Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Sleepover at Friern Barnet Library, 31st January

What do you do when you don't know what to do? Keep your options open.

Barnet Council seem to be stalling ahead of the intended end of the Friern Barnet Library occupation on 31st January - perhaps it's not deliberate, but inefficiency. But the question remains, will they or won't they grant a licence to the community campaigners who have stepped forward for the role?

The press release below from the Friern Barnet Library occupiers points out some of the issues at stake. If you want to support the library and are free on Thursday evening, we are invited to visit for the evening and stay the night if we can - remember, possession is 9/10 of the law! I've got my sleeping bag ready!

Press release

Plans are afoot for a sleepover and celebration on Thursday 31st January in Friern Barnet Community Library, to celebrate hopefully the saving of the Library into the future. People are asked to bring some food to share for a celebration of how far we have come and the hope of a deal.

This may be concluded soon with a handover of the keys to the Directors of Friern Barnet Community Library Ltd.

The nine Trustees (as they prefer to be called) of the newly-created Community Library, which is stocked with 10,000 volumes donated by local residents, are in negotiations with Barnet Council for a lease to run the library with the community.

The library, staffed by Occupiers/squatters and the local community, is currently open six days a week, from 11am-7pm, with many evening events.

We hope for agreement with the council and that the lease should be concluded soon and a handover to the local residents enacted.

"We are in negotiation with the council", said Jeffrey Newman, one of the nine library Trustees. "We  hope to agree a two-year licence, followed by a longer lease and a sufficient grant for initial capital expenditure to put into a professional librarian to help our volunteer pool to run the library. We are all working flat out  for a signed legal agreement with the Council.

"The sleepover celebration is being held to celebrate a win-win-win-win conclusion for the local residents, for the Council, for the occupiers, for CommUnityBarnet and for the National Libraries campaigns."

There are a number of variables in our position dependant on what the council is actually offering - more information confirmed and what the whole group decides at our Wednesday night meeting..

Many of the Occupiers, local campaigners and groups feel strongly that we require clear assurances from the council that the library will be safe in the future. (No possibility of Capita (the new Company hoping to run Barnet under the 'One Barnet' council privatisation scheme, currently under Judicial Review) selling it on to a Developer, or it still being lost to a commercial bid under the Community Right to bid).

The council has still not confirmed the exact details of the lease, we are awaiting more information before a key handover can happen.

Our weds 6.30pm main meeting will be deciding our position reference the council deal being offered, the appeal and the situation on Friday.

With all the details of the arrangement to be worked out, many in the group feel we should not hand over the building on Friday until  assurances on the level of funding the council are offering as well as many other matters are agreed. Responsibilities for the large repair costs, insurance and utilities, etc.

To push for the best deal possible for this library, but also for the National Libraries campaign, who have grave concerns over the push to low funded voluntary libraries taking over paid librarians situations. The decisions we make will reverberate nationally.

We have asked the council for a 2-3 week extension to sort the details.

Apparently the Leader Richard Cornelius has finally after numerous requests agreed to meet negotiators on Thursday.

We await tonight or tomorrow morning the Court of Appeals decision on the appeal and a stay of execution of the bailiffs, which would:

a) take the pressure off of the friday situation (possession order can be enacted on Friday 1st February);

b) could give some more weeks or months for the negotiations to get the best deal possible for all future generations of library users;

c) uphold our rights to protest (ECHR articles 10 and 11 ) in publicly owned buildings that have been closed due to the cuts. This could be a majorly significant rulling.

Journalists are invited to get in touch and possibly visit Thursdayevening/ Friday morning for the very interesting latest stage of the story of the library that would not close.

Yours, the library caretakers


The Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd) has been legally incorporated in the last fortnight. Members of the Occupy London movement squatted and reopened the library, as a campaign to save the Library and also as a protest against the new criminalisation of the homeless and squatters by the LASPO Act 2012. (Enacted Sept 1st, Occupied Sept 3rd).

NB squatting in non residential buildings is still legal. However an attempt has just been launched by some on the extreme right of the Conservative Party to criminalise and make non residential building squatting also illegal - we oppose this.

This if it was successful would affect all our rights to protest by occupying/squatting space, and would make successful community squat occupations such as the library campaign ILLEGAL, thus further removing our rights to shelter and protest.

The Squatters Action For Secure Homes have just launched a campaign and rapidly growing petition to repeal the unfair, undemocratic, unlawful and arbitrary LASPO Act 2012.
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44597 - please sign and support.

Occupiers have been running Friern Barnet Community Library with the community since September. The library had been closed despite strong local opposition in April last year. Negotiating the lease and accompanying grant is complicated. A "tenancy at will" is under discussion as an interim arrangement while the lease is concluded.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Burnout? Burns Night!

Ross Houston addresses a haggis

If you follow my blog you will notice a lack of prolificness lately. Sorry, perhaps I was suffering from burnout at the end of last year. I am slowly springing back into life. I seem to be busy enough, but little makes it as far as the 'pages' of the blog.

