Sunday, 29 May 2011

Departing council staff paid hush money. It couldn't happen in Barnet, could it?

The Daily Mail reported recently on how staff leaving Suffolk Council employ have been paid large sums of money to keep schtum about their reasons for going.

Suffolk council has recently turned back from embarking on the easyCouncil path due to resistance from residents. Their chief exec Andrea Hill is on leave while there are investigations into alleged bullying of staff.

She's another one who likes to stay at the Sandbanks Hotel. Another one? Mr Reasonable reports on another trip to this expensive hotel by Barnet senior staff.

So Barnet and Suffolk have Sandbanks in common. I don't suppose anyone leaving Barnet employ has ever been paid to keep quiet? That couldn't happen here, could it? I wish there were more hours in the day... I would investigate.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The cultural desertification of Barnet continues - the case of MoDA

Well, I hope I'm wrong, but it looks as though another cultural asset in Barnet - OK, just inside Enfield's borders, but only just - is going to be lost.

Middlesex University is closing its Cat Hill campus and, you won't be surprised to hear, selling it to property developers. Cat Hill courses, students and staff are squashing into the Hendon campus from September 2011.

Everyone at Hendon will have to budge up tighter again in coming years, since the university plans to close its Trent Park campus in due course. (The property developers will have a field day there: they could build a whole new town on that site...) I understand things are already tight at Hendon, with the library full to bursting, and students struggling to find accommodation in the Hendon area.

Meanwhile, the closure of Cat Hill means that the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) which was based there has had to find a new home as well. It is being accommodated at Beaufort Park, Colindale. Surprise, surprise, the collection will no longer have a gallery open to the public or capable of accommodating school visits. People will have to make an appointment if they want to see the collection.

MoDA's blog seeks to make this move sound like a good thing, but somehow fails. These stories about some of the exhibits being packed up for transporting to the Geffrye Museum and other museums which will be their home from now on strike a poignant note. Let's face it, Barnet and environs appear to have lost another museum.

P.S. There is still time to join the campaign to save Barnet Museum. Keep checking the Barnet Museum website for the latest developments.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Suffolk changes direction - will Barnet?

One of the other councils that had been going down the path of mass outsourcing, after much political hoo-ha, has a new council leader (same party: Conservative). Mark Bee has announced the council is dropping its New Strategic Direction (NSD) programme.
“I do not believe the NSD as a concept has connected with the people of Suffolk, some politicians, partner organisations or indeed many of our staff.

“The people of Suffolk expect to be listened to and cared about.”
The council hasn't taken down the webpage outlining what NSD is yet though. Have a look. Sounds a lot like One Barnet? When will Barnet Conservatives see sense, as Suffolk Conservatives have done, and drop the One Barnet programme?

Robert Rams' instant rebuttal team swings into action - but first it finishes its cornflakes

In response to an article by the Times series about Saturday's large demonstration against the proposed closure of Friern Barnet library, Robert Rams is now quoted by the Times saying:
I don’t for one moment expect that there will be universal enthusiasm for any change.

None of the Friern Barnet petitioners have made contact with me, but I would be happy to meet with them. I’m very interested in hearing any proposals coming forward from residents and library users during consultation.
Two comments appear also:
james smyth, totteryridge says...
9:30am Thu 26 May 11
Well i think it is an excellant idea to close the libary if demand is not there. that way money that is wasted there can be redirected for the benefit of others.

why dont these people simply buy a kindle to read their books ?

If the properties are sold that will bring in more money. its a win win situation but these people dont "read between the lines"

educated, North West London says...
9:31am Thu 26 May 11
Of those 400 who attended the read-in at Friern Barnet library, I wonder how many go into a library regularly?
As well as being the proud owner of a blog, Rams now seems to have got himself an instant rebuttal team, erudite, well-heeled and with a sly sense of humour. He wishes.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Robert Rams' worst nightmare

When Barnet's Tory administration announced its Strategic Library Review, around the same time as they announced they are cutting £1.4 million of funding from the library service, library champions swung into action. Street stalls and the online petition garnered several thousand signatures; contacts were made throughout the borough. Groups such as the East Finchley Library Users Group launched pre-emptive 'hands off our library' campaigns.

We all expected that Barnet might lose five or six libraries, as Brent is doing. We expected issue desks to spring up in the corner of the local Costa. In the event, the results of the SLR looked reasonably benign. People - the sort of people I know! - are in the habit of saying "they scare you into thinking the cuts are going to be really bad so that when they are announced they don't seem half so bad". Perhaps that's what Barnet thought they had done.

But, standing back, the library cuts are still pretty bad. £1.4 million worth of bad. And if you use Friern Barnet library or Hampstead Garden Suburb library, both due to close, they are very bad indeed! The users of these libraries are not going to take the cuts lying down.

