Sunday, 20 April 2014

Scandalous: Barnet Council's million pound highways handouts: for Tory wards

Updated Thursday - see below:



Let's get the difficult part over with first. 

Brian Coleman was right. 

There. Said it. 

Ok, 99% of the time he is wrong: spectacularly wrong, but this time ... he was spot on. 

In fact, he was not just right, he was even more right than he realised.

Councillor Dean Cohen is a member for Golders Green ward.  His father Melvin is not only a fellow councillor in the same ward, but currently the Mayor of Barnet - and the other ward representative is Reuben Thompstone, the man who has just cut the funding for after school schemes at Mapledown school for disabled children, and told their parents to think more creatively about raising the money the Tories have cut in order to pull off a pre-election tax stunt.

Dean Cohen inherited the role of Cabinet member for Environment from Coleman, after the latter's fall from grace - and Brian has never forgiven the more junior councillor for usurping his post.
 
In January, Coleman accused Dean Cohen of spending a disproportionate amount of the Highways budget funds on his own ward. 

In an article in the local Times he claimed that:

Councillor Dean Cohen, the Conservative cabinet member for environment, allocated £800,000 of the authority’s £7million annual budget for 2013/14 to his own ward of Golders Green – more than any of the other 20 electoral districts. 

Mrs Angry was intrigued by this suggestion. Certainly there had been reports of a lot of activity in Golders Green in recent weeks, nice new pavements, and lovely new trees springing up: look - here is one planted by Councillor Dean Cohen himself ... (this is part of a 'priority fund' which was rolled out in Brent Street, East Barnet Road, as well as Golders Green Road. All Tory wards, as it happens).

Cabinet member for environment, Dean Cohen, improving the environment of Golders Green with a lovely tree a few weeks ago ...

But £800,000 on highways funding for Golders Green?

Mrs Angry decided to ask about this budget spend at the last meeting of the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum. 

But, oh dear: the question was not answered, and no one would say why not. 

How very odd.

Mrs Angry turned to Councillor Dean Cohen, and asked him what the figures were. He rather tersely replied that he did not know. He claimed the money was allocated according to 'need'.  

Ah. According to need.


Mrs Angry was pretty Angry that her question had been ignored: in fact filibustered to the end of a two hour meeting and silenced. But she was laughing up her blogger's sleeve, at the same time, as she had already submitted a Freedom of Information request for the same information. The spreadsheet data at the top is the response. 

Strangely, the council claim they do not hold figures for the previous years. 

(If Mrs Angry were a cynical, untrusting sort of citizen journalist - yes, the worst kind, of course - she might suspect this is because more data would make the accusation of disproportionate funding even stronger).

In fact, Brian, you were not quite up to speed with Councillor Cohen's spending list. 

It was not £800,000 spent on Golders Green this year, in the run up to the elections. 

Or perhaps it was then, in which case there has been a bit of a splurge in the last few weeks, because the FOI response has a different figure:

It was £1,055,983

Last year, Golders Green ward had already been given a generous amount of funding: again the highest level of allocation, £563,542, 66. A total handout, therefore, in two years, of more than £1,600, 000.

Just to put that into perspective, the Labour stronghold ward of East Finchley, represented by members including the Labour leader Alison Moore, received only £157,638 this year, and £164,442,72 the previous year. East Finchley, incidentally, includes the Strawberry Vale estate, the worst area of social deprivation in the borough.

And Colindale, one of the least advantaged areas of the borough, with areas within the UK's top ten percent of social deprivation, as measured in 2012, in terms of income - and of course another Labour ward, received ... nothing

Nothing. Not a fucking penny. 

And the year before it had received a paltry £92, 936.25.

Mrs Angry had to query this amount, as she thought there had been an omission, but apparently not, as confirmed twice by officers dealing with the FOI response. Let's look at a graph representing the last two year's budget spending, ward by ward, kindly created by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, who has some grasp of statistics, and is quite good at adding up, unlike Mrs Angry.


Well: how very interesting. The top four lucky recipients - by coincidence all Conservative wards - were given more than a million pounds over a two year period: and Golders Green is way ahead of the others, with £1.6 million.