I can report, however, that on Saturday night some friends and I made it as far as the Finchley and Golders Green Labour Party Burns Night quiz. We had a good time, though quiz-wise achieved only mid-table mediocrity.

I think my sole contribution to the party was:

(1) to have been the one to suggest we go in the first place;

(2) to know that Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population;

(3) to name our team Barnet Old Haggis (reference joke from last year - wonder what he's doing now);

(4) a few photographs, most of which will remain confidential, on the grounds of kindness to my friends (and myself). I feel no such personal obligations to Councillor Ross Houston, who looked magnificent in his kilt and, fittingly, to whom it fell to recite Robert Burns' 'Address to a Haggis' (do violence to the Scots language?!).

Thank you, Councillor Houston.

Thank you also to Councillors Kath McGuirk and Alison Moore who did most of the wonderful cooking.

I raised a dram in honour of my great grandmother Jeannie Kirkbride (a made-up name?) who made her way from somewhere north of the border south to Wallasey around the start of the 20th century, there to marry my great grandfather John Dean. Were it not for their union... no Citizen Barnet.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Party, Friern Barnet Library, Friday 25 February

With the medium-term fate of Friern Barnet Library still uncertain - who doubts that it will remain a library in the long term?! - we are invited to one more party under the tutelage of the current occupiers. Tomrrow night, Friday 25 February.
East Dulwich's finest, Sly & Reggie of The Middle Class Sound System, performing at Friern Barnet Library (7pm), with support from local bands (& a belly dancer).
Possibly the last music event in FBL's 78yr history.
Address: Friern Barnet Road, N11 3DR.
All welcome. Thanks in anticipation of your support for FBL.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

One Barnet referendum petition - presented Tuesday 22 January

At last, Barnet residents' own views on the Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme will be heard in the council chamber. Tonight, Tuesday 22 January, we will hand in the so-called One Barnet referendum petition. The text:
Hands off our Barnet! Stop the One Barnet Programme

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.

A representative of the Barnet Allliance for Public Services will give a five-minute presentation on what the One Barnet referendum petition means to us.

We have been collecting signatures online here and on paper for a few months and a little while back topped the 8,000 we need for the right to present the petition at a full council meeting. This January date was the earliest we could present it.

It might seem as though the horse has bolted, since the Council is poised to sign the first big contract with Capita. However, in the event, the legal challenge by Maria Nash means that the deal cannot quite be sealed yet... So, as it turns out, Tuesday's presentation will be quite a dramatic moment.

A few years back, in 2008, when the local trade unions and some of the more left-wing residents set themselves against the mass privatisation plan (named 'Future Shape', then 'easyCouncil' before finally seeing the murky light of a grey day as 'One Barnet') we quite simply under-estimated how much support we would get from ordinary residents for our stance - if we only knew how to ask for it.

Barnet's Tories never believed that they needed to ask residents about One Barnet, they thought residents would not care about how services would be delivered. They certainly did not imagine that residents would oppose the bulk of council services being handed over to outsourcing multinationals. How wrong they were. And how wrong were we to leave it so late before we went big with our publicity! I think we simply spent too long rehearsing the arguments - and trying to take our objections through the proper political channels.

However, perhaps it is not too late! We have our petition! We have our council chamber debate! We have our legal challenges! And we certainly have, I believe, the support of most of the engaged Barnet residents.

Please join us on Tuesday 22 January at Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, NW4 from 6pm for a lobby and then inside the Council Chamber from 7pm. Follow proceedings on Twitter: @BarnetAlliance

Monday, 14 January 2013

Lawyers issue JR proceedings against Barnet Council over One Barnet

I've been very busy with work and personal affairs lately, so am only rather belatedly posting this news about the next stage in Maria Nash's legal challenge - one of two - to Barnet Council's "One Barnet" privatisation programme.

This is how Barnet Alliance for Public Services reported the news on 10 January:
Barnet Alliance for Public Services is happy to hear that Steel & Shamash Solicitors, acting on behalf of Barnet resident Maria Nash, have today issued proceedings against Barnet Council, Capita PLC, EC Harris LLP, and Capita Symonds Ltd.

Ms Nash seeks a judicial review of the Council’s decision to award the contract for the “New Support and Customer Services Organisation” or “NSCSO” to Capita plc, and of the Council’s impending decision to award the “Development and Regulatory Services” or “DRS” contract, to either Capita Symonds Ltd or EC Harris LLP. Maria Nash said:  
“Despite being involved in local issues, including being engaged in the political process in relation to issues that affect me, I have not been consulted, either individually or as a member of any of the local bodies or interest groups with which I am associated. I have been desperately concerned about the impact of the NSCSO and DRS on me and others, especially the vulnerable such as the elderly, disabled or young. What I would like to see is proper meaningful engagement with stakeholders before a decision is made to outsource services to a private company.”
And here some more details of the grounds of the case for Judicial Review.