Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What will happen when Barnet revenues and benefits is outsourced?

I couldn't make it to the Barnet council Cabinet Resources Committee this evening, where the following item was to be discussed. (I expect they managed without me. They could manage without half the people on the Committee, but that's another story.)

However, I think every Barnet resident should know about the proposed outsourcing of revenues and benefits. It will affect all of us, one way or another.

Please read the press release by Barnet Unison on this issue below. You can read their report here.
UNISON warn of devastating risks of outsourcing Revenues and Benefits into a One Barnet Call Centre

Barnet UNISON has submitted a response to Barnet Council's Cabinet Resources Committee this evening. The UNISON report identifies key risks which if not addressed could have a fundamental impact on the future of the Council finances.

The report produced by Professor Dexter Whitfield says:

“The Council’s Revenue and Benefits Service administers £230m benefits each year and collects £250m council tax and over £100m business rates. This service has a major role in many people’s lives. It also has a vital role in providing resources to ensure the sustainability of Council services. Thus service continuity is essential.

"Barnet Council plans changes in service delivery and working practices (through a restructure) in Revenues and Benefits. Since the SAP CRM system was procured several years ago, followed by the proposals to fragment complex business processes, there has been a failure to recognise that a single call centre model does not work. It is interesting to note that the Business Case refers to a Performance Indicator target for the call centre of 80% of calls being handled at the first point of contact compared to current Revenue and Benefits performance of 100% of calls being handled at the first point of contact.”

John Burgess Branch Secretary commented: “The key message of our report is that if the Council gets this wrong the whole of the Council will suffer. Hackney Council residents and staff had to endure serious hardship when the outsourced Revenues & Benefits Service failed and brought the Council's finances to its knees. Services were cut or stopped and/or privatised and Council Tax hikes followed.”

More details: John Burgess, Barnet UNISON on 07738 389569 or john.burgess@barnetunison.org.uk

Friday, 24 February 2012

Barnet's 'barbarian bureaucrats' - take a bow, Nick Walkley and Robert Rams

The Independent's literary editor Boyd Tonkin finishes his Friday column with a bitter comment about Barnet council's decision to close Friern Barnet library:
Our barbarian bureaucrats

In Britain, we don't burn books; we merely allow councils to shut beloved public libraries. It has much the same effect. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the plan to close Friern Barnet Library in north London, the beautiful little branch where my life as a young reader properly began. Apologies for returning to its plight, but it (sadly) stands as fairly typical of the national scene. On Monday, Barnet council confirmed the closure of the branch and future sale of the site. They seem to have refused any serious consideration of the carefully-costed rescue proposals put forward by local campaigners. A new library is, in due course, promised at an arts centre elsewhere, but the timetable is clear as mud - again, par for the course with so many authorities. Polite, resourceful and eminently reasonable, the Save Friern Barnet Library campaigners justly feel that the council has treated them with scant respect. They certainly had no joy this week from Barnet CEO Nick Walkley, who earns £200,976 pa from public funds.
Tonkin's column is mostly taken up with the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo and the assault on the libraries there.
...sustained grenade bombardment set alight the buildings of the National and University Library, with its 1.5 million volumes and 150,000 rare books and manuscripts housed in the neo-Moorish old town hall. Citizens saved perhaps 100,000 items...
We're not under that level of assault in Barnet! But I wonder what we would do to save our books?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

"A Tale of Two Barnets" - film showing, Monday 19 March

A tale of two Barnets

Barnet, site of the famous workhouse from the story Oliver Twist. Two hundred years after the birth of Charles Dickens, how has the area changed and how has it stayed the same? The people of Barnet talk about their lives and their concerns in 2012.
Film-maker Charles Honderick presents his new film "A Tale of Two Barnets" at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, on Monday 19 March. The film lasts 30 minutes but there will be a full programme including questions and answers with the director from 6-8pm, entry fee: £1 on the door.

Please come and join us!

More details: http://ataleoftwobarnets.yolasite.com/

Monday, 20 February 2012

Open Letter to Barnet Council - Important questions regarding Finance Matters For Schools Limited

Dear Mr Cornelius and Mr Walkley,

We would like to draw to your attention the following information, and ask you to respond to some questions on a matter that we consider to be of serious public concern.