Of course there may be a reason for this need of such high expenditure. 

And so Mrs Angry has written to Councillor Cohen to hear his reasoning behind the wildly varying range of budget allocation. 

No response as yet.

We await with interest the explanation for the second highest level of funding going to Hale ward, the Tory ward currently blessed with the representation of Councillors Hugh Rayner, Brian Gordon, and ... Tom Davey. 

Hale is number 17 out of 21 wards in terms of size, according to the council's own ward profile data, compiled in 2012 - and only number six on the list of most populous wards. It is largely a quiet, affluent residential, middle class area, unlike some of the wards with much lower levels of funding, such as Childs Hill, a Libdem ward, or traditional Labour areas like West Hendon. 

Childs Hill, West Hendon, Colindale, East Finchley: these are all wards with areas of high social deprivation - but apparently not worthy of high levels of highways funding. Of course by Barnet Tory reasoning, the feckless poor should not be driving cars they cannot afford, nor expect their pavements to be maintained to the standard of the millionaire residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb, or Totteridge.
 
Hale, of course, is a marginal ward, and very likely to fall to Labour in next month's elections. This is clearly a coincidental factor, and should not be interpreted as in any way influencing the provision of funding.

But here is another graph, this time courtesy of Mr Mustard, before he was famous - showing the allocation of funding in the last year, and just before the elections:



Interesting to see, is it not, the pattern of blue and red, and all the red drifting towards the bottom of the pile? Burnt Oak is the only Labour ward getting a decent hand out this year - oh, and West Finchley ... guess who lives there? That troublemaker, Mrs Angry.  And another troublemaker and, until May 2012, the former Environment Cabinet member.

And yet Mrs Angry's ward is still waiting for the life saving safety measures in the Squires Lane area, funding promised last summer, and delayed yet again until after the election. The crash barrier meant to protect primary and nursery school children at Manorside, destroyed in October, in yet another serious accident while we wait for the safety measures, is still missing, after several requests and promises made. What price is the life of a child, in West Finchley?

One wonders how many other wards have had projects agreed and yet not implemented.

As for Colindale, with £92,000 last year, and seemingly nothing this year - and if this is a mistake, it is one verified by the FOI officers - Mrs Angry understands from local Labour councillors that they have been desperately trying to find out what has been happening to promised repairs and  other much needed measures. 

It is alleged that all sorts of excuses have been given for the many delays in the installation of a much needed crossing in Aerodrome Road, for example: change of contractors, problems with S106 funding: although these were resolved and the implementation promised for April, councillors have now been told it will be after the election, in June.

Similarly it is claimed that a crossing in Colindeep Lane was delayed by TFL, funding, electrical problems. And residents nearby have complained about pavements, but nothing has been done. No money in the kitty, then? Why? Has it all gone to Golders Green, and Hale, and Finchley Church End?

When Coleman made his accusations about the disproportionate funding, it was revealed that a new system of funding allocation had been introduced by the new Tory Cabinet member:

Councillor Cohen, who was appointed in May 2012, scrapped the previous policy of equal allocation to wards in favour of a new system, under which highways officers identify areas of greatest need. 

Cohen explained the apparent disparity in funding levels, claiming that:

... the additional cash handed to Golders Green makes up for a “lack of investment in previous years. 

He defended the new way of doing things: 

It is based on need. We have a list of roads that are a high priority and that is constantly reviewed.
 
It comes to me and I make suggestions and take things out but it is always based on the need of an area. 

I live in my ward so I am able to identify problems but if the need is in Golders Green then I’m not going to spend money in other areas just because they are not my ward. 

So there you have it. Golders Green is in desperate need of highways funding, as are three other affluent Tory wards, and Colindale, and East Finchley are already adequately funded.

Convinced? Or are you worried about the lack of safeguards to protect this vital funding from the risk of political intervention and inequality in provision throughout the borough?

But then inequality and political intrigue is only what we expect, in our borough. This is Broken Barnet: If it ain't broke, we fix it - in a Tory ward, anyway: and if you are foolish enough to live amongst the less advantaged residents, then that's your hard luck.

