Thursday, 5 November 2015

At Risk: or - Welcome to the Open Library: a Survival Guide

Take Mrs Angry's hand: come with her now, in the dark, dank gloom of an autumnal afternoon in Finchley, down (or is it up?) the garden path, right to the very end of the garden, to her ramshackle old shed ...

Now pull open the creaking door, climb over the broken lawnmowers, and rusty spades, and nests of mice, and half used tins of paint … and close your eyes. 

A certain Libdem councillor is now beside himself with pleasurable, shed centred thoughts, aren't you, Jack? Fifty sheds of grey?

Hard luck. Wake up.

In fact, gentlemen of Broken Barnet, and beyond: this is no ordinary shed, but - well, yes - a portal of unlimited opportunity, in its way, not so much for the hoarding of useless garden implements, or hand holding with Mrs Angry, but more interestingly, in the tradition of magic realism, now to be revealed as nothing less than Mrs Angry's Time Machine,  courtesy of which, if you keep your eyes shut, and think awfully hard about Kansas, or Aunty Em, or Toto, we should be empowered to take us far from Broken Barnet, far, far away, into the future: landing with a thump in a future shaped, easycouncilled paradise, where everything has its price, and - yes again - where our corporate masters know the cost of everything, and the value of ... nothing.

And just look around: in the Brave New world of Broken Barnet, sadly, there are no public services, as such. 

There are few services at all, in fact, and those that remain are delivered by private companies, at vast expense, while our elected representatives sit back in their chairs in the council chamber, clawing still at the public purse, relieved of all responsibility - and any tiresome duties on our behalf.

One of the public services we will surely miss more than any other, perhaps, in this new world, are our public libraries. 

Because in that futureshaped Barnet, libraries, as we know them, will no longer exist. 

And that future, readers, is not light years away, in another era of time, but about to arrive here, in our borough, within months – if we allow it to happen.

Barnet Tories are closing their eyes too, and wishing awfully hard, hoping that their electorate will be fooled by the spin they are creating around the destruction of our library service, claiming that their masterful plan will not only provide the £2.85 million in savings they claim to need, but that no libraries will close, as a result of their proposals.

As often as they keep perpetuating this myth, we must tell the truth. 

The library buildings are going to be handed over to Capita, as part of their licence to make profit from our services for their shareholders. They will manage the buildings, and be paid extra fees for doing so. The buildings will no longer be dedicated as libraries, but become council properties used for commercial purposes (safe in the sweaty hands of Crapita) in which a nominal service is run, so as to pay lip service to the statutory requirement for a library service. 

They boast of increasing opening hours: but they fail to explain that although some ‘libraries’ will indeed be open for long periods of time, for those with access via pin number entry, or a smart card, these ‘open libraries’ will be nothing more than a token collection of books, & dvds, squeezed into a corner of an empty building, with no staff present. No one at all. 

Barnet’s Tory councillors have just voted to sack 46% of all library staff, which is why these pretend libraries will be unattended. 

Can you imagine what that will be like?

Children under 16 will not be allowed in these unstaffed libraries, and anyone who might need the help of any member of staff, let alone a professional librarian, will find simply that there is no one there.No professional librarians, no trained staff, no one to offer support, or guide you to the right information, or even to supervise the building.

But what if there is any sort of problem, or emergency, you are probably thinking? We're stuffed, aren't we?

You are probably thinking that, but your Tory councillors, directed by libraries lead member Reuben Thompstone, (above) gave it no thought at all, when they voted – twice, once in committee, and once in Full Council, to approve these plans. 

As proof of that, Mrs Angry can offer you evidence in the form of a risk assessment for the open library scheme, which the council was obliged to publish, belatedly, two days ago, in response to a Freedom of Information request. 

To make it clear, this information was withheld from the public domain until now, and it is not clear if any councillors saw it before Tory members forced through the plans’ approval. If they did, that means they knowingly approved a scheme with potentially disastrous risks, not just financial or reputational risk, but in terms of danger to those who might use such a 'service'.

There is no real comparable data to put these dangerous proposals into context: although some risks need no context, as you will see. The much vaunted pilot scheme in Edgware has not been running long enough to provide any real test: and has not been subject to any independent assessment, of course.

This risk assessment is shocking, frankly: the level of risk, and the type of risk it details, makes it abundantly clear that the open library system, on such a scale, in the context of a heavily populated, urban area of a major capital city, represents not only a virtual parody of the idea of a public library, but will seriously compromise the personal safety of any resident who may seek access in this way.

Look at the detail. Ah. Well, you can't, at the moment, because, as the council admits, the link, for some reason, and how conveniently, does not work. 

Mrs Angry will add the link, if Crapita IT ever sort it out. Don't hold your breath. 

But here is an idea of what there is to see:

A list of risks, rated from level 1 to level 5: in terms of likelihood, and impact. There is no key, but there is a standard format for risk levels.

The scale of likelihood ranges from rare to almost certain, and impact from negligible to … catastrophic.

Of 28 risks that were identified, ranging from the misuse of computers to access 'inappropriate' material, hacking of the library network, vandalism, unauthorised entry by members of the public, theft etc, FIVE others were rated at the top level in terms of potential impact, ie ‘catastrophic’, with three of those considered, under ‘likelihood’, as ‘possible’, and two as ‘likely’

The first three of these top scoring risks, considered ‘possible’ are as follows:

No 8: An incident that requires the evacuation of the building during a non staffed period.

No 7: A building fault or maintenance issue renders the library or part of the library unsafe.

No 6: A customer has an accident during an unstaffed period.

Then there are two risks considered to be ‘likely’:

No 2: The safeguarding of vulnerable adults is compromised

No 3: The safeguarding of children and young people is compromised.

Now then. How does Barnet Council propose to mitigate these risks? 

Well …

No 8: If any unstaffed ‘library’ needs to be evacuated? 

Don’t panic.

Or rather - no: do panic. 

And standing as we are now, lost in the future landscape of Broken Barnet, where these libraries are the norm, please arm yourself with a copy of Mrs Angry's Survival Guide. 

You'll need it.

Your easycouncil’s response, in the case of the need to evacuate an unstaffed library, is to ... erm, provide 'user education' - a poster on a wall, presumably) and … fire evacuation signs. 

