Wednesday 15 February 2012

Two nations: how the poor subsidise the rich in Broken Barnet

Barnet Tories take a library away from the children of Friern Barnet, to pay for one in Hampstead Garden Suburb

"No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library."

Samuel Johnson

Well, that is certainly true, if not quite in the way he meant it, here in Broken Barnet.

There is, it must be said, a wide range of controversial schemes which the fat headed Tory councillors of Barnet might propose to implement in this borough, and which would be met with almost complete apathy or indifference on the part of the majority of residents.

Shut childrens centres, leisure facililties, youth centres: if they don't directly affect the middle class voters, nothing much will happen.

There are, however, certain issues which will always provoke a reaction of fury and outrage: to mess with these sensitive matters is a very foolish thing to do. One of these is the issue of parking - oh dear ... and the other ... is the subject of libraries.

It is a brave or foolish political administration which dares to declare its intention to cut library services in this borough.

Such a proposal is an instant incitement to rebellion by the petit bourgeoisie of Broken Barnet.

Since such proposals were made here last year, councillors have been overwhelmed by the level of protest from residents of all backgrounds, but most significantly from people who probably have not set foot in a library since they were children, but deeply object to what they see as a threat to a traditional service, and a mainstay of our culture, the institution of the public library.

And there is nothing wrong with people who are not reliant on the local library fighting for a service which benefits others: in a decent society the more advantaged citizen should be doing exactly that, because, as it has been shown in this case, those who do rely on public libraries have no voice when it comes to consultation by the local council.

Last year's proposals, by our culture averse Tory council, to make reductions in library provision were met with unprecedented hostility by local residents, and inspired the formation of a number of campaigns directed at protecting libraries threatened with closure.

The Tory councillors, in fact, were more than a little unnerved by the extent of the reaction to the closures, and responded by appearing to support the possibility of Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb libraries being given over, Big Society style, to local community groups.

At the same time, the anger over the decision to axe funding to our two local museums, Church Farmhouse Museum, and the Barnet Museum, was met with a similar promise to help local bodies take control of their management.

All of this, of course, was a load of balls.

If you take a look at the report going to Monday night's Cabinet meeting, you will see that, as Mrs Angry predicted, the campaign to save Friern Barnet library has been completely rejected, and yet the council has welcomed the efforts of the highly influential Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents Association to provide some alternative service arrangement. Why is this?

There was never any intention or will on the part of the Tory leadership of this council to enable local community groups to maintain a library or museums in any council owned property - and the reason for this is perfectly clear.

The opportunity offered by the development potential of all the buildings which are owned by the authority are the only real considerations that matter.

As we know, Church Farmhouse Museum is shut, the historic building boarded up, the public gardens up for 'disposal' and the house up for sale.

The only reason Barnet Museum does not already have the estate agent board outside yet is because the authority is still trying to prove legal ownership, and in the meanwhile is distracting the voluntary body which runs the place with verbal promises of their good intentions, and the vague offer of a short lease - with an incrementally commercial level of rent. The council knows that this is a condition which the society cannot accept, and for good reasons: the promises of external funding from various concerns which have been negotiated, with great effort, by the volunteers is dependent on a long term lease and security of tenure, and to extort a commercial rent from a local society is completely unfair.

You might wonder why the council is so keen to offer Saracens rugby club, whose owner Nigel Wray lives in Totteridge, a peppercorn rent, and such advantageous conditions, for the use of a council owned local amenity, Copthall Stadium, yet refuse to show any support for the only remaining museum, a modest small scale venture that happens to be housed in a council owned property.

As for the libraries: Friern Barnet library is an attractive building and situated in an interesting area.

Although a largely Labour supporting district, and not particularly affluent, it is opposite the upmarket development of Princess Park Manor, in the former Colney Hatch Asylum, owned, incidentally, by the Comer brothers, who are also the landlords of the council's offices at North London Business Park.

Local Labour councillors, and GLA Labour candidate Andrew Dismore, have been prominent in supporting the campaign to try to save Friern Barnet library.

There are also a couple of local Tory councillors who have been involved, you may be surprised to hear. I mean Cllr Brian Salinger, and his wife Cllr Kate Salinger: two dissident Tories who are the only group members ever to express amy real criticism of the lunatic policies of the One Barnet agenda. Obviously the Tory leadership does not give a damn about their opinions on this issue. Much more important to support the Garden suburb councillors like Andrew Harper, and John Marshall, who have had a rough time over the last year from their normally complacent constituents over the parking fiasco.

The fate of Friern Barnet library, despite the impassioned campaign run by local residents, was never in any doubt.

Look at what the report has to say about the two community based proposals it has had to pretend to consider:

Save Friern Barnet Library Group

9.10 The group’s proposal, whilst showing evidence of local support, advocates what amounts to a continuation of the existing service with volunteer support. The cost of the project to the council in year one must, then, be assessed as requiring the full council budgetary exposure of £124,351.88 (from 2009/10 out turn), plus the lost opportunity cost of the building’s market rental of between £18,500 and £37,000 per annum (dependent on use, new valuation to be commissioned).

