Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Open Season: or - the Library without Librarians - tested by Barnet campaigners

A body in the library: who dunnit? Your Tory councillors on ...

A question, for you, dear reader.

What is a library?

Is it perhaps a place where you might go to borrow something to read? 

Or a place where you might sit to study? 

To join in some activity, like a book club, or simply be with other people, in a welcoming environment, safe, and warm?

Or to find a source of information, or advice, from a professional librarian?

All of those things, you might think. If so, and you live in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, you might want to think again.

Because if your Tory councillors get their way, the public library service as you have always known it in this most rotten of Rotten Boroughs, will not exist.

The former library buildings will be handed over to Capita (yes, see previous post for an idea of how well that will go, including, as we know now, the winning of more gainshare payments from us to them for taking on this new responsibility) ...

In those buildings, a shrunken, nominal library service will be run, by coincidence, largely in traditional Tory wards, by a paltry level of staffing that will have been culled by nearly 50%: and the rest ... will be libraries in name only, a parody of a library service, with a massive 70% reduction in staffed hours, so to be run - if possible, or closed if not - by 'volunteers', or worst of all, become so called 'open' libraries - an innocuous sounding phrase for something really terrible: a library that is not, in fact a library, but a roomful of books, with no staff at all, professional, or unpaid, qualified, or voluntary. A space devoid of human contact, in short. 

And into this space residents will have to gain entry by electronically operated doors, activated by an entry system requiring a pin number. They may then enjoy, if that is the word, the complete sense of alienation from community, social interaction, and professional support that is the hallmark of the 'open', unstaffed library: the perfect library model for a hollowed out council authority, whose easynomic approach to public service is one of unswerving antagonism to the very idea of, well: anything that serves the public, without earning someone a private profit.

Open Libraries: a user's guide: Don't Panic! Or rather: no  - do panic ...

Your Tory councillors, including the deputy leader and aspiring Assembly Member Dan Thomas, who sits on the committee dealing with library matters, warmly welcomed the current proposed cuts and changes to the library service, and the use of the so called 'open' system, even though they had not seen the risk assessment for the pilot scheme which had then been running only a short time, at Edgware Library, and even though they were told by officers, wrongly, that this system was 'the standard approach' in 'Scandinavia' and successful elsewhere. 

The truth is that this system has not been used long term in any context comparable to the one in which it is now proposed to be implemented, and the risks highlighted in the council's own, discreetly hidden assessment are, although potentially catastrophic, being conveniently sidelined.

Library campaigners in the borough have already begun a process of legal challenge to the proposed destruction of our library service: and now some of those campaigners have taken another approach, and decided to visit the pilot scheme 'open library' at Edgware - the same branch, incidentally, that was Mrs Angry's refuge as a child, and the source of all her reading material: a place of infinite pleasures, and possibilities. How unspeakably sad it is that children in Edgware, in the future, will not be allowed to visit the unstaffed library, unaccompanied, to borrow books, or to study.

Local activist Barbara Jacobson and a group of residents from 'Save Barnet Libraries' went to visit Edgware library one night last week, to test the new system, and try to assess what would happen, in an emergency. Conclusion: nothing would happen. 

There is a report of this visit now online in the local Times, see here.

And as Barbara told Mrs Angry: 

"Outside of our group, only two men came in the entire time we were there. Someone who went on another night said there were only three people there; she was the only woman, felt uncomfortable, left and said she would not return on her own ...

There was a woman present before the end of staffed hours. She said she would leave and not re-enter on her own. She is a homeless person, so the accommodation the library would afford is tempting but she said she wouldn't stay because the council took no responsibility if anything happened to her on the premises.

Very little on the leaflet is accurate. Look at the 'Safety and security': it doesn't mention that the CCTV is not live monitored, thus providing nothing more than a record of what the cameras might have picked up. Filming or taking photos is not allowed – no reason given, no explanation of what this has to do with safety or security – but the fact is we did take photos. I didn't see the leaflet until we were leaving, so I didn't know it wasn't permitted and there was, of course, no one there to tell us or stop us.