And, just to spoil you, yes, there will be fire alarms, and even the odd fire extinguisher. 

In True Blue Tory Barnet, see, we not only expect you to volunteer to run your local library: we will now be expecting you to act as firefighters too. 

That some ‘users’ might be tempted to become firestarters appears not to have created a risk that interests the council.

Should you fail to beat back the flames, trapped in your unstaffed library, having failed to read the self help user education manual for fire management, you will find emergency numbers and a phone provided somewhere, we are told. 

And no, I am not making this up.

No 7: If the building is unsafe? 

In response to this, the assessment rather cryptically comments that during the pilot scheme in Edgware, the toilets were closed

Mrs Angry imagines this is to mitigate the clearly deep rooted and possibly Freudian aversion that Councillor Helena Hart has to the (possible, level 3) risk of ‘unpleasantness’ left on the toilet floor, in an act of contempt by an unknown ‘customer’.

But not to worry. If the building is unsafe – say, some wires are sticking out of a plug, or water flooding through the roof, or a wall collapses: not only will those emergency numbers be available, you will also be provided with … feedback cards. 

While holding up the wobbly wall, or replastering the ceiling, or encountering any sort of maintenance problem or fault, please write down on these cards any observations you may have, such as: 

FYII have just electrocuted myself, when unplugging the pc, or:  

Please help me: I am buried under a pile of bricks in the crime fiction section ...

Customer satisfaction level? Level 1. Negligible

No 6: If a customer has an accident*, in an unstaffed library? 

*(Not the sort that worries Councillor Helena Hart, which would be intentional, and therefore an incident, rather than an accident.)

Note this only applies to ‘customers’, not users. Presumably only premium library members who have paid, easycouncil style, for a superior service will be assisted. Well, you will not be assisted, as such. In truth, you will be well and truly f*cked. 

In space, and in an unstaffed, open library, readers, no one can hear you scream. 

No mention of a feedback card, either, which is the final insult, isn’t it? 

To be serious: as anyone who has ever worked in a library will tell you, with a fairly elderly user membership, it is vital to have trained staff, including a first aider present in a library. There cannot be any branch in the borough in which there has not been someone taken ill, with a heart attack, a stroke, an epileptic fit or other medical emergency. And of course immediate assistance in these circumstances frequently makes the difference, quite literally, between life and death.

It should also be mentioned here that there are, in all public libraries, even when staffed, thefts of stock, books and dvds, and continually attempted thefts of bags, purses etc, as well as, reportedly, incidents of drug use. There are also, of course, in all public libraries, many incidents involving users with mental health problems, which require careful intervention by trained staff.

And that is in libraries that are staffed, if in Barnet now, on minimum levels, after previous job cuts.

For an accident, however … the mitigation is: 'user education': probably a helpful leaflet: where to find books on, say:  

I am alone in a public library, and I tripped over and broke my leg’ … 

Again, your caring council has thought of everything: in mitigation of this risk ... an emergency first aid kit will be available!

No, really. Or rather, no, not definitely: an emergency first aid kit is to be considered… don’t want to mollycoddle you, do we? 

Can’t you make your own splints, and hobble down to A&E? 

What: closed, is it? Ah well. 

No 2: The safeguarding of vulnerable adults.

I promise you this is really what they propose, to address this risk.

Easy-read versions of ‘user education’, and ‘consent forms’.

Easy-read user education: wtf is that? Have they any idea of the wide range of needs of a vulnerable adult?

Quite how that vulnerable adult, perhaps with a profound learning disability, can properly give consent, via a form, without assistance, is one thing. How on earth could such a process, even if appropriate – or legal -be safeguarded, with no trained staff to help and support them?

And yes, more feedback cards, and this time we are offered the reassurance of CCTV cameras. 

What help are they, in regard to protecting vulnerable adults? 

None whatever, of course, because these cameras will not be monitored at all, and will only record. 

Or as the mitigation describes it, they will offer ‘event recording’, which has an ominous echo of the ‘offer’ in regard to potential new business opportunities at the Capita run ‘Easycrem’ post-life facility, up the road in Hendon. At least the Crapitorium intends to sell live streamed funerals, rather than only recorded events. 

Still, what a comfort it will be, if you are a woman who has been sexually assaulted in an unstaffed library, or an elderly resident who has been mugged, or any user robbed of their laptop, or phone, to know that the ‘event’ will have been recorded for posterity. 

And there are always the feedback cards, of course.

No 1: the risk to children, and young people

The mitigation for this is given as ‘restricted access’. 

In other words, because of the likely risk of some catastrophic incident involving children in an unstaffed library, children will not be allowed in an unstaffed library. 

Er, except ... in the plans that were approved, in fact, children were to be allowed in with a parent or ‘adult friend’, which is a puzzling contradiction, is it not? 

Easy solution to all risk: entirely avoid any impact on the identified group, by excluding them, rather than provide a solution – the only real solution, that is to say, not to have unstaffed libraries in the first place. 

The FOI response has also given an insight into the wider implications of the library plan. If you recall, the pretext for these devastating cuts in service is one of cost, a lie that is revealed by the £6 million that is being thrown at the preparation of the libraries for the new scheme. 

The truth here is that the service has been prepared, like every other council function that might provide a profit to private contractors, for outsourcing, and the capital investment is in order to make the service more appealing to potential bidders.

Now we know more about the ‘soft market testing’ exercise that has been carried out by Barnet with a number of selected partners: this is what it is really all about: not savings, or austerity, or budgets, or council tax. This is about the plundering of public service, for private profit. But in what form? If Barnet are not going to run their own libraries anymore, who will, and how?

A dialogue has taken place with the following potential bidders:

Redbridge Culture and Leisure

LSSI is the largest library outsourcing company in the US. GLL is of course Greenwich Leisure. Carillion is the company that faced accusations of blacklisting, which it strenuously denies. Civica is yet another outsourcing giant, Canadian owned - and Redbridge? 

Dear me. God knows why they were asked, apart from being a former Tory backwater authority, (and the home of Mrs Angry's blushing, true blue twitter admirers, Mr Roger Evans, who claims to be deputy Mayor of London, or something, and his dark nemesis, Mr Morris Hickey). 

Oh hang on: it seems Redbridge has some sort of visionary cultural enterprise, which includes ... an Owls Play Centre. Reuben Thompstone, at least, will approve of that. 