9.11 The recommended action is, therefore, to confirm that the existing library will cease
operation on 31/3/12 and preparatory work undertaken to transfer the service into the new Landmark Library to be created in the Arts Depot in North Finchley.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Library?

Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents Association

9.8 This proposal, as currently constituted, does not deliver the necessary savings. However, it does come from an established group with a membership of over 2,000 local people and provides a basis for a sustainable long term community based service. The council has met with the group and is optimistic that a formalagreement can be reached which is affordable. As part of this agreement the council will continue to pay rent and business rates on the building as this is an on-going cost in any event until such time as a break clause can be negotiated.

9.9 The recommendation is to continue dialogue with this group, giving their proposal preferred status, with the aims of reducing the proposal’s reliance on the council’s infrastructure and funding. The council will support the group to apply for additional grants from other sources. If this is successful, the council will seek to establish a formal agreement between with the group so they can proceed to the operation of a transitional library service in the Hampstead Garden Suburb area by 1/4/12.

So: the council rejects the proposal from the Friern Barnet group, in curt and dismissive terms, noting the costs and loss of an imaginary rental figure, yet the Suburb proposal, which we are told 'does not deliver the necessary savings' is welcomed, even though the council must continue to pay the rent and business rents, and there is only the vague expression of hope of 'reducing the proposal's reliance on the council's infrastructure and funding' ...

In other words, the disdvantaged, Labour voting residents of Friern Barnet are being told to lose their much needed local library in order to subsidise the hugely wealthy residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb, who, of all people in Barnet, are least in need of a public library.

Mrs Angry is not in favour of closing any library, but the truth is that of all the branches in Barnet which ought to be first up for the chop, by the logic of our Tory councillors, and their oft stated committment to 'a relentless drive for efficiency', it is the one in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

A story in the Ham & High last year gives you an idea of the sort of pressure the local councillors were under to keep this library open, however, claiming:

"Magistrates, school teachers and local councillors could all serve behind the counter as voluntary librarians in a bid to save the Suburb library from closure".

Looking forward to seeing Councillor Harper behind the counter, serving the ladies of Garden Suburb, aren't you? (Not sure there is room, actually).

Mrs Angry has worked in this frankly ridiculous place, a long time ago. It is tiny, and housed in a former shop in an area accommodating some of the wealthiest residents not just of Barnet, or indeed the UK, but the world.

In this area, for example, we have The Bishops Avenue and Winnington Road, each lined with the most ghastly looking monstrosities - enormous modern day mansions, many owned by foreign royal families, dodgy businessmen and absentee dictators like the Gaddafi family.

The less overtly prosperous roads, including a large number originally built as part of a philanthropic scheme to provide decent housing for the 'artisan' worker, are immensely desirable properties affordable only by the very wealthy. There are, I would say with some confidence, very few disadvantaged families living in this ward. And of course it is a Tory ward.

Question: Do the people of Hampstead Garden Suburb really need their toytown library more than the children of the Friern Barnet area need theirs?

Answer: No.

Question: Is this a shameless act of politically driven decision making, and another example of the absolute hypocrisy of our Tory council?

Answer: Yes.

Here, citizens, right here, you see the true face of Broken Barnet, where the poor subsidise the rich - and all in the name of the Big Society.

Mrs Angry is going out for a long walk.


Anonymous said...

Tweet from Cllr Robert Rams when I asked him about not tweeting about closing Friern Barnet Library while he was tweeting about the good news of saving HCS Library:-

@ ... we are moving it .. and have offered an additional venue for residents to run one from - happy to tweet about that as well.

Thought I'd post it here as he's probably blocked the Famous Five from following him on Twitter

Mrs Angry said...

I have never tried to follow Robert Rams on twitter - or anywhere else, but the next time I see him in Brent X he may well find himself swinging in one of the children's bungee jumps, without a safety harness.

erika37 said...

Thank you so much for your constant support for Barnet Museum. Barnet Council continue to demand a completely unrealistic commercial rent from us and 'cannot recommend' a peppercorn but will give no reason for this. We volunteers just want to know why a highly popular local museum which has been active in this borough since 1938 and which has had the barest minimum spent on it by the Council - they admit this - is not at least as important as a rugby club from outside the borough. But then, as you say, this is 'Broken Barnet'.

blue rider said...

thank you we will be at the cabinet meeting on monday with questions about friern barnet library hope you can make it.

Mrs Angry said...

Erika: you are very welcome ... the truth is that the Tory leadership places no value on our historical heritage. They see no worth in anything other than in a materialistic sense.They have disgraced themselves by their betrayal of the trust placed in them at the last election and I am quite certain that many of them will lose their seats at the next one. When the May elections come along, I hope people will remember the damage done to the borough by the local Tories and vote accordingly.

Blue rider: yes, I expect to be there, and I hope many residents will come to show their councillors exactly how they feel.

Richard Logue said...

Lets face it, the Tories have never placed any value on the Irish community and Boris's comments are not unusual at all.

Ken on the other hand does value the Irish vote and has made serious effort to court us. Roll on May!

Mrs Angry said...

I think this comment is on the wrong blog Richard ... or is it me? Sorry, getting a migraine, feeling lightheaded ... will (try to) answer on the other post.