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

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Arts are important

On my way home today I saw the front page of the odious Evening Standard. Unusually, it saved the Boris Johnson love-in for the middle pages. On the front were the theatre actors who had won awards last night. I gather a fair few have been lambasting the Government for the Arts Council funding cuts.

I have a lot of sympathy. Whilst people like me struggle to find money for the basic casework needs of our constituents, you might think I would take excpetion to spending on "luxury" goods like theatre and arts. But really, if things are to get better for my constituents in East Finchley, Arts funding is important.

As Danny Boyle said, we don't make cars anymore (we do need an industrial policy, but that's for another blog entry) and the future growth and prosperity for the country will have to be on Britain as a great place to live. An important part of why that's true is our phenomenal cultural heritage. Our history and culture is world renown, and it does draw people here to invest, to set up companies and employ people here. The future jobs of East Finchleyans will depend to some extent on London keeping and enhancing that artistic and cultural "vibe" we have and makes us so attractive abroad.

As we have seen with the Phoenix cinema, East Finchley Open and the Cherry Tree Woods festival, Arts and Culture are very much part of the fabric of the community, and I know that all over the ward we value it. We don't do much culture here in Barnet, but one place we do is East Finchley.

Going back to the original question, why do I think Arts funding is still important when there are other, more basic and important needs; I say there are a number of things. Firstly, the Arts funding is £450 million (Being cut to £350 million). A drop in the ocean of the £700 Billion national budget. Just like international development aid, cutting it does nothing to reduce the deficit, and probably does more harm in the process.
Secondly, that money is an investment. Many American film companies were re-locating bacuse of the generousity and success of our system. Cutting the funding will jeopardise our worl leading position, and compromise future jobs. There are many East Finchleyans who work in the Arts, and cuts there are making the ward directly worse off.

Thirdly, where there are those in need of financial assistance for thier problems, this funding is tiny, and simply will not cover even the most desperate of needs. We would lose all that we gain for money that won't fix the full problem.

Fourthly, Britain is doing well abroad. Our TV is internationally recognized for it's quality. Our Actors are all over films and TV around the world. They are helping to change the image of the country, and these cuts might diminish the "soft power" of Britain's international media. Soft power is increasingly recognised as important in diplomacy, and there is really nothing for good press sometimes!

So in short, Arts funding is very important to the economy, our culture, and our image abroad. All these things help East Finchley. We should be very proud of our Culture sector, and I hope the Government are doing everything they can to mitigate against their cuts.

Policing in Barnet

Andrew Dismore carries the message from the Barnet Metropolitan Police Service on the future of policing in the borough. it isn't a pretty sight. Mayor Johnson sits in City Hall, promises more police but really cuts them. He is a real let down for Londoners, and it is astonishing that the media are giving him a free pass for having failed, within months, on another election pledge. I am in particular concerned by the reduction in front counter services. At a time when residents are very worried by burglaries, and there has been a spike in the number of them recently, despite a major operation. I see nothing about how to tackle that.
Re: Changing the way front counter service is delivered in Barnet Borough
In September 2011, the Commissioner set out the vision for the MPS – the ‘One Met Model’ – under the banner of Total Policing. It has three targets: cut crime, cut costs and change the culture. We will focus on:
Better ways of working
Better use of technology
Better use of communication and visibility.
MetChange is the programme that will deliver higher quality policing services in a more effective and cost-efficient way. The MPS must change the way it delivers its services to modernise, become more responsive and put the public at the heart of what it does. The ‘One Met Model’ is being developed with neighbourhood policing at the foundation and response by dynamic and flexible pan-London investigative and specialist units. The support functions will be rationalised and more resources will be focused at the front line.
The MPS will cut crime and improve services and performance by:
-More officers from non-operational roles to the front line
-Streamlining operational support services
-Making the MPS and its services more accessible to the public.
-Our objective is to deliver a 20% reduction in crime, a 20% reduction in costs and a 20% improvement in public confidence.
-One part of the MetChange programme is a review of how the MPS delivers its front
counter service.
There are a variety of reasons that a member of the public visits a front counter. 18% of all contacts relate to court imposed bail conditions (normally a requirement to present yourself at a police station) or the requirement to present driving documents as a result of a traffic violation or police check. 18% of contacts are as a result of visitors meeting officers or custody suite enquiries in the larger police stations. The remaining 64% of contacts, therefore, relate to visits that could potentially be made to any police officer in any location; the principal activities are: finding out general information or collectingforms 17%, lost or found property 14%, reporting a crime 12%, discussing general police matters 11% and collision report/civil dispute/missing persons/complaints 8%.
Usage of front counters is declining, with 12.3% of all crime in 2011 being reported
in front counters, compared with 13.7% in 2008. With the developments in face-to-
face service provision and improvements in technology, demand at front counters will
continue to fall. At present Barnet Borough has 4 police stations that provide a front counter service. Colindale is open 24 hours a day. Barnet, Golders Green and Whetstone are open 15
hours a day. In order to maintain this service I have to remove uniform police officers
from active patrol duties. Recent survey data shows that no station takes more than 3
crime reports in any 8 hour period and only Colindale and Barnet exceed a proposed
minimum standard of footfall.
In order for the MPS to put 2,000 more officers back into neighbourhood policing it has identified that it needs to reduce up to 65 front counters. To maintain and improve access by the public it will replace them with over 200 Contact Points in popular locations such as community centres, supermarkets and shared local authority buildings. The services at these contact points will be delivered by local Safer Neighbourhood Officers at a time when they can be most efficient.
To support the MPS position the proposal in Barnet is:
-To close the front office at Whetstone Police Station and Golders Green Police Station.
-To reduce the service at Barnet form 15 hours a day 7 days a week to 8 hours 5 days a week.
-To keep Colindale open 24hrs a day 7 days a week.
-To increase the number of advertised Neighbourhood Police contact points across the borough in line with a shared services policy, i.e. police surgeries in hospitals,
local authority buildings, supermarkets etc.
-There is no requirement for a statutory consultation process with the community at large but it is important that I canvass the issues and concerns of our key stakeholders.
One anticipated concern is the closure of the Golders Green front counter service and its impact on the Jewish communities. To alleviate these concerns an alternative front counter service will be created at the Golders Green safer neighbourhood patrol base on a Friday and Saturday.
As is often the case for such matters the time scale for stakeholder engagement is short. It would be preferable to have a face to face meeting to discuss the proposal in more depth and I am available to do just that. However, given your undoubtedly busy schedule I thought it would be best to provide what I can via letter.
If you require any clarification on the above or the background statistics to support the
MPS case please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Monday, 26 November 2012


