Monday, 29 April 2013

Barnet Council breaks the law on consultation

Mr Justice Underhill (not sure whether that's the right address but I'm sure I can be forgiven) ruled today that Maria Nash's application for Judicial Review of Barnet Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme was made too late and could not therefore be allowed.

For anyone following the case this is not entirely a surprise. Nor should anyone be surprised that we campaigners against One Barnet are not downcast by the decision. For it is clear that Barnet Council have only won - for now, an appeal is still possible - on a technicality.

In court they argued that:
1) the challenge should have been brought earlier
2) they did not, in any case, need to consult.

Well, the Judge has disagreed with them over (2). The Judgment says:
...the Council never set out to consult about its outsourcing programme at all.
...if the application for judicial review had been made in time I would have held that the Council had not complied with its obligations under section 3 (2) of the 1999 Act in respect of the decisions taken in 2010/11 to outsource the performance of its functions and services, covered by the proposed NSCSO and DRS contracts.
He is saying that the Council should have consulted and failed to.

Barnet Council will naturally spin this to their own ends; it's our job to spin it to ours! I don't think our task is hard. We have always tried to run a political campaign against One Barnet - informing residents what is planned when the council wouldn't, questioning the Council, challenging them - the substance of meaningful rather than tick-box consultation in fact. That will not change now.

In fact, I would think that the campaign will hot up. One Barnet's effects are beginning to be seen: ludicrous consultancy spend, no savings as yet, jobs exported out of the borough, and worse services.

That is only going to escalate, and Barnet's ruling Tories are only going to find themselves paying a heavier and heavier political price for the decisions they have taken - without consulting residents!

Friday, 12 April 2013

'Your Choice Barnet' campaign launched

Click here for a report of the launch meeting for the "Bring 'Your Choice Barnet' Back In-house" campaign which happened on Tuesday 11 April at the Greek Cypriot Community Centre.

It was a great meeting, with around 50 people attending. Below, a couple of pictures.

The next meeting of the campaign is Thursday 25 April, 7-9pm, Greek Cypriot Community Centre, Britannia Road, London N12.

Before that we are supporting Councillor Barry Rawlings' motion to the next Barnet Council meeting, Tuesday 16 April, please join the lobby of Hendon Town Hall at 6.30pm.

Please sign the petition here.

(L to R) Roger Lewis, DPAC; John Sullivan; Tirza Waisel, Barnet Alliance
Tirza Waisel, Barnet Alliance; Helen Davies, Barnet Unison
Voting on the motions, including support for Councillor Rawlings' motion to the next Council meeting on 16 April

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Would the panel bring 'Your Choice Barnet' back in-house?

Yes, I'm still here, haven't shuffled off this mortal coil yet - sorry, is that in poor taste?

I'm in good health but I keep having flashbacks of West End doorways crammed with the bodies of the homeless - even as far as the door of the Ritz Hotel. Oh, I forget, that was the early 1990s and the logic of Margaret Thatcher's policies of decimating industry, removing Income Support from 16- and 17-year-olds and closing the old mental asylums was working itself through.

The world's nothing like that now, of course. We're many years further into the neoliberal reforms pursued by the erstwhile MP for Finchley. Reforms such as the financial "Big Bang" - liberalisation and deregulation of the City. See how well that worked out!

This evening a special edition of "Question Time" will be recorded in Finchley; I expect they always planned to come here when Margaret Thatcher died. Lucky she did it in the Easter hols, then, and they can take over Finchley Catholic High School for a couple of days.

Despite the best efforts of local newspaper journalists to find Barnet Tories who remembered Thatcher's days here, and had a kind word to say about her, the choice of Finchley for this special - if you like, "commemorative" - QT feels oddly beside-the-point. The world, including Finchley, has moved on. Never mind, here comes the caravan.

For the past couple of days we have been lost in a sort of misty blue nostalgia-fest where only the good side of being a hard-faced, ultra-right winger espousing rampant individualism has been considered. On a personal level it might have been depressing if I had watched the television or read a newspaper, but I've managed to avoid all of them.

I don't have a ticket for tomorrow night's QT either, although I did dutifully apply for one. I hope that some of my fellow campaigners have had more luck and that we will see one or two familiar faces in the audience. I can already predict some of the questions:
  • Does the panel think that MT was the greatest PM of the 20th Century/ever?
  • Does the panel think that the public should pay for MT's funeral?
  • Does the panel think the Queen is wrong to attend MT's funeral?
  • What does the panel think is MT's greatest contribution to politics?
  • How many years does the panel think Glenda Jackson should spend incarcerated in the Tower of London for daring to say publicly what others have thought privately?
I have my own answers to these questions which you can probably guess at. I only hope that someone - on the panel or in the audience - has the guts to criticise Thatcher's works and her legacy, which we are well and truly living with and suffering from today, in Barnet as much as anywhere.

Indeed, tonight I'll be a few yards up the road from QT, in North Finchley at the Greek Cypriot Community Centre, Britannia Road, N12, where from 7-9pm the Barnet Alliance has a public meeting to explain why we want Barnet Council to bring 'Your Choice Barnet' back in-house.

This outsourced service providing support to disabled adults was supposed, believe it or not, to generate a surplus. It isn't, it is losing money and is having to be bailed out. Worse, in order to make the books balance, the management want to cut staff pay, and to reduce the quality of the service. All of this is a scandal and of a piece with the privatising, cutting agenda that Thatcher instigated and that her political heirs among the Barnet Tories are continuing.

Speakers at the meeting include John Sullivan, parent-carer of a user of the 'Your Choice' centre.

Please join us if you can at this important meeting, and please sign our petition on the Barnet Council website. You can find more details about the meeting here.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Iranian residents launch "Occupy Moat Mount"

Angry Iranians in Barnet have taken a leaf out of the book of Occupy London, learned the lessons of the successful occupation and re-opening of Friern Barnet Library, and announced that they will launch "Occupy Moat Mount" today, Monday.

The move is an angry response to the continued failure of Barnet Council to accommodate Iranains' age-old Sizdeh Be-dar ceremony, the last day of the 13-day Noruz (New Year) celebrations.

On the 13th day, it is traditional for Iranians - and Kurds and many Afghans - to take to the great outdoors, in fact, it is considered bad luck to stay indoors on this day. Picnics and barbecues are traditional, which has led to some conflicts with local authorities. In recent years, Barnet Council has gone so far as to ban Iranians from gathering in the parks that they most liked to use, including Moat Mount Open Space.

Now, this year, a small group of Iranian residents has vowed to "occupy" Moat Mount in protest and to assert their right to observe their traditional customs.

A young man identifying himself only as Faravahar said: "Barnet Council boast about their good relations with different sections of the community, but they can't come to an agreement with us over an annual barbecue. We have offered to bring our own binbags and even offered workshops in litter-picking, but still they won't talk to us. Well, we have had enough. This year we are going to take back our public space to celebrate this ancient festival."

Barnet Council have not yet responded to the activists' threat, but Hendon MP and former Council Cabinet member Matthew Offord has been sighted in recent days in the trees at the edges of Moat Mount wearing a balaclava and muttering about Camp Ashram... or it might have been wigwam.