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

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Don’t cut child care funding!

Don’t cut child care funding!

My colleague Cllr Ross Houston of West Finchley ward outlines our opposition to cuts to children's centres.
I was appaled to hear that the Newstead Surestart centre in East Finchley was facing an eye popping 35% cut in funding. Cuts have to be made, but where you make them and how is a statement of the council's priorities. They have targeted the young and the poor with the worst cuts.

Surestart centres are an investment in the future of our young. They support poor families and children with issues that it is best to try and deal with from an early age. The focus of Government expenditure over the last decade was to remove it from the higher education end (hence the introduction of tuition fees) to make the investment in early years, which improve life chances, and the probability of going to university in any case. That was a tough choice but the right one. The current government have decided to kneecap both ends, with their high tuition fee rises and then locally these cuts.

It is a shame that the council puts the most vulnerable, the poorest and the youngest in the firing line whenever asked to do so. They should think again at their approach, before it's too late.

But it's a question of priorities. In contrast, if you look at a Labour council like the newly elected one in Birmingham, the first item of their agenda was to pay a living wage to all employees. We want to protect the pow paid, the Tories do not.

Cherry Tree Woods

Cancelling the East Finchley Festival was a hard thing to do, especially as it was the first time in about 35 years that it had been cancelled. But the picture above, taken on the Sunday that the festival would have been, shows why we had to cancel it.
It had been almost a week since it had rained, yet there was still that level of surface water. the entire centre of the field was aquagmire, and it would have been worse with cars, vans, stalls and 10,000 people trampling over the field, bringing up more water to the surface. A few years ago, during a very wet day for it, some damage, costing several hundred pounds was done by cars in the field. The park is a community asset, and damaging it is well beyond what anyone involved would want to see, as well as unaffordable tot he festival. There is a £2,500 deosit paid, and returned if no damage is done, but if there is than it is taken out of the deposit. If the damage exceeds the deposit, then we would have had an unlimited liability. So I think we made the most prudent choice. It was a very tough call for all of us, especially Colin.

but there are wider problems with the woods that need to be addressed. There has been a severe drainage problem there for 15 years, and it drains very slowly after any sort of rain. I understand that there are underground streams below the field, but the biggest concern is that the drainage may be blocked. On friday the Chief Exec of Barnet Council, Nick Walkley will be doing a walkabout in East Finchley, and we will be raising the drainage with him, so I look forward to a response.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Another contracting problem

Mrs Angry has an interesting post about the failure of streetlight contracting.

My predecessor Andrew McNeil had a particular gipe a few years ago when a whole load of lamposts were relocated without much thought or consultation. Now we see that a law firm have been paid £75,000 to help write a contract, nd the ocuncil have to go back to them to get help because it was written badly.

These kind of basic errors in contracting will become a regular feature of One Barnet. In time, the entire council will be outsourced, and contracted out. Given the frequent contracting problems the council have had, you shudder to think what could go wrong on a £1 billion deal. If this is the future, it ain't pretty. I can't imagine what would happen if there are problems with the management of social care, planning and legal advice. it would be humiliating for the council, and give us a bad reputation as an easy touch for companies with less scruples.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Why Housing Benefit is vital

I hear that the Government plans on cutting housing benefit for under 25 year olds. I believe that this is a mistake and I urge them to think again. There are a lot of misconceptions that need to be challenged, so here I am to make a start.

Housing benefit is much maligned, and the Government have already put in place an unnecessary cap. There is much anger and misunderstanding about the allocation of housing, and what housing benefit really is. A few weeks ago the Sun fulminated about a Somali family getting a multimillion pound house to stay in. It is sensible and humane that empty houses should be filled, and if a large family are given a large house for a short period this should be welcomed. They are not getting the house for free, these measures are always temporary, and it gives them an opportunity to live somewhere decent, and mix with a different sort of community for a short time. It's also a very small number of houses that get allocated that way.

People often complain that immigrants jump to the front of the housing queue, or that the undeserving get it first. This is also inaccurate. It is always on the basis of need. The real problem is not the allocation, but the supply; there simply isn't enough housing to go around. People always claim knowledge of some undeserving allocation, but rarely do we know the full picture. There are of course always fraud and incorrect decisions, but in my experience, most of those asking for housing and housing benefit really do need it.

