Monday, 18 February 2013

Campaign catch-up including the Barnet Spring

Roger Tichborne has a fun quiz over on his Barnet Eye blog: Is social media starting to destroy society?

It's certainly taking up a lot of my time! I am one of the main people 'working' the blog of the anti-cuts and anti-privatisation, pro-public services Barnet Alliance.

It had a serious makeover before Christmas, courtesy of David Braniff-Herbert, who was working with us for the TUC.

I was inducted in which levers to pull and which buttons to press, along with a couple of other people. The new design was great, and there are some useful features, such as the email campaigns we can run. Basically, we can make it easy for people visiting our website to send an email to the movers and shakers in Barnet - that's usually Barnet Council's Cabinet members.

At the moment, we have an email to send calling on them to consider halting the One Barnet privatisation programme in light of the scandal over food safety: Barnet's Tories want to outsource the whole of the Council's regulatory services, things such as environmental health and trading standards.

Please use the facility to send them an email, if you have time! They often complain that no one contacts them; we know that using this facility - making it easy to contact them - around 200 residents are now emailing them regularly about the issues we raise.

The website looks good but there are still some glitches to iron out, and it responds to loving and regular attention. I have been spending more time on it of late, hence less time on my own blog. With a very busy period coming up for the Barnet Alliance that is sensible. Have a look at the campaign calendar for March and you will see what I mean!

Please join us for some of these events, and, most particularly, for the Barnet Spring march on Saturday 23rd.

Friday, 8 February 2013

National Libraries Day - party at FBL, Saturday 9 February

Press release from Friern Barnet Community Library:

Party in the library!

Saturday 9th February 2013 from 2pm

Join our party celebrating National Libraries Day and the re-opening of Friern Barnet Community Library - The People's Library. It was closed by Barnet Council on 5th April despite a huge campaign. On 5th September it was occupied and liberated by Occupy London activists and 5 months later the Council granted a license to trustees of Friern Barnet Community Library Ltd and was marked by the keys being handed over from Occupy to the community on 5th February 2013. We are currently negotiating the terms of the lease and are continuing to fight for a paid Council librarian.
Come along for party nibbles, children's activities, board games and a library-themed quiz kicking off at 2pm. And make sure you leave a message on our video message board too!

Please spread the word!
FBCL is currently open Mon-Sat 11am-7pm
National Libraries Day logo and strapline "use it. love it. join it!"

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Daniel Thomas tries to explain One Barnet to his neighbours

A report from Barbara Jacobson of Councillor Daniel Thomas's appearance at a meeting of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents' Association to 'explain' Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' programme.

If you would like Thomas to come and explain One Barnet to you and your neighbours, drop him an email:

Meeting of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association

The advertisement for Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association open meeting on 5 February reads  ‘OneBarnet’,  ‘Deputy Leader to speak: outsourcing explained’ , ‘An opportunity to learn what is being outsourced and why recycling is being brought in-house’,  ‘Cllr Daniel Thomas, a Suburb resident and Barnet deputy leader, will speak’ ; we might have added ‘at long last’.  For more than two years Cllr Thomas has been one of the two Cabinet members leading the One Barnet Programme, pushing it ahead without consulting or informing the residents, and refusing to listen to the more than 8000 who have been informed by BAPS and have signed the petition for a referendum.

Elsewhere it was said that the meeting would be ‘factual, not political’. Another aspiration not achieved. At the meeting Cllr Thomas declared that he is a politician and wants to be re-elected, so perhaps it was with the election of 2014 in mind that he accepted the invitation to appear before this small gathering of his neighbours (about 40 residents of the Suburb and 10 residents from other parts of the borough) in the hope and expectation that they would approve of his version of the OBP. It was not to be.

 Cllr Thomas started confidently, extolling the excellence of Barnet’s public services – the third most efficient in London’, with one of the ‘most low-cost back-office’ operations – yet stating the need to save money because of the cuts in central government funding. That might have been deemed to be factual, but the explanation of ‘transforming the council’, of a ‘new relationship with citizens’, that Barnet was moving to a commissioning model, and the way in which the savings would be made – privatization – was purely political.

He explained that the next wave of outsourcing, the DRS, would be a joint venture (JV), that it was a ‘new concept to put these services out’, and would give the council more control –not, presumably, more control than full ownership, only more control than complete privatization. The JV would also provide scope for the council to make money, as other councils would come to Barnet to do their planning work. Current staff were not trained to be commercial, so are being replaced with people who are. He admitted that work on the JV was and would remain on hold until after the judicial review of the NSCSO contract.

