Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Cllr Coleman's poor excuse for an apology

One of the Barnet residents that Brian Coleman was ordered to apologise to after a recent standards board hearing has finally received his letter - arm-twisted out of the recalcitrant Cllr - in the post. If I were Mr Cohen, I would be very disappointed with this text from the former Barnet Council Cabinet member:
Dear Mr Cohen,  
in line with the recent standards board rulling, I hereby apologies for any offence caused by the emails in question.  
Yours sincerly  
Cllr Brian Coleman
The spelling mistakes are all his own. In spirit and in letter a very poor apology after calling Mr Cohen a disloyal Israeli and making him feel, in Mr Cohen's words, like vermin.

Saved from outsourcing: Barnet street scene

Wonderful news this afternoon that Barnet Council's street scene - parks, street cleaning, etc - are not now likely to go out to tender. We had thought they would be the third big contract in the One Barnet outsourcing programme. It looks now as though these services will continue to be delivered by the in-house team.

The Barnet Tories are meeting tonight to consider whether to allow disgraced Cllr Brian Coleman to remain among their number. They will also be smarting from the impact of the decision to ditch the Arts Depot 'landmark library'.

To recapture some credibility among Barnet voters, let's hope that they see sense and resolve to put a halt also to the enormous New Support and Customer Services Organisation (worth £750 million to BT or Capita) and Development and Regulatory Services outsourcing (worth £275 million to EC Harris or Capita Symonds).

Here is the Labour Group's response to the news about street scene:
Following news that the Barnet's Cabinet are being recommended to go for an in-house service for waste and green spaces, leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said:

“I welcome the news that the council have decided to go for an in-house option to deliver the future waste and green spaces services. I see this as a complete departure from the significant risks being taken in the two other One Barnet outsourcings - the Cabinet report actually outlines the high risk associated with outsourcing waste and green spaces as a reason for not going with the joint procurement option with other councils. The Conservative administration should now really take a fresh look at the DRS and NSCSO outsourcings before they risk the £1billion of council tax payers’ money that is involved there.

A link to the CRC report can be found here: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s6218/CRC_Waste%20and%20Street%20Scene_Report%20Final.pdf

The extract on risk in the report is reproduced here:

"9.4 It should be noted that Council officers also gave considerable consideration to a shared outsource model with other three other London boroughs. Although the option presented the Council with an exciting opportunity the confidence rating, based on level of risk, was considered high. This risk level has been kept under constant review by officers and it is considered that the level was too significant to make it a viable option at this time."

Cllr Moore is requesting a copy of the risk assessment.

Letter to Barnet Tory councillors: seize your chance to stop One Barnet!

Dear Councillors,

In the next few days you will be asked to vote on a motion of no confidence in the Conservative party leader Richard Cornelius.

You will no doubt be asked to express your loyalty to Councillor Cornelius and to defeat the motion.

As local residents we would like to ask you to think very carefully about the consequences of such an action.

We know that many of you are now deeply concerned about the future of the Conservative administration, that you have profound misgivings about the viability of the One Barnet programme, and that you are also concerned by the response of the leader to issues arising from the arrest and consequent charging of your colleague Councillor Brian Coleman, in relation to an alleged assault.

The announcement today that the much trumpeted Landmark Library plan has fallen through can only add to your sense of misgiving.

The continuing difficulties felt by residents and traders over the contentious parking policy has caused enormous damage to the relationship of trust between this administration and the residents of Barnet, and now it has become abundantly clear that the massive scale of privatisation of a further £1 billion worth of council services envisaged by the One Barnet project is hugely unpopular not only amongst residents and voters, but within your own ranks.

Last week Andrew Travers, the newly appointed 'interim' Chief Executive of Barnet Council, affirmed to a committee that the 'Joint Venture' model was still very much under consideration, despite the fact that elected members have not been involved in the discussions for such a proposal, and that the leader has stated previously that he was being excluded from such discussions.

Councillors must ask themselves why they are being distanced from policy decisions of such vital significance. Who is in control of this council, councillors or the officers of the senior management team?

Once the £1 billion contracts are signed, of course, elected members will effectively lose all control over almost all of our council services, which will then be in the hands of unaccountable private companies for a period of ten years, with huge financial penalties to the authority, that is to say to residents, should any serious difficulties arise, which they inevitably will.

Councillors must also ask why there never been an independent assessment of the risks posed by the One Barnet programme, and why there has been such a clear failure to mitigate the risk of conflict of interest raised by the exchange of senior officers between the council and the private companies bidding for contracts as part of the One Barnet programme.

Such an apparent lack of regulation might reasonably be said to have compromised the whole procurement process, and to have exposed the authority to legal challenge, a prospect already a clear possibility on the basis of the blatantly inadequate consultation with the residents and stakeholders who will be bearing the full impact of the privatisation of almost all our council services.

Another question that must be addressed is the extraordinary level of cost to local taxpayers of Agilysis/iMPOWER, the consultants who are acting as the One Barnet 'implementation partners' - newly released figures reveal that their bill for September alone cost us nearly half a million pounds, and spending on all consultants, wildly out of control, is now estimated to reach a staggering total of £9.5 million.

Such extravagance with taxpayers' money at a time of austerity, with no return in the form of savings is clearly a reckless indulgence, benefiting no one other than the consultants themselves. In combination with the loss in revenue as a result of the newly privatised parking service, it perfectly illustrates the improbability of the delivery of any of the promised savings from the outsourced profit of the One Barnet programme.

Last week Cornwall County Council voted to halt their own Joint Venture proposals at a late stage in the negotiations, due to the extent of concern felt by councillors and residents over the plans for their large scale privatisation of council services. The Conservative leader lost a vote of no confidence, having shown a determination to proceed with the plans in the face of enormous opposition.