The benefit cap is wrong because it will not cover rents in the wealthiest parts of he country. Why, you might ask, should we subsidise people to live in wealthy parts of the country? Well it's about saying that we need cleaners, teachers, nurses, waiters and bus drivers to provide the services that we all use, and that we should live side by side with them to have a diverse community. Diverse communities are oftem the most successful, and policy should try to reflect that.

One of the reasons I think Boris Johnson is unfit for public office is because he appointed Stephen Greenhalgh to be his deputy mayor for policing. Mr Greenhalgh has already made a bad impression because of his hubristic and pompous arrogance in telling Bernard Hogan-Howe not to bother attending a question and answer session with the GLA's scrutiny committee. Mr Greenhalgh is the gentleman who is responsible for trying to cleanse Hammersmith and Fulham Council of estates and poor voters, in order to gerrymander the borough into a safer Tory one. The Tories policy is to ghettoise London by dumping all the poor into east London, which will produce a small number of super-safe Labour seats, with a larger number of Tory leaning wealthier seats.

But to the point of this post, which is the cuts to housing benefit for the under 25s. This Government, despite being propped up by a party which thrived on getting votes from young people, is destroying the hopes and aspirations of the nation's youth. It scrapped the EMA, cut the education budget, scrapped the New Deal, closes surestart centres, closes youth centres, reduces youth services and trebled tuition fees.

Stopping young people from getting support in the most expensive thing in this country, accommodation, which is also one of the most important, is anti aspirational. it isn't about helping the young with their future, it is punishing them through austerity for a mistake they didn't make. A common complaint is of the 16 year old who has a child, and gets a new house or whatever, but I would love to see the stats for that. I wonder how much of the total it is. As a Councillor, and before that a Labour activist, I have called upon many a council flat, and it's actually very rare. By the way, I have done this all over the country, and I still find it uncommon. My experience is anecdotal, but I wonder if you were able to sit in judgement on all cases what you might think about them.

The reality is that housing benefit is a lifeline to poorer people, and facilitates the kind of society we want to see, one of a community of rich and poor side by side. Vilifying millions of people who are only trying to get help covering accommodation costs is toxic and divisive from a Government that used to say that we were all in this together. Now it's a tax cut for the rich and less tax on profit, more hardship for those who did not cause the recession. This is not a fair Government, they don't have their priorities right and they are not governing in the interest of those who really need them.

It's easy to get into the frame of mind as a Labour supporter to oppose every cut, and support every bit of expenditure, even the indefensible. I have not done that. I do not support fraud, or those milking the system and the public of their hard earned money. But I do believe in investing in this country's young, and getting the best out of them. I also, perhaps optimistically, believe that the majority of the poor and those who ask for or receive help are not scroungers. The welfare state should be empowering people to attain that which they could not alone.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Road safety in Barnet

On Friday, my newest colleague, Cllr Andreas Ioannides and Alison Moore, who is leader of the Labour Group on the Council, went through responses sent from residents in the Brunswick Park ward for a survey. The survey was about proposals to create pedestrian crossing places, at the expense of parking spaces, on Russell Lane. I won't pre-announce the results of the survey, you will have to wait for that! But I can say that they were clear, and we have had an exceptional response rate.

It can be very difficult to get pedestrian safety right, and the number and location of crossings are very important, especially if they involve the loss of up to 20 parking spaces on an already struggling shopping parade. But Andreas came to the issue with an open mind, and is listening to residents. I knew that he would be a hard worker, and that he is so successfully up and running shows how talented and dedicated he is.

It's interesting that we are having this consultation at all, as the Tory administration have already declared a u-turn on their proposal to review all crossings with a view to removing them. This would have been a costly waste of time. It was also, frankly, a little disingenuous that they were promising to work with the Walksafe N2 campaign while carrying out this review. We have already manage to get them to reinstall the railings outside Martin School, which they took away during the pavement works and did not want to replace. We were also annoyed that they promised to review pedestrian safety near the school, but then immediately dismissed our request for a 20 mph zone on Church Lane. They did this on the basis that it wasn't "policy", despite there being other 20 mph zones in the borough.