Cue Robert Rams', the architect of Barnet's library cuts, worst nightmare! A demonstration outside Friern Barnet library on Saturday 21 May drew more than 200 people. Local schoolchildren who use the library were much in evidence with posters they had made. Local residents are campaigning to have the green space next to the library recognised as a village green.

The site on which Friern Barnet library stands is valued at more than £400,000. Who would pay for such a site but a property developer? Friern Barnet lacks a real centre - apart from the library! People won't readily accept that it disappear simply to make way for yet another undistinguished block of flats. Good luck to them! Please visit their blog and sign their petition on the Barnet council website.

P.S. Thank you to BL for the photograph.


The editing job I am doing at the moment affords me the chance to see what the book publishers are bringing out in time for Christmas. One can see trends in each genre. Humour is either one of the most boring or one of the most delightful categories to edit: depends on what makes you laugh. Last season there was a really tedious reliance on poo-based humour. I mean, really tedious. The season before that it was pants.

Thankfully, the Internet has provided a whole new lease of life for humour and novelty publishing, really rather proving that ordinary people are much funnier than people trying to be funny for money.

There are plenty of compilations of the best of some of the funny websites around. Of course, not all of these websites are funny, some are downright cruel, but I do love some of them, especially the incomparable icanhascheezburger?

I was wondering whether we could adapt some of these ideas for our own nefarious purposes of satirising Barnet's incompetent politicians. Brian Coleman, of course, already has many blogs devoted - utterly devoted - to him, but there surely is room for icanhasfreechampagne? featuring LOLColeman?

This would obviously be in marked contrast to the Glum Councillors blog. Coleman would never feel at home in this company.

Here are some more blogs that made me chortle this evening:
Crap At My Parents' House
Learn From My Fail

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Rapturous in Hampstead

I've just looked directly at the sun and I didn't go blind!

No, I'm not having a belated, rapturous moment. I visited the Hampstead Observatory today.

I am ploughing my way through a big editing job at the moment, which is why I've gone rather quiet. My body screamed to be released from the computer for a few hours today and I have just walked from Golders Green to Kings Cross, via Kentish Town.

There were many wondrous sights on the way! Unfortunately, the best one is now closed to the public till September. It's the Hampstead Observatory, which I only vaguely knew about, but was lucky enough to pop into today. This, from their website, is why the Observatory is now closed:
Last chance to see Saturn

The Observatory is about to close for the summer break. Weather permitting, the Observatory will be open on Friday evening, May 20th Saturday evening May 21st and Sunday morning May 22nd. After that date it will be closed until 16th of September.

People often ask why we close during the summer? During the months June, July and August from our latitude it really doesn't get dark. We suffer from 'astronomical twilight' because the Sun is not far below the northern horizon. We also use the summer months to overhaul the telescope and maintain the building and to give our hard working demonstrators and assistants a few weeks rest before we begin again in the autumn.
So there you have it, I would definitely recommend you to make a date for September when it re-opens.

What did I see today? The surface of the Sun, with a filter on to stop it burning my retina to kingdom come. I saw a sun spot, and a solar flare. Absolutely fantastic. I learned, don't laugh at my ignorance, that the Sun rotates on its own axis, around every 28 days.

Now I need to see one of those contraptions that shows the movements of the heavenly bodies, because once the pleasant astronomer on hand began to explain the nature of the Earth's rotation around the Sun, etc, my non-3D imagination went haywire.

I feel really blessed (in a completely secular way).

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Once upon a time you dressed so fine

There's probably a copyright law against posting this, but if I have to take it down soon, it's worth it. I was having a Bob Dylan morning (yes, things are that bad), and the words of this song just jumped out. Which Barnet council politician would do well to heed them, do you think? (Clue: 2012.)

Like a Rolling Stone

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

We marched to save the NHS

While Hendon Town Hall saw all manner of drama this evening, including Lynne Hillan sending a statement announcing she is stepping down as Barnet council leader, Barnet Alliance for Public Services made its collective way to central London to participate in the March to Save the NHS.

The march aimed to show some of the opposition that exists to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill. For a weekday evening, it was a good turnout of a few thousand, with a good spread of organisations represented. From Barnet, as well as the Barnet Alliance, Middlesex University Students Union were present.

The march started from outside University College Hospital, where I had an unpleasant brush with a security official banning me from taking a photo from the steps of the hospital: this is Foundation Trust property, he kept telling me. Amazing, isn't it? And Lansley's privatisation drive hasn't even started yet. This guy could have given MetPro some lessons, I tell you! Still, I got my shot.

We marched down Gower Street, part of Shaftesbury Avenue (past my workplace!), down Charing Cross Road, through Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. We finished up outside Richmond House, the HQ of the Department of Health in England.

An additional feature of the evening was witnessing the weekly picket by Syrian democracy campaigners, opposite Downing Street. So what if I missed animals on the Hendon Town Hall lawn this evening!

