Thursday, 31 March 2011
A marvellous thing has happened, citizens. Mrs Angry got up this beautiful spring morning, looked out of the window and made a wonderful discovery: something profound, and rather beautiful, is transforming the landscape of Broken Barnet.
Pulling back the bedroom curtains, and watching with amusement as the startled spy from MetPro fell gracefully from his ladder, still clutching his camera, she could not help but notice that so much has changed in the world outside.
Recently, you know, she has begun to question whether or not she needs to be quite so cynical about the way in which our beloved borough is run.
Is she, in fact, being fair to our much criticised Tory councillors and senior officers? Could it be that they are absolutely right about almost everything, and that she is completely and utterly wrong? Well, I've got to tell you that the answer to that is yes: and even more importantly, there is wonderful news. Barnet is no longer broken. It has all been fixed, thanks to the hard work and self denying dedication of our Conservative councillors.Who would now refuse them a little rise in their allowances? Not me. Give them much more money, I say.
Leader Lynne Hillan, you see, has taken a big pot of One Barnet superglue and stuck all the little broken bits of our borough back together again, as good as new. And Brian Coleman helped her to do it: when she found a bit that wouldn't fit, he just got a sledge hammer and bludgeoned it into shape for her so that it went in anyway: wasn't that sweet of him?
Feeling very ashamed, now, and yet filled with joy at the sudden new insight with which she has been blessed, she wants to tell you;
One Barnet is the future.
One Barnet is the One True Path.
Lynne Hillan is a divine being, blessed with vision, beauty, compassion, intellect, extraordinary political instincts, and outstanding business acumen. Our lives are safe in her hands.
I will therefore be retiring from blogging, and this will be my last post. I suppose I ought to apologise to Dave Hill for the inconvenience.
I understand that fellow blogger and former Labour and LibDem activist Roger Tichborne has announced in a statement this morning that he has joined the Conservative Party, declaring: 'I've tried the best, now let's try the rest'. His blog will of course become The One Barnet Eye.
Mr Reasonable, unfortunately, has become unbelievably stroppy and bad tempered since he became a top blogger and wishes to be known from now on as The Terminator. For God's sake don't get into an argument with him - he swears like a docker at the drop of a hat now.
Mr Mustard has seen the error of his ways, torn himself away from polishing the bannister, and enthusiastically accepted a post as Reward Manager with the LBB.
'Do Call me Dave' has moved in with a nest of anarcho-syndicalists in Hoxton, and Vicki Morris is now running a lingerie shop in Frome, with a Mr David Duff.
Peace, love and harmony exists once more in One Barnet, a successful London borough.
My work here is done.
I have accepted a proposal of marriage from Councillor John Marshall, and am moving to Hampstead Garden Suburb, where he has promised me the full use of his free parking permit - and lots of new shoes.
Mrs Angry xxx
'Council spies paid to secretly film you at open meetings'
right there on the front page, and all over page two as well, which I didn't quite understand, so I went into Waterstone's and asked a man to explain it to me, in words of one syllable.
It seems some foolish woman blogger, who is a mother too, which is more to the point, of course, has been moaning about the MetPro security company and their use by our beloved Barnet Council. Just imagine! I hope she didn't neglect her housework in the course of such activities: those bannisters won't get polished on their own, Mrs Angry!
Will update with more details later, but in the meanwhile, here is the link, for anyone at NLBP trying to find it: http://tinyurl.com/6bszsp8
*Update: so - according to this exclusive story by Georgia Graham, MetPro's Kevin Sharkey has confirmed that his employees regularly used hidden body-worn CCTV cameras. Mr Sharkey tells us that the use of the cameras, like all CCTV, is for the purpose of 'assisting crime prevention'.
I have to tell you, Mr Sharkey, and Tory Leader Lynne Hillan, and Chief Executive Nick Walkley, that as a resident - and as a 'citizen journalist' - I deeply object to being treated like a potential criminal, just by the very act of exercising my lawful right to attend a council meeting.
In fact, I don't just object, I am outraged at this invasion of my privacy by what amounts to a private, unaccountable secret police force with more authority over the conduct of a council meeting than, well, the real police. Something wrong there, isn't there, Neil?
How can an elected council treat its residents in this way? What sort of administration are you running? Why do you fear the presence of your electors so much that you have to use blackshirted bouncers to keep a few union leaders, heads of voluntary bodies, sixth formers and middle aged accountants out of a council budget meeting?
Why have you not answered the questions put to you by me and others in regard to the way in which this company has been contracted to the council? Questions about the number of licences held by employees of this company, as required by law, and why, if they are held, they are apparently not displayed at all times? Questions about CRB checks? Questions about claims made in publicity material by this company? What footage and personal data is this company keeping on me and other residents attending this meeting? Why are they claiming to monitor our blogs, tweets, and God knows what else? Oh, and why are my emails to opposition councillors apparently being blocked? *second update 17.30pm: just received this email response to the question made to a residents' forum which Barnet magically transformed into a twenty day delayed FOI:
"Unfortunately we are unable to respond at present to your enquiry regarding the company providing security cover at the Town Hall. I am still collating this information. I apologise on behalf of the council for not meeting the 20 working day statutory period. I hope to be able to respond tomorrow to this part of your request. "
Mrs Angry feels a little uncertain about the likelihood of this information seeing the light of day tomorrow, but if it does not appear, there will be a complaint to the ICO.
I think Lynne Hillan owes me and several other residents an explanation, and an apology. I'm waiting, but not for very long.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
*Update, Weds 15.40pm: Mrs Angry is amused to see from her stats that at last some of her workshy, good for nothing & slow on the uptake Tory admirers at the GLA (apart from you, of course, dear Mr Evans) have worked out how she sees them calling in - doh - and has left her some messages on a google search ... (some callers don't realise this shows up on the record - hence the sometimes surprising pathways people take to arrive at Broken Barnet, ie spanking convent schoolgirls (?) etc )... anyway, our chums at the GLA left the following: at 14.22.04, 'mrs angry is a rubbish barnet blog' ho ho and then 14.22.22 - 'hello mrs angry barnet blog you are rubbish!' Laugh? I nearly fell off my chair. You boys, what are you like? No work to do? Reminds me, I hear we have a new blogger, small but perfectly formed Barnet councillor Robert Ramsbottom, who makes the tea and sharpens pencils for the Tory group at City Hall: must visit soon ...
Goodness me, so many visits to yesterday's post: I had no idea that there was so much interest in the art of balloon making. Someone has asked if Miss Ballooniverse blows them all herself, or uses a hand pump technique. I don't know, but if you visit her website, you will see that she is available for weddings, barmitzvahs and possibly funerals too. Or you could ask Matthew Offord.
Oh and quite a lot of people from the LBB have been obsessively re-reading my posts on the very interesting security company MetPro Rapid, (or is it Emergency Response? what day of the week is it?). Mrs Angry assumes that this is because they are unable to contact her directly through her email account, which has mysteriously been blocked to certain barnet.gov addresses.
Anyway: Mrs Angry has reason to believe that tomorrow will be an exciting news day in Broken Barnet, and so, a little prematurely, she would like to draw attention to tomorrow's date, ie the 31st of March, and mention that this is the last working day for many Barnet employees facing redundancy. Some have already worked their last day, but tomorrow is the end for many others, many of them officers of long service and irreplaceable professional experience - such as the curator of our wonderful Church Farmhouse Museum, Gerard Roots, who is being kicked out after a long and distinguished career of many years, producing a long history of fabulous exhibitions at the museum, itself being closed by our shameless, ignorant Tory councillors.
Also receiving the order of the boot tomorrow, after an entire working life misspent in loyal service to the London Borough of Barnet, is Mrs Angry's long suffering, hard working, conscientious, considerate, and impeccably behaved brother. (I know, it is hard to believe we had the same parents ...) He will be better off out of the toxic atmosphere of North London Business Park, but now, like many of his colleagues, faces an uncertain future. So many are leaving, in fact, that there is little doubt that certain departments of our beloved council will be unable to fulfill certain statutory obligations. Mrs Angry predicts, when the dust settles down, and they think we aren't looking, the sneaky use of more contracted senior officers to fill the gaps, at more cost to us, of course.
Mrs Angry's brother has promised his naughty little sister that tomorrow he will visit the Democratic Services' stationery cupboard, liberate some One Barnet marker pens, and leave the following message in large letters on someone's desk:
Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius ...
For the benefit of our intellectually challenged Tory councillors, I translate:
Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Mrs Angry has been saving this lovely photo since it appeared on twitter last week. She has another amusing pic somewhere of our MP judging a Miss Beautiful Sheep competition at a county show ... now where is it? She hopes to put her hands on it very soon. In the meanwhile, she hopes that busy Mr Offord has managed to have a word with Mr Walkley and the Mayor about, what was it ... oh yes, the council's use of MetPro Rapid Response and their alleged covert filming of residents at a council meeting?
