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

Friday, 31 August 2012

One Barnet Council motion

This is our motion to council:

Opposition Business Item in the name of Cllr Alison Moore

We need a Better Barnet, not ‘One Barnet’
Council believes this Conservative administration is failing their stated ‘One Barnet’ aim “to become a citizen centred organisation”.
The three guiding ‘One Barnet’ delivery principles are not being met.
· The council has not forged a positive ‘new relationship with citizens’ – residents have been shut out of the democratic process having never been formally consulted on the ‘One Barnet’ programme proposals;
· There is no ‘one public sector approach’ – Barnet are going it alone;
· The ‘relentless drive for efficiency’ is nothing more than a £1 billion gamble of critical council services with no proper risk assessments, no public sector comparator undertaken to ensure genuine value for money, and millions of pounds wasted on consultants and poor procurement practices.
Council believes that in order to try and create a Better Barnet the following needs to be done:
· Public faith must be restored in the democratic process:
  • LB Barnet should hold a public referendum on the ‘One Barnet’£1 billion gamble
  • Consultation practice with local residents needs to be completely re-vamped to stop the ‘tick-box’ culture that has emerged. A proper community engagement programme must be developed and implemented for ‘One Barnet’
  • The One Barnet Overview & Scrutiny Committee should be re-instituted to scrutinise ‘One Barnet’ proposals and monitor implementation
· LB Barnet should be proactive in supporting the local economy, local jobs and valuing local expertise:
  • LB Barnet should have in place an active economic development plan that is mindful of the local economic footprint
  • LB Barnet should introduce proper consultation with traders on reviving our struggling town centres; we need to listen to their views and implement a genuine recovery plan including looking at enterprise zones, and working with secondary schools and colleges on apprenticeships and local paid internships
  • The NSCSO contract should include a commitment to keep jobs in Barnet – in the event that this outsourcing goes ahead
· LB Barnet should properly assess and minimise the risk of service failure and financial loss of ‘One Barnet’:
  • The external auditor should urgently investigate ongoing poor contracting practice at LB Barnet before it enters into any further contracts above the EU threshold
  • Equality Impact Assessments for local residents should be undertaken for the two ‘One Barnet’ contract outsourcings prior to any contracts being signed
  • For the services in scope in the DRS bundle, a full list of operational risks on a service by service area basis should be published indicating the likelihood and severity of each risk, and the details of how the council intends to minimise the likelihood and mitigate the impact of each
· The ‘thin client commissioning model’ of delivering council services where all the commissioning and contract monitoring is undertaken by a third party should be abandoned – even the Conservative LGA Chair, Sir Merrick Cockell does not believe in it
  • LB Barnet should invest a little of the millions of pounds being wasted on consultants to undertake a proper public sector comparator for council services currently in scope for outsourcing - a genuine programme of service reviews comparing the potential for in-house improvement against outsourced solutions, to ensure value for money is achieved.
  • LB Barnet should resurrect a real one public sector approach through meaningful liaison with public sector partners, and more use of shared services with them and other local authorities
  • LB Barnet should investigate how much scope there is for using the new General Power of Competence to increase the council’s trading opportunities – the council’s valuable income streams should be used to re-invest in providing quality local services to local people, they should not be handed over to private for-profit companies
  • A Scrutiny panel should be set up to investigate the possibility of delivering services through mutuals, co-operatives and co-production
Council asks Cabinet to halt the current ‘One Barnet’ process while all this is undertaken.

We're going on the offensive against One Barnet!

Barnet’s Labour Group of Councillors has called a Full Council debate on developing a different approach to the Council’s unpopular ‘One Barnet’ service transformation programme.

Key themes of the Opposition Policy Item include:

· Restoring public faith in the democratic process
- There has been no consultation of local people on ‘One Barnet’ despite the risks involved, and the fact that it is a fundamental change in the way local services are delivered. Labour would have a proper community engagement plan in place.
- There is confusion over whether it is officers taking decisions or members – this needs to stop, and there needs to be proper member oversight and monitoring of the programme through a dedicated scrutiny committee. Labour would re-instate the dedicated One Barnet Scrutiny Committee.

· Keeping jobs local and supporting the local economy
-‘One Barnet’ plans to allow local jobs to be re-located out of the Borough, and so far the Conservative administration has refused to require contractors to keep jobs and services in Barnet. Labour believes this should be a requirement.
- Local Traders have felt left out of discussions around skills, enterprise zones and apprenticeships. Labour would work in partnership with local traders and businesses when developing their local economic development plan.