We have reason to believe that a Private Company registered as FINANCE MATTERS FOR SCHOOLS LIMITED http://companycheck.co.uk/company/07814930

may have been formed with the intention of securing contracts with schools that currently purchase financial services from the Council.

We understand that all three Directors may be current employees of the Council.

First can you confirm that all three of these Directors are indeed Council employees?

If not then the rest of our questions are not applicable.

If this is indeed the case, we would like to ask the following questions:

Are these individuals currently employed by the authority?

If one or more of these Directors are Council employees, can you confirm that it is not a breach of any regulations for employees to set up a private company whilst still being paid by the Council that will deal directly with services directly associated with their current employment?

Furthermore please confirm that they may continue to have access to confidential data, and that this would not secure unfair advantage over any other possible bidders for these services?

Do you know how many Barnet schools have given notice that they are terminating their contracts with Barnet Council Financial Services?

When did they give notice of termination?

What reason did they give for termination?

How many schools have signed contracts with FINANCE MATTERS FOR SCHOOLS LIMITED?

Were any senior managers including the section 151 officer aware of this company

Have there been public and private discussions amongst senior managers on the creation of this new company within the Council?

We understand that Financial Services to schools are included in the NSCSO One Barnet bundle of services.

It would seem extraordinary, therefore, to us as residents, that council staff could allegedly be openly touting for business during the Competitive Dialogue process, and we would ask you to confirm that an urgent investigation should take place, and that you can assure us that all four bidders will be informed that such an investigation is in progress.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Friday, 17 February 2012

Brian Coleman goes viral on Facebook - an international watchword for 'the lazy worker'!

Some guy on Facebook - I think he's Canadian - found a picture of Brian Coleman that is already familiar to most of us in Barnet and has made a comical postcard out of it. He doesn't know who Coleman is but decided that he looked like the very epitome of a lazy 'fonctionnaire' - civil servant.

Of course, we know that civil servants aren't lazy, and we know that this is Brian Coleman. Still, lolol!!!!!

Have a good weekend! This has made mine!

Boris Johnson's Friday doughnut #2: Friern Barnet library

Barnet's Tory council is closing Friern Barnet library in order to save a few quid

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

No reprieve for Friern Barnet library - so what happens now?

Despite having appeared to give the community plan for keeping it open a fair hearing, Barnet council has decided to go ahead and close Friern Barnet library. The plan still is for North Finchley and Friern Barnet libraries to 'merge' at a new landmark library up at the Arts Depot.

Some questions:
1. When, if at all, will this landmark library materialise?

2. While a new library at the Arts Depot might not be so bad for North Finchley residents, it would be too far for Friern Barnet residents. (I've seen that for myself now, having gotten around to visiting a couple of weeks ago.)

3. What happens now?
That last might seem a strange question. In the world of the lordly Cabinet member in charge of libraries, Robert Rams, the decision being made, of course it will be enacted. Is he right, in any sense of the word 'right'?

It's just a question I'm putting out there. If it were my local library, and it were so cherished as Friern Barnet library is, I would not throw in the towel yet.

  • Times series report of the closure and Save Friern Barnet Library group reaction here.
  •  Paper going to the Barnet council Cabinet meeting on 20 February making the case for closing the library available here.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Temporary reprieve for Barnet parking office staff?

Barnet Unison is reporting today that the transfer of Barnet's parking service from in-house to private sector company NSL has been delayed until 1 May. One can only speculate as to the reasons. It was meant to go at the end of March.

This is good news, something of a temporary reprieve, for the 30 parking office staff who have been told they will have to work from East Croydon in future, a four-hour round trip, costing each worker £2,200, the price of a zones 1-5 travelcard.

It allows some more time for the council - who are still their employers - and NSL to come to a better arrangement for the staff - if they are put under sufficient pressure!