Last Friday I visited the Barnet Asian Women's Association, BAWA at thier base in Friary House, Friern Barnet. Theyw ere having a late Diwali celebration, and as always with BAWA, they did it in some style. Good food, good company and a warm celebration is the standard for them, and this time they topped my previous visits.

Unfortunately the issue with the gate is still occuring, and I am continuing to press the Council. The lack of access is leaving vulnerable elderly people at home, alone and depressed. They need dial-a-ride to drop them off to the front door.

I stayed at the end to have a chat with some of the members. It's really very sad in a way to talk to these remarkable women and hear the difficulties many are going through. Many do not speak English well, and some are widowed, so self-reliant for the first time in thier lives. I picked up some casework, but more importantly got a little taster of the issues a very under-represented minority are suffering from.

But I am always impressed by what happy people they are despite their problems, and how much they contribute. I hope we can get a resolution to the gate and make this a real success.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Read for yourself the impending One Barnet disaster

The papers have been published for the Budget and Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting next thursday, which I encourage all Barnet residents to attend.

I have not yet had a chance to go through them in detail, but my first impressions are that this will be a horrific disaster. And the New Support and Customer Services Organisation contract, despite being bigger at £700 million, is the less contrvoversial one.

The Labour group have had our briefing, which I will not go into detail, as they were behind closed doors, and we had an opportunity to put some questions about this contract. Whilst  some fears were allayed, and some benefits were pointed out, I remain thoroughly unconvinced.

You will hear more of my arguments on Thursday, though they will be recognizeable as the points I have been making for months. I feel this is a bad deal, and it is us who are taking the risks, not Capita. I also feel there has been no consultation, no proper scrutiny, no public involvement, and no mandate. God help us all if this gets through.

The amazing work of Elysian House

As a member of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, I visited Elysian House in Colindale, not far from the station. I visited with the chair of the committee, Cllr Alison Cornelius, a fellow Labour member of the committee, Cllr Julie Johnson and her husband, Cllr Geoff Johnson, who is a ward Councillor in Colindale.

Its common to be either impressed or unimpressed on a visit, but rare to be moved. Today, I was thoroughly moved by visiting this house.

Elysian House is a recovery centre for people with mental health issues. It is usually a halfway point between hospital and home, or a refuge for people when times get too tough for them. Designed like a hotel, but with a more homely feel, it is a place for patients to recover and re-learn their old lives, and get them ready and prepared to go back home. It has quiet areas, TV areas, a big kitchen, activities and large rooms, which seem to be a real effort to meet the various needs of patients, such as double beds.

They have a hugely caring and loving staff, who are passionate and committed individuals. Extremely well trained, and offering international leadership in outpatient services for those who have had breakdowns. They do everything they can  for their patients, and show what is best practice is. I hope this becomes the national model.

We spoke to a service user, who happened to be a constituent of mine in East Finchley, and it is very clear that Elysian house is making a huge difference for its users. I was very moved talking to them, and I can see how important this service is to a successful recovery. They have excellent statistics, and re-admission rates are low. It's amazing, that just like the primary care strategy, there are things you can do that both cut costs and are of huge benefit to patients.