Now here in Barnet you, our elected representatives, face the same choice as your Cornish counterparts - and now is the time for you to have the courage to act.

Please use this opportunity to bring a halt to the One Barnet programme and instigate a fundamental review of a commitment which will place the long term future of our borough, our services, our residents, in the hands of unaccountable private sector companies using us for their own profit.

Please take this last opportunity to stand up for what you know is right, what is the sensible thing to do.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Barnet Tories stop pretending they will build a landmark library at Arts Depot

Just got this press release from Barnet Council Labour group. It's as we suspected all along, there were no serious plans to open a 'landmark library' at the Arts Depot. Barnet Tories lose yet more credibility. In the meantime, Friern Barnet residents still need your support to save their library.
Following the announcement by Cabinet Member Cllr Robert Rams that he has dropped the plan to build a Landmark Library at the artsdepot, Labour's Libraries Spokesperson, Cllr Anne Hutton said:

“The Tories' library policy is in complete chaos. They closed Friern Barnet Library under the pretence of 'merging' it into this Landmark Library at the artsdepot, which now is not going to take place. They have wasted thousands of pounds on a temporary Library at the artsdepot, and on a feasibility study, and although Cllr Rams says he will now invest in North Finchley Library there is very little space to do so because the upper floor is used as an outreach children’s centre. Cllr Rams also states that local people want a Library at Friary House – but nobody knows who he is talking about, because all the Library campaigners I know think this site is completely unsuitable. The whole thing is an omnishambles.”


Friday, 26 October 2012

One Barnet - Billion Pound Gamble? You bet!

The Ham&High newspaper have an article today called 'One Barnet - a Billion Pound Gamble?'.

They attended the premiere on Monday night of Charles Honderick and Roger Tichbourne's new film 'Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble' (which is very good, by the way - list of free, local screenings here).

It's good that they've written such an article, trying to explain One Barnet in some detail. But it's actually pretty limited and gives Barnet Council far too much of the benefit of the doubt.

There are also some plain errors in it.

I have posted a long comment - they haven't approved it yet, perhaps they're combing through it for accuracy/libel, etc. I actually think they should give Barnet Alliance a chance to respond in their pages. I'll ask them for it!

My comment is below. It's a comment on the bottom of an article posted on a website, so it's not 'fully rounded', but I think it's useful.
Thank you for covering One Barnet in some detail. There are a few corrections I would like to make.

One Barnet did not start life in 2010, but earlier. I think it was mooted around 2007, and started going through the council committees in late 2008. When it began life it was 'Future Shape'. The national spending review in 2010 only gave the council a new propaganda reason to say it was necessary.

For sure the council say it will be done to save money. But will it? Many large-scale outsourcings have gone wrong and ended up costing money, eg, BT in Liverpool. Cornwall Council - led by the Conservatives - this week voted to pull back from a large outsourcing project. There are numerous more examples. It IS a big gamble, and while we might gain - might - we also lose a lot of control and accountability

Moreover, the One Barnet umbrella doesn't just include three big and one small outsourcing contracts (two large contract negotiations are far advanced; a large street scene contract will follow soon; parking has recently been outsourced to NSL with a severe drop in the quality of the service).

One Barnet also includes such things as: service reductions (cuts); 'efficiencies'; raising charges for some services (this really DOES fit with the easyCouncil model) including adult social care and parking for residents living in CPZs - currently being fought by residents through the courts. So a lot of the 'savings' are really just cuts!

One Barnet is also highly ideological: a lot of the savings they hope to be made are through fostering 'a different relationship with citizens' - and this boils down to getting us to do more things for ourselves. OK for some; on the whole, not OK. Services in Barnet are hardly extravagant at the moment, and generally people really need the services they use.

There is also a simple belief by the Conservative administration that private sector is best; it is often demonstrably not so. We are also worried about the lobbying role that the outsourcing companies have conducted on senior council officers who then prevail on councillors (who frankly know shockingly little about One Barnet) to go along with privatisation. BT, one of the bidders for the £750m NSCSO contract, had a man seconded to Barnet Council for a long period, for example.

Am I going on a bit? I'm sorry, but there is so much detail that people need to know more about in order to see why we are worried, and why we are working so hard to oppose One Barnet. People can read more on the Barnet Alliance website: http://barnetalliance.org/

I think the final thing I would want to take issue with is Cllr Thomas's claim that the administration has a mandate for One Barnet. In no sense was the policy 'out there'. The Conservatives' manifesto in 2010 had 3 points: council tax freeze; weekly bin collection (whoopee!); we won't allow building on the green belt.

That's it! They have repeatedly said they don't think residents care about how their services are delivered - but never thought to ask them. We are finding as we tell residents about One Barnet that they do care, and that they oppose the programme.

Vicki Morris
Barnet Alliance for Public Services publicity officer

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Barnet CEO Andrew Travers and his One Barnet project grilled by Barnet Tories

The Barnet Council Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee (BMOSC) - it fair rolls off the tongue - last night was interesting!

Barnet Alliance for Public Services had submitted its petition calling for a referendum on the Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme.

(Please sign the One Barnet referendum petition here.)

Janet Maddison spoke very well for the Alliance, presenting the petition to the committee.

Then committee members asked her some questions. Then Barnet's next CEO, Andrew Travers, who is 'in charge' of the One Barnet project, had to respond to Janet's presentation. Then the committee asked Travers some questions. Finally, which we hadn't anticipated, Janet got to ask Travers some questions.

At the end of this, the committee members voted on whether to recommend to the Cabinet to put One Barnet to a referendum. With one Tory missing, the vote was tied: 3 Labour, 1 Lib Dem for to 4 Tories against.