I have a few pictures of the evening here. While they expose my lack of skills in photographing in twilight, only a couple are taken at weird angles - I'm learning.

P.S. Did I really miss animals on the lawn at Hendon Town Hall this evening? That would have been something to see...

Monday, 16 May 2011

A steadfast Iranian socialist: Behzad Kazemi aka Alireza Nasab

I went to the funeral today of Iranian socialist Alireza Nasab, aka Behzad Kazemi, or should that be the other way around? I'm still not sure. Lots of Iranian socialists have more than one name, for the obvious reason that you sometimes needed to conceal your identity to save your own life, or those of your loved ones.

In any case, I always knew him as Ali! Ali was someone I knew only a little... but for 25 years. And, unwittingly, he played an important part in my political life. I met him when I was at university (the first time around) and just getting involved in student politics. He was part of an effort to get the National Union of Students to affiliate to an Iranian solidarity group... but one with decent politics - there were competitors.

I'll spare you the details of the internecine fights of the Iranian left in those days, but the differences between the groups was not just of a People's Front of Judea versus the Judean People's Front nitpicking type. Politics mattered and still does.

Ali taught me that it matters who you show solidarity with when you decide to give political support to people from a country not your own. Yes, it's complicated, but it's very patronising also not to take the time to find out whether those nice Iranians collecting money in the street and showing pictures of the crimes of the Iranian regime (which are horrendous) are a group you really want to give your money to. It's also patronising, as some otherwise well meaning types do, to dismiss all arguments between "foreigners" as, well, typical foreigner-type behaviour: those Iranians/Afghanis/Indians, etc, they're always arguing among themselves. I can't be bothered to find out why. Shake your head in exasperation and walk away.

Anyway, while that's all true it's a bit cheerless! The funeral was, I hesitate to say this, great; a real socialist funeral! Banners, poems, speeches, a glass of wine, singing of the International, and most people wearing red neckties!

In recent years, Ali's main political activity was campaigning for more attention for the very brave people repressed for organising trade unions in Iran, the most famous of them being the busworker leader Mansour Osanloo. Ali did this through a campaign based in Canada, the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran.

The main thing to say about him is that he never stopped being active in politics, it was his life. When I started aged 20 he had already been a socialist for years, and he was still going strong recently, in spite of severe ill health. The other important thing about him was the efforts he made to work with UK socialists and trade unions, not just to keep the campaigns he was involved with an issue for Iranians themselves. We are going to miss those lines of communication. Farewell to a very good man and a personal hero.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Camp in a stranger’s back garden – for £9 a night

If you want to know what prompted Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, to make the comment "It’s all right for one or two nights a year... but we'll have to keep an eye on it," the Daily Mail has the story.

I bet when he stood for Parliament he could only dream of exposure such as this.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Hendon and District Archaeological Society pull out of Church Farmhouse Museum project

There is a very interesting and dismaying article over on the Finchley Arrow blog. Hendon and District Archaeological Society, who had been hoping to work up a plan to take over Church Farmhouse Museum, have pulled out of the project. There is a letter explaining why: in short, it boils down to Barnet council not being even remotely serious about helping a Big Society organisation to take over the running of a council service.

Have a read here.

I had heard that there were valuable items being thrown away into the skip outside Church Farmhouse. I went and had a look the other evening, and saw mostly genuine rubbish but also some photographs that might have been of historic interest. At least, they might have been of sentimental value to the men and women in uniform pictured! I photographed this (see above) though it was late and I wasn't in rummaging in skips mood so I didn't get close up.

If anyone lives nearby, they might keep an eye on developments. It certainly is a sad sight to see the Museum closed, with a sign in the window only warning that this building is alarmed, and items of old furniture and files being slung into a skip around the side.

This used to be a facility for the whole community. Robert Rams, we look on your works and despair!

Health is the most important thing

I don't hold with people making hypocritical statements of regret about the misfortunes of their adversaries, when really they couldn't care less, and I'm not going to make one now. Thankfully I don't have to.

When I heard yesterday that Barnet council leader Lynne Hillan is gravely ill my heart sank. I'm genuinely sorry to hear the news.

I've never felt any personal animosity towards her, even when I've been trying to put awkward questions to her at public question time during Cabinet meetings. On those occasions she has batted them wearily away. I can appreciate now just how wearily.

The anti-cuts group, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, had planned a protest at the council AGM next Tuesday 17 May but we have called it off in deference to the general mood. Why? Because, one, we would be accused of disrespect if we went ahead and, two, probably foremost, our hearts would not be in it.

Instead, we are encouraging people to attend the march for the NHS in central London. I think there is a certain fittingness to this. I do think that some Tories genuinely believe that opening the NHS up - further - to market forces will actually make it better. I think they're wrong, but I wouldn't say they are evil! I like to think that Hillan would be in this camp.

