Thursday, 28 June 2012

Whiskers all a-twitch

Sir Maximus Mouse, the Cheese Tycoon - "His whiskers twitch at the hint of a boom // His whiskers droop at the hint of a slump"
Believe it or not, when I was young I gazed on the picture of Sir Maximus Mouse, the Cheese Tycoon (above) in Alan Aldridge's lovely The Butterfly Ball children's book and dreamed that one day I would be like him.

To sit in a fusty, panelled office in EC4 with a view of St Paul's, dressed in a waistcoat and pince-nez, running my beady eyes up and down the columns of stocks and shares in the pages of the FT with only a ticker tape machine for company... Very heaven!

So what happened?!

I find myself an under-employed, penurious freelance journalist (of sorts) - that's my day job. The rest of the time I am an over-worked, penurious socialist agitator. Sometimes I find time to tap out a blogpost.

I am doing a stint at a trade magazine at the moment. I have worked on this publication for years, yet I am still very much the temp.

Something wonderful has happened now, however. They have moved offices from the rather boring top end of Shaftesbury Avenue to Bankside - that's the trendy new name for the area around Southwark Street where the Tate Modern is.

I used to work down here at St Christopher's House, now demolished, for the Department of the Environment. I worked in a section called Royal Parks and Palaces, I kid you not. Bankside power station was a semi-derelict building out the back of our offices. Tate Modern was probably still a gleam in a developer's eye. 

Though the area now is half building site, the views are wonderful. I ate my lunch yesterday in front of Tate Modern, with a view of St Paul's.

Something even more wonderful happened the other day. I crossed London Bridge into the City. I thought I knew the City but I'd only skirted around the edges. I now discover I had never been there. I have now and now that I have found it I intend to explore every inch.

What a wonderful place, full of historic churches and alleys to explore, with semi- but not entirely familiar names such as St Mary Woolnoth and Walbrook. On Friday I poked my head in the door of St Margaret Pattens church. It is one of the 12 guild churches, and is associated with the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers and the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers. You can find out more about such gems on the website of Friends of the City Churches.

I am in heaven. Am I a hypocrite? No, this is the history of all of us. The guilds evolved, eventually, into trade unions - although the origins of the big general unions are somewhat different. (I'm sure I'll get around to musing on that next year, which is the 125th anniversary of the Match Women's Strike... Anyway, back to the present.)

I love the City, I love economy, I just think it's badly organised at present.

Behind the walls people are making money, not always honestly, as we can see from the latest banking scandal, which has only come to the eyes and ears of the common people this evening.

What does any of this have to do with Barnet?

The fact that we have had to bail out the banks, the fact that they have been so poorly regulated, is one of the main reasons that we are having our services cut. It is the ostensible reason for the austerity measures of the government, and it is the ostensible reason for the ruling Conservative group in Barnet forging ahead with their ludicrous "One Barnet" privatisation plan.

I'll be back in the thick of campaigning in Barnet soon. In the meantime I am working to replenish my depleted personal coffers, and storing up treasures of history and culture in my mind and heart.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Re-open Friern Barnet library - sign the petition

The campaign to get Friern Barnet Library re-opened continues.

Please sign the online petition if you haven't already done so, and forward the link to friends.

Save Friern Barnet Library campaign is aiming for 7,000 signatures. Seven thousand signatories will force the council to re-consider its decision.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

One Barnet looming disaster - read all about it!

The new issue of Our Barnet, the Barnet Alliance's newspaper is out now.

You can read it online over at their website.

I am the (sort of) publicity officer for the Alliance. The Alliance's small publicity team and I will post articles from the paper onto the website over the next few days.

With just months to go until major decisions in the autumn, the paper features, as you would expect, Barnet council's privatisation plan One Barnet, and the articles are, as you would expect, heavily critical.

If you would like a paper copy instead, please email

Read it, think about it, let us know what you think. Tell your friends, neighbours and colleagues about the paper. It's made to be read and discussed by all Barnet residents! Thanks.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The guinea pig is still alive... but for how much longer?

I started this blog in 2008 as a diary of the campaign against Barnet council's privatisation plan "One Barnet".

In 2008 "One Barnet" was called "Future Shape", as in "the future shape of the council". Naturally, people made lots of puns about "pear shaped", as in "it's all gone pear shaped".

