Monday, 30 January 2012

Diary date: Thursday 9 February, strike against One Barnet and for public services

An important message from Barnet Unison:

Strike against One Barnet and for public services

On Thursday 9 February we are embarking on our fourth day of strike action which will mark a sustained campaign of activity to highlight our fight to remain council employees.

Our members are proud to serve the residents of Barnet.

As I have said over the last four years our UNISON branch is facing the most fundamental challenge in our history.

· 1 February 2012: 130 care workers transfer to the Local Authority Trading company

· 1 April 2012: 90 housing workers transfer to Barnet Homes

· 1 April 2012: all of the parking service transfer to NSL

· 1 April 2012: all of legal service transfer to Harrow Council

Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) and the New Support Organisation/Customer Services Organisation (NSO/CSO) projects enter Dialogue 2 process and if continued will transfer all the staff in January 2013.

All the above would involve approx 2,000 council workers and over £2 billion of council business over the next 10 years.

Wave 2 of One Barnet is about to begin - it will involve all the depot based staff, eg, refuse, street cleaning, grounds maintenance, approximately 1,000 staff. The likely transfer date for this group of services could be the end of 2013.

What is left?

Social workers and commissioners, approximately 500 staff. The Local Authority Trading Company has been set up to take other council services and we believe that social work will eventually be outsourced, leaving a core 300.

But there is still a strong fighting spirit in our branch and amongst our members to defend our services and jobs.

Please send messages of support to We also need you all to spread the word of our struggle via Facebook ("Barnet Unison") and Twitter (@barnet_unison).

Best wishes,

John Burgess
Branch Secretary

020 8359 2088

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Diary date: Saturday 4 February, Friern Barnet library march

Via the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign...

Click here for leaflet advertising the "I Red heart FB Library" event for National Libraries Day, 4th February 2012 at Friern Barnet Library.

We will be gathering outside the Old Town Hall (corner of Friern Barnet Road/Lane) at 2pm (prompt) and in a big group we'll be walking to the library, displaying hearts and banners showing our love for our library.

You're all welcome to join us!

Please circulate this to friends, blog, facebook, tweet about it and please post the flyer on your website!


Twitter: @SaveFriernBtLib


Facebook group:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

TalkLondon... the edited highlights and the unexpurgated version

Whoopee! The official Barnet TalkLondon highlights have been released. You can view them here. Let's see what the mayor's office thought was fit to disseminate more widely!

The Barnet Bugle - a Conservative fan of Boris Johnson, but not, it seems, of Barnet's current Tory administration - has unedited video of the whole meeting here.

Compare and contrast!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Mayor's media partner mugs Boris

One of the interesting sidelines of the TalkLondon event on Tuesday night was that it had a media partner. A what? A media partner, in this case, a news website called London24.

I'm not sure I'm happy with the whole concept - this private company gets something in return for being involved in what is a publicly funded event, and ostensibly part of the democratic process.

There was a big screen up behind the panel on the evening, projecting the proceedings so that people at the back could see. As we filed in at the start of the evening, there was a slide show of Johnson's "achievements" in office. With media partners we are on a slippery slope. Why not also project some adverts onto the screen during the breaks? Why not allow product placement? The panel could have been made to at least pretend to drink Coca-Cola throughout.

Brian Coleman could wear one of those vulgar waistcoats like the snooker players do, with some big, ugly logos stitched on. "The Haven", Whetstone; Harvey Nichols; the Methodist Church... all might see some value in helping to get Coleman elected. (And then again...)

While it contains some factual inaccuracies, London24's report of the evening - fairly - spins rather against Johnson. It begins:
Talk London saw Mayor Boris Johnson get a grilling from Barnet residents at the Met Police’s Peel Centre, last night (Tuesday)....
The full article is here.

P.S. The Guardian website today has a critical item on Barnet's parking policy.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mugged in the Peel Centre

It's late now, early morning, but I took extensive notes at last night's TalkLondon meeting held at the Peel Centre, tucked away in the Metropolitan Police training college in Hendon. I will share a few impressions: I feel mugged.

