Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Don't miss BMOSC!

The Business Management Committee is meeting to discuss a number of hugely important issues.

Cllr Kath McGuirk has called in the councils continuing folly that is the private parks for hire scheme. We have had success in Victoria Park and Oak Hill Park in West Finchley and East Barnet wards, now we need to take the fight to Hendon and force a full reversal of this silly and unfair policy. Parks are for all, not just those that can afford them.

Cllr Barry Rawlings has called in two important items, about changes to day centres and childrens centres. I hope to be able to speak on the latter, which of course affects the Newstead Centre in my ward. I also hope we can see what can be done on the Ann Owens, also in East Finchley.

There will be the petition to re-open Friern Barnet Library, a cause celebre for those who have taken on the council. I have tried to support Barry and Pauline in Coppetts for two years to back them on Pinkham way and the library.

There will also be report backs on some of the smaller committees, the task and finish groups. There will be reports on things like Cold Weather (strangely relevant in July!), homelessness and young people, housing allocations, waste and recycling, road resurfacing, as well as most importantly for East Finchley, school places.

I hope that if you are free then you can come to Hendon Town Hall from 7 pm. There are a lot of big important issues to discuss there, and it's always good to have public support in meetings.

Labour will be represented on the committee by Barry Rawlings, Kath McGuirk and Alan Schneiderman.

Cllr Barry Rawlings on One Barnet

Coppetts councillor and Labour Group deputy leader Barry Rawlings made a speech to the Our Barnet, not One Barnet rally a few weeks ago. Here is his speech. I particularly liked "you can't commercialise compassion". See if you can hear me shout "NO"!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Olympics have finally arrived, and that too with a bang. I have to admit, I didn't like the start, which I suppose is a matter of tase, but from the moment the Queen "parachuted" out of a helicopter with James Bond, it was absolutely brilliant. Arctic Monkeys, dacades of music, Rowan Atkinson etc. And the torch and flame was genius.

It was a very moving, funny, quirky, clever and organised event. Danny Boyle has nothing he had to prove to anyone, but even for him this was spectacular.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Olympic Torch relay

I write this just as the Olympic opening ceremony starts. I thought I would share the rather hectic wednesday on which the Olympic torch visited Barnet.

I started very early, getting to the Town Hall for 8 in the morning or so. Managed to get through my planning papers, which was useful. We all started gathering outside at about 11 in the sweltering heat. I was wearing a suit which was to prove nearly fatal. because I was milling around, I couldn't get a seat at the front, so Cllr Kath McGuirk, Cllr Robert Rams, Cllr Sachin Rajput and I ended up standing on the metal benches, which turned out to have a rather good view. The atmosphere was so good, people who normally don't breathe the same air were chatting...

Anyway, the torch passed, held by 100 year old Diana Gould, the eldest torch bearer. She got an excellent reception in front of the town hall, and on her arrival in Middlesex Uni (where we had all hot footed it).  Boris Johnson flounces in (I am going to go mad if I hear his announcements on the bus and tube for another month). He went in a little enclosure round the middle of the atrium, and after the press photos were taken, did his press interviews. I decided to leave.

I hot footed it to Hendon Central and took the tube to Golders Green, then a long journey to Friern Barnet, to watch the torch pass a second time. I went to support Barry and Pauline against the closure of the Library, not that there was any real protest or dissent.

After going back to the Town Hall to read the Health and Wellbeing papers, a group of councillors went to the Sangam Centre for the Barnet Refugee Service AGM, which I blogged about before.

Then we went to Victoria Park for a concert, which was interesting, though I didn't understand what any of it was about. I just liked the flying light up fairies. And the Crepe stall. And the, erm, ice cream van.

It was a very busy day, and have to admit a stressful one but a memorable one. I doubt I will ever see a centurion carry the Olympic torch, and I am sure all who saw it will remember it for long.

I hope this is the start of an excellent Olympic games.

Councillor Briefings

I just wanted to report that we had two good briefing sessions at the Town Hall for Councillors on thursday evening. The first was on crime with Cllr David Longstaff. I won't go into the details of the discussions, as they were meant to be a freethinking exchange, but on behalf of East Finchley residents, I raised the visibility of policing in places like estates, and that it's important for people to see police and PCSOs on the streets to help reduce the fear of crime. I also said that they need to liase with childrens and youth services to keep services available to young people to keep them out of trouble.

Cllr Dean Cohen spoke about waste and street scene. I said that it shouldn't be easier to throw rubbish away than recycle, and that it might be an idea to change the communal rubbish chute in a tower block into the recycling chute, and make people go to a communal bin to take their refuse, rather than the other way round that it operates at the moment. I also raised that recycling banks can be in inaccessible or undesireable locations. On Prospect Ring, the recycling bank is set away fron the pavement, and the grass in front has now been ground down to mud, and it's a very unpleasant experience taking your recycling there, especially in winter. Or even the weather as it was three weeks ago come to think about it!

Cllr Cohen also said we are replacing recycling boxes with new wheelie bins where you can chuck in all your recycling. The technology, as Cllr Andreas Tambourides described after a visit to a plant in Enfield, can sort it all out at the factory. Barnet has a recycling rate of 33%, which is 281 out of 358 LAs in the country. When I was a student in Canterbury in 2006, the rate there was 47%, so we are well behind the curve, and I hope these proposals will lead to a drastic improvement. Meeting recycling targets has been mentioned as a reason not to go ahead with the Pinkham Way incinertor.

There were lots of good points made, and full discussions. It's good that we are being asked for feedback into council strategies.There are other sessions next week on health and wellbeing and culture and tourism. (I imagine the latter will be very short.)

I am grateful to Cllrs Longstaff and Cohen for holding these discussions.

Health and Wellbeing Board

Just a quick rundown on the Barnet Health and Wellbeing Board meeting that I attended (from the public gallery as I am not a member of the committee (yet)) today.