While you are at it, Matthew, could you have a word with the CE about the fact that she is strangely unable to communicate with her local Labour councillor because, to the mystification of borough IT experts, all emails to and from her account to his Barnet address have been blocked? *Update, add the Labour leader to the blocked list: how very odd, eh, citizens?
Sunday, 27 March 2011
The list is endless, I'm afraid. The Falklands: my fault. Gulf war: my fault. Worst of all: 9/11 - my fault. I killed Elvis, and Mao Tse Tung. As a schoolgirl, I was responsible for the invasion of Cyprus, and I can even (just about) remember a particularly gloomy birthday when I was a child, sitting on a beach in France, under an iron black stormy sky, surrounded by thousands of dead jellyfish, while my father told us about the invasion of Czechoslovakia. (This was in the bad old days, before it was considered necessary to enjoy yourself too much, and long before parents started taking their children on holiday to Eurodisney, or Centerparcs).
So it was with some trepidation, as usual, that I went up to the north east last week, and waited to see if the inevitable happened. And inevitably, it did, and of course, I sat and watched David Cameron tell us all about the necessity of a military action in Libya, followed by all the violence on top of violence which has consequently been unleashed.
The events of 9/11 will be forever connected, in my memory, with another, particularly dark visit back to the North East, where my mother's family were from, because on that day she and I were travelling up to Durham for her sister's funeral. When we arrived, there already was the sort of highly charged atmosphere you only get at such gatherings: the reunion of estranged relatives, the guilt, the sense of loss, the unspoken and unspeakable feelings, but all of this was intensely magnified by the depth of horror we all felt at the sequence of events unfolding in front of us on the antiquated tv, in what was once the rarely used front parlour of my grandparents' old house. Parlours in those days were to be kept for best, or more commonly, for funerals and wakes: a fitting venue then, for another wake, and to witness second hand what my father, in his confusion, thought was the beginning of the end of the world.
The next day, at the funeral, we stood silently, still stunned by the previous day’s events, in the town cemetery, appropriately enough at the foot of the discreetly contoured and grassed over slag heap that once belonged to one of the mines where my grandfather used to work. There was another ominously dark sky above, and a gale howling around us, in a suitably apocalyptic manner. And as the priest stumbled his way through the prayers it seemed that we were all saying goodbye to quite a lot more than the troubled life of my poor aunt.
It was impossible not to think about that day, standing in the same graveyard last week, thinking about, and missing, all the other members of my family who have gone now, and reflecting on all the changes that have happened since they died. The former slagheap is no longer an open space, but has been built on. Unless you know where to look, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find any trace of the mining industry on which the town, and indeed the whole of County Durham, once depended. The slum terraces where my grandmother was born, near Gateshead, have, like many others, been airbrushed out of the landscape: now the Angel of the North stands there, holding out her wings in a wide embrace, an industrial sculpture in an area where heavy industry no longer exists.
Where once there were pitheads, and slag heaps, and the oddly sweet smell of soot, and a shamelessly scarred landscape, there are green spaces and clean air, and boring, neat little housing estates - and even, in some lucky areas, a few small scale enterprises, trading estates and modest size factories. These commercial developments are mostly in the more fortunate parts of the county, however, where, in many areas, the smaller coal seams began to run out after the war, and the local authorities did all they could to encourage businesses to invest in their districts and provide alternative forms of employment for families who had worked exclusively in mining for generations.
Towards the eastern coastal side, the mines were deeper, and larger, and even extended miles under the sea. After Margaret Thatcher's war of attrition on the mining unions, it was these areas which saw their communities destroyed almost overnight by the retaliatory, merciless programme of pit closures. No time to prepare, to bring alternative employment and investment: the Tory government was interested only in market forces, and laissez faire economics - the survival of the fittest, and to hell with the rest.
You might have seen the film Billy Elliot: that was filmed in Easington, a town which has never recovered from the pit closures. It was created for mining, and mining was its life blood; when that was taken away, the town died. It has been described as the unhealthiest town in England and listed as fourth in the national index of of multiple deprivation: economic and social deprivation, blighted by the effects of unemployment: a generation of working men left dependent on benefits: a second generation without work, inclined to drug and alcohol abuse, the sort of social exclusion and welfare dependency the current Tory government is so quick to condemn without wondering who put them in that position in the first place.
Mr Ian Duncan Smith, another over privileged Tory minister who has probably never used public transport in his life, has stated that the unemployed in this sort of situation should simply get on a bus and travel miles in search of the plentiful work he thinks exists elsewhere. Anyone who has not been in this sort of area, and experienced how poor public transport is, and how isolating the effects are, how difficult it is for someone on a low budget to become economically adaptable, and find employment at long distance should, in my opinion, learn to keep his honourable mouth shut.
If he were to walk around some of the villages in this area, where many of my mother’s uncles and cousins once worked, he might begin to understand what a terrible thing it is to sacrifice the life of a community to an ideological show of strength. Deserted streets, boarded up shops, the few remaining businesses and services shuttered at night against vandalism and crime. It reminds you of a place under siege, like Northern Ireland, except that here the enemy is not republican or loyalist terrorism, but rather economic terrorism: a war against the poor.
Ironically, since the last mine closed five or six years ago, and almost all traces of the pits have disappeared, there has been a resurgence of interest in Durham mining history: there are dozens of books on the subject, and the Big Meeting, the annual Gala, has been reborn - with record attendance. Nostalgia is more potent than you might expect, and a commodity more commercial than the black stuff itself. You might think nostalgia for such times, and a way of life that was so dangerous, and so hard, is sentimental, and misplaced. If you want to see a miner talking pitmatic, anyway, or a canny housewife pretending to bake bread for her pretend husband and sons working down a non existent mine, you go to the Beamish open air museum, and see actors performing such roles in houses rebuilt, brick by brick, after being removed from the back streets of places like Hetton le Hole, just along from Easington. (The faux miner's wife's real partner probably works in a call centre, if he is lucky).
Why is there such interest in the grimy, safely distant past, and a way of life that has gone forever? Because, without sounding too trite, it is true to say that along with the hard times there really was a real sense of community, and mutual support. Many of the mining lodge banners have 'Unity is Strength' as their motto: and rightly so. Every pay increase and improved working condition that the miners ever gained was through solidarity with each other and the unions, and the support which the individual communities gave each other throughout the history of the mining era was intense, and unbreakable. Even after the defeat of the '84 strike, miners in Durham marched back to work with heads held high, and often with the colliery bands playing. Playing a requiem, as it turned out.
Social mobility is an interesting issue, isn't it? I was thinking a lot about this last week, about how people are trapped by economic circumstances by the constraints of class and lack of equal opportunity. My grandfather, handsome, vain, confrontational, a man of few words, a heavy drinker, an archytypal character straight out of D H Lawrence, was the sixth generation in his family to work as a miner. Ironically, he was the one that was expected to escape this fate, and, due to extraordinary family circumstances that would read like a particularly awful Catherine Cookson story if I bored you with it, he was sent by his foster family to a private school in Durham city, receiving an education few working class boys of his time could ever have hoped to have. After his time in the trenches, the return to 'no jobs for heroes' and a pregnant wife sent him to join his Irish brothers in law down the pit, where he stayed for forty years. I think that there he probably found his knowledge of Latin and Greek was of little benefit. In the crowd at one miners' Gala, in fact, he bumped into an old teacher, who asked him what he was doing, and was stunned to hear that he was now a miner, blurting out that he thought he would be a headmaster by now.
The humiliation of this encounter stayed with him forever. It wasn’t his fault: the limits of his life were defined by poverty, and the struggle for survival, and he could not escape. Worse still, he lost two children due to the ravages of ill health directly caused by the appalling living conditions they lived in, in slum housing and a lack of access to affordable healthcare. The fact that his standard of living eventually improved, over the years, was entirely due to the improvement in wages and working conditions gained by union campaigning and the unity of the miners, throughout the decades in which he worked. And then some of his children were able to escape the deprivation and constraints of his life thanks to new opportunities of a new society: education, healthcare, the welfare state.
Many people today would probably think that although there are areas of social deprivation, poverty, as it used to be measured, and as my family experienced it, no longer exists. This is not true, or not exactly. Poverty is relative, and mutable. It means being at the lowest economic and social level, an untoucheable caste, excluded from the mainstream, stuck in a trap. This is not something which has magically disappeared, and it is an indictment of our political system that it still imprisons so many people: and now looks set to trap even more.
The effects of Margaret Thatcher's governing years were far reaching, of course, and in many ways are still being felt, but the changes being wrought on our society by posh boy and his public school chums are surely going to be far, far worse. Thatcher, coming from a less than privileged background at least had some experience, stifled though it was, of the economic realities of the disadvantaged classes. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg, and their coalition colleagues understand nothing about what it is to be so distanced from the opportunities they take for granted.