· Assessing and minimising service transformation risk properly
- Council procurement practices are still poor resulting in contract overspends and financial risk – e.g. the cost of the contract for the ‘One Barnet’ implementation partner, Agylisis, has already exceeded by £1.24 million the specified upper limit of the contract, and we are only in year two of the three year contract. Labour believes the external auditor should investigate LB Barnet’s procurement practices before any further large contracts are let – including the two ‘One Barnet’ contracts for Development & Regulatory Services, and Support/Customer Services that are due to be signed by the end of this year.
- No Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) for residents have been done for either of the two ‘One Barnet’ contracts – both include services that have a huge impact on local residents, e.g. planning, licensing, environmental health, Revenues and Benefits and Customer Services. Labour believes EIAs must be completed before the contracts are signed.
- Risk assessments for the ‘One Barnet’ outsourcings have not been published – the public have the right to know that proper risk assessments have been done where £1 billion of services are being outsourced to a private contractor. Labour wants these published as a matter of urgency.

· The ‘Commissioning Model’ of One Barnet should be abandoned

- The commissioning and monitoring of council services should not be outsourced to a private company. Labour would stop this model.
- The council should stop wasting millions of pounds on expensive consultants, and use a little of it to undertake proper in-house services reviews, comparing the potential for in-house improvement against outsourced solutions to ensure value for money is achieved. Labour would do this.
- The council should not hand over its valuable income streams or savings to the private sector for their profit. This has already been done with re-cycling and parking – 50% of the income from the sale of re-cyclables goes to Barnet’s re-cycling contractor, and 50% of the savings made under the parking contract go to NSL – the new parking contractor. Labour believes income from council services should be re-invested in local services, and would use the new General Power of Competence to increase trading opportunities to do this.
- ‘One Barnet’ is supposed to be a ‘one public sector approach’ – this has not emerged. Labour would investigate sharing more services with other public sector partners and local authorities, and would look at providing more services through mutuals, co-operatives and co-production

Labour’s motion on creating a Better Barnet will be debated at the 11 September Full Council meeting.

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: "One Barnet has been a damaging process and is fraught with risk. We need to restore public faith in the way the council does business – ours would be a very different approach, one that engages local people, traders and businesses. We are here to serve them, not ourselves – I think the current Conservative administration has lost touch with that."

Andrew Dismore on LFEPA

Barnet and Camden Assembly Member Andrew Dismore is concerned about the takeover of AssetCo, who are the private company responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of London's fire engines.

Andrew, who is the Labour lead on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, wrote a letter to the Boris Johnson appointed chair, James Cleverley AM (Bexley and Bromley, Con) of the LFEPA. This is Mr. Cleverley's response, which Andrew says is "Unacceptable".

Andrew released a press statement, putting expressing his views.

This shows the kind of problems you can have with private sector involvement in public services. Even if £275 million of the £1 billion One Barnet gamble is through a joint venture, similar risks will apply. I am concerned that if Capita or BT, who are the bidders for the One Barnet contract have similar issues we may be left with problems too.

As I have said before, I am not against private sector involvement in public services, but I do think there are risks, and it needs to be domonstrated that they can offer both a better quality service and cheaper. One Barnet is a reckless gamble because it guarantees neither. The "competetive" process ruled out any in house bid, which indicates that this contract is an ideological test. Barnet residents should not be used as canaries.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

US rightwing slanders the NHS (again)

What do people drink that makes them write such utter turd filled nonsensical garbage as this monstrosity? The American rightwing, which has a long history of combating President Obama's vital healthcare reform with smears, lies and slander, is at it again.

The paper makes the laughable claim that the NHS is broken. Well, it might be if messers Cameron, Clegg and Lansley continue as they have been, but it is far from broken now. After 13 years of improvement under the last Government, the NHS works better than it ever has. It is slipping back thanks to Coalition recklessness and incompetence, but it isnt a structural failing of the service.

The article makes this claim based on 8,000 doctors moving from the UK since 2008, the paper even admits it's because of the weather, desire for better lifestyle etc (Note not for better pay) rather than because they hate the NHS. But what is hilarious is that the figure is 8,000. Over 4 years! 2,000 doctors a year out of the 250,000 registered, and 150,000 practising! Pathetic

Also can anyone clever tell me what has happened since 2008? What's been the big news? Recession- when large numbers of people tend to move away from a country. They also mention doctors leaving in the 1950's- those old fashioned doctors who refused to serve the NHS, a generation away from the current crop of doctors, who are committed to the NHS.