I hope Andreas does not have the same sort of problems on this that we have, and that the Tories have learnt some humility and will listen to what the public say.


I went to support the third place first conference in Reading today. Part of my visit was to see my old friends from Reading, where I was an organiser until my own election on April 11th. They did spectacularly well, ekeing out a firther 9% swing against the liberal democrats, on top of the 11% they got last year. It was good to see Cllr Rose Williams and my old friend and boss Cllr Matt Rodda, both of Katesgrove ward on Reading Borough Council. It was the first time I have seen Rose since we were both elected, and I can see that she is settling down well in her new ward.

But the bigger aim was to support the Progress think tank. I am hugely annoyed, as a recently joined trade unionist, that Unison and the GMB have launched a needless assault on an organisation which holds such important events as the one I attended today. Apart from the criticisms being baseless, or frankly silly, they take away from the task of fighting those in front of us, the Government. I cant think of any other organisations which are trying to help win seats that we are third in. I can't think of an organisation in the Labour Party which reaches out so well to the voters we have lost.

And we had a good day. It was good to meet so many people from the likes of Rushmoor, Hemel Hempsted and Cornwall, and I hope they picked up some useful tips to have success for the Labour Party. That's what Progress does best. I hope that the unnecessary and time consuming spat rolls over, and that sanity prevails. The Labour Party is a very broad church, and it simply does not do to scapegoat a loyal and decicated section of it. Especially when it has contributed so much in the past to us winning, and is doing so again. You cannot question the loyalty of an organisation that urges people to vote for Ken Livingstone!

Returning to the substance of the event, I did not agree with all that was said or complained about, but much was said by Caroline Flint, Harriet Harman and Ian McNicol that I wholeheartedly welcome. Their assurtances about listening to local parties, not taking members for granted, not abandoning local councillors and parties when we start to win.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Another top down reorganisation

Mr. Gove's proposed reforms are confirmation of everything that is bad about him. He is a reactionary dinosaur, who only wants children to study subjects that he found interesting like Latin and Chemistry. They are both interesting subjects, but to subject children to regurgitating declensions and memorising the periodic table are not what real education is about.

Real education is about equipping tomorrow’s workforce with the tools to give them the best chance of successful in life. That means teaching kids how to assess. Teaching kids how to understand complex ideas and subjects, or even more importantly how to get into position to understand them. It isn’t about knowing that King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York got married on 18th January 1486. It's about understanding why there needed to be a union between the houses of York and Lancaster. It's about being able to map out the reasons why the wars of the roses happened at all. Seeing it from different points of view, and understanding why different people made the choices they made. Asking how that is relevant to the world today. That is real education.

Mr. Gove just wants children to be able to recite facts, not to be taught how to understand things, which in itself is such an important skill. As a governor at an outstanding school, I believe that it is value added which counts. Our school is exceptional because it gets the best out of the kids who go there. It offers courses that the kids want to do because they are interested in them and because they want to pursue them as careers. The school is brilliant at getting the best out of its children by telling them how well they are doing and how they are progressing. The attitude is entirely focused on what we can do to help the pupil progress.

Under Mr. Gove's plans, schools like ours will no longer be valued by what they provide, because the exams will be about "tough" questions and regurgitating facts. The emphasis will change from looking at the progress the school has achieved to the final outcome. That punishes schools like ours, with high SEN, EFL and poorer backgrounds pupils. They will always suffer in comparison with getting the final grade. What you will see is that schools which focus on the processes and progress will get penalised, and because the most important thing will be final grades, they will slip back. All the hard fought progress will be lost.

The clamour for "tough" exams is coming from those who don't understand or care about getting the most out of people. They are harping for a "classical" education which is about knowing things which are no doubt interesting, but will be irrelevant to the future life of the learners. Interesting that it is that King Henry V was the first post Norman invasion King of England who spoke English as his first language, it isn't vital to know that. If you want people to know that sort of thing then go to a pub quiz. I don't see why tomorrow’s apple store genius needs to know that. It isn't going to help him, outside of me being his only customer.