The policies of the present government are striking at the roots of everything we have taken for granted for several generations now: access to free education, healthcare, welfare support. Families at the bottom of the social scale will be left isolated in ghettoes of increasing deprivation, with the failing schools, the worst healthcare, and savagely reduced benefit support. Many young people from such backgrounds who might have aspired to something better and work towards a more prosperous future will be held back by the prospect of the loss of EMA and, thanks to the treachery of the LibDems, by the burden of a grossly unfair rise in tuition fees. Our public schoolboy government does not understand and if they did, they wouldn't give a shit anyway. They have never had to rely on these support systems, and simply don't see them as the rest of us do: something precious, hard won, and part of our heritage.
If these escape routes are taken away, we are, once again, going to see generations trapped in new forms of poverty, in new variations of a class limitation that we might have thought had been thrown away forever.
The theoretical opportunities that this government likes to pretend exist for people to get out of a life of deprivation are as fake or useless as the industrial heritage artefacts and installations in an open air museum.
While the tourists go down a toy mine at Beamish, of course, they probably don't realise the grim irony of there being still hundreds of years of supplies lying untouched in the Durham coalfield. We still use enormous amounts of coal imported from abroad to make energy, and we have become a hostage to the fortunes of the oil rich nations of the world. Which brings us neatly back to Libya, and Iraq, and all the wars, death and destruction that have ensued in the struggle to protect our oil interests: maybe not entirely the fault of Mrs Angry, after all.
The miners ultimately lost their battle to save their industry, but there are still lessons in the long history of their struggle to survive and prosper which we ought to remember and reconsider, now that we are faced with another Tory government set on an agenda of radical social engineering as ideologically fanatical as anything that happened in the 80s. And how gratifying it is to see people being unified again in opposition, as they were yesterday on the streets of London, unified both locally and nationally, to what is happening here and now, in the country as a whole, and here in our borough, and on such a catastrophic scale. The truth is that if we don't want to see the whole country turned into an enormous open air museum, with acting roles only for the privileged few, we have to do something now to preserve what is left of our living heritage, before it is too late.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
Thursday, 24 March 2011
You will see from a visit here: http://davidhencke.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/revealed-the-400000-debts-of-barnets-blogger-banning-private-security-firm/ that MetPro Rapid Response, the company that Barnet council has been using to provide security services in the form of its own little private police force, is allegedly in debt to the tune of around £400,000, more than half of it owed to HMRC. Other creditors, oddly enough, include the two directors of the company, a Mr Kevin Sharkey, and a Mr Luigi Mansi. Assets of the company are listed as not much more than three motorbikes: (oh no: not the motor bikes ... ) and some security officers uniforms. If you like dressing up in that kind of thing, now might be a good time to make an offer to the liquidator. I don't think they include any ID or licence badges, which is naturally disappointing, but I might be wrong.
So it seems that MetPro Rapid Response is dead, but what has happened to newly born MetPro Emergency Response, the company that was set up in January, and which is now featured on the company website. Does it have a new contract with Barnet Council?
And here is another funny thing: on the website the company has changed some of its details, since attention has been brought to bear on certain aspects of the business. On the contact page there are now ambiguous 'TBA' references seemingly relating to the ICO, the Information Commissioner's Office, where it is listed as a data controller.
Looking at the data controller register on the ICO website, it seems that MetPro Rapid Response's registration in this respect is due to expire on the 7th April. Look at the entry via:
It states that the company has personal data held for the purpose of 'Crime Prevention & Prosecution of Offenders' and refers to the use of closed circuit tv. I can't see any mention of hidden cameras used by employees, so I am sure that this form of surveillance is never used.
Data subjects are: 'customers & clients', oh, and 'offenders and suspected offenders'.
Hmm. Well, I'm not sure, but I don't really think that residents attending a council budget meeting should, in a democratic society, be viewed as offenders, or even suspected offenders. But then of course the rules that apply in a democratic society do not apply here in the secret police state of Broken Barnet, do they, friends?
Some questions, then, for Lynne Hillan and her cohorts:
Why have you been using this company?
Did you formally assess this company in any way before signing a contract? How many other companies tendered for the contract?
Why are you still using this company?
Have you retained the use of MetPro Emergency Response after the winding up of MetPro Rapid Response? If so, why?
How many of the employees of these companies have the SIA licences required by law, and why do some of them not wear any ID or licence?
Did you sanction the alleged use of filming of residents at the council budget meeting? If not, have you investigated these allegations? If filming did take place, what data has been retained relating to the targets of such surveillance?
Oh, and on a personal note, could I please have a response to my two emails to the CE about this issue?
When you've got a moment.
If it's not too much trouble.
- as it happens we now learn that Southern Cross, the interesting company which took this home over, and was in charge when Harrow council launched a safeguarding adults investigation into standards there, is now in severe financial difficulties. The curse of Mrs Angry, yet again.
I updated this post in February, with news of the discovery in two Barnet care homes now run by a contractor, Catalyst, where, horrifyingly, traces of legionella have been discovered:
We have now found out that a third home has been found to have traces of this deadly bacteria.
Here is a press release from Barnet Council:
Enforcement order issued in Legionella incident
Barnet Council's Environmental Health Team has served health and safety improvement notices on the Catalyst Housing Group, following the discovery of Legionella bacteria at three of its care homes.
Higher than normal levels of the bacteria were found in the water systems at Apthorp Lodge and Dell Field Court in February and at Merrivale in March, following sampling by Barnet Council¹s Environmental Health Officers.
Recent samples indicate that a thorough disinfection treatment has effectively cleansed the water systems in the homes.
The enforcement notices require Catalyst to provide full and up to date Legionella risk assessments for each of their care home water systems.
Cabinet Member for Governance and Civic Affairs, Councillor Melvin Cohen said:
We take any breach of health and safety regulations very seriously and the council will continue to sample the water systems at all five care homes run by Catalyst and will continue to oversee their treatment processes.²
Although higher than expected levels of bacteria were discovered at three homes it is important to stress that no link has been established between these sites and any case of Legionnaires¹ disease.²
A full review of Legionnaires¹ disease cases since June 2010 in North East and North Central London, North West London and Hertfordshire has also been carried out by the Health Protection Agency. This review has found nothing to link any case of Legionnaires¹ disease to the care homes in Barnet.
Catalyst has so far provided the council with draft risk assessments for Apthorp Lodge, Meadowside and Dell Field Court, which the council is reviewing, whilst the remaining assessments are expected soon.
For more information about Legionnaires¹ disease visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/LegionnairesDisease/GeneralInformation/
Notes to editors:
Legionella bacteria are common and can live in all types of water including natural sources such as rivers and streams as well as water storage containers.
Infection with these bacteria is rare and can only occur by inhaling them in a fine water spray. Infection is not caused by ordinary washing or bathing and there is no danger at all from drinking water that contains these bacteria.
It so happens that I have had experience of the inappropriately named 'Merrivale', as my late father was sent there for respite care, before being admitted to the home from hell where he was later incarcerated. While he was at Merrivale, we were contacted and told that they had been giving my father someone else's medication.
The press release evades some important questions: whether or not any cases of legionella have been identified, the risk was and is real: how did this contamination occur, and who is responsible for enforcing standards of cleansing that would prevent such occurances?
It is somewhat disingenuous for the press release to state that infection from legionella cannot be caused by ordinary washing or bathing, and can only be transmitted by fine water spray: surely this means that showers bear a high risk factor and many residents and staff members have theoretically been vulnerable to infection through this medium?
So: two blogposts with a common factor today (and possibly one more to come later): the salutory tale of what can go wrong when council services are outsourced to private contractors. Stories like these emphasise the risk of apparently inadequate monitoring of the services outsourced, of confusion over the responsibility for the maintenance of standards, and the impact on our community of a hands off council whose claim to 'better services for less money' is clearly demonstrated in these examples to be like so much else in One Barnet: shameless spin.
Welcome to Contract City.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
"Barnet Council is urgently reviewing MetPro Rapid Response's position and will be liaising with the liquidators involved."
Mrs Angry, meanwhile, is still waiting for a reply from the Chief Executive in response to the serious matters of public and personal concern she has raised with him in regard to this issue. That's not very impressive, is it citizens? She is beginning to wonder if he is feeling a little bit lost for words - or perhaps the lead fell out of the One Barnet CE pencil when Andrew Travers had to give it back?
Interestingly, she understands that local Tory MP for Hendon, Mr Matthew Offord, has expressed his concern about the alleged secret filming of residents at the recent controversial council budget meeting, and will be taking the matter up with leader Lynne Hillan. And The Mayor. No shit. You might remember it was the Mayor who informed the few privileged residents in the gallery that the police had issued instructions that no others should be allowed in to take up the half empty seats - a statement which in fact was completely untrue.
Monday, 21 March 2011
More deadly than a bite from Himself, An Amadán Mór, and scarier than the gaze of Medusa, her vengeance has been wreaked.