I understand there is a similar facility on Fortis Green, and I would like to arrange a visit there as well, to see how the smaller facility there operates. I am hugely impressed with the service, and I wish them great success in rolling out their delivery model accross the country the world.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Have Your Say

Here are the latest consultations Barnet Council are running. If they are important to you, please contribute to them.

There are important ones on the Inclusion Strategy Principles, and the Children's service budget.

Keep putting pressure on Freer, Offord and Villiers

I understand Barnet's three Tory MP's email in boxes sould have a few comments from members of the public angry about the One Barnet Programme. I am glad that people are taking my advice and asking their MPs why Councillors of their own party are leading them down the garden path.

We know Mr Dr Offord, the former deputy leader of the Council is having a few tough words from his own side, though given how rude he is to them perhaps he will become irrelevant. Mr Freer is the architect, and one of his former colleagues, Cllr John Hart of Mill Hill, thinks he is still pulling the strings, according to Roger Tichborne's blog. Given the furore over parking already in the Finchley and Golders Green constituency, One might have thought Mr Freer would like to stop his colleagues from scuppering his re-election chances.

The real question though, is Theresa Villiers. Ms Villiers has not expressed a public position on One Barnet as far as I am aware. Given the extremely large swings we saw in May in Chipping Barnet, she would do well to engage with the issue. Cllr Longstaff, Cllr Rams, Cllr Tambourides, Cllr Rajput and Cllr Cornelius are Chipping Barnet Councillors. She must have some clout with half the cabinet surely?

I hope people will put pressure on the Tory Councillors and MPs.

More good work from Andrew Dismore AM

I am glad to see Barnet and Camden's Labour GLA member Andrew Dismore is still hard at work. He and Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband sent Diwali greetings to the Hindu and Sikh community, which is warmly appreciated.

He also asked residents to identify dangerous roads and junctions in Barnet for road safety week. This is a vital issue of concern to many residents, after the success of the Walksafe N2 campaign, I hope there will be a sea-change in Barnet Council's aattitude to pedestrian safety. I campaigned with Cllr Anita Campbell and Andrew earlier in the year on the Stirling Corner issue, and again it seems that the change in the Cabinet means a little more sense is seen on road safety.

He is also camapigning against the closure of Whetstone and Golders Green police stations. Given that crime is a serious issue for a lot of people in the borough, it seems a little odd that the party which calls itself the party of law and order would propose this. It seems that the only 24/7 police station in Barnet will be Colindale. I don't yet know where any replacement desks will be, but as with the reduction of hours at the Barnet station to working day, working week hours, I can't be sure that'll be enough.

Andrew has also published his November report from City Hall.

I'm proud to be a Governor at Friern Barnet School

Before I was elected to be a Councillor, my main contribution to the community was as an LEA Governor at Friern Barnet School. I love the school, and I think we achieved a huge amount in the last few years. The Headteacher, the Senior Leadership Team, the Chair of Governors, the staff and the pupils make this a great local school. The Arts focus is very much welcomed even by a relative philistine such as I, and winning the prestigious Jack Petchey award for the glee club last year was a major achievement.

Today there was a Governor's day, where we Governors spent the day at the school, talking to staff and students. I was, as usual, hugely impressed with both. I spoke to a range of students, and I was pleased to hear how much they like being at the school and how good they think the school is. They were a very articulate group of students, and I hope they will all go far in life.

As the maths faculty link governor, I was really impressed with the department, and the level of achievement in the last year has been phenomenal. I observed a lesson and couldn't believe the stark differences between teaching now and when I was at school 10 years ago. Vast improvements to the quality of teaching, and the engagement of pupils in the lesson.

We sat in with the student parliament, and helped them come up with some ideas for anti-bullying week. Again, they are an innovative bunch!

As a thank you, a cross section of year groups did various performances, all of which were absolutely excellent, particularly the dancers.

I think any visitor to the school would see why the school is now rated outstanding by OFSTED, and how and why the school achieve so much in attainment for the students. I can only wish them further success in the future, and I hope to stay as a Governor there for some time to come.

The Billion Pound Gamble in Parliament

Monday night saw the screening of the film Billion Pound Gamble in Committee room 12 of the Houses of Parliament. We had excellent overviews from Bill Esterson MP, who's own Sefton Council has brought services back in house after 5 years. He also spoke with great knowledge about the national picture of councils rejecting their failed outsourcing contracts, such as Southwest One, Liverpool Council and others. There was an introduction from David Anderson MP, who also talked about the national picture, and how it was affecting vulnerable people. Hilary Benn MP also came down briefly at the start to show his support as well.

They showed first the brilliant cartoon that explains the One Barnet idea in a simple and easy to follow way, and must be watched. This recieved one of the biggest applauses of the night.

I have seen the film before, and if you haven't then buy it! I'm not going to describe it, other than to say it is very much worth seeing.

in the Q & A afterwards there was an excellen discussion, very enlightening and elightened. There were a lot of people who were not usual activists, and a lot of young people as well. Some were not inhenerntly against outsourcing, but agreed that the biggest problem was the failure to consult, and the failure to do a proper in house comparison bid.