Update (12.22 21/6/12): Having read more commentaty, I have something further to add. Mr. Gove attacks schools which offer pupils the chance to take modules early, and retake them if they fail. He wants there to be a two year run up to final exams. That is a test of memory, not a test of intelligence. I think it is better to constantly offer pupils the opportunity to improve their results, rather than offer them a highly stressful test, which is make or break. Ruin your life if you have hayfever in June, because you only have one shot on one day.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Anna Hazare

I have heard that the Labour Party have invited Anna Hazare to visit Parliament.

This is very exciting, and I hope to meet him whilst he is here. Hazare is an anti corruption campaigner and his work is reinvigorating Indian democracy. He isn't well known in the UK, and it is a shame that the BBC rarely reports news from India, but his movement is one to watch.

In addition, though I take very little interest in Indian politics anymore, Mamata Banerjee's intervention in the Presidential race is interesting. I have always admired and respected Abdul Kalam, and thought he was a great President, with a well defined and articulate vision. I was disappointed that he didn't get re-nominated last time, but having their first woman President was a great achievement. My friends used to joke that the President of India was a real life rocket scientist, while America had George Bush!

So there will be either a Bengali President, or the best one ever gets another shot. It's a choice I like!

Being British I am not partisan when it comes to Indian politics, except when it comes to Mamata Banerjee. I think she is brilliant.

East Finchley Festival

Just thought I would confirm the sad news that the festival in Cherry Tree Woods will not be going on this year. This is the first cancellation in 35 years, but it was impossible to go o with it wen the grounds are in such a bad state. They were still completely waterlogged on Friday, with the field being practically a lake. we felt that it would take a solid fortnight to dry out, with no rain and a lot of heat. While the weather has been kind to us since then, we still don't feel it will be dry enough on Saturday. A few years ago, when it rained on the day, the damage done by cars cost the festival several hundred pounds, and further damage is unaffordable. We know that the field drains poorly, and there just isn't enough time left. I know a huge amount of work went in to organising it, and I feel sorry for the wasted efforts and the disappointment, but the right decision was made.

We will be back next year though, bigger and better than ever!

Support Friern Barnet Library

Please sign the petition to re-open Friern Barnet Library.

The Conservative council were sent a clear message on May 3rd by voters. They diddn't listen. Then voters in Bruswick Park made the call deafening on May 31st, yet still they do not listen.

I know a lot of people are skeptical about what a petition can do, but the council need to know how important this is to people.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

One Barnet Unison meeting

This evening I attended a meeting organised by the Trade Union that I recently joined, Unison, about the One Barnet program. I attended a similar meeting a few weeks ago on the same subject, but this was open to all councillors, and to their enormous credit, a couple of Conservative councillors came as well.

The One Barnet scheme is a program that will see 70% of council services privatised. The aims are to make Barnet a "commissioning" council, whereby services are delivered by external companies, like Capita and BT. And not just things like street cleaning, but whole departments like Education. If that isn't frightening enough, the way that these contracts will be tendered are a farce.

They could be up to 10 years long, with severe penalties for what seems like practically anything. These massive contracts will be negotiated by our lawyers (shared with Harrow) who on Tuesday didn't even know that planning meetings couldn't go past 10.30, against the mighty legions of well paid contract lawyers of the likes of Capita and BT.

Then comes the service delivery. We were treated to some shocking examples of where these contracts had gone wrong. Firms like Connaught going bust and leaving councils with no replacement for important services (can you imagine if the providers of childcare services went bust?). Or examples like Bradford Education, who kept missing their targets, and the council kept shelling out more money to retain the contract. Examples where the companies had cut costs to make more profit, making services worse. One of the most worrying was from Liverpool, who overpaid on a contract by millions of pounds a year, because the monitoring was faulty.

And that leads me on to the next point. The council will struggle to scrutinise performance because the collection of data and management of information will be devolved down to the companies that deliver them. It's sort of like a patient going to a doctor and the doctor asking the patient to examine themselves. How can we performance manage? The council will be left as a shell- only employees being those who report back to councillors what is going on. Everything, from who commissions the contracts for everything else down is outside the council.