Vengeance? Hmm, well: as you know I was not exactly amused by the antics of Metpro Rapid Response, Barnet Council's private police force, at the recent council meeting - (see earlier posts, Broken Barnet's Secret Army etc) - nor was I impressed by Barnet Council's impenetrable wall of silence, when asked some pertinent questions about their use of this bunch of faceless, blackshirted heavies. But then last week, I heard something which really, really pissed me off.
After the last residents' Forum, it was alleged that someone apparently in charge of this group of glorified bouncers had claimed that, at the infamous budget meeting, he had had his men secretly filming suspected troublemakers and anarchists like me - ha - with hidden cameras.
Not only that, it was alleged he also claimed that all blogs and tweets were being routinely 'monitored' by this company: Mrs Angry is apparently a particular favourite. Glad you are a fan, Mr Metpro: wish I could return the compliment. Or perhaps I just have?
How grotesque it would be if the council which has so shamelessly, if impotently, tried to defy the instructions from ministers Eric Pickles and Bob Neill to allow filming of council meetings, had actually sanctioned the covert filming of ordinary residents, as they attempted to exercise their lawfull right to witness the adoption of the annual budget, paid for by their taxes.
This would mean that rather than follow a government initiative intended to bring greater transparency, scrutiny and accountability to local government by allowing residents to record the actions of their elected representatives, a private security company, acting on the council's behalf, had been encouraged to spy on ordinary citizens, filmed them without permission or notice, and presumably may still be in possession of film footage of them.
This raises some extremely serious questions about Barnet Council's use of private security companies. Was the council aware of the alleged filming? Had it authorised any such action? What are the data protection implications? If such filming did take place, and the council was unaware of it, what investigation is it going to undertake into the matter?
Mrs Angry wrote to the Chief Executive to ask about this allegation on the 16th of March. She has received no response whatsoever, just as she received none to an earlier email on the same subject. Mrs Angry is a non person, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet.
And then today, she hears from journalist and blogger Mr David Hencke, who has been troubling the council with his attentions again, that there may be a pressing reason for the ominous silence from NLBP:
take a look at his blog:
Alas, it seems that Metpro Rapid Response is no more. It is being liquidated, and the security contract will now presumably be up for grabs. Let's hope that the new company is chosen in a careful process, open to the full scrutiny of armchair auditors and all 'respectable' citizen journalists. We live in hope, don't we, readers, even in Broken Barnet?
Let's hope too that Barnet Council will now feel moved to launch a full and honest investigation into the use of this company, and explain to residents and bloggers exactly why it felt the need to control and monitor its own citizens in the manner of a paranoid dictatorship, losing its grip on reality, and teetering on the brink of collapse.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Well, he is not, as his name might suggest, a jazz trumpeter, or a spin bowler, or a character in a Raymond Chandler thriller. He is, in fact, a bespectacled and amiable academic, an expert in the economics of local government, and tonight he came to give a timely lecture to the Barnet Alliance anti-cuts campaign, on the implications for our borough as we are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the brave new world of One Barnet.
In the easyshaped dystopia that is our benighted borough, our corporate services will shortly be organised through the increasing adoption of 'outsourcing'.
This is a policy of privatisation which, according to the old lie of easybolics, will guarantee the council and the tax payer millions and millions of pounds in savings. In order to pretend that one day this load of shite will actually make millions and millions of pounds of savings, it is apparently necessary to pass millions and millions of pounds of council revenue to consultants who are advising us how to make millions and millions of pounds of savings. Have I got that right, Dexter?
In the States, this sort of local government is referred to as 'Contract City': here in Barnet we are more of a Contract Suburb, but what has failed our American cousins will fail us just as well on a British suburban scale, it would appear.
In Contract City, the only ones to benefit are the companies, of course.
Professor Whitfield painted an all too credible picture of a state where community needs are ignored in favour of the commercial ambitions of the private sector. It is a high risk strategy, with accountability and transparency trodden on by the overriding demands of commercial confidentiality and secrecy surrounding the procurement of contracts (as if that could ever happen here in Barnet, eh, Mr Reasonable?) Scrutiny of contracts is made almost impossible, because of the collusion created by the vested interests of clients and contractors, and this provides the perfect breeding place for corrupt practices and maladministration.
In short, all evidence shows clearly that while the companies who provide contracts profit nicely from the arrangement, the much vaunted promise of savings simply does not materialise. Worse still, the net cost to society, due to effects such as an increase in unemployment, is far huger than any money that might be made on apparently cost cutting deals. The idea that such schemes can create jobs is belied by experience, such as in Middlesborough, where over a ten year period, only 100 jobs were created - and how many lost?
But what can be done to avert the disasters that will ensue if Barnet is given a free reign to outsource as many services as possible? At the moment, only some services are being put out to tender: why? Because of course commercial contractors are only interested in services that are already successful and are obviously desirable. All the awkward, unattractive services, of course, are left unmolested, like a bunch of Tory councillors at a One Barnet Christmas party.
We need desperately to look for alternatives to outsourcing: we need to compel the authority to hold the needs of our community as the most important consideration, not regarded as some 'nice to have' frivolous extra. To do this, the community itself has to take action and assert itself as a force for resistence.
Local union representatives and residents joined in a debate about the implications of Dexter Whitfield's talk here in Barnet. The union leaders recognised the need for unions to become rooted once more in the communities they serve, and residents talked about the ways in which they can work together to find a way to influence the local democratic process, a process which has become alienated from the very people it is supposed to represent.
Remember the risible claim by Lynne Hillan's leadership - that the council wants to forge a new relationship with citizens? As one local man observed, he thought the nature of this relationship was perhaps perfectly expressed by the reception greeting residents at the infamous recent council meeting, where a bullying council, an excess of police officers, and, most intimidating of all, a private security company whose terms of employment remain shrouded in mystery, allowed quasi military bouncers to keep ordinary residents, and, I believe, Professor Whitfield himself, from witnessing the proceedings from the half empty public gallery.
If by a new relationship Hillan meant one in which we have reached new depths of mutual contempt, then I suppose she has certainly acheived this objective.
In Cameron's Britain, Whitfield suggested, the core strategy is financialisation: the charging for services, the destabilisation of the public sector and the 'marketisation' of our society. Along with this we have the bogus personalisation of the - yawn - Big Society, yet another Tory lie, one that tells us that we ourselves can carry the weight of all the social responsibilites we have always looked to the state to bear.
As I went home, and thought about the debate, and the events of the last few months, I reflected that in many ways, Cameron's Big Society was becoming a reality - although not in the way he intended. As Stan Davison, a veteran campaigner for pensioners' rights - and another resident obstructed from attending the council meeting - commented tonight, what is different about the current political crisis is that we are now living in a new world, and we must use the new tools to our advantage. I guess he meant the world of new media, the netroots approach. As he said, we now have "a different kind of basis for a broad unity". Both nationally and locally, people of all backgrounds are coming together to put up resistence to the Tory agenda. It wasn't quite what posh boy originally had in mind, a spot of good works and a ready supply of free labour to fill in the gaps of mass redundancies and cuts in service. This is a groundswell movement, and a very British revolution. Everyone can do their bit, in their own way. Here's my contribution, anyway.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
I cannot tell you which company the security employees work for, as I cannot see any easily visible identification.
You will not that the police officer first states his 'guvnor' has made the decision to bar residents, then quickly corrects himself to say 'the management'.
Since the film was first shown it has been claimed that one of the excluded men is actually a former Barnet councillor, and I think I also recognise the 84 year old chair of a local pensioners' rights organisation: fairly obviously not a pair of dangerous anarchists, intent on violent affray and subverting the democratic process.
Mrs Angry spoke yesterday to a very helpful gentleman at the SIA, the Home Office body which regulates the use of private security companies. He gave her some very interesting information, and it was made very clear that all private security employees must be licensed by the SIA, and must display their licence/ID at all times.
These residents, elderly, impeccably well behaved oh, and deeply 'respectable', even by the stringent standards of propriety defined by Tory leader Lynne Hillan, were being denied their lawful right to attend this meeting - and on a totally false premise. There was no public disorder, and there was space in the public gallery.
You should note that this clip gives no idea of the seething discontent going on upstairs.
Mrs Angry has written to senior council officers about this issue, and has received no reply.
It is time now for a full and open enquiry into the the council's use of private security companies, and an immediate assurance from the Leader and the Chief Executive of Barnet that they have confirmed that any such employees are all registered with the SIA, compliant with all regulations, and correctly displaying the appropriate identification at all times.
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
In fact, she was in such a good mood, at the end of last week, she found herself brimming over with ideas for tonight's local Residents' Forum, and sent in no less than five interesting questions, just to show willing.
1. At the recent special committee for constitutional ‘reform’, a number of highly controversial proposals were submitted for review which, if implemented, would seriously curtail the involvement of councillors of all parties, and members of the public, from engaging in council meetings. Are all of these proposals still being supported, and if so, can you explain how such measures are in any way consistent with the idea of ‘localism’, which allegedly seeks further to empower communities, or indeed explain how such changes are in any way acceptable in a democratic system of local government? If the proposals are still being put forward, when is it envisaged that a decision will be made on whether or not these so called ‘reforms’ will be adopted?