TalkLondon was the inspiration of Boris Johnson, the London mayor. On the strength of this evening's performance it's hard to see this roadshow as anything more than providing publicity for the disarming, charming mayor. They say television puts a few pounds on the person being filmed. That might explain why in person Johnson seems slimmer and younger than on television.

In the flesh, he seems less of a bumbling buffoon and more of a patronising posh guy, with brilliant comic timing even though his jokes are thin. There were several points during the evening when you felt that he was riding his luck way too far.

The role of London mayor must be one of the cushiest politician's roles going. Johnson can appear to be all things to all people. He has no direct responsibility for many of the things that are annoying people, such as the rises in parking charges that Barnet council, but also other councils, are implementing. Yet he is a major figure in the Conservative Party whose government is making the cuts that are leading to the higher parking - and other - charges.

He can swan around the capital meeting and flattering the grassroots people who are doing the work in thousands of charities and community groups, such as the Words 4 Weapons charity, mentioned at the meeting tonight by one of the members of the public.

He has some pots of money to dip into in order to dispense largesee, such as the £417,000 from his Outer London Fund, found for Barnet town centre. More money was announced this evening for projects in Cricklewood and North Finchley. Abracadabra!

Gail Laser, who represents High Barnet traders - all the traders of Barnet, in fact, she claimed - was on the platform tonight, presumably because she was expected to say only good things about Boris. She has been part of the team that got the money for High Barnet from the Outer London Fund.

Laser seemed pretty 'onside' until finally one member of the audience, Fiona Rosen, got in to speak and mentioned 'the p word: parking. The ridiculous pay by mobile; how can we compete with Brent Cross?'

Laser agreed: though she accepts the inevitability of cashless parking, she thought the whole scheme was introduced badly, and the charges are too high. She accused the council of killing Barnet's high streets. This is pretty strong stuff, from someone who is supposed to be on the Tory council's side. At the end of the meeting, Coleman went to her and gave her a big kiss on each cheek.

Johnson had no answer to the anger among Barnet traders about the parking charge rises and the move to cashless parking. The whole premise of the meeting was to talk about investing in outer London. A theme of his speech was making London feel more villagey again, and boosting the high streets. Brian Coleman, chairing the meeting, who is the author of Barnet's disastrous parking policy, couldn't help himself saying from the rostrum: "I was at Brent Cross shopping centre recently and they had a very good Christmas!"

That's the point, Coleman: Brent Cross has free parking and Barnet's high streets lost custom to them.

"I'm so glad you came this evening," Johnson said, as Coleman dismissed the angry, muttering crowds and they began to disperse. "The fact that you came here tonight shows that you care about your businesses and your communities." Banality on banality! It clearly shows that people are losing their livelihoods and aren't prepared to put up with it.

You will be able, hopefully, to see all this for yourself as TalkLondon film their meetings - and hopefully do not edit out chunks. The Barnet Bugle blog says he has film as well.

To return to the theme of Boris Johnson's uniquely privileged political position. At the same time as he has hand-pressing personal contact with the grassroots but no actual political responsibility, he has nominal overall control of great swathes of policy that would probably go ahead without him whatever he did.

Thus, as he did tonight, he is able to waffle knowledgeably and grandly about the Olympics, transport infrastructure projects, etc, subjects which few of his audience are in much position to contradict him on, and appear slightly impressive.

I came away from the event feeling unclean and rather as though I had been mugged.

Some general observations: the venue was large and full. The audience was, I would say, predominantly middle-class. Many people who attended had an axe to grind. It was interesting to hear someone worried about the time it was taking to get step-free access at Harrow-on-the-hill station, for example. But, really, this sort of event is not much real use for getting things done or issues aired or questions answered. There isn't time. And it relies on people catching the chair's eye whether their concerns are addressed.

Brian Coleman's eye was quite good this evening, but he did despite his best efforts pick one or two people who put awkward questions. These included Austin Harney of Barnet trades council who asked whether the sort of cuts that Barnet council is carrying out, including cuts to transport services for disabled residents, are reasonable at the same time as big business evades vast quantities of tax.