The article says "When a government declares that it will provide "free" health care, there is no escaping the fact that such a system will one day be overwhelmed by demand and the providers — the doctors and other professionals who are extensively and intensively trained — won't be able to keep up. They will be overworked, underpaid and frustrated with the difficulties in performing the task they feel called to, namely healing the sick." Where is the crystal ball that predicts this nonsense? In fact our healthcare is a PREVENTATIVE system- we save significant abouts of money because people go to their free doctors, early on in an illness, rather than waiting until they are crippled because it's expensive- as is the case in America. Also, our doctors frustrations are medical- how frustrating must it be for American doctors who have to treat patients to a prescribed budget of care per patient?

"We don't pretend to understand why, but the National Health Service is a source of pride in Britain. They cherish it as if it were a treasure, and defend it as if were worth protecting and not the rotted system that it is." that's because the author is an ignoramus, who has no actual understanding of the NHS, never been to an NHS hospital and never had treatment here.

Then there is the rudimentary quote from an unnamed doctor who left the UK in the 60s. So a perfect judge of the NHS of 2012.

What really gets my goat is that if the American right don't like poor people living, fine, that's fine, but why do they always resort to lying about the NHS?

Whether it was Sarah Palin and her crap about "Death Panels" deciding whether patients lived or died based on the cost of their treatment, or the lies about the performance of the NHS, the American right are, as always, wrong. They are people who chided the Democrats for criticism of the Iraq war as insulting their allies, then they write really offencive crap about our cherished institutions.


Coppetts councillors Barry Rawlings and Pauline Coakley-Webb have had a lot of communication fom residents around Friern Barnet about the state of pavements there. It does seem pretty bad around there. Andreas Ioannides of Brunswick Park was also sent pictures of rather disturbing damage done to roads in his ward by a concerned resident recently as well.

In East Finchley, work has been done to fix some of the worst pavements along the high road, but we have never quite had it as bad as parts of Friern Barnet. If you are and East Finchley resident and know of a particularly bad pavement that needs fixing, please report it to my, my contact details are on the right side of the screen. Thank you.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Paralympic Games

I spoke to a wheelchair bound constituent last week who was eagerly awaiting the Paralympic Games. She said that it was important to see the contribution that people with disabilities can make. I wholeheartedly agree. My experience of disabilities from a Local Government view is not to patronise, but provide services to people with disabilities to help themselves. Take for example, the Juice Bar that operates on Saturday from the Finchley Youth Theatre on East Finchley High Road. This is a wonderful service, with an excellent produce, that is of huge benefit to it's users.

People with disabilities have always contributed and achieved, Great people like Sir Winston Churchill coped with depression, or Nelson with his one hand. In sport, BS Chandrasekhar was a great spinner for India, despite polio in his arm. Wally Hammond lost an inch off his arm during the war, and still played Test Cricket for England.

That isn't to say that people with disabilities don't need support, financial or physical. We need to make transport more accessible, we need to make sure there is no discrimination in the workplace.

But going back to the Paralympic games, people like Tanni Grey-Thompson can be real role models and heroes. They show what can be done by those who put their minds to it. They have helped to change the way disabilities are seen, and I hope this progress can be banked. Good luck to our athletes.

Anne Frank Museum

I managed to get a brief holiday over the weekend, going to Amsterdam. It's a great town, but the best part of the holiday was visiting the Anne Frank Museum. It's a very moving experience, and you go into the secret rooms they stayed in, although with plenty of other tourists, it's harder to imagine the fear, stress, isolation and darkness that they must have been in. To be there for an hour was difficult, to live there for years must have been near unbearable.

Sadly, the greatest generation will not be with us forever, and I think it's important to treat that generation with the respect they deserve.

A word too, on antisemitism. Living in a borough with a large Jewish population, I know the fear and prejudice that Jewish people live under. I love history, and it is interesting that in the books I read, spanning medieval to early modern British history, how much prejudice there has been against Jewish people. I came away from the museum more determined than ever to combat it. I well recommend a visit.

Friday, 24 August 2012

GCSE Results

Just thought I would congratulate all those who have received exam results recently. I know what it's like!

School children have the best quality teaching, a lot of resources and strong new systems of support, which led to year upon year GCSE result records. Despite the nonsense you read in the press, young people deserve the large resources that are expended on their behalf. I am proud to be a school governor, and am always impressed by what I see from the pupils, who are far more hardworking and dedicated than I ever was! They are not the Waterloo Road rubbish you see.

Just as the 4 minute mile was achieved in 1954 and many times since because the athletes are getting better, pupils are getting better too. We should recognise that and congratulate them.

Cherry Tree Woods

Concern has been expressed to me about the state of Cherry Tree Woods. The good weather is bringing a lot of visitors to the woods, which is a good thing, but it has left the maintenance at a bit of a pickle, as there seems to be a lot of litter and full bins around.

We are investigating, and a question has gone to Council by me.