I think this was a worthwhile session and I am glad members of Parliament are sitting up and taking notice.

Monday, 19 November 2012

London Councils

I went to the London Councils annual conference at the Guildhall in London on Saturday. It is a very good conference, and I recommend it to all London Councillors.

It startedwith an introduction from Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe, the 'day-mayor' to Boris Johnson's 'night-mayer'. He did a very good speech, talking about the Olympics and the riots. Boris then spoke. He didn't really say anything, he never does. He doesn't seem to know very much really. He had one good line though, he congratulated us on coming, as the turnout here far exceeded the PCC elections on Thursday!

In the first plenary session, I went to a talk on housing. It was interesting, but we need to make sure people understand that we have existing issues like school places, transport, amenity spaces etc. which need to be addressed alongside new housing. Unfortunately, There is a degree of resistance by some to sensible solutions. One Tory Councillor for Merton asked why we don't build more housing in Scotland to sort out London's housing needs.

Lunch was good, I had a nice lamb and risotto dish first, then went to another line and claimed a salmon and risotto dish. Very nice chocolate mousse too. Poor Richard Cornelius was given his desert by Alison Cornelius, and she seemed to have given him these multi-coloured things called "fruit". Whoever heard such like?! Sadly the desert was on one line, so I couldn't sneak back for seconds like I had on the mains.

After lunch, a talk on adult social care. Less interesting discussion, though there was a strong riposte to the "graph of doom". Barry Rawlings and I helpfully pointed Alison Cornelius out to everyone else. Primary care is more and more important to get right.

Finally a talk about the political changes in London. This is what I live for, statistical data on politics. Swings, changes, data, graphics and insight. I was in heaven. There was one funny bit when they said the GLA had previously only seen the Brent and Harrow seat change hands, and that this time Ealing and Hillingdon and "Barnet and Coleman" had changed hads- cue guffawing from just about everyone there.

They looked at Council by elections since 2010, and yours truly got a mention, as my 16.6% swing is apparently the largest recorded in London since then. I did take a bow. Honourable mention for Andreas Ioannidis (who was sadly not in the room at the time) as one of only two seats that had changed hands in the 22 London By-elections since 2010.

I had a good time there, saw some good old friends and colleagues, learnt a lot and picked up some good advice. I know David Shepherd hates the City of London Corporation, but the Guildhall is some place, with a beautiful art gallery and big neo-gothic halls. Nowhere to have a drink though.

Billion Pound Gamble in Parliament Tonight

Today, Monday 19th, the film Billion Pound Gamble will be showing in Committee Room 12 of the Houses of Parliament from 6.30 PM. Arrive by 6 to get security checked and into the estate in time though.

This is an important film about One Barnet and the Parking issue we have in Barnet. At London Councils on Saturday, a number of people came up to to express their disgust at what Barnet's Tory administration is doing, and congratulations to us for getting the message out.

People are taking notice of this reckless gamble and Barnet's Tories are taking a hammering in their credibility. Lets keep up the pressure.

Have your say on the Archer Academy

The Archer Academy are doing their section 10 consultation, a link can be found here.

I hope this can be the school people in East Finchley want, and can help solve the places for girls problem we have. The team behind it have worked very hard, and it's interesting the parallel with the Walksafe N2 campaign. Both driven by excellent leadership, real commitment, support from the community, an understanding of reality, a desire to compromise and attention to detail.

I found out how important the issue was during my by-election, when school places came up again and again on the doorstep. I also know how important it is to send your children to the right school for them, because I decidedly did not go to the right school for me, and my school days were miserable and soul destroying because of it.

I have serious problems with the free schools policy, and the way they are implemented. I know that many of these concerns are shared by others, but I feel very strongly that the Archer Academy people have gone out of their way to mitigate against those concerns as best as they have been able. I also believe that the school we will get at the end of it will be one that people with concerns can be very proud of, and supportive of. I think the school has very strong principles underpinning it, and will be as inclusive as possible.

I wish the school every success in the future.

Council Tax Benefit

One issue I am very concerned about is the scrapping of Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and replacing it with Council Tax Support (CTS). This means the Council will have greater responsibility for Council Tax revenues, though the Revenues and Benefits department. This is a concern to me, because Revs & Bens is going in One Barnet, and I am worried that overzealous collection by a company for whom this will be part of their profitability will put vulnerable people at risk.

The change is completely undemocratic, as Councils have had to design their new systems, consult and will have to implement this by April, despite the bill for it not yet having passed Parliament! And almost as soon as ours is up and running, it's going to be bundled off to the One Barnet winner.

But what is unfair about Eric Pickles Poll Tax, is that there will be a funding shortfall of £4.4 million to Barnet. (In fact I understand it's £4 million or slightly less, but they want to create a reserve). This shortfall will have to be plugged with various new things. for example, empty properties will have to make a contribution. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we won't want to incentivise empty homes in a borough with a severe housing problem.

