Tuesday, 15 January 2013

There is a story to tell: or how to make a thin blue line thinner: Boris' police cuts in Barnet

Andrew Dismore, the Labour party Assembly Member too dangerous to be allowed to speak in Hendon Town Hall - as demonstrated by this defiant wearing of a flat cap (whippet out of view)

So off we went to the Town Hall, tonight, to attend the one hour 'consultation' granted to us by Steven Greenhalgh, Boris Johnson's deputy Mayor for policing and crime, in regard to the budget cuts planned for this borough - which will include the closure of two police stations.

The event had been preceded by yet another PR disaster for Barnet Council, who cancelled at the last minute the subsequent meeting with local AM Andrew Dismore planned to follow this blink and you'll miss it roadshow, on the grounds that it would be a political event. In the Town Hall of Broken Barnet, of course, the only political events allowed through the front doors are those of the ruling Tory junta. In this case, where an elected representative of the surrounding constituency had a perfectly legitimate reason for discussing the issues with local residents, it was simply outrageous that such a meeting should be barred. 

In fact, our council will not allow discussions between members of its own party and residents in the Town Hall, let alone any debate between an elected member of the London Assembly, who happens to be a Labour member, and his constituents, so their act of suppression of any free debate was perfectly in line with their paranoid policy of counter consultation.

Rather amusingly, suspended Tory councillor Brian Coleman condemned this idiotic cancellation of his former rival 's meeting in the local press, calling the decision 'small minded, petty, and stupid'. Yep. See: it must be such a relief for him, released from the restriction of toeing the party line, able at last to demonstrate the love that dare not speak its name: forget Dave and Nick - admire the Coalition from Hell that is Brian Coleman and Mrs Angry.

Passing by the demonstration outside, led by Andrew Dismore, Mrs Angry wandered into the Town Hall and was about to take the lift up to the next floor, when she remembered Stephen Greenhalgh was on the premises, so legged it up the stairs quick  ... into the committee room, which was already packed with lots of senior policemen, and residents and quite a few councillors.

A rather tetchy deputy Mayor

Greenhalgh, it must be said, does not cut an impressive figure. Graceless, impatient, uninspiring. He has the sort of head which looks as if the owner is wearing his hair on back to front - and a set of political skills to match. Does he know his stuff? Hard to tell: during the evening he appeared merely to repeat what was already available on the MOPAC information most of us had already read.It may have been that he was not in an awfully good mood as news broke yesterday as reported here in the Guardian by Dave Hill, that a complaint about allegations involving Mr Greenhalgh and the Earls Court development has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Also on the panel were the Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne, Tory GLA member and crime spokesperson Steve O'Connell, Barnet Borough police commander Adrian Usher and Barnet council leader Richard Cornelius. No women, of course, as this is Broken Barnet, and policing, like politics, is man's work.

Cornelius opened the meeting, noting, in terms borrowed from his day job as a Hatton Garden jeweller, that there was ' a glittering array' of police officers present. He referred obliquely to the proposed cuts as 'various unattractive suggestions', then, worried that he had been too outspoken, qualified this daring statement: 'or that seem unattractive'. 

Ah yes. Just as all that glitters is not gold, even amongst an array of police officers, the widespread alarm at the sugggestion that we should get rid of two police stations, in his area, might not, after all, turn out to be an awfully good idea. For Barnet Tory electoral prospects, especially. 

Still, observed Councillor Cornelius, rather wistfully contemplating the end of his own glittering career, but willing to hear how his City Hall chums were planning to ensure such a fate: 'there is a story to tell' ...

The Deputy Mayor, evidently keen to hurry things on, launched into a brief resume of the MOPAC document. He admitted dismissively in passing that incidents of burglary in Barnet were 'rising slightly' but moved swiftly on, before anyone could dispute his underplaying of what is in fact a crime which is causing huge distress to large numbers of residents in this borough,  to what he wanted from his new proposals. No, no, it's not really about savings - the emphasis of the evening was on how these plans were going to vastly improve policing in London, and his priority was to increase confidence of the public in their police service, which in London, it seems, is pretty low. 

Mr Greenhalgh has a brilliant strategy for addressing this disappointing perception: he is going to increase confidence and 'reconnect police and the public' by closing most of the police stations in the capital. 

 The thin blue line, he told us, has never been thicker. 

Hmm.
 
Just trying to see that. No, he may be right, in the way that black is white, and white is black, thin may be thick. Depends on the spin you put on it, doesn't it? 

His rationale for closing all these stations is because he thinks most people report crimes online, or on the phone, and there was much repetition of the somewhat edited evidence of the supposedly low numbers of crimes reported at police stations. Edited, because they kept referring to crimes reported at night time, when of course one might expect there to be low figures: why no mention of day time attendance? 