One of the two men mentioned above was very upset when he saw a group of us walking in without using the keypad: you're not supposed to do that. He's right, but who will stop you?

"There would be no way to stop people who wanted to remove books or equipment either. It would be interesting to see whether CCTV picked up this stack of books being placed on the floor or being returned to the shelves. There are some places that may not be within sight of the CCTV cameras.

Look at what to do in an emergency. Well, I guess everyone entering the library will read the leaflet first. Sure they will. But what if they don't notice the two people lying prone behind the stacks? Have they fallen over? been overcome by a noxious substance? had a heart attack? Will CCTV have even seen them? And so what, since no one will look at the films until … gee, until when? 'Monitored' does tell us with what frequency, but we know it's not live.

All I can tell you is that we lay on the floor unseen by the two men who were in the library minding their own business. Theoretically, someone alone in the library could simply die there. 

The security guard was located outside the library by four of our group when they were leaving ... There won't be security guards if this dimwitted plan goes ahead, but this one was no use anyway ..." 

"If we had checked the opening hours, we would have seen that the unstaffed period began at 8.15pm. However, then we might not have learned that people cannot use the Internet for 15 minutes before the staffed hours end at 8pm, when everyone is made to leave the premises. 

There is then a delay in using the Internet when the unstaffed hours begin, so students studying or jobseekers searching for jobs or anyone filling in forms online will have a minimum 20-minute hiatus in their ability to continue whatever they are doing. 

The system might require a 15-minute break between staffed and unstaffed hours, but for the people wanting to use the library, it's an inconvenience – loss of concentration, perhaps loss of a form only partially completed – and a big waste of time.

The point of turfing people out is to ensure that only those with a library card and an activated PIN can get in. It's nonsense. There is a device outside the library door for users to insert their library card and a keypad to tap in their PIN ... 

Several of our group had problems: one had trouble with the keypad itself, others found that although they had PINs, they had not been activated, and one whose PIN had been activated by staff at the library that evening found it did not work. It didn't matter: I entered my (activated) PIN, the doors opened and several of us walked through, because automatic doors stay open as long as the electronic beam is broken. 

A few people remained outside to try the keypad. When their efforts proved fruitless, someone inside pressed the device to open the automatic doors, which is there to allow people to exit. This means there is no control over who enters the library: people of any age, with or without library cards, with or without PINs." 

As you can see here, the upstairs study area was shut off: not that it would stop anyone gaining access, if they wanted to: perhaps if they were 'caught short', due to the loo being shut? More unspeakable unpleasantness of the sort that makes Cllr Helena Hart quiver in indignation ...

Naughty Mrs Jacobson and her companions also sat down and pretended to smoke what look to Mrs Angry suspiciously like ... no, no, surely not ... right there, in the middle of a public library. What happened? Again: nothing. (Mrs Jacobson informs Mrs Angry they were really posing with rolled up paper, and no, she didn't inhale).

In the local Times' article, the ineffable Tory library shutter in chief, Reuben Thompstone, offers a typically humourless response to reports of the campaigners' trial of his pilot scheme: 

"It’s disappointing that some residents claim to have disrupted a session in this way. We are using the pilot at Edgware to trial a range of security measures which will inform any future adoption of the scheme."

Again, quite typically, Thompstone ignores the real issues at stake: the inherent and untested dangers of this system, the loss of access, the exclusion of children, the danger for lone women, and the elderly, the difficulties for disabled users who want to visit their local library. 

What does he mean, when claiming to 'trial' security measures? What security measures? A cctv camera that records and does not inform of any live mugging, or theft, or accident or illness? A use of security guards, however pointless, that, unlike in this pilot scheme, will NOT be in place if and when these unstaffed libraries are imposed on us? 

One worrying fact that we should all remember, and that means anyone in the UK who cares about the future of public libraries, is that this carefully managed 'pilot scheme' has already been visited by the government's Libraries Taskforce, last August, when the 'trial' had only been in place a short while. 