The first thing I noted was some concerns Cllr Helena Hart, the chair and Cabinet member for Health raised about C Diff. I could not hear the exchange properly due to some very loud construction work going on outside, but I understand that Cllr Hart was concerned about C Diff in Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, but that they could not tell which hospital the problem lay at, because the stats are not collected by location. I will try to look into it and see if I can find an answer, because we could not see on the latest statistics that C Diff had been red flagged, which is what I thought I had heard was said at the meeting. The medical professional who answered said that the target is extremely strict and that it was a very small sample.

There was also concern expressed about the quality of nursing care homes, especially dementia care at these homes. They will be examining what "good" care is, in the context of care homes being businesses, so how much does "good" care cost while keeping the home as a viable business. We are also working on this at the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, so will keep readers posted. You may know that I have a close relative in care, so this is of close personal interest to me as well.

Cllr Sachin Rajput spoke about his area of Adult Social Care, and he seemed to be on the ball and focused on safeguarding vulnerable people financially. In fact there will be a safeguarding month which will hope to raise awareness throughout the council. Cllr Andrew Harper spoke at length about his area of Child safeguarding. He mentioned that Ofsted had done an inspection, and that the only area he marked the department down for was not having a named doctor for children in care, which Cllr Harper said was unexpected criticism, but can be fixed shortly.

They also spoke about community engagement, and there was a presentation from the Barnet LINk, (Local Involvement Network), but no proper written report. The Council are looking to completely redo this area, through a Healthwatch. There was a bone of contention that this would be provided by one paid staff and "volunteers", to which it was questioned why anyone would want to volunteer to assist a paid worker? They said transition costs were likely to be £20,000 Apparently Islington are the best practise at community engagement, so they will be looking to them for guidance and ideas.

There was a report on care integration. It is becoming a theme of the council to try and get rid of duplication of effort to improve efficiency and reduce cost. That isn't helped by there being an expensive change to the computing system. There was a feeling among some board members that this is unnecessary becuse the old system could be modified to incorporate the desired chnages. I was not allowed to ask questions, as I was a member of the public, but I would have liked to query some of the costing that were included. They are to spend £290,000 on "CCG Relationship Management and Developing" which I think is really just a waste of money on the totally unnecessary top down reorganisation. Total waste when you consider that there are £17 million of cuts to find in the NHS. ("I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS" / "we are increasing spending on the NHS above inflation" - remember that Mr. Cameron?)

There may also be a new management structure put in place to help with the transition from PCTs to CCGs.

It was an interesting meeting, but difficult when there is no one there to explain things you don't know about, and this was my first encounter with a number of the issues that were discussed. It isn't helped by not being able to hear what was being said properly! But \I think there were a lot of good people there who knew thier stuff, so I think there should be good progress on the issues they raised. Recognising there is a problem is half the battle won.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Barnet Refugee Service

In between Olympic related madness yesterday, I went to the Barnet Refugee Service AGM at the Sangam Centre in Burnt Oak. Anne Hutton, Alison Moore and Barry Rawlings were there with me, as well as Sury Khatri and Mayor Brian Schama representing the Conservatives.

They do an excellent job thanks to a highly dedicated staff. ut like the rest of the charitable and public sector, cuts are seriously going to affect them. Their partners are running out of money and they are losing revenue streams. I hope people will visit their website and try to contribute to them.

Helping refugees is not the most fashionable thing to do these days, as migrants are targeted by the press, and any and all who come here are portrayed as scroungers. Well refugees really are people who need help and support. Help on a broad range of subjects, for whom  BRS provide a huge number of services. And for others who are not refugees, or migrated some time ago they provide an important link and focal point in peoples lives, as a service which has been trusted and delivered for many years.

Mayor Schama made the point that it's education education education which is the key to success for migrants, and he is an example of that. I agree, and it was good to see how big a role ESOL is at BRS. Speaking English is a huge economic benefit, and people will never be able to access services properly if there is a language barrier.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Finchley Fire Station

The Finchley Fire station on Long Lane was open to visitors today, and after visiting the Grange, Alison Moore and I decided to go. There were all sorts of emergency services there; St. Johns ambulance, the London Fire Brigade (naturally!) and others. There were demonstrations with dogs in rather fetching shoes, information and lots of displays of emergency service equipment and kits.

Barry Rawlings was there, as had Andrew Dismore, the Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden. Sadly we missed him, but I am sure anyone with an interest in the Fire Brigade must be delighted he won!

We had a good talk with the Borough Commander. I have had a bit of an issue with fire safety with the tower blocks on Prospect Ring, where I live, and have had some good help from Cllr Julie Johnson on the housing front. Julie is a West Hendon councillor who is our spokesperson or housing. I am trying to arrange for a visit to Prospect Ring for residents can talk to the professionals and allay concerns. More info on that in the future I hope.

I also visited the Long Lane Pastures, which are opposite the fire station. I can't believe anyone would want to build on it! I am glad the fight was won, and that such a beautiful space has been kept for the public. Despite the Tory image of a leafy borough, there aren't that many green spaces in certain (read Labour) parts. It's why we fight so hard for the Stanley Road Playing Fields, and against the private hire of parks.

I have never been to the pastures before, and only really knew about them after a resident asked on the campaign trail, and I confessed to not knowing much about it. I am not, by any means green fingered, but gardening is very popular in the Borough, and we are very good at it in East Finchley, so I ought to take more of an interest. Luckily Alison and Colin enjoy it and know what they're talking about.

Family day at the Grange

Alison and I were at the Family Fun Day on the Grange Estate in our ward. Barnet Homes organised an excellent event, which went down extremely well with residents. We've had real trouble in the past engaging with people on the estate, and I hope this is the start of a process which lets all the residents know that they are valued, and we take their concerns seriously. I know people occasionally have issues and bad experiences with Barnet Homes, but I've been very impressed by their work in my dealings with them. Also I think the staff work very hard and are committed people. The caretakers are also doing a good job, which is always a good sign on an estate.