On the other hand, there really is a small, greedy minority who are simply rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all the profits they are going to make if Andrew Lansley's proposed reforms (the Health and Social Care Bill) go ahead. It is these parasites we need to drive away from the NHS in the next few months.

For each of us individually, health - not making cash - is the most important thing, and that's true for our collective health service, the NHS, as well.

March to save the NHS!
Tuesday 17 May
Assemble: 5.30pm, University College Hospital, Gower Street, for a march to Whitehall. March scheduled to set off at 6pm, due at Whitehall at 7pm.
Nearest tube stations: Euston Square, Euston, Warren Street

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

John Betjeman and St Pancras Station; Robert Rams and...?

To cheer everyone up, I thought you might enjoy this picture of the John Betjeman statue appearing to look up at the Olympic rings at St Pancras station. If you are in the area, it is worth going into the station to have a look.

I had a pint at the Betjeman Arms on Monday night. Jury's out on it as a pub, but it's fun sitting on the terrace inside the station - with the smell of the train fuel and all!

As we know, Betjeman is famous as a poet but also for campaigning to save buildings that people had fallen out of love with. In Betjeman's day, people wanted to knock it down, now people are raving over St Pancras!

Once upon a time local politicians took municipal pride in building libraries and swimming pools and so on. It was the sign of a civilised age made possible by the industrial revolution. A by-product was that these people lived on in posterity with buildings named after them, and a statue, if they were lucky, at the very least a plaque.

What a contrast with today's municipal dwarves. What will Robert Rams be remembered for, I wonder? "On this spot there stood a library; on this spot a museum, all closed by Robert Rams." Let us now praise famous men.

A cheerful, local library in Friern Barnet

Residents are using all the dark arts of social media in their campaign to keep Friern Barnet library open. Two can play at that game, Barnet council!

They have set up a blog, Twitter feed, Flickr and YouTube sites. Oh, and a Facebook page. The blog is a work in progress, but the message is loud and clear:
We the residents, students and workers of Friern Barnet are petitioning Barnet Council not to deprive us of our local library. Arts Depot is local to North Finchley but not to Friern Barnet. Public transport is expensive, inconvenient and slow in ever increasing traffic. It will turn a weekly or even a daily drop-in to our local library into a cumbersome expedition. Among us [are] young families, who moved into the area for the proximity of the library.

There is an increasing number of young jobseekers, who badly need a free PC access. There are the elderly and disabled, who can just about make the short distance to their local library. It is the only place in the area where we can spend quality time for free.

Friern Barnet Library in its present place and shape is an integral part of our life. We don’t want a pie in the sky “Landmark” library far away, but a cheerful, local library. Please don’t take it away from us, to show that you really are Putting the Community First.
Please sign their petition on the Barnet council website. They are holding a second demonstration outside the library on Saturday 21 May.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Letter to councillors: stop the One Barnet Programme

The letter below has been sent to all Barnet Conservative councillors this morning. If you agree with our call to put a halt to the One Barnet Programme, please sign the petition here.


Tuesday 10 May 2011

Time to pull back from the One Barnet Programme

Dear councillor,

Next Tuesday 17 May is the council’s AGM. As residents we see this as an opportunity for the Council to do some stocktaking and signal a change of direction.

The One Barnet Programme (OBP) was initially presented as the new and innovative approach to the future of Council services. However, as soon as the first reports were published it became clear that there was little evidence behind many of the exaggerated claims being made by the consultants paid to advise on the programme.

We are aware that many councillors doubt whether OBP can deliver the savings and improved services Barnet residents expect. We share those anxieties.

Last week saw the publication of a number of articles in the mainstream press supporting the view that mass outsourcing does not save money, is high risk, and has a negative impact on staff morale. We hope you will take the time to read the extracts from some of those articles which follow.

The fate of Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council last September declared its intention to become the first “virtual council”. The Chief Executive pushing this programme, under the name New Strategic Direction (NSD), was being supported by Max Wide, on secondment from BT. As you know, Wide was one of the architects of Future Shape/One Barnet.

Since announcing their intention to outsource most services, Suffolk has been dogged by controversy. In December they were accused of ignoring a £100 million overspend on a deal with BT. (See article:

In the last few days there have been big changes in the Conservative Party in Suffolk as a result of concerns about NSD, and the scheme has been halted. The Guardian newspaper reports:
The previous council leader, Jeremy Pembroke, who helped oversee the plans... stepped down in April amid concern about the deeply unpopular changes.

An inquiry was begun into morale at the council's legal department after an anonymous whistleblowing letter, sent to councillors, and believed to be from an employee, alleged staff there had been put under "unbearable pressure". The letter refers to "the poisonous atmosphere that exists at present" in the council.

(Full article here:

The BBC has reported on its website:
MPs were concerned that Suffolk County Council chief executive's policies threatened to "rip the heart out" of local communities.