In other news, I'm sad to say the excellent kiosk run by Sally has closed, as the lease has run out. I wish her well in her new ventures.

New Finchley Memorial Hospital

I managed a quick visit to the Finchley Memorial open day the other day. The new building is amazing- well designed, light, spacious and has better parking. One visitor said that "if it is run as well as Edgware is, it will be a brilliant hospital". I quite agree, both are brilliant buildings. Edgware is run very well, we still have to see about Finchley.

I am very proud of the last Labour Government, for whom this was a last achievement. Andy Burnham managed to get it through. I hope it serves the community well.

If you're wondering, there was a good collection of councillors there, on our side each Labour ward but two had representatives, With Gill and Zakia from Colindale, Agnes and Ansuya from West Hendon, myself and Alison from East Finchley, Jim from West Finchley, Anne from Woodhouse, Barry from Coppetts and Andreas from Brunswick Park.

I also noted Lisa Rutter and the three Mill Hill councillors. I had to leave early, but I was impressed with what I saw. As a member of the Health OSC, I will be in a good position to monitor the new hospital, and keep you up to date.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Food Prices

I was alarmed to read that the US corn crop was poor this year.

International food prices can be volatile, and the US corn crop is quite important to the price of food, particularly in Africa, which consumes large quantities of US corn exports. The failing crop will probably push up the prices, and this could be disastrous for the African poor. It's astonishing how globalisation has such an big everyday effect in the poorest part of the world, with CAP subsidised vegetables undercutting local farmers on the one hand (directly causing suicide in some tragic cases. This is a link to one case involving cross border tomato trade). Or, with the failure of crops on the far side of the world, serious hunger because scarcity has forced prices up.

Price flexibility is one of the biggest issues for farmers. Food is a commodity, and a serious business. It's trade is legendarily cut throat, even for stock exchange standards. In fact some stockbrokers have started becoming semi professional in efforts to understand food production, and to make the right investments at the right time. They are now having to understand weather and climate patterns more, and rely less on when the final reports are produced by the Government. Perhaps they have seen the great 80's film Trading Places, where the bad guys are ruined by their dodgy dealings with the frozen orange juice report. That is less likely these days, because the brokers are more specialist and have developed such an in depth understanding of food commodities that the official reports often confirm what they already know.

You can't entirely blame the market either, markets are as markets do. As we have learnt from history, there is hunger no matter how resources are distributed. In fact speaking of history, it is becoming clearer how food price fluctuations were a serious threat to the Roman empire as well, and how big a part to play they had in the revolts and revolutions of the period.

In my personal opinion, for what it's worth, there could be more international co-ordination on food production, and a body that can fairly arbitrate on food production issues. That role is currently done by the WTO, but never satisfactorily, as the WTO is politics heavy, with big voting blocks that prevent serious resolution. When I spoke to a diplomat about this during my university days, he said the US block vote was a bit like the Union vote at the 1980's Labour Party conferences. I recall in 2005 the BBC did a helpful programme about various food problems around the world, like the African farmers who are being undercut by subsidised European food, Cotton producers being undercut and American fishermen complaining about Vietnamese fish, which is cheaper than American catfish; they wanted the Vietnamese fish reclassified as not being catfish.

International politics is failing the worlds hungriest and poorest. It would be useful if it was taken seriously.

Here's for the Luddites and the Whingers

I will never forget my one and only Labour Party conference, Brighton 2009. It was surreal that we were all enjoying ourselves on the ground and having a great time, while the press headlines were so bad. But I will always remember an amazing video that was made by a university friend who now works for the Party. It was a nostalgic look back on our achievements in our century, with all the campaigns we have been part of and our leadersaetc. Still brings a tear to my eye. It was called Fighters and Believers, and went down so well that there was a successful campaign to use it as our conference PPB.

I thought about it because I had heard that the leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Cornelius calls us "Luddites and whingers" for opposing One Barnet.

As a budding historian, I would point out that the Luddites were workers losing their jobs to new machinery, whereas we are residents losing our services to incompetence.

And as for whingers, well what else is the role of scrutiny? It wasn't whinging earlier this year that got other Tory mistakes over the last year repealed, like pasty tax or sports funding. When a train is hurtling at top speed to the buffers, one doesn't call the passengers whingers for telling the driver he is headed for oblivion.

Richard is a very nice and decent man, and his comments were out of character. But I think it shows that he hears the opposition, which is stage one of any successful political campaign. Stage two is that he needs to understand the complaints and be convinced by them, and this is what I want to talk about next.

I have prattled on before about the Better Barnet campaign, and am pleased that they are responding positively, with their "Don't get mad, get organised" approach.