The biggest concern people raised again and again was the Old Barn. It's why I was so angry at Robert Rams' answer at the council meeting last week. This is a big issue, and I would like to know that everyone from the cabinet member down is working on this. It's annoying for me that I can't tell concerned residents much good news. It's even worse for the residents, because they have to live with the consequences.

But all in all it was a good event, with lots of people, particularly children. Great weather helps as well!

Rally against One Barnet

I was doing the East Finchley surgery yesterday, so was unable to meet the BAPS march against One Barnet until past Tally Ho. Apart from having to march in a suit because of a later engagement, I enjoyed going on what is my second "demo". There were lots of good friends and familiar faces there- there were so many Labour councillors that we could have had a quorate group meeting! It underlies how much work the Labour party have done to campaign against One Barnet consistently for a number of years.

We were not allowed into Victoria Park, which was a joke. I said in a previous post about transparency that there should be a degree of common sense in working with groups which are critical of council policies. Antagonising critics only makes them stronger critics with another grievance.

There were a lot of speeches, John Sullivan, Helen Michael, Jeffrey Newman all spoke very well. Andrew Dismore spoke about how defeating Coleman has helped already change things for the London Fire Brigade. Barry Rawlings, who represents Friern Barnet Library in his Coppetts ward, spoke about how you can't commercialise capitalism, which I thought was a good line.

Rabbi Newman was very concise and to the point- he said we need to go into Tory held wards and tell people there that this is wrong. I wholeheartedly endorse those comments.

We then ajourned to Cafe Buzz, where Andreas decided to help Helen by serving behind the counter. He is a trained chef after all! there was live music and I think it was a good end to the morning.

I think we have really highlighted to Finchley residents what One Barnet is, and I hope the roadshow will move on to Hendon and Barnet.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Shakespeare at his best

I never liked Romeo and Juliet, and never found a joke in Twelfth Night. I do, hovever, like Shakespeare's histories. Now Shakespere was about as historically accurate as the Lord of the Rings, but he wrote it well. Best of all were Richard II, Henry IV Part I and II, and Henry V. The BBC have done an excellent production, which for a short time will be on iplayer. I reccommend watching.

Shakespeare also wrote about Edward III, Henry VI, Henry VIII and others. these are less well known, but are nonetheless interesting plays. Everyone knows Richard III, and is rightly celebrated, but John is also good one, if a lot less well known.

There are also Anthony & Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, as well as the Scottish Play, as actors call it. No not Ivanhoe you numpty, Macbeth. I think you could technically call thse histories, but Macbeth is practically entirely fiction.

I am a big history buff, and I am really getting into the Middle Ages, after reading good books on Edward I and on Edward III and Henry IV.

Inspecting Council Accounts

Lancashire County Council helpfully set out citizens statutory rights to inspect thier local authorities accounts here. From what I understand, three of Barnets bloggers have tried to inspect the accounts and they found that, along with an uncomfortable visit, that they couldn't properly do the job, as the accounts were redacted. The link clearly states that "As a local government constituent by law you have the right to inspect, question or challenge your council's accounts." I think it would be helpful if they were allowed to do it properly.

They were also unhappy about a visit to see the Auditor. I am not the biggest Eric Pickles fan, but he thinks there should be proper transparency of councils, and that armchair auditors should be welcomed. I agree. I can't see how it's unhelpful if people show you where you are not spending money wisely. It's about your attitude to it- do you welcome them as advisors with your best interest at heart, or as adversaries, who are out to embarras you? Well; sometimes the former turns into the latter, but if you start with the assumption of the latter, you can never have a helpful relationship.

I am limited in what I can say, so I will simply urge the council to work more effectively at engaging critics.

Cabinet Meeting

The Barnet bloggers have already written about last nights cabinet meeting, and as I was in the same position as they were, there is little I can add to what they said. I will comment on two points. I thought Barry Rawlings and Ansuya Sodha gave excellent performances on a section about community centres. Ansuya spoke up for one in Hendon, and said how well the different communities worked together, with one staff who caters for up to 250 people! She said how difficult many of our Asian residents found it to come here from Uganda and Kenya, not really speaking the language and forming these community groups to retain something of their culture and to keep in touch with friends.

Barry built on that by saying that it's comforting to elder generations to see foods and clothes that they are familiar with, and that diversity has an economic benefit. Also, these groups are hugely supportive of their members and the events get people out and about, rather than staying at home. I will post more on this later, as Alison Moore and I visited one of these centres earlier this week, and I have some comments to make on it.

Speaking of Alison, she spoke very well in defence of the Newstead Children's centre in East Finchley, an defended children's centre funding. I have always seen them as an investment in the future, and they will pay dividend for years to come as early intervention will save millions down the line. I was told by someone in the room that it was an excellent presentation, and I could not agree more. Alison has a lot of experience in children's services and it is one of her passions. I have to say though, that Andrew Harper said she was "scaremongering". I think that's a regrettable comment from Cllr Harper because during a visit to the Newstead, they explained to us what was happening to children's centres, and I think it is very worrying. We have a duty to let people know what is happening to their services, and if needs be campaign against it early (preferably before the decision is taken!)

I also find it interesting that Cllr Harper used the word scaremongering. I recall that before the 2010 elections, that is precisely what they accused Barry Rawlings of when he warned that Friern Barnet Library might close. I wonder how that turned out? I also think that if the Tories were in the same position, they would do the same thing, so I don't know what he is on about.

There was also an interesting debate on the future of Hendon Football Club. I don't know the background to it well, but I can tell you fair few people left the room with headaches after discussing it!

The highlight of the evening was Sachin Rajput talking about the Freemantle contract, and described 10 year contracts as inflexible. This caused a twitter because that's exactly one of the criticism of One Barnet.

Monday, 16 July 2012

More about G4S and One Barnet

The more the G4S Olympics scandal unfolds, the more it seems to resonate with One Barnet.