Negotiations are reported to be going on between the council and its chief executive Andrea Hill who has not returned to work after a holiday and is now reported to be on "extended leave".

Suffolk Central Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter said he and fellow MPs had been worried about the direction the council was taking under Ms Hill.
(To see the BBC interview with Poulter visit

Outsourcing should not be the automatic response to austerity

The public sector IT managers’ association SOCITM has published a research briefing called Costs of outsourcing: uncovering the real risks.

The report’s author, Martin Greenwood, warns:
Outsourcing should not be considered an inevitable response to austerity. Even smaller organisations that need to gain economies of scale, and struggle to keep up with technological development, should consider collaboration and sharing with other local public services as a genuine alternative. If they do take the plunge into outsourcing, they should make sure they are aware of the pitfalls and know how to avoid them.

...It is a myth that outsourcing is cheaper, across most areas it is more expensive and people outsource for a range of reasons other than cost.
The report reveals that “when comparing the costs for any service, most elements will be more expensive if outsourced. The risks associated with benchmarking begin at the tender stage when suppliers will benefit from being experts at the process of negotiating contract terms, in contrast with the local authority that will go to market only rarely for a major outsourcing.” (More details:

The government is rowing back on mass outsourcing of public services

The BBC reported a recent meeting between the CBI and the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, where the minister explained:
...the government is committed to transforming services, but this would not be a return to the 1990s with wholesale outsourcing to the private sector – this would be unpalatable to the present administration.

The government was not prepared to run the political risk of fully transferring services to the private sector with the result that they could be accused of being naive or allowing excess profitmaking by private sector firms. [Note of meeting by CBI]
(Read more here:

The articles above point to the folly of schemes such as the One Barnet Programme.

In the last two months the Council’s poor procurement and contract monitoring capacity has been demonstrated by the MetPro, Catalyst (legionella bacterium) and SAP cases. These have all harmed the Council’s reputation. Yet these are small contracts when compared to what OBP is proposing. With OBP the risks will be much higher.

We are asking the Conservative administration to bring OBP to a close before it is too late. Millions of pounds of public money has already been spent on consultants, with no discernible savings achieved, and the losses could well be multiplied many fold going forward. Residents and Barnet council staff are increasingly anxious about the future of Barnet council services. Councillors should be too.

Last September the Leader said “I would always listen to the community” when she reversed the decision to increase councillors’ allowances. We are asking you to listen now.

There is still time to put the brakes on the One Barnet Programme. We urge you to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Monday, 9 May 2011

Suffolk County Council halts its big outsourcing programme

A comment on the decision by Suffolk County Council to halt its "easyCouncil" style mass outsourcing programme, by Tony Travers of LSE, on the "Today" programme this morning. In summary: "I think they've decided they were going too far too fast."

I hope to transcribe this... if time allows (it probably won't so have a listen!).

Barnet CPZ: the council presses our money into the hands of lawyers

There is an update on the Barnet CPZ Action blog regarding their legal case against Barnet council, objecting to the exorbitant parking charge rises. It seems Barnet council are preparing to pay a top QC and hit the residents with the full legal costs if they lose. Goliath does like to throw his weight about! Oh, and hand our money over to lawyers.

Barnet CPZ Action are raising money for their legal case. Send a cheque made payable to "Barnet CPZ Action" to 88 Summerlee Avenue, East Finchley, London N2 9QH or donate via the PayPal link on the blog. Here are some extracts from their latest post:
1. [Barnet argues] The case only concerns "a limited number of residents of the Borough of Barnet" and, therefore, is not a case of broad importance. [We of course disagree. In any event, the case concerns everyone in Barnet: i.e it concerns the 90% of residents who are being subsidised and not just the 10% who are doing the subsidising]

2. David [Attfield, bringing the case] is simply opposed to the "extent of spending cuts in Barnet" and his claim is "purely political". His remedy should be the ballot box and not the court.

...4. Barnet Council have instructed one of the country's leading QCs, James Goudie, despite the fact that they know that David will largely be conducting the action himself.
If it's of any interest to anyone, as far as I know David Attfield has had no connection with any of the anti-cuts groups or activities in the borough, so that claim is completely spurious. I still support him though!

Friday, 6 May 2011

The fight for Friern Barnet and Garden Suburb libraries

Thanks to the pre-emptive strike by Rog T and all those who collected signatures and personed stalls against library closures, Barnet's Strategic Library Review in the end came up with only modest proposals for change.

However, they are still cutting £1.41 million from the libraries budget over the next three years. They'll say that, by clever reorganisation, they will be getting more for their money. Well, I'm all for clever reorganisation and getting value for money, but I'm not for closing libraries.