Culture and Libraries, in Redbridge come way down the list, after the owls, and even after the 'exercise by referral' scheme: second but last, in fact. The only way, in Essex: gyms and spas, rather than book clubs. Not so much of a surprise, perhaps.

There was a ‘discussion’ with all these contenders, anyway, earlier in the year - (although LSSI dropped out after a certain point), in which Barnet breathlessly welcomed the participants to ‘an opportunity to have a conversation’ …

We don’t know much more than this because Barnet is refusing to publish any further details, on the grounds of, ha ha - ‘confidentiality’, and, of course, that favourite excuse, ‘commercial sensitivity’.

What we do know is that the process has come to a halt, as the potential bidders did not want to make proposals in regard to a service that has not yet been properly realised – and who could blame them? As one seasoned observer has remarked to Mrs Angry, they clearly failed to see where the profit lies.

Yet our Tory councillors have approved the destruction of our current service, on the basis of required savings, while spending £6 million on the ‘modification’ of that service – only to try to palm it off on some other company or enterprise. They have obediently done so, at the behest of their senior officers, and the help of those legions of private consultants who feast off our outsourcing projects – look: here are old friends from iMPOWER, running the soft marketing exercise … 

They did this, not caring about the risks involved, nor with the benefit of any credible business plan. Or rather, there was a business plan, with no plan. A crapitorial fantasy, based on ‘assumptions’ and imaginary revenue returns, just as the excuse for an Equalities Impact Assessment was based on modelled, that is to say made up, data. 

Not that the lack of a ‘robust’ business plan has ever stopped them before, our Tory councillors, in launching an unworkable model for some cockeyed scheme, viz the truly catastrophic business model for Your Choice Barnet, which has had to be bailed out by us, to prevent collapse.

And after all, in that not too distant future, somewhere just over the rainbow, if all goes wrong, it won’t be our elected representatives who bear the financial risk, will it? It will be us, the taxpayers and residents of Broken Barnet.

They may consider themselves to be relieved of the financial consequences, of course, but Mrs Angry’s own risk assessment, in regard to the political impact of failure to listen to the building voice of protest from residents who object to this assault on our library service, is that there will be no mitigation, in the end, for our Tory councillors, and candidates, on the way to the ballot box, next year in May, and at the next local elections. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A tendency to disagree: or Full Council, and how to kill a library service, the Broken Barnet way

Next door to the Town Hall, in the Burroughs, where all Barnet council meetings take place, stands Hendon Library. Another pleasing example of the buildings which are now part of a conservation area, and central to the history of our borough.

Not just in terms of the architecture, but because of the people who have worked there, over the decades, and played their own role in the story of what we are now, and everything we stand to lose, if the latter day heirs of our corporate administration are allowed to continue in their relentless policy of mass privatisation.

The Town Hall would have been sold off, had it not been listed, and protected from most forms of development, but now is a Town Hall in name only, used by Middlesex University by day, for council meetings at night. And next door's Library is about to become one in name only too, like the rest of our library service.

How sad to look at Hendon Library as it is now, and consider how it will be - and remember how it was.

Built in 1929, this was the borough's central branch, with a reference library, a music library- and of course a children's library.

Hendon's children's library was designed and developed by a pioneer librarian, and story teller, Eileen Colwell, the 'doyenne of children's librarianship' in Great Britain: a woman who devoted forty years of her life to her work at Hendon, and became widely renowned, and much respected for her professional achievements, on a national and international scale.

This is what the Telegraph had to say about her career, in the obituary published in 2002:

Eileen Colwell, who died yesterday aged 98, was an author and librarian and one of the founders of the children's library movement; her knowledge of children's literature was unrivalled and she was much consulted by book publishers, translators and library administrators who came from all over the world to study her methods.

In the 1920s, when Eileen Colwell first became a librarian, there were no children's sections in libraries, and the presence of children, especially young children, was discouraged. She considered it of vital importance that children should have access to books from an early age, and that their first introduction to literature should be a pleasant one.

The Guardian's obituary observed:

... in 1926 Eileen saw the answer to her prayers in a newspaper advertisement for a post at Hendon, in north London: "Wanted, librarian to found library system - especially for children." She applied and was accepted, but on her arrival found "no books, no shelves, just a room".

Ever practical, she hand-picked an initial stock of 2,000 volumes, chosen with the help of Eleanor Graham and other friends, and set about laying the groundwork for a welcoming, inclusive children's library, full of colourful and interesting books.

Before long, Eileen's reputation spread, persuading other boroughs to follow suit, and her library - "I saw it built from the first brick" - established itself as a showplace. "Visitors," she said with justifiable pride, "always had Hendon on their list." She also initiated clubs and storytelling, and encouraged the children to chat about their books and help run the library. One of her many helpers was a boy burglar; another became a professor in California ...

She was, in short, responsible for the establishment of something of immeasurable worth: the creation of the very idea of libraries specifically for children, that promoted a love of reading, access to children of all backgrounds, lifting children out of the limitations of poverty, and endowing them with the opportunity for something better, through the world of fiction, and imagination, and education.

The achievement of Eileen Colwell in her work at Hendon Library set a standard of excellence throughout the country - but I was one of the first generation in this borough to benefit from that standard of excellence here, in Barnet's children's libraries.

How grateful I am to her: coming from a home where reading was encouraged, but books rarely bought: how else would I have discovered the love of reading, and the world of infinite possibilities contained within the power of the written word?

Storytime in Golders Green library, pic credit Museum of London

And now, how truly angry am I, to see those opportunities stolen from the children of succeeding generations, the children whose parents cannot afford to buy them books, the children now to be barred from unstaffed libraries, or libraries only at a long bus ride's distance from home?

I thought of Eileen Colwell, last night, at the beginning of the council meeting, at Hendon Town Hall, next door to Hendon library, during the address made by the Mayor's chaplain, Dayan Abraham, a thoughtful, conscientious minister, who clearly takes his role very seriously, and actually tries to inculcate, in the withered black hearts of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, some sense of moral purpose in what they do, on our behalf, as our elected representatives.

As you will know, this is a thankless task, and one with little prospect of success.

