Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"A Tale of Two Barnets" - screening dates

If you haven't yet seen the Barnet community film "A Tale of Two Barnets" - residents' views on parking charges, adult social care charges, One Barnet privatisation, plus interviews with Barnet council CEO Nick Walkley and Barnet council leader Richard Cornelius (phew) - there are several free screenings coming up, starting tomorrow lunchtime:
"A Tale of Two Barnets" screenings – open to anyone and everyone

Wednesday 28th March, 1-2pm
New Barnet Community Centre, 48-50 Victoria Road, New Barnet, EN4 9PF

Wednesday 28th March, 6-8pm
Greek Cypriot Community Centre, Britannia Road, North Finchley N12
Includes screening of “A Tale of Two Barnets” plus the Our Barnet Residents’ Forum – all welcome!

Tuesday 3rd April, 7.30-9.30pm
The Larches, 1 Rectory Lane, Edgware, HA8 7LF

Wednesday 4th April, 7pm
Cafe Buzz, High Road, North Finchley

Wednesday 18th April, 7pm
The Wilson Room, The House of Commons, SW1A 2TT

Saturday 28th April, 7pm
The Church of the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate, Mill Hill Broadway, NW7
Click here for the film's website.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The New Support and Customer Services Organisation: (some of) your questions answered

Mr Mustard has procured a copy of the questions Barnet Council thinks staff would like answered about one of the big outsourcing contracts it is offering: the £750 million contract for a New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO).

The NSCSO will eventually run things such as Benefits and Revenues for the council, and answer the phone to all residents' enquiries. There is no obligation on the two remaining candidates bidding for the contract - BT and Capita - to run the service from Barnet. Basically, we are looking at a big call centre somewhere. If the thought of this fills you with dismay... too bad!

The most mendacious Q&A you will find in the document is:
Q. The staff have been informed of the council’s intentions very well [sic], but have the community/residents of Barnet been informed equally well?

A. Residents are consulted annually via the council’s budget consultation process, see http://www.barnet.gov.uk/budget.
Mr Mustard comments:
Citizens have not been consulted on One Barnet. The topic is banned at Residents' Forums.
The answers to staff are not likely to cheer them up either. There are no guarantees on their pay, their employment conditions or even on whether or not they will keep their jobs once council services are run by Capita or BT.

And let's remind ourselves, while we are about it, what these big multinational corporations get out of the bargain: profits from our taxes.

Mr Mustard's excellent blogpost on all of this is here.

Have a good weekend.

UPDATED Max out your library card! Friern Barnet Library spring event, Saturday 24 March, 2pm

Supporters of Friern Barnet Library - whose planned closure will be reviewed at the Barnet council cabinet meeting on Wednesday 4 April - have planned a spring event tomorrow, Saturday 24 February. They'll be meeting for activities at the library at 2pm.

They say:
Take out as many Friern Barnet library books as you can - max out your library card!

Please circulate the ePoster/flyer to friends.

PS: You're allowed 10 items on a child's library card, and 14 on a teen/adult's card at a time!
Sounds intriguing! More details about the campaign to keep the library open on the Save Friern Barnet Library website here.

UPDATE: I have learned this afternoon that people being enthusiastic about libraries makes Barnet Council nervous. They have told Save Friern Barnet Library campaign that they can't carry out any of their planned activities - which include a children's entertainer - inside the library tomorrow.

So they are holding events outside on the Green and praying for good weather, obviously! Please go along and show your support - take a blanket to sit on!

Boris Johnson's Friday doughnut #4: The Dollis Valley Green Walk

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

"A Tale of Two Barnets" exceeded all of my expectations - Barnet resident

I expect you have heard by now how well the premiere of the film "A Tale of Two Barnets" went on Monday night. It was a full house at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley! The programming was rather haphazard but, hey, we don't do this sort of thing every day.

Barnet TUC hired the venue for the occasion, and the anti-cuts group, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, did much of the work to publicise the event, and stewarded on the night.

A lot of people have put a lot of work into this project, in the first place, naturally, the director Charles Honderick and the producer Roger Tichborne. They have done an excellent job.

"A Tale of Two Barnets" is a film about aspects of life in Barnet today, under the current Conservative regime, both national and local. Yes, it was critical of both. (Although it could have been a lot worse!)