Where is the accountability? How do councillors represent constituents to private companies? How will we get better service delivery from companies who need to maximise profit (which is their legal duty), the easiest way of which is to not deliver the full range of services. How do we know when it is going wrong? How do we discard a contract that isn't working if the clients have such legal prowess arrayed against the council?

What is more is that Barnet do not have a good record when it comes to these kind of contracting. Just look at MetPro. And what is worst about this commissioning is that if there is market failure, then it will be impossible to bring these services back into the council. We will have lost the expertise, just as what happened with Bradford Education. Barnet wants to be another Westminster, Wandsworth and Hammersmith but those councils, however much I dislike their brand of service delivery, are far better than Barnet at doing this. They have even brought services back after contracting out if they don't work. They maintain control of the services they want control over, Barnet are giving those away.

Power transfers during the signing of a contract. Before the contract is signed, the council has the power and the provider has to make their promises and say they will deliver. As soon as the contract is signed that power goes to the provider, because it is then impossible to bring those services back, and they are negotiating from a position of strength.

This is a huge worry, with many other worries to come. I hope people are waking up to how horrendous these plans are, and I hope the council will scrap them.

Update: Spell checks and minor changes to improve readability and clarity (12.27)

Barnet Homes walkabout in East Finchley

Today Colin Rogers, Alison Moore and myself have a walkabout with senior managers from Barnet Homes to talk about issues on the Grange Estate and Prospect Ring. We caught a number of small things that need doing and expressed to them the problems that the estates have been having recently.

The community centre at the Grange is to be turned into a nursery, which is good news because it will mean some rennovation for the derelict building, and hopefully the removal of the Jurassic Park style fences surrounding it, as well as maintenance of the greens nearby. On the whole, the caretakers of the Grange to an excellent job and the estate looked in relatively good condition overall, so we were pleased with the progress that is going on there. As I understand it, there is a DJ competition on thursday evenings, so work is going on to engage young people. Barnet Hones are not responsible for the Old Barn, but they understnad that a number of problems that we have on the Grange, and Strawberry Vale, stem for the lack of access to the Old Barn.

Then we moved on to Prospect Ring (where I live) through the walks, and we spent some time at the Market Place playground. I explained to them that the playground is being used to play football, when the Stanley Road Playing Fields is just round the corner. playing football in the playground is damaging the equipment. there is a very small enclosed green next to the playground, but it can be intimidating for these small children to play football there, whilst ebing watched by older teenagers who sit at the benches nearby.

On Prospect Ring, we showed them the decaying state of the central green, and th eproblem with the lack of parking places for local residents because of commuters who park there (we are very close to the station). The officers are also keen to remove the "no ball game" signs, which is a very positive move.

The caretaker, Oscar, happened to chance by and was extremely helpful in letting the officers know about some of the problems here. he is also a resident of Prospect Ring, and knows the place better than anyone else. We told the officers about the fire incident on block 13-56 with fire, which was so alarming to residents, and the problems with people smoking in the stairwells.

All in all it was an extremely successful visit. Barnet Homes were very keen to listen to us, took a keen interest and care about the problems we are having. The local councillors have done our job of reporting the problems, and I think Barnet Homes will respond well. On their visit last year they solved a number of problems, and they are working very hard to engage with all sectors of the communities, I commend them!

I hope they will deliver real action to tackey the problems that we raised, but I feel very positive about today. I felt proud to be a councillor, and I hope this shows we are making a difference. Alison, Colin and I work well as a team and I think today was us at our best.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tories refuse public scrutiny of parking review

Tories refuse public scrutiny of parking review

Also from Barnet Labour Party.

Parking is a huge issue in East Finchley, traders and residents are suffering badly, and the Council must review their parking scheme as soon as possible.

‘Pinkham Way’ Inquiry suspended

Breaking News: ‘Pinkham Way’ Inquiry suspended

From the Barnet Labour Party.

Very welcome news. For the last year I have been supporting Barry Rawlings and Pauline Coakley-Webb in their campaign in Coppetts ward (where I was born and went to primary school) against this monstrous proposal. It was clearly an important issue there, as we saw in the elections on 3rd May. As I understand it, if the councils involved simply met their recycling targets, there would be no need for it. It is also not well located. all the refuse has to come on the road via an already congested area. The railway link can't be made, and it isnt near any waterway.