Mayor's Chaplain, Dayan Abraham

Rather to the surprise of all of us in the public gallery, and certainly to the lost souls sitting on the Tory benches, Dayan Abraham decided to give a short sermon on the duty of the council to observe their responsibilities as corporate parents, and their duty to provide the education that our children deserve, that they require, in order to become good citizens, citizens who are, as we are, united in diversity.

It was an impassioned speech: political, by implication, and no less effective for that. More effective, perhaps.

He mentioned libraries, specifically, and alluded to contentious issues, that needed to be resolved ... invoking the story of the judgement of Solomon.

The Mayor looked on in surprise, but perhaps not without some sense of amusement, at his chaplain's speech: the Chief Executive, normally so inert during these meetings, turned round, and regarded him with a fixed eye, and an expression of barely concealed astonishment.

But it was well said: what could be more important, than the wellbeing, and the education, of our children?

Well, hang on, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking: this is Broken Barnet, and things are ... more complicated, aren't they?

More important, in Broken Barnet/Capitaville, than the wellbeing of our children, is money, profit, and an ideological opposition to the very idea of public service, service that is accountable to residents through the democratic process.

The Mayor's chaplain had pleaded with councillors to remember their duties to the borough's children, to their education.

Education, to Barnet Tories, is something they like to claim as something they provide, to the highest standard, in this borough. They sit smugly in the council chamber, and congratulate themselves on the wonderful schools we have here - as if they had anything whatsoever to do with it.

The truth is that there are some good schools here: either highly selective schools full of pupils from all over London, or faith schools, or - God help us - academies, or free schools.

The selective schools take the top scoring children from the widest catchment areas - thereby tending to inhabit the top of league tables, and of course not as a result of  any value added acheivement.

There are also some pretty awful schools in Barnet, to which the less advantaged children inevitably are sent.

And it is those less advantaged children who rely on public libraries the most, for books and for study space, and for help, from qualified librarians. If the library plans go through, it will be the education of those children that will suffer, as they will find little space in the newly shrunk libraries, and will be completely banned from the ludicrous, 'open' or unstaffed branches.

Our philistine Tory councillors, sadly, do not understand the importance of culture, or education, or literature, or the imagination - or anything else you cannot round up, and put a price on.

And so we found ourselves, last Tuesday, facing the inevitable approval, by the Conservative led administration of Broken Barnet, of the most savage plans to destroy our library service, which only a Tory councillor would fail to see as a vital part of the educational and cultural foundation of the intellectual development of our children.

In the judgement of Solomon, the baby was to be cut in two, and divided up between the two women claiming it as theirs. The real mother's conscience would not allow that, and the baby was spared, and returned to her. In Broken Barnet, the baby, the library service, is to be slaughtered, anyway, due to the lack of any conscience on behalf of our corporate parents, our Tory councillors. And the chaplain's words, needless to say, fall on deaf ears.

Yet they were so terrified, some of these councillors, last week, of being personally identified with what they know is a vote losing policy, this unparalled assault on our library service, with a budget cut of 60%, that they chickened out of approving the plans at committee level, and referred it up to Full Council.


At this week's Full Council, then, the ineffable Libraries head, Tory Reuben Thompstone, stared straight ahead, and repeated, like a dutiful schoolboy,  the proposals to cut staffing by 46%, and hand the library buildings over to Capita, leaving a nominal service, provided, in many branches, by unstaffed opening hours, and employing, if that is the correct term, the 'enthusiasm of volunteers'.

      Reuben Thompstone

Mrs Angry and fellow blogger Mr Tichborne had much correspondence with Cllr Thompstone, last weekend, on the subject of voluntary work, which you can read here. In short, it would appear that Cllr Thompstone does not agree that he should act in any voluntary capacity in regard to his civic role, or indeed his own job as a teacher - but everyone else may happily see their jobs replaced by 'volunteers'.

There were no easy options, he told us, with the air of someone who had forgotten that this was because of the self-limiting rules he and his Tory colleagues had invented in order to sanction this brutal assault on our library service.

There was a curious silence from the Tory benches: they squirmed in their seats, knowing perfectly well that what they were doing was shameful, and even, from their own point of view, risking significant electoral damage, and many of them have privately expressed dismay over the plans - whilst lobbying frantically behind the scenes to get their own libraries protected - successfully in some cases, as you can see.

One or two pretended after the event that they might have voted against, or abstained, but didn't because Labour did not have a full attendance - but they would say that, wouldn't they? Cowards, all of them.

Labour's Anne Hutton highlighted the lack of vision for libraries shown by the Tory administration, the lack of any coherent business plan in regard to the current proposals, and put forward an amendment asking for at least a delay in the process, and reserves to be used to keep the libraries going until an alternative solution to the funding problem had been found. Pointless, of course, as the Tories are simply not open to alternative solutions, and if they were, their own senior management team simply wouldn't let them proceed.

Having referred the toxic library cuts plan up to Full Council, to spread the blame, and try to protect GLA hopeful Dan Thomas from the electoral fallout, our Tory members now sat back and handed the poisoned challice of speaking in favour of the proposals to their least experienced councillor. A stroke of genius, keeping the more prominent members safely out of the picture.

Step forward Val Duschinsky, from Mill Hill, who was very proud to be making her first speech - a 'maiden' speech, by yet another of the type of Tory matron that the party tolerates, amongst its ranks, rather than any younger and potentially less obedient woman, or one who might actually have any driving political ambitions, or new ideas. Odd that in the six months since the election this was the first time she had spoken, but still: what a privilege to begin in this way!

Against a volley of heckling from the small number of residents who can squeeze into the public gallery (the large overflow room was, well: overflowing), Cllr Duschinsky prattled excitedly on, telling us, for some reason, that she had been a primary school teacher (then you should be ashamed of yourself, yelled someone. It might have been Mrs Angry. Ok, it was Mrs Angry.) ... and complaining about the 'relentless negativity' of the opposition, and by implication anyone who objects to the destruction of our library service.

Duschinsky claimed that when she held her councillor surgery at her local library, there was often no one else there. Mrs Angry resisted the temptation to suggest that might be because everyone was hiding in the bushes outside, too scared to come in, and instead reminded her that libraries had been underfunded and the book stock halved, deliberately, over the last few years - this making libraries less appealing and appear to be failing, of course.

Mrs Angry also observed that the residents of Mill Hill would be bound to thank her for her efforts, at the next election.