The film focused in on some of the issues that have exercised Barnet residents lately. These included the rises in parking charges, and the rises in charges for adult social care services. They have a common theme: Revenue Income Optimisation (RIO). The council, responding to a smaller grant from central government, is casting about for ways to increase its take from those services it charges for. RIO (a lot less fun than it sounds) means that someone visiting a resident living in one of the borough's Controlled Parking Zones must now pay £4 for the privilege if they want to park - until recently, the price of a visitor permit was £1.

And RIO means vulnerable adults having, for example, to pay more in order to visit day centres. As a consequence some decide that they cannot afford to - then they miss out on social interaction, and their carers can miss out on vital respite. (I know how important this is, since I share in the care of an older person.)

And a third theme covered in depth in the film was the One Barnet programme: the plan to privatise most of the council's services through offering (to date) three large contracts to the private sector. Part of the justification given for this alarming leap in the dark is, again, the cuts in the money from central government. (Few of us who know anything about One Barnet believe that it will ever save any money at all. Indeed, it could end up costing residents more, and is likely to lead to worse services.)

I could go on all night. You must see the film for yourself! Its stars include: bloggers Mrs Angry (Broken Barnet blog) and Mr Mustard (LBB Spending blog), Professor Dexter Whitfield, Julian Silverman, Linda Edwards, David Attfield and so on...

The council was given the chance to have their say in the persons of the Chief Executive Nick Walkley and council leader Richard Cornelius.

Richard Cornelius is a politician, supposed to be in charge of what happens in the council. In this film he has all the best lines - and, of course, completely unscripted. Memorably, this, for example:
“I’m not sure there is much I can change about Barnet, so I have set my expectations quite low.”
Gobsmacking, but at least he delivers this line with a disarming smile.

Nick Walkley is a charmless, overpaid local government technocrat, who, with his friends, is behind the drive to privatisation. His salary, £200,000+ per year, puts him among the top 1% of earners in the country. (Chancellor George Osborne is likely to grant him a tax cut in the Budget today.) Yes, those people going on recently about being the 99% were defining themselves against... the Nick Walkleys of this world. Makes you shudder.

Go and see the film, which will have many more showings around the borough in the coming weeks. See for yourself what you think. This should be a real eye-opener for many residents!

New screenings will be publicised on the film's official website here, and I hope to plug them as they come up. If you would like to screen the film in your area, enquiries please on 07754 910425.

Monday, 19 March 2012

"A Tale of Two Barnets" premiere, 6-8pm, Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley - TONIGHT!

The stars will be out tonight, Monday 19 March, for the premiere of Barnet the Movie, or, as it turned out to be "A Tale of Two Barnets". Preview here:

Come along to the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley to see the premiere for just £1! If you arrive at 6pm you can watch the press interviews with the director Charles Honderick and some of those taking part in the film. The film itself goes on screen at 7pm and lasts half an hour. After that there will be Q&A with the director, some of the stars, and the audience.

There will be many more screenings throughout the borough - and one in Parliament - in the next few weeks, and the film will be available on DVD. But if you can get along tonight you really should try. It will be an occasion. You'll get to hear the background to why and how the film was made - and find out more about the reaction to it from Barnet Council.

Why, you know they even tried to ban leaflets advertising it from the libriares?!

I have done some publicity for the film on behalf of Barnet Trades Council who are supporting the screening tonight. I thought I'd share the description I've written. It rolled off the pen and makes it clear why this is such an important film.
"What would I like to change about Barnet? I'm not sure there is very much I can change about Barnet." Thus Richard Cornelius, the Conservative leader of Barnet Council. That's laissez-faire taken to its extreme!

Meanwhile, the unelected chief exec, Nick Walkey, on £200k per year (thus, among the 1%), plus his senior management team, which includes several 'town hall tax-dodgers', are pushing through the One Barnet privatisation programme that will create worse services, worse pay and conditions for Barnet council workers - and big profits for multinational companies such as Capita and BT.

This 30-minute film has been made by independent film maker Charles Honderick to reflect the views of residents of the London Borough of Barnet on the state of the borough and its governance at an important time. Residents and users of Barnet Council services talk about their hopes and fears in a period of austerity and uncertainty. The borough is embarking on a large-scale privatisation plan, 'One Barnet', dubbed by former council leader Mike Freer, now a Conservative MP, as 'easyCouncil', and this is also explored in the film.

The council's Chief Executive, Nick Walkley, and the Conservative Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius, both appear to explain their thinking on the issues raised.

This film will be of vital interest to the wider public. 2012 is a crunch year for London economically and politically. The outcome of the mayoral and GLA elections in May will in part hinge on whether Boris Johnson's "doughnut strategy" - targeting the outer London boroughs - will work a second time.