One of the criticims from APSE, the Association of Public Service Excellence, in their report into One Barnet is that you won't know that a contract is going wrong until it's too late, and that as part of the commissioning model, the contractor is responsible for monitoring, and it's against their commercial and public relations interest to publicise where things are going wrong. So what you end up with is failure that's unexpected, because you don't know how performance has really been. We already know that real scrutiny of the contract will be hampered because of commercial confidentiality meaning that we won't have access to all the information we might need in committees.

If I may, I would aslo like to say that APSE has had a lot of nonsense said about it being a "leftwing" organisation. That's rubbish. They work with over 300 local authorities of all political hues and denigrating their integrity is a sideshow to the issues they raise. And even if they were a leftwing organisation, would that make the criticism less valid? If you don't agree with them, respond to them. If you really believe in what you are doing, then speak up for it on it's own terms.

Update: Apologies on first publication it referred to "G4E" rather than G4S.

The Archer Academy

I don't think I have as yet written about the school places issues that we have in Barnet, especially in East Finchley. It was a big issue on the doorstep, and the EF team has been engaging with it. Alison Moore has been working with the Archer Academy, a group of parents who are trying to set up a free school in East Finchley. I am pleased to be able to write that after meeting with the DfE, they are a provisional yes.

I have met some of the parents, and I'm thoroughly impressed by their vision, their commitment and the hard work they've put in. I am  not surprised by the success of the bid, given that they have a seasoned pro like Helen Drake! But everyboy who has been involved should be very proud, and I congratulate them. Though I am not naturally a fan of free schools, and think there were some big problems in the legislation, this s somewhere it might work, and at the end of the day, my political dogma is less important than my local community.

I would just add some background, which is that many EF kids were able to go to schools like Fortismere, but that school is very popular now, and the catchment area is much smaller, which leaves EF with problems. As Christ College is a boys school, there are exascerbated problems with finding places for girls in particular. We do have one secondary school, Bishop Douglas, which is doing a heroic job with an impressive head teacher, but sadly has something like only 9 local children in this years year 7 intake. It isn't popular with local parents, and this is a big headache for those of us who want to support the school, and the practicalities on the ground.

With regards to primary school children, the outstanding rated Martin school will be expanded to fit 3 form entry. There may be planning considerations in the future, so I won't comment further. So progress is being made, and we three councillors try to support local parents as well as we can.

The future of the blog

I am pleased to report that I have hit 1,000 site visits in only 36 days of blogging, which I think is decent.

But after a month, I have decided to re-assess what I do here, and have come up with the following conclusions;

I started it to let people in East Finchley know what I and my ward colleagues were doing as ward councillors. I feel that the balance of the blog should be community related, but it's difficult when most of my work as a councillor is casework related, and therefore non publishable. But I will make more of an effort to keep up news from Efland.

In terms of my work in the Council chamber, I think I have been reporting these well, and my biggest hits relate to One Barnet, so I will continue to blog on this.

I will be a member of three main committees, East Planning, Health OSC and Budget and Performance OSC. I have been reporting my work on health, and will do on Budget, when it starts siting again fom October 15th. Planning is difficult. As a member of the committee, I can't state an opinion on any planning applications until they are heard, and I have decided not to write about anything on the planning committee deliberately, as refused applications often return.

Personal- I won't be writing more personal blogs about diets, the buffet at the Town Hall etc. The blog should be about East Finchley and Barnet, not me. Consequently there will be fewer updates like this. Though I have yet to rant about cricket, there might be a few.

National news- I have not written much about national news, and I may start to write more, if locally relevant, but we will see.

Writing style, content, post frequency etc- I must start to use the spell check! I aim to have about 7 or 8 posts a week. I think this works, but the aim should be to improve the quality of my writing, rather than increase the amount of it.

Comments- Thus far I have not allowed comments because I think it is wise to avoid people writing libellous comments, which would get me in trouble, or making accusations or writing things I might not like to see on a blog. I have provided my email address, and my contact details are publicly available, so if anyone wishes to raise something with me, they can. I simply don't have the time to moderate comments on the blog. I apologise for this but I can't see a way around it.

Interconnectedness. Yes I am making up big words. I try and tweet out the more important blogs and am now posing them to google + as well. I link to the Barnet Labour part website often. I will start to highlight the links, so that people can tell where they are, as that's not always possible on the white and black colour scheme.

So after some navel gazing, I think I have some ideas to improve the blog, let me know what you think.

Update 16/7/12 11:15pm: after some debate on twitter, I would like to clarify on the comments that everyone is entitled to thier views, but I really don't want to go through and moderate comments. I do encourage people to get in touch with me, and have moved my contact detail nearer to the top of the site. I also encourage people to discuss, but I would rather that I wasn't responsible for what they said.

Friday, 13 July 2012

G4S encapsulates the biggest failing in One Barnet

You might have heard about the G4S scandal (I don't read the Guardian anymore, but it's the only broadsheet/berliner I will link to). The security company have failed their contract with the Olympic games, and now 3,500 troops have been airlifted from Germany to provide menial security at the Games. I had always thought it was a fundamental principal that the armed forces should never be used to maintain law and order, but I suppose directing people to the velodrome isnt the start of millitary government.

What concerns me though, and why it's important to One Barnet, is that this is the sort of contractual failure that characterises One Barnet. But at least in this case, the British Army is left to pick up the pieces. Imagine if the outsourced planning department failed, like Bradford Education did. Who would clear it up? Well Barnet taxpayers financially, but can you really piece togerther a new planning department just like that? I don't think so. One Barnet removes our capacity to provide any in house services, or to bring them back- we won't have the expertise to run it because all the officrs will be gone.

What if this happened to adult social care services? or education? I suppose we wouldn't notice the difference if it was parking though...

It's not too late to reverse this, think again.

Diet progress

Day 1

Day 2

I don't think it's working.