I'm glad to report that those whose libraries are still due for the chop, or for merging with another library a long way away from its original location, are putting up resistance. I understand there will be a demonstration outside Friern Barnet Library tomorrow, Saturday 7 May at 2pm, organised by residents opposed to the planned merger of the library with North Finchley library in a new location at the Arts Depot. Residents argue the Arts Depot is too far for many users to travel and, besides, they like their Friern Barnet library!

Please sign their petition on the Barnet council website.

Hampstead Garden Suburb residents are also putting up a fight against the closure of their small but valued Market Place library. Read more about it here. They too have a petition on the Barnet council website. Please sign it here.

The One Barnet juggernaut thunders on

Residents should know that Barnet Unison members in the council's Development and Regulatory Services are currently taking industrial action short of a strike. This is in response to the fact that they are to be transferred to a private sector employer when these services are privatised as part of One Barnet/Future Shape/easyCouncil.

The union has written many documents on the shortcomings of the process leading to these privatisations. Detailed examination of the council's business case for privatisting DRS is available here and here.

The council's business case is here.

Councillor Robert Rams, famous for seeking the axing of Barnet's museums, now writes a blog (is he a one-handed or a two-fingered blogger? What is sure is he does it using a BlackBerry). He is promising to write (a blogpost!) about the union's detailed critique of One Barnet. Well, that's more than any other Tory councillor or the whole administration has done. He's game, I'll say that for him.

See Mrs Angry's Broken Barnet blog on how Tory Suffolk council has fallen out of love with outsourcing and connections with the folk here in Barnet.

Meanwhile, here's more from the Barnet Unison newsletter to make your hair stand on end:
One Barnet Projects in May

This month a number of significant decisions are going to be made

Adult Social Care

On 24 May at Cabinet Resources Committee (CRC) a decision on the possible transfer of staff working in Social Care to a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) will be made. UNISON has raised serious concerns about this proposal in our submission to cabinet last year. The Business Case will only become public a few days before the CRC meets. UNISON has lobbied for more time to consult with our members of what will be a major change to their terms and conditions, but our efforts are being ignored.


The Business Case has been agreed by Corporate Directors Group but controversially will not be going to any Council Committee. Early next week the Business Case will be made public and we will be seeking urgent meetings with UNISON members working in parking services.

Why Barnet Unison members are taking industrial action

I often think that it would be good if every Barnet resident could read the newsletter that goes out to Barnet council Unison members.

Yes, Barnet Unison secretary John Burgess has an axe to grind: he wants to keep his members in decent jobs. But, overwhelmingly, these people are not doing "non-jobs" and they are not all looking forward to "gold-plated" pensions. They are ordinary, decent people doing useful jobs that benefit all Barnet residents.

And John is a council tax payer too, so he too has an interest in not spending more of taxpayers' money than necessary! It is just obvious that you get better public services when they are delivered by accountable public authorities who aren't in it for a profit.

That's the health warning out of the way! I'm going to share a few simple explanations that John has sent out to members this week, which explain some of what is going on in Barnet council. First, why Barnet Unison members are taking industrial action.
The ‘Trades Dispute’ in relation to the One Barnet Programme

UNISON members should be aware that staff working in Regulatory Services have been taking part in industrial action for several weeks now, following a Trade Dispute being declared at the Corporate Joint Negotiation Consultative Committee (CJNCC) on 13 September 2010 where the Trade Unions registered a ‘failure to agree’ in relation to the One Barnet Programme (OBP).

Since then there have been a number of One Barnet projects all recommending privatisation of council services e.g. Parking, Support Services and Customer Call Centre. There are other projects following quickly behind.

It was clear back in July 2010 when the CJNCC agreed “that in-house bids would not be considered as part of the future shape of the programme.”

It is UNISON’s view that if in-house bids are not to be considered, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that the services are to be transferred to the private sector.

This will necessarily mean that the employment of individuals employed by the Council will at some stage transfer to a private sector employer. The Council would no longer be their employer.

Members of this union believe that a change in the identity of the employer to a private sector employer would involve a significant worsening of their employment position.

In particular, members are concerned that such a change in the identity of the employer would:

(i) lead to a diminution in job security in employment with a private sector employer, with less opportunities for re-deployment in the event of redundancy;

(ii) mean that there would be an increased risk that terms and conditions of employment would be reduced, for example in the event of restructuring;

(iii) mean that they would no longer be able to participate in the Local Government Pension Scheme; and

(iv) mean moving to an employer in whose employment there would not be the same opportunities for career development and advancement.

Members regard the identity of their employer as an important term of their contract of employment, and they do not want it to be changed. The trade dispute will continue until they are reassured that their terms and conditions are not to be changed through the transfer of their employment to the private sector.

The Trade Unions have been seeking to be involved in the OBP project and have submitted over 30 reports covering service improvement, options appraisal templates, transformational toolkits and a corporate procurement framework. The Trades Unions see the way forward as a re-consideration of the prospect of an in-house bid, with a full Options Appraisal being carried out.

