog had disappeared, as she couldn't access it. I had a look for myself and concluded that it had only temporarily vanished while it caused a ripple in the universe, so devastating were the contents of the self-styled King of Bling's latest blogpost.

Read it for yourself and enjoy Brian Coleman wreaking some kind of revenge for getting kicked out of the local Tory party by revealing how few of them believe in the One Barnet programme.

I enjoyed passages of this so much that I tweeted them to the twittersphere: I'll let you discover them for yourself.

Coleman's post is about the Barnet Tory group meeting the other evening where the Tory councillors were briefed on One Barnet. Yes, you would think they know by now what it is and what they think of it, but some of them still need to be told by the senior council officers plugging the thing.

Anyway, some of them do already know something, and some others of them didn't like what they heard at the meeting.

By Coleman's account, 7 councillors stayed away from the meeting out of tact. And 7 abstained when the vote was taken on endorsing the programme.

There are 37 Conservative Barnet Councillors (I know, it's depressing, isn't it?).

7 Tories stayed away. 7 abstained. So 23 Tories actually support the One Barnet programme, the mainstay of the Tories' policy for running Barnet Council services for the next 10 years or more.

The purpose of this vote was to bind them to vote for the policy in the Council chamber when it next comes up (22nd January, I understand). Whether they will all do that is unclear. I would lay money they will, but it's a bet I would be happy to lose.

It's time for some math!

There are 22 Labour Councillors. There are 3 Liberal Democrat Councillors And there's only 1 Brian Coleman (I can hear your cheering from here). So that's 26 out-and-out anti's.

Assume that all of the 7 Tories that stayed away from the group meeting are more or less grudingly in favour. That gives the pro's 30. The anti's thus potentially have 33, if the Tory abstainers vote against. Will they?

We must do whatever we can to maximise the pressure on them in the coming weeks. There are many ways we are doing this, and I would urge you to participate in the various intiatives of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services. Check out their website now for email messages you can send, and please sign the online petition calling for residents to be consulted over One Barnet.

Friday, 23 November 2012

They call it Black Friday - don't mourn, organise!

It's the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA, the day they call 'Black Friday'.

It's not an official holiday, but it is a significant day in the American calendar, and traditionally marks the first day of the Christmas shopping season. Shops open early. This year the day will be marked in an unusual fashion by a mass strike (hopefully) of staff ('associates') of the giant supermarket chain Walmart. (The UK's Asda is a subsidiary of Walmart.)

Walmart workers are striking for better pay and treatment at work. It will be wonderful to see this group of low-paid workers fighting back, in a country where the anti-union laws are even more draconian than in the UK.

Read more about OUR Walmart, the community campaign supporting the Walmart strikers here.

Of course, here in Barnet, we are experiencing our own Black Friday. Yesterday, more than 500 Barnet Council workers learned they will either be working for the new boss Capita, or they will be out on their ear, as Capita look to boost their profits by laying off workers in Barnet and employing people on lower wages somewhere else in the country.

Barnet Council's senior officers (top managers) have decided that Capita has put in the best bid to run the Council's New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO). (They haven't asked residents what they think.)

Barnet's Tory councillors but most especially the Cabinet members who will say yes or no to this contract have just seven days to read through - or have explained to them - what's in the apparently 8,000 pages of the contract document, that has been four years in the making.

Are they going to be on top of their brief? Like hell. In fact, I can guarantee that Barnet's bloggers, members of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, and Barnet Unison officers probably already know more of what's in that document than Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius himself. And we will hold them to account!

Obviously, it is a hard day for those Barnet Council workers who fear losing their jobs. And those that keep them can expect that their workload could increase and their pay and employment terms be eroded. Capita, after all, have promised to do the work for less than the Council are currently paying, and they still need to show their shareholders a profit.

You do the math (as the Americans say). Most of the proceeds of privatisation come from the lowering of workers' pay and conditions.

Barnet Unison members have taken industrial action against being pushed into worse jobs or no jobs, under the One Barnet outsourcing programme. There are reasons why that industrial campaign only went on so long, reasons too complex to examine here. But I still truly believe that industrial action has a central place in the fight against outsourcing, and to defend jobs and pay, and simply to ensure that people are treated with respect by their bosses.