Barnet is crucial in this, particularly as controversial GLA member Brian Coleman is the rep for Barnet and Camden and faces stiff competition from Labour's Andrew Dismore, the former MP for Hendon.

Come along and find out what Barnet residents think of their borough in 2012!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The jewel in the crown trampled underfoot

I wonder if the Tories are as exhausted dismantling the welfare state (and much besides) as I and fellow campaigners, trade unionists, etc, are trying to defend it. I blooming well hope so!

I've found myself rather belatedly campaigning to save the NHS. The crowning achievement of the post-war Labour government, the representation above all else of a post-war political settlement where even the Tories accepted that ordinary people had a right to expect decent healthcare, and that the market in health that had operated up till then failed them.

I picked up a book the other day which I wish I'd read sooner and which should be required reading for anyone who ever uses the NHS. It's The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys and Stewart Player.

Sounds rather conspiratorial, and I don't like that sort of thing, usually, but it's a fair title. It outlines the recent history of the NHS, under New Labour, first of all. How they introduced market mechanisms and allowed chinks where private healthcare companies could enter the NHS as providers.

Those cracks have been prised open by the lobbyists of the private healthcare industries. Now, in spite of not announcing it in their manifestos, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government propose to open up the whole NHS to private providers, and much besides, which will probably spell the end of the NHS as we know it.

Our system will become much more like a US-style market for healthcare, with, in time, people paying for treatment through personal insurance policies. It's a system that is expensive and inefficient, that largely excludes poorer people from many treatments, and that exists primarily to make big profits for private companies.

I went to a last-ditch protest against this prospect at the Department of Health on Whitehall yesterday. The organised labour movement largely having accepted the inevitability of the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill this coming week were not present. Nor were representatives of all the health professional bodies, who also oppose the Bill.

The unions and the Labour Party could have, should have organised a national campaign to save the NHS, and a national demonstration. Instead, there was a last-minute rally last week, at which all the general secretaries stood up, wrung their hands, expressed their personal commitment to the NHS, and then sat down again.

On Saturday we were, instead, a motley crew of anarchists, UKUncutters, elderly health campaigners, and families with children. We occupied Whitehall for a few halcyon minutes, grouped around the Cenotaph - but taking extreme care not to disturb the wreaths.

There is ample reason to think that we got the NHS because the British ruling class was worried about how the returning troops would react in 1945 if they didn't get a better deal socially and economically. Someone held a banner for Lambeth Save Our NHS in front of the monument with the words 'The Glorious Dead' on it.

Then the riot police moved in to shove us all up Whitehall and off down the Strand. I pushed a woman in a wheelchair who was determined to keep up with the protest up the road while the police over-ran us and the traffic got flowing again behind us. One of the most miserable days of my life. If that gives any Tories comfort, I hope you fall ill in your old age and can't afford the treatment you need.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Barnet Question Time, Thursday 15 March

Young and not-so-young are invited to a "Barnet Question Time" event at Woodhouse College tomorrow evening, 5-8pm. The panellists will be:
* Neil Seabridge: Borough Commander, Barnet Police
* Cllr Andrew Harper: Cabinet member in Barnet for Education, Children and Families
* Robert McCulloch-Graham: Director of Children Services in Barnet
* Dr Sue Sumners: GP Chair of Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group
* Teresa Tunnadine: Headteacher at The Compton School
* John Burgess: Branch Secretary at UNISON
The questions, all very pertinent and probing, are:
1) Considering the fact that groups such as the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have withdrawn support for the Health Bill, do you think the Bill should still be pursued and why?

2) Do you think the cuts to youth support services together with youth unemployment doubling in Barnet since 2008 will lead to further youth disengagement and a repeat of the summer riots?

3) Do you think that Livingstone's pledge to introduce a London Education Maintenance Allowance is necessary and feasible?

4) To what extent do you believe that reported proposals to privatise parts of the police services will obstruct the course of justice and lead to problems in the relationship between the state and the police?

5) Last week whilst travelling on a bus in Barnet I was attacked because of my postcode, do you think that this is a sign of increasing social tensions between young people and what do you think should be done to address issues of safety on public transport?

6) With Barnet Council spending £4.6 million on CCTV between 2007 and 2011 - one of the top 10 local authority spenders on CCTV - do you think this is inappropriate in times of such austerity

7) Considering recent tensions with regards to Baroness Warsi's claims of 'militant Atheists' and a 'Christian Britain', do you agree that Michael Gove's plan to send a copy of the King James Bible to every English school is a waste of money and out-dated? (If you had the opportunity to send one book to all schools in England what would it be?)