Mill Hill's other councillors are no better, of course. Cllr John Hart confessed to Mrs Angry's friend Alice, earlier in the year, that he was all for the proposals, saying:

"... the library purchases are mostly Millsey Boonsey rubbish; few people visit the book shelves; the premises need to be put to better use (plus library use on a reduced scale); premises may well be disposed of to raise capital for other uses (sadly, not for Conservative councillors’ emoluments)"

And Sury Khatri is the man who agreed with Mrs Angry this year that the proposals were awful, but voted for them anyway. After voting for the Capita contract agreement, he expressed grave doubts about the deal, and the way in which Tory councillors were distanced from the process - but only when it was too late.

This is how they are, the Tories.

That Duschinsky, a former teacher, who might be expected to understand the enormous need for public libraries, easily accessible to children of all backgrounds, could so readily support these appalling plans, is shocking - although perhaps not, in the context of Broken Barnet.

Labour tried to speak against the inevitable approval: leader Alison Moore as usual complained the Tories knew the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. Reema Patel gave an impassioned, tearful speech, clearly distressed by what was being forced through.

As is usually the case, the best opposition speech came from sole surviving Libdem, Jack Cohen, who, no blushing maiden he, (so rumour has it), was making his 800th speech.

He observed that the Tories had been trying to close libraries for thirty years. This is absolutely correct: when Mrs Angry worked for Barnet Libraries, they wanted to shut at least three branches, but backed out because - can you guess? They were in Tory wards. One of them, the vanity project that is now Hampstead Garden Suburb library, was always top of the list, and a waste of resources, now happily retaining a subsidy from the council, so as to satisfy the residents whose voice is so much louder, even, than the dreadful noise problem now causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis amongst the massed ranks of millionaire suburbanistas.

Please give generously.

Unless, like Mrs Angry, you do not give a flying f*ck.

Thank you.

Jack Cohen remembered the days when Barnet councillors actually took an interest in libraries, and books, and reading. Mrs Angry thought then about the councillors' own little library that was set up, in the members' room, so that our elected representatives could have first run at the latest best sellers, before the hoi-polloi could get their hands on them. And they were of course only best sellers, rather than anything with any intellectual content: oh, come on, what did you expect?

And Councillor Cohen recalled with affection the late Labour councillor Ellis Hillman, (the only Mayor to have been rated by Barnet Council's in-house chorus of disapproval, Mr Shepherd, who likes to point at Hillman's picture in the rogues' gallery of corporate fame that hangs along the corridors of the Town Hall, and tell you, with glee, that he was the only Trotskyite Mayor of Barnet - (So far, Mr Shepherd, so far, Mrs Angry always responds, with hands clasped, in fervent prayer ...)

Mr Shepherd, and Unison secretary John Burgess

When he took office, apparently, Ellis Hillman's first act was to clear out all relics of the sainted Margaret Thatcher from the Mayor's Parlour: it was even rumoured that an old friend offered him a bust of Lenin, to take her place.

Hillman used often to come in and chat to Mrs Angry at work in Golders Green library, as it happened: the most erudite and well read of men, he had a brilliant mind, and a breadth of knowledge that was quite extraordinary. What would he have made of the Tory attacks on our library service? I think I know.

He was also, as Jack reminded us, President of the Lewis Carroll Society, which was fitting, as last week's library committee had been apparently entirely enacted in the style of Alice in Wonderland, with Cllr Tombstone happily empowered by his own ability to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast, hence his keen support for the library proposals, based as they are on a fantasy business plan, supported by made up data, assumptions, invisible risk assessments, and crapitorial assurances that aren't worth the paper that, well - they're not written on.

They voted then, and not one Tory councillor abstained, or opposed the proposals.

Morally bankrupt! shouted the man next to Mrs Angry, in the public gallery.

He was right. He is right. They looked on, silently: knowing they have done something awful, and not one of them with the courage to follow their conscience.

The Tories tried to redeem themselves, in the latter part of the meeting, by a joint motion welcoming a small number of refugees to the borough - fifty in total. Big deal.

Mrs Angry noted, with wry amusement, that several of the Tory members kept looking in her direction, as if to say, look - see, here we are, demonstrating our compassion, even as we continue in our agenda of relentless war against the poor, here in Broken Barnet. Forget about the libraries, and the terrible thing we have just done: look at us, wringing our hands over an international crisis.

Some of the more politically sound Labour members tried hard to give the wider context to the refugee issue, and the failure of the Tory government to respond effectively to the international crisis, but of course this was not welcomed by their Conservative colleagues.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius made one of his curious speeches in support of the motion, an incoherent stream of pasted together phrases that meant nothing much at all, and in fact, on closer scrutiny meant nothing whatsoever. And unusually for the Leader, he ran out of things to say, and was clearly not inspired enough by the issue to have to worry about the red light ending his speech. Meh.

Still: We all come here from somewhere else, he said, rather mysteriously. In his case, it probably means he moved from St John's Wood to Totteridge - a journey of perilous danger, and hardship, for sure.

And - being nice to fifty people from Syria did not mean, he observed, with soothing words to those whom he thought might be worrying about it, that we were 'importing terrorism'. Phew!

The prematurely festive theme of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, however, clearly does not extend to women, that is to say German women, as the Tory leader now deviated into a swipe at the awfulness of the European Union, which is all the fault, of course, of a woman, and a German woman, at that, or 'Frau Merkel', as he likes to refer to her.

Cornelius, with masterly understatement, remarked on the novelty of a motion to council supported by all three parties. Well quite.

In fact, he reminded us darkly,  at some meetings, rather than what he would clearly prefer, a submissive consensus - there can be snipers ... and often, he added, somewhat sniffily - A Tendency to Disagree ...

Well, if only we would all just agree with them, our Tory councillors, and do as they say, without argument.

If only we could stop sniping, and being negative, and support their betrayal of the best interests of the people of this borough, their abandonment of the principles of public service, their fawning facilitation of private profit, at our expense, without complaint.

As Mrs Angry arrived at the Town Hall, on Tuesday night, one of the Tory councillors, former leader  Brian Salinger, was standing on the steps, sharing a joke with staff.