If you don't like it, you know what you can do - and yes, there is something you can do, next month, on May 22nd: vote for a fairer representation of the real needs of the people who live here, and change this administration of fools to one where fairness, equality, transparency and accountability mean something more than the empty promises of this shabby Tory council. Mrs Angry

Updated Wednesday:
   
Mrs Angry is still waiting for a reply from Councillor Dean Cohen in regard to questions about this matter put to him in an email on Sunday. 

Dear Councillor Cohen

You may recall that at the last meeting of the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum, I had submitted a question about the allocation of spending in regard to the Highways Budget.

With no real explanation, my question was ignored - I asked you about the matter, and you said you did not remember the figures and claimed the allocation was 'according to need'.

I also submitted a Freedom of Information request for the data which was refused at the Forum, and I have now received the response to this. I can see now why there was such a reluctance to release the information voluntarily.

In the last year alone, more than a million pounds has been given to your own ward of Golders Green, in addition to the previous year's allocation of more than half a million pounds: a total of over £1, 600,000.

Such a total by far exceeds any funding given to any other ward. In fact no ward in the borough has received anywhere near such a level of allocation in either year, and in the current year and in a period approaching an election, such a large amount of funding could reasonably be argued to be totally disproportionate.

In fact the range of allocation would seem to be disproportionate.

I should like to ask you why it is, for example, that Colindale has received only £92,000 in funding in the previous year, and apparently not one single penny this year?

Is there not a risk of a perception of bias in that the wards which gained the most funding are Conservative held wards - the top four all receiving funds over a million pounds in two years?

I queried the amount allocated to Colindale with officers because I simply did not believe it could be accurate, but am assured that it is. Were there really no Highways related problems in Colindale which required attention in the last year?

Do you think it is fair that in two years, £1.5 million should be spent on your own ward, whilst only £92,000 was given to another ward, in a less advantaged area of the borough?

Is the allocation of funding in compliance with the Localism Act and its requirement for local government to follow the Nolan principles in public life, in particular, in this case, the need for 'objectivity' in carrying out public business?

The system of deciding Highways funding was changed by you from an equal allocation process to one by which needs of wards were allegedly to be assessed on a case by case basis. Please explain what safeguards there are to ensure no political influences can be brought to bear on such considerations.

I should be interested to hear your views and look forward to an early response.


Yours sincerely

Mrs Angry

No response at all: so a reminder has now been sent asking again for a reply. Mrs

Thursday: 

Mrs Angry has now heard from Councillor Cohen, who has promised her a response. While she waits with great excitement for his considered reply, the Barnet Press has a very interesting article  about the funding here

As you will see, Labour Councillors Gill Sargeant from Colindale ward, and Arjun Mittra from East Finchley, are pretty furious about the clear disparity in allocation of funding, and the excuses given for failing to address problems in their areas when £1.5 million has been spent on Councillor Cohen's own ward.

In a frankly ludicrous statement, Dean Cohen now claims that the disproportionate spending in Golders Green is because there is a long road that runs through it.

Can't even be bothered to comment on that one - make up your own response, and send it to Councillor Cohen, complete with descriptions of long roads in your own neighbourhood that have not had a million pound makeover ... 

This story has a long way to go yet, I think, don't you?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Tale of Two Councillors: Part Two - Tom Davey, the Tory Councillor with 'a dry sense of humour'


On the same day it was revealed that a Labour councillor had been wrongly accused of 'tax dodging' and a decision made to refer her to the police, just before the period of purdah began, another story emerged regarding a Tory councillor and the grossly distasteful comments he has published on his Facebook page.

Tom Davey is the Cabinet member for housing. 

He is still only in his mid twenties, and Mrs Angry has frequently commented on his lack of maturity and unsuitability for the responsibility that such a post represents. 

Such an opinion is based on the evident delight he takes in spouting inflammatory comments in council meetings about those for example, working in the public sector, who should get a 'real job', (Tom Davey's real job is working for a tobacco company) ... the poor, the homeless, who lack 'aspiration' - after all, 'you can't help those who won't help themselves' ... and he wants to see Barnet populated by those who are not 'dependent on council services'. 