He repeated the well-rehearsed lines: how much adult and children’s services cost, how much the Capita contract would save, what a small proportion of the budget the NSCSO is, that risks were mitigated by a parent-company guarantee, that the contracts would be monitored and could be benchmarked if necessary, that without these measures council tax would have to be increased by 38 per cent – again failing to say ‘over ten years’. He said bringing recycling back in-house was proof that the Cabinet was not ideologically driven. But, contradicting himself again, he said that the One Barnet Programme was a [central] government pilot. He and Cllr Andrew Harper, in attendance as the HGS ward councillor, seemed surprised to be met with nothing but scepticism and opposition.

The newly informed residents questioned the validity of the monitoring system, the risks of and lack of competition inherent in a 10-year contract, the probability of failure, the way the ‘customer services’ would work, whether procurement was being outsourced (the councilor had neglected to itemize the services, just referring to them as ‘back office’), whether councilors should have lower allowances or were needed at all. These residents told the councillors that monitoring and KPIs allowed companies to ‘game the system’ – that is, assess their own performance as compliant even when it was not – and that no private supplier of public services had delivered the savings it promised. They countered Cllr Thomas’s claim that NSL was delivering on budget, and told him about the 60% parking-ticket-appeal success rate, which he and Cllr Harper said they would have to look into. The residents were not impressed by Cllr Thomas’s explanation that private companies made savings over what he had said were the very efficient Barnet services by paying their staff less and giving them fewer benefits but offering them better career opportunities. They exposed the inconsistency in his saying Capita had up-to-date software and systems for running Barnet affairs but somehow need to invest £13 million of Barnet money in IT, which Capita would then own. They did not accept that financial penalties for failures and the possibilities of renegotiating aspects of the contract after four years were sufficient safeguards, pointing out that the council would be tied up in legal arguments by Capita to counter any penalties.  They suggested it would have been better just to hire top managers from the private sector to run council services more efficiently than to contract out. Cllr Thomas’s explanations of why the council couldn’t run the public services as well as a private company sounded like he just thought the job was too difficult for him.

Cllr Harper said monitoring would also result from feedback by individual residents. He was asked how much impact those individual’s voices would have when the Cabinet ignored a petition signed by more than 8000 residents. Cllr Thomas trotted out his ‘that’s only 2 per cent’ of residents line, and the dismissive ‘people will sign opposing petitions’; does a politician really think he’s scoring points by suggesting that his electorate are so stupid? We countered that the 8000 was not a result of canvassing the entire borough, that BAPS was trying to get only 7000 signatures. We could have added, 8000 is a lot more than the 11 Cabinet members solely responsible for the OBP.

Cllr Harper’s other contribution was to say that the Tories had frozen council tax, a comment that was almost jeered.

In reply to a question about Capita’s appearance on the Barnet website, Cllr Thomas said that Capita had started working with the council after the decision in December to award the contract. There was no opportunity to ask whether the parties should have waited until signing the contract before this work began.

The foregoing is, of course, a summary, not a verbatim account (except where quotation marks are used), so comments are not attributed to individuals. There were no voices supporting Cllr Thomas’s presentation. While there’s no knowing what the silent minority thought,  on their way out, the residents were offered the Barnet Spring March leaflet, and I think only one declined it.

It is interesting that the Cllrs Thomas and Harper did not initiate this event, and that elsewhere in the borough Tory councilors have not appeared before their constituents to explain the OBP. After this showing, they will probably be even more reluctant to do so.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

“Next we’ll have people asking us to marry them to their dogs and toasters”

No, nobody really said this, but the spoof report on Newsthump of the successful vote in Parliament to introduce gay marriage (as yet only a Bill, not a Law) was horribly believable.

Of course, who might say something like that? Why, my own local - Hendon - MP, Tory Matthew Offord. He spoke in the debate in the Commons, expounding his weird theory that - well, I'll let you read it for yourself (as reported in the Pink Paper):
”The evidence from around the world is that once marriage is redefined, with a flexible definition, pressure always grows for redefinition.
“There are several advocates of same-sex marriage who openly support changing the law to permit polygamy.”
One friend quipped that Offord supports the human right of his dog Max to enter Parliament, but not equality for gay people. I quipped back who would you rather wake up next to, Max or Matthew? (That kind of day.)