Mrs Angry had met Councillor Salinger in the supermarket, a few days earlier, (you can't push a trolley round Waitrose, North Finchley, without being pounced on by a Tory councillor: she once had a memorable encounter with veteran Tory Cllr Marshall by the nut counter, for example) - and had given him, at some length, the benefit of her views on the library cuts he and his colleagues were about to approve, despite the secret misgivings of many of them about the proposals.

He had had no real argument to offer, in defence.

As he stood on the steps now, she offered to take his photo, and he stood to attention, showing off his tie (he prides himself on his ties, and is always fondling them in front of Mrs Angry, for some reason), which was hand painted, you know, on silk. From somewhere in the Baltic. Lovely.

Mrs Angry admired the tie, but suggested the photo, bearing in mind the forthcoming vote, should be a commemoration of his status as library killer. He made the following gesture: Mrs Angry, having been educated in a convent, has no idea what it means, so please do let her know, if you do.

Councillor Salinger thought this was awfully funny, of course.

But the truth is, in regard to the library issue, as to all the other contentious issues that our Tory councillors vote through, in loyalty to party, rather than to their residents - they simply do not care, and here we see a moment's careless gesture speak more eloquently than anything else, as to exactly what they think.

Look at their faces, in the photo above, where they vote through the cuts. Some hiding their faces, others laughing. They know what they are doing, and they just don't give a damn.

This is not the end of the library story, however, quite yet.

Barnet will shortly begin another round of pointless 'consultation', after which, whatever residents say, they will go ahead, and force through the plans, more or less as they are now: brutal, mindless: the devastation of a once magnificent library service, destroyed by the policies of barbarians, at the behest of their own senior management, and the army of outsourcing consultants who plague this easycouncil borough. Remember this post, back in January, with the alleged overheard conversation regarding plans and yet more business opportunities to be screwed out of our libraries?

They will try to force the plans through: there will no doubt be attempts at legal challenge, and protests from residents, and perhaps some light tinkering with the plans, to make them appear less awful than they really are. But they will still be really, really awful.

Barnet Tories like to see our borough as the flagship of privatisation: a beacon of enterprise, in the evergrowing market that our plundered public services now provide.

Once upon a time, as Eileen Colwell might have begun one of her storytimes, in this borough, we were the flagship of something rather more worthy: the creation of a library service that excelled in giving the very thing Conservative philosophy pretends to want, the opportunity for children to learn, and play, and grow into happy, well educated and resourceful adults.

That was a dream, that became a reality, here in Broken Barnet.

Now we are living in Capitaville, and even our libraries must be turned to profit, or die.

Well: next May, voters will have the chance to express their views on library cuts, via the ballot box.

And this is one issue that will hang around the neck of Councillor and GLA candidate Daniel Thomas, right the way through his election campaign.

The Tory voters who are now coming to all the library meetings, and marches, and protests, are not going to forget what they have done.

And nor will the rest of us.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Point me to the skies: in which Mrs Angry goes to a council meeting, and pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher

Bloggers Mr Reasonable, Mr Tichborne, Mrs Thatcher, and Cllr Devra Kay

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies; 

Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; 

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. 

Last night's library cuts meeting presented something of a challenge, for Mrs Angry. Or rather, more than one challenge. 

How to write, and then present, a three minute speech, in defence of our library service, and deconstructing the sham reports and weasel words of the case for the destruction of said library service, at the committee table, without laughing, surrounded as she was by squirming Tory councillors, and grinning senior officers, while outside the window, library campaigner Polly Napper and her brass band played a particularly mournful version of ... 'Abide With Me'? 

Oh, and - dressed in Tory blue, whilst singing the praises of Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, this is still Broken Barnet, written by swivel eyed Trot, and Domestic Extremist, Mrs Angry. 

There has, however, been a problem with our standards of service delivery, and it is true to say that we have failed to reach our Key Performance Indicators. 

This will in no way necessitate any mitigation, in terms of our (non compliant) contract with Barnet Council, however, and the usual £32 million annual fee will be expected, plus a gratuitous, gainshare payment for value added, gratuitous innuendo. 

Read on.

The tune, of course, as Mrs Angry gleefully reminded the Tory members, played on the Titanic, as it sank slowly into the icy waters, on that fateful night, so long ago.

Libdem councillor Jack Cohen, sitting with Mrs Angry and Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne, between reading the Racing Times on his ipad, and discussing onesies on twitter, could not help, at this point, reviving the long standing argument he has, with Mrs Angry, as to ... whether or not it was a problem with being wrongly riveted, or screwed, that spelt disaster for the Titanic. 

Can't remember which way round it was, now, but - whichever way, of course, Mrs Angry was right, and Cllr Cohen wrong. 

Still, riveted or screwed, last night, were we, Mrs Angry, you are wondering? 

Neither, as it happens. After a meeting attended by a huge number of angry residents, staff and library lovers, it was clear that our quivering Tory councillors, pale with fear, just wanted the night over and done with, and the blame taken out of their hands, into the collective responsibility of approval at Full Council.

As blogger Mr Reasonable so perfectly describes here, the meeting was not a forum of debate, nor intended to be: the Tories had decided their strategy beforehand, and went through the motions of the committee as peremptorily and quickly as possible, guided by the usual dismissiveness of Tory Reuben Thompstone, whose style of chairmanship is best illustrated by what happened at a meeting attended by disabled children whose respite care funding had been slashed by Tories, shortly after their pre-election council tax stunt.

Before the meeting, Tombstone had gone around with a clipboard (of course) checking on those of us who intended to speak, or had put questions to the meeting. Mrs Angry admired his new handlebar moustache, with curling ends, and enquired, with great curiosity, as to whether or not he waxed it, on a regular basis. 

The moustache, that is.

Like similarly handlebar moustachioed octogenarian Tory councillor, and silver fox, John Hart, a great admirer of Mrs Angry, and indeed, her friend Mrs A. Fulbright. So is Reuben Thompstone, for that matter. Or they were, until April 1st.

Tombstone looked at Mrs Angry warily, and indicated that he did. Wax it. 

Salvador Dali, commented Mrs Angry, mindful of the surrealist circumstances of this somewhat unexpected dialogue, but trying to be helpful, used to use jam

Or was it marmalade? Or, she thought, luckily before she said it out loud, was it something else entirely? 

No, that was a scene from one of your favourite films, Mrs Angry, and best not repeated. Do try to stay focused.