Barnet Unison have released the following statement about the issues:
Earlier this week our members had a meet your new employer session, where a number of key questions were repeatedly raised by staff:
  • Why does the back office have to move to Croydon when the Council have free office space in NLBP until 2015? 
  • Does NSL operate a ticket target quota for parking wardens? 
  • Will I get redundancy if I cannot travel to Croydon?
  • Do you offer Argos bonus points if staff meet ticket quota targets?
When UNISON first heard that NSL were the successful bidder, our regional Head of Local Government wrote (December 20111) to the NSL Chief Executive asking a number of key questions. However because of some delays about formally declaring NSL the successful bidder we have had no response to our questions. Now that NSL have been officially announced as the new Parking provider we are seeking urgent talks.

Our members are asking that UNISON seek to negotiate:
  • The back office continues to run from the current location on NLBP until the break clause* is activated in September 2015.
  • The back office is run from the offices NSL are looking to purchase in Barnet.
  • The extra costs of travel to Croydon for Council staff are paid by NSL.
  • That in the event staff are unable to travel to Croydon, staff are offered the following: redeployment to a NSL workplace nearer Barnet (keeping their Council terms and conditions) or redundancy.  
Keep a look out for further updates on parking.
* The One Barnet programme has made it clear to all bidders for the One Barnet projects that the NLBP offices are available for the successful contractor to use until the Council can invoke the break clause stipulated in the lease.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Friday film: Brian Coleman's trembling chins

I enjoyed the Adam Bienkov blogpost today aimed against Conservative GLA member Tony Arbour who thinks that most Londoners don't use public transport. I'm guessing he thinks that public funds shouldn't go towards it, therefore. He asks:
...isn't it a principle of Conservatism and taxation that those... who receive a service are those who should pay for it?
Who do we see in the video stroking his jowls and 'hear hear-ing' at this remark but our own GLA member, Brian Coleman. These films are clearly a source of interest to Barnet (and Camden) residents in the run-up to the GLA election on Thursday 3 May, and, if I remember, I'll post more of them. So that you can see what you're paying for.

The Friday joke's on Andrew Travers (and other senior execs at Barnet council)

A great initiative from the trade union Unison today. Their national office is calling on Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to look into Barnet council's practice of employing consultants in top posts - eg, deputy chief executive Andrew Travers.

(Yes, the second in command at our council has been employed for a long period under an arrangement similar to that which caused so much anger recently when Ed Lester, the chief executive of the Student Loans Company, was in the headlines.)


UNISON, the UK’s largest union, is calling on the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to launch an immediate inquiry into the use of consultants at Barnet Council after public sector tax avoidance hit the headlines in the case of Ed Lester the Head of the Student Loans Company.

The union believes that the proper employment and procurement practices have not been followed exposing the Council to significant reputational and financial risks.

Eric Pickles has already had to step in and reprimand the council, after local residents and Barnet bloggers exposed the METPRO Audit scandal when METPRO a private security firm were awarded a contract at a cost of over a million pounds - without a tendering exercise, written contact or any proper invoicing - to ‘keep an eye’ on local bloggers.

Laura Butterfield, Regional Organiser at UNISON, said:
“We are really concerned that proper procedures have not been followed at Barnet Council. Over the last two years Barnet Council has employed a long list of consultants including the Deputy Chief Executive and Assistant Director of HR. Only an immediate inquiry can clarify the correct processes were followed. Given Danny Alexander’s intervention in the Ed Lester case last week how can we ensure that future cases are avoided unless all public sector employees are employed through the correct processes?"
UNISON’s key concerns
  • The Council has failed to comply with its Contract Procurement Regulations (CPR) and Financial Regulations by employing consultants without any procurement/selection process being followed.– which exposes it to significant reputational and financial risks.
  • The Council does not have accurate and complete centrally held contracts register and effective monitoring arrangements so are unable to confirm if this is an isolated incident.
  • The Council does not have a complete, centrally held register of contractors showing who is employed, on what basis and at what cost.
We recommend that all spend over the stated threshold in the CPR be reviewed and matched to a central contracts register (in development) in a timely basis. This register needs to be drawn up in full and maintained.

Back in February 2011 the local UNISON branch submitted a report to all 63 Barnet Councillors on 10 February where they made the following recommendation:


The Council undertakes as a matter of urgency a review of all payments to staff not employed directly by the Council.