The Chair, Tory Hugh Rayner, with the casting vote put the kibosh on the idea that residents themselves should decide what happens to their services for the next 10 years, plus the £1 billion plus we will hand to private contractors to run them. (Don't worry - we'll be back.)

However, apart from the party hack, Rowan Turner, and the half-asleep Hendon Councillor Maureen Braun who said nothing during the meeting, the Committee did give Travers a real grilling about One Barnet.

Now, one expects it of Labour and this particular Lib Dem, Jack Cohen, but it was great to see some truly ROBUST and RIGOROUS questioning from some Tory councillors. The committee voted unanimously - Turner and Braun followed Rayner's lead - to feed back the concerns raised in the committee to the Cabinet and to the Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius.

Of course, it is shocking that it is only this bleedin' late in the day that Tories are asking questions about this billion pound gamble. (I first spoke to Rayner about it four years ago when we first started campaigning over Future Shape, as it was then called.)

One might think that they are just feeling slightly hot under the collar as D-Day for signing contracts approaches. But the questions and the issues they raised were genuinely important.

Below is a list of clips from the meeting.

Arising from Travers' responses, I think residents will have lots more questions for our new £100k a year CEO.


1. Hugh Rayner on One Barnet at the Business Management OSC, 24 October 2012

2. Barnet Council's interim Chief Executive, Andrew Travers, explains One Barnet

3. Hugh Rayner: How can we stop the Council getting screwed in contracts?

4. Rowan Turner: Aren't 10-year contracts normal and really without much risk?

5. Brian Salinger on One Barnet at the Business Management OSC, 24 October 2012

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Barnet Alliance presents One Barnet referendum petition to Barnet Council TONIGHT

Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) will hand in the first tranche of signatures on our 'One Barnet' referendum petition at 6.30pm, Hendon Town Hall, the Burroughs, NW4  this evening (Wednesday).

We have collected more than 3,000 signatures, online and on the streets, on our petition (http://petitions.barnet.gov.uk/StopOneBarnet/). Text:
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.
After handing the petition to a deputation of councillors, including Labour Group Leader Alison Moore, we will attend the meeting of the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee that considers the petition at 7pm in the Town Hall.

Our 'lead petitioner' is Janet Maddison who, on the strength of the signatures we have collected so far, has the right to address the committee meeting and take questions from it.

Please join us for this first formal presentation of the residents' case against the One Barnet outsourcing programme to the council.

[That means you, dear blogpost reader, although the text above came from the press reminder I sent out this morning. VM]

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Torrid Tuesday in Barnet (and elsewhere) - Cornwall Conservatives, Barnet Conservatives, and Brian Coleman

Against a backdrop of rumours about necrophilia and Tory paedophile rings (I DID say rumours), Tuesday was possibly even more tumultuous than Manic Monday. I'm only glad I'm out tomorrow being exploited all day - it'll take my mind off things.

In Cornwall, the council voted by 93 votes with 7 abstentions to suspend their move to a Joint Venture outsourcing programme. The bidder, BT, says they'll hang around till spring to see whether the council changes its mind back again. This is a Conservative administration that has decided it must look at an in-house bid before contracting out its back office functions.

In short, great news!

At last night's afterfilm BAPS committee meeting (it's true, we never rest!) we heard a rumour (there we go again!) that the chair of Barnet Council's Budget and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee (BPOSC), one Brian Coleman, had consented to BAPS making a presentation about One Barnet at the next meeting.

I emailed the Barnet Council staff member dealing with this committee about it. I got an email back saying the Chair had consented to no such thing.

Oh, well, that was just a rumour, I thought. But I chuckled at the idea that it might have put Brian Coleman's nose out of joint!

Minutes later my phone rang.

'Hello, Vicki Morris?'

'Yes,' I said. That voice is familiar.

'It's Brian Coleman,' the voice said. My immediate thought was, oh, shit, he's rung me up to tell me to stop harassing him (he has form for this sort of thing).

He hadn't. In fact, we had a polite enough and business-like conversation about a misunderstanding. The agenda at this Thursday's BPOSC will not cover One Barnet so BAPS should not come and present at it. However, we can come and present at the special meeting on 29 November, which will be given over to discussing the £750 million NSCSO contract.

At one point during this conversation Coleman said 'trade unions, Barnet Alliance, and other sensible people' could come and speak.

He can't be feeling himself. Mentioning trade unions, Barnet Alliance and sensible people all in the same breath?!

I couldn't get much of a word in edgeways during this conversation, but even if I had been able to I think it was right to play it straight.

As it happens, we might not get to make our presentation after all because Coleman - quite rightly - won't be the BPOSC chair much longer; he looks like he is going to be suspended from Barnet's Tory group - as he should be. The bloke's been charged with 'assault by beating' and a driving offence!

Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius has evidently been leant on by fellow Tories in Barnet - who aren't all as stupid as they look (if you want to know just how stupid they can look, there is a great passage in Charles Honderick and Roger Tichborne's 'Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble' film showing Barnet Tory councillors guffawing hammily at the public gallery - that's right, at residents - during a Council meeting). Cornelius has announced this evening that he has begun the process of suspending Coleman from the Tory group.

Or by Conservative Central Office (who aren't stupid at all, just bloody dangerous). Or, probably, both.

What else exercised me today? Oh, a stack of personal chores; I didn't even have time to listen to tonight's Radio 4 'File on Four' programme, 'Public, Private and Profitable'. The introductory blurb says:
Public, Private and Profitable  
The midnight collapse of the Government's plans for the West Coast main railway line once again raises questions about the outsourcing of public services to private providers.

Public bodies of all kinds now face massive budget cuts and are under pressure to deliver savings. As a result, across the country, public services of all kinds are now up for tender in the hope they can be delivered more cheaply by the private sector.