In Barnet only one full time police station will remain, at Colindale, in the west of the borough. Barnet and Whetstone police stations will close. Golders Green police station has had a partial reprieve: it would be interesting to know why, as this is also in the western side. Taking into consideration the closures over the eastern boundary side which will also restrict access to a station for Barnet residents, it seems, as Tory councillor Kate Salinger complained, that two thirds of the borough will no longer have proximity to a station.

Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne now took over, apparently keen to present the cuts in a positive light. This was not a case, he said, of 'a Snickers bar becomes Marathon', a rebranding. No, thought Mrs Angry, pleased to be given the opportunity of a chocolate confectionary based analogy, this is a case of Mars Bars becoming smaller when a new company takes over ...

Byrne talked up the plans, and how they were going make sure that Safer Neighbourhood Teams are more effective - essential, not marginal. Better hours, better at taking action, better accountabililty. Good: as it happens, Mrs Angry is a panel member of her local SNT and will be delighted to keep you informed, messrs Byrne and Usher and Greenhalgh, as to how well our local team is able to provide this service, with resources that will no doubt be taken away by stealth after the enthusiams for this initiative comes apart, and Boris decides to cut more funding, or extract more and more officers from the outer boroughs to inner London.

But the new touchy feely Metropolitan police sounds nice. 

The new motto is 'We come to you', he said. 'In the comfort of your own lounge'. 

No, not burglars, muggers, drug dealers etc: they will have to find the bus fare to Colindale to attend their daily bail duties or interviews with the old bill, but if you are reporting a crime, you upstanding citizens now have to sit down at home and wait for someone to call round and take your statement. This can be quite nice: there was a time when Mrs Angry's neighbours from hell required the regular attendance of local police, on a weekly basis, sitting on her sofa, taking notes, offering her tissues, and shaking their heads in dismay. Rather demanding, though, such a policy, on resources, and dependent on a surplus of officers.

Question time already?

Present at the meeting were two local MPs: Theresa Villiers, looking very ministerial in her pearls and suit, and Matthew Offord, looking - well, you know. Where was Freer? Mrs Angry has never seen him at the Town Hall, funnily enough.

Offord ventured the sort of Daily Mail type question you  might expect: as a result of the new proposals, will police officers be out catching criminals, and not filling forms and dealing with that thing that all Tories fear and despise: bureaucracy. Sharp intake of breath. No, thought Mrs Angry, they will be too busy sitting on people's sofas writing up crime reports. Hang on: is that bureaucracy, but moved from a police station to a lounge? Maybe. Let's see.

Greenhalgh said - and this was an original reference - we were no longer in the era of yes, Dixon of Dock Green, and whistles. Police will be deployed where they make the most impact. And using Technology. Cloud Technology, he added, with the air of a man who hasn't got a clue what that means, but hopes it will impress.

 the police whistle, making way for Cloud technology, in Broken Barnet, thanks to Boris

Theresa Villiers next. She is in an awkward position: not wanting to look critical of a Tory policing policy in public, but mindful of the fact that the two closures are in her backyard. In fact her question was remarkably feeble, noting only that although the way many people report crime is changing, people still value the opportunity of a counter service.

Greenhalgh thought that the new plan offered 'more sensitive' locations for the reporting of crimes. Mrs Angry wondered how the proposition that we do so in a supermarket or, ha a library, equated with the description of more sensitivity. Well, of course it does not, and it will be interesting to see what happens to this particular proposal. 

He made a passing reference to the sale of police stations. No one seems to have asked in detail about this, and how much capital this will produce. Interestingly, in Finchley, our station has been closed for years, and the building left more or less unused. Our SNT was not able to make use of it, even though it would have been the logical location. Why has it not been sold, and why can the funding not be used locally to support services, or used in some more practical way?

Questions from residents next: chosen by council leader Cornelius, who at first appeared to have difficulty spotting Mrs Angry at the front in the same red dress, funnily enough, that worked as a cloak of invisibility at last year's Boris bash, the Talk London farce, where Brian Coleman was also unable to see her trying to ask a question ... 

A woman pointed out that police were always being taken away from Barnet. There was no real response, except a reminder that the Olympics were over now - Mrs Angry smiled to herself: let's see how long the promise not to extract so many officers last, shall we?

Andrew Dismore spoke, registering his protest at having his own meeting cancelled - Cornelius had the grace to look rather embarrassed - and asking that we have some honesty and more correct figures than were presented in the MOPAC document, which of course plays some interesting tricks with statistics to make it appear that Boris has not cut policing in any way, for example by using 2011, as a comparator year - when there was a recruitment freeze, and numbers had fallen dramatically - to the aspirational levels of 2015.