Furthermore we recommend that the Council refer to the HMRC Guidelines in particular the advice to be found here that explains that “It's your responsibility to correctly determine the employment status of your workers - that is, whether they're employed by you or self-employed. This depends on the terms and conditions of your working relationship with each worker.

It's important to get your workers' employment status right because it affects the way tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) are calculated for them. And it determines whether or not you have to operate PAYE (Pay As You Earn) on their earnings.”

Read full details here.

For comment or more information please contact Laura Butterfield: 07718 520850/l.butterfield@unison.co.uk

1. Student Loans chief 'to pay tax at source'

2. Pickles attacks Barnet Council

You'd have to be mad to close Friern Barnet library

There's a good piece in the Independent today - "Closing libraries? Now that's crazy" - by writer Boyd Tonkin who grew up using Friern Barnet library. He attended the event held last Saturday to mark National Libraries Day.

He talks about the contrast between the small library built in 1934 and the scary former asylum nearby:
I had half-forgotten just how close it stands to the gates of the stupendous edifice now known as "Princess Park Manor". Opened in 1851 as the Second Middlesex County Pauper Asylum, boasting the longest corridor in Europe under its fine Italianate dome, this was the dreaded Colney Hatch – a blood-freezing byword for the miseries of mental illness for generations of north Londoners.

...Now the 300-odd converted apartments of "Princess Park Manor" offer, the developers say, "a luxurious living link with the glories of Victorian England". A four-bedroomed penthouse will cost you £1,250,000.
Tonkin doesn't say so explicitly but the thought is implied. Isn't it mad that a society rich enough for some to enjoy accommodation such as that at Princess Park Manor can't afford a small library in the middle of Friern Barnet? It's not only mad, it's nonsense! We can afford it!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Barnet staff told their job is safe... in Croydon

I visited the Barnet Unison picket lines at North London Business Park this morning, and then went with some of the strikers to the Larches Trust in Edgware, where they plan to do a day's community work. You can see my pictures here.

A report about the strike on the BBC news website includes the following comment from deputy council leader Daniel Thomas:
"Any staff who move as part of the restructure will remain in the local government pension scheme, keep the same level of pay and have a job guaranteed for 12 months at the very least from their move.

"I'm sure many of our residents would envy that level of certainty in the current financial climate."
What they might not envy is that, in order to do their job, those staff might be required to travel two hours each way and fork out for a zones 1-5 travelcard, cost more than £2,000.

That is the current fate of the 30 or so office staff of Barnet's soon-to-be-outsourced parking service. They have been told that they must work from Croydon. The staff are, naturally, very angry. One told me this morning how he had already given up one job expressly because he wants to work locally because of his childcare responsibilities.

The parking service is due to transfer at the end of March. Please email Barnet council's chief executive Nick Walkley and your local councillors and ask them to intervene on behalf of these Barnet staff who are, frankly, being shafted. Please let me know if you get any reply; you can contact me on publicity@barnettuc.org.uk.

You can find your councillors' contact details here; Nick Walkley's email address is nick.walkley@barnet.gov.uk.

These staff wonder why they can't at least be offered a job with NSL, the company that has won the parking contract (worth £25 million), in one of its offices closer to Barnet, in Enfield, for example.

If something is not done for these staff, the first to be transfered out of council employment, other Barnet council staff will conclude that the promises made about their future are just hot air.

Support the strike against "One Barnet" privatisation

It is late notice, I know, but if anyone is able today (Thursday 9 February) to drop by a Barnet Unison picket line to show support it would be greatly appreciated.

Around 300 workers due to be transfered to private sector employment under the council's "One Barnet" outsourcing plan will be taking their fourth day of strike action.

There will be picket lines at Mill Hill Depot, Bittacy Hill, from 6-10am, and at North London Business Park from 7-10am. A number of the strikers will then go to do community work at the Larches charity in Edgware.

Please follow the branch on Twitter: @Barnet_Unison. And send messages of support to contactus@barnetunison.org.uk.

Good luck, strikers! Fighting for our services as well as for your jobs and terms and conditions!