With relatively straightforward things such as refuse collection, there's general agreement that experience to date shows outsourcing can work, and can save the taxpayer money.

But with complex services in education, health or transport, the picture is far less clear.

Michael Robinson investigates the outsourcing of these complex public services and uncovers another, as yet unreported, example of huge profits being earned by major private companies at taxpayers' expense.
The programme will be broadcast again on Sunday afternoon, I think.

I wonder if we here in Barnet would learn anything new? Still it's good to know that the rest of the world out there is finally catching on.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Manic Monday in Barnet - film premieres, cowardly Conservatives

I'm setting out shortly for the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley, to watch the premiere of 'Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble'.

Doors open at 6pm, entrance is £1. The film starts at 6.30pm and lasts 30 minutes. Afterwards there is a panel discussion featuring some of my fellow Barnet bloggers.

The film is a follow-up to 'A Tale of Two Barnets' earlier this year. The director Charles Honderick and producer Roger Tichborne have put together more interviews with residents about their hopes and fears (mostly the latter) as Barnet Council prepares to outsource most of its services to 3 or 4 multinational companies.

The outsourcing programme is called 'One Barnet'. The Council will sign contracts for 10 years and hand over more than £1,000,000,000 (£1 billion) to the outsourcing companies, along with most of their - hence our - control over services.


In other mad news, Conservative Councillor Brian Coleman has been charged with common assault for an alleged attack on Helen Michael, owner of Cafe Buzz in North Finchley.

The Council has announced that Coleman can only be removed from his post as Chair of the Council's Budget and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee by a meeting of the full Council. (There is a meeting of the committee this Thursday 25 October at 7pm at Hendon Town Hall.)

But that doesn't answer the question of how Coleman's party will treat him.

The Labour Group leader on the Council Alison Moore has written to Council Leader Richard Cornelius:
Now that Cllr Coleman has been charged with assault it is clearly time for the Leader of the Council to take action and remove the whip from him. I have written to the Leader today asking him to confirm that he will be doing this.
The current betting is that Cornelius will do nothing of the kind.


Welcome to another manic Monday in Barnet.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Barnet Alliance tells residents about 'One Barnet' - well, Barnet Council weren't going to

If you have seen a copy of the Hendon Times this week you'll have noticed - goodness, I hope you have! - the fetching orange (easyOrange) cover with the startling headline:
Barnet Council wants to give two multinationals £1,000,000,000 of your money and control over 70% of council services for 10 years.
£1,000,000,000 is £1 billion. The figures are approximate, because everything Barnet Council cooks up is approximate, but I can tell you that the final figure isn't going to be less than £1 billion! You can add in £15 million for the five-year parking contract with NSL, and a joint contract with Brent Council for 'streetscene' services.

Then it coyly asks 'Do you approve?' You are invited to tick either the 'yes' or 'no' box. Shockingly, in real life, residents don't get a choice. In fact, this is probably the first time that many have heard of these plans, Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' programme, and it is certainly the first time they'll have had so much detail.

This newspaper wraparound is provided by Barnet Alliance for Public Services - you can download a pdf of the wraparound from the Barnet Unison website.

As BAPS' publicity officer I confess to having had a hand in it. It has been an interesting experience; now that I look at it, I wish we had made the petition details (see below) more prominent. Because that's what it's all about: the fact that Barnet residents have had no say in what happens to their council services and their own money for the foreseeable future.

Sign the 'One Barnet' referendum petition

Barnet Alliance is collecting signatures on a petition calling for One Barnet to be halted until it is put to residents in the form of a referendum. I don't usually go for referenda, speaking personally, but one can certainly argue that One Barnet is not just a normal-course-of-events policy decision but more in the nature of a constitutional question.

It threatens to change completely the nature of local government (one friend of mine described it as 'stealing local democracy'). Public services will be tied up in long contracts, that can only be varied at great expense, and if residents have a complaint about services, they can't expect their councillor to be able to intervene on their behalf as they do now.

Please sign the petition online on Barnet Council's e-petitions website: http://petitions.barnet.gov.uk/StopOneBarnet/

Let your friends, colleagues and neighbours know about One Barnet and about the petition. It is not too late to stop One Barnet. There have been many last-minute changes-of-heart over similiar outsourcing plans. Barnet Council need to know that residents have got wind of it and that they don't like it. Over to you!

Word of the day: gobshite

I learn on Twitter that my MP, the MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord (Conservative), is in the newspapers today.

He's alleged to have got drunk at a dinner sponsored by weapons manufacturers for politicans and other movers and shakers. What's not alleged but is indisputable is that he got into a slanging match with some Labour MPs, calling them "gobshite" and "prat".

For the usually pro-Conservative Sun and the Daily Mail to point the finger this morning at Offord, rather than at anyone else, suggests that Offord was the guilty party here.

Offord has a Twitter account, but has been barring anyone remotely critical of him. If you are on Twitter and want to try following him, his name is @HendonMP.

You see, it's not his private Twitter account, but his MP Twitter account, yet he still bars constituents from benefiting from his tweets.

If they are anything like what comes out of his mouth on the prestigious occasions - as Saturday night's dinner was - perhaps we're better off not knowing.

A woman on the TUC march on 20 October apes her betters.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Disclaimer: I hesitated to write this blogpost as it might seem that I am having a dig at the Chinese community in Colindale. I'm not, not at all! In fact, the developments that are going on in this ward are likely to dilute the valuable influence and presence of this group of people considerably.

So, on to the blogpost...

When I pass the Beaufort Park development - which aesthetically I like, actually - a half-remembered image comes into my mind. 'Kowloon,' I murmur. 'Kowloon.' Why?

I have just googled 'Kowloon' and, lo and behold, found this striking picture.