2. Can you give a copy of the job description of the current Conservative party political advisor, state the level of his salary, and confirm that he is a council officer, paid for by public funding? Do his duties include acting as a spokesperson for the party?
3. I am sure that many residents would like to have a detailed explanation for the following expenses noted in the online council for expenditure over £500, just a small sample of many questionable entries in these accounts:
a. The payments made to Todd Worsnip, also known as ‘DJ Snips’, amounting to more than £2,000 in July and August by Childrens’ Services.
b. The two payments made to Miss Blondie Waka, apparently a ‘hip hop’ artist, of £1,269 each, in August, by Adult Social Services (name later ‘redacted’).
c. A payment of £550 to the RAF Museum in November by Adult Social Services for ‘staff training’.
d. Payments of £3,150 by Children’s Services and £900 by the Corporate Governance Directorate to ‘Higgins Cartoons’ in November.
e. A payment of £1,162 to Digby Trout Restaurants Ltd by Adult Social Services for ‘staff training’ on 9/12/2010.
f. Payments of more than £15,000 to the four star luxury Sandbanks Hotel in Poole for conference facilities in November.
g. Payments, by the Deputy Chief Executive and other departments, of more than £15,000 in the last quarter alone to Voice!Business Associates, a company that specialises in ‘voice training’. How many officers have been trained by this company?
I am sure that elocution lessons for senior officers, training in satirical drawing skills, and conferences in luxury hotels are enjoyable activities for all concerned, but these expenses would seem unnecessary at any time, and seem particularly inappropriate at a time when many other council officers were being given redundancy notices, and plans being made for spending cuts in frontline services of unprecedented extent and range, and I think residents deserve an explanation for such expenditure.
4. Can you tell me when the company providing security cover for the Town Hall and other council requirements was first engaged, and by whom? How many other companies tendered for the contract?
5. Can you tell me when Barnet Council will comply with the instructions from ministers Eric Pickles and Bob Neill on the use of filming, photography and tweeting in all council meetings by citizen journalists, bloggers and other valued members of the community?
But something rather wonderful has happened. Look, children: can you see a little corporate fairy flying around the ceilings of North London Business Park? You do believe in fairies, don't you? Clap your hands if you do, and help Tinkerbell ... yes look, there she goes, in a sprinkle of stardust, all the way to the Democratic Services and Corporate Governance department ... What's that, Tinkerbell? You've done something magical? Mrs Angry's most embarrassing questions, hmm, numbers 2, 3, oh, and especially 4, yes, the security thing - have been transformed into what? Into Freedom of Information Requests! Without her even asking! And now there is a delay of perhaps twenty working days before they have to be answered ? Isn't that extraordinary, boys and girls?
On Tuesday morning, though, Mrs Angry became quite excited. There was a very promising looking email in her in box. It suggested that one of her questions, about the absurd expenses, had been answered. Except that when she looked closer, the naughty officer had just given her the information already available in the council's online expenses. Wasn't that a silly mistake? Mrs Angry had to respond at once, politely, but in forthright terms, explaining that she wasn't really in the mood to play games, and did not wish to bother the ICO, as they seem so busy chasing up mysterious security companies at the moment, but if the correct information was not passed on, she would have to take steps to complain. Again. The silly officer wrote back saying it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding, and she believes him. It's Ash Wednesday, today, and as her Lenten sacrifice, Mrs Angry has given up being cynical, ironic and sarcastic, you see.
Luckily, the unrepentent Mrs X is still bitter and twisted, with a warped sense of humour, and she was able to attend tonight's Residents Forum on her behalf.
In the church hall, we understand, Mrs X sat down in front of Tory Councillors Graham Old and John Marshall.'Aha .. ' cried Mr Marshall ... ' here comes Mrs Angry! Oh dear, I suppose that means I am going to read about myself in her blog tomorrow ...'
Mrs X was puzzled by this, although people do often confuse us. Mrs Angry is much better looking, better read - and more intelligent, of course, although not so well behaved.
'Good evening, Councillor Marshall', said Mrs X, with an evil smile.Noticing that the seats were all displaying brochures with 'Advice for older people and their carers', she picked one up and helpfully passed it over:
' This might be of interest to you, perhaps?'
'Oh dear me,' said our John, 'I may be seventy, but I don't feel in need of a carer quite yet ...'
Mrs X raised an eyebrow, knowing full well that Councillor Marshall, a scheduled ancient monument, half as old as time, is at least a hundred and seventy. (Some say even older, and that he lost his seat in Parliament when Cromwell disbanded the Rump Parliament of 1653 ...)
And then the meeting began. Mrs X noted with disappointment that the Head of Corporate Services was not present and hoped that he was not avoiding her, for some reason. Second Forum in a row, too. He is at least a worthy opponent, and capable of putting up some sort of resistence to Mrs X's irritating questions. Councillor Cohen is just too easy to play with.
Of the fourteen questions listed, at least nine were in some way related to parking. Three had accompanying petitions. Not just from people disgruntled over the outrageous increases, but from the problems caused by ill thought out schemes, or a lack of any scheme at all. At least two mentioned the suspiciously huge number of meters suddenly out of order, and the resulting difficulties, and pressure to use councillor Coleman's 'cashless parking' system. One elderly resident complained that she cannot pay this way as she has no phone. This cannot be correct, of course, as Councillor Coleman has already told us that there are no drivers in the borough who do not own a mobile, and Mr Coleman is always right, as we know.
Is it at all possible, suggested Mrs X, that there is a deliberate policy of not fixing meters, so as to force drivers to use the cashless system?
According to the council's own breathless claims in the target figures released recently, one of Environment's top three achievements is getting a rise in these payments up from ten to thirty per cent: wonderful news, and nothing whatsoever to do with the sudden epidemic of ageing meters which have, coincidently, deteriorated at exactly the same time as the introduction of the new payment facility. And no, it has nothing to do with the allegation that a certain individual slips out of his penthouse flat at the dead of night and prowls the streets of Broken Barnet with a pair of rubber gloves, some superglue, and a ball of plasticine. He may well do so, but I am confident that it has absolutely nothing to do with the meters.
The Highways officer, surreptitiously kicking a bag of screwdrivers under the desk, said that he had personally made sure that 87% of the meters in Golders Green and Temple Fortune were working today. He did look rather weary. (And most likely, only three per cent of the meters in the rest of the borough were working, and tomorrow, all the meters in GG & TF will be unusable again.)Councillor Marshall stood up to respond to some of the points. He paused dramatically:
'I am, of course, always happy to assist Mrs Angry', he said, pointing at Mrs X like a shameless hussy, 'with her famous blog ... '
There was a sharp intake of breath, like the moment in an Agatha Christie story when Hercule Poirot announces in the library that the kindly, starch-aproned housekeeper is really a psychotic serial killer, escaped from an asylum in the Welsh borders. Everyone turned to stare at Mrs X, who sat wide eyed and innocent, shaking her head at this vile accusation. 'Mrs Who?'
After listening to all the many items about the parking problems, Mrs X began to lose her patience. It was clear, she observed, that all these issues had one common factor: the complete lack of any coherent policy by the council. In fact, it was true to say that the problems were due to the conflict between any attempt to manage parking with a pragmatic approach, and the objective of benefiting residents, with the shameless determination to use drivers as a form of income generation: the two directives are obviously irreconcilable, and these problems will continue, and continue to be raised at every Forum, and every council meeting, until the next election, after which, she cheerfully predicted, you will all be out of office. There was a round of applause.
There had been some talk about the use of petitions as a means of persuading our councillors to sort out the many thorny issues which upset their residents. Mr Marshall referred to some which had been submitted - ha - to Brian Coleman. He encouraged others to do the same. Mrs X asked him if he was altogether certain that Cllr Coleman paid any attention to petitions. 'He does if I tell him to', confirmed Mr Marshall with an interesting look in his eye. Mr Marshall is of course the Tory whip. A pleasing, if fleeting, image passed through Mrs X's mind, of the old statesman exercising discipline upon any disobedient Cabinet member who defied his will. Of course, some people enjoy that sort of thing, and this must cause all sorts of unexpected consequences.By the way, on the subject of parking, here is a suitable point to draw your attention to a new Barnet blogger, and give a warm welcome to 'Mr Mustard' ( the Barnet bloggers are all beginning to sound like characters in a Tarantino movie, aren't they?). Mr Mustard has firm views on parking charges and the wasteful expenditure of our beloved council and is a new convert to the joys of councillor baiting at Forums: check him out.
Mrs X's questions next - the ones that were deemed safe for public airing. Consitutional 'reforms'? The reply was merely 'A number of proposals are being considered' ...