After the Olympics

I am gladdened to hear that Tony Blair has been invited to advise the Labour Party on the Olympics legacy. In my usual long winded and whimsical way, I'll explain why. I was due to go to campaign in a by election in Oxford today, but couldn't be bothered, so I decided to enjoy myself with a day out in London. I thought it would be good fun to go to Greenwich.

Greeting me at the Cutty Sark DLR station was, you won't believe it, was the Cutty Sark, in all its not burnt out glory. so I visited it. They have done an excellent job, it looks amazing. Despite not being a warship, it was interesting. Then I decided to go and see this new cable car thingy bob for myself.

Like the British Airways sponsored London Eye, the Cable car is sponsored by Emirates, and as such is the "Emirates Airline" and, just like the London Eye, pretends that it's a "flight". Apart from this pointless gimmickry, it's actually quite an experience.

Why does this relate to Tony Blair? Well, we have the Olympics here because of him, rather than Paris, but actually I think he will have a lot to add about the legacy to East London after the games are finished. Whilst I liked the cable car, I can't help but think "what's the point"? It goes from the O2 centre to ExCel. Why? How many people actually need to make that journey? Probably not that many post 2012. It can survuve as a tourist attraction, but I just don't think that it's an integral part of the London transport infrastructure- it essentially unites the jubilee line with one branch of the DLR.

And what will become of the Olympic facilities? The stadium makes for a good home for the Hammers, but is an olympic sizes swimming pool going to be well used? It the velodrome? We don't want to pay for an expensive set of games, and have useless facilities that are left dormant at the end. I have been to Barcelona, and what they have left is a waste. The existing legacy planning has been very good- so the athletes accommodation will be housing (always needed in London) and as I said, some of the facilities will be used properly. Don't forget that some are used for other things like Lords, or are only temporary, like the horsey stuff in Greenwich.

But where Tony Blair will be useful is making sure that what's left really changes the face of East London, and that the facilities are of lasting use. For all the innuendo around the millenium about the Dome, it has been a big success, and is apparently one of the best music venues in Europe. His input should be about fining a place for the cable car, and keeping East London an attractive place to work and live, and not fall back after this expensive regeneration. This is what he's good at, and his contributions could make a real difference to people's lives in East London.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Arjun's been a naughty boy!

I have had communication from Mark Easton, the Chief Exec of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospital (BCFH) regarding my earlier criticims of the way he has approached the car parking issue at Barnet Hospital.

I have tried replying to Mr Easton's email TWICE but they keep bouncing back, and tried to phone his office, but couldnt get through. So sadly the only option for getting in touch is via this blog, which he said he finds interesting. Not well written, funny or thought provoking, but at least interesting. Like Steve Davis. :(

I don't think he liked it. He sent me a press release:

Wednesday 11th July 2012  

Land sales at Barnet Hospital

As part of our discussion with scrutiny committee on the BEH strategy, we were asked to provide details of potential future land sales.  We made it clear at the committee, that the BEH programme was not funded by land sales and we had no immediate proposals to dispose of land.  Before any land is disposed of, it would have to form part of a site development plan and be subject to planning processes. The NHS has well established procures for disposing of surplus land and the proceeds are reinvested into the NHS.
I notice that it didn't answer even the point I made about the sale of the land. I didn't say that the sale of land was to pay for the BEH programme, I said that the sale of land was to balance the books. I hope I am wrong, and am always happy to apologise and withdraw when I am so, unlike George Osborne.

I am also confused by the beginning, "As part of our discussion with scrutiny committee on the BEH strategy, we were asked to provide details of potential future land sales.  We made it clear at the committee, that the BEH programme was not funded by land sales and we had no immediate proposals to dispose of land. " Which scrutiny committee? Enfield's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee? I have to admit, I was out of the room to take a quick call for a small part of his answer session at the JHOSC on Monday so I can't be sure, plus I struggled to hear him, as I was sitting behind him. But as it turns out, I do know what he said about land sales. Notice that JHOSC was on Monday 9th, the Labour Group press release was Tuesday 10th (morning), his appearance at the Enfield HOSC was Tuesday evening, and his press release was Wednesday.

It might be the politician in me, but my eyebrows pricked up when I read "we had no immediate proposals to dispose of land". It's the word "had" that bothers me. I am not sure whether they still do not  plan to sell the land, or that they had no immediate plans at the time, but do now. I suspect it's pedantry on my part, but I would not be doing my job not to ask for clarification.

Also note that he didn't answer any of my other assertions, or correct anything else.

I also have a number of other questions which I would like answers to:
  • Why was the old workhouse knocked down?
  • Did the application for the rebuilding of the hospital contain that request?
  • What was the purpose of knocking it down, if not to make car parking spaces?
  • Can you tell me exactly how many extra car visits are expected to be made as a result of moving services over?
  • How much would converting the rubble site to parking have cost during the original redevelopment?
  • How much would it cost now, in comparison to a multi storey car park?
  • How much revenue would have been raised if it had been converted during the original redeveloping (in other words how much has been lost out on)?
Re-reading my previous blog entry, I was harsh on Mr Easton, but I don't feel bad about it. I am a public servant, representing my constituents, and it's my job to ask questions and report back to the public. I didn't become a Labour party member to pick a fight with anyone in the NHS! But I feel very strongly about the issue of parking at Barnet Hospital. Having had far too great an aquaintance with the hospital for the last 5 years, I know only too well what a nightmare parking there is in the day time. Getting it right is important, and as a representative for a ward with a significant parking problems, I have a great empathy with the local residents. I don't want to pick a fight or criticise, but I want answers.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Full Council

Last night was the full council meeting, and the liveliest I have ever seen. The public gallery was packed with very angry members of the public, who were furious about a number of things, and had come to see the debate on One Barnet and the petition on Parking.

