Monday, 30 July 2012

Oppose One Barnet privatisation? Sign here!

Following Helen Michael's recent performance in the Barnet council chamber, when she spoke against Barnet's damaging parking policies, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services has launched its own petition. We aim to collect 7,000 signatures, which would enable us to trigger a council debate on its One Barnet privatisation plan.

The text of the petition is:
Hands off our Barnet! Stop the One Barnet Programme petition

We, residents of Barnet, are alarmed at the council's plan known as the ONE BARNET PROGRAMME, to hand over our public services to private for-profit companies. We call for an immediate stop to these measures until the issue is put to the electorate in the form of a simple YES or NO referendum on the ONE BARNET PROGRAMME.

We are collecting signatures on paper, but also online on the council's own e-petitions website. Please sign today and share the link:

Friday, 27 July 2012

A trip to Stratford to support London Underground cleaners

RMT London Underground cleaners demonstration, Stratford, 27 July 2012

I went to support the RMT's London Underground cleaners demonstration at Stratford today. The cleaners are holding a 48-hour strike in support of their claim for the London living wage (currently £8.30 per hour) and for holiday and sick pay.

The cleaners work for various private firms including Initial and ISS, who sent some spies along to see who was on the demonstration.

As you can imagine, it takes some courage for cleaners to strike, and exceptional courage for them to do so at this time. They held a lively, legal demonstration in front of the entrance to Stratford station, and not far from the entrance to the Olympic Park.

Newham is one of the poorest London boroughs, so the reception was fairly supportive from passers-by. One or two visitors to the Games, however, were very sniffy.

"The whole world is watching us and you put on a display like this. Whatever will they think?" one of them said.

"Perhaps they'll be relieved to see that the UK is still a democracy," I replied, ever the wit.

One droll thing happened. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow was due to appear but didn't make it. The protest was prolonged and prolonged as his current whereabouts were relayed to the waiting crowds.

He was stuck on the Jubilee Line and, in fact, never arrived.

Many people hate Bob Crow. I don't agree with some of his politics, and I certainly don't agree with how much he is paid.

But a lot of the hatred of Crow is because of pure class snobbery: he is (was) a working-class bloke from Essex. And because he is a leader of one of the more militant - though less militant than the Evening Standard would have you believe - trade unions.

As well as being impressed by the resolve of the cleaners and the liveliness of their picket I enjoyed my visit to Stratford, where there was a real sense that the circus - for good and bad - is coming to town.

I haven't been there since about 1989. I lived for a couple of years in Leytonstone and sometimes stopped off at the shopping centre on my way home - on the days when I had a down on myself and the world, that is, for it was such a dreary place.

For all the Olympic razzamatazz, it still is rather a dreary place! But made slightly more joyous with the influx of visitors from all over the world.

Stratford shopping centre is not to be confused, by the way, with Westfield - and it couldn't be! I didn't venture into Westfield today.

I must say, the least appealing aspect so far of this Olympics is the over-the-top branding by the sponsors. It's really oppressive in places, Stratford station being one, plastered as it is with adverts for Lloyds TSB.

I have a lot of pictures from my foray today, and will add a couple to this post later. But by then we will all have our noses pressed to the TV for the opening ceremony. Fingers crossed it all goes well. We paid for it - let's enjoy it.

Would you like branding with your Olympics?

It's about sport, not exploitation, Or: Citizen Barnet's opening ceremony

Are you excited? I am. It would be hard to feel otherwise with the increasing signs around us of the expensive, ludicrous but ultimately, we hope, thrilling spectacle that commences officially tonight.

More and more of it makes sense now. The hideous bubble-gum pink colour they chose for the logo: unmissable - at least, when written on in six inch-high letters - all over the Underground.

When will you see again such an eclectic mix of destinations signposted?

The London mayor Boris Johnson's less than reassuring voice booming at us on public transport: at London Bridge, at Edgware bus station, and now on the buses themselves. Where else on earth could the citizens rudely and defiantly snub the elected head of the capital city using the hashtag #fuckoffboris? And let's not forget the bells, the bells!