And what does that mean, exactly: what sort of time scale? Don't know. Not a clue? No. Two weeks, two months, six days, three year? Oh, well, actually, they thought it will go to full council, where it will be debated. Ah, good: progress, said Mrs X, and what are your thoughts, Councillor Cohen, on the alarming fact that your esteemed local LibDem colleague, Lord Palmer, who represents one of our wards, will in future not be allowed, should Brian Coleman's plot succeed, to take part in any debates? Oh, thought Dean Cohen, stammering slightly, he thought Councillor Lord Palmer would be very er welcome to always, er, be welcome to, you know speak and all that ... He may be welcome, said Mrs X, but his right to speak will be lost, which seems pretty incredible, considering your party is in a Coalition government with his, apart from any other objection on the basis of the fundamental principles of democracy. Hmm.
Ah yes: second question, regarding the Lynne Hillan's refusal to join in with Eric Pickles' newly born admiration for citizen journalism. Guess what the answer was? 'The authority is considering the recent letter' ... How long does 'considering' mean? Two weeks, two months, six days, three years? They didn't know. You must have a rough idea. Oh, well, it will have to go to full council. The next one. On the 12th April. Ah: thanks for that, see, it's easier than you think, answering awkward questions, if you just try.
Mr Marshall piped up and said he thought he might have seen some members of the public taking photos at the meeting last week. Mrs X agreed that he may well have seen something of the sort and offered to show him an illicit picture of his friend Brian, which is still awkwardly stuck on her blackberry (baarnett, if you know how to sort this out, please let me know) ...When all the other parking issues were sorted, and AOB came up, Mrs X felt obliged to raise the subject that is of such urgent interest: the circumstances regarding the council's use of private security contractors Metpro Rapid Response, as seen at the meeting last week, when ordinary members of the public were prevented from emtering the half empty public gallery, in defiance of police advice. She noted with bewilderment that her question had been transformed into a FOI request, and speculated why that might be. She also asked what the Chairman's thoughts were about the fact that the company was facing a petition to be wound up by HMRC in the High Court next week.
Another shock horror moment, followed by disbelief. No one knew anything. Mrs X pointed out that emails on this subject had been sent to senior officers, and ignored. She asked for, and was promised, a full explanation in writing. Again: watch this space.The last item of interest to Mrs X was an action point from the last meeting, the same old question she has been asking since last summer: 'What efforts, if any, have been made to organise the performance assessment of councillors,which was promised months ago, at the time of the allowance rise increases?'
Answer: f*ck all.
Or, as the officer put it, again, for the third time, 'work towards this is ongoing'.
What, in One Barnet speak, does 'ongoing' actually mean? What has actually been done, specifically? I think you can probably guess that there is absolutely nothing to tell us. Mrs X reminded Councillor Cohen that residents pay the councillors' allowances, and are therefore entitled to expect some sort of performance appraisal. This was a popular comment, incidentally, as was Mrs X's offer to set up some voluntary, Big Society type of appraisal system to help the councillors, an idea which was gratefully received by Mr Cohen, although, as Mrs X pointed out, to some extent, she was already providing this service.
As we left the hall, Mrs X was followed up the Golders Green Road by her new admirer, Councillor Marshall. We exchanged some interesting views on next year's GLA elections, and discussed Faustian pacts with the devil, and the strange truth that living next door to a church does not necessarily guarantee someone a place in heaven, or indicate any visible proof of Christian values.
Mr Marshall told Mrs X that he lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, (at least until Mr Gaddafi asks for his house back, she would guess) and parted with her at the corner of a sideroad, claiming he was going to take a bus. A likely story, thought Mrs X, and lo and behold, there was a crack of a whip, and out of the darkness appeared a speeding horse driven carriage, the coachman's face obscured by a black gauze veil. And as she watched, Mr Marshall slipped away into the deep shadows of the night, to return home before dawn, and join the rest of the undead Tory councillors of Broken Barnet in their silk lined coffins, hiding in the castle vaults, safe from the prying sunlight of public scrutiny.Mrs X gets a lot of Tory councillors chatting her up these days. She would like to think it was due to her siren like personal charms, but sadly, the truth is that they enjoy the thought of being written about, and love the attention. It also clear that most of them are completely out of touch, alienated from their own leadership, and the mood of their electors, and that they read the blogs to give themselves some sort of grip on reality.
Mrs X and Mrs A respectfully suggest that they might want to get out more, and mix with the villagers, before the public outcry ends in a torch lit procession to the castle, an awkward confrontation, and a wooden One Barnet stake through their withered hearts.
Since then, Mrs Angry has been inundated with information, from several sources, in regard to this company and its very interesting background.
Her attention has been drawn to the following entry in last Thursday's London Gazette:
3 March 2011
Publication Date: Thursday, 3 March 2011
Notice Code: 2450
Petitions to Wind Up (Companies)
In the High Court of Justice (Chancery Division)
Companies Court No 759 of 2011
In the Matter of METPRO RAPID RESPONSE LIMITED
(Company Number 05496242)
and in the Matter of the Insolvency Act 1986
A Petition to wind up the above-named Company, Registration Number 05496242, of C/o Bond Partners LLP, The Grange, 100 High Street, Southgate, London N14 6TB, presented on 2 February 2011 by the Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs, of Bush House, Strand, London WC2B 4RD, claiming to be Creditors of the Company, will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL, on 16 March 2011, at 1030 hours (or as soon thereafter as the Petition can be heard).
Any persons intending to appear on the hearing of the Petition (whether to support or oppose it) must give notice of intention to do so to the Petitioners or to their Solicitor in accordance with Rule 4.16 by 1600 hours on 15 March 2011.
The Petitioners’ Solicitor is the Solicitor to HM Revenue and Customs, Solicitor’s Office, South West Wing, Bush House, Strand, London WC2B 4RD, telephone 020 7438 7731. (Ref SLR 1515754/37.)
Metpro Rapid Response, as you may see from the online council expenses, had seven payments from Barnet in the last quarter alone.
If you look at the company website, you will see that part of the Metpro group is now Metpro Emergency Response. This company was only incorporated in January. There appears to be an unfortunate confusion as to who is currently employing the council's private police force, doesn't there? Is one company metamorphosing into another? Mrs Angry is happy to publish any explanation offered.
Or has perhaps the council's rising sense of paranoia over the growing rebellion of residents in our rotten borough required them to up their security needs from rapid to emergency? Mrs Angry thinks that must be the only explanation. The emergency team has flashing lights, motor bikes and cool dudes in stab vests, which may be crucial in future when controlling those naughty allotment holders and yummy mummies from Hampstead Garden Suburb, and Andrew Dismore, when they turn up at meetings armed to the teeth with copies of 'Barnet First' and making outrageous demands to watch their elected representatives in action.
Also on the website last week, on the contacts page, was an intriguing reference to the ICO: this is the Information Commissioner. A reference number was given, and a security number. You might be forgiven if you confused these details with some sort of endorsement. These references were checked with the ICO, and now, we are told, the website has been changed. On the contact page it seems we now find some mysterious alterations, with the status TBA ...
On Friday some very senior officers at the London Borough of Barnet were alerted as to the status of Metpro Rapid Response and asked some probing questions about the matter.
No reply whatsoever has been received.
Mrs Angry is displeased.
She leaves these facts for your consideration, citizens: make of them what you will.
But if you were one of those residents who came to the Town Hall, last week, and were barred from the public gallery, you might like to contact your councillors, or some very senior council officers, and see if they can enlighten you further as to what, exactly, the hell is going on.
Mrs Angry is confident that they will be very pleased to help.
Monday, 7 March 2011
Despite idiotic threats beforehand by the Tory group leadership that we would be stopped, no one - no councillor, no council officer, and no black shirted security bouncer, was able to prevent those privileged few of us who made it into the public gallery from exercising our right to record the meeting by these means, and the results now are available for all to see. (By the way, Brian: I've got some lovely photos of you - er, as an expert and enthusiastic Blackberry user yourself, do you think you could let me know how to download them and publish them here? I've asked half a dozen people already - but I'm a bit stuck - do drop me an email, when you've got a minute. Not one of those emails, btw. Cheers.)
Apart from the defiance shown by residents in ignoring the filming ban, however, this meeting in every other respect, in fact, was an indictment of the failure of our council to understand their duty to the people whom they represent, who pay their taxes, pay for the scandalous budget that was being voted through, pay for the overgenerous allowances that so disappoint our greedy little Tory councillors.
The central, most grievous failure in the organisation of this meeting was the fact that the vast majority of the residents who wished to witness the meeting were deliberately prevented from doing so, for no justifiable reason, and, arguably, quite unlawfully.
Now, despite all evidence to the contrary, Mrs Angry is not always that angry, and in fact finds many of the unfortunate sequence of events that take place here in Broken Barnet rather amusing. She is not in the slightest bit amused at the moment, though.