8) Considering the u-turns and broken promises that have occurred over the past two years - in particular those concerning tuition fees - do you think that the coalition is an effective and capable government?
The organisers, Woodhouse College students, say:
There will be time for questions and comments from the audience with regards to each question asked.

Please arrive promptly and when arriving use the side entrance which is to the right of the main entrance.
And apparently there will be food as well! You can follow the event on Twitter: @BarnetQuestionT.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Save Friern Barnet Library - campaign dates

Two big dates this week for the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library. A lobby of Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday 13 March) by library campaigners from all over the country, and Chipping Barnet residents' forum on Wednesday (14 March).

The residents' forum is from 6pm at Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ.

You can find out more about the Parliamentary lobby via the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign website - click here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Daniel Thomas's gross irresponsibility toward Barnet council staff

An astonishing story in the Barnet Press today. Having reassured Barnet council staff transferring to Barnet Homes, the arms-length management organisation that runs Barnet's social housing, that their jobs were safe for a year, Deputy Leader (!) councillor Daniel Thomas has now done a volte face - about-face.

He admits that the 76 staff involved have no guarantees they will keep their jobs after 2 April. Seeking to excuse himself from making this gross error Thomas says:
"I have to apologise to staff, the statement was prepared quickly and officers did not check with HR before issuing it.

"Although pension rights are protected and terms and conditions are protected for one year, there is no guarantee that there will be no redundancies - just as there can be no such guarantee for staff remaining within the council."
Good news all round then!

Let's imagine that Thomas was not trying to hoodwink staff before, that his words were sincere. Why, then, the man's a fool! Does he realise the effect of his words? Does he realise how anxious people are about jobs at the moment?

And what about that threat of redundancies?

Any cuts in the number of staff delivering council services in future will mean worse services for residents and worse working lives for those still in post. Remember, too, that the One Barnet Programme, of which this transfer to Barnet Homes is part, will take our taxes and give them to private companies for profits. That is a scandal to add to the scandal that Thomas's "slip-up" represents!

Oppose One Barnet privatisation! Read the full Barnet Press report here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Oh "standards sub-committee" my back side, I'm sorry!

Brian Coleman's response on being found on Monday to have breached the councillors' code of conduct is to defy the penalty, which was to apologise to those residents to whom he had sent rude emails. He is considering appealing the decision.

His lawyer didn't mind invoking the Human Rights Act during the hearing, I read. (I wasn't there - Mrs Angry, the Barnet Eye and the local papers, the Barnet Press and Times series, have the full story.)

Just thought I'd remind people of the last time Coleman expressed himself publicly on the subject of human rights.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Boring, boring Barnet? A highly political Monday in London's second biggest borough

The bloggers and local reporters in Barnet will be kept busy tomorrow, Monday 5 March.

Up with the lark to attend the standards sub-committee hearing at Hendon Town Hall at 10am. Standing trial, not for the first time, will be councillor Brian Coleman, GLA member for Barnet and Camden. (Mrs Angry has the full charge sheet over at her Broken Barnet blog.)

You might argue that a man should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Yes and no. There are two degrees of offence here.

1. Charge: He has broken the members' (councillors') code of conduct. Verdict: The committee will decide that tomorrow.

2. Charge: He has pissed off a member of the public sufficiently for them to report him to the committee. Verdict: The defendant is guilty as charged!

Remember this on the day of the next elections to the GLA. You won't have to wait long: Thursday 3 May.

Asssuming the trial not of the century but at least of this month finishes early enough (clear-cut case, I would think, so it shouldn't take long) you can hear "Newsnight" reporter Paul Mason speak at Middlesex University about his new book "Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere". (It's certainly kicking off in Barnet right now, Paul!)

This is from 11am-12.30pm, in Room W138, 1st Floor Williams Building.

After that, it's a long pub lunch, I would imagine, at the Greyhound or the Claddagh Ring, or another hostelry close to Hendon Town Hall. (Or there is a good noodle restaurant opposite Middlesex University if you don't approve of liquid lunches.)

Out of the borough but of great importance to its residents, in the evening you can head down to Friends Meeting House, Euston Road for a meeting from 7pm organised by "Right to Protest".

One of the speakers will be Middlesex University student Alfie Meadows who was coshed on the head at a student demonstration by a police officer in 2009, and nearly died from his injuries.