Of course, the excitement has reached to almost every town in the nation, not least to our own suburb. Here in Barnet, the anti-cuts and anti-privatisation Barnet Alliance performed a sort of hommage in the shape of the very successful 'Our Barnet, not One Barnet' torch relay and community parade on Saturday 21 July. The Olympic Torch Relay (capitalised, of course) got an enthusiastic welcome in the borough on Wednesday.

I visit the King's Cross area a lot, and have watched the building work that contributes to the Olympics preparations. The sponsors' branding recently plastered all around St Pancras is even more obtrusive and cynical than one feared it might be.

Advertising from McDonald's at St Pancras

It is already taking longer to get around on London transport than usual, even before the Games has commenced. 

Crowds waiting to get onto HS1 which goes through Stratford

London's bus workers accepted the £577 bonus they won through strike action for the extra hassle they will have in the next month. It puts them on a par with Tube workers. But what about the cleaners and security staff, whose work is also essential to delivering participants and spectators to the Games? Their jobs have all been outsourced to companies who try to stop their workers organising for a decent wage at any time.

Today RMT-organised cleaners and security staff on London Underground and the DLR go on strike for 48 hours for the London living wage of £8.30 per hour and an Olympics bonus.

I have been dismayed by the still dirty state of the streets and pavements in central London. Could we not wash them just once for this special occasion? Do we want London to be the Dirty Games? I fear that, unlike for bus and train drivers, the authorities will put up with the cleaners downing tools - one bit more dirt won't hurt. Please support the RMT action today.

A reminder of back in the day, when London Underground cleaning was done in-house - with added King's Cross grime

Of course, the Olympics should be about sport, not exploitation.

While the UK taxpayer picks up the tab for hosting the Games - £9bn and rising - the sportswear manfacturers will be laughing all the way to the bank as their brands are boosted every time one of their sponsored athletes runs faster, jumps higher, or lifts a heavier weight. Every one of those companies' garments is made in a factory where workers struggle to earn a decent wage and must campaign for every improvement in their working conditions, in repressive countries such as China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Enjoy the opening ceremony and the Games but please take the time in the next few hours to sign the Playfair 2012 appeal to the International Olympics Committee to uphold workers' human rights in future Games - children were found making London 2012 pin badges in China. The Olympics is about sport, not exploitation - or it should be.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Barnet bloggers on... Off-payroll Public Sector Pay Arrangements

The subject of Town Hall Tax Dodging (a phrase coined by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) is one of enormous interest to the Barnet bloggers, and we applaud the attention paid to this issue by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (chaired by the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP) which took place on Monday 16 July 2012.

This investigation of the issue of tax avoidance by individuals in publicly funded posts came about following the disclosure by Westminster journalist David Hencke that Ed Lester, the head of the Student Loan Company, was being paid through a service company, and that there are similar arrangements on a very significant scale throughout the civil service and the wider public sector.

One witness before the committee was Carolyn Downs, the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association (LGA). She stated that the LGA had found only 13 examples of off-payroll public sector pay.

We know that this national figure of 13 is an understatement since the draft (i.e. unaudited) Annual Accounts of Barnet Council for 2011-2012 show that there are 14 such arrangements recorded as having been in place during the year for senior officers.

Far from being a practice that is diminishing it is noted that in the previous year's accounts there were only 8 such arrangements.

The evidence to the committee was that these arrangements were used in the short-term. We can show that this is not true and that, on the contrary, these arrangements are used routinely for long term appointments.

In Barnet, one ‘interim’ post paid through a private company has lasted for more than three years. An appointment lasting over 3 years cannot be described as short-term. In addition, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that there have been no efforts to replace this individual with a permanent staff member.

Evidence to the committee also suggested that there was virtually no difference between the tax paid under PAYE or via a service company. That is to ignore two factors. If a service company is used certain expenses, such as travelling, can be reclaimed whereas an employee does not get tax relief for home to work travel costs. In addition, service companies are able to pay out their profits as dividends and National Insurance Contributions are not paid on those. The overall contribution to the Exchequer will be less if a service company is employed.