Local Borough Commander Adrian Usher said in reply that the new plans were 'good news for Barnet'. And then: ' I am not going to lie to you', he stated. Good. Always nice to see a commitment to honesty in any public servant, in Broken Barnet, especially a policeman, isn't it?


the new borough police commander

A resident asked about the victims of crime: Usher said he has already assured people on taking office that Barnet police 'will treat every victim of crime as if they were a member of our own family'. He has personally sent every 'vulnerable' victim a bunch of flowers, at his own expense. * Mrs Angry now understands that in fact the expense is not his, and that the flowers are provided by a generous and community minded local wholesale florist ...

Cllr Kate Salinger made the point about the impact of closure on residents on the east of the borough, where her ward is, of course. Answer, new forms of access, bla bla bla. Waste of time.

Oh, hello: Councillor Cornelius has spotted Mrs Angry at last. A mistake. Mrs Angry smiled at Cllr Cornelius, and said that her question was actually for him. He groaned, and his face fell. 

For one brief, shining moment, Mrs Angry felt sorry for Richard Cornelius. 

But then she pulled herself together. 

She mentioned his petition about station closures - his face lit up and he interrupted - erm, said Mrs Angry, would you allow me to finish my question? She pointed out that he had addressed this petition to the police, rather than to the Mayor, and the deputy Mayor, and are you listening, Mr Greenhalgh (after a long silence he woke up and claimed he was taking notes)  and his Tory chums at City Hall, and wondered why that might be, as the responsibility for the cuts is a political one? And what did he think would be the impact, electorally speaking, of the closures in his area?

Awkward.

Cornelius sat squirming beside Stephen Greenhalgh, and tried to smooth over any unpleasant misconception that a petition in his name objecting to the closures of stations in his part of Barnet might suggest that he was less than delighted with erm, well - the closures of police stations in his part of Barnet. 

His response seemed to imply that people might find the new forms of access adequate, and that time would tell if they did, and if it would make any difference to the elections in 2014, and it was his job as leader to listen, and ... yes, thought Mrs Angry, it is your job to listen, and to do something. You're not very good at the first bit of this equation, and you simply ignore the second half. 

Adrian Usher reminded us he was asking for our views. He made the point of stressing that the final programme of changes in Barnet is not 'a done deal'.

Mrs Angry will make a prediction, therefore. To save the political impact on Barnet Tories of the hostility that will ensue if both Barnet police station close, one will be 'saved', as we move closer to next year's elections. Local Tories will then claim that they have campaigned for this, and acheived a great victory on behalf of the voters in their increasingly marginal wards. 

Local residents' association representative David Howard raised one of the points made in Mrs Angry's  post earlier this week: the question about how the closures will affect the already critical length of time and number of police officers necessary to process prisoners taken to what will be one remaining custody suite. Usher's response included the rather heavily made observation that there would be no overtime involved in this process: was he implying that this was a reason for the queues that sometimes occur? Surely not.

Labour's Cllr Agnes Slocombe raised concerns about the distance of the stations, and the notion of police contact points in supermarkets, and Cllr David Longstaffe, Barnet Tory cabinet member with responsibility for crime (other people's, clearly) looking less than enthusiastic about the plans, asked the usual Tory question about the number of police on the streets. We are assured, as we always are, that there will be more. Mrs Angry has heard all this before, and is not inclined to believe a word of it. We already see CPSOs on the street: are we really going to have officers walking around as well?

And that was it. All over in a flash. Greenhalgh zoomed off. But we were staying in the committee room, for further questions to the borough commander. Assembly member Fiona Twycross asked what status this meeting now had: was it part of the consultation process? It seemed it was considered so. Good. Questions then? 

As a resident began to speak, from some other word dimension, the room filled with the disembodied voice of Mr David Shepherd, Broken Barnet's resident veteran revolutionary, and one man Greek chorus at most council meetings. His voice, like the presence at a seance, floated in the air above our heads, as he started on his usual theme - allegations of corrupt practices within the bastion of capitalist speculation, the City of London corporation - before some spoilsport whisked away the microphone. 

After a brief question about  restorative justice - not routine in Broken Barnet, apparently - disappointingly, thought Mrs Angry, looking at Councillor Cornelius and thinking about a suitable punishment for him ... then Mr Shepherd, who returned happily to his favourite subject, vaguely adapted for the evening's subject - who pays for the policing of the City of London? They do, said Usher. No, said Mr Shepherd triumphantly: not through their taxes, as they have been a tax haven for a thousand years, and pay none. 

Before anyone could stop him, he then moved on with masterful skill to a reference in the MOPAC document to 'putting offenders into education' ... Would this apply, he naughtily asked the borough commander, only to state schools, or will you be taking them to the free academies as well?