So, yes, it's Black Friday, but let's take our inspiration from the Walmart strikers across the pond: don't mourn, organise!


Here is Barnet Unison's press release issued on Thursday:

Today approximately 520 Barnet Council staff have been told in a series of briefings that Capita is to be their new employer.

From figures released in the presentations today approximately 57% of staff will face redundancy as local jobs are exported to Belfast, Blackburn, Bromley, Carlisle, Darwen, Sheffield, Banstead, Swindon, Southampton.
For the last four years UNISON has warned of the danger of jobs being exported out of Barnet. Leading Councillors and senior officers have either played down this risk or discounted it as irrelevant.
John Burgess, Branch Secretary said: “It is a dark, dark day in the history of Barnet Council. Staff and residents will remember this date as the day the council carried on marching over the cliff ignoring the stark warnings of residents and other key stakeholders. The implications for our members are awful. I thought the morale of the workforce had already hit rock bottom, this news I believe will drag it down deeper and it will have an impact on other council staff. I also fear for the impact on future quality of services to Barnet residents. I really hope Councillors will think again about the implications of what they are proposing and the risks of ignoring a growing dissenting community voice emerging from a resilient committed community campaign. But, it isn’t over yet, there is an alternative way to delivering public services and our campaign is still very alive and focused. Watch this space.”
Barnet Council is implementing a policy known as the One Barnet Programme, sometimes referred to as the ‘Commissioning Council’. This mass privatisation policy is designed for the Council to divest itself of responsibility to deliver services to its residents.
The first One Barnet project known as New Support Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO) will be for back office services such a Finance, Revenues & Benefits, Estates, IT, HR & Payroll etc, it is estimated to be worth up to £750 million.
It involves approximately 700 council workers. There is a high probability that the winning bidder will not deliver these services from Barnet so there is a high risk of significant redundancies at the moment of transfer.
This contract will be awarded to either Capita or BT at the Barnet Council Cabinet Resources Committee on Thursday 6 December 2012.
The second One Barnet project is known as Development & Regulatory Services (DRS) which includes the following services:
Trading Standards & Licensing, Land Charges, Planning & Development, Building Control & Structures, Environmental Health, Highways Strategy, Highways Network Management, Highways Traffic & Development, Highways Transport & Regeneration, Strategic Planning & Regeneration, Cemeteries & Crematoria.
This contract, worth up to £275 million pounds, will be awarded to Capita Symonds or EC Harris at the Barnet Council Cabinet Resources Committee on 8 January 2013.
This involves approximately 300 council workers
Both contracts are for ten years with an option to extend for a further five years.

UNISON’s position

Over the past four years UNISON has published over 40 detailed reports on the Future Shape/EasyCouncil/One Barnet mass privatisation programme.

Our message has remained clear.

Provide a level playing field and follow good practice and include a fully funded in house service improvement model to run alongside the procurement process.

Our proposal - In house model

There are a nnumber of examples of where Councils have followed this approach to good effect. Most recently Edinburgh City Council considered the potential for using private contractors to deliver a wide range of its services. It embarked on separate procurement processes for 3 blocks of services utilising the Competitive Dialogue process in an attempt to obtain the best offers available from the market. At the same time in-house teams were asked to work on service improvement plans or Public Sector Comparators, so that when it came to the award of contract, the Council could be sure that the services it was purchasing would genuinely optimise its use of scarce resources. In the end the Public Sector Comparators proved to be more attractive than any of the external offers and no contracts were awarded.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

7 days to scrutinise a £750 million contract?! You have to be kidding!

Dear Councillor,

We are about to hear which company has been awarded one of the two massive contracts that constitute the £1 billion One Barnet privatisation scheme. 

Barely a week after the recommended bid is announced, Cabinet will vote on the proposals, and this borough will surrender control of a huge number of its services to an unaccountable private sector provider, for a minimum period of 10 years.

Leader Richard Cornelius has written to a resident of Barnet stating he feels that a week allows sufficient time for the scrutiny by councillors of a contract of this size and significance, one that has taken four years in creation, by a process which has itself cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in fees to consultants.

We suggest to you that a week is self evidently a completely inadequate length of time for councillors to inform themselves of the details and full significance of what is clearly a hugely complex undertaking, and one with enormous implications for the future of all residents.