Kowloon, an area of Hong Kong: remind you of anything?
I suspect that many Barnet residents don't know what goes on in parts of the borough other than their own. You might not know, therefore, that Colindale ward is subject to a Barnet Council area action plan which aims to double the population in 10 years. Massive developments are springing up all the time.

Beaufort Park is about half-done now, I would say. Other developments include the so-far small - because stalled for lack of funds - New Hendon Village (ho, ho), parts of Grahame Park, Pulse and Rhythm (I kid you not) close to Colindale tube station. (A good source of information on the various schemes is the Colindale Renewal blog, the work of Barnet's most prolific, most unsung, and most mysterious blogger.)

The British Library newspaper reading rooms are going to be developed into flats; a large part of the Metropolitan Police training college, the Peel Centre, is going to be developed. (We will lose the potential use of an athletics track, going by the current plans.)

There's an ugly tower called Zenith House going up next to the Edgware Road.

Barnet is already struggling to find school places for all of the children that need them. There are many other concerns about the adequacy of the infrastructure, social facilities, etc, in this area to cope with the expected rapid influx of humanity.

On a personal level I don't mind where people live. I do worry, however, that they won't have what they need to live well. More than that, I believe that with some 'rebalancing' - better planning and a different allocation of resources - people would not have to move to Colindale from the probably much nicer places they live in at present.

There is another aspect to this, a class one (I'm Citizen Barnet, what did you expect?). Barnet Council have divided the borough up into 3 areas: those areas, such as Totteridge, that are already so nice that they have only to be preserved; those, such as Finchley, that are not bad but which if they were enhanced could be nice; and places such as Colindale which are not sufficiently nice for anything except to soak up all the newcomers expected into the borough. The fate of places such as Colindale is simply to 'grow'.

Our new Barnet and Camden representative on the London Assembly, Andrew Dismore, has been working hard lately. One of the focuses of his attention has been this 'growth'. He has put out a statement on it. The gist:
It is not fair on the existing residents who will see little benefit, and will suffer more traffic jams, overcrowded public transport, high buildings, long queues for public services and overstretched utilities.

Adding all the new homes planned for Colindale together, this puts the total to over 10,000 in a short stretch of only half a mile or so of road frontage. The Council must reconsider its Colindale Area Plan and the Mayor must see sense.
If this is all going to happen (it is) it would be good if all of the residents of the borough could support the residents of Barnet's 'growing' areas in their campaign for the resources that will be needed to support the influx.

On a purely personal and selfish level, I'm also worried that I won't get a seat on the tube anymore!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

So, is it OK to dislike Nick Walkley?

Barnet Council CEO Nick Walkley is changing jobs. He has handed in his notice - a privilege he still enjoys while he denies it to so many Barnet Council employees under him who his decisions have made and will make redundant. He expects to be confirmed soon in his new post of CEO for our neighbouring borough of Haringey.

How pleasant to be able to choose the time of your own departure, to control your own career in this way. How pleasant to be at the top of the local government food chain instead of anywhere further down. (Even fellow senior managers at Barnet are losing their jobs in a restructure.)

There has been much speculation about why Walkley is walking. How prescient, some say, to go now before the shit hits the One Barnet fan (much the most popular theory).

I have recorded some scathing views about Nick Walkley lately. I recorded some even more scathing views that failed to make it into the pages of local newspapers, who know the law on defamation better than I do: I’ll say them here instead in more measured tones.

I said I didn’t understand why Haringey would want to appoint as their CEO a man who is despised by many of the staff under him and by most of those Barnet residents who actually know who he is.

I think this statement skirts the safe side of defamation - but, more to the point, is the statement just and why?

I believe it is just and here is why. I have felt a little guilty for the forthrightness of my views - a man’s a man for a’ that - but then I remember this:

This is the poster that Nick Walkley ordered to be plastered around the staff areas at Barnet Council offices on the eve of a legal strike in September 2011 by workers whose jobs are going to be outsourced to the private sector.

Workers who could lose their jobs in that outsourcing, or who, if they keep their jobs, will certainly have to work harder and probably for less money – for how else are ‘savings’ to be achieved? Workers who would be no better than dumb animals if they did not try to defend themselves in the face of this.

On this occasion, I am happy to say, Nick Walkley’s poster campaign, his attempt at intimidation, had the opposite effect to that intended and made those planning to strike even more determined to go ahead.

Any other outcome would have been unjust. Can’t Nick himself see that?

How would he, Nick, feel, I wonder, if he went into work and was confronted with walls of posters aimed at him that said something like: “you are not breaking any laws but I would like to remind you that your job is not safe, I can sack you if I can find a pretext, do your job obediently and know that I am watching you – Your Boss”.

I’m quite sure he wouldn’t like it. So why does he think it is alright to do it to others?

I have examined the evidence, and I have come to the conclusion that not only is it OK but it is in fact completely sensible to dislike Nick Walkley.