When we had stopped laughing, Julia Hines asked the question that had been puzzling Mrs Angry the other day, after a tweet by our friend about the luxurious new custody suite at Colindale, which offers room service,  the full English breakfast, and a choice of teas, but has only 25 cells. The other night it was accommodating 29 prisoners. Erm? And in the future? Commander Usher replied, in what might have been taken as a slightly menacing tone, that he would be happy to give anyone a tour of his custody suite (senior Barnet policemen have a habit of making this offer to stroppy female residents, by the way, Mrs Angry can confirm).

Mrs Angry tried to ask another question then, but Usher told her she had already asked one, (meaning, one too many) and then went on to let the man behind her ask another one, after asking several at the beginning of the session, which was slightly annoying, but then he was a  man, and clearly had more important things to ask -  and she was slightly mollified by being addressed as 'Ma'am', which is only right and fitting, and something she may introduce as a requirement at future Residents Forums or any other council meeting she decides to attend.

Tory councillor Hugh Rayner asked about how police officers were going to 'work smarter'. He thought time was wasted by officers having to walk all the way to say, Scratchwoods (presumably in the course of their duties). He Councillor Rayner's idea of working smarter was that they should be made to use electric bicycles. Usher stared at him in ill concealed amazement. He said he wanted officers to walk.

Labour councillors voiced some concerns, which Commander Usher took as an opportunity to explain how he felt SNT teams were not currently working as well as they should: answer phones not answered for days, for example. He said that supervisors would be be working a lot harder in future. Alison Moore defended her local team, who she said were always visibible on the ward. In regard to concerns about station closures, Usher claimed that he had already shut Whetstone station on several occasions, and 'nothing happened'.

How do you know? asked Mrs Angry, wondering if the station kept a comments file on the counter, overseen by a kindly sergeant.

He replied that no one had written in to complain.

Do people often write to complain about such things? Apparently so.

At this point, a young woman spoke about the problem of burglary, something she has experienced four times in recent years. No one could doubt the traumatic impact that such experiences leave, from what she had to say, and her subsequent breaking down in tears, a truly awful indictment of the vulnerability to crime that many residents have, and will now have to hope can be addressed in the face of ever increasing incidents, and ever decreasing resources.

Andrew Dismore now stood to address the audience. For the second time during the evening, Tory councillor Hugh Rayner began bellowing at him, to try to stop him speaking: really quite ridiculous and bullying, in the best tradition of Barnet Tories, where it counts not what you say, but how loudly you yell it. Rayner tried, quite extraordinarily, to silence Dismore on the grounds that his address was 'political'. 

Astonishingly, the police borough commander agreed, and announced that he and the other police representatives would now withdraw from the meeting.

Mrs Angry objected, as did many others present, pointing out that Andrew Dismore is our elected member of the London Assembly, just as Richard Cornelius is an elected member of the council.

Andrew Dismore said that the material which he was using to address the meeting was from the leaflet we all had which had been cleared by the Assembly as non political.

After realising the force of feeling in the room Usher had the sense to back down, and remained. Rayner left the room. 

Mrs Angry was puzzled by the rudeness and aggression of Cllr Rayner's intervention: what was that all about? Cornelius had made no objection to Andrew's presence. Aha: of course Hugh Rayner is chair of Hendon Conservatives. Andrew, of course, held the Hendon seat until the last election, won by a mere hundred votes by Matthew Offord. Some say that Rayner has ambitions to stand for the Hendon seat himself. Interesting.

Andrew was 'allowed' to speak to his constituents, and made perfectly sensible and non controversial points. He also mentioned he had once gone to Whetstone police station to have a photograph taken on one of those days when it was closed - and while he was there four people turned up wanting to report a crime. Unfortunately Barnet station had also been closed. People don't know how to complain about such matters, he said. Quite. 

The meeting ended then. Mrs Angry had a nice chat with one half of the tweeting MPS, and with both halves of deputy commander Neil Seabridge, and Insp Simon Causer, all of them good blokes, with common sense attitudes to their duties. Shame the same tribute cannot be paid to our elected representatives on the Tory benches, isn't it?

The consultation on policing in Barnet is taking place now: please do your bit, and take part. If you believe, as Commander Usher says, that the decisions in the proposals are not 'a done deal', this is your opportunity to influence the final outcome.


pic Times group:  Mrs Angry in cunning disguise

Updated: here is the Barnet Bugle's footage of last night's meeting. Mrs Angry's awkward question at around 39 mins 35.

 

1 comment:

baarnett said...

"Stephen Greenhalgh has the sort of head which looks as if the owner is wearing his hair on back to front."

Many would agree with you there, Mrs A.

But the Barnet Bugle video-still makes him look remarkably like Donald Trump (HERE), who also does remarkable things with his hair.

Are they by any chance related?