We look forward to the day when Barnet Council ensures that all its officers (employees) are treated equally and that all those people who receive their pay from the public purse recognise what Mrs Hodge referred to as a ‘moral duty’ to make their fair contribution to the taxes which contribute to the good of society.

We call on Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council, to negotiate the return to the payroll of the officers concerned as this will reduce the penalties that will have to be paid as a consequence of the inevitable HM Revenue & Customs PAYE compliance visit.

We also look forward to following the evolution of this story in front of the Public Accounts Committee once the summer recess is over.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

19 July 2012

Monday, 16 July 2012

Massive Olympics outsourcing scandal - and they still think One Barnet is a good idea?

On the G4S Olympics scandal, government minister Jeremy Hunt says: "It is completely normal that you are going to find some contractors on a project of this size who are not going to be able to deliver."

Normal, please note! This is exactly why we don't want BT, Capita or EC Harris running our Barnet council services - and making off with £1bn of our money into the bargain!

We cannot rely on them not to leave us in the lurch! Barnet is too big to fail, and One Barnet is too much of a risk! That is why Barnet Alliance for Public Services has organised this important event.

Join fellow Barnet residents this Saturday, 21 July, for the "Our Barnet, Not One Barnet!" torch relay and community parade. Help us say no to Barnet council's One Barnet privatisation programme.

Bring friends, neighbours, colleagues, your organisations to this event. There will be transport provided for those who are not able to walk.
Assembly points:
10.30am, Friern Barnet Library, Friern Barnet Road, London N11 3DR
11.30am, North Finchley Library, Ravensdale Avenue, London N12 9HP
12 noon, Tally Ho Corner
1pm, Victoria Park, Finchley for speeches and stalls

Click here for the full version of the leaflet.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Labour calls for referendum on One Barnet

Tuesday night's (10 July) Barnet council meeting promises to be interesting. Go along if you can! It is from 7pm at Hendon Town Hall, the Burroughs, NW4. The paperwork is here.

The Labour group have submitted a motion calling for a referendum on the Conservative group's One Barnet privatisation programme. Under this programme, the vast bulk of council services will be handed over to be run by the private sector.

It is the scale of this programme that is most frightening. For 10 years, two companies (or perhaps just one, if Capita win both contracts) will run most of Barnet council's services, in return for £1bn of our money. This would be a frightening prospect even if Barnet were good at procurement and monitoring contracts. They aren't, so it's truly horrifying.

The text of Labour's motion is:
Let local people decide if they want the £1bn ‘One Barnet’ gamble

Council notes the Conservative’s One Barnet plan to gamble around £1bn of council tax-payers’ money by selling-off 70 per cent of council services to the private sector this autumn.

Council notes this will tie the council in to 10 year contracts, with no direct control by elected councillors and limited ability to bring services back inhouse should the plan fail.

Council believes the risk of service failure to local residents, and the financial risks to the council of the One Barnet programme are too large and that it should be stopped – particularly given the council’s appalling track record of procurement failures.

Council also believes that local residents deserve to have their say on whether they want the One Barnet programme to go ahead.

Council calls on Cabinet to hold a referendum on the One Barnet sell-off programme with immediate effect.
Labour's motion should be supported. The Conservative ruling group on Barnet council say that residents don't care who runs services. Let's find out, shall we? The One Barnet programme was not in the Conservative group's manifesto for the local elections in 2010 (in fact, very little was). Giving residents the chance to say a simple 'yes' or 'no' to the programme should tell us what they really think.

Of course, that will be after a proper public debate, the thing that the Conservatives have completely failed - no, refused - to have.

I predict that the Conservatives' main argument tomorrow night will be the cost. 'When we are cash-strapped, etc, why spend money on a referendum?' 'We are tied in to this process - competitive dialogue - already, we have already spent so much money on consultants, etc...' (They're not wrong about that: the figure now for consultancy, etc, on the One Barnet Programme is £25 million.)

However, the cost if the One Barnet programme goes ahead, and the contracts are awarded, could be absolutely enormous. Let Barnet residents decide whether they want to take the gamble!