Barbara Jacobson, from Barnet Alliance, was up first, with her three minutes, which you can see here:


As usual she tore through the reports put to councillors, and as usual, the Tories simply failed to listen, with any objectivity, to the reasoned arguments she made.

Councillor Thomas, obviously desperate for ideas, poor boy, asked for help from Mrs Jacobson in finding alternative methods of finding the money he has apparently lost down the back of the corporate sofa, meaning that he now cannot cough up the dough to keep our library service going. She did her best to oblige.

As he spoke the band outside, in a rather unfortunate choice of music was playing: 'Oh Come Let Us Adore Him' ... Well: let's see, Come Next May, shall we, how Adorable you are, Cllr Thomas?

Then it was Mrs Angry's turn.


Here is the three minute speech, for what it is worth.

"This report before you, and its recommendations, are based entirely on a foundation of false assumptions, projections, and flawed evidence.

‘Modelled data’ – made up data - false assertions about ‘open libraries’: all of it carefully crafted to promote the argument, clearly rejected by your constituents, for savage cuts, despite the horrible truth, hidden from you, even as you go through the motions of scrutiny, that the savings you’re promised, and the standard of performance, never appear.

Yet again you’re asked to approve, in the pursuit of savings, huge outlays of capital in preparation of further privatisation of local services. Now it’s £6 million to cover a budget cut, made out of political choice, rather than necessity, of only £2.85 million. 

It is simply madness.

Why are you so easily persuaded by your officers, and the legions of consultants whose fees you so happily endorse, that it’s necessary to destroy our library service?

Because that’s what you’ll be doing: handing over 14 buildings to Capita, to be used for commercial purposes, with only a nominal service retained, excluding reasonable access to the vast majority of current users.

With this flawed report, if you approve these recommendations, you will make the authority vulnerable to lengthy, and costly legal challenge.

Why are you all so easily persuaded to act against the very principles in which you, as Conservatives, claim to believe?

Sanctioning these draconian cuts, Councillor Thomas, will expose you and your Conservative colleagues to the real risk of electoral failure in next year’s elections. (Not all bad news then).

Councillor Cornelius: you and your husband became involved in local politics because of proposals to shut your library, in affluent Totteridge. Now you are about to sanction the removal of library services from so many less fortunate residents, who so badly depend on access to books, and help from librarians.

Councillor Hart: after the death of Margaret Thatcher, you stated you were proud to be known as an ‘unreconstructed Thatcherite’. Well, tonight, I think it is fair to say that I am the real Thatcherite, sitting at the table.

Margaret Thatcher was of course the champion of ‘aspiration’, that ideal to which you all subscribe. 

In her memoirs she revealed that, in the era when she became the ‘milk snatcher’, she refused to allow library charges to be introduced, preferring to cut welfare spending:

I knew from my experience in Grantham, she wrote, how vital it is to have access to books

Her father was an ‘avid reader’, a ‘self taught scholar’ and Chairman, Cllr Thompstone, of the local Library committee, who would borrow a ‘serious’ book from the library every week for himself – and his daughter.

As a result, she wrote, I found myself reading books which girls of my age would not generally read …’

You’ve resisted any real threat to your own library in Edgware, Councillor Hart - the branch I depended on, as a child, in a house without books: every word I write now, as it happens, was formed by the reading material I found on the bookshelves of that library.

The price of maintaining your library, however, is that the children of the poor, in East Finchley , for example - in Strawberry Vale, the worst area of social deprivation in Barnet, and one of the highest in the country - will lose all but token access to the vital support that a library brings. 

Is that fair?

What would Margaret think about that, I wonder, Councillors?"

Well, Mrs Angry felt quite pleased with herself, to have out-Thatchered an Unreconstructed Thatcherite, and there was much amusement in the public gallery, and applause, and it was clear that when directly addressed, and held to account, the named Tory members were ... deeply uncomfortable. 

Mrs Angry also felt uncomfortable, in truth, having had to appeal to the very thing she detests the most: the cult of Thatcherism, whose shrine is here, in Broken Barnet, amongst her heirs and successors, who stalk the corridors of the Town Hall, still living, in their minds, in the glorious era of her ascendancy.

It should be noted, readers, that in order to research the material for this speech, Mrs Angry was obliged to read the early chapters of several biographies, and the autobiography, of the young Margaret Roberts. 

Having sat down to pre-order these volumes at the British Library, and finding them already in use by some other deluded reader, Mrs Angry was very grateful to find them ... in her local library. Where else?

And by the way: one of the very first speeches Margaret made in Finchley, you know, in February 1959, was in ... North Finchley Library. 

Oh, and Mrs Angry did some 'volunteer' shelving, while she was in her own local library, in Church End, just to show willing.

Back to the meeting. 

The aspirational Dan Thomas was clearly wishing he was not taking part in the proceedings, and was uncharacteristically quiet all evening: when Mrs Angry pointed out the impact that the Tory library cuts would have on his attempt to take the GLA seat from Labour's Andrew Dismore. 

The look on his face said it all: he knows it, and not even his half hearted comment, sotto voce to her at the table, you said that last year, was expressed with any conviction. 

He knows the truth, that although in the end the Tory MPs were returned in the last election, the library issue lost them many thousands of votes, caused them to panic, in the run up to polling day, and indeed, in the public gallery last night, and even outside in the demonstration, there were, quite astonishingly, perhaps, numbers of Conservative voting residents who not only objected to the library cuts but for the first time had come to a library meeting to witness their elected representatives in action - and taken part in a protest.

After Mrs Angry's speech, Tory chair Reuben Thompstone put the same question he had put to Barbara Jacobson, in boorish manner, demanding to know ... if we were going to volunteer at our local library. Outside, the band reverted to the beginning of its musical medley:

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me ...

It demonstrated, with perfect clarity, that he simply does not understand the objection to volunteer run libraries: that he and his colleagues have no grasp of the professional skills needed to run a library service, of their vital role in supporting the needs of users, and that no one with any decency wants to play their part in turning library staff out of their jobs, into a desperate future of unemployment and loss of livelihood.

