Friday, 16 April 2010

Trouble in Paradise

Good news, fellow citizens! Mrs Angry has got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

No need to panic after all.

I have just read in the online Hendon and Finchley Times that according to our council yesterday 'In Barnet we're lucky to have a very low amount of antisocial behaviour. But where this does occur, the council will work closely with the police to stamp it out ...'

Barnet, you see, for some reason, (nothing to do with Mrs Angry's war of attrition, of course) felt moved to express that it is 'delighted' by the sentencing this week of members of a gang who have been caught sticking graffiti on various sites and have now received ASBOs.

How interesting it is that walls are considered more important, and more in need of protecting, than the wellbeing of my family. That's the true Tory way, I suppose, though: property being of more value than human beings. And of course, cleaning up graffitti has hit them where it really hurts, in the wallet.

Mrs Angry is thrilled for the council, none the less. Now they can add these new ASBOs to the grand total of, er, four which, when she made an FOI request in January, she was informed was the entire number the ASBOs obtained by Barnet in the current financial year. Yes: four.

Mrs Angry has been asked if she has 'sexed up' the content. I'm not entirely sure if that means in an Alistair Campbell/dodgy dossier/David Kelly dead in the woods sort of way, or more Belle de Jour style (if only) but let me lower the tone anyway, and talk about sex in Sunderland. Yes, I know. It does happen, and Mrs Angry, being the descendant of six generations of Durham miners, (one of the many reasons of my deep loathing for Margaret Thatcher, and the bottle of champers I keep in my fridge for the day of her demise) wouldn't be here otherwise. Anyway: you are allowed to have sex in Sunderland, but very quietly. If you make a noise and embarrass the postman, and an OAP walking a dog, you will find yourself the recipient of an ASBO, as one particularly enthusiastic couple discovered last year. Funny, you might think: sex is a fairly normal activity, even in Barnet. Allegedly. Enjoy yourself too much, however, and you might be in trouble. In Sunderland anyway. But look what you can get away with in this borough: drug abuse, drunkenness, 'whacking' your children', beating up members of your family, yelling obscenities night and day, including directly at your neighbours, jumping in front of their windows making FUCK OFF gestures, wielding knives in front of them, keeping them awake every night for three months, don't worry, you ain't going to be ASBOd. You may be offered support for your needs, is all. Just don't leave your tag on the tube station and post it on Youtube. On the other hand, you can do drugs and stick the photos on Facebook, no one will care.

Do they honestly expect people to believe that we have a very low amount of antisocial behaviour? Do you think that is the opinion of the police in this borough?

We have, as I may have mentioned, a Tory run council, whose members are largely representative of the more affluent areas of Barnet. It is a truth not commonly acknowledged amongst the current administration that in fact we have large areas of social deprivation in this borough. Of course these areas tend to be in Labour held wards and therefore do not really count for much with our Tory chums.

According to the most recent data available, Barnet has significant areas, ie in concentrated pockets, of disadvantage and social deprivation. This is largely driven by 'disadvantage' in housing and crime. Surprisingly, perhaps, out of 354 English local authorities, Barnet ranks number 128 in terms of deprivation. In the years between 2004 and 2007, the trend was that Barnet was becoming more deprived still, and one can only assume that this trend is likely to continue, especially if we return the present administration to power.

Mrs Angry suggests that Lynne Hillan, Brian Coleman, Andrew Harper and their posse, slip a hoody on, hold their noses, and tippytoe on to the mean streets of parts of this borough to see how the other half lives. Maybe they would like to accompany the police on an evening tour of Grahame Park, or Strawberry Vale, Stonegrove, or Spur Road, have a word with the drug dealers, gang members, petty criminals, pimps and street drinkers who plague the lives of the ordinary decent residents of these areas and occupy so much of the time and resources of the police? No? Too down and dirty for you?