P.S. If Labour's motion falls tomorrow night, Barnet Alliance will go ahead with its petition calling for a referendum. I will share the details soon: the petition will be hosted on Barnet council's own e-petitions website as well as collected on paper.

P.P.S. Tuesday's meeting will also see the debut of Brunswick Park's newly elected Labour councillor Andreas Ioannidis, and Helen Michael, North Finchley traders spokesperson, will present the traders' petition against the council's disastrous parking policies. What a packed programme!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

"It weren't me, guv!" Nick Walkley and Helen Michael

I was quick to believe that Nick Walkley, Barnet council's chief executive, was guilty of dobbing in North Finchley traders spokesperson Helen Michael to Scotland Yard. Were he able to speak about it - he's not? - I think Walkley would plead, "It weren't me, guv!"

Walkley, as returning officer for Barnet, had been responsible for acting on a complaint and first reporting Helen to the local police for not putting contact details on the bottom of her anti-Brian Coleman parking posters. Helen soon rectified that technical error.

Her poster was part of - not all of - the reason for Brian Coleman losing his Greater London Assembly seat in May.

But it seems likely that it is someone else, not Walkley, who has prompted the police - Scotland Yard now! - to take their investigation of Helen further.

Seeing that no rational purpose can be served by pursuing Helen, we can only presume that someone is following a personal agenda here. Now, whose finger-prints are all over this? We might never uncover that mystery but I'm sure we all have our suspicions.

One can lay many 'crimes' at Nick Walkley's door - walking off with £200,000 plus a year of Barnet residents' money in wages, while flogging their services to the private sector is one misdemeanour that, in my view, he should pay heavily for. But persecuting Helen Michael seems not to be among them.

At the 'Barnet council, not for sale!' conference today, the participants debated a motion of solidarity with Helen Michael. Barnet TUC chair Helen Davies said that Helen would be one of the last people she expected to see being leant on for campaigning against the council's crazy policies. Yet that is what is happening.

We unanimously agreed that an injury to one is an injury to all, and pledged to support Helen. Scotland Yard should drop their pointless investigation of her.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Barnet council, not for sale! Public conference tomorrow

Below there is a reminder about an event that is on tomorrow, Saturday. I hope to see some of you there.

The meeting will be a chance to find out more about Barnet council's big privatisation scheme, which they call "One Barnet".

The speakers at the event will criticise the scheme.

We would be happy if Barnet council would organise a public event to explain why they think the scheme is a good idea. But they don't. Perhaps they don't have much confidence in it themselves.
Barnet Unison & Barnet Alliance for Public Services
Barnet Council - Not for Sale Public Conference
Saturday 7 July 12-3pm, Greek Cypriot Community Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12 (North Finchley)
Free entry, all welcome!

Burnt Oak - Dumped Mattress Central (an humorous blogpost for Friday)

Bloggers occasionally like to share with their readers the search terms that people use to hit on their blog.

This evening's haul is fairly typical for my blog. I can imagine which of my previous blogposts the search terms have landed searchers on - most of them quite appropriate, luckily.

museum london Aeronauts Interactive Centre - That's easy: a blogpost I wrote about Grahame Park and the RAF Museum.

Andrew Travers Barnet - Innumerable posts about Barnet council and town hall tax dodgers.

relaxing at work - Ha, ha, ha! That picture of Brian Coleman asleep at his desk.

slogan on circulatory system - Bit obscure that one, but I did once try my hand at cartooning, none too successfully.

misandry - ah, yes...

famous children campaigners - I confess I have never written on this subject.

oak hill park barnet funfair - Fun fairs everywhere you turn in Barnet. Makes money for the council, y'see.

jonathan lovett pcs union - Yes, the former Father of the NUJ Chapel at the Barnet Press has gone to work for the PCS union.

valley logos - Dollis Valley Green Walk? I'm sure there are more famous valleys!

library cum cafe - I think - I hope - they are thinking of the tendency of councils such as Barnet to shove every public service they can into the one building, in order to save on the electricity bill. This drive has already ruined Burnt Oak library, and more are sure to follow.

boris johnson birthday card - Aaaah!

small funfairs - You've come to the right place, coming to Barnet!

boris johnson ugly - Oh... well, never mind.