UNISON is absolutely clear that the subject matter of the dispute relates to terms and conditions of employment. It relates to the identity of the employer of affected employees who are currently employed by the Council, and UNISON has already explained the reasons why its affected members wish to remain employed by the Council.

Barnet UNISON remains committed to genuine dialogue with the Council, we have not left the negotiating table.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

London Met students - occupying to save arts education

This time last year Middlesex University won a name - a bad name - for itself when it decided to close its philosophy course. Students and staff waged an audacious campaign making the case for the value of learning about philosophy. They lost, unfortunately, ground down in part by legal action against their occupation.

There was a debate about tactics: the postgraduate research school took the chance to move to Kingston University (where they are thriving).

Now more arts and humanities teaching is going to the wall, as a result of the government cutting the funding for this area of study. In the wake of the government raising the cap on tuition fees, most universities are now charging the maximum £9,000 per annum to study for a first degree.

Many students who would have opted to study arts and humanities before have to think very hard now about whether they can afford to, and many universities are simply abandoning courses in these subjects. Like Middlesex University, London Metropolitan is scrambling to reposition itself as a predominantly business school. It has gone further than most, though, with its proposal to cut the courses available from 577 to 160, and possibly simply to transfer swathes of students to other institutions.

The unions are considering balloting for industrial action against the inevitable job losses. A group of students has taken the step of occupying the postgraduate school that looks onto Holloway Road. They have organised a teach-in this Saturday, from 10am-4pm - though if you want to go check before you set out because the occupation makes for a fluid situation. Below is the occupying students' press release.
70% of courses cut - London Metropolitan University occupied

The Graduate Centre of Holloway Road Campus is currently occupied by students in protest against Vice-Chancellor Malcolm Gillies’ decision to axe 70% of courses - including Performing Arts, Philosophy and History. Gillies’ decision came as a shock a couple of weeks ago.

None of the university teaching staff was consulted about the cuts. A majority of the excellent, dedicated tutors are under imminent threat of losing their jobs. Students already enrolled on the courses face an uncertain future. There have been rumours about transfers to other universities with which WE DO NOT AGREE. This statement is our call for help to save our university, our future and our dreams: to keep London Metropolitan University open to everyone, regardless of their social class, wealth and chosen subject of study. The purpose of this occupation is to present the Vice-Chancellor with our demands:


1) Meeting with Vice-Chancellor

2) Transparent process and direct communication

3) University management goes back to HEFCE to renegotiate repayment terms

4) Vice-Chancellor to accept proposals put forward by staff in HALE

5) University retracts decision of cuts of ALL courses

6) Students on existing courses which are being deleted, WILL NOT BE TRANSFERRED

7) Free access IN and OUT of the Occupation

8) No student is victimized following action taken to occupy the space.

There is no other university which offers such a wide range of courses as London Metropolitan. We do not want to be transferred. We are proud to be London Met. Help us save our university and our future.

Claire Locke: Student Union President Elect

Agnes Panasiuk, Daniel Sado: Performing Arts students



Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Guest blog: falling out of love with outsourcing

While Barnet council continues to blunder into a brave new outsourced world, even former privatisation enthusiasts are having second thoughts. John Burgess, secretary of Barnet council Unison branch, has produced this roundup of information and news items.
Privatisation special?

Today I have been inundated by emails highlighting a number of reports about privatisation of public services. It is very clear from reading flawed options appraisals and business cases for One Barnet that no evidence has been produced to substantiate the exaggerated claims that privatisation of Barnet Council services and staff will deliver savings.

Barnet UNISON has produced almost 30 detailed reports on easyCouncil, and recently submitted two detailed reports on the business case for the privatisation of Development and Regulatory Services (DRS).

I want to quickly remind people of what the reports said.

Professor Dexter Whitfield (European Services Strategy Unit) was commissioned by Barnet UNISON three years ago to provide consultancy support for the EasyCouncil/Future Shape/One Barnet programme (you can view those reports here).

Dexter Whitfield said this about the DRS business case:
“The DRS Business Case has a superficial appearance of authenticity but is fundamentally not fit for purpose and elected members have a duty to decide it is non-compliant.

"There is clearly a high risk that user charges will be increased in order to achieve the income generation targets.”
Adrian Waite (Independent Consultancy Services) was commissioned by Barnet UNISON to examine the financial aspects of the business case. Adrian is a highly experienced and respected local government finance expert. He has held a number of senior roles in local authorities including Director of Finance and s151 Officer and is a fully qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Adrian Waite said this about the DRS business case:
“During the 30 years that I have worked in local government finance as a local government officer and management consultant, including some time as Finance Director of a Borough Council, I have seen and written many business cases, business plans and options appraisals.

“This business case is remarkable for the apparent lack of robust evidence to support its main conclusions that £28million of savings and increased income is achievable and that this can only be delivered through outsourcing.”
To read Dexter Whitfield’s report click here.