But the real 'Poll Tax' is that many may be required to make a minimum contribution. in the presentation to Councillors, it was pitched to as much as 25%. This is potentially hundreds of pounds a year for people already struggling financially. This could be crippling if you're a single parent, a low paid worker, vulnerable or disabled. This is particularly pernicious when you consider other benefit caps and cuts, loss of tax credits, high housing costs in the Borough, high energy and transport bills and cuts to affordable childcare.

All the while, the Government are giving millionaires thousands of Pounds worth of tax cuts. Kerching as the Private Eye might say. This Government make Mitt Romney look compassionate to the poor. At least the are dropping the 'we're all in this together' rhetoric. I suppose it was too hard to say it with a straight face.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mitzvah Day

Sunday has seen Mitzvah day, the Jewish day of volunteering. I went to Long Lane Pastures to help with a bit of gardening. I haven't done gardening for about 15 years, since I was in primary school, but I had a lot of fun, and see how gardening is both exercise, but also a bit of relaxation. I also realised that I have just two coats. A smart one and an even smarter one!

Cllr Jim Tierney, Cllr Anne Hutton and Cllr Alison Moore joined me and some friends of the pastures to do a little work on the land.

We were raking the old dead grass and putting it onto a big compost heap. Apparently the pastures have always been grassland, but has poor soil. This is a good thing because the poor soil is good for flowers, which we want to encourage. Letting the dead grass rot and decompose will let nutrients into the soil, which improves the quality for the grass, but is bad for the flowers. I'm not sure I understand that, and Jim Tierney was a little perplexed by it too, but we did as asked.

It was good teamwork too, Anne, Alison and the regulars raked the hay, Jim and I collected it in wheelbarrows and dumped it on the compost heap. Having never seen, let alone used a real pitchfork before, I soon got the hang of it. It was a bit like using a fork to eat noodles. Just on a bigger scale.

It was a mild day, the sun was out and it wasn't too cold. during the break time I had this very refreshing elderflower cordial. I usually prefer my cordials entente, but never mind. I have to say, I really enjoyed the experience. Living in a block of flats, and being decidedly urban in my outlook, I've never really done any serious gardening, but I felt today was worthwhile and enjoyable. It was fun to work with the others, particularly Jim, who was more than handy with his pitchfork I can tell you! I bet Colin would be good at this sort of thing too.

It's a shame they do the work on Saturday mornings when we are busy because I would love to do this again some time.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The East Finchley Village Project

Today I attended the second introductory meeting for the East Finchley Village Project. I am still not 100% certain about what the aim of the project is, and one fellow attendee thought it was "nebulous". It seems to be an effort to foster greater communication between residents, and designed to help direct people to the right place for things. In many such cases, in fact that is the job of Councillors. The examples cited were mainly social services, for which people should be encouraged to contact Colin, Alison and myself.

In my view, the most useful form of this project would be if it set up a forum for the already strong local community and voluntary groups. It could be a hub for people to share ideas, communicate, co-operate, spread news and share best practice. I suggested that they should meet all over East Finchley, and go to the "forgotten" or under used places. Make sure all of the ward is involved on a micro basis.

That might involve dropping the term "village", which if the signs are anything to go by really only seem to include the High Road. Never mind that Church Lane is the original village. I something is branded "East Finchkey", it ought to be all of East Finchley. I have always said there is more to East Finchley than just the County Roads. We should not forget Briar Close, Deansway, Manor Cottages Approach or Strawberry Vale.

It seems like this is being run by very well intentioned people, who really want to make a success of it, but I feel they lack a certain direction. They seem to want it to be all encompassing, when in reality there is a smaller but important role of residents association for voluntary and community groups which they could play.

I wish them well in their endeavours, and let's see what they can bring.

Recent Labour comments on One Barnet

Cllr Geof Cooke of Woodhouse ward is our spokesperson on Finance and resources. I am on the Audit Committee with him, and he is very impressive on detail. Here, is his speech in last weeks Council meeting, comparing One Barnet to the book 1984 by George Orwell.

Then my colleague Cllr Kath McGuirk, of West Finchley ward on the more for less approach.

And finally the leader on our new leaflet.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

One Barnet and the transparency problem

At the last Audit Committee meeting, I spoke about how the Council did not consider transparency to be important. In thier own internal audit, they said they planned to comply with the minimum standards, and shift to a more demand side approach. Basically they will publish information you ask for, not by choice. Given they put up a fight against any request for information, what does it say about moving to a system where all information release will be on request? This flies against even what Eric Pickles says. Barnet Council is a banana republic as far as the level of democracy goes, but it's even more shadowy when it comes to publishing information.

Where are the director's group minutes I have requested, and that they said would be published quarterly? Wy did I have to battle for a month to get the list of assets held for sale? A list which should be publicly available? Where is the special Parking revenue account we asked for at Budget and Performance? Why has the blogger Mr Mustard had to get an information commissioner ruling to get the full unredacted One Barnet risk register? why are so many of Mr Mustard's freedom of Information requests deemed "vexatious"? He is a resident and has a right to see information about the running of the Council which is supposed to work for him.