Be afraid: be very afraid. The use of Broken Barnet as a laboratory of Tory policy has demonstrated over and over again that any crackpot scheme, no matter how flawed, will be presented by our shameless Tory councillors and their aspirational senior management team as the most wonderful success, and ready to be adopted on a national scale. 

Thompstone and his colleagues claim that the destruction of our library service is necessary in order to make, yes, 'savings', just as they told us the Capita contracts were necessary for the same reason. Look at the previous post, and gauge for yourself how much reliance to put on any such assurance.

The truth is that the massive cut in staffing and opening hours, the shrinking of library space, and the handing over to Capita of our library building management is part of another story altogether, in line with the underlying motif of everything that happens in Broken Barnet. That is to say, creating a business opportunity for someone, a commercial partner, by appealing to the dogmatic opposition of our neo-Thatcherite Tory councillors to the very principle of locally run, accountable public sector services.

The library savings of £2.8 million are to be made with the capital expenditure of £6 million, directed at modifying the buildings. Cost effective, we are informed, in the long run. Really? 

No, not really, because here is another example of easynomics: calculations based on assumptions lacking any evidence or credibility, intended to persuade our dopey councillors that this is the only option for them to approve. 

If only a tiny fraction of the money we are throwing at Capita now, over and above the core cost of the contract, were to be reclaimed - we could save our libraries, and even invest in them, as they should be, so they can become central once more to our society, as the Carnegie foundation has recently been reminding us, for example:

As cultural centres, learning hubs, social centres, a resource for self empowerment: yes, a value for money service that is of immense and wide ranging benefit to society as a whole.

We will never see the short or long term benefits of these budget savings, not just because the damage they will cause will be incalculable, and profound, but in financial terms, because the next stage in the process will be the outsourcing of the library service, which is the real object of these swingeing cuts and changes. 

Don't be fooled, readers, as your Tory representatives already have been. 

Time to tell them to look again - and if not, to remember this, in May, when you are walking to the polling station, and Dan Thomas and Zac Goldsmith are asking for your vote. 

Before you get there, ask Cllr Thomas & Mr Goldsmith what they did to save your local library. 

And make sure you do something too, before it is too late.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sweet Nothings: or - Mrs Angry's guide to outsourcing.

For all the tweeting Barnet Tory councillors, including the leader Richard Cornelius, and deputy leader and aspiring London Assembly member Dan Thomas, who appear not to understand the basic rules of outsourcing, which may be the reason why they will not answer her requests for evidence of the 'savings' our two whopping Crapita contracts are meant to deliver ... here is:

Mrs Angry's 'Outsourcing for Dummies':

Dick likes sweets.

He uses his £1 pocket money, every week, to buy a bag of Inequality Street chocolates, and then hide them under his pillow, as he is going to grow up to be a Tory councillor, and is rather greedy.

Look: there is a new boy in Dick's class, called Peter. 

Peter is a very clever boy, who has a lot of pocket money, but no sweets. 

Dick is not a clever boy. 

Peter says: Dick, if you give me half your pocket money, I will buy your sweets for you.

I can buy my sweets myself, says Dick.

But if you let me buy them, you won't have to walk to the sweetshop, says Peter.

And Dick, I can buy you even nicer sweets, and save you money

Also, I will give you one of my sweets, if you let me get yours too.

Dick is quite a lazy boy, and this seems like a good idea. 

Alright, Peter, he says: here is half my pocket money

Peter goes to the sweet shop.

Here you are, Dick, says Peter, on his return, and gives him a couple of sweets. 

Now you owe me fifty pence, Dick, says Peter. And you promised me one of your sweets

But I gave you half my pocket money, says Dick, and you said I could have one of your sweets

And look, Peter: you have given me only two sweets. I want more!

No, said Peter. The sweets cost more than I thought

And that means now you have to give me one of your sweets, and reward me with more money, for my efforts, in the form of gainshare payments. 

And by the way, I need a loan to buy some new shoes, in order to keep walking to the sweetshop for you. 

Hand it over, Dick, and be a good boy.

But that's not fair, says Dick, crying. 

And: these sweets are horrible, and I have no pocket money left, and Mummy will tell me off.