For a while the privatisation plan was known - at least in the national news media - as easyCouncil, a phrase adopted with some bravado by Mike Freer (now an MP, then leader of the council).

I added a small picture of a guinea pig to the sidebar of my blog, to show that what the council were trying to do in Barnet was an experiment, and one that could be very dangerous to the subject.

Each year I have added an apt quotation about Future Shape/easyCouncil/One Barnet to convey the risk involved.

I had been wondering what to use for this year's (!) quotation but the recent damning APSE report (see here) provides more than enough chilling examples.

So, to remind us where we've been and where, alas, we might still be headed, here are the quotations from the years, finishing up with the quotation for this year. None of this is anything but dismaying:

"This model has a sound theoretical basis... [sic] However it is unproven at this scale." Future Shape cabinet report, 3 December 2008

"Nobody has said this is going to be easy, it's a work in progress, some of it will never see the light of day." Barnet council leader Mike Freer, 16 November 2009

"I do not believe Soviet bureaucratic initiatives like One Public Sector, Labour’s Total Place (and Barnet’s Future Shape / Easy Council) ideas are... the way forward." Barnet councillor Mark Shooter, 4 September 2010

“There are... many examples of long-term partnerships where the commitment and enthusiasm of the provider has waned over the duration of the contract. Major... organisations will generally resource extensively during the first year, or two, of a new contract but this level of resourcing diminishes as the contract moves to a more stable business as usual position.” One Barnet Procurement Principles, 1 March 2011

"...there can be little confidence that Barnet has the capability, and perhaps more worryingly the culture, necessary to meet the challenge posed by the letting and management of contracts that, under the One Barnet plan, will be far bigger than anything the Council has previously dealt with. The risk of implementing a strategy based almost entirely on contracting out is high and can only be magnified by the reduction in client capacity envisaged in the commissioning model. A reasonable council would take account of this and if it is unable to take the necessary steps to increase confidence in its procurement and contract management, could only conclude that moving forward to an unprecedented level of outsourcing would be reckless to the point of being unlawful." 'London Borough of Barnet: Procurement and Contract Management', Association for Public Service Excellence, March 2012

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The report all Barnet residents should read

Barnet Unison have commissioned a lot of research into Barnet council's privatisation plan (currently called "One Barnet"). They have sought to discuss more than 30 papers and reports with the ruling Conservative administration, and been rebuffed continually.

They recently asked a non-profit research unit called the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) to examine Barnet's record on procurement and contract management and consider whether it had implications for the plan to outsource almost all council services.

The answer has come back that:

(1) Barnet council's record is lousy;

(2) in the light of that, the "One Barnet" programme is reckless.

Councillors have been invited to attend a briefing on this report - there is one today. If they do not attend, if they bury their heads in the sand, they should know that Barnet residents - electors - will hold them to account if things go wrong (and there is a high likelihood that things will go wrong).

You can read the report here. Below are some extensive and alarming extracts from the executive summary. I have emboldened the bits that I think are most shocking.

Two tender exercises currently underway, for Development and Regulatory Services (DRS) and a New Support and Customer Services Organisation (NSCSO), are between them valued at £1bn. The scale of outsourcing envisaged in the Council’s One Barnet Programme, represents a largely untested departure from established local government service delivery practice. Many of the functions, which include planning, building control, environmental protection and public health along with revenues and benefits administration, go to the heart of local government responsibilities for the safeguard and protection of public health and economic wellbeing. The impact of failure could be catastrophic.

...the track record of Barnet in letting and managing contracts, is a highly significant pointer to the likelihood of the One Barnet Programme being a success. In view of the potentially catastrophic impact that failure could have for the people of Barnet, it is entirely appropriate to take a detailed look at how well the Council has handled recent and current arrangements with its private providers.

An internal audit report considered by the Audit Committee in June 2011 into the Council’s dealings with private security firm, MetPro, was heavily critical, not particularly of the framework under which contracting out occurred but of the apparent willingness of officers to ignore the Council’s rules and procedures. Most damningly, the report concluded that poor practice was not confined to the relationship with MetPro but identified that: ‘there is an absence of signed contracts and sound contract management generally across the Council’.