When Mrs Angry made a Freedom of Information request earlier this year, she also asked about the number of ASB enquiries the council had received. Last year, ie the year 2008/9, there were a total of 65 enquiries. This financial year, up til the date of the request in January, there were 214, a number apparently increasing almost daily. And this is bearing in mind that most residents probably would not know how to report concerns about ASB to the council, and are not exactly encouraged to do so. At one time, there was going to be a helpline to which such problems could be reported: what happened to that? No doubt it went the same way as the out of hours weekday emergency line, quietly cut, easyBarnet style.

If you watched the debate between party leaders the other night you will have seen David Cameron constantly evading the question about how Tory spending cut plans will effect the provision of vital services. How strange, incidentally, to see the leader of the Conservative party, the party of law and order, not only not supporting the work of the police but picking silly fights over an alleged purchase of one car by one police force, which apparently was an inaccurate story anyway. Forget all the handwringing by Cameron about Broken Britain. In the increasingly unlikely event that he will be the next PM, the spending cuts he will impose will inevitably hit every aspect of public services, including policing. And we already know from examples of Conservative local authorities like Barnet that the Tory way of dealing with the issue of ASB in practice consists of ignoring it and hoping it will all go away.

In the past, of course, this has worked because the people who were largely affected by such disruptive behaviour were the plebs themselves, the unacknowledged underclass who were kept in place in urban ghettoes and no-go estates, and the Tories didn't give a damn, as long as none of them ventured down the leafy streets where they live. This system of apartheid is breaking down, however, as largely due to the brilliant short term kerr-ching effect of selling off council houses, there is now a chronic shortage of social housing and now homeless families on council waiting lists are being housed in residential properties all around the borough. An interesting experiment in social engineering, you might think.

Shirley Porter, anyone?


Johnny on the Web said...

Your comment that ASB enquires are up significantly seems to resonate with what I am hearing. Canvassing outside Sainsbury's today I spoke to a number of people who are experiencing similar (if not quite so extreme ) problems.The common theme was that antisocial neighbours had been placed in quiet neighbourhoods by Barnet Council and when thing went wrong Barnet Council simply wash their hands.Some of the people were totally exasperated and felt as if they were being punished. In fact one lady said Barnet Council almost seemed to think it was her fault for complaining. The council must reconsider it's priorities and put more money into dealing with these problems rather than recruiting "Change & Innovation Managers" on £50k a year.

Mrs Angry said...

How very interesting, Johnny. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence about Barnet placed tenants presenting similar problems, and if one were cynical,one might question whether the more disruptive households were being deliberately removed from Barnet's responsibility in this way. Their refusal to scrutinise landlords or compel them to properly manage their tenants speaks volumes, I feel. In Harrow the council is drawing up plans to deal with the issue of irresponsible landlords, but that is not likely to happen in easyBarnet. As you say, it is all a question of priorities: Barnet could choose to provide an effective Anti-social behaviour strategy, with a properly resourced and staffed team, but prefers to waste money on over paid senior officers, and unnecessary posts such as you mention. The prevailing political idealogy prevents them from acknowledging the need to address social issues such as ASB.

darkstar said...

I sympathise with the original blogger's plight - I have had a very nasy experience of an anti-social tenant whom Barnet placed in a quiet area, and then when things went wrong did not act on our complaints. Worse than that - they gave details of all our complaints, given in confidence, to the anti-social tenant and the whole situation escalated ! I would encourage you to be very careful in what you say to Barnet ASB unit as they do not respect the privacy of complainants. They are shambolic and not fit for purpose in my opinion. I have more to say but that will do for now.
Good Luck. Anon.

Mrs Angry said...

Just seen this, darkstar: I believe that we are only the tip of the iceberg. Barnet makes sure that there is no easy way for such problems to be reported and dealt with: you are spot on in using the term 'not fit for purpose' to describe their response. Until they are forced to put resources into tackling ASB, they will simply ignore it, and their future plans for council organisation and spending do not allow for any improvment in this area.