Take a look at the comments about the meeting, written by Andrew Travers, and circulated to Barnet Council staff at the end of last week - thanks to Barnet Eye blogger Mr Roger Tichborne, from whose leaked copy I have nicked the quote:
"In stark contrast to other councils which saw violent protests and delays to meetings, Tuesday’s meeting, like Cabinet before it, went ahead at the allotted time and location with the public present throughout. The people putting together BBC London’s ‘council cuts’ coverage must have been thinking they had chosen the wrong place to send their political editor. Understandably there were some protests but these never got out of hand and the democratic process was able to take place with residents present in the public gallery.
I would like to put on record my thanks to all staff on duty at the Town Hall on the night, especially those in Democratic Services who did a sterling job in ensuring members of the public were able to either watch or listen to proceedings in the chamber or the nearby committee room. Thanks are also due to all those staff across the authority who have been involved with consultations over various parts of the budget over recent months. The very public way in which we have discussed our challenges and asked the public to contribute to the budget setting process has also helped to defuse criticism.”
Are we talking about the same meeting?
Let's remind ourselves who this Andrew Travers is, shall we?
Mr Travers is the acting deputy Chief Executive. Mr Walkley was on leave last week - although present at the council meeting - so Andrew had to suck the end of his One Barnet pencil thoughtfully and come up with a Good Idea for the weekly staff message. It's a relief to see he is earning his wages, anyway. Because for a temp, citizens, he gets paid quite handsomely, you know. Oh, yes, he isn't a Barnet employee: he is contracted through a company, Halliford Associates Ltd, and rewarded very nicely, thank you: the online expenses show payments totalling £63,000 in the last quarter. Not bad, eh? Now, as you know, maths is not my forte, but, er ... £63,000 divided by three is £21, 000 per month? Times twelve = hold on, um ... pro rata, based on these payments, £252,000 annual salary? That can't be right, can it? Quick: someone tell poor Nick Walkley, who is struggling to make ends meet on only £200,000 - he's being hugely underpaid ...
And there are other benefits to be had, you know, working in the deputy CE department. Like elocution lessons: Mr Travers is Now Speaking With Confidence, we believe, because at least £9,000 of our money was spent in the last quarter in his department for the services of Voice!Business Associates. Barnet apparently told the Ham & High (who read the story here first) that some of this training was for the many officers who are being made redundant. Mrs Angry would like to hear from any of these alleged lucky officers being booted out of the back door, but with fabulous deportment and newly acquired presentation skills. It will be such a comfort, won't it, standing meekly in line at the job centre, cap in hand, but talking like Rex Harrison?
Mr Travers apparently thinks Tuesday night was a marvellous success. Why? Because there was no 'violent' protest.
He tells us that 'the democratic process was able to take place with residents in the public gallery' Yes, Mr Travers: there were maybe oh, as many as twenty or so residents in the public gallery. The rest of them, perfectly ordinary, law abiding citizens, were either stuck under quasi military guard in an overflow room, staring pointlessly at a blank screen, listening to an intermittent broadcast from the ruling junta down the corridor, forbidden to leave the room even to visit the loo without explanation, and hugely intimidated by the presence of a private army of blackshirted bouncers, or had given up in disgust and left.
Triumph for democracy though. If we follow this principle, we could perhaps lock the doors of polling stations on election days, to prevent any troublesome voters yelling rude things about the candidates, or hold councillors' surgeries in secret locations, without telling anyone? Just a thought.
Apart from the staggering statement that Mr Travers considers that this meeting was wonderfully organised, he refers to the recent consultation process and tells us about 'the very public way in which we have discussed our challenges and asked the public to contribute' which he informs us ... 'has defused criticism' - you know, such as that open meeting that was cancelled and substituted by a controlled 'debate' with hand picked and unknown 'residents' - oh and the outstandingly transparent ideas website stuffed full of pro One Barnet 'suggestions' by the council itself, while the genuine suggestions which were highest in popularity were completely ignored ... the criticism is hardly defused, friend: more of a UXB, in fact, I would say.
About the meeting, Mr Travers: there was never any likelihood of violence. In fact the only aggressive and provocative factor was the statement that the council would seek to prevent residents wanting to assert their new freedom to report, oh, and the completely unacceptable and deliberately intimidatory aspect of the security itself.
I have been sent the following information - from a surprising source, as it happens - published on the Liberty website which clearly states in its advice on the law regarding public meetings: 'Stewards (in this case the role given to the security men) should be easily identified ... They must not try to take over the functions of the police ...'
This is clearly not what happened on Tuesday, and I believe that we should be demanding a full and open enquiry into how this meeting was organised, and the role played by security employees.
Many of the residents in the overflow room were important community figures, such as, I understand, the former local MP and GLA candidate, Andrew Dismore, and many others. Most were so appalled by their shabby treatment they simply got up and went home: those that stayed were eventually given the opportunity to move to the half empty public gallery, with the approval of the senior police officer present. These lucky few included the head of a local voluntary body, senior union officials, a middle aged citzen journalist, and a sixth former whose responsible organisation of a recent rally has been praised by Neil Basu, the Borough Commander. Hardly a bunch of rioting anarchists intent on setting fire to Councillor Coleman's trousers, but a group of interested residents wanting to listen to a debate on the most sigificant budget cuts ever imposed on this borough. They found themselves physically obstructed from the doors of the council chamber, despite the permission given by the police. Why? Is that part of the democratic process, Mr Travers? I don't think so.
As Mr Pickles reminded us, Margaret Thatcher gave citizens the right to attend council meetings. Here in her old Town Hall last week those rights were treated with outright contempt by senior council officers and by a militia of unidentifiable private security men.
Mr Travers, I think for the fabulous salary we are giving you, we might be entitled to a rather more honest analysis of what happened last week. If you and your colleagues, and your political bosses, cannot organise a council meeting without using a private army of henchmen to physically prevent a group of ordinary residents from exercising their lawful right to witness the proceedings, then you may not consider the evening to have been a successful enactment of the democratic process. It was actually the result of bullying and intimidation and another example of the present authority's attempt to smother the voice of the people it is supposed to serve.
Since last week, much criticism has been raised over the council's use of this private security contractor. Investigation has shown that there are very serious and urgent questions to be answered by the authority in regard to this issue. Some of these questions have already been submitted and are being ignored, or evaded.
Residents may wish to ask themselves why that might be.
Watch this space.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Er, well, yes, it could, and it did, here in Barnet, at our Town Hall, just this evening. Except it wasn't the Metropolitan police who took control of the residents attending tonight's council meeting: it was Barnet Council's own private army of security men: muscle bound bouncers in black shirts, leathers, and an assortment of pseudomilitary uniforms.
As I left the Town Hall this evening I saw a senior council officer gather his staff together and congratulate them on a job well done. As he did so, his boss - (my personal seat warmer, as it happens) - was elbowing him to shut up, as his chum hadn't spotted Mrs Angry standing with cocked ear, listening with ill disguised fury. Passing the police officer in charge on the way out, Mrs Angry whispered naughtily in his ear to send Mrs Angry's compliments to his boss, who once graciously entertained her at his office in Colindale with an audience, and has been known to read this blog. If you are reading this, Mr S, I think you might want to ask some questions about some of the events described here.
Throughout the evening, the ordinary council officers and regular police officers that I observed showed a remarkable degree of forebearance and were perfectly well mannered, but the way in which security staff were used in tonight's meeting was nothing less than an abuse of power, and unneccessarily prevented many ordinary residents from exercising their rights to attend the meeting.
Worse still, it became apparent that at this event, the proper police advice was ignored by the council and overuled by their own security agents: in other words in Hendon Town Hall, a bunch of black shirted security men and their council bosses have precedence over the decisions of the attending police officer in charge. This is what happened.
I arrived at the Town Hall at ten past six: already there were dozens of police officers and security people milling about outside, and there was a rather odd sort of queue, as if people were waiting for a bus: this was the queue for the 45 places in the public gallery. Luckily I managed, one way or another, to get fairly close to the front of the queue. There was a news camera in the front, and BBC's Tim Donovan walked by. Eventually we were allowed in, in tiny groups of six at a time, past a bag checking process - (no, they didn't dare) - and up past lines of council officers, and more security, all the way up the stairs and into the council chamber.
I have never seen such a heavy, hysterically over the top security presence in such a situation. Obviously very few in the queue managed to get a seat in the public gallery, which immediately caused bad feeling, as several citizen journalists were denied their Pickles guaranteed access to the meeting, and so were union leaders who should be entitled to witness a meeting of such importance to their members. No one had been told to attend at six o'clock in order to have a shot at gaining a seat, of course.
Those who did not get into the gallery were pushed into an overflow room where they had to listen on loudspeakers, without any clue what was going on, or who was speaking, because, oh dear, we do not stream any live or recorded film of meetings in Barnet, do we? At one point the sound system broke down. Many people left, as they felt there was no point in being there. Others fell foul of the enormous security presence lining the corridor between the chamber and the overflow room. One resident at least is said to have been manhandled by the blackshirts: this is being investigated. Another said he had his camera confiscated. By what right?