Most opaque of all, when three bloggers visited the Council and exerised their statutory rights to examine the accounts, was the information redacted?

If Councillors currently are denied access to information we have a right to see, and residents can't see anything for all the redactions, then what is it going to be like when all the performance criteria for the Council will be commercially confidential, because it relates to the performanc of a company? If it's bad enough now, imagine what it will be like under One Barnet?

As it is, we get information at committee meetings, and have to ask our own questions and follow the discussion while reading new information and asking questions on these as well. It isn't good practice in scrutiny. As it is they provide us with our committee papers far too late.

I see my colleague Cllr Alison Moore has similar concerns. It's not entirely surprising that a Council which spends more money closing a library than keeping it open can't tell the difference between an 8 page summary of the One Barnet risk register than the full 59 page version.

Abbots Gardens residents concerned about parking

We recently spoke to residents of Abbots Gardens, and the issue that came up time and time again has been the parking. They are the same concerns we hear all over East Finchley, all over Barnet really. They feel it's a rip off paying £4 for visitors permits, they think the price hike in the CPZ permit from £42 to £105 was too much in one go, they think the pay-by-phone parking system on the High Road is atrocious. I would not normally focus on the issues of just one road, but given this is one of the better roads for the Tories in East Finchley, I was surprised by the level of support there was for our position on this issue. They feel let down by Mr Freer, and don't trust the Council at all.

It was good to hear some positive comments about us councillors individually as well, with some very kind comments about Colin and Alison, and a few people said how nice it was to see us back after the by election working hard. Given the level of criticism Councillors face, it's very nice to hear residents appreciate our efforts.

Clearly, residents are hearing a lot more about One Barnet, and are raising it with us on the doorsteps. Given their anger about parking, they think it's incredible that the dodgy thinking that underpins the failed parking policies are being applied to the whole Council. This is a particular concern, as planning applications can be very contentious here, and they don't like the idea of the planning department being privatised.

Happy Diwali

Diwali is the best time in the Hindu calendar. More than being an excuse for eating a lot (and in my case, a hell of a lot) of sweets, it's a time for the community gather together in an annual reunion. Sort of like Party Conferences, but with better food and closer to home.

On the Council, Cllr Ansuya Sodha, Cllr Sachin Rajput and Cllr Sury Khatri are the other Hindu Councillors celebrating. All four of us get along very well, despite political differences, and I guess that's the point of Diwali.

These sort of celebrations can get a little tricky. People still pull my cheeks and tell me how sweet I am. I'm 25, and I moved beyond being describable as "sweet" when I was 3. More worryingly I am now entering the crucial phase of 25-30 in my life, i.e the "why aren't you married yet?" phase. Already this year, eight people have mentioned to me that they have daughters my age looking to get married. Cue awkward shiftiness and unconvincing laugh.

Unfortunately for me, I will be spending most of the week working, and will only get to enjoy the food that gets brought home. I suppose we all have to make sacrifices. At least I got to see some fireworks.
Happy Diwali folks!

Friday, 9 November 2012

CommUNITY Barnet

I decided to skip Cabinet and Cabinet resources on Wednesday and go to the CommUNITY Barnet meeting for charity trustees at Hendon Town Hall on Wednesday night. It was an excellent even (and not just because there was some nice food) but a couple of really engaging speakers. The first lady spoke about the role of trustees. I tell you, if she had a few jokes in there it would have been a brilliant stand up routine. She perfectly encapsulated the problems you can get with any sort of organisation, such as members who take over everything, members who are disinterested and absent etc. It could have related to school governors or councillors as well! I thought there was some very good advice, which was that it doesn't matter who appointed you, or whom you are there as a representative of, yur concerns should be for the organisation who's board you are on. So very true, and hits home for some of the committees for this and that I have sat on in my time.

The second speaker talked about working in partnership, and the organisational challenges of dealing with separate organisations, which was interesting from a one Barnet point of view. He also said how good the staff for the Council were, and it is absolutely true. We have a wonderful staff at Barnet, and are lucky to have such a hard working, dedicated, conscientious, professional and expert workforce. One of the reasons I am so against One Barnet is I don't think these great employees should be treated so shabbily.

Some great people there, such as Julia Hines, the very impressive chair of Age UK Barnet. Hugely knowledgeable and capable, and a great person as well.

There was a lovely man from a Barnet elderly Asians group, the one based in Friary House. He said they still have the problem with Dial-a-ride at Friary House. I am quite annoyed that this issue is back again, as I thought we had solved it. He also mentioned that there is no bus shelter at the nearest stop, which I shall pass on.

And then there was the food....

Anyways, congratulations to the excellent CommUNITY Barnet, I hope they can continue their excellent services to the people of Barnet.