P.S. Wrap up warm - it is going to be bitter (cold!) tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

UPDATED Squeezed middle revolts against Barnet council parking regime

Blimey, a group of traders in Southgate have vowed not to pay their council tax in protest at Barnet council's new parking regime. The Times series reports:
George Kafizas, who owns Brooks Diner in Hapmden [sic] Square, is leading the fight against the pay-by-phone system of paying for parking which replaced pay-and-display in November.

Mr Kafizas, 50, from Shamrock Way, said: “Everyone in the square is against what the council has done.

“They have murdered our businesses in cold blood.”
Strong words. There has been a lot of talk about the squeezed middle in this recession; I think the traders belong in that class. They are not taking things lying down!

Full article here.

Less good news today is that Barnet CPZ Action have lost their latest legal bid to get the council to review the outrageous hike in CPZ parking charges. Barnet Press report here.

P.S. I just read Barnet council leader Richard Cornelius's comments about the growing traders' revolt to the Barnet Press (full article here) and had to repeat them:
Council leader Richard Cornelius said he was unhappy to hear businesses were considering moving out of the area, but that it was inevitable the high street would change in the current climate.

“I don’t like to hear talk like that as it would be very nice if businesses thrived,” he said. “Undoubtedly the high street will change but I think it’s always changed.”
Cornelius is really developing his own style of leadership! Everything is most regretable... but, really, nothing can be done! Ever, about anything...

Monday, 6 February 2012

What's the buzz? Barnet traders' parking charges protest

Sometimes when my blogging job takes me to new parts of the borough, I get lost. That happened this morning on my way to the North Finchley traders' demo against Barnet council's disastrous new parking charges and cashless parking policy.

Don't trust Google maps! Or, at least, don't rely solely on them to get you places. I wiffled around for a good 40 minutes down near Pinkham Way in the slush before I thought to phone a fellow blogger to check where the demo was! It wasn't where I was. However, had I not got lost, I would never have seen Leisure Way, Finchley. What a hideous development! To think, people go there for a night out! Anyway, on to North Finchley...

When I got to Cafe Buzz, owned by Helen Michael, the instigator of this morning's protest, the main event was over! I still got some nice photos (see the picture of Helen Michael at the top), though, and had a good breakfast in Helen's cafe. (It's very good value!)

You can see a report and pictures of the demonstration on Mrs Angry's Broken Barnet blog and Barnet Eye Roger Tichborne has taken some good footage which he has kindly shared - see below.

In a recession, when shopkeepers who rely on customers having money to spend are already struggling, the last thing they need is a kick in the guts from the local council. But that is what the local Tories have delivered with their incompetent parking policy, which has driven many would-be shoppers away from Barnet's high streets.

The new charges are just one of the ways Barnet council plans to 'optimise' its 'revenue income' in the next few years. Others are the cruel increase in charges for adult social care services. Expect to see more... The overall context for these is the cuts to local government funding from central government. Many are now feeling the squeeze, including some who might never have expected to.

The Labour group on the council has posted an e-petition calling for reversal of the new parking charges. If the petition garners enough signatures, there could be a full council debate on the policy. Please sign if you have not already done so.

People of the year 2011 - Barnet Unison strikers

I chose my people of the year 2011 a while ago - in 2011, in fact! But I haven't had time to write a post until now. However, this week is an apt week to do it!

My people of 2011 are the up to 400 Barnet council Unison members who took strike action in 2011.

I should be careful what description I give of the reason for their strike action, because they are careful: it is illegal to undertake a political strike. If the Unison branch struck against having their jobs privatised - as well they might - their union could be fined for an illegal strike.

Their strike then is about the 'identity of the employer', or some such formulation. It concerns the terms under which they will be transferred to a private sector employer if the 'One Barnet' mass outsourcing project goes ahead. Naturally, the strikers want terms no worse than the ones they are currently on.

That is an eminently reasonable demand! When you go for a job, you read the job advert and discuss the terms in the interview and sign a contract with those terms. If the employer wants to reduce them, s/he should have a fight on their hands!

The One Barnet project threatens, ultimately, to transfer the vast majority of Barnet council employees out of direct council employment into private sector employment. Private sector employers will, sooner or later, seek to reduce the pay or terms of employment of their new employees. They might make people redundant.