Detailed recommendations arising from the MetPro case were all accepted by the Council but an examination of a number of other contracts suggests that there is still significant cause for concern.

...The elected members of the Council are perfectly entitled to develop and pursue their vision for the authority. They are obliged however to do so within the parameters set by law. This includes a requirement to act reasonably whilst taking into account all relevant factors and ignoring irrelevant ones. The numerous examples of failure to abide by internal procedures, as well as various potential breaches of competition law, should be relevant to any decision about whether and how quickly, the authority should implement its planned commissioning approach to service delivery. APSE has not been able to find any evidence that there has been any formal consideration of the implications of the apparently institutional inability to let and manage contracts adequately, for the Council’s future contracting strategy.

The evidence considered in this report indicates that there can be little confidence that Barnet has the capability, and perhaps more worryingly the culture, necessary to meet the challenge posed by the letting and management of contracts that, under the One Barnet plan, will be far bigger than anything the Council has previously dealt with. The risk of implementing a strategy based almost entirely on contracting out, is high and can only be magnified, by the reduction in client capacity envisaged in the commissioning model. A reasonable council would take account of this and if it is unable to take the necessary steps to increase confidence in its procurement and contract management, could only conclude that moving forward to an unprecedented level of outsourcing would be reckless to the point of being unlawful.

REPORT: Greece solidarity meeting in Finchley

Below is the press release put out after the Greece solidarity meeting we held last week. "We" is Barnet trades council (TUC) and the Barnet Alliance, btw.

It was a fascinating meeting. I wrote some extensive notes for friends that couldn't make it, but I'll spare you my cod-Trotskyist analysis of Syriza! I hope that the video will surface on YouTube at some point. London Greek Radio were present and someone was making a film of the event.

Press release: Greece solidarity meeting, 7 June
Fifty people attended a meeting on Thursday 7 June called to show solidarity with the Greek people in their resistance to cuts and privatisation. The title of the meeting was “Solidarity with the Greek people: if they win we can all win”. It was organised by Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Barnet TUC, and the Greek Cypriot party AKEL, at the Greek Cypriot Community Centre in North Finchley.

The issue of privatisation in particular is very close to the concerns of residents of Barnet, as our council plans to outsource almost all council services to two large companies, in a privatisation programme they call “One Barnet”.

Speakers at the meeting included Professor Costas Douzinas, who laid out the position of the left coalition Syriza, which is contending for power in the general election to be held in Greece on Sunday 17 June. Also speaking were Charis Polycarpou, a member of AKEL’s Economic Research Bureau, and Paul Mackney of the Greece Solidarity Campaign.

The meeting debated the political options for opposing the austerity programme imposed on Greece by the “troika” of the EU, European Central Bank and IMF, and the best way for trade unions and anti-cuts campaigners in the UK to help their Greek brothers and sisters in their struggle.

We agreed to support the demonstration called by the Greece Solidarity Campaign on Sunday 17 June at 2-5pm outside the EU Commission, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU.

The meeting passed the following statement:

A meeting called on 7th June 2012, by the Barnet Trades Union Council, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, AKEL[UK], (the Cypriot Progressive Party of Working People) and members of the Greek Cypriot community agreed the following statement:

As representatives of trades unions, as citizens and as members of the community we are concerned about the future of services which belong to the people, about our jobs, our homes, our lives and the lives of future generations.

In our localities and across Europe and the world, the need to secure the most basic elements of civilisation involves us in a struggle against a conspiracy of international finance and business, local and national governments, supra-national institutions like the IMF, the WTO and the EU.

Nowhere is this struggle more intense than in Greece right now. But it is not a Greek problem. It is a problem facing all of us in our everyday lives and it is a crisis in and caused by the global financial and market system, which the world's rulers are trying to make us pay for.

The Greek People have struggled on an unimaginable scale. Their struggle will continue. We pledge our moral and material support to them. If they can find a way of defeating the international bankers and fighting off cuts, extra charges and privatisation then so can we in our localities and so can the people of Europe and the world. A victory in Greece could make victory possible everywhere.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Busy Barnet Alliance events for June-July

Here are some details of Barnet Alliance for Public Services events coming up. As you can see, we are very busy! Please come and support these activities to defend public services in the borough.