As Mrs Angry has previously commented: 

Obviously Cllr Davey uses no council services, as his feet never touch the pavement, he has no rubbish to be recyled, other than his half baked political ideas, and judging by the content of his contributions in debate, has failed to take full advantage of the benefit of our marvellous local education system, so highly praised by Richard Cornelius.

In his time in charge of housing, Barnet's new housing rules have imposed a five year contract for new tenants in social housing, a limitation which means families now have no security of tenure, no assurance that their children will have continuity throughout their young lives, and education, and that the tenants cannot commit to rooting themselves in a community - or call their house their home. 

To wean the feckless poor out of their pointless lives, groaning under the weight of a lack of aspiration, social housing is now to be allocated to those who can prove they have made a 'positive contribution' to society. 

The children of the undeserving poor must be punished, in other words, for their parents' failure to become social entrepreneurs, in between looking after them, and working all hours in a low paid job, or, even worse, depending on some council service or benefit to support them.

More recently, in the arguments over the lack of social housing, or even affordable housing, in the so called 'regeneration' schemes in West Hendon, Davey has stated that he would prefer to welcome the arrival of 'Russian oligarchs', than  ordinary families without means.

After all, he has stated that people must live within those means, and if Barnet becomes too expensive for those without:  well ... we only want 'well off' people here, don't we?

Mrs Angry took it upon herself to repeat this stupid comment of Davey's to Boris the other week, when he had the privilege of meeting her at the great celebration laid on by our Tory councillors for the opening of three new council houses in Muswell Hill. The only three built in 22 years. 

Boris clearly did not believe anyone would say something so idiotic, but Davey stood behind him, beaming with pleasure, in his moment of notoriety.

Another moment of notoriety occurred last week, when leading website Political Scrapbook featured a clip of Davey spouting his nonsense about people 'flocking' to live in Barnet - as you will hear, Libdem councillor Susette Palmer protests angrily that they are only the people who can afford it, and he responds that 'they're the people we want'.



And then yesterday, Tom Davey was featured once more on Political Scrapbook. 

This time the story was far more serious, and truly shocking. 

'Vile Facebook messages of 'social cleansing' Tory councillor', was the heading, and the article published a number of deeply offensive, sick 'jokes' that were made by him in the year he was elected to council, in a Mill Hill by election, aged twenty one. 

Where do we start with this disgusting stuff?


"...benefit claiming scum beware. ps i don't like paying taxes for you lazy bastards! "

He claimed that finding a job would be easier if he were:

"a black female wheelchair bound amputee who is sexually attracted to other women.

He expressed himself as being "more excited than Harold Shipman in a nursing home", and, perhaps most appalling comment, made a remark that he was:

 "smacking his bitch up…that’ll teach her for ironing loudly whilst the football is on"

These remarks are telling: they represent the extreme degree of his political views on taking office, and exhibit the same lack of tolerance or compassion that so clearly underlies the way in which he undertakes his responsibilities.

These comments are not some vague, ironic challenge to 'political correctness'. They are hurtful, hateful remarks that dehumanise the vulnerability of women, disabled people and the elderly.
In the case of someone who was entering public life, it is staggering, frankly, that anyone would allow such remarks to remain on a public social media profile, and for that, the Conservative party shares responsibility by its failure to ensure adequate vetting procedures and policies on the use of social media while in office.

No wonder that the housing policy in Barnet so mercilessly directs a policy of exclusion of the poorest residents of this borough, and is intent on removing them from the landscape.

Decanted over the border, as economic refugees - or asylum seekers - from the monstrous regime of swivel eyed loon, neo Thatcherites who have sold Barnet into bondage to Capita, so as to concentrate on something else, something more abstract, less tangible - an ambition beyond the practicalities of a commissioning council. 

Because now they are moving onto another level, and one which is truly frightening. 

The Tory mind sees the pursuit of individual liberty, and the principle of choice, as fundamental to their philosophy. 

Except of course they mean liberty for themselves, and choice for people like them. 