One Barnet is the most ambitious privatisation exercise that has ever been attempted by any local authority. 

Despite the unprecedented scale of this project, NO independent assessment has been made of the enormous risks such an enterprise must inevitably present.

Equally astonishing is the fact that the internal assessment, the One Barnet Risk Register, has never been presented to the council's own Audit Committee.

Not only does this represent the most irresponsible disregard for the security of local residents' investment in One Barnet, it quite clearly makes the authority liable to legal challenge on the basis of failing properly to consult with members and residents, as required by the demands of the democratic process.

We ask all councillors to consider the very real concerns we raise: resist the demand to rubber stamp a decision from which, effectively, you have been excluded by the leadership and senior management team of this authority. Ask yourselves why you have been excluded from the process of scrutiny.

And then please have the courage do the job you were elected to do: to protect the best interests of the residents and tax payers of the London Borough of Barnet, and act immediately to call for a suspension of this reckless programme.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

'Barnet - billion pound gamble': get the DVD!

Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS), Barnet bloggers, residents, the odd MP, were at the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) last night for a screening of 'Barnet - the Billion Pound Gamble'.

This film by director Charles Honderick and producer Roger Tichborne is a follow-up to their 'A Tale of Two Barnets' at the start of the year. It reflects on developments since, and includes coverage of the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library, which was not in the first film.

At our meeting on 19 November, in the plush surroundings of Committee Room 12, we also heard a number of speakers: Barbara Jacobson for BAPS on how Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' privatisation plan (the billion pound gamble) will destroy local democracy; 'Mr Reasonable' blogger John Dix; and Barnet resident John Sullivan, whose daughter Susan is instigating legal proceedings against Barnet Council over One Barnet.

The film which lasts 30 minutes is available on DVD for £3 (£5 incl postage). Please email to order a copy.

Some pictures of the evening below.

Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, with Barnet Councillors before the meeting
Ruth Kutner (BAPS chair); John Dix aka Mr Reasonable
Barbara Jacobson for BAPS
John Sullivan

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Save Friern Barnet Library: important events

Much ado about Friern Barnet Library! Please see the schedule below of upcoming events at the occupied library.

Particularly important is the extraordinary meeting this afternoon. The campaigners to save Friern Barnet Library are discussing how to respond to the news that Barnet Council are moving quickly to flog off the building - and excluding residents from even attending the meeting where they will make that decision.

I understand that the responsible Cabinet member, Robert Rams, was the subject of a save Friern Barnet Library flashmob today outside his councillor's surgery in East Barnet. I think they were going to build him a pop-up Landmark Library!
Saturday 17th November, 2pm-3.30pm (at Friern Barnet Library): Greenacre Writers are holding a creative writing workshop, Ways into Creative Writing  
Extraordinary meeting, Saturday 17th Nov, 4pm, (at Friern Barnet Library) to discuss Barnet Council Cabinet Resources Committee are meeting 17th Dec [day before the court case] about the decision to market Friern Barnet Library - Members of the public are BARRED – see link:  
Saturday 24th November, 1-2pm (at Friern Barnet Library), (7-10 year olds); 2.30-3.30pm (11-16 year olds): Comic Workshops. Free introductory workshop with Andy Williams, a local Graphic Artist/Comic Creator with more than 20 years’ experience in the Comics Industry, who runs The Muswell Hill Comics Club. Craig Phoenix, author, will be appearing at the library 1st December 11am-1pm.  
Saturday 1st December, 2-5pm: Friern Barnet Library, A LOVE STORY, PAST AND PRESENT - Our 'Love Libraries' event - everyone welcome, please contact other libraries that are under threat and invite them to this event - poster and details to follow soon.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Sury Khatri, Barnet's brainiest Tory

You've probably never heard of him, but Sury Khatri has just outed himself as Barnet's brainiest Tory.

A councillor for Mill Hill ward, Khatri has been engaged in a ding-dong email exchange with Matthew Offord over Barnet Council's One Barnet programme.

It seems that Offord, who was a member of Barnet's Tory Cabinet before, inexplicably, being elected MP for Hendon in 2010, has been brought in to stamp down on the arguments Tory Councillors are having among themselves. (One could hardly expect them to conduct in public a debate about the future of Barnet Council services.)

Some of those emails have been leaked to the press, to the Barnet Press at first, I think.