Offord has fallen out over this issue with former Barnet Council Cabinet colleague and now MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer. It was interesting to see how fewer than half of Tory MPs voted for gay marriage, although it's their own party that has brought in the bill to allow it. And how more than half of London Tory MPs voted for it. Yes, London is different.

I have decided to mark this momentous historical development by coming out as bisexual. I imagine this is as uninteresting to you as it is to me. I think most bisexuals will tell you that it is much easier to act on one side - the heterosexual side - of this self-definition than the homosexual one. Certainly, in my case, I am hardly free of one man before another one hoves into view. When will I - or they? - ever learn?

In 1978 when I was 13 (!?) the Tom Robinson Band's "Glad to Be Gay" song was in the charts. My friend rang me up in a state of great agitation the first time she heard it, via an archaic institution known as "Dial-a-disc". You rang a telephone number and the one existing (and publicly owned) telephone service played you their record of the week down the line. This week it was "Glad to Be Gay".

We thought there must have been a revolution (sexual revolution?) in London (it for sure hadn't reached West Malling yet).

I feel there are still many revolutions to go before we are anywhere near humans enjoying liberated sexuality (for which we only need to free ourselves!). But we must be creeping there.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Friern Barnet Library reborn (again!) at noon today

I popped into Friern Barnet Library yesterday with a friend. It was great to see the library still open and the campaigners preparing for its big day today. I've just finished a long set of notes on lessons of the (ongoing) campaign to save Friern Barnet Library. I'll spare you now, but will publish snippets soon. But today I would suggest as many as possible get down to participate in what should be an historic occasion: the Occupy activists hand over to the new licensees.

Long live Friern Barnet Library!

Press release for today's events by Occupy London squatters:
Handover of keys from the squatters to the licencees and red ribbon reopening, 12 Noon Midday, Tuesday 5 February 2013
CONTACTS: Phoenix 07769 791387
Friern Barnet Library Saved – handover ceremony on Tuesday 12 Noon
On Tuesday 5th February, at midday, exactly five months since the occupation began, the community will take possession of the Friern Barnet Library.
The local community – represented by the trustees of the library - are on the verge of agreeing a two-year lease with Barnet Council (LBB) to run the library with some funding from the council.
At the ceremony, squatters and supporters of the Occupy movemnet, who have been keeping the building open and enabling the local community to run a book lending service and community centre in the building, will hand it over to the trustees of the newly formed Friern Barnet Community Library (FBCL).
They have now received a licence from LBB to be in the library for two weeks with the promise of renewal of the licence if necessary to negotiate a lease and other matters (eg, who pays the utilities insurance and ongoing future repairs). LBB has shown a willingness to amend the licence to their satisfaction.
“This is a triumph for the local community,” said, one of the trustees of the new community library. “Our library was closed in April. And we were told the building would be ‘marketed’. Now we have our library back, with council financial support. We achieved this through constant campaigning, lobbying, and building a broad alliance including squatters, activists, supporters of the Occupy movement, local residents and library campaign groups."
Housing and Squatting activist Phoenix, stated: “This campaign definitely shows the success of direct action and squatting. This is a seed of change. The whole country will soon be facing 80% of the rest of the cuts. They can take some inspiration from this direct action. We have collectively helped to save this library from the bulldozer and being sold off for development.
"We would like to see more arrangements between owners of the 1.4 million empty buildings in the UK and squatter/homeless and community groups, rather than the criminalisation being carried out by this government under the new law. A law we feel strongly is unjust, undemocratic and arbitry.
“We want to make it clear that, the activists support the National Libraries Campaign and that putting in place a paid librarian is a priority. I believe consensus has been reached with the community on this point. As it stands, the funding offered by the council does not cover a full time librarian, but as the two year lease is negotiated and plans go forward, this will be kept at the front of the conversation. The activists would like to say that we are strongly opposed to austerity and all the cuts, especially to the library service.
“We are also heavily opposed to criminalising the homeless/squatters. The extreme right of the conservative party is seeking to make squatting non-residential building also illegal. This, if it was successful, would affect all our rights to protest by occupying/squatting space, and would make successful community squat occupations such as the library campaign ILLEGAL, thus further removing our rights to shelter and protest.”
NOTES: The Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd) has been legally incorporated in the last fortnight in response to the opportunity to negotiate a lease with the council.
The library was closed by the Council in April 2012. Community activist squatters reopened it on 3 September, as a campaign to save the library and also as a protest against the new criminalisation of the homeless and squatters by the LASPO Act 2012 (enacted on 1 September).
NB squatting in non residential buildings is still legal. For more on the threat to squatters rights by criminalising Commercial squatting:
The Squatters Action For Secure Homes have just launched a campaign and rapidly growing petition to repeal the LASPO Act 2012. please sign and support.
It was the Direct Action by the squatting community and supporters of Occupy on Sept 5th 2012 that re-ignited the campaign to keep the library open.
Despite a two year campaign LBB had refused to negotiate. However at the second Possession hearing on Dec 18th Judge Pearl ordered that LBB should try and negotiate some form of licence to keep the library open, in order to protect the rights of the protesters under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act and to preserve 'proportionality' between the rights of the protesters and the rights of the council.
It was this Direct Action combined with the placing of the building on the register as a community asset by local residents that in the end forced the council to negotiate. The supporters of Occupy also acted as caretakers looking after the building and ennabling a wide variety of events to take place in co-operation with the local community. They helped to strengthen the bonds emerging between different sections of the community so that at the meeting on Jan 29th many residents from different local groups stepped forward to thank the squatters and occupiers for their crucial help.
One local resident, Maureen Ivens, Chairwoman of the Save Friern Barnet Library group, said of all the different groups that had come together "We are here as one".
Occupy London is against the cuts and continues to support the National LIbraries Campaign and the local community in their determination to install a professional librarian.
This action by the local community in no way replaces or diminishes the responsibilty of the council and ggovernment to carry out its responsibilities under the 1964 Libraries Act.
However as a result of all the work done by an alliance of local residents, squatters, occupiers and legal advisers, the Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd) trustees will be handed over the keys by the council for a temporary licence allowing then to keep the Friern Barnet library building open until a full two year lease is signed by both parties.