East Finchley Festival

I attended an organising meeting for the East Finchley festival on Monday, Just thought I would say what a really great bunch of hard working people are involved, and I think that after the disappointment of this year being rained off, next year is looking really good.

I am continuing to press the Council about Cherry Tree Woods, the drainage, the litter, the cleanliness and the play equipment. There is no money to improve it, or improve the collection rate, but I am determined that the Council will take the needs of the park seriously and make sure it's up to the high standards we expect of Barnet Parks.

Stay tuned!

Hustings show who is a real leader

Tonight was the Barnet Alliance for Public Service panel debate on One Barnet. Council Leader Cllr Richard Cornelius, Labour leader Cllr Alison Moore, Lib Dem leader Cllr Jack Cohen and Andy Mudd of the Association of Public Service Excellence.

A really good panel and full credit to Richard Cornelius for coming and engaging with the public to debate One Barnet. This is the first time the Tories have held themselves accountable for One Barnet. Well, it's actually the first time the Tories have held themselves accountable!

The event was filmed, and when it is available, I would suggest people watch it for themselves, becuse people should form their own views on this, they had the full range of opinion, and a fair, well mannered and open exchange of views. Richard was not in front of a crowd of supporters, but I was surprised to talk to some people afterwards who were Tories, and came with an open mind, and left horrified. I think we are getting real traction, and I was both surprised and ecstatic at how many East Finchley residents came, many of whom were not people I know from doing the rounds, but ordinary people, who are genuinely worried about this One Barnet fiasco.

There were 10 Labour Councillors, almost half the group. Supporting Richard, there were just two that I saw (plus Cllr Coleman, who is no longer a Conservative Councillor) out of 37. Despite the performance of the Tory Councillors on Monday night, that they couldn't be bothered to turn up and support him in the biggest public test of his leadership thus far was, in my opinion, extremely rude. I don't know about what that says about the power balances in the Tory Group (nor do I actually care very much) but they should have turned out to support him. Given the ALL voted with him on the Extraordinary Council Meeting on Tuesday and they would not even vote to pause and re-think the process, we can safely assume ALL Tory Councillors are fully behind the One Barnet programme, with no exception. If that was the case on Tuesday, why wasn't it on Thursday? Rudeness.

Andy Mudd is real value for money, with good insights and experiences. Alison argues long and hard at the last Budget and Performance meeting to get him as a witness to the committee about outsourcing, but sadly the opportunity wasn't taken up.

Cllr Cohen, whom I like personally a great deal, spoke well, and was fairly balanced in his approach, as he always is.

Richard tried his best, but really he was hamstrung by the reality, which is that no one knows what is really in the programme. Despite only apparently being weeks away from the signing of the first contract, they still don't know what's even in them! He had no real response about the thin client model, nor on why an inhouse bid wasn't considered. When asked about what the benefits were, he said about keeping taxes low. when it was pointed out that this would lead to worse services for disabled and vulnerable residents, he said they had a duty to taxpayers. It's like the 47% thing in America, disabled people and vulnerable people are taxpayers too!

But I thought Alison was excellent. not just because she is my leader, my ward colleague and my friend, but I really felt I could see her as leader of the Council. She was on top of detail (she always is- it's freakish), compassionate and understanding of peoples concerns, but also forthright and honest about some important issues. For example, she said that there will be tough choices for us if we win the Council in 2014. She also gave the right answer about the committee system, which was that we are slating the Council for not considering properly all the options, how can we agree to changing the system of the council without properly discussing that as well? I myself have never seen the committee system, and have questions about how it would work, but I keep an open mind.

I spoke briefly about how it was already difficult for Councillors to get some information, and my own struggles. We are not allowed to see commercially sensitive information, and this is before all the services and performance date is commercialised as performance of a private company. I also said that the bloggers tried to exercise their rights to audit the accounts, and these had been redacted to worthlessness. If we can't scrutinise properly now, what will it be like when the entire Council is commercially sensitive in it's performance stats?

Members of the public were really engaged, and had some excellent questions. What was truly satisfying was that many of these questioners were not people I recognised as being the usual political activists, but normal members of the public, with a great deal of common sense, understanding and practicality. I thought there were some odd points from the Greens about austerity. Rather strange given the Green Council in Brighton are cutting by something like 40% to my understanding. We have to be realistic, and most of the people there understand that. This is a debate about how we deliver services and change them to cope with the realities, and I am glad that all the public understand that.