Whoops, however did that happen?

Anyway, the news has spread and this evening makes it into the Guardian.

Some surprising things have happened this week.

Barnet residents have found their parochial struggles a focus of national media interest as the world remembers again that the Council is about to hand over control of the vast bulk of its services and £1 billion to a handful of multinationals.

The Daily Mirror , "The guerrilla library: as cuts close 8 libraries per month, we visit one that rose again", focused on Friern Barnet Library; the Guardian, "Barnet's outsourcing easyCouncil faces taxpayers' revolt", on the Barnet Alliance public meeting on 8 November.

And we find out now that another Barnet Tory has listened to what we have been saying, but which publicly the Tories continue to deny: that they have no mandate for the One Barnet programme.

Here are some of Khatri's email comments to Offord:
The Conservative Party did not campaign on this basis and we do not have a mandate.

None of the literature we distributed prior to the election mentioned one iota of this.

The local people do not want this and have not been consulted, hence the vociferous reaction by residents.
Khatri wasn't at the BAPS public meeting, but it looks as though he has watched the videos!

One Barnet legal challenge: Councillors should listen to reason

The bloggers of Barnet sent this joint email to every Barnet Councillor today. This blog also contains a video recorded by John Sullivan explaining why his daughter Susan has launched a legal challenge against Barnet Council over its One Barnet programme.


Dear Councillor,

Susan Sullivan is launching a legal action to secure a judicial review of the One Barnet programme.

As concerned Barnet residents, we believe that it is vital for the financial wellbeing of this borough that this programme is halted. We have seen no evidence that justifies the claims of savings, and plenty of evidence that signing 10-year contracts is highly risky. We do not believe that anyone knows where the economy will be in five years, let alone 10 years.

To illustrate the point, in 2007, nobody would have predicted the Credit Crunch, and RBS were embarking on a reckless takeover of ABN AMRO. The markets and the private sector trumpeted this deal as good value for the shareholders of RBS, but it brought the organisation to its knees, and the company would have gone bankrupt had it not been bailed out by the taxpayer.

BT, Capita and EC Harris, who are bidding for the One Barnet contracts, have nothing like the market capitalisation or financial strength that RBS was perceived to have in 2007; it cannot possibly be claimed that there is no risk.

Gambling, speculation and risk are matters that should not be entertained in the provision of services to vulnerable people. Yet they are precisely the values at the centre of the One Barnet programme. As such, we fully support Susan Sullivan in her action.

Her father John Sullivan has been interviewed and gives his reasons for opposing One Barnet and helping his daughter to launch her action.

We urge all Barnet councillors and every resident of Barnet to listen to John, as he eloquently sums up the reasons why One Barnet should be abandoned.

[video URL:]


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday joke: As a community leader, we accept that Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services...

Residents crowd into the Barnet Alliance public meeting about 'One Barnet', yet the council claims "Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services"
Last night's Barnet Alliance public 'Question Time' with a panel of Barnet Council Leader Richard Cornelius, Labour group leader Alison Moore, Lib Dem group leader Jack Cohen, and Andy Mudd, a consultant with the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), was remarkable.

The hall at the Greek Cypriot Community Centre was packed; estimates vary but... it was packed! People standing at the sides and back and even outside the main room, in the cafe area. I arrived late and snapped the crowds around the door (above).

I missed the opening speeches, but they will be available on film soon, I expect, at the Barnet Bugle blog.

Richard Cornelius got a hard, but fair, ride. His basic arguments were: the massive One Barnet outsourcing programme will save us money, and stop us having to put up (even by inflation?!) council tax; we don't know what's in the proposed contracts, but we'll see in a few days' time - then Councillors Will Decide.

The audience had sent in questions in advance and a representative sample were chosen to cover various themes raised by One Barnet, including transfer of jobs out of the borough; how councillors will represent voters and residents in future, when all services are wrapped up in contractual agreements; what happens if the contracts fail?, who will foot the bill?, etc.

Extra questions and contributions were made from the floor throughout the evening. The level of debate was high, and, although Cornelius was clearly whipping boy for the evening, I thought fair and reasoned.