And, of course, Fiona Rosen on the parking charges. But what would have happened had Coleman not picked her? Could we have got through the whole event without one of the most contentious issues in Barnet being aired? Quite easily.

Richard Cornelius, Barnet council leader, was also on the panel this evening. His performance seemed to be confined to expressing himself upset and confused about several issues, including the chaos of the stalled regeneration of West Hendon estate, the parking charges, the rabbit-hutch nature of much of the residential development going on in Barnet at the moment, etc. A supporter and representative of the Conservative Government and of all it stands for, he nevertheless seems to be upset by every concrete manifestation of it that he meets. Poor man, no wonder he is upset and baffled. Now imagine how we feel.

Before the meeting I distributed copies of Our Barnet to those queuing to go in, and met up with some of the bus drivers from Brent Cross who are receiving scandalous and bullying treatment from their Transport for London managers. The drivers were not called in the meeting and they were not allowed to present their petition of 300 drivers calling for, among other things, decent toilet facilities for drivers.

If I were them, I would be thinking of taking some sort of action that would make Coleman and his like sit up and take notice.

Brent Cross development - the mirage fades?

Responding to a report in the Evening Standard on Tuesday evening about the apparent collapse of the massive planned redevelopment around Brent Cross, the Brent Cross Coalition has issued the following statement:
Press release from the “Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Development”

The campaign welcomes the collapse of the grotesque, car-based Brent Cross scheme. However, it is totally unacceptable to still go ahead with the easy-profit shopping centre expansion, which we are told is a “possibility”.

We demand the whole plan is scrapped, and the arrogant local developers, and their ineffective PR company, are removed from the project.

Measures in new Localism Act mean that over-bearing property companies, in alliance with conceited Barnet Council, cannot get away with “business as usual”. This is a great day for people-power – not Hammerson plc and not Mike Freer (former Barnet leader, now MP).

We want development based on people’s aspirations for a sustainable, low-carbon, exciting regeneration of the area. This means starting from scratch, and will also obviously have to wait for improvements in the economy.

The developers have wasted many years – not ONE home has been built, not ONE transport improvement. Barnet Council has also wasted many hours of work in promoting something nobody wanted - their web site still estimates 29,000 extra cars every day in the Brent Cross area, which would cause traffic misery.

The developers have just received planning permission for a small building at Brent Cross – but have resorted to making the application from a tax haven in the Channel Islands. They have no shame, and are behaving no better than bankers.

Lia Colacicco, Co-ordinator of the Brent Cross Coalition, said:

“The regeneration was always a mirage, despite the PR spin, the developers were only ever committed to building a few hundred new housing units anyway. In return for cheaply purchasing large swathes of public land, their main return to the local population would have been gridlocked traffic. I hope the next deal is more transparent, and involves a stretch of light rail to link to local tube lines.”

Alison Hopkins, Dollis Hill resident, said:

“What we are being offered now is little different from the rejected shopping centre planning application of 13 years ago. We will still get lots of extra traffic, but no transport improvements. The developers want to “pick the low-hanging fruit” of what pays out quick profits. The Brent Cross Waste Incinerator seems to be a dead project now, but we will continue to campaign, to make absolutely sure.”

David Howard, Chair of the Federation of Residents' Associations of Barnet, said:

“The Brent Cross Cricklewood development would have had a negative impact on the infrastructure and the environment of much of North London and for generations to come. Brian Coleman cannot quote my phrase of “hobbit homes”, since he has done nothing to stop the scheme, and we have. We need the public land at Brent Cross to be kept out of the hands of the developers, and corridors across it reserved for a future light railway to Brent Cross Northern Line station, and to other local areas.”


The “Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan” comprises 12 residents’ associations plus the Federation of Residents’ Associations in Barnet (representing the 12 largest residents’ associations in Barnet), Brent Cyclists, the North West London Light Railway (NWLLR) group, Brent Friends of the Earth (FoE), Barnet & Enfield FoE, Camden FoE, Sarah Teather (MP for Brent Central), Dawn Butler, (former MP for Brent South), Labour and LibDem Councillors from Brent and Camden, Navin Shah (London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow), Darren Johnson (London Assembly Member), Jean Lambert (London MEP), Brent Green Party, Barnet Green Party, Alexis Rowell, (former Chair of Camden Sustainability Taskforce), Brent and Barnet Trades Union Councils, and Bestway Group.