I must credit the Mayor, Brian Schama, who chaired the meeting fairly well in the main. It's very tough to chair a meeting like that, and he didn't rebuke individual heckles, he just got on with the job, and intervened only when necessary.

I asked in the group meeting beforehand that we properly introduce Andreas, despite his unwillingness! I messed up my introduction, but we did Andrew Dismore's very well. I take full credit for Andreas' one! After the Mayor had entred and sat down, I brought Andreas into the Chamber and took him to his seat, with a huge cheer and standing ovation.

We started with tributes to Jack Cohen and Brian Salinger, who have both completed 26 years as councillors, and congratulations to Melvin Cohen and Agnes Slocombe, who have done 30. Well done to all four, they are all unique and valued colleagues.

Then we moved on to questions. Alex Brodkin asked a question to Tom Davey about housing, and Tom Davey said "You can't help people who don't want to be helped". OMG. I understand he has also said when newly elected that public sector workers should "get real jobs".

I had some questions, which I have detailed here.

Alison Moore had a question about fire safety in tower blocks, and she raised a comment that I had received, from a resident in a block next to mine, that an elderly lady had been advised that in the event of a fire she should throw a mattress out and jump. Tom Davey said it depended on which height you were at. In fairness to him, he did not know that the lady advised was elderly, or that it is physically impossible to do that, as the windows are too small and the balconies on Prospect Ring have netting. This can't be the correct advice anyway, and I have personally been heavily pushing for some clarity on this. I raised it with Barnet Homes during their site visit to Prospect Ring and the Grange with Alison, Colin and myself. I have also raised it with Cllr Julie Johnson, Labour's housing spokesperson, who has passed on my concerns separately to officers.

Then came the debates. The administration business item was on the Gove reforms. Alex Brodkin was absolutely brilliant. There were several recordings of the meeting from the public gallery, and If they are available, I well reccommend viewing Alex's amazing speech. The only other notable part was that during John Hart's contribution, he quoted Richard Crossman, who said "I am going to close down every F**king grammar school if it's the last thing I do!" I thought it was unfair, I got told off by saying "God" in my question, yet nothing happens to Cllr Hart for saying "F**K"!

Our business item was on One Barnet. Alison did an excellent speech, which pulled apart the arguments in favour of One Barnet, again, you must see the the speech if you can. The reaction from the public gallery was amazing, there was cheering, waving of banners, applauding and shouting! I told Alison (I sit next to her) that that was the best response to a speech I have ever seen! The crown reaction will stay with me forever.

During the break, I had some very nice sandwiches and eclairs. The catering services at the Town Hall are brilliant. I also liked the bagels with salmon and cheese.

Then there was a composite motion about the olympic games, with top speeches all round, from Brian Salinger, Alison, Susette Palmer and Brian Gordon. Most notable was our new colleague Andreas Ioannides' maiden speech, which was delivered flawlessly, and beautifully. He read out the Olympic anthem in Greek and English, and I was very impressed with what he said and how he said it. I think the sore feet and tiredness on the campaign trail was well worth it!

Helen Michael brought her petition on parking, which attracted 13,000 signatories. she spoke very well and powerfully, given what has happened to her recently. Poor Dean Cohen never really had a chance, and his speech showed that there is disarray in their approach to parking. I thought Alan Schniederman gave a good speech, with his usual humour.

That was the most important bit of the meeting, and it meandered off towards the end, points having been made, and the opportunity to see the Tories inaction in action.

One last thing is that as a result of Andreas' stunning victory in the Brunswick Park by election, we have been allocated two extra committee seats. I have taken one, at Budget Performance OSC (chaired by Brian Coleman) and Andreas has taken Liscensing (chaired by Andreas Tambourides, his ward collague) which has been in the news recently.

My written questions at council

Question 12 Councillor Arjun Mittra
What efforts is the Council making to improve the energy efficiency of Council offices, bearing in
mind that the council has missed its targets this year by some way, and the indicators show that the
situation is getting worse?
Answer by Councillor Daniel Thomas
Barnet Council has actively undertaken Energy and Water Conservation Management within its
operational estate and schools. The opportunity for undertaking improvements within the estate
can be restricted by landlord arrangements and the ability to achieve a satisfactory payback on
properties the Council does not own. The Council is also undertaking energy efficiency
improvements within the community with a major programme of improvement works to its street
lighting infrastructure to deliver both financial and environmental savings.
We have focused on operational areas but equally have been looking at the council offices
however with the increased energy usage reported for the Councils main offices was principally
influenced by additional weekend building usage at NLBP Building 4, the largest of the Council’s
offices. Proposals on appropriate changes to the building’s services to more efficiently facilitate out
of hours usage will be considered.

I asked in my supplementary for them to look at NLBP building 4 and the town hall, because it's embarrasing that visitors to the Town Hall see that both buildings have the worst energy efficiency ratings. Daniel Thomas said he would look into it. Fair enough.

Question 42 Councillor Arjun Mittra
Will the Council continue to press forward with efforts to reclaim the Old Barn for community use?
Answer by Councillor Robert Rams
Yes, the Council is pressing forward with efforts to ensure that this facility is open for community

I was absolutely livid with this answer. I said that there are severe problems on the Grange estate with youth, knife and gun crime, largely because the Old Barn is not accessible to the local community. When I ask you to continue to press forwards to reclaim the Old Barn, I want details. Cllr Rams merely said that it was inappropriate to say "for Gods sake" at the end. alright then, FFS. I don't criticise Councillors publicly, and won't in this instance, but I think it tells you all you need to know about Robert Rams.