Richard Cornelius (Con); Alison Moore (Lab); Andy Mudd (APSE)
One of the final contributions from the floor was most telling; a woman who declared herself party neutral said that she had found Cornelius's answers utterly unconvincing. She got the biggest round of applause of the night.

The meeting lasted more than two hours, and most people stayed to the end. I feel that this evening's meeting was a small but overdue watershed for democracy in Barnet. The Conservative group simply hasn't put its plans before the electorate for its consideration, but now, finally, they have been forced to stand and defend their plans in public. And the public don't like them. Now what happens next?!

These are, let's be clear, massive changes they are proposing - in the way services are delivered, in the governance arrangements of the council - not to be undertaken lightly.

Andy Mudd probably had the most telling line of the evening, fairly early on, when he said that of all the councils he had looked at, Barnet was the worst at letting and monitoring contracts - and so far we have only been talking about relatively small contracts. Barnet now plans to outsource £1 billion of business, affecting 70% of council services.

My favourite contribution came from a man who used to work for the in-house parking service but now works for the outsourced contract with NSL. He reminded people how the service has deteriorated; earlier on Derek Dishman (aka blogger Mr Mustard) pointed out that 25 jobs had gone from the borough when parking was outsourced. Is this the sort of thing we have to look forward to for all of our services in future? It is, under One Barnet.

P.S. I was looking for the Tory councillors' favourite quotation that Barnet residents don't care who delivers their services, private or public sector, as my headline to this report. I couldn't find which Barnet Tory politician said it, but I did come across yet another Barnet Council website with a quote to that effect, except it seems to be given as a sort of official mantra for Barnet Council.
As a community leader, we accept that Barnet’s communities are not interested in who delivers their public services as long as they are of a high quality, effective and publicly accountable.
What's the status of this website? It seems to be aimed at people thinking about working for Barnet Council. The tone is appalling!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Richard Cornelius faces public over One Barnet tonight

There has a been a steady clamour of rising anger about Barnet Council's One Barnet outsourcing plan, in spite of the administration's determination that "no one is interested in how services are delivered".

To try and make their prognostication true, they didn't tell anyone about it.

So we had to: bloggers, Barnet council unions, residents, organised through the Barnet Alliance for Public Services. And our weapons of information are becoming more sophisticated, eg, the wonderful cartoon by Azi Khatiri, feat. the voice and words of John "Mr Reasonable" Dix.

Finally, even Conservative Council Leader Richard Cornelius could not refuse to face the public over the plan. Perhaps hoping to fob BAPS off when they collared him at a councillors' surgery recently, he promised to speak at a public meeting. We finally pinned him down to a date, and... it's TONIGHT!

Cornelius had a say in who else was on the panel for this 'Question Time' format meeting; I tend to think that it's as well he did, for we started out with about 8 speakers and now, at Cornelius's insistence, there are a manageable 4.
'Our Barnet' Question Time  
7-9pm, Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12. Nearest tube: Woodside Park on the Northern Line (High Barnet branch).  
Cllr Richard Cornelius, Conservative Leader of Barnet Council  
Cllr Alison Moore, Leader of Barnet Labour Group  
Cllr Jack Cohen, Leader of Barnet Liberal Democrats Group  
Andy Mudd, public services expert, Association for Public Service Excellence  
The chair will be BAPS member Barbara Jacobson*.
Please come and play your part in this exciting event! Entry is free.

* Barbara is the most 'fair-minded' of all BAPS members. She is the person who tells the rest of us off for heckling during Council meetings, and we have all come to appreciate her rigorous style when she chairs BAPS meetings.

Cartoon: Welcome to the One Barnet Casino!

Excellent new cartoon, with script and voice by John Dix (aka blogger Mr Reasonable), exposing why residents should be concerned about Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' outsourcing programme.

Please do watch and share widely!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The damage done, Or: The King of Bling has left the building

I arrived late for the extraordinary Barnet Council meeting at Hendon Town Hall this evening, but found a seat in the overflow room with other tardy members of the public. On the end wall, like a painting over a grand fireplace, was a screen showing a sort of bird's eye view of the Barnet Council chamber where the session was in progress. A pigeon in the rafters sort of view of the proceedings.

When I arrived Labour councillor Kath McGuirk was speaking to the Labour Group's motion of no confidence in Tory Leader Richard Cornelius.