Please visit the site, download the campaign tools and get cracking. We haven't much time left to fight One Barnet, so please start ASAP.

Helen Michael writes to Cllr Cornelius

North Finchley Trader Helen Michael, who organised the parking petition that attracted a record 13,000 signatures, has written to the leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius about One Barnet.

Better Barnet have the letter, reproduced below.

Dear Mr Cornelius,
I have read your interviews with Daniel O’Brien in The Press and Nathalie O’Neill in the Times with interest.
I feel that some of your comments are directed at me and that I have been publicly criticized.  I should like the opportunity to respond.

I wish to make it clear that I was nominated as the spokesperson for the traders of North Finchley.  As a woman trying to run a small business in these difficult times - difficulties compounded by your parking policy - I have my hands full trying to make a living and I could do without this distraction.
This was not a role that I sought. I am not a natural activist, I just want to do something. Before this parking fiasco I was not known to the Council.

After initially trying to reason with Barnet Council about the parking issue only to find that I was treated with disdain and ignored, I organized a petition and collected in excess of 13,000 signatures.  I speak on behalf of all those people who went out of their way to sign the petition in direct opposition to your parking policies.  I also speak on behalf of all those traders who displayed anti-parking increase posters throughout the borough.

I and the other traders feel that we are having our intelligence insulted by empty promises made by you. 
We met in CafĂ© Buzz in March for breakfast. You agreed that something had to be done about the parking issue quickly and you made it clear that the meters were not coming back.  We made a concession in relation to scratch cards on the basis that they would be introduced quickly. 
You assured us that they were being organized and would be available shortly. Well, we are now middle of August and still waiting. I and the other traders are driven to the conclusion that we are being led up the garden path.  

As for your comments that we are a vocal minority, I find this deeply offensive. You have been invited on many occasions to walk the length of the High Road and speak to every trader, independent and multiple alike. If you had taken the trouble to do so you would have found that far from being in a minority, there is 100% view that your parking policies are having a disastrous effect on the High Road. 

You seem conveniently to have forgotten that in excess of 100 local businesses from around the borough attended a business forum meeting in January, at the Arts Depot (where you promised scratch cards).  Not one of the businesses had anything positive to say about your parking policies.  In fact some were incredulous and quite angry at your apparent indifference.  This was an opportunity for you to hear what the shopkeepers actually wanted, but you said, as you have on a number of occasions, that there was nothing you could or would do. On this, at least, you have been consistent.

You have said many times that I have led a very effective campaign and that it is this campaign that is keeping people away.  Well let me tell you that it is YOUR council’s policies that are responsible for keeping people away.  My campaign has merely been effective in raising the profile of this insensitive, undemocratic and arrogant council.

You refuse to take responsibility for the grave error of judgment which has resulted in numerous businesses going to the wall.    Was nothing learnt from Councillor Coleman’s trouncing in the GLA where the electorate spoke loud and clear of its view on your parking policies?

The announcement of the paltry adjustment to the charges in the Lodge Lane car park does not begin to rectify the situation. It has been perceived for what it is – a sop.

I and my fellow traders are bemused by what is driving this insane parking policy. It is quite clear that not only has it been a complete failure in its objective to raise revenue, it has had the opposite effect. This is in addition to the devastating consequences for local traders. In case it has escaped your notice, every business that closes down represents a further loss to the local economy - and to council funds.

I have to remind myself that you are a Conservative councillor. Traditionally the Conservatives have always championed the cause of small businesses. I believe that this is still the policy at Central Office.    

I for one am aghast at the arrogance and ineptitude of a council that purports to act in the name of small businesses.  I know that your policies have driven away many core Tory voters.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

775% increase in Barnet youth unemployment

Tell me about it!

Youth unemployment is probably the worst legacy of this recession. many people my age can't find jobs, and having a degree doesn't change that. There are 5 applicants to every job now, so there clearly arent the jobs out there for people. It is also very difficult for young people to find jobs which suit their skills sets.

It's sad that there used to be the Future Jobs Fund, EMA and the New Deal, but this is all gone now. Young people have the worst settlement they have had in a long time. With transport costs rising, fewer jobs, and few well paid jobs, rent costs rising and the general cost of living rising, young people are struggling as they never have before. There are not the same opportunities there were 5 years ago, nor are there the same protections and support.

If the Government do nothing for young people, they will have another generation disenfranchised from work, unused to finding and keeping a job, and welfare dependent. Investing in jos for young people now will pay dividends in the future by having a workforce that is used to working and have developed the early skills they need for the future.