Question 55 Councillor Arjun Mittra
Will the Council consider the drainage problems in Cherry Tree Woods, which have prevented
the East Finchley festival from going ahead this year.
Answer by Councillor Dean Cohen
Cherry Tree Woods is naturally the lowest point in this area of the Borough and the park i
the flood plain for excess water. During the current year greenspace officers are intending to
provide additional park ponds and wet scraping (seasonal pond) measures to enable the park to
cope better and to promote wild-life.
This year the particularly wet weather has meant that the Festival was not able to go ahead, this is
very unusual. Unfortunately this has been the case for a number of parks events, due to the
extreme weather conditions identified.
s naturally
I did not get a chance to ask a supplementary, but in the break, I told Cllr Cohen that the problem is that the drainage is blocked. He asked me to keep him informed, as we are working on this issues with others.

Question 58 Councillor Arjun Mittra
Does the Council support the Government's proposals for Gay marriage? If not, why not?
Answer by Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of the Councillor
People chose to live with whom they will. That choice can be legally codified by civil partnership or
marriage and the union marked by a ceremony and its dissolution by legal divorce. I do not have
any difficulty in civil partnership becoming marriage. However, it seems intolerant to compel any
religious organisation to conduct or bless a “marriage” when that is contrary to the faith of the
organisation and contrary to its definition of marriage. This would seem to me to be just the sort of
intolerance that made life so difficult for the Gay community in the past.

I did not get to ask the question, but I agree with what Richard said.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

One Barnet conference

Saturday saw the Barnet alliance for public services conference at the Cypriot Centre on Britannia Road.

It was an excellent event, with good explanations which described what the One Barnet in detail, and a hilarious presentation from John Dix, aka Mr. Reasonable. There were very uplifiting stories from Aberdeen and Edinburgh about how Unison have fought privatisation attempts there. The Q and A was good as well, clearly the interested people in the room understand wha tthe changes are completely, and why we have to stop them. This is useful because it helps the news can spread quickly to the rest of the community.

I read out the Labour business item to the council on tuesday, calling for a referrendum. The Tories are fond of referrendums, so lets see what happens...

I also made the point that the only way we will stop this monstrousity is by reaching out to voters in Conservative held wards and getting them to put pressure on their councillors.

I think that the more people know about it the less they like it, and we have to explain how it will affect people in their daily lives.

Health scrutiny can be fun!

Or not.

The Joint Overview & Scrutiny Committe (JOSC), which covers the health service in Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington, was very informative. I think I have an accurate picture of what is going on, but will happily correct anything inaccurate.

Mark Easton, the Chief Executive of Barent and Chase Farm Hospitals, turned up. I have waited some time to meet Mr. Easton, as an error meant that he was unavailable to turn up to the last Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC)  in Barnet. Never mind, perhaps the gentleman sitting next to me who said that transparency in BCFH was poor was wrong. I hate criticising individuals, especially officers who can't reply to public criticism, but you will see later my concerns with our relationship with Mr. Easton.

Alison Cornelius, chair of Barnet's HOSC, has been battling for some time to clear up confusion (ahem) about changes at Barnet Hospital. Essentially, the maternity and A & E at Chase farm is being moved to Barnet. Okay. 20,000 extra visitors to barnet Hospital, which as we know is already bursting at the seams for parking spaces, and you have to spend an interminable amount of time looking for parking there. We can deal with that though, human ingenuity et al. Apparently, according to Barnet hospital, they only need 21 extra places to cope with the move of, lets say it again, the entire maternity and A & E from Chase Farm. Ok.

But hold on, isn't expanding the hospital to cater to the enlarged maternity and A & E going to cost some parking spaces? Yes, 19 in fact, so the actual net requirement is for 40 spaces. They have identified 28, by allowing people to park on the cycle lane. How nice, if not inconsistent with their view that they could keep down staff car numbers by encouraging cycling and public transport.

Only 12 more to go.

Wait a second! Barnet Hospital? Didn't they knock down the old workhouse, which was locally listed, during the original rebuilding of the hospital to create extra car parking spaces? Yes they did, but sadly, the site has, literally, been a pile of rubble for about 7 years. That's 7 years of parking problems that could have been eased slightly if they had turne it into a car park, as they planned to. I wonder how much it would have cost back then, and how much revenue might have been raised, since they are pay parks. £200,000 a year maybe? £1.4 million potentially lost out. I don't think turning it into a car park back then would have cost £1.4 million, so in fact it would already be mking money for the hospital, and of course helping ease a problem.

But that is not really a solution anymore, they want to sell of the land to developers to help balance their books this year. Quelle horreur! Now they are looking into a multi story car park. Is that going to cost less than the workhouse site? Doubt it, but the question is going in.

Alison was very clever, and ambushed Mr. Easton by saying that she had surveyed the car parks and neighbouring roads, and found 135 Doctor's cars on one day and 150 on the second. So finding a suitable amount of parking spaces for staff would be a great help, as well as improving the quality of life for the hospital's neighbours.

And then I spoke an unnamed individual, who said that Enfield were already suffering serious problems registering  births, and were sending people to Barnet, which is going at full pelt itself. Now how is Barnet going to cope with registering 3,000 extra births a year? Not good planning, but let's see.

Mr. Easton then got into trouble with the committee chair, Cllr Martin Klute of Islington, who said that the news that Barnet and Chase farm were looking to rope the Royal Free into their bid for foundation trust should not come to a scrutiny committee via the press. Apparently the attempts to do this with the North Middlesex Hospital didn't wok out because of financial stringency rules, or something along those lines.

The rest of the committe was less interesting, if no less important. I was highly impressed by a presentation on integrated health care in Camden, and I commend the work there. I don't know the names of the individuals who gave the report, but I was very happy to see what they had done.

But you see my concerns with Barnet Hospital, and how we have not had sufficient co-operation, despite Alison's best efforts. There should have been proper consultation before the planning application to extend the hospital went in. Mr Easton said that their whole plan was only viable if planning permission is granted in August. Talk about holding a gun to your head. I felt that was a risable comment. I know that the members of the Planning and Environment committee are experienced, and, quite rightly, will only assess the application based on it's merits and planning considerations.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Meritage & Anne Owens day centres “likely to close”

Meritage & Anne Owens day centres “likely to close”

I am gobsmacked and absolutely furious with this news.