With 22 votes to the Tories' 37, Labour couldn't win this vote, not even with the tenuous support of the 3 Lib Dems, but it was important to put this motion to challenge Cornelius's 'One Barnet' programme.

Lib Dem Lord Monroe Palmer laid into the mass outsourcing plan as well, and he is the chair of Barnet Council's Audit Committee so he knows full well about the council's recent bad record in procurement and contract management.

The vote was taken and Labour lost (Brian Coleman abstained, for the record), but in the debate some good arguments were made. Unfortunately, I had not heard most of them and will have to wait for the video footage, that I'm sure Barnet's citizen filmers are editing as I type, to see it.

After a break, and the extraordinary council meeting being over, the ordinary council meeting began.

There were a lot of questions to the executive, raced through. Then there was another break. Public and councillors milled about in the corridors.

Earlier in the evening, I understand, the Conservative Group had met and kicked Brian Coleman out of their number. I'm not sure quite how this works; he was suspended by the national party last week. But I know Coleman wasn't happy about this latest rejection. In the break he was having a row with Cllr Anthony Finn, who is replacing Coleman in some of his committee positions, in a side room. I was too busy looking for a lost telephone, twitching about behind the velvet curtains, to hear what was said, but I know that Coleman was basically accusing Finn of betraying him.

When the council meeting re-convened, Coleman was not in the council chamber. (He is still a councillor until the electors of Totteridge boot him out in 2014. I wonder how delighted they feel about that.)

I know, as Richard Cornelius is always reminding us, that Coleman is innocent until proven guilty. But whatever about his impending trial, this evening's council meeting was a curious showcase of just how disruptive one individual can be.

A large part of the evening was given over to a Labour motion for some periods of free parking in Barnet's high streets at Christmas time. This has to be done to help mend the damage done to local trading by Barnet's disastrous meddling with the parking regime, hiking prices, and removing parking meters so that shoppers have to pay by mobile. Of course, Coleman was the architect of this policy.

Today it was announced that the Council, thanks to the sterling campaigning efforts of Cafe Buzz owner Helen Michael, is introducing various measures to try and woo shoppers back to the shops in North Finchley, and during the evening they announced that they were talking with the shopkeepers of other high streets in Barnet.

Throughout all of this Brian Coleman sat nibbling his fingers and taking no part - for he is now without a group or responsibility - only taking an active part in the proceedings during question time (when he seemed to have asked an inordinate number of questions!).

Later in the evening, after he had left, there was an item of business reporting on how Brian Coleman had - finally, late and grudingly - paid the penalties handed to him by the Standards Board for insulting two Barnet residents by email. Another Brian Coleman sour misdeed.

And, finally, near the end of the evening, again without him there to hear it, it was announced who would replace Coleman as chair of the various committees that he was still in charge of, and that - the greatest ignominy for him personally, I imagine - he was no longer to be considered as a part of the Conservative group.

Alison Moore, Labour Group Leader, was quick to ask whether the Tory Group being lighter by one member would impact on the allocation of committee places, which is done in proportion to the groups' numbers. The Director of Corporate Governance, the soon-to-be retiring Jeff Lustig, said he would look into it.

So the evening was punctuated by reminders of the damage that Brian Coleman has done to the lives of Barnet residents and to the reputation of the Barnet Tory Party.

The Barnet Tories might be happy to be rid of him, but how will they fare now he is merely a glowering presence on the fringes of their group? To be honest, I think they will still fare ill. There was plenty of evidence of it tonight.

A number of residents had arrived to hear the Labour motion for the Council to re-open Friern Barnet Library, or at least to negotiate with campaigners. The motion talked about the fiasco of the now-never-to-be Landmark Library at the Arts Depot which Robert Rams, the Cabinet member responsible, has now admitted is not going to happen. Rams continually blamed the Arts Depot for the failure of negotiations around the library.

He said talks had been going well, when Arts Depot management seemed for some reason he could not understand to have changed their minds.

It strikes me that you are a very poor politician indeed when you are in charge of the libraries in a major London borough but can't hold an adult conversation with the management of the local arts venue.

When I first heard that the Landmark Library had fallen through, I tweeted Robert Rams that the attitude of Barnet Council when they cut the borough's fairly small grant to the Arts Depot had probably soured relations. The Council sat and watched as the Arts Depot management had to cast about to plug the gap in their finances. Now, is it any wonder if the Arts Depot don't feel like pulling Robert Rams's chestnuts out of the fire?