Barbara responded in no uncertain terms, taken aback by such an aggressive and misjudged question: Mrs Angry, forewarned, suggested immediately that Reuben Thompstone might like to consider performing his role as councillor and chair of the committee on a voluntary basis, rather than raking in the massive allowances he enjoys, reminding him of one of his Tory predecessors, the widely respected Councillor Sussman, who gave years of service to the borough, seeing it as a civic duty - but never claimed a single penny in allowance.

And further, Mrs Angry, who, unlike Reuben Thompstone, has worked in public libraries and knows exactly what a difficult, but rewarding job it is, reminded him, she did enough voluntary work by the means of producing this blog, with all the lovingly chronicled reports of incompetence within the ranks of the current Tory administration. Reuben appeared to be less than grateful for this example of Big Society enterprise in action, it must be said.

Two questions from Labour councillors: what did Mrs Angry know about the claims made in the report regarding Scandinavian libraries, and the open model it describes, falsely, as being the 'standard approach' there. Mrs Angry pointed out that only one country in Scandinavia used this model, that is to say Denmark, and out of 500 libraries, only around 180 are of this type - and only in isolated rural communities. Nowhere comparable to the scheme proposed by this report, in terms of the context of an urban environment, or on such a scale, has ever been attempted - for good reason.

Another Labour councillor's question asked if she thought the earlier proposal to shrink libraries to 540 square feet had really been a serious consideration. Mrs Angry replied that it was quite obviously a scare tactic, meant to make the current almost equally bad shrinkage appear more acceptable - which of course it is not.

There was little time to put supplementary questions, to 134 written submissions, but we tried. Despite desperate attempts at evasion, it emerged that - yes, Crapita are in line to boost their profits from the already burdened taxpayers of Broken Barnet, by getting gainshare payments on top of their contractual fees, for managing the former library buildings, when they get their sweaty little hands on them. Kerrching! As for the new idea, by our warm hearted council, to make the children of Broken Barnet pay daily fines on overdue books, they hoped to make as much as £25, 000, in the next financial period. 

Marvellous: and how, asked Mrs Angry, will you enforce this? Will you annexe their pocket money, should they refuse to cough up? Or send round the Capita bailiffs? And what if there are not enough naughty children in Broken Barnet, keeping their books out too long, and you fail to squeeze enough cash out of them? What is the risk assessment in terms of such failure, seeing as your revenue projections depend on such certainties?

Ah: risk assessment ... for some reason, officers were markedly reluctant to answer any questions, no matter how many times you repeated the question, about this subject. It then emerged that the full risk register would now have to be made public because someone had FOI'd it. Good. Because really, it should have been part of the report, shouldn't it, so councillors could judge the case for the proposals.

Oh dear. A thought, readers: how awful it would be, if the reason the risk assessment was not made available was because ... the risks are ... sshhh ...  TOO HIGH!

The other glaring omission was anything other than a draft EIA, ie Equalities Impact Assessment. Whether this was deliberate, as clearly would be very useful, in getting the proposals past a committee, or just incompetence, is hard to say: more likely, this being Broken Barnet, to be sheer indifference.  

The greatest flaw in the report lies here, however, and for whatever reason. The impact of the proposals, especially the open library nonsense, will, without question, make a profound impact on the groups to which the Equalities Act extends a duty of protection. Young, old, sick, disabled, poor, or just different in some way: your rights to access to a library service are about to be stolen from you, courtesy of your Tory councillors. 

Some councillors are not fazed by the potential risks posed by open libraries, however. Dan Thomas dared to venture a point, not very strongly, as he was trying hard not to put his head above the parapet, that student libraries that are open for use when not staffed were ok, and therefore an unstaffed library in an urban part of London, late at night, was comparable. 

Councillor Helena Hart, however, having, as Mrs Angry pointed out in her speech, made sure her own library in Edgware was going to be just fine, was keen to try to present the open system as perfectly acceptable. Edgware, in a nice leafy suburb, had piloted a scheme of this sort: it has only run for three months, has had a pathetically low uptake, and yet was offered as proof of satisfaction.

Although there was some dissatisfaction expressed by the senior officer, regarding the exclusion of children from the open libraries, and some handwringing about perhaps it might be possible, in some future proposal, to address this; the safety aspects were dismissed by Councillor Hart, by implication, and on no good reason. That there have been no incidents yet is hardly evidence that bears relying upon - and residents in the room were furious. 

What will happen, if there is anti-social behaviour, or some sort of assault, or medical emergency: and there will be, as anyone who works in a library can testify?

How can lone women feel safe in such an environment, especially at night?

Who will help, should there be any sort of trouble?

There is CCTV, we were told - well, yes, but not live, shouted residents.

Councillor Hart did agree, somewhat primly,that it was unfortunate that there would be no toilets available in the new open libraries. 

But she wanted to make the point that Even Before the pilot scheme had been in place, the toilet had often been out of order because ... because ... and here she prepared herself for an immersion in vulgarity, like a staff nurse putting on rubber gloves, to clean out a bedpan ... because of ... Misuse.

Councillor Hart's face indicated, in no uncertain terms, that this ... misuse ... amounted to some unmentionable horror, possibly worse than, say ... the toilet seat left standing. 

Perhaps  ... an act of contempt, left on the floor, as a souvenir, in time honoured fashion?

Still, thought Mrs Angry: if so, a perfect metaphor, in its way, for what the Tories want to do to our library service, is it not?

They never shit on their own doorsteps, after all, but prefer to leave the dirty stuff dumped on those whose opinions count for nothing, in this borough.

(Mrs Angry was educated by nuns, you know. Almost made a full recovery, as you can see).

If the Tories think that, by referring the library report to Full Council, the matter will be at an end, however: they are mistaken. 

As Mr Reasonable put it: 

Barnet is a great place to live because of the people who live here, the people who care, the people who are passionate about their community ...

These are the people I love:  the ones who stand up, and speak out, when they see injustice, and inequality, and a democratic process held hostage by commerce, and self interest; who see elected representatives who betray them, betray us, and our best interests, rather than protect us, and the things we need, just to get by, to live, not according to our worth, our status, but as families, individuals, friends, comrades: old and young, straight, gay, able bodied, disabled, rich or poor, citizens of the world, residents of Broken Barnet.

It's no wonder they want to shut the libraries, and hand the buildings over to Capita, as part of its failing empire: a last trophy, perhaps, for the outsourcerers.

But this fight, over our library service, is about so much more than that. 

And that fight continues.