Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The subject is exhausted: another Residents Forum - Part One

Time for the Finchley and Golders Green Residents 'Forum' then, so off to a church hall in Golders Green, and let's sit down right at the front to upset Chair Reuben Thompstone as much as possible. And now we are sitting comfortably, Mrs Angry: let us begin.

Oh: yes. By the way. What is a forum? Let's see. Some online dictionary definitions:

A situation or meeting in which people can talk about a problem or matter especially of public interest

A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged. 

A public meeting place for open discussion.


Definition according to the London Borough of Broken Barnet:

A meeting held as infrequently as possible, at a time most inconvenient for the greatest number of residents, at which the only matters for discussion allowed are determined by our Tory councillors, and not the residents who live in the borough, support the borough with their taxes, and whom the said councillors have been elected to represent. Residents may only raise matters of 'public works', and may not raise, refer to or criticise any council 'policy', even though there are no other meetings in which residents may call their councillors to account for their decisions.

So for this marvellous demonstration of democracy and indeed localism in action, here we  are: a good turnout of residents and an unusually large number of councillors, from all parties. 

The only two councillors of all the areas and wards covered by the Finchley and Golders Green Forum who never attend these meetings are two Tory Church End councillors - Councillor Eva Greenspan, and deputy leader Daniel Thomas. John Thomas has told Mrs Angry he never attends as there is, he considers,  no need for him to do so - and of course he is right. Why should he make the effort to engage with local residents, and listen to their views, just because he was elected to represent them? And as for Eva Greenspan, one can only speculate that she simply can't be bothered.

Mrs Angry suggests that if you live in Church End ward, you think very carefully about whether councillors who cannot bring themselves to attend any of these meetings should be given the honour of representing you at the next election. One reason for their reluctance to show up maybe that Church End has always been considered a safe ward. Mrs Angry would point out to these two councillors that there will be almost no safe seats at the next election.

Before the meeting began, the Chair decreed that we must observe a minute's silence to mark the awful helicopter crash which occurred this morning in Vauxhall. This was, frankly, a rather bizarre decision. Terrible though this event was, it hardly seemed an appropriate gesture in this context. A minute's silence for a local resident who had been the victim of some tragic incident, perhaps. Still, the incident served to remind us of a terrible fact: the fragile dependency of our lives on the emergency services now under threat from Boris Johnson's breathtakingly savage budget cuts.

Reuben Thompstone had an announcement to make.

There had been, he said, several questions submitted to this Forum which had been ruled out of order. Indeed, thought Mrs Angry, thinking of her three questions refused. The resident sitting next to her had also had several rejected. 

Mr Reasonable had mentioned to Mrs Angry that he would be going to ask as one of his questions to the Chipping Barnet Forum why there had not been one of the 'themed' Forums that had been promised to residents as a sop for withdrawing the right to free speech at the Resident events: the Constitutional amendments had agreed that these would take place at least once a year. There have been none. Mrs Angry decided to ask the same question at the Finchley meeting. Her question was dismissed out of hand as not being about 'public works'. 

She also asked  if the council had taken legal advice to ensure that the silencing of the Forums was not a breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. This impertinent question was barred, but as it emerged now, the first question, duplicating others from residents at other Forums, was to be addressed.

According to our Cllr Thompstone, trying not to look as if he was forcing himself to utter these distasteful words, the Deputy Mayor, and living saint, Cllr Kate Salinger, had decided to chair a themed Forum herself, on the subject of One Barnet.

Mrs Angry's hearing is not always completely reliable, and she thought she may have misunderstood. She asked him to repeat this. 

A themed Forum? On One Barnet? 

Yes, he said, with perhaps a less than overwhelming enthusiasm.

Ah. But, erm: is this not a year too late? What is the point, now, when we are so far down the line?

Councillor Thompstone grimaced. He would not comment.

Mrs Angry asked why, when we are continually silenced in our own Forums on the basis of the new Constitution rules, do you ignore the rule in the Constitution that there should be at least one of these themed Forums every year: we had none last year?

That is not in the Constitution, said Thompstone.

Yes, it is, said Mrs Angry.

Mrs Angry is, as it has often been remarked, especially by herself, always right, even when she may appear to be wrong, and has taken the opportunity to send to Cllr Thompstone the following extract from the constitutional changes he and his Tory chums approved in 2011:

14. That Council approve that the Cabinet/Executive Forums replace Leader Listens and that this takes place at least once a year whereby the Leader or nominated Cabinet Member will chair a themed Resident Forum on any subject the Leader decides and for which the Leader and Cabinet have executive responsibility.

15. That the Cabinet/Executive Forum could also be used as part of the consultation process.

16. That during the Cabinet/Executive Forum discussions and questions will relate to matters relevant to these areas. 

17. That the relevant director and senior officers will attend the forum.

 Mrs Angry is waiting for an apology from the pompous and clearly ill informed Councillor Thompstone, at his earliest convenience.

Clearly the time for a themed Forum on the subject of One Barnet has long gone, and should have been held at the appropriate time as part of the process of consultation. We have had no consultation, and this is why Barnet Council is now facing a process of Judicial Review.

Not only has there been no One Barnet themed Forum - there have been NO themed Forums, despite the obligation to hold one at least yearly. And how interesting that the Deputy Mayor has 'decided' to chair a themed Forum. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor traditionally do not take part in political acitivities during their terms of office, and the Constitution states that the Leader or a Cabinet member must chair any themed Forum.

See, the subject is not exhausted, yet, but Mrs Angry is.

... to be continued

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