The miserable budget 'debate' kicked off. Hillan repeated her usual stock phrases of meaningless easybarnet newspeak and doublethink: better services for less money, bla bla bla, painful for all of us bla bla bla live within our means bla bla bla new relationship with our residents: ha ha, that brought the house down, I can tell you.
Alison Moore for Labour pointed out that actually most of the budget cuts were politically targeted, and deliberate choices rather than aimed at protecting frontline services.
Jack Cohen, for the Libdems, noted that this Tory council has become the laughing stock of the nation, with spectacular waste and mismanagement, and for the contempt it showed for the public it was supposed to represent. 'Cynical though I am', he said, 'it is never quite enough to keep up with One Barnet'
Through out all the speeches, Brian Coleman slouched, as usual biting his nails, picking his nose, pursing his lips, or eyes ahead, hands clasped together in one of his 'I am a great statesman' poses. He wasn't on the best of form. Is because of his new interest in good manners in public life? Or perhaps he was feeling a little camera shy. He tried to pull off one of his set pieces, banging on about the world not coming to an end, but like any stand up performer, he is running short of material - and I've already seen his show on this Budget tour, so it's all too familiar. He talked about a subject on which he is an expert: rubbish. He informed us his rule of benevolent despotism will keep Barnet safe, green and clean. 'And mean' yelled a heckler. Our Brian claimed, apropos of something or other, that, contrary to popular opinion, he does have a life, and therefore does not waste it looking at 'certain websites'. He likes this one, though, don't you Brian?
Andrew Harper, oh Andrew Harper, yet again went on and on about himself and the size of his portfolio. Will you give it a rest, man? We've all seen bigger, and no one likes a show off. Some issues there, I feel. Maybe Model X is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment.
When we had arrived, to our amusement some large notices had been stuck on the infamous glass wall that protects the councillors from the seething mob of unwashed residents, and people from Hampstead Garden Suburb, telling us that THE PUBLIC MUST REMAIN SILENT AT ALL TIMES. Oh, how we laughed. The Mayor had explained to us at the beginning of the meeting that the debate we were there to see was taking place amongst the councillors, ah: I see ... no audience participation, no bags of sweets would be thrown into the audience, and Captain Hook/Brian Coleman would not be inviting us to come and sit on his knee (sorry - flashback to childhood trauma - panto at the Golders Green Hippodrome. Don't ask). As a special treat, however, Mr Mayor said at the end of speeches we were allowed to do a bit of clapping. Unfortunately, we got this a bit mixed up, and did a lot of jeering, booing, yelling, and only a bit of clapping, and in all the wrong places.
Those of us in the public gallery were of course filming and taking photos and tweeting away. Staff made feeble attempts to get us to stop, but were simply ignored and, able to follow what was happening with the others via twitter, we soon realised they were having a much worse experience than we were - but that's how it goes, friends, in easyBarnet: those in the cheap seats get one level of service, those of us in the elite section go first class. The rich man in his castle and all that. Sorry. We thought of you, though.
In fact, I became increasingly aware that one or two people had left the gallery and so some seats were free. We asked some council officers why those in the other room weren't being allowed in. No one knew. Time passed and our friends in the other room said via twitter that they weren't being allowed to come in. They were even having to ask one of the bouncers for permission to visit the loo.
The budget debate continued. Little Cllr Robert Ramsbottom wittered on about what a shame it was to cut arts funding. 'Don't do it then!' yelled fellow blogger Vicki (note to boy bloggers and Dave Hill: ahem - the gentlemen were stuck in the overflow room, whereas the fluffy headed ladies made it to the main event ...) Ms Morris put up a terrific show, shouting down Rams and pointing out the Big Society idiocy of cutting grants to voluntary bodies. The public gallery errupted in a torrent of thunderous applause, cheering, floor stamping. She was spoken to intimidatingly by a burly bouncer. She carried on. Police were called in, but had more sense than to do anything with someone who was not causing an offence. Another person in the gallery was spotted by a councillor filming and a security person tried to get him to stop. A council officer intervened, which was interesting: I suspect there is a divergence between council leadership's wishes and the common sense of the officers.
By now there were 17 seats available. We passed a note to some Labour councillors, and they immediately asked the Mayor to let people from the overflow room in. LET THEM IN! LET THEM IN! LET THEM IN! yelled the gallery, stamping their feet. Susette Palmer demanded they were let in too, and then the Mayor agreed, and a cheer arose. And then nothing happened.
The debate continued. We continued to get messages saying that our friends were being refused entry to the gallery. We started to yell this at the chamber. A blackshirt came and told me to stop or: or what? You can't do anything, I said. Yes I can. No, I replied: you can't. And no, he didn't.
The Mayor then stated to us that the police officer in charge of the security had advised no one else should be let into the public gallery.
I didn't believe this, and decided to find out what was going on. I slipped out and made my way along the corridor, which, like the landing, was packed with council officers, police and bouncers. One enormous security man demanded to know if I was perhaps going to the 'bathroom'. I said that I was intending to have a pee rather than take a bath and while this thought was slowly processed I managed to get down the corridor. I asked the police who was in charge and they pointed to a guy by the doors of the overflow room, being anxiously spoken to by a couple of residents. Is it true, I asked him, that you have forbidden anyone to go into the public gallery, even tough there were 17 spare seats? He said categorically that it was not, and very decently, and sensibly, said that I could go into the overflow room and choose 17 people to come in. Really?
So Mrs Angry, on the command of HM constabulary, nipped into the room and told them the good news. But who to choose? It was like being given a life boat on the Titanic, and being told you could rescue only 17 drowning passengers. 'So', I said, pointing my finger: 'Citizen Journalist and blogger Mr Reasonable: I choose you ...' and the Chair of a local voluntary body, and Alex Clayman, the FCH sixth form demo organiser and some other kids, and an assorted mixure of other residents,and they followed me back up the corridor to the chamber. When we got to the doors, we were stopped by security. I argued with some guy who said I could go back in, but not the others. Absolute pointblank refusal to listen to reason. Some have reported that they were stopped by senior officers too, although I didn't see that.
I think this was absolutely extraordinary. The sensible decision of the police inspector in charge of the security operation, intended to defuse any potential conflict, and at the same time safeguard the lawful right of the public to attend a council meeting, was over ruled by a private security company employed by the council as bouncers, and seemingly accountable to no one.
Who was in charge of these men? Was there any co-ordination between them, the council's senior officers and the police? If not, why not?
This is the company which supplied the blackshirts - take a look.
Of course, despite the name, they are nothing to do with the Met, and I can't see what the pro was all about either. In my view, there should be an urgent enquiry by the bona fide authorities into the conduct of last night's debacle, and lessons learned about how to deal better with the need to balance security with the rights of ordinary citizens living in a democracy and wishing to exercise their lawful right to attend a council meeting.
The meeting this evening voted in a massive package of cuts which will have devastating effects on the daily lives of every residents of this borough. Tonight people came to see this voted through, and to protest. They also came to demonstrate their right to scrutinise council meetings in the way they see fit, by filming, tweeting, and with cameras. (will add links later this morning to the fim clips now available for your viewing pleasure). Here's one of our favourite councillor, and well done, Adam:
Re-reading this, this morning, I think I need to emphasise that in many ways, despite the inevitablity of the passing of the budget vote, last night was a triumph for the residents of the borough. Earlier in the day, Lynne Hillan took fright and spoke in the local press about the possibilty of live streaming of council meetings, and during the course of yesterday's meeting those in the public gallery unequivocally established their right to film, photograph and tweet the proceedings. Minister Grant Shapps yesterday tweeted his support of the right to do this, in fact. In short, last night was nothing less than yet another demonstration of the abject failure of Lynne Hillan's leadership. And how nice that her leadership has done more to unite the residents of this borough than any Big Society initiative could ever hope to.
Bur in the end, the evening turned out to be more about the fundamental right of residents simply to attend these meetings and to witness the proceedings without fear of intimidation or attempts to control their right of access. This evening, in short was an absolute disgrace and yet again Barnet has shown itself to be unable to understand the fundamental principles of democracy. Note to the senior managers of Barnet: if you cannot oversee a council meeting without preventing ordinary citizens from taking their places in a half empty public gallery, you may not consider that as a successfully organised event.
And now I am going to bed.
Oh, but, I can't go to bed without adding the funniest episode of the night: as we stood outside after the meeting, and after Mrs Angry winding up a poor policeman by mistaking the arrival of the Mayor's car for her own official limousine, and pretending to open up the door as if to get in, a group of Tory councillors slipped past us, looking furtive, but very pleased with themselves. Cllr Barry Evangeli was beaming with delight, lovingly cradling a tupperware box of cakes and biscuits liberated from the slap up buffet the dear councillors have laid on for them at these meetings. I'll bet he had to fight with Brian for it first though, don't you? Kind of sums them up, really, doesn't it?
“I don’t think we were about to pick people up bodily and throw them out of the meeting unless we really had to.”
Unless we really had to.