Serves you right, you great eejit, says Peter. Next time  someone makes you an offer that seems too good to be true, read the fucking contract, son - and listen to Mrs Angry when she tells you not to sign it ...


Now just look at this picture.  A memorable day, in the forgotten history of Broken Barnet, that is to say, the history that your Tory councillors would like you to forget, but Mrs Angry intends to remind you about, at every opportunity.

'Saving Barnet's taxpayers £126 million'. Got that? 

£126 million.

Of course, what you cannot see in the picture is that Tory leader Richard Cornelius is signing the contract with a magic pen.

Mrs Angry has one of those pens. It really is a magic pen, and writes in invisible ink, impossible to decipher, if you are a Tory councillor, for at least two and a half years after use.

So, anyway. 

Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, who unlike Mrs Angry is numerate, and a very sensible chap, you know, has been following with a keen eye the progress of the two massive Capita contracts we have been lumbered with, here in Broken Barnet, since 2013.

He has just posted his latest assessment of the state of play, so far: see here ... and in his opinion, well: things are not quite working out as our Tory councillors assured us they would, are they?

According to Mr Reasonable:

"December supplier payments are out and Christmas clearly was a season to be merry. Capita billed £18,264,588.36 in December on both the Re and CSG contracts. That brings their running total for the financial year to £61.26 million, £10 million more than the whole of 2014/15 and a total of £168.3 million since the start of the contract two and a half years ago. While certain Councillors keep repeating the mantra "Capita are saving money" I keep asking them to show me the evidence because the amount of money we are paying seems immense compared to the core contract value".

Yes, councillors: where is the evidence?

Mrs Angry has asked some of them, via the medium of twitter, to explain to her how it was that we could possibly be making savings, when we are giving such vast wads of cash to Crapita, in the form not just of fees, but in 'hidden' costs, extra payments. 

Not one councillor has replied.

Now then. Mrs Angry is not very good at adding up, although this has never been a disadvantage in her career as a local government auditor, which really only requires the ability to detect the slightest whiff of ... bullshit.

Still: if only the infant Mrs Angry had paid more attention in maths classes at school, and spent less time in the corridor, or in detention, and thank you, Miss Bender, she might have been able to assess if indeed the Crapita contracts are saving us, the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet, the bucket loads of cash that we were promised.

As it is, well, readers, especially you, Tory councillors: already spending £168 million, in only two and a half years of a 10 year contract meant to save erm ... £126 million: how does that work out? 

That works out, Mrs Angry thinks, readers and Tory councillors, as a 'saving' of £126 million, over ten years, set against projected expenditure of ... £672 million? 

Or possibly more, if costs rise incrementally, over the ten year contract period.

Oh dear. 

No wonder they don't want to comment, our Tory councillors.

What could they say?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Last Betrayal, or - the breaking of West Hendon, and the making of a latter day myth: 'sink estates' ...

Left by a resident of West Hendon, on moving out of a compulsorily purchased home

I've lost count, now, of the number of posts I've written about West Hendon, and the eviction of a community from the place they call home, down there, by the waterfront, on the edge of the Welsh Harp.

The residents of West Hendon call it home: or they did, but the local Tory councillors see the place where they live as not a community, but a business opportunity, and under the pretext of 'regeneration', and despite a promise to residents of a better housing on the same site, handed the publicly owned land to Barratt London for a private, luxury high rise property development.

The land was worth £12 million, but was given to developers for £3, so as to allow them to maximise profits on their investment, conservatively estimated last year at a mere £92 million.

And now the monstrous new towers are growing higher, and higher, in West Hendon, violating the skyline of north London for miles around, while residents must watch their estate demolished, piece by piece, as they remain, trapped in the middle of a building site, waiting to be removed, 'decanted' and dispossessed of their homes, driven out of West Hendon, probably out of Barnet, and very possibly out of London. 

Is that 'regeneration'? 

Only if you see a piece of land as a commodity, an empty space; bereft of social value, and history, inconveniently occupied by people whose lives are to you nothing more than a matter of indifference, and worse: a barrier to the possibilities of profit.