The Coalition web site is at:

Monday, 16 January 2012

Barnet: a tale of two petitions

I thought I'd post my answers to a questionnaire someone put to me recently. The starting point was a petition I created against the One Barnet Programme. Answering the questions was an interesting exercise for me, in reviewing the activities of the past few years (!) and where we are at now with the campaign against One Barnet and the cuts more generally (because One Barnet is partly about the cuts as well as privatisation).

I wrote it in a candid mood and make no apologies for that. I hope it'll be useful as well to anyone who has ever thought of using an online petition as part of a campaign.

Why did you start this petition? What do you hope to achieve with it?

The petition was started on 9 May 2011, that's the one on the GoPetition site: The same text is also on Barnet council's own e-petition site: - I think I put it there on 27 May 2011.

I hoped it would be a tool to show people's opposition to the One Barnet privatisation plan; at least, it could be a way to publicise it and raise awareness.

How is it going so far? Can you tell us about any successes? Or, alternatively, any obstacles/difficulties you've had to face?

The petition gathered quite a few signatures at first, but we did not promote it enough (by 'we' I mean Barnet trades council (Barnet TUC) and the anti-cuts group Barnet Alliance for Public Services).

To make such petitions work you have to continually plug them, I've experienced this already when I was trying to promote a petition about Brian Coleman's behaviour towards the Fire Brigades Union in 2010: I started a petition then, but it only grew if everyday I plugged it on websites, Facebook, etc. In the end, you realise that you would probably be more effective doing something else to publicise your issue.

However, petitions can be effective; if they 'go viral' and grow very quickly. Or if they might lead to a realistically achievable practical outcome, such as this petition on the Barnet council website opposed to rises in parking charges: This petition is organised by the Labour Party in the first place. If it gets the required 7,000 signatures by 14 March the council has to hold a debate on the issue.

Have you been affected, or know anyone affected, by the One Barnet Programme?

One Barnet is a big issue affecting many aspects of Barnet council services. It is part of the overall response of the council to the cuts imposed by central government. It seems that all the work the council is doing towards One Barnet is distracting it from what it could be doing to find ways to save money and make efficiencies without privatising services. From that point of view, I believe it is wasting money and – already, before it even happens – harming services.

I do directly know people affected by the cuts that have taken place, with attempts to cut money paid by adult social services for care delivered at home to someone I know very well.

I also think that Barnet is a pretty dreary place to live, dirty and for the most part cheerless, particularly in my own part of the borough, the west. That is only getting worse as services are cut. A museum close to me – Church Farmhouse Museum - has closed, and the council wants to sell the site. I can’t visit that museum now; and I am worried about what will happen to the look of that area if the building is sold (the building is historically interesting). I’m quite depressed about all that, actually.

People I know who work for the council are worried about their jobs, either being privatised, which is likely to lead to them receiving less pay, or losing their jobs altogether.

And in order to stem the public criticism of One Barnet, the council has moved to shut down some of the democratic processes by which residents hold the council to account. If in future all our services are delivered by private companies working to a contract, democratic accountability will be enormously harmed - what we have seen so far is a taste of what is to come.

Do you think the goal of the petition can be achieved with the current Barnet council in place?

Would the ruling Conservatives change their policy? I think if they thought the political price they paid for One Barnet was too high, they would. The petition can contribute to that – if it is used effectively (which I don’t think it is at the moment!).

The Labour Party is opposing the One Barnet Programme. If they replace the Conservatives I very much hope they will scrap the programme. Lib Dems locally oppose the plan as well, although I don’t know what their party nationally would say and they are the minor opposition party in Barnet.

Have you tried any other ways prior to this petition to remove One Barnet?