Freedom is too dangerous to leave in the hands of the lower orders, the benefit scroungers, people who do not live within their means, and expect everyone else to support them. 

The logical progression, therefore, of a true blue Tory council - of a Conservative government - is the adoption of policies that do not serve the people, but rules the people - that shapes their lives, and minds, and controls where they live, and where they go to school.

You might call it social engineering: you might call it something else, something much worse - and there will always be those in the Tory party whose views and actions take us dangerously close to the edge of such wilful interference in the real rights and liberties of ordinary people. 

Apologists for Davey point to his youth, and try to excuse his behaviour on the grounds of past indiscretion. 

In fact Mrs Angry can reveal that only last April a complaint was made to him by her, which he forwarded to leader Richard Cornelius and Cabinet colleagues, regarding another matter relating to his then publicly displayed Facebook pages, after a resident contacted her with a copy of a highly offensive image that they had seen there.

As the matter involves a third party, Mrs Angry will not publish the material in question, but she can tell you that Davey was, in contrast to yesterday's revelations, utterly unapologetic, and indeed continued to maintain the image was amusing.

No action was taken by Richard Cornelius, and indeed it would seem that Councillor Davey continues to retain his full support, despite the further embarrassment caused by yesterday's revelations.

In the local Times  newspaper, Davey says:

 "These comments from 2008/2009 were intended to be in a jokey saloon bar humour. “I realise that they are offensive terms and I regret allowing them to appear. “They do not appear funny now with the benefit of hindsight. I am very sorry for this error of judgement.”

Not sorry enough to resign, it seems.

Labour leader Alison Moore commented: 

"These comments are totally unacceptable for anyone to make, much less an elected politician. Tom Davey is the cabinet member for housing and he makes decisions that affect the very people he attacks in these disgusting remarks. "I am calling on the leader of the council to take immediate action against Cllr Davey - in my view he is not fit for office having made comments of this kind."

To Political Scrapbook Davey defended himself by stating that he has "a dry sense of humour". He also admits that his 'sick jokes' were 'probably a misjudgement in hindsight'. 

Hindsight appears only to have kicked in during the last week or so, sadly.

As Mrs Angry remarked to him last year:

I have sat and listened to you in council meetings throughout the last three years and have felt appalled at times at the tone and content of some of your statements regarding such issues as social housing, benefits, bedroom tax, public sector workers.

You are only twenty six years old, and in my view you are simply not mature enough or experienced enough for the responsibilities that you hold, responsibilities that have a huge impact on the lives of so many families and individual residents, struggling to survive in these times of unprecedented hardship. 

Davey's misjudgement in these matters is absolutely a reflection of the lack of experience and depth of maturity that he brings to what is a hugely important role: the lives and well being of many thousands of residents rest in his hands. 

And that he continues to endorse the juvenile opinions of this fool is a reflection of the abject lack of leadership by Richard Cornelius.

During the debacle over Labour Councillor Kath McGuirk, Tory Councillor Tom Davey could not wait to try to make political profit from her predicament,in which she was an innocent victim. 

He started a petition to force the Labour leader to name the member whom he claimed had failed 'to pay the council tax they owe', which was not the case. 

And he called for the Labour to leader to resign, as her position was 'no longer tenable'. Here

again he repeats the claim that she had tried to dodge her obligation, which was untrue:

“I demand that you name the Labour councillor who has tried to dodge their obligation, and make public exactly why they thought they were different to hard working families who pay their tax".

The Labour leader is right to call for Cornelius to take action. 

Davey should be immediately sacked from his Cabinet position, and in Mrs Angry's opinion, if he had any sense of honour, he would resign as a councillor. 

In a few weeks time, of course, the voters of Hale Ward will have the opportunity to send him on his way, regardless of his own decision - or the indecision of Richard Cornelius. 

The ward was always likely to fall to Labour, which is said to be the reason his fellow councillor Brian Gordon is standing elsewhere. It is pretty clear now that the Tories will lose Hale, and this fall of this marginal ward will hopefully help Labour to take control of the council.

The tale of two councillors, then: more than the sum of its parts - and a really rather distasteful reflection of political life, here in Broken Barnet.