And this is, after all, then, the story of West Hendon, and now the story of Tory London, and a housing crisis created by arrant greed, in the face of real and desperate need, by too many, for access to truly affordable, decent housing.

Tory housing policy in London, a subject to be fought over by aspiring GLA members, and mayoral candidates, is made manifest, here in West Hendon. 

The promise of 'regeneration' is a lie. It means redevelopment, and new homes for the rich. It means: the people who live there now will not live there in the future. 

But Londoners are beginning to understand that this lie is indeed just that: that numerous former estates are being cleared, demolished and redeveloped, and overseas buyers flocking to buy up the housing that ordinary residents of the capital can only dream about. High profile examples like Heygate loom large in public consciousness now, and yes: the game is up, but nothing must come before the enormous profit still to be had for the big time players involved and on the look out for more and more potential sources of speculative development. 

So there is now a need for a change in tactics: a gearing up of the political engineering that drives, or at least enables, this massively profitable business. As always, what is tried in Tory Broken Barnet is proof enough for the rest: what worked in West Hendon will do for the rest of London, and elsewhere: the demonisation of social housing, and the destruction of council estates, on the pretext of problems that do not exist, or at least not on the scale some would have you believe.

Yes: we are talking about 'sink estates', a term readopted with such glee by David Cameron, in his recent declarations about housing, in the new Tory war on the very idea of social housing; an approach which sits comfortably with mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith's pronouncements in a revealing interview  with the Camden New Journal:

And when asked about the potential loss of social housing, Mr Goldsmith said London’s percentage of social housing is unusually high, and that the balance needed to be “rejigged” in order to increase the amount of homes available for “those in the middle”.

So 'sink estates', then: knock them down, and the social deprivation which Tories think are synonymous with such developments, will just disappear, will it? Well: of course it is progress, perhaps, that they at least seem to acknowledge that there is significant social deprivation to address, but: no. It won't. Buildings don't create poverty. Ah: well then, what about things like ... crime? We all know that all council estates are rife with criminal behaviour, and, yes, that should scare the rest of us into thinking a Tory government is quite right to knock them down, with no further delay: ghettoes to be cleared, and sanitised: socially cleansed.

This issue was the subject of some reporting and debate on the London section of the last but one episode of the BBC Sunday Politics show. And guess which Tory MP was invited along to speak in defence of the new Tory housing proposals, and answer the question - is it the architecture, the building, or the people who live in it that is the 'problem' ? (You can see the programme here, the London section about 38 minutes in ...)

Local MP, member for Hendon, Matthew Offord. 

Offord explained in a seamless flow of virtually unchallenged assertions that in his constituency he has not one but two 'sink estates', that is to say, West Hendon, and Grahame Park. 

He spoke of West Hendon in particular, 'we're rebuilding that', regenerating it: it had become 'a success story in itself', thanks to Barnet Council, the Mayor and the government - only later did he make a general reference to Barnet working with the private sector, such as Barratts.

He referred to Grahame Park, which he said had been built 'just after the war'. He boasted of taking Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne there, and thought this might have influenced their policy making. Really? Did you take them to West Hendon?

In fact Grahame Park was not built 'just after the war', but in the 1970s, by a Tory council - but still, who needs to quibble about the facts, on the BBC, these days? And now followed some really outrageous claims by Offord, that really did demand a robust challenge, but one which unfortunately was not forthcoming:

These estates, he claimed now, are 'very much no-go places at night ...', offering in evidence of this that local police say it is 'very difficult there to maintain and enforce the law ...'

An extraordinary remark, and indeed a pretty extraordinary sequence of assertions, made smoothly, as if irrefutable fact, and accepted without question. 

No-go areas? Mrs Angry made a note, in red, and thought this was something that really did need investigating. When had the mean streets of Broken Barnet become so dangerous that our police officers were struggling to exercise the rule of law, in certain areas of the borough?

Offord continued blithely with his litany of woe, delivered deadpan, still unchecked: yes, the 'walkways' and the 'physical attributes' of these places are the problem.

Walkways? What 'physical attributes'? No one asked him to elaborate. 

