Tuesday, 10 May 2016
London Elected, May 2016 - Broken Barnet leads the way: the wrong registers, a resignation, and a police investigation
Or even if you registered before 18 April, in some cases, in Broken Barnet ...
'Change can be unsettling', observes Tory leader Richard Cornelius, patting staff on the head, as he announces an 'independent' investigation into 'the problem with the elections' that led Andrew Travers to resign ...
Well: events have rather overtaken the writing of this post, about last week's election day omnishambles, here in Broken Barnet.
Last Thursday, in the midst of all the chaos, with residents left unable to vote, due to a gross error on the part of the council, the Returning Officer, Chief Executive Andrew Travers, was asked if he was going to resign. He said was not. Out by Monday morning then, thought Mrs Angry, whose clairvoyant powers are all seeing, and all knowing.
Mrs Angry is of course always right, and never wrong, but this time she was slightly less right than usual. Travers was not out by Monday morning.
It took until lunchtime.
Andrew Travers and Tory Leader Richard Cornelius
Poor Mr Travers.
Apart from one occasion, last year, when Mrs Angry managed to make him laugh by, for reasons too complicated to explain, pretending to be Mrs Slocombe, from 'Are You Being Served', in a lift, at the count for the General Election, (actually there was no reason, it was just the sort of thing Mrs Angry does, regrettably, at awkward moments, in lifts, and - well, could be anywhere, really ...) he always looked so glum - especially in council meetings, when really there was no need.
If he had only closed his eyes, and sat back in his chair, listening fitfully to the interminable droning of councillors' voices, endlessly regurgitating the same pointless arguments, and thought about time passing in terms of the lovely salary he was earning, that is to say rather more than the Prime Minister: an annual payout of around £236, 000,including pension contribution, and topped up nicely, of course, by the extra payment he earns as Returning Officer, in charge of elections.
Which leads us to last Thursday, and the biggest electoral cockup(so far) in the history of Broken Barnet.
Picture the scene early in the morning of election day, last week.
Mrs Angry is fast asleep, intending to get up late after after having to stay awake until the early hours, finishing the last blog, about the truly reprehensible Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme, when her son taps her on the shoulder, and hands her a phone.
Mrs Angry is not very pleased at this rude awakening, and informs her son, from underneath the bedcovers, at great length, and in rather intemperate language, that this is the case, particularly because she had been in the middle of a most perplexing dream.
A dream in which she had been taking part in the election count, observing the ballot papers, and had laid her red velvet coat on the table, on top of the forms.
As she did so, someone knocked an enormous bottle of black ink all over her coat, and she really was very Angry, and then - woken up before she could wash the stain out. Most annoying.
And most prescient: yes, further proof, if it were needed, of Mrs Angry's psychic gifts - because the phone call is from a semi hysterical friend to tell her that something awful has happened in the organisation of the election, here in Broken Barnet, that people are unable to vote, because a printing error of massive proportions meant that the polling stations did not have the correct register of voters, and residents were being turned away, and told they could not exercise their democratic right to vote.
What? Mrs Angry sits up in bed: you sure? Yep. Every polling station. More than 150 of them, across the borough.
From that point on, it became very clear that a major mistake had been made in the organisation of the election in Barnet: the direct responsibility of Chief Executive Andrew Travers, in his role as Returning Officer - for which he receives -received - handsome payment on top of his already hugely generous salary.
Andrew Travers, wached by Cornelius, refusing to be rattled by Mrs Angry's probing questions
Presiding Officers had set up their allotted polling stations and sat down, as seven o'clock, to greet the first voters, only to find that the vast majority of these residents, despite having polling cards, were not on the register. It then emerged that the wrong registers had been printed and distributed - supplementary lists, rather than the list itself.
Why was this not spotted by those organising the election? See below, and the loss of experienced officers now working for Barnet - and interestingly, because the council is no longer able to organise a proper briefing for the many election officers who work as Presiding Officers and their staff, as they used to at the Town Hall and NLBP, it seems this time, there was no room for the checking of boxes on the evening before the poll.
Arguments erupted when voters, unable to vote, were told to come back later when the problem had been resolved. Many said they could not come back later, and that this meant effectively, that they had been disenfranchised. News came that the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, had been turned away from his polling station, and would be unable to vote, as he was leaving for Amsterdam.
Rather more amusingly, one or two Tory councillors began to complain that they has also been unable to vote. Their outrage was something to behold: as usual entirely unable to trace the cause of what was happening to their own hands. Blame them, for running an incompetent council, just because they are ... the councillors?