I have set out the reasons why below, in the shape of an ‘Open Letter to Nick Walkley’, since that is evidently a medium that he feels to be effective – if it’s good enough for the workers, it’s good enough for him, their boss.
An open letter to Nick Walkley  
These are the levels on which I believe it is reasonable to dislike you.  
First, on a completely impersonal level, for occupying a class position that allows you to bully those under you while you naturally assume your right to control your own destiny, to name your own price. For the hypocrisy involved in that.  
For the conversation we had in the lunch queue at NLBP where you said you had no moral responsibility for the way Lovells employees, who had earlier been transferred from Barnet Homes, were treated when the company went bust. For the look of puzzlement on your face when it was suggested otherwise. For leaning on the law (be afraid lest one day it lean on you).  
For exercising your right to govern – though in whose name it is not at all clear. Who are you meant to serve? Who do you in fact serve? The people or yourself?  
For getting lucky in life; for riding your luck, and, worst of all, not reflecting on how lucky you are. In short, for your ignorance.  
I am a socialist so I would call your ignorance the ignorance typical of the ruling class. There are many Nick Walkleys in this world; they don’t choose to do what they do, but their class position, the way things are structured, makes it impossible for them to act otherwise than they do.  
Second, for something you did choose, for the job you do. For being among the small professional elite of local government chief executive officers taking fat salaries – in your own case, for no discernible benefit shown to the residents of this borough.  
In cahoots with each other and with the outsourcing companies that want to take over running our public services, not out of the love of mankind but for venal reasons, boosting their profits and in the process making a few richer while most will only see worse services out of the deal and endure harder working lives.  
For pushing through a privatisation plan, One Barnet, that no resident has agreed to. For not even seeing that that is a problem, that politics and perceptions matter.  
For not understanding why, whether you deserve it or not, people think you are running away from Barnet, deserting a sinking ship, behaving like a rat. You moan about the rough ride the bloggers have given you, without having the wit to know why people criticise you or taking the trouble to look at what they see as faults in the system. Don’t we pay you enough to do that?  
Here you are the civil servant, Walkley. You serve a master, any master. You bend with the wind; how readily you bend.  
People wonder how you will fare transferring, as it were, from a flagship Tory borough to a borough with no Conservative councillors. I don’t think this switch will trouble you one iota; and you are so much the worse for that.  
Third, and finally, yes, on the personal level, it is reasonable to dislike you. To dislike you just for being who you are, for being Nick Walkley.  
In order to remember why, I just look at that poster, your decision, your doing, and signed, by you, Nicholas Walkley. 
Vicki Morris
Barnet resident

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Friday joke: Nick Walkley's career move

Barnet Council CEO Nick Walkley's switch to being CEO of Haringey - yes, that Haringey - was a career move. Ha, ha, ha! This joke works on a couple of levels.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble FILM PREMIERE

Below is text from the press release for the upcoming 'Barnet - the billion pound gamble' film. Premiere: Monday 22 October, the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley. Another great night out in Barnet!
Ken Loach lambasts outsourcing in Barnet Council documentary

Award-winning film director Ken Loach has lambasted Barnet Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme in a scathing attack in a new documentary film "Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble", directed by Charles Honderick.

Mr Loach was interviewed exclusively for the film and says: "A billion pounds, now that’s money you will pay, Barnet residents will pay, and the jobs that will be provided will probably not be in Barnet. A lot of the jobs will go to other boroughs or even outside of Britain altogether."

Mr Loach notes that taxpayers are getting poor value for money as jobs leave the borough, causing poverty, hardship and economic decline. "Now that’s a bad deal for Barnet because you want your rates and money put in to go to support your local economy, to go to support Barnet people and this is not about being narrow and excluding others, this is just commonsense, that we need local communities to thrive and the end of that logic, that says the money should go to the cheapest workers, is of course that the money goes to those who eat grass first."

As well as Mr Loach, the film features people from all walks of life in Barnet talking about their experiences, and looks at all aspects of life in Barnet in 2012, including the relocation of Barnet Football Club to Harrow, the closure of Friern Barnet Library, the cost of parking in the High Street and the provision of care services for the disabled and elderly.

Director Charles Honderick said: "The film gives a voice to everyone who cares about what is happening in their community. The stories we have heard are stories which should be shared. Some of the things you will see you will find hard to believe can happen in a civilised society". Mr Honderick continued: "As a filmmaker I am honoured to have my work recognised by Ken Loach. He has spent years making films with power and meaning. His wise words are ones we'd be foolish to ignore".

The film has its world premiere at the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley at 6pm on Monday 22 October 2012. Admission is by suggested donation of £1.

You can see the full interview with Mr Loach at the film website: http://www.billionpoundgamble.co.uk/

Stories and links






Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Defend Friern Barnet Library!

Newsletter from the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library. They are in court tomorrow as Barnet Council has become all hard-nosed about its intention of closing the library forever and flogging it off to a developer to make into flats or a supermarket, thus ripping the heart out of the local community. Please go and support the campaigners in court... and afterwards if it is needed.
IMPORTANT - please read email below from Bill Murphy sent today

COURT CASE: TOMORROW, Wednesday 10th Oct, 10am – Come and support the occupiers at COURT:
Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre. St. Marys Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, N3 1BQ (Buses: 82, 125, 143, 326, 382, 460)

Please check later today for further updates. It is suspected that there will be contractors waiting to board up the library building if the Court rules in favour of Barnet Council. We need supporters outside the library if this happens to save our Friern Barnet library. Tell friends and neighbours.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Murphy, Bill <Bill.Murphy@barnet.gov.uk>
Date: Tue, Oct 9, 2012 at 9:22 AM
Subject: Friern Barnet - repossession of the building
Cc: "Taylor, Julie" <Julie.Taylor@barnet.gov.uk>, Paresh.Mehta@harrow.gov.uk, "Doody, Lauren" <Lauren.Doody@barnet.gov.uk>, "Fahey, Mike" <Mike.Fahey@barnet.gov.uk>

Dear X,
I write further to our meeting on 3 October 2012. There were a number of options presented to the Council as to how you proposed to run a community library at the former library premises. Having carefully considered the various options the only viable option would be option 4 i.e. for the community interest group to purchase the premises.
The premises have been earmarked for sale and the Council now need to market the premises for sale. Naturally, the community interest group can put forward offers for the purchase of the property at the appropriate time and the Council will consider that proposal along with any offers received from other interested parties.
It was made abundantly clear to the Council at the meeting by those who attended that the possibility of opening a community library from Friary House was no longer of interest.  
In order to consider any offers for the purchase of the premises the Council requires vacant possession.
Having now explored all options in respect of your proposal to open a community library at the current premises the discussions are now concluded.
The Council now insists that you give peaceful possession of the premises so that the property can now be marketed for sale. Once the premises have been put up for sale you will have the opportunity to put forward an offer for the purchase of the property.
Bill Murphy
Assistant Director, Customer Services
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP
Tel: 020 8359 2142
Mobile 07847188983

In solidarity,

Save Friern Barnet Library Group

Monday, 8 October 2012

Meanwhile, down at Mill Hill Depot...