Neil Coyle, the Labour MP for Bermondsey & Southwark, tried to bring some sort of human perspective to the discussion by reminding us the debate was about people's homes. 

West Hendon resident Leigh, who has lived on a sink estate, without realising it, for more than 40 years

This is never a good line to follow with Conservatives, of course. A house, for a Tory politician, in 2016, is not a home, if it is defined as social housing.

And so we saw, as the debate turned to the question of 'tenancies for life'. Offord had strong views on this.

The big issue here, he said is just that, 'people living in properties (or livin', as he says, in that curiously archaic accent he has - to match the curiously archaic nature of his black and white political vision - talking out of the side of his mouth, like a chippy, but aspirational costermonger in a 1950s Ealing comedy, ... some sayin' well, they should be able to live there for life ... '

Now he went further: stating he was indeed happy with the five year limit on tenancies, he then declared, absurdly:

'No one has a right, even in the private sector, those of us that own our own properties ... we cannot guarantee, even ourselves who have mortgages, that we are going to live in that property for the rest of our lives ...'

Tim Donovan asked Offord now if he accepted that if you knock down these estates, what you put in its place, both in its nature of tenure, and the number of properties, will never be matched, which means people will be displaced. 

Offord thought that you never can, because using private sector capital 'means you are going to have to sell some of those properties privately ...'

Some of these properties. All of these properties, in effect, with at best a token offer from the profiteering developers of a minimal amount of (non) affordable housing.

Look at the history of West Hendon: a 'regeneration' sold to residents on the basis of doing exactly what is looked on now as out of the question - improving the quality of life, for their families, giving them new homes, in their own community. Now they find themselves evicted, and in some cases, homeless, in order to make way for luxury accommodation, the majority of which, so far is reported to have been sold to wealthy overseas investors.

Let's ask the question again: is this regeneration?

Or is it, yes: social cleansing? 

Offord was asked about that.  He said he found the term 'quite offensive'.

'We're actually trying to socially improve people's lives, not only through the quality of their housin', but also through their ability to access transport, to engage in the work process - maybe to live in parts of London they'd not considered before ...'

No: really. That is what he said. 

The feckless, ungrateful residents of West Hendon, you see, are having their lives 'socially improved', by their Tory council, which gave away the land they live on to private developers, and then informed tenants and leaseholders alike to clear off out of it, and don't come back: you can't come back. 

No right to return, no compulsory purchase offer to owner occupiers adequate enough to enable them to buy shared equity on the new luxury development. A few lucky secure tenants shoved into a grim building outside the footprint of the new development, with no view of the waterside, looking onto the grimy backyards of shut up shops on the Edgware Road, the rest kicked out into more temporary accommodation on other 'regeneration' estates, refusal of which made them homeless. A community destroyed, displaced, eradicated. Kerrching.

And it was a community. And it was not some 'sink estate', or any sort of high rise, dystopian, Brutalist monster, creating a latter day Dickensian style rookery of crime and social deprivation. If only the Tory council had maintained the estate, and not allowed it to fall into disrepair, it would be a perfectly nice place to live, even now. 

Local Labour Cllr Devra Kay and residents' representative Jasmin Parsons

Who wouldn't want to live in such a beautiful spot, overlooking the waters edge of the Welsh Harp? But beauty of location is now reserved for those who can pay a premium for it: and deliver profit into the hands of developers.

The West Hendon estate was built on a human scale, with low rise buildings, looking onto each other, with green spaces in and around it. The 'physical attributes' which their MP said had created a 'sink estate' had in fact done nothing of the sort. 

The beauty of the surrounding landscape, and the simple architecture of West Hendon created a community, rooted in generations of local families rehoused, in the sixties and seventies, in homes which afforded dignity, decent housing, and hope for a better future.

The green spaces that surrounded this estate included York Memorial Park, a place of totemic significance to the residents there - a mark of ownership, central to the local history: the idea of continuity, and community - an area left in commemoration of the many civilians who lost their lives, some of them still buried there, under the earth, below the wreckage of the war time bombing of 1941, and now annexed by the developers for maximum profits from their investment.