Barnet Alliance Annual General Meeting
Tuesday 12 June 2012
7-9pm, Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road, North Finchley, N12
‘The One Barnet Programme and what privatising of all council services really means’, a talk by Prof. Dexter Whitfield, Director of the European Services Strategy Unit, following a short AGM of Barnet Alliance for Public Services. ALL WELCOME, FREE ADMISSION
* * *
Barnet Council Not For Sale
Saturday 7 July
12–3pm, Greek Cypriot Centre, 2 Britannia Road, North Finchley, London N12
A special conference by Barnet Alliance for Public Services and Barnet Unison
Speakers include: Prof. Dexter Whitfield, Director of the European Services Strategy Unit, Mr. Andy Mudd, Principal Consultant in the Association for Public Service Excellence, Mr. John Dix, resident and "Mr Reasonable" blogger.
Refreshments provided.
* * *
Our Barnet – Not “One Barnet”
Our Barnet Torch Relay festival and march
Saturday 21 July
Cyclists, bands, fun – come on foot, come on your bike, come in your wheelchair and pram, and bring your neighbours.
10:30 for 11 start – Friern Barnet library, Friern Barnet Road
11:30 North Finchley library, Ravensdale Avenue opposite High Road’s Sainsbury N12:
March through our threatened High Road to support local traders
12:00 Tally Ho Corner
13:00 Victoria Park, Party
Tell councillors WE DON’T WANT YOUR “ONE BARNET” PROGRAMME loudly and clearly.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Diamond Jubilees come but once every 60 years: how to 'celebrate'

The weather this spring was so crap that flaming June seems to have snuck up on us and it is Diamond Jubilee weekend already!

I am a republican so I shan't actually be, you know, celebrating. I shall go to the protest called by the Republic campaign.

This is the only really visible republican organisation in the UK, but its politics are very limited. It basically confines itself to making the case for an elected head of state, as if the constitutional monarchy were the only democratic question to worry about in the UK's class ridden, undemocratic, social pyramid.

For sure, the Queen (and the egits that will succeed her) are at the apex of this pyramid and lend it a hidebound, mystical, spurious glamour... OK, Republic have more than a point!

But I don't favour having a president or a head of state at all actually. In fact, why have states? But one step at a time!

If you want to join Republic's protest it is on Sunday 3 June from 12 noon to 5pm close to City Hall on the South Bank. Details here.

In theory the protest will have a great view of the flotilla (!) as it arrives at Tower Bridge and will be visible to the Queen and her entourage as they alight from the royal barge. But I reckon we'll turn up to find they've erected a dirty great screen to spoil our view.

I suppose it would be fitting. After all, it's someone else's party and we didn't want an invite. But I do think the republican point of view needs to be aired in the public space. I think we do have that right!

There are lots of other things on this weekend, depending on your political bent.

Save Friern Barnet Library campaign, Sunday 3 June

If you are agnostic about the Jubilee, or a royalist, or just want to support this very good cause, Save Friern Barnet Library campaign have quite a programme at the Friern Barnet village green, from 12.30 to 7pm on Sunday 3 June.

More details here.

BAPS at the Diamond Jubilee festival, Monday 4 June

The anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaign Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) has a stall at the Diamond Jubilee festival planned for Monday in Golders Hill Park.

The council website describes the festival thus:
Monday 4 June sees Barnet Council play host to the Diamond Jubilee Festival with the City of London Corporation, at Golders Hill Park. The flagship event in the borough starts at 2.45pm and ends at 10pm with a fireworks display and the lighting of a six-metre high beacon as part of the national beacon chain.
Even if, like me, you hate the monarchical system of government (!), please come to the park if you are in the area and say hello to BAPS, which is beginning to achieve real results!

Labour wins Brunswick Park by election

The Conservatives are truly on the slide in Barnet, as Labour won the Brunswick Park ward seat from them today (31st May).
The result:

Andreas Ioannidis (Lab) 1,769
Shaheen Mahmood (Cons) 1,598
Yahaya Kiingi (LibDem) 97
Turnout was 29%... hmm... Oh, well.

Labour must give some of the credit for this victory to the Barnet Alliance, who leafleted every house with their leaflet against the One Barnet privatisation programme.

It is an excellent result. Congratulations to Andreas!