I'm indebted to Mr Mustard for including in a recent blogpost a list of Nick Walkley's 'Meet the chief*' sessions for the next few weeks, while he still IS chief of Barnet Council.

I notice with interest that Mr Walkley is due this afternoon to visit Mill Hill Depot.

'Meet the chief' sessions are a chance for staff to talk to the CEO about what's going on in the Council. I imagine that it is rather a one-way conversation, usually, with him imparting the latest management thinking, and not looking for much actual input from the plebs, sorry, staff.

This afternoon's meeting could be livelier than usual though. Staff at the depot will have heard - through their unions, probably, not from their employer - that their jobs are included in the next tranche of One Barnet outsourcing, which is, it turns out, a joint outsourcing with Brent Council.

Waste, recycling and street cleaning services will be included in this next big outsourcing contract. Once those staff are added to the 70% of staff to be transferred to the private sector under the NSCSO and DRS contracts, about 90% of Barnet Council staff will be private employed (those of them that don't lose their jobs in the shakeout).

We know all about this outsourcing because we read about it on Brent Council's website. I wonder when Barnet were going to get around to telling residents or, more to the point, staff.

* When I was in my early adulthood 'chief' was a term of abuse meaning 'fool'.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Buyer beware OR The strange case of Grant Shapps

For a while, (some of) the Barnet Bloggers have sort of had the ear of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles - albeit he inexplicably turned down a request to come to tea with (some of) us at Cafe Buzz in North Finchley.

(Last time a top Tory politician hit a Barnet high street he was mobbed by some very unsavoury types, so I can understand his reluctance.)

Eric Pickles could be relied on to grasp the significance of the uselessness of the Barnet Tory administration, and throw their deeds back in their faces, without ever actually - as far as I know - contacting any of the bloggers directly. It was all done at a discreet distance. After all, the bloggers are, as well as being completely correct about most things happening in Barnet politics, the political enemy (political with a small p).

We bloggers - some of us - were not above appealing also to one of Pickles' ministers at the DCLG, Grant Shapps, contacting him on Twitter and so on.

In David Cameron's recent reshuffle, Shapps became Conservative Party chair.

Grant Shapps is a relatively local boy. I know little about him, but I never imagined that he had the gravitas of Pickles. Whatever one thinks of Pickles, as far as I know, he grew up in a fairly modest family, and joined the Conservatives in disgust at Russian interference in the Prague Spring - or maybe that's just a colourful myth he tells about himself. Well, it has a ring of truth. Anyway, he did the wrong thing but for good reasons.

In a Telegraph interview in 2009 he says he read Marx and Trotsky in his teenage years. "I was a pretty serious young chap. For my 14th birthday I got Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution as a present — and I read the damn thing."

And why not, Eric? It's a bloody good read!

The unfolding revelations about Grant Shapps show that he certainly is capable of telling colourful myths. We must all know by now, what he would probably rather we didn't, that he has made his fortune selling crap books on the internet, posing as a marketing guru, and going under an assumed name, Michael Green.

However legal or otherwise Shapps' various businesses have been - some are now under investigation by various authorities - it has to be embarrassing to be exposed for having made your fortune by selling crap to gullible people. Legal? Maybe. But ethical? No. And honorable? Definitely not!

On the eve of the Conservative Party conference Shapps has given a generally rather sour-sounding interview to the Telegraph. It ends on what's supposed to be an upbeat note, but rings hollow:
"The day of the reshuffle I went to see the Prime Minister in Downing Street, and today I can reveal precisely what he said. 'Grant, you’ve got one task as chairman, get out there and kick-start our campaign, rally the troops, take the fight to Labour and help us win in 2015," he said."
Got to be regretting that now.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Resignation of Barnet's Chief Executive: a statement by the Barnet bloggers

Dear Councillor

It was announced yesterday that Mr Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council, is leaving in order to take up a position in Haringey.

This unexpected development immediately raises the most serious questions regarding the progress of the controversial £1billion One Barnet programme which is due to outsource the majority of our council services to the private sector: a hugely over ambitious project which bears the risk of being a spectacular failure, and having a devastating impact on the lives of residents in our borough.

We have a right to know why Mr Walkley, the architect of this programme, is leaving at this crucial point in the proceedings, just as the procurement process reaches its conclusion, and the successful bidders are chosen.

We note that this departure arises in the wake of the revelation that the council leader, Councillor Richard Cornelius, admits that he knew nothing about a decision by the senior officers of the council to change the outsourcing model of the DRS service bid from a strategic partnership to an even higher risk Joint Venture. This is a decision which has been taken by officers acting with consultants and bidders, without oversight from the elected members of this authority, and is therefore an action taken in open defiance of the democratic process which us supposed to safeguard the best interests of residents of this borough.

We question the unrestricted expenditure of millions of pounds on unaccountable consultants acting as "implementation partners" for what is, at best, the biggest risk undertaken by any local authority with the money and trust invested in them by residents and tax payers: a scandalous waste of our money at what is supposed to be a time of austerity, and when we have seen savage reductions in council spending, leading to widespread hardship and the loss of community resources such as the much loved local library in Friern Barnet, and the Church Farmhouse museum.

