Saturday, 23 April 2011

Robert Rams' negative externalities, Or: Barnet, the dirty man of north London

As I visited one of my favourite parks the other day, Golders Hill Park, I reflected again on the words of Councillor Robert Rams of this borough as he proposed to cut funding to the Arts Depot, Barnet Museum and Church Farmhouse Museum:
“We have to bear in mind that Barnet remains part of one of the world’s great cultural capitals and we’re fortunate to have a rich variety of arts provision, much of it free, just half an hour or so away on the Tube."
At the time what struck me about this statement was only the philistinism: he doesn't much care about keeping art and cultural activities in Barnet, in any case, he doesn't see it as part of the council's job to promote arts and culture in the borough.

But as I sat on the lush, springy turf of Golders Hill Park, licking an ice cream and wondering what to visit first, the flower gardens, the butterfly house or the zoo, a second aspect of this statement struck me, more egregious than the first.

Golders Hill Park is one of the nicest parks in London and the citizens of Barnet are extremely lucky to have it on their doorstep. The point to note, though, is that it belongs to and is maintained by the Corporation of London. The wonderful Hampstead Heath, which Barnet citizens can and do use, is not owned or maintained by Barnet either. If you want a lively night out you go to Camden or into the West End. Etc. Who picks up the tab? Someone else. Not just someone else: in part, the ordinary residents of other boroughs.

Other boroughs mow the lawns, empty the bins, let out the refreshment stands, and, in the case of Camden on a Monday morning, clean up after a weekend of debauchery. Barnet gets all this for free.

I recently did a political science degree, and one of the concepts we were taught is "negative externalities". This is when one political authority does something that costs, but they don't have to pay, by accidents of geography, or so on. So if there is a nuclear accident in Ukraine, countries downwind get some of the fallout - but that's not Ukraine's problem (it has enough problems of its own). Less dramatically, when the customers from burger restaurants leave the wrappings in the streets, that's not the burger restaurants' problem - until the council makes a regulation that they must provide bins outside their shop. (Regulation is often the answer to negative externality problems.)

So we, I'm ashamed to say, residents of Barnet are negative externalities, when we go out of the borough for our entertainment which must be provided at their expense by other authorities, local or central.

Robert Rams' casual philistinism was worse than I had at first thought. There is another negative aspect to his statement, of course, that it is just plain stupid. The more amenities that close in Barnet the fewer people want to live or spend their money here, the more of a shithole it becomes, etc.

P.S. I picked up a copy of the North London Arts Guide in the library yesterday. It covers Barnet, Enfield and Haringey. Church Farmhouse Museum, listed there, is now closed, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams, cutting its grant. Barnet Museum faces an uncertain future, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams. Barnet's contribution to the culture of north London is dwindling, thanks to Barnet council, in the first place, Robert Rams. Haringey and Enfield councils, think on!

UPDATE: Another Barnet blogger put me onto this film about arts in north London: the only amenity mentioned in Barnet is the Arts Depot - which, of course, had its grant from Barnet council cut recently.

P.P.S. And that's without mentioning Brent Cross or Pinkham Way!


Anonymous said...

But let's mention it, Vicky.

"This is when one political authority does something that costs, but they don't have to pay, by accidents of geography, or so on."

The residents of Haringey are currently rather put out that Barnet wants to move all its dustcarts, sludge suckers, and snow plough gritters to a new depot in Haringey, at Pinkham Way. ("Gritters - whatever; Suckers - well, maybe; dustcarts - no, we only want our own").

Citizen Barnet said...

Yes, Anon, as I was writing this and I got to the end I realised that Barnet council's behaviour over Brent Cross and Pinkham Way is part of the same story.

It conjures up for me a picture of some grubby little chicks crapping over the side of their nest. Except that birdies don't know any better!

Anonymous said...

Since Barnet insists on grabbing nice and juicy 'Section 106 money' from commercial developments on ALL its brown-field land, the only place for its dustcarts is - its Green Belt!

Mr Reasonable said...

The same is true for leisure facilities in the borough. In the north of the borough the facilities are so poor that many people drive to either Borehamwood or to Potters Bar where Hertsmere council provide excellent and less expensive swimming pools. Whilst there is another authority out there spending money why should Barnet bother.

juliet solomon said...

We residents of Haringey are not "rather put out" about Haringey's lorry fleet being dumped on us - we
are FURIOUS, particularly on behalf of the near neighbours to the site.