I know both centres well. The Meritage is right behind St. Mary's C of E High School in Hendon, where I attended from 11-16. It is an old building in need of repair, but serves the community extremely well.

I am furous though about the potential closure of Ann Owens. It is a brilliant centre which does a huge amount of work, very well indeed. Hugely popular and well attended, closing it would be a hammer blow to it's users. I have said before that each administration has a choice to make when it comes to cuts. This Tory administration picks on the old, the young, the poor and the vulnerable.

They cut the budget at the Newstead, they got rid of the advice service, hey aren't supporting the mencap juice bar and they are doing nothing on the Old Barn. You have to ask why are all these cuts happening to East Finchley? Might it have something to do with the overwhelming rejection of the Tory Party twice this year? I hope not, that would be vindictive.

I hope the council reconsiders these options.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Labour supports minutes silence for Munich Games victims

Labour supports minutes silence for Munich Games victims

The Barnet Labour Party are very supportive of attempts to mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich Games disaster. This was a very tragic event, and I think that it is propoer to ave a mark of respect to the victims.

Day care centres at risk under One Barnet

Day care centres at risk under One Barnet

My colleague, Cllr Barry Rawlings of Coppetts ward is concerned about the future of day centres.

In East Finchley is the much loved Ann Owens Centre, and I know the Meritage in Hendon well, having gone to school next door. This news comes on the back of eye watering cuts by the Tories to Surestart centres. The Newstead in East Finchley faces a 35% cut, which is completely unsustainable.

You can come along to the Cabinet meeting on 17th July at Hendon Town Hall from 7 PM to hear the debate.

With the closure of the welfare rights unit and the East Finchley advice service some years ago, it's clear that the Conservatives are punishing the old, the young, the poor and the vulnerable. They are not responsible for theeconomic situation that we are in, but they are paying the price.

Flyposting is wrong

With regard to the recent actions against Helen Michael, the proprietor of Cafe Buzz and a local resident, I just want to say that I think Flyposting is unacceptable.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Are you free this saturday?

A real community campaign isn't led by politicians. It's led by community groups and concerned individuals. If we are to stop the One Barnet monstrousity, everybody needs to be clued up about what it is, and what they can do to fight it. And not just people of the Left, trade unions and Labour Party; we need Conservatives and people on the political right to understand what is going on. There are sound reasons for people on the political right to be as worried about One barnet as we are.

Saturday 7th July provides an opportunity to get to grips with what the One Barnet outsourcing program is, what could happen and what the alternatives are. there will be a conference at the Cypriot Community Centre on Brittania Road in North Finchley. From 12 till 3 there will be a public conference with speakers like APSE's Andy Mudd, who has written a devastating report into what One Barnet could mean. There will be the oportunity to ask questions as well.

I will be going after surgery, and hope to see others there too.

I have been very surprised when talking to people how little the public seems to know about it. Unlike the parking campaign, this will hit people over a very long time, and won't be in front of their faces. This will be a much harder fight, but I think we are equipped for it. Events likek this are very important and a good turnout will show the council that we mean business, especially if there is cross party concern.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Armed Forces Day

I really enjoyed Armed Forces Day yesterday. I went to Hendon Town Hall, where there was a parade by members of the Army, local Cadets and veterans. They all did really well, and all of us were impressed with them. The Mayor, Cllr Brian Schama signed the Armed Forces Covenant. I absolutely support this, because it's right to properly support and thank those who keep us safe.

Ward Walk with Nick Walkley

On Friday, Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council and other officers and staff from the council did a walk in East Finchley to note down some of the issues and problems we are having.

The three local Councillors, Colin Rogers, Alison Moore and myself, decided to take them along a similar route that they went on last year, to keep the pressure up an a rather neglected part fo the ward. We started in Strawberry Vale, to raise some of the minor concerns that people had. We moved on to the underpass next to the North Circular, and the alleyway in front of the Big Yellow, to loot at the state of trees there and the amount of littering there is, plus to complain that TfL are not sweeping it properly.

We looked at the Tarling Road playground to complain about the state of it, and moved on the Brownswell Road, to note the illegal felling of trees there. We then moved on to Long Lane, to show the junction with Church Lane and the poor state of the pedestrian juntion and the trees.

We talked about the walksafe campaign along Church Lane, and them spoke to the Head Teacher and caretaker of Martins School to talk about Plane Tree Walk, an unadopted road that runs between the school and the field. It is an access route to the allotments at the back and we are concerned that about the safety aspect for the children crossing to the field.

We showed them the Fuel Land Allotments and the slippage at the front. The High Road pavement is being damaged, and the large trees at the front mean that it isn't wide enough, so once the slippage is fixed, the pavement will be widened.

We also noted the Bus stop in front of St. Pancras Court, which gets flodded under severe rain.

It was mainly a successful visit, and we hope that the issues we raised will be acted on in good time, and thank Mr. Walkley and the officers for coming along.

We want your views on Parking

Unlike Barnet's Tories, we listen.

We have produced a short survey for residents to fill in and let us know what they think about one of the biggest issues in the borough. Many residents and business owners raise it with me and tell me what a detrimental effect it has on their lives and businesses. It's a shame that with a new Cabinet member, that they still won't listen.

Drop private hire plans for ALL parks

Drop private hire plans for ALL parks

My Colleagues Cllr Andreas Ioannides of Brunswick Park, and colleagues in West Finchley and West Hendon are very worried about the issue of private hire of parks. It seems the direction of travel is right with regards to Victoria Park in West Finchley, but the stunningly beautiful Oak Hill Park and Hendon Park are not so lucky thus far. I understand that Oak Hill may see good news, but no word yet on Hendon Park.

Public parks were set up to be enjoyed by all the public, not just a few who could afford to. Not all of us have back gardens, and parks are the only free leisure areas that some kids have. We should be encouraging that, not sectioning them off.