Closure of blood testing lab in Colindale

Barnet and Camden Assembly Member Andrew Dismore has the following story about the closure of the Colindale Blood Testing Lab. The lab tests blood donations. Andrew points out that the closure of the lab leaves non in London or the South East, where almost a third of the population of the country live.

He says "Due to the diverse ethnic makeup of London, blood screening from donors within the London area are more challenging to screen, for example for sickle cell patients. The only two other centres in the country at Filton and  at Manchester do not share the expertise and experience of staff in Colindale.

There are also more general risks, from communication problems in  physically taking the samples to Filton from all overLondon, with risks from bad weather in winter, to motorway problems. There are further risks, in sending the results back through computer links, if those links are disrupted."

Barnet and Chase Farm waiting times Soar

Barnet Labour have the news here.

What is particularly disturbing is that if things are getting worse for Barnet A & E now, then what will it be like if they close Chase Farm A & E and relocate?

The waiting time is calculated to be the number of people waiting 4 hours. Under Labour, the target was 98%, which has fallen to 95% under the coalition, for which they have achieved 92%. Not good enough.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympic success wasn't overnight

As we look forward to the Paralympic Games, to start soon, It's worth remembering that Team GB's record medal haul was not an accident, it was from years of hard work. Hard work by the athletes and coaches of course, and they both get deserved praise and acclaim.

What we do need to recognise is the importance of sport funding and the role of politicians in sporting success. In the first instance, £125 million has been spent on elite Olympic training, and David Cameron has promised to continue that level until 2016. (In fact it's a cut as there will be no inflation matching rises, but that won't make too big a difference) But the government also need to keep the onus on sports funding in schools and communities. Thanks to the Academies Bill, local councils have less say on the school spending, but can facilitate the use of community sport facilities by local schools. This already happens, and I assume well, as I have not heard complaint on the subject.

The council gets a fair bit of "Section 106" money, which is contributions from planning applications to a set of funds for various community needs, eg. libraries, playing fields, transport works etc. I would like to see the government try and push this more, to get more funds out of development for community use. They should take care to make sure it isn't from home improvements, but from developers, who will make profits out of it.

We should also recognise the impact of various politicians for whom these successful Olympics would not have been possible. Boris Johnson is a shameless self publicist, and actually deserves little praise for the delivery, which happened more or less without his input. David Cameron has come out of the Olympics even worse than he went in, which is scarcely believable. He is now a figure of ridicule and the public seem to have run out of patience with him. This has been very quick transformation, but he is capable of a comeback. If you were to give him and Osborne any credit, it would be that they didn't mess anything up, and didn't cut the budgets.

On our side, I think it sad that few people give credit where it's due, Tessa Jowell in particular put in herculean efforts. So did Richard Caborn and Tony Blair, neither of whom have received proper thanks.

I say this because the character of this generation's politicians will be important for the future of sport. If they have a genuine interest in sport, and have the will for our athletes to excel they will put in the efforts like Tessa did. I am not sure I see that. I think the government are only really happy to support self funding sports like tennis, cricket, football and rugby, at the detriment of the rest of Olympic sports. I wonder if the elite sports funding will last, but I doubt it if there are future spending freezes.

So well done to all, but let's keep the infrastructure in place for more Olympic success in the future.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Special Congratulations to Anthony Joshua

Just wanted to make a special mention of Finchley resident Anthony Joshua, who has capped off the Olympics in fine style, with a Gold in the heavyweight boxing. Congratulations to him and his family.

There was a line the the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the girl says "we aren't heroes, we're from Finchley" which I have always resented. I think we can put that one to rest now.

I don't know which post box will be painted Gold, but will keep an eye out for it.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

One Barnet, just one big pothole - a followup

I wrote an article for the Better Barnet website, about how the pothole filling was not up to scratch, and how the delivery of this service as symptomatic of One Barnet. I have also complained about the pothole in question on twitter before, as well as reporting it to the council.

Well they have finally fixed it.

Well, When I say fixed it, I mean they filled it in. You can see in my article about a similar pothole on Market Place, which was filled and came loose, forming a piece of rubble "the size of a fax machine" that was eventually picked up and left on the pavement, away from the cars. Filling is worrying, and not a wholly adequate solution to a large pothole, they do need to be fixed, like the following, also on Beresford Road.
I said this was evidence of a cheap, quick fix, which a company providing services have to do in order to operate properly as a company. you got your cheap, you got your efficient, but did you get a good service in this case? I'm concerned the answer is no. And if they did finally fix this pothole why on earth did they do nothing about this one yards away?

Drainage problems

Short, sharp, heavy shower bursts are not good for anyone, but are a particular menace to East Finchley. It tends to cause immediate flooding, and when when the water filters down through the soil, it stays there for ages and takes a long time to dry and drain. We saw this with the cancellation of the East Finchley festival a few weeks ago.