In theory, all of this saves Barnet council money, because the private sector company offers to provide services more cheaply than the council can.

You don't have to be an economics whizz to see how this works. The private company offers to save the council money, but itself wants to make a profit. Where does the squeeze come? On the workers - and also on the quality of the services!

Support staff for the soon-to-be-privatised parking service in Barnet have been told they can keep their jobs - if they are prepared to travel to Croydon to do them. The annual travel card will cost them £2220.

NSL, who have won the £25 million contract, recently lost at an employment tribunal brought by a former employee. Nutsville blog has all the detail on this case, but here is one of the summary findings of the judges:
The real reasons for the Claimant’s dismissal were (i) his opposition to the Respondent’s clandestine quota system relating to the issuing of parking contravention notices, and (ii) his trade union activities...
What a pleasant company to work for!

The Barnet Unison members who have been on strike so far are those working in the services first up for privatisation: parking, revenues and benefits, development and regulatory services...

As more council services come into scope for privatisation, more council workers are likely to take industrial action. None of them does it lightly. There is a price to pay: lost wages; stress; friction with management. Taking industrial action, and striking in particular, requires people to break from their usual routine; to take on unaccustomed roles. They might have to take issue with managers who are more used to being in charge. They might have uncomfortable experiences with workmates who don't take part in the action.

But they also can gain confidence and find talents they didn't know they had. Most people are changed by taking industrial action, almost always for the better! It can be a difficult but a positive experience.

Most important, it is the only way, when you are faced with an assault from managers who won't back down, to fight for yourself and your colleagues - and, often, the people you serve.

Barnet Unison members are fighting for their jobs, in many cases for their professional pride, and also for the quality of Barnet council services. Barnet residents have every reason to get behind them and give them our support! For this reason, Barnet Unison strikers are my people of the year 2011, and probably of 2012 as well!

Barnet Unison members will strike this Thursday 9 February. Please visit them to lend support on their pickets at North London Business Park, Barnet House and Mill Hill depot, from 8-10am. The strikers are then going to do some community work in the borough, among other activities... Visit the union's website here.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Save Friern Barnet library!

The thing I like best about my job (Barnet blogger and trade unionist and all-round hyperlocal activist - unpaid internship: they promise me it will lead to a wage one day) is getting out and seeing different parts of the borough.

I've been whisked through Friern Barnet a couple of times in a motor vehicle, but never 'been there'. Today I rectified that, by attending the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign's demo to mark National Libraries Day.

It was sodding freezing but I had a really nice time, both on the demo and just looking around at the area. You can sense the village that lies beneath today's Friern Barnet.

There are weird monstrosities nearby such as the former Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (honest, that's what it was called) which has now been developed into flats by the Comer Group (who also own North London Business Park where Barnet council has its main offices). It is now named Princess Park Manor.

Friern Barnet old town hall is not a monstrosity, and it isn't a town hall anymore either. I think it is rather a handsome building. Shame it isn't in public use.

But underneath all of this lurks, still, the tiny village, one of the tens of thousands that made up the landscape of Britain before wholesale urbanisation. The population was much smaller, but it was far more evenly dispersed.

Now the local roads bear masses of traffic; close to the small library are streets and streets and streets of Victorian and later villas and houses. The library was built in 1934 to serve them.

With its neighbours, the library makes a lovely, natural cluster of buildings. Opposite is the parish church, St John the Evangelist. Next to the library is a small green which local residents have applied to have recognised as a village green. At the far end is the Royal British Legion, who served hot drinks throughout the march today, and who are supporting the library campaign.

I stepped inside my first Legion - not my natural territory - today and felt very at home.

After the march, and some speeches outside the library, including from councillors Barry Rawlings (Labour) and Kate Salinger (Conservative, but opposing her group's plan to close the library), and Andrew Dismore, Labour's candidate for the Barnet and Camden GLA seat, we went inside the library to look around. There were activities for children, and some special guests were due later. But I ran home to process my pictures, which you can see here.