Burnt Oak is a Shithole - At last! Some of the most popular search terms drawing people to my blog.

A little more on that last one. To be fair, I always say that while Burnt Oak is not much to look at, it is not a demoralised place. "Alright, as shitholes go," I think, is what I wrote. I have seen this said of Burnt Oak by other people.

Now someone has started a blog, "Fly Tipping in Burnt Oak", with pictures of the flytipping that takes place in this area.

I think this probably has fairly limited appeal, even to people who live in Burnt Oak and want to complain about fly tipping.

But let's see whether, in time, this blogger branches out to treat of other topics.

If the author of this blog wants to get in touch with me, please email, which is my Barnet trades council email. Perhaps we can think of some way to tackle the problem of flytipping in Barnet together...

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Helen Michael: open letter to Councillor Richard Cornelius and to Scotland Yard

Since the electoral defeat of former Assembly Member and Barnet Cabinet member Brian Coleman in May, Barnet’s Tory council leader Richard Cornelius and his colleagues have sought to distance themselves from most of the more controversial policies that Coleman promoted.

Most significant among these is the parking scheme, which has caused so much anger among the residents and traders of this borough.

At a meeting with Barnet traders at a North Finchley forum in December last year, Councillor Cornelius was told in no uncertain terms by the shopkeepers and small business owners of this borough about the devastating impact of this ridiculous scheme. He replied:
“I’m listening, but I haven’t got any intention to do anything else other than that ... I’ve heard you and it’s obviously affected me. I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know if I can do anything.”
Local cafe owner Helen Michael said:
“We are wasting our time – you’ve said in no uncertain terms that you’re not going to do anything. We are begging for our businesses, for our livelihoods. Please do something.”
Councillor Cornelius and his fellow Tories sat back and watched as the life of our local high streets ebbed away, in some cases losing up to 40 percent of their usual level of trade.

He refused to do anything for us, so we acted for ourselves.

Bloggers, traders, residents, community activists and trade unions united and voiced their opposition to the changes. Prominent among the campaigners was Helen Michael. As spokeswoman for North Finchley traders she made every effort to focus attention on the injustice and devastating impact of the policy, and hold Councillor Coleman to account for the consequences of his scheme. Her efforts won admiration from London Mayor Boris Johnson – and even Richard Cornelius, who is reported to have suggested she should think of standing as a Conservative candidate for the council.

Only since Brian Coleman lost his seat on the London Assembly, and then his Cabinet post, and in response to two other electoral defeats, has the Tory group on Barnet Council admitted that the parking changes were unfair, and sought to retract them. Councillor Cornelius has now apologised for introducing the policy, and a review is underway.

How ironic it is, therefore, that the woman who did what Councillor Cornelius failed to do, and fought for the best interests of residents and traders, is now being investigated by Scotland Yard, after an allegation of wrongdoing in relation to a poster produced by her in the course of the parking campaign. An omission on this poster was rectified early on in the campaign, and Helen Michael was informed by local police that there would be no further action.

Despite this assurance, Helen Michael is now being investigated by officers from Scotland Yard, and yesterday spent two hours, under caution, being interviewed at a local police station about the poster, and her motivation for its publication.

We believe that this targeting of a local campaigner is a deliberate and politically motivated act of intimidation.
To involve the police in this way is inappropriate, and a serious misuse of their time and resources.

We call on Council leader Richard Cornelius to speak out against the victimisation of a brave, resourceful and admirable woman. We call on Scotland Yard to desist from taking any further action in regard to this matter.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Up the Republic! Happy Independence Day!

The lady above, who I photographed during last year's Royal Wedding celebrations, doesn't seem much of a republican

A friend this evening reminded me that in 1776 the Americans declared independence from the British Crown. They became a republic. Good for them! It doesn't seem to have done them any harm.

Today, 4th July, Americans are commemorating their independence. What an embarrassing contrast to the orgy of kowtowing to Royalty we have just indulged in here, in the UK, with the Diamond Jubilee.