Friday, 1 February 2013

March to save Chase Farm A&E, Saturday 2 Feb

Last Saturday I joined the march to save Lewisham Hospital's A&E and maternity services. This Saturday you can join the march in Enfield to save Chase Farm A&E. Losing the A&E will have a major impact on Barnet residents, as those living near Chase Farm will no longer have that option, and those attennding Barnet General will be sharing those services with more people.

Here is the Barnet Alliance publicity about the march:
Join us on the march to save Chase Farm A&E on Saturday 2 February, meet 1pm at the War Memorial, Enfield Town. Bring banners, friends and family.

Keep Chase Farm Hospital's A&E march from at the war memorial on Chase Green, in Chase Side, Enfield.

DEMONSTRATORS are planning to march through Enfield in protest at the planned closure of A&E and maternity services at Chase Farm Hospital.

The march is being organised by the North East London Council of Action, a group campaigning against hospital cuts. It is being supported by the Save Chase Farm campaign and the London Fire Brigade Union and will start at 1pm at the war memorial on Chase Green, in Chase Side, Enfield, proceed through Enfield Town centre and end at the hospital.

This will affect us in Barnet directly as it will impact on the capacity of Barnet General hospital, therefore we will join the march in solidarity with our neighbours, to oppose cuts to any NHS facilities and to protect our own services.

Friern Barnet Library - saved?!

After a furious few weeks of negotiations with Barnet Council - and, at times, with each other - campaigners to save Friern Barnet Library think they have got a deal of sorts to keep the library open.

A licence granted to a number of them to run a library and negotiate a longer-term solution. The press release below explains more:
The trustees of FBCL have now received an amended licence from LBB  to allow them to be in the library legally. They will have 2 weeks, with promise of renewal of licence if necessary, to negotiate a lease and other matters. LBB has shown a willingness to amend the licence to their satisfaction.

There was a meeting tonight [Thursday 31 January] at 7 pm where it was agreed that Occupy will hand over the keys to the building Tuesday 5th February 12 midday - EVERYONE WELCOME

The local residents thanked Occupy for a fantastic occupation.

Occupy encouraged Friern Barnet Community Library to continue to fight for a paid librarian and said this victory was not just about a local library but about the national campaign to save libraries everywhere.
I'm fully with Occupy on the need to keep pressing Barnet Council to provide a proper library service - in all its libraries. How it can do that when it wants to axe most of the professional librarian posts is anyone's guess.

I'm also with Occupy on what I read between the lines: that they don't trust the current Tory administration of Barnet Council an inch, and that the library will have to be defended for a good while to come.

But what has been achieved does show that campaigning works! Long live Friern Barnet Library!