This morning saw one of those downpours, and even though it barely lasted 15 minutes, this was what was left. Water overflowing the drains, and flowing over the pavement. It was like a little ford. And now I am even more worried about the drainage along the High Road, which we councillors raised with the officers on thier recent walkabout in our ward.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

They're even taxing football!

After the disastrous budget, in which George Osborne destroyed his own credibility (ok it wasn't all bad) comes another coalition calamity.

Through this years budget, they have;
  • Cut taxes for the wealthiest, while increasing the pain for others.
  • Sent us back into recession.
  • Done nothing to promote growth.
  • Failed to cut the deficit by as much as they promised.
  • Done nothing to improve employment prospects for young people.
And they have had to row back on a number of tax hikes;
  • Pasty Tax.
  • Landfill Tax.
  • Caravan Tax.
  • Skip Tax.
Now we can force another to the famous five, the Football Tax.

The Government decided to increase the VAT paid by five a side teams, which will in reality raise little money. Even though it is a campaign by the Telegraph, you can read about the background here, and sign the petition here.

A recent study said we are the laziest in Europe, which is a shame in an Olympics year. Whilst I am not a big football fan, I am doing my bit with my famous diet. You can do your bit as well.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Better Barnet

The Better Barnet website has been up for a few days now, and plenty of signatures have come in against the One Barnet program. I recap the arguments below.

Many residents are more aware and concerned about the plan to tender 70% of the Councils services into one contract, worth  £1 billion over the decade. I am concerned that this contract will not deliver value for money, and will lead to inflexibilities that will hamper and worsen services.

First off, there are examples of good contracts, even in Barnet, that work. It's just that as far as Barnet is concerned, we are famous for when we mess up, like Metpro. Given that we deliver services well, but don't have a great record on contracts, you might have thought that we would be careful about what gets contracted out. But important core services, like environmental health and planning, are going to be provided by a private company. Even the most rightwing councils like Wandsworth, Westminster and Hammersmith don't take such risky gambles with their resident's services!

We actually deliver most services well, and what is unfair about the tendering process is that there is no opportunity to put together an inhouse bid. This does not seem to be in the spirit of competitiveness, which is a shame. Perhaps the administration have not been enjoying the Olympics?

I have concerns about the transparency of services. the Barnet Bloggers know, the Council are none too keen on freedom of information requests, with Mr Mustard still waiting over a year for one to be answered. What will it be like, when our services are subject to sensitive commercial data rules? They will not publish, or allow for inspection the information that residents want. Mind you, they do this anyway. What will it be like when you have large companies who crave their privacy?

When you come down to the actual services, given the the current staff work their socks off and are already understaffed and overworked, you wonder how much more efficiency can be got out of them, without them starting to make mistakes in their work? You need to retain control over core services, because these are what a council does, it's their raison d'etre. If you take that away you are not providing a service properly.

And what becomes of us councillors? What real power will any of us have? When we deal with officers on behalf of our constituents, they can't brush us off. What happens when the staff are not accountable to the Councillors or the public? Casework is the biggest consumer of my time, I simply can't see how One Barnet will improve anything on this side of my job.

What happens if circumstances change? What happens if we are forced to make more cuts, due to Mr Osborne's incompetence? we will have a contract and funding agreements with these companies, we won't be able to back out of them just like that. As Cllr Rajput said, long term contracts are inflexible, and these are the most unpredictable of times.

What really worries me is that after the contract is signed, the "council" becomes a shell. It provides no services itself, other really than members services and the Town Hall. We will not ever again have the ability to bring back services in house again, because the expertise and experience will have been lost. We won't know how to do it.

I would also like to puncture a myth. The Tories think that, because we did not make any amendments in the budget to the One Barnet "savings", that we accepted them, rubbish. The savings have to be anyways, regardless of One Barnet. Given that these programs never really make saving, let alone on the scale they are being asked to, I don't see how One Barnet makes the slightest difference. In fact i wonder if it will cost more in the long term.

So I hope you will sign yourself up to the Better Barnet website and join our fight against these proposals. We need real help from members of the public, Labour supporters or not. All residents will be affected, so please help.

A very interesting BMOSC

I did tell you all to come!

There were a few call-ins by my colleagues Cllr Kath McGuirk on Parking and Events in Parks, and by Cllr Barry Rawlings on Children's Centres and Day Centres.