There was a low crime rate, in fact, on this estate, until the council moved in so called property guardians into vacant flats, according to the remaining long term residents, and as for 'no-go' areas ...?

Well, then: Mrs Angry thought she would check this with the local police, who were more than happy to put the record straight.

A representative of the borough commander immediately refuted the idea that there were 'no go' areas in Barnet. 

And then the senior officer in charge of policing for this part of the borough contacted her to say that in all the years he has served in Barnet, he has not known of anywhere in the borough that is 'no-go' ... day or night.

And he has kindly invited Mrs Angry on a 'ride along' tour with the police in West Hendon, to see for herself how they fulfil their duties on the estate and elsewhere (plus a visit to the station to meet him, and inspect the custody suite in Colindale, although hopefully not for an overnight stay, like one of our former Tory councillors ...)

Couldn't be clearer, could it? Offord's allegations were apparently ... without any basis. Got that?

No no-go areas.

Quelle surprise.

In fact, in Mrs Angry's view, for an MP to make such a remark is utterly unfair to the local police, who work so hard to do such a difficult job, and maintain peaceful community relations, in the context of increasing budget restraints.  

And it is insulting to the residents of the West Hendon estate, the vast majority of whom are not in need of Matthew Offord's programme of 'social improvement', but are already perfectly familiar with the work process, and keen to remain in their own community, rather than be introduced to the impossible task of finding any alternative accommodation in 'parts of London they hadn't considered before' - in a capital city gripped by a rapidly increasing housing crisis.

Offord's remarks have caused fury amongst many residents who saw the programme: but he has nothing much to lose politically in his own backyard, by what he said. There are few Tory voters, on that estate now. 

There were some once, amongst the tenants who were taken in by another version of mythology, that is to say, the 'aspiration' encouraged by Margaret Thatcher, to join the property ladder, and buy their own council homes: the leaseholders, who were handed a £10,000 bill for work the council needed doing before they knocked down their homes, and which the leaseholders furiously rejected, saying if any work was necessary, it was clearly the responsibility of Barnet Council ...

These people were betrayed by Thatcher's heirs in Barnet, on the council, and in Parliament, not just over the demands for money, but at the point of compulsory purchase of their hard earned properties.

 When the council's valuers rated their properties, subject to CPO, at less than a level that would help them reach the shared equity point, who helped them? Who spoke for them, at the Housing Inquiry? Did their MP even attend the Inquiry? No.

The appointed representative from Sawyer Fielding, Dan Knowles, not only put their case but acted as an unpaid advocate for tenants on the estate, to defend residents interests: an honourable thing to do, and absolutely necessary in this case, when the council and developers were able to promote their arguments with the help of a highly experienced - and expensive - QC, and legal team.

There is no doubt that the belatedly improved offers for leaseholders, and better offers of rehousing for tenants, were achieved only by the efforts of people like Dan Knowles, the local Labour councillors, and, let us not forget, the limitless determination, courage and strength of residents' representatives like Jasmin Parsons. 

Oh, and all the attention generated by this story, locally, here and elsewhere and nationally, and all the negative PR blown back in the faces of the developers.

It should also be remembered that residents did ask their MP for help, and in desperation, even tried to lobby him at a constituents' meeting in a church hall, in their own ward: he hid from them, refused to speak to representatives, and then demanded a police escort home. 

Luckily, it seems, the forecourt of St Matthias' church, West Hendon, is not in one of those 'no-go' areas, where policemen fear to tread. 

Some Tory MPs apparently feel differently.

The constituents who had tried to speak to him were, Offord told a local reporter, a 'rag tag bunch' who only wanted to 'cause trouble'.

Next month sees the broadcast of a BBC documentary programme that has been made about the story of West Hendon, from the perspective of these 'rag tag' residents: the real history of West Hendon, in contrast to the mythological version preferred by Tory politicians, and their commercial partners.