The inquiry was suspended because the councils involved did not submit information that they were required to. I suspect this does not mean it is the end of the matter, but does provide for some breathing space. The Labour councillors and activists in the ward deserve a lot of credit, as do the community campaign of course.

Recent election results

I have had some requests (mainly (entirely) from Labour supporters) to put up the recent election results, or the "Barnet Spring" as it is now universally called.

East Finchley ward by election - LAB HOLD

Jane Gibson (Liberal Democrat) - 461 (14.7%, -6%)
Anshul Gupta (Conservative) - 543 (17.4%, -10%)
Arjun Mittra (Labour) - 2,117 (67.8%, +24.5%)

Total votes - 3,121, 28% turnout

Majority - 1,574, 50.4%

Swing 17.2% from Con to Lab

Barnet and Camden GLA seat - Lab Gain from Con

Brian Coleman (Incumbent) (Conservative) - 53,378 (31.9%, -9.2%)
Michael Corby (UKIP) - 7,331 (4.4%, +2.3%)
Andrew Dismore (Labour) - 74,677 (44.7%, +14.7%)
AM Poppy (Green) - 17,904 (10.7% +1.2%)
Chris Richards (Liberal Democrat) - 13,800 (8.3%, +4.3%)

Total votes - 167,090, 38% turnout

Majority - 21,299, 12.8%

Swing 12% from Con to Lab

Brunswick Park ward by elecion - Lab Gain from Con

Andreas Ioannides (Labour) - 1,769 (51%, +23.1%)
Yahiya Kiingi (Liberal Democrat) - 97 (2.8%, -12.1%)
Shaheen Mahmood (Conservative) - 1,598 (46.1%, -4.4%)

Total votes, 3,464, 28% turnout

Majority - 171, 4.9%

Swing 13.7% from Con to Lab

If you dont recognise the swing figures in the by elections, there are numerous methods to work out the previous result in 2010, when three candidates stood for each party. I have taken the votes in order of which councillor the by election replaces, so in East Finchley, Andrew McNeil was second of the three councillors, and the other candidates I worked percentages for were those who came second for their parties in 2010. The same applies for Brunswick Park.

20 mph zones

A guest post from Cllr Kath McGuirk, Labour councillor for West Finchley.

Kath clears up some confusion about 20 mph zones. In East Finchley, the request relates to Church Lane, as part of the Walksafe N2 campaign. There are other requests, and actual zones in the borough.

Home Zones, 20mph Zones and Limits

Regulatory Framework

The current road traffic regulations make possible two different means of implementing 20mph speed limits:

20mph speed limits alone, indicated simply by terminal (i.e. entry and exit) signs to Diagram 670, plus repeater signs. It is recommended that these are only established where 85th percentile speeds are already below 24mph; or 20mph Zones, using terminal signs with area names to Diagram 674 together with regular traffic calming measures to provide a self-enforcing scheme.

In 20mph zones, there is no need for any repeater signs, and there is no need to sign individual calming measures. Within a 20mph zone no point in the road can be more than 50m from a traffic calming feature (Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002), except on a cul–de–sac less than 80 metres in length.

Since 1999, there is no longer a need for local traffic authorities to gain consent from the Secretary of State (in England), the National Assembly for Wales or Scottish Ministers, in order to implement a 20mph speed limit or Zone.

Additionally, in Scotland, the Scottish Executive has issued advice to local authorities on advisory 20mph speed limits, following the publication in 2001 of research on pilot low cost 20mph speed limits in residential areas.

Signing and Marking Requirements

It is important to note that, as the law presently stands, where a Home Zone is not situated within a 20mph zone, traffic calming measures will need to be signed and marked in accordance with Regulation 6 of the Highway (Road Humps) Regulations 1999 and Regulation 8 of the Highway (Traffic Calming) Regulations 1999.

Where the Home Zone is contained within a 20mph zone, the legal requirement to sign traffic calming features in the Home Zone is removed.