To Read Adrian Waite’s report click here.

Back to the articles

It has been astonishing to read the number of articles about the risks of privatisation in the national media. I had to keep checking that they had not been written by UNISON.

Lots of Barnet council staff believe that One Barnet is simply politically ideological. Have a read of the following articles and see what you think.

1. Outsourcing "not an inevitable response" to austerity, says Socitm report

A new warning note about the risks of outsourcing IT appears in a briefing from Socitm Insight, the research arm of the public sector IT managers' association.

Costs of Outsourcing - Uncovering the Real Risks accepts that there are good reasons for outsourcing, especially for smaller organisations. However, outsourcing a major component of the ICT service or even the whole service "is a major commitment and fraught with risk".

According to the report, Socitm's benchmarking service, which has compared costs and user satisfaction over a decade, shows that, when comparing the costs for any service, most elements will be more expensive if outsourced. The risks associated with benchmarking begin at the tender stage when suppliers will benefit from being experts at the process of negotiating contract terms, in contrast with the local authority that will go to market only rarely for a major outsourcing, the report says.

The briefing also counsels public services to avoid the mistake of outsourcing information assets alongside their technology.

"Outsourcing should not be considered an inevitable response to austerity," says Martin Greenwood, author of Cost of outsourcing. "Even smaller organisations that need to gain economies of scale, and struggle to keep up to date with technological development, should consider collaboration and sharing with other local public services as a genuine alternative. If they do take the plunge into outsourcing, they should make sure they are aware of the pitfalls and know how to avoid them."

2. Socitm report highlights outsourcing risks

The report, Costs of Outsourcing – Uncovering the Real Risks, examines the risks in detail and offers advice about how to tackle them.

Socitm points out that although there are often good reasons for outsourcing, especially for smaller organisations unable to benefit from economies of scale or afford to change technology as regularly as their larger competitors, "outsourcing a major component of an ICT service is fraught with risk...”

It goes on to say:
“when comparing the costs for any service, most elements will be more expensive over a 10-year period if outsourced."
This may seem counter intuitive, but report author Martin Greenwood said:
"It is a myth that outsourcing is cheaper, across most areas it is more expensive and people outsource for a range of reasons other than cost."
He added:
“Another risk lies with outsourcing information assets alongside technology, as the ability to exploit these is a key source of efficiency savings and even advocates of outsourcing advise against this.”
Read full article here.

3. Coalition scales back privatisation plans over "excess profit making" fears

The government has privately admitted it is scaling back its plans to privatise swaths of the public sector for fear of appearing to be in favour of private companies excessively profiting from the taxpayer.

A leaked memo of a meeting between business chiefs and the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, says there will be "no return to the 1990s" and wholesale outsourcing. Maude is preparing a white paper on public services – delayed since February – setting out the future direction of public services, which is expected to contain plans to match private sector companies to charities and volunteer groups to run public services.

Read full article here.

4. Plans to outsource public services "scaled back"

“The government is scaling back plans to use the private sector to deliver public services", the BBC has learned.

Leaked documents suggest ministers have decided the "wholesale outsourcing" of public services to the private sector would be politically "unpalatable".

Ministers instead want to use more charities, social enterprises and employee-owned "mutual" organisations.

Outsourcing was meant to be a key part of the government's drive to cut costs and reduce the UK's budget deficit.

The note, obtained by the BBC, is marked "strictly private and confidential" and was drawn up by the CBI as a record of the meeting.

It says:
"The minister's messages were clear cut... the government is committed to transforming services, but this would not be a return to the 1990s with wholesale outsourcing to the private sector - this would be unpalatable to the present administration.

"The government was not prepared to run the political risk of fully transferring services to the private sector with the result that they could be accused of being naive or allowing excess profit making by private sector firms.”
To view full article click here.

5. Leaked government documents suggest shared services are the future

Leaked documents have cast doubt on the government's enthusiasm towards wholesale outsourcing to help it cut public sector costs, and suggest that joint ventures would be a more palatable remedy to excessive government costs.

According to a BBC report, leaked documents suggest ministers view the wholesale outsourcing of public services to private companies as "unpalatable".

To view full article click here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Mayday, mayday!

God, you spend days photographing royalist idiots and when you finally get to go on your own march, the 1st May international workers' day march, you have to put up with idiots like this.

To be honest, it's the same every year. But the march through London was joined by more dubious groups than usual, it seems, this year. Every year I ask myself: can I, in all conscience, march alongside the Stalin Society? I'd like to egg their banner one year - but I think I'd get beaten up. It's probably worth it, isn't it?

There were some respectworthy people, on the march, honest! This group of restaurant and domestic workers organised by the Unite union were good: reassuring to see them tucking into some fast food!

There are some more pictures here.

Note to self: stop photographing everything at a funny angle.