The myth of the 'sink estate', and the smear campaign now directed at the very idea of social housing - this is a necessary part of the faux regeneration of London: that is to say, not a regeneration at all, but a commercial exploitation of easily accessible, bargain basement development sites, pimped to the private sector by willing Tory councils like Barnet, and a Conservative government obsessed with the demonisation of the working class, and the creation of a new, powerless underclass, easy to dehumanise, to decant and control, and reduce to nothing more than an unwanted residue, disposable and ... irrelevant.

A useful mythology then.

The truth, as with so many things, in Broken Barnet, is something else.

Sunday joke, from a Barnet Tory Councillor ... David Bowie, and the joy of reading

More rib-tickling library fun from twitter, last night, for the residents of Broken Barnet - 

Hampstead Garden Suburb councillor Gabriel Rozenberg, bless him, who spends his time fighting unknown depths of social injustice and deprivation in the most affluent ward in the borough, if not the country - yes, dealing with noisy leaf blowers, homeless butlers, etc - (and who lives down the posh end of Mrs Angry's road, you know), was in a reflective mood:

Gabriel Rozenberg ‏@rozgab

Thought for the day. If Bowie, endlessly prolific, could find time to read so many books, why can’t you? #notetoself

Hmm. Mrs Angry replied:

Maybe it's because you and your fellow Tory councillors shut all the fecking libraries? 

He did at least have the grace to respond: 


And so Mrs Angry suggested Gabriel did the right thing and tell his fellow Tory cllrs to stop messing with libraries. Reading, she observed, should not be the privilege of the wealthy.

No comment.

They simply don't get it, do they, our Tory councillors? Or rather even if they do, they hang their heads and vote through any proposal put in front of them by their own senior officers, and Crapita, swallowing any old guff on the pretext of making those elusive 'savings' for which there is never any real evidence. 

Funny how we can afford to spend £6 million on carving up our libraries for outsourcing, but not the modest budget required to keep our once universally admired, and value for money service intact, isn't it? Or look for other ways of keeping our libraries as they are - and even investing in them, for the benefit of residents, and indeed as a cost effective resource as community centres.

If any of the Tories with some degree of intellectual capability, or cultural interests, (yes, unlikely) stops to think about it, they know that most of the great creative talents that Britain has produced have relied, in their childhoods, on the access to reading that the public library system once gave to all children, regardless of background, or wealth.

Gabriel's hero David Bowie famously once said that he was 'a born librarian, with a sex drive ...'  in his youth, he used to hang out with friends in the library gardens in Bromley, and in his adult life read three or four books a week, and would even take his own library collection on tour with him.

The history of this country, and the social progress of which we once were so proud, is rooted as much in the public library service as in the other foundations of a civil society: the NHS, the Welfare State, equal access to good education: all of which, of course is being systematically dismantled by the grandsons of the generation which tried to oppose the introduction of all of these things in the first place.

The future for libraries in Barnet, and the future for our borough's children, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds - whose parents, unlike the privileged residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb cannot afford to buy them books, or take them to a politically favoured, subsidised library in a Tory ward - is indescribably bleak: barred from the horrendous new unstaffed libraries that our Tory councillors want to introduce, and condemned to lose so much vitally needed study space. 

Where will the children of Bromley, Brixton or Barnet explore the world of reading now, Gabriel?

The impact of the library cuts in this borough, in terms of literacy, and educational achievement, will be incalculable - and the wider effect of removing the access to reading, and the world of the imagination, the liberation of the mind, from future generations of children with the potential to become writers, artists, or even politicians, is perhaps even more immeasurable. 

Mrs Angry, not so long ago, tried reminding the Tory councillors that Margaret Thatcher had been a great advocate of public libraries, recognising that they were essential to the process of social mobility, or rather what our Barnet Tories claim to be so keen on, that is to say 'aspiration'. They wriggled in their seats, the neo Thatcherites, and it was clear they knew this was true: but they voted through the proposals anyway, because ... they do not have the courage of their own convictions.

So here is another appeal to you, Councillor Rozenberg, and any other Tory members who really know what you are about to do is just plain wrong: yes, please - do the right thing, and vote against these terrible plans.

Who knows, Gabriel: you could even be ... a hero, just for one day?