Not until ten thirty at the earliest were the correct registers supplied to Presiding Officers. In the meanwhile, those with some experience and sense had taken steps to try to make sure as many voters as possible were verified by phone to the Electoral Registration service. Of course to do this entailed the usual ordeal of trying to circumnavigate the council's Capita run call centre, which is impossible to use at the best of times. But others appeared to have been unsure of what to do, and matters were not helped by wrong advice being given out via social media - and by some councillors - suggesting you should bring alternative ID with you to the polling station so as to be able to vote.
Barnet's electoral cockup became a national story, online, press, media, every news channel.
By teatime, the Returning Officer, and Chief Executive, Andrew Travers, was, quite predictably, refusing to resign.
Predictable, because nothing is ever the fault of a senior officer of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, just as it is never the fault of any elected member. Culpability and blame are for the residents only, who are a fecking nuisance, and must be held accountable for the burden they place on our public services, demanding free travel, and meals on wheels, and libraries, whilst not challenging the actions of their betters, tasked with the governance of our beloved borough.
So whose fault was it?
Barnet was quick to deny that the error had anything to do with their private contractors, Capita.
Capita were quick to deny they were to blame, pointing out they have no responsibility for Electoral Registration - one of the few services not yet outsourced.
It remains to be seen, however, exactly who, or rather which service, or contractor, was responsible for the printing of the lists, and the IT support which that would require.
But let us return to those words: one of the few services not yet outsourced.
The Capita contracts, massive though they are, are only part of what was called the One Barnet project. Was called: we are not allowed to call it that now, as the very phrase became a toxic brand, in the spotlight of the Judicial Review that was taken to the High Court when the Capita projects were challenged. One Barnet disappeared, or went under cover, to become something else, something less scary - a 'change programme'.
Call it what you will, it was always something more than privatisation. It was - it is - an ideological obsession: a ruthless, dogmatic opposition to the very idea of local public services, run by an elected democratic body, for the benefit of the community it represents.
The Tory group, urged on by senior management and private external consultants, set about turning Barnet into a commissioning council: a hollowed out council, based on a 'thin client' model, with a skeleton structure (dominated by an elite group of over paid officers doing very little), having disposed of much of the staff, and in the process losing a wealth of experience, corporate knowledge, and competence in governance.
Another fatal injury was self inflicted: the outsourcing of legal services - losing the in house service in a supposedly cost saving exercise, buying in 'expertise' from HBPublic Law - and a high risk experiment in employing a Monitoring Officer with no legal qualifications, which ended in tears, and a damning independent investigation by lawyer Claer Lloyd Jones.
A few services remain - badly resourced, and clearly, in the case of electoral support, struggling, over the last couple of elections, to keep pace with the demands of its role.
What was once a flagship local authority, looked to as an exemplary council, well run, with a high standard of governance has now descended into a state of farce with a deficit in not only competence, but accountability, and scrutiny. Our Tory councillors planted one of their own members as Chair of Audit, and a Tory Chair of Performance and Contract Monitoring who believes that the act of scrutiny should be not one of criticism, but 'positive suggestions'.
The scene was set, in short, for a major disaster, as soon as the easycouncil model was adopted, here in Broken Barnet, and now look: chickens coming home to roost, and a Chief Executive clearing his desk.
He told staff:
I am writing to let you know that I have agreed with the Leader that I will be leaving the Council.
I believe we have achieved a huge amount together in my time here. The organisation now is much changed, and I believe much better placed to deal with the challenges to come, and more importantly to make the most of the opportunities which will be available. Growth and prosperity are key to this, and this requires an outward focus within the borough, with West London partners, and more widely across the Capital. Maintaining this is, I believe, the key to continued success.
I know I am leaving behind a talented and committed team who will continue to provide the leadership that is needed.
John Hooton, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, will take over in the interim while longer term arrangements are put in place
Many thanks for all your help, goodbye and all the best for the future.
Well of course, Travers has gone, and Mrs Angry will miss him: but his legacy lives on.
A housing block in yet another 'regeneration' estate in Broken Barnet, social housing about to be demolished to make way for private development
Since last week's debacle, Dan Thomas, the Tory candidate in the London Assembly election has been expressing his fury about the mess-up on twitter, clearly hoping that his failure to convince the voters of Barnet to beg him to take over from Labour's Andrew Dismore was entirely due to streams of voters disenfranchised in the first three hours or so of the poll. By the council of which he is the Deputy Leader.
As we suggested in the previous post, the harsh truth, however, is that the margin of victory by Andrew Dismore is beyond any possible impact of the admittedly major cockup.
The rejection of Councillor Thomas may just more likely to be to do with the fact that the residents of this borough are now waking up to the horrible consequences of their policies in action.
Did your elderly mother rely on meals on wheels?