I knew a lot of Americans when I was growing up. My best friend's mum was American. My best friend and her American mum lived together with her American aunt and American grandmother. My teenage years were spent under their roof.

It was a household full of books, antiques, cats, cigarette smoke, whisky, tasty, fattening food, and right-wing views. The family were always very generous to me.

When I was 17 I went on a school exchange to Sudbury, which is near Boston. I stayed with an Armenian-American family in a typical middle-class home. That is to say, it was very big and had three cars in the drive. Like my American friends back at home, this family were also immensely generous, but rather less right-wing.

Socialists wonder when the US poor and working class will get organised and overcome the immense injustice and inequality in their country. Some people theorise an American 'exceptionalism' to explain why there has never been a socialist party in the US on the model of the Labour Party.

This is crap. There have been strong socialist currents in the USA. To find out more, type the terms "the Wobblies" or James P Cannon into a search engine - and that is just for starters.

The USA was born from iconoclasm, and it will surprise us again! Happy Independence Day!

Hands off the Barnet One!

Are the people in charge of Barnet council mad? They seem incapable of avoiding making fools of themselves. Dangerous fools.

They have moved against North Finchley trader Helen Michael - by anyone's standards, a respectable woman - for putting up posters criticising Brian Coleman, during the elections to the Greater London Assembly.

She was visited once by local police in relation to these posters, but the police seemed satisifed with the remedy she offered.

Now the police have visited her again - a Scotland Yard investigations unit, no less - at the instigation of Barnet council's chief executive officer, Nick Walkley.

He is also the returning officer for Barnet. He earns a tidy sum for this, in addition to the more than £200,000 Barnet residents are paying him in his day job.

Replying to a complaint about a different incident, a small infringement of electoral law on polling day, Nick Walkley said he took a very dim view of such things. Dim views are what Nick Walkley specialises in, it seems.

Does anyone in Barnet, any resident aside from the most vindictive or pettifogging individual, care what infringement Helen Michael is supposed to have made?

Get a grip, Walkley! You are trying to foist the 'One Barnet' privatisation plan on us. Now you are making Helen Michael into the 'Barnet One'!

Other bloggers have more detail on this story. See Mrs Angry and the Barnet Eye.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Barnet council, not for sale! Conference this Saturday 7 July

Press release by the Barnet Alliance for Public Services. I hope to see many of you there on Saturday!

Barnet Unison & Barnet Alliance for Public Services


Barnet Council - Not for Sale Public Conference

Saturday 7 July 12-3pm, Greek Cypriot Community Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12 (North Finchley)

Free entry, all welcome!


The bankruptcy of the South London hospitals as a result of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes, demonstrates the dangers of involving private, for-profit companies in running public services. This is exactly the future that Barnet Council is planning for us with their One Barnet programme.

The One Barnet programme that Barnet Council is pushing through is much more than 'outsourcing' - it is a total sell-off of all of our council-run public services. 70% of staff will be hived off to the private sector, as Barnet becomes a 'commissioning council', buying services from big multinational companies such as BT and Capita.

Should anything go wrong with the One Barnet programme there will be almost no staff left in-house to remedy it. We, Barnet residents, will be left on our own with our services in ruins. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen and we cannot afford to stand aside and do nothing.

Barnet residents and council staff can learn more about the likely disastrous effects of the One Barnet Programme in a conference on Saturday 7 July, 12-3pm, at the Greek Cypriot Centre in North Finchley. Speakers include experts Prof. Dexter Whitfield, Director of European Services Strategy Unit, Mr Andy Mudd, chief consultant of the Association for Public Service Excellence, Mr John Dix, Barnet blogger "Mr Reasonable".

We will also hear speakers from Aberdeen and Edinburgh, where similar programmes were stopped and reversed at the last moment by concerned citizens and the trade unions; and from Sefton Unison, where Capita Symonds, one of the competitors for Barnet's huge contracts, were kicked out recently - though not before they devastated the services they were supposed to provide.


Tel. 07957 486 379