On a personal note, I found this evening dis-spiriting. The public gallery had mostly all left through ennui by the end, even though major crimes against justice and reason continued to be committed in the council chamber.

When the motion was put to approve the appointment of Andrew Travers to replace the scurvy knave Nick Walkley as Chief Executive I couldn't help reminding people loudly that the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles regards people like Andrew Travers as 'town hall tax dodgers', because they have been employed long-term as personal contractors rather than being on the payroll, which incurs higher taxes.

As the meeting broke up a few people smiled indulgently at me, the mad loon who can't refrain from shouting from the public gallery when things get too much for her. I felt quite embarrassed about my outburst. Later on, around a table in the Lido noodle bar, it was pointed out to me that Travers had been sat at the front of the council chamber and heard it all when I publicly impugned his character. And suddenly I felt a whole lot better.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Brian Coleman in the inner circle of hell

A friend tells me (one should always acknowledge one's debts, even if one has no intention or means of paying them off) that John Mortimer's creation Rumpole of the Bailey considered Uxbridge Magistrates' Court to be the inner circle of hell.

Mortimer never resisted having a dig at it in all of his stories. It was a graveyard of careers, was one of the accusations he made.

Now, he meant of legal careers, but that can't be so (as I would not say anything against today's judge). But it might well mean a graveyard of political careers.

Yes, I did schlep all the way to Uxbridge this morning to attend the court hearing of Brian Coleman, charged with assault by beating and driving without reasonable care.

Barnet Eye has posted a report of this morning's events, and the local papers - Times series, Barnet Press - have reports already, so I won't repeat details, except to say that Coleman pleaded 'NoT guilty' to both charges.

His lawyer, a Mr Nigel Richardson, a rather mild-mannered man who looked more like a nervous undertaker than a lawyer, didn't strike me as being very well prepared. He seemed, however, to be a close friend of Coleman, and so perhaps that is why he gets the jobs of representing him.

I doubt my report would differ from other people's except in small details - so I had better make my small details count! I am indulging myself with the sort of headline that local newspaper subs can only dream of writing, and a very silly courtroom sketch (bottom, artist: Anon) made of the accused - before he entered the court. In fact, we could only watch the back of his head throughout. (My, that must be an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that ill-wishers are at the back of you, watching you, while you cannot see them.)

We got up very early to drive to the court, fearing that it would be standing room only in the public gallery. But the decision to move the case to Uxbridge did play in Coleman's favour. The public gallery that seats only 27 was only half-full, with local journalists and Barnet residents come to witness Coleman's discomfiture.

We had given Coleman a nasty moment earlier as he arrived up the stairs to find us in the waiting area: the mad, bad and two old hags. He looked taken aback to find that anyone had made the journey - really, what did he expect?

Inside the public gallery there was some awkwardness, with people trying to gauge which party the other onlookers were in: bride or groom?

While a set of burly blokes in biker gear played their cards very close to their chest, it was pretty clear that they were not Friends of Brian Coleman. The most intriguing spectators were a modest-looking, middle-aged couple who, again, were circumspect, but gave it away that they had waited a long time to see something like this happen.

One can only imagine how many people Coleman has crossed or upset down the years who are enjoying this moment of schadenfraude, even if only vicariously, if they could not be there in person.

The full hearing will be on Wednesday 6 February 2013 in the morning. If you can book the day off, and want to make the journey to the inner circle of hell, sorry, Uxbridge Magistrates, arrive at 9.30am for 10am. The session is expected to last up to four hours.

The judge from today, district judge Deborah Wright, will hear the case. Be aware, she keeps a strict courtroom. Strictly no sniggering at the back - and I really mean that!

The accused, in characteristically contrite mood.

P.S. It pays to read other people's blogs - as I said, acknowledge your debts. Roger T explains that the biker blokes were from the 'No to mobile payments' (for parking) campaign.

P.P.S. Seeing that I am likely to get a few more hits than usual on my blog today, I might as well also ask you, gentle readers, to sign this petition calling for Barnet residents to be allowed a say in whether 70% of their services are privatised (Brian Coleman had a hand in this policy): Thank you.