We all need to defend the right to protest, residents of the quiet London Borough of Barnet as much as anyone! Just ask the small traders, the sheltered housing residents, the library users, the motorists, Barnet Council employees... and on, and on.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Parking charges review won't save Coleman's backside

If I read this report in the Barnet Press right, Barnet council is to review its hike in parking charges. This is the result of the 4,500 signatures the Labour group got on its petition on the council's website. They presented these at the business management scrutiny committee on 29 February, which agreed to the review.

Here's an extract from the report:

In January Labour councillors had a motion calling for a review into charges rejected at an extraordinary council meeting.

But speaking before the committee, highways manager Neil Richardson agreed that a review into the parking regime would begin in April.

He said it would look at a number of aspects of its parking regime, including fees and hours of control. He added that measures to attract shoppers to high streets, such as making car parking free for the first half hour, would not be ruled out.

“We need to make sure that the parking regime is suited for the needs of the trading environment,” he said.
This review is a coup for the Labour group, particularly as they now look like Barnet's most pro-business party!

And every time an issue such as this is re-politicised it reminds Tory voters how angry they are and costs the Conservative group support. With the GLA elections in the offing - 3 May - and their anxiety about whether Brian Coleman will win or not, Barnet's Tories might even start to wobble on their policies. (The Save Friern Barnet Library campaigners must certainly be hoping so - and I with them!)

However, the parking review results will not appear until September, which is an age away. That is not good for the traders who are losing business now! And it won't come in time to save Coleman's backside.

Fellow Barnet bloggers have reported the election by the Conservative group of Brian Schama (seen as some sort of dissident from the ruling clique!) as Barnet's next mayor and Kate Salinger (who is some sort of dissident!) as his deputy. So it looks as though Barnet's Tory councillors are starting to worry for their council seats in 2014 and to put some more voter-savvy people in charge. Will it be enough to save their backsides?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Boris Johnson's Friday doughnut #3: Brian Coleman's lax standards

Better late than never - Cheezburger.com was down this afternoon. What am I paying these people for? Oh, hang on a minute, it's free. Well, never mind that...

Here's Boris Johnson's Friday doughnut for this week. For more explanation see the report in the Barnet Press.

Your GLA running mate Brian Coleman is coming up before Barnet Council's standards sub-committee... again

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A real lifeline thrown to Friern Barnet library

Barnet council's scrutiny committee last night voted to refer back the decision to close Friern Barnet library to the next Cabinet meeting on 4 April, and recommended that the library stay open at least until the promised replacement is up and running at the Arts Depot. The library had been due to close on 31 March! Rams was just about persuaded to keep the library open until 4 April until its fate is revisited!

This is a real lifeline, unlike the one Robert Rams pretended to throw the library campaigners when he asked them to work up a community proposal to keep the library open - he summarily dismissed their proposal.

Let's keep up the pressure!

Mrs Angry has a report of the scrutiny committee meeting. The Save Friern Barnet Library campaign's announcement is below:
Dear all,

I am delighted to be able to report that at last night's Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the Committee members voted to send the report back to Cabinet for further consideration, with the recommendation that the Cabinet keep Friern Barnet Library open until such time as comparable facilities are available at the Arts Depot. The decision by Committee members was unanimous.

Thank you to everyone who came along to show support last night - we were certainly heard! Thank you as well to everyone who submitted questions and emailed Councillors. These emails really did make a difference as several members of the Committee commented on the amount of correspondence that they had received from concerned residents and assured us that our concerns had been noted. I'd also like to thank our three ward Councillors, Cllr Kate Salinger, Cllr Barry Rawlings and Cllr Pauline Coakley-Webb, who have supported us thoughout the campaign and helped to make last night's decision possible.

It should be noted that the Scrutiny Commitee have sent the report back to Cabinet with a strong recommendation, however, Cabinet do not have to follow this recommendation. The Cabinet will meet on 4 April, at which these issues will be discussed. Cllr Robert Rams, after much persuasion, has agreed that Friern Barnet Library will not shut before the meeting on 4 April.

It is important that we keep up the pressure and continue to show the Council how much our library means to the community.

Finally a massive thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign.

Best regards,

Fiona Cochrane
Chair, Save Friern Barnet Library Group

Website: https://sites.google.com/site/savefriernbarnetlibrary

Facebook: Save Our Friern Barnet Library

Twitter: @savefriernbtlib

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl9lIjYLxJY