We have been doing many other things since the One Barnet Programme started up in 2008 (!), including several protests outside council meetings, publicity (such as the Our Barnet newspaper), etc. We have attended council meetings, including committee meetings, and put questions to the council about their plans. In January 2011 we held a march of 1,000 people (estimate). We have been very active!

Do you think the petition has a good chance of removing the Programme?

I never imagined that the petition would gather enough signatures to stop the programme: it was one tool among many; with other campaigners I thought about organising one massive petition, to be promoted on street stalls and so on, that might lead to a referendum on the One Barnet Programme, but we could not find out for certain what the legal position was – we did not want to do all that work and find out it would not make a difference. And we were not sure if it was a good tactic. It is quite difficult for people – including most Conservative councillors! – to understand the full scope of One Barnet, so it is a hard issue to have a referendum about.

What will you do if the petition does not succeed? Do you have any other plans or measures to remove the Programme?

We certainly continue to campaign. We have been supporting the industrial action by the local government Unison branch about the terms on which they might transfer to the private sector, and we will continue to do so; and we organised a protest outside Capita, one of the companies that wants to take over running our services – for a price! We will do some more of that. More of a spotlight needs to be shone on the activities and the motives of the multinational companies that want to move into running our public services.

If the petition does succeed and you get the signatures required, what are the next steps?

The petition has succeeded in getting attention for the issue, but by itself it cannot stop the One Barnet Programme. You have drawn my attention back to it with these questions: perhaps it is time to promote it again!

I have found the comments that people have left on the GoPetition site, revealing their concerns about the One Barnet Programme, very illuminating. I’m not sure whether – for data protection reasons – I’m barred from publishing them, for example, in a blogpost, but I would like to.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Brent Cross bus drivers demand better treatment from TfL and the London mayor

I'm waiting for the local police to contact me about the Barnet TUC protest on Tuesday 17 January. We are demonstrating ahead of the TalkLondon event at the Peel Centre, Aerodrome Road, Colindale, which Councillor Brian Coleman AM will "chair". London mayor Boris Johnson is coming to "answer questions" put to him by the public, assisted by Councillor Richard Cornelius who will "represent" Barnet Council.

I expect that before they talk to me, the police are consulting Boris Johnson, Barnet council, etc, and "looking me up" on Facebook and Twitter and so on. I know all this because I've dealt with them before when organising protests. They are very friendly at first but if you so much as step one hair's breadth out of line the friendliness evaporates. At least, that is my experience. (There are some exceptions among the local constabulary, but I won't name names and embarrass them.)

Anyway, we will be in good company on the 17th as we will be joined by a contingent of bus drivers, protesting against the way TfL managers treat them, specifically the inadequate facilities for them at Brent Cross shopping centre. (The London mayor is in ultimate charge of TfL.)

I'm pasting below the text from the leaflet put out to build the protest. I wouldn't presume to say that one of the organisers is a friend, but he is a good acquaintance.
We are not dogs!

The "We are not dogs" campaign is organising a lobby of Boris Johnson against the closure of the Brent Cross toilet and for decent toilet and mess room facilities for the bus drivers.

For years now Transport for London has treated Brent Cross drivers like dogs. They close the only toilet the male and female drivers have at the slightest excuse and force both sexes to use the bushes near the Brent River to relieve themselves when the Centre is closed. A driver was fined £80 for this last year at the Spires in Barnet because he had to use the bushes.

The health and safety implications are obvious; must we wait until a woman is raped or killed to expose these shocking social attitudes from TfL? Since 28th November they have closed the toilet 3 times (25 out of 37 days on 4 January), and say it cannot be opened now until February.

TfL are threatening to close it permanently unless “we” stop misusing it – just because some unknown person, driver, member of the public or even a TfL official has carved swastikas on the wall we are “all” not responsible enough to be given this basic human right! The toilets have been fully functional during all this time, only closed to “teach you a lesson” as one official put it.

A driver asked TfL official Mick Foley why he kept the fully functional toilet closed on New Year's Day when the drivers had nowhere else to go because Brent Cross Shopping Centre was closed? He said "I know it is fully functional. You will have to do something about it".