It will be grotesque if this well-used library and true heart of the community is closed, bulldozed, and the land flogged off for a developer to build another anonymous block of flats or supermarket. Ask the locals!

Yet that is what is scheduled to happen on 31 March if we don't pull our fingers out.

Please support the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library. You can read more on their website. I'll try to keep you posted on specific actions you can take.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The mercury is falling - it's demonstration season in Barnet

What is it about us? In Barnet, we wait for the coldest months of the year, and then rush outside to wave our placards.

This time last year, we held the Barnet march against cuts. It's logical, given that those cuts are now working their way through, and individual services and groups of residents are directly feeling the squeeze, that this year there should be a number of small, single issue protests.

Tomorrow, to remind you again, the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign are joining in National Libraries Day, with a march from Friern Barnet (old) town hall -assemble 2pm - to Friern Barnet library. I hope to get along.

This Monday (6 February), some of the traders facing economic ruin as a result of the new parking charges and 'pay by mobile' (an attempt to 'optimise' revenue income by the council) will hold a demonstration. Details (via Barnet Eye Roger Tichborne):
North Finchley Traders are organising a protest against Barnet Council's extortionate car parking charges on Monday morning at 10am. The traders are holding a funeral for the local high street, together with coffin. The Master of Ceremonies will be dressed as Brian Coleman, the Councillor responsible for the parking charges.

For more details contact Helen Michael on 07835 133355.

Meet at Cafe Buzz, North Finchley, 9.30am.

Please make every effort to promote this protest and support your local High Street traders.
I will be leafleting early morning at North London Business Park to build public support for the strike by Barnet Unison on Thursday. I hope to get away to photograph the demonstration, as well.

In relation to social conflicts, the French often talk about a 'hot autumn'. Englishmen and women (and mad dogs?) like to march in the snow. At least, they do in Barnet.

Boris Johnson's Friday doughnut #1: Brian Coleman's parking charges

I'm not good at jokes. Although I coined the idea of Barnet bloggers having a Friday joke, the ONLY joke I can remember is about scousers in suits, and I don't approve of it.

My humour is of a more visual bent and so I offer you, at least until 3 May (which, confusingly, is a Thursday), the Friday doughnut.

Have a doughnut

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Soul Trader; Or: The Perverse Joy of Paying Income Tax

Last night, benefiting from the strike by civil servants in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs against proposed privatisation, I filed my tax return late. Ooh, it felt naughty but nice!

I avoided the £100 fine for late filing because the deadline had been extended.

Seems others have been naughty about their tax but less legitimately. Much cleverer bloggers than I are looking in more detail at the tax arrangements of senior Barnet council staff, some of which bear a marked resemblance to those at the centre of the storm around Ed Lester.

Ed Lester is Chief Executive of the Student Loans Company. He has been paid through a private firm (which he owns) rather than in the way that most, more lowly people doing the government's work earn a crust, being directly employed, which entails them paying tax at source. By this means, it is alleged, Lester has managed to pay a lot less tax than someone directly employed on his pay scale would expect to fork out.

This is how the Telegraph, for one, reported it today:
Mr Lester, a former chief executive of NHS Direct, was hired as interim chief executive in May 2010 before the deal was made permanent in December 2010. His two year contract runs from 1 February 2011 to 31 January 2013.

He is paid a basic salary of £140,000 a year, and can qualify annually for a £14,000 bonus and a cash pension contribution of £28,000, taking his total pay to £182,000, via the head-hunter which placed him with the Student Loans Company.

However the sums are paid to a private company he owns, rather than to him personally as if he were an employee.

This allows Mr Lester to pay corporation tax of 21 per cent, rather than up to 50 per cent, income tax on his earnings. Mr Lester’s pay arrangements are estimated by accountants to have saved him £40,000 a year, according to Newsnight.
Having just coughed up a handsome percentage on the measly pittance of pay that I made as a sole trader last year, I feel this issue quite keenly.

I'm not avoiding my tax; Harry Redknapp says that he'd rather pay too much tax than too little; now, how about those senior executives at Barnet Council? Do they want to review their arrangements? Or, like Ed Lester, do they want their arrangements reviewed for them in full public glare?