As residents, tax payers, and local bloggers, we call for an emergency session of the full council in order to discuss the implications of Mr Walkley's resignation and for the immediate suspension of the One Barnet programme pending the outcome of an external and fully independent audit of the risks involved in this £1 billion gamble with our money, our services, Our Barnet.

Yours faithfully,

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Ample evidence that scum rises to the top: the cases of Nick Walkley and Matthew Offord

I've been disgusted today by the behaviour of people who earn considerably more than me and most of my esteemed readers, and enjoy prestige and a position of influence.

Barnet Council CEO Nick Walkley, who is paid more than £200,000 a year by us Barnet residents, has announced he is buggering off to Haringey Council. Frankly, I can't think why anyone would want him.

Barnet Council is just weeks away from signing critical contracts with multinational companies to run most of our council services for the next 10 years, the One Barnet programme. Yet confusion reigns at the top.

Walkley has presided over a situation where the Leader of the Council Richard Cornelius doesn't know whether the council is recommending a joint venture or a strategic partnership for the £275 million Development and Regulatory Services contract.

Walkley has succeeded in his time as Barnet CEO in alienating almost all of the staff, and done nothing to stem the increasing disaffection of residents from the Council. This is the fruit so far of the outsourcing programme that he has pushed as the answer to all of Barnet Council's financial difficulties.

Wouldn't an honorable man stay to see the project through either to success or failure? No, as the Barnet Press puts it, eschewing neutral headlines, Walkley is "jumping ship".

There's one word for this behaviour: contemptible. But, evidently, in the circles that senior local government officers move in, contemptible fits the bill nicely, for he has been offered the job of CEO at Haringey Council.

The mind boggles. I'll warn my friends in the Haringey Alliance for Public Services what's headed their way.

And now to target no.2 of my disgust today. Matthew Offord MP for Hendon - oh, my MP.

He has tweeted about the child sex abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile. He said: “For nine years I worked at the BBC and the rumours about Jimmy Savile were well known amongst staff.”

Barnet Press contacted Offord for more comment. He told them:
“The feeling was this was all well known, and he engaged in activities which were not legal for a number of years.  
“It was something that was known to have occurred in the BBC and it was something that no one really dwelt on.  
“All I had was hearsay... I had no evidence then and I have no evidence now.  
“There would have been nothing more to do. It was 30 years ago.  
“In a lot of these cases we all pray that the behaviour is relegated to the past.  
“He had ...become a peripheral, elderly figure.”
It really doesn't matter how peripheral or elderly Savile had become. Nazi war criminals are still quite rightly being pursued. Crime is crime.

I know that few people took child abuse as seriously as they should have done until reent times, but, really, your heart sinks to think that it was an 'open secret' among BBC staff - including, presumably, senior figures - that Savile was abusing girls. And nobody did anything about it.

How lowly they must have thought of his victims, all those nice, middle-class people making the programmes for the young - shall I say it? - plebs.

Thank God for the whistle-blower, wherever they are, that puts us all to shame disclosing wrongdoing while the rest just whisper in corners and publicly kowtow to the conventions and the powers-that-be and the spangle of the celebrity.

And how contemptible that so many people are casually dropping into conversation now that, well, they knew the child abuser Savile. What a disgusting claim to fame.

If I had known Savile and thought that he was a child abuser and did nothing about it, I would, out of shame, keep that acquaintanceship to myself.

If nothing else, this disclosure by Offord shows that he has absolutely no judgement whatever, not even where it is needed to protect his own reputation.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

West Coast mainline and the lessons for Barnet

The leader of the Labour Group on Barnet Council, Alison Moore, has written this statement today in light of the news about the collapse of the West Coast Mainline franchising process. It is about the implications of that for 'One Barnet', Barnet Tories' plans to outsource 90% of council services.
Stop 'One Barnet' in light of West Coast mainline fiasco: Cllr Alison Moore
Following the government's decision today to cancel the West Coast mainline franchise awarded to First Group and re-run the tender process, Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said:

"First it was G4S, now it's the west coast mainline - private companies often underbid and over promise and it's the tax payer who ends up picking up the pieces when it goes wrong. As for the One Barnet privatisation programme - there are just too many risks and unanswered questions. These are huge 10 year contracts, there has been far too little scrutiny of financial and other details by elected members, and the whole process has been fraught by the proposal of a Joint Venture thrown in at the last moment. We need to see and be able to scrutinise the process and procedure under which the One Barnet bids have been evaluated to make sure the public purse is being protected. Failing that, the whole One Barnet fiasco should be stopped now."

1. The proposed West Coast mainline contract was for 13 years. First Group's initially successful bid of £5.5bn (£423m each year) was criticised by competitor Virgin Trains as "preposterous" and a recipe for bankruptcy.

2. The process has cost the tax payer £40 million.

3. The award of franchise was cancelled after "technical flaws" in the competition process were found. The Department for Transport said "flaws stem from the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated.."

4. The 'One Barnet' proposal to gamble £1bn of council tax payers' money by outsourcing 70% of critical council services to two multi-national corporations for 10 years has been criticised by opposition Labour councillors because of the financial and service delivery risks, the council's poor procurement record, the absence of any transparency and ability of councillors to scrutinise the proposals, and the reduction in public democratic accountability of the proposals.

5. Read Cllr Geof Cooke's (Labour member of the council's audit committee) views on the link between the risks posed by One Barnet and the problems highlighted by the West Coast mainline process: http://betterbarnet.nationalbuilder.com/one_barnet_and_the_west_coast_main_line_fiasco

6. Theresa Villiers MP was the Transport Secretary when the West Coast main line contract was let, and said that any legal challenge by Virgin would be "defended robustly".

7. Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle MP, on the cancellation of the franchise: http://www.labour.org.uk/west-coast-rail-franchise-fiasco-exposes-govt-incompetence,2012-10-03