Are you homeless, and trying to find social housing?
Do your children use your local library as a safe space to read, and study?
Does your neighbour's disabled daughter use respite care run by her special school?
Are you a disabled resident yourself, reliant on a Freedom Pass, in order to afford access to public transport?
What are you doing, living in Broken Barnet, where your Tory councillors have made it perfectly clear they want only 'well off' residents, who do not 'depend' on council services in order to make their lives tolerable?
Thomas was so terrified of facing voters on the doorstep in Barnet, that during the run up to election day, he welcomed the excuse of a downfall of rain to hide in Margaret Thatcher House, posing below a portrait of the Milk Snatcher herself, who surely would have given him a well deserved talking to for such feeble behaviour.
Barnet Tories have a well embedded sense of entitlement, tragically misplaced, to the votes of the residents of this borough. Last Thursday, that complacency was dealt a massive blow.
And the truth is that Dismore deserved to be re-elected. He is a hard working, skilful and articulate advocate for this constituency, and an asset to the London Assembly. If only the Labour opposition on Barnet Council were collectively as combative and strategically acute as he is, we would not be at the mercy of a Tory administration capable of perpetrating upon this borough the regime of monstrous, illiberal, ruthless policies that are rapidly undermining the stability and security of the lives of all but the most affluent members of our community.
What had Dan Thomas done to win support from the residents of Broken Barnet? Worse than nothing: a record of presiding, as Deputy Leader, over that same reign of terror.
The people of Barnet have spoken - with difficulty, but loud enough to make their preference clear.
The story of what happened last Thursday would not be complete, however, without a reference to another incident which, along with the election fiasco and the Freedom Pass scandal, is raising the media profile of Broken Barnet far beyond anything we could have expected, all at once, in a lingering moment of inglorious fame.
Let us return to election day, and, after Mrs Angry emerged from her bed, bravely leaving the house, with looming migraine, hiding her eyes from the midday sunlight, and visiting the polling station to cast her vote, then wandering up to the Labour offices in Hendon, next to the Town Hall. Outside was Andrew Dismore, in flat cap (summer version, and no whippets) about to get into an old fire engine, which had been smothered in election posters, driven by a retired firefighter, and was due to take the Labour candidate for a drive around the constituency.
Mrs Angry persuaded Andrew to pose by the fire engine for a photo - as seen above - and then he got in, drove off, passing Mrs Angry at the bus stop, where, to her chortling amusement the Assembly Member in waiting greeted her through a loudhailer, as she waved cheerily - HELLO THERESA! - which resulted in some strange looks from fellow passengers - and everyone else in the vicinity of the Town Hall - and then they disappeared in the direction of Mill Hill.
Ah yes: driving through Mill Hill, and, just by chance past the office of local Tory MP Matthew Offord, while, according to the Mail's version of events: 'The song You've Got A Friend in Me from the film Toy Story was blasting from its sound system ...'
It has been alleged that, as the Mail put it, Mr Offord ( -no, no, no, Mrs Angry - Dr Offord: he is a doctor, did you know?): ALLEGEDLY leaned out of the window and "subjected Labour rivals to a barrage of obscene gestures and insults".
One of these alleged gestures, it should be said, Mrs Angry, who was educated by nuns, you know, had never heard of, and had to look up on Google image.
It should also be said that Dr Offord denies these allegations, and reportedly told the police who are now investigating the incident, as we read in the Standard, that he was merely gesturing to the occupants of the fire engine that they should 'go away'.
Yes: this is the political landscape, here in Broken Barnet, in May 2016. Astonishing, isn't it?
Can't wait for the Referendum, can you?
A letter to staff from Tory Leader Richard Cornelius today confirms there will be an immediate 'independent' investigation into the election cockup, but by whom, we do not know.
Mrs Angry's No 1 Ladies Detection Agency is available, via Crapita procurement services, at the the usual interim, £1,000 daily rate, Richard, if necessary.
As many of you will be aware, it has been decided, by mutual agreement that Andrew Travers, is leaving the Council following the problem with the elections last Thursday morning. I would like to thank Andrew for his time with the council and wish him the best for the future. John Hooton, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, will take over in the interim while longer term arrangements are put in place.
There will be an independent investigation which will review the issues that arose last week, as well as the appropriateness of the arrangements in place for the EU Referendum in June. The investigation will conclude by the end of May and the findings presented to the General Functions Committee. We will share more information when we have it.
I know that change can be unsettling. What is important now is that officers and members work together to continue to deliver the important work we do for residents of the borough.
I’d like to thank all staff for their hard work and support.
Councillor Richard Cornelius
Leader of the Council and
Totteridge Ward Member