Putting a home zone within a 20mph zone means that traffic is already travelling more slowly when it enters the home zone. It also gets over the problem of sign clutter as it is not then necessary to sign and light all features in the home zone.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Concerns on the Grange Estate

I went to the Alexandra pub yesterday to catch the end of the England match, and as I was leaving some of the pubs partons recognised me, and I spoke to them for about half an hour. It was a good conversation, and it hammered home to me the problems that have been raised to me by other Grange residents for the last few months.

The biggest complaint was that there is little to do for younger people. The Old Barn is out of use (ahem) and the small centre on the grange has large metal fences around it, and seems to be falling apart. The lack of engagement and activities for young people was the reason why there are so many problems with youth crime, anti social behaviour and, as they claimed, gun and knife carrying.

The residents also felt that priorities were wrong, and that we should be looking to preserve funding for areas with the greatest need of intervention and support. They were staggered at the suggestion that the Newstead surestart centre might lose a third of it's funding.

I entirely agree.

My colleagues and I have arranged a site visit to the Grange, so that we can show housing officers the problems there first hand. Work is also being done to restore the Old Barn to community use as well. The problem is that work is progressing slowly, and the slow progress is making things worse. I hope the visit will show just how urgent the need is to engage with residents, particulaly young people.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


I fear I can profess no talent as a gardener but at least Colin Rogers seems to know what different trees are called, and Alison Moore is very fond of her plants. Today we visited 20 and 22 Trinity Road, who were taking part in the London Gardens Scheme. Their gardens were open to the public, who's admission fees go to support several charities. Both gardens on Trinity Road were beautiful examples of cottage gardens, and it is amazing what you can fit into a small space. Barnet has some very fine gardeners, and one of the pleasant things about suburbs is the abundance of well tendered gardens.

On 15th July, 79 Church Lane will be doing a similar event as today. I regret to say I diddn't have time to see that garden today but I hope to see it in July.

Empty shops on high road

If anyone wanted to see the impact of the new parking policies on our high streets, here is a picture of my colleague Colin Rogers on East Finchley High Road, in front of a section of three shops which have closed.

There are about six in East Finchley, and I understand 14 in North Finchley. During a time of recession, we need to support local businesses. It is noticeable that the High Road is empty at midday on weekdays, which should be a busy time with shoppers.

The East Finchley team

It was a huge honour to be elected to represent East Finchley, because I have lived there since I was a child, and nowhere else has ever really been "home". I remember walking down the High Road on April 12th, thinking "oh my God I represent all this!"
And in the few months I have been a Councillor, I have seen first hand all the hard work that my colleagues do, and all the issues that are important to people. Parking, school places, road safety, anti-social behaviour and the state of playing fields are the biggest issues that I confront.

But I count myself very lucky to have two excellent colleagues, Alison Moore and Colin Rogers. Everytime I canvass, people always tell me how much they like Alison, and often they have a personal story of how she has helped them. She is a repositry of knowledge and experience and there are countless mistakes I might have made had it not been for her help. Add to that she is the hardest working person I have ever met!

Colin is also excellent to work with. He has a great working knowldge of every part of the ward, and I have always found this useful when I get complaints. He is a passionate advocate for the environment and I have seen the Herculean efforts he puts in for Finchley Charities and the East Finchley Festival. He also has a top sense of humour, which manifests itself best at council meetings.

In addition to Alison and Colin, there are many others who I owe a debt of gratitude to.

I would also like to put on record my best wishes to my predecessor, Andrew McNeil. Andrew was an excellent councillor, and I agree with the many people who tell me that I have big shoes to fill. Back in 2006, Andrew trained me as an advisor at the old East Finchley Advice Service (before the Tories closed it) and I have a bit of a headstart in dealing with casework because of it. Andrew is moving to Northern Ireland to be nearer to his family and I hope he, his wife Cordelia, and dog Libby, have the time of their lives there.

It's time to start blogging!

I set this up a while ago, and my apologies for taking so long to post something.

During my election campaign, I realised that there is very little direct information about the work of councillors, and I hope that my blog will show some of the things I work on. I hope people will be kind and bear with me as I start out, I know that I won't be the perfect blogger, but I will try my best.