So he knows of the petition and our complaints to the GLA members and he is laughing at us. They will close that toilet at random and there is absolutely nothing the drivers can do about it, they are all totally confident.

TfL closed the toilet at Turnpike Lane station for months also citing graffiti. An elderly driver from Ponders End garage on the 221 route arrived there late at night desperate and began to wet himself when he found it closed. He relieved himself into a bottle to make less mess. TfL forwarded the CCTV of his humiliation to his garage and they sacked him for it. Apparently these TfL officials enjoy their sadistic "right" to humiliate drivers like this all over London.

We demand:

1. The toilet be opened immediately and kept open while it is functional.

2. The present unventilated fly infested broom cupboard “mess room” is converted into expanded toilet facilities, properly ventilated and available at all times for the drivers.

3. A Muslim shower and prayer area. As the Qur'an advises Muslims to uphold high standards of physical hygiene and to be ritually clean whenever possible, bathrooms should be equipped with a Muslim shower situated next to the toilet, so that individuals may wash themselves. This ablution is required in order to maintain ritual cleanliness.

4. Proper mess room facilities for the 70 odd drivers who have to take their meal breaks at Brent Cross, either a room within the Centre or a portacabin with drinks machine, television and rest facilities. We cannot wait for 5 or 7 years for the new Centre, as they tell us, only to be put in another broom cupboard.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is holding one of his "TalkLondon" events in Barnet on Tuesday 17 January. We intend to hand our “We are not dogs” petition signed by as many bus drivers as possible to the Mayor at this meeting. As many busdrivers as possible need to attend this picket and meeting in uniform and ask as many questions of the Mayor as we can:

● Why do you punish all drivers for the graffiti of one?

● How can you make 70 drivers take their meal breaks at an unventilated, fly-infested converted broom cupboard?

● Why can they not afford to give us decent toilet facilities from the hundreds if not thousands of millions of pounds the customers we bring to Brent Cross spend at the Centre?

● Why do professional drivers get treated like dogs in 2012 in this ‘great city’ showcasing the Olympics?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Andrew Travers and the Capita conference - we want our money back!

Insensed at the idea of Andrew Travers appearing at a recent Capita conference to talk about One Barnet privatisation, I submitted my first FoI request to Barnet council:
I would like to see any information/data that the Council holds in relation to the Capita sponsored conference, "New Models of Service Delivery - Opening Up Local Government Services to New Providers", on 29 November 2011. This includes but is not confined to anything that relates to the appearance of the Deputy Chief Executive Andrew Travers at this event.
I got the reply today, there wasn't much to report. I imagine the real business of Travers being invited to contribute, and any communication about the terms of his appearance were done by personal email, personal networking, a telephone conversation or something of that type.


We live in a democracy; don't we have a right to know this sort of thing, upfront, out in the open? How, for instance, can we find out whether Andrew Travers was paid to speak at this conference?

The only information we have that we didn't have before as a result of this FoI request is the PowerPoint presentation that Travers gave. It's poor fare, I must say, with a content familiar to anyone who follows the Barnet blogs and knows about the blah-blah-blah cant that the council spout to justify their madcap rush to privatise all our services.

Whether or not Travers was paid to speak at the Capita conference (Capita are bidding for one of the contracts to run Barnet Council services, by the way - potential conflict of interests, I would say), this PowerPoint presentation has the LB Barnet branding on it so, although it's hard to know which budget or account it came out of, we've paid for this stuff at some point.

Andrew Travers' "One Barnet Transformation Programme" presentation, 29 November 2011

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy new fares increase!

If you are heading back to work tomorrow, enjoy the new, higher fare you will pay to get there - assuming you are not in a car, in which case you will have your own axes to grind!

Travellers on London transport will pay 5.6% more on average. The increase would have been even greater but for a scramble by central government to find £136 million to bung Boris Johnson's way.

If you think these fare increases are unreasonable the charity Campaign for Better Transport has several suggestions for things you can do tomorrow to let the government know. And you could also tell Johnson at the TalkLondon event on 17 January.

Fare increases and exorbitant parking charges. A perfect crapstorm for Barnet residents! Don't stand for it!