I was very happy with Alison's performance, and I thought she got better as she went on. She gave herself a good birthday present to herself today.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Report from Fiona Twycross AM

Standing up for Londoners - working for you and with you
Over the past few months, I have been working on a number of issues including:
Launching an investigation on behalf of the Assembly in to food poverty and the growing scandal of hunger in our city - for more information and to take part in the consultation which ends on 5 November, please follow the link below:
Challenging the Mayor on a range of issues from public mental health; the likely impact on affordable housing that will be caused by Universal Credit to accessible transport. See the following link to see the questions I have raised with the Mayor and his response: (search 'Fiona Twycross'). Please let me know if you have issues you would like to be raised with the Mayor in the future.
Fighting cuts to suburban rail services, like the South London Line and the Sutton Loop - see information on the recent motion passed by the assembly:
 As a member of the Fire Authority, I was delighted to vote to reverse the proposed privatisation of the Merton Control Centre
Along with colleagues on the Labour Group and members across London, I am also campaigning against the level of cuts to emergency services which are too far and too fast. See a BBC report from September. Please let me know about campaigns you are running on the ground as, working with Labour Party Regional Office, we will shortly be circulating details of best practice and model materials.
Re-establishing the Regional Phonebank on Tuesdays from 6 pm - 8 pm at Labour Party London Region, 1 Brewers Green, London SW1H 0RH - please get in touch if you would like to come along. Training and a cup of tea provided.
For information on my work, please see my new website:

Making work pay & a future that works
Shockingly, despite his promises, the Mayor has failed to ensure all workers working within the remit of the Greater London Authority get the London Living Wage. This includes some cleaners working for TfL. Along with other Labour Assembly members, I recently welcomed members of the RMT to City Hall demanding the living wage.

Thousands of people from across the UK took part in the recent TUC march in London. I was pleased to join members from my local party in the recent TUC march for 'a future that works'.

Following the march I raised issues relating to the government's failed economic policies and youth unemployment in London at the Assembly. See the link below for further information:

Tom Copley AM October Report

October has been a busy month, with Labour on the London Assembly challenging the mayor over cuts to emergency services in London.

I've questioned the mayor about what he's doing to tackle the appalling scandal of homeless families housed for months in overcrowded bed & breakfast accommodation.  I've also urged him to make representations to the Education Secretary Michael Gove on behalf of the thousands of young Londoners affected by the unfair and arbitrary change in GCSE English grade boundaries.  You can read more about this in my report below.

In addition to my monthly report I occasionally send out more regular updates and exclusive news and content to registered supporters.  If you would like to be part of my supporters list please click here to sign up.

Best wishes,

Tom Copley AM
Labour London Assembly Member (Londonwide)

PS – you can keep up to date with the work I’m doing on the Assembly and around London by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  You can also visit my website at

October Report contents:
Rising homelessness: the appalling scandal of families housed in overcrowded bed & breakfast accommodation
Standing up for young Londoners affected by unfair GCSE English grade boundary changes
Challenging the Tory austerity agenda 
Tory support for gay rights is a victory for Labour
Rising homelessness: the appalling scandal of families housed in overcrowded bed & breakfast accommodation

In a shocking report, the BBC's Newsnight revealed the scandal of homeless families housed for months on end in overcrowded bed & breakfast accommodation, in breach of regulations.  At October's Mayor's Question Time I asked Boris Johnson what he is doing to work with boroughs and the government to tackle this problem.

The mayor admitted that the Tory-led government's housing benefit changes had undoubtedly made an impact and admitted that the problem had increased this year.

Standing up for young Londoners affected by unfair GCSE English grade boundary changes

The London Assembly has called on the mayor to intervene with Michael Gove on behalf of young Londoners affected by Ofqual's unfair and arbitrary last minute decision to change the GCSE English C/D grade boundary.  The mid-year decision has meant students who took their exam later in the year were marked more harshly than their peers who took the exam early, with thousands losing out on a vital C grade as a result.

The mayor has asked the government for powers over education in London.  He needs to stand up for young Londoners affected by this unfair and arbitrary change.

Challenging the Tory austerity agenda

The London Assembly has backed a motion in support of the TUC's march for A Future That Works.  With youth unemployment in London standing at 22% we need policies that boost our economy and get young people back into work.  Following an extraordinary speech in which he attacked the previous Labour government, I challenged the London Assembly's Conservative Group leader Andrew Boff about this at the Assembly's October plenary meeting:

Tory support for gay rights is a victory for Labour 

It's always worth reminding ourselves about the huge strides for LGBT equality made under the last Labour government.  After Conservative Future chair, Ben Howlett, penned an article in which he attacked Labour's record on gay rights I responded with a piece on Labour's achievements, and argued that the transformation in the views of the Conservative Party leadership is itself a victory for Labour:

Barnet goes in-house on waste and green spaces

I am very glad that the Council look like they are going to go for an in-house bid for the waste and green spaces.

As a ward Councillor, I have written many times here about my concerns with the state of Cherry Tree Woods. I am concerned about litter, the regularity of bin collections and the filthy state of play equipment. I hope that any changes could lead to improvements in the service and tackle these problems.

Politically, I think this is a good step forwards as well, as it shows that in-house bids can be acceptable to the Council. I do not regard the One Barnet process to have had a proper competitive tendering process, as in-house bids were not considered a all. In fact they gave it less consideration than they did a joint venture for the DRS contract.

I think the council could learn from this and look more sympathetically at in-house bids and proper competitive dialogues.