Kath is brilliant at BMOSC, and I am glad I didn't have Cllr Dean Cohen's job tonight! On the parking trials in North Finchley, she exposed the poor planning of the new schemes to make it easier to park. In my view, if they want to help people park they should just reinstate the meters and introduce the half an hour free parking. I think they are doing the latter, which is good, but I want to see the former as well, which they resolutely refuse to do.

Kath was also very good on the events at parks debate. She asked why they were going ahead with the policy in four parks in Hendon, when they had scrapped them everywhere else. The chair, Cllr Hugh Rayner represents Hale Ward, and said he was happy to have the policy in Scratchwood. I hear Scratchwood is famous for it's *cough* interesting leisure activities. I suppose Cllr Rayner hope that the policy will encourage people to actually use the park, and encourage it to be maintained better, but Residents at the three other parks will probably not feel that way.

The officers said that there had been significant opposition from residents around Victoria Park, Oak Hill and Lyttelton; which is in the Garden Suburb and the closest to East Finchley borders. I suppose that means if we kick up a fuss in Hendon, those will go too?

On the day centres, I am hoping for a guest blog, so more later.

I have blogged about children's centres here.

And this was the less interesting bit of the meeting!

Friern Barnet residents and activists submitted their petition to re-open the library. It has attracted 2,500 signatures and managed to get to the committee, but it took the entire rest of the discussion to find out what the committee could actually do! Could they refer it to Cabinet, as they eventually voted to do? Or should it have been to refer it to the Cabinet member, Cllr Robert Rams for re consideration? Well they voted, and I suspect this will be another constitutional mess like the planning meeting a few months ago. The legal officer did n ot have clear guidance from the text of the constitution, which did not say that they could refer it to Cabinet, but didn't say they couldn't either! What a badly written and obscure rule.

When we come down to the debate, there were excellent contributions from the three ward Councillors. Pauline Coakley-Webb is the dictionary definition of feisty, and always delivers a punchy speech. Kate Salinger, my former teacher and current deputy mayor, was hilarious. She said she had done the trip from Friern Barnet to the Arts Depot as it would have been for her 25 years ago with her children. Barry Rawlings was brilliant, he said Friern Barnet had lost it's Town Hall, it's ward name and now it's library, and had to be something more than just the destination of the 43 bus.

Cllr Pauline Coakley-Webb
 In fact, Barry and I were talking to Friern Barnet residents just a few hours before, and the anger is still very much there. Pauline made the point that FB had had a raw deal compared to the Garden Suburb, who get £25,000 and the utility bills, whereas Friern Barnet have to provide a capital receipt. The officer said that GS have to break even in three years though I wonder if it will close if they fail?

Sadly, there was a bit of disruption from an angry member of the public, but the chair Hugh Rayner was very fair and sensible, and common sense prevailed during an interval. It has been referred back, but we will see about that.

A lot of important issues were discussed, and the meeting ended in a happier atmosphere.
Councillors, residents and activists supporting the Friern Barnet Library petition

Children's Centres

This evenings BMOSC, which I encouraged you all to turn up to, was very busy long and eventful, so I was not able to go into depth about children's centres in my speech.

Just to let you know, I said that I was concerned about the proposed cuts to them. The Newstead centre in my ward of East Finchley is facing the biggest cut of all, 36%. In many families, it's hard for parents, mainly mothers, to get back into work, or to return to it if they have small children because childcare costs are so expensive and there are so few places available. I said that cutting funding by this level would affect the number of places available and the amount of time that could be provided.

I understand the Council's new focus on targeting resources, but as I pointed out, the biggest cuts are happening to the centres in poorest areas, like Newstead, Underhill, Parkside etc. East Finchley, Underhill and West Hendon are very poor wards, and have high levels of depravation. Reducing the services here will certainately have an adverse impact.

I am also concerned that partents with the centres that are going to see funding increased will be played off against those who will see their funding fall. The former will be in favour of the proposals, the latter will be against.

I have always seen spending on education as being an investment, and it's sad that the council are reducing that investment by that much. As has been pointed out, youth services are not compusory, and so are the first things that get the axe. This is a real pity.

Cllr Barry Rawlings also made an interesting point about the areas served by the centres. I have seen the map for the Newstead, and I think it's frankly incoherent and bonkers. It seems to extend to near Fursby Avenue in West Finchley, which is very far away and has no close bus link. But not all of East Finchley, or even some of the poorer areas of nearby wards are covered. What makes the figures worse, as Barry mentioned, is that there is a large portion of the Garden Suburb in the Newstead's "catchment" area as I call it. This is crazy, there is nowhere near the kind of need in those areas as there is in East Finchley. They are very very different wards, and East Finchley residents are losing out on our fair share of funing because of this bizzare amalgamation.

Sadly, it wasnt referred back, but the point was made.