Monday 25 October 2010

Playing with fire: updated

One day, when I was oh, maybe about five years old, I was outside my house, whizzing up and down on my new scooter, when our neighbour, Mrs Eisenberg, stuck her head out of the window and said 'Will you be a good girl, and run and tell your mother the boiler has exploded and my house is on fire?' I nodded, thinking, yes, ok: I'll tell her when I go in. She shut the window, and I carried on scooting up and down the pavement. After a while, I noticed flames coming out of the roof next door, and thought, on reflection, that perhaps Mrs Eisenberg had meant to say, 'Will you go and tell your mother my house is on fire NOW?' So I ran in doors, and told her.

Two fire engines rushed to the scene, and my brother, cousins and I had a very interesting afternoon watching the firemen struggling to put out the fire, and then my brother and cousins got to sit in the fire engines, but not me, of course, because I was only a girl, even though I was the one, as I kept reminding everyone, who had (eventually) saved the Eisenbergs from certain death.

A few years later, in the middle of the night, I woke up with a jolt to the sound of screaming, and the acrid smell of smoke, because the same neighbours' house was on fire - again - this time due to a television that had burst into flames. Fire engines were already outside, but the damage to the house was severe, and our neighbours had been very lucky to get out.

Many years later still, I was living in a tiny terraced house with a new born baby who was refusing to go to sleep: late one night, as I was walking back and forth, trying to get him to drop off, I heard the terrifying sound of what turned out to be a nearby window exploding, and glass shattering.The house next door but one was on fire. We called the fire service: luckily the station was literally just behind us, but the fire, caused by a dropped cigarette, caught so quickly that in the short time between calling the emergency number and the engines arriving, the house was completely alight, flames roaring out of the windows. Luckily the old lady who lived there was pulled out of the house without serious injury, and by the efforts of the firefighters, the fire was prevented from spreading to us, but it was a very frightening experience.

Cigarettes, tvs, boilers: I imagine these are amongst the most common causes of domestic fires. Unless you witness such a sight, you cannot understand how quickly fires take hold in a domestic environment. And perhaps you cannot understand how vital it is to have a fire service able to respond instantly to such incidents. Perhaps it is something we take for granted, that this is the case, and will always be so. It isn't.

There is a lot of misinformation being put about in regard to the London Firefighters' strike. It suits the purposes of certain individuals to obscure the facts, of course, presenting the strike as being over new shifts, and implying the reason is the intransigence of obstructive workers refusing to move with the times. Is that true? No. If you have an open mind, and want to hear the firefighters' side of the argument, take a look at:

If you do, you will see that the London firefighters have been forced into an argument they did not want, and one that was totally unnecessary. This dispute is not about pay: this has arisen because the authority wants to impose new working conditions, by forcing firefighters to reapply for their jobs on a new contract, the result of which, it is feared, may lead to a reorganisation of service coverage and the closure of stations,or the loss of fire engines. There are apparently plans to reduce coverage at night, because fewer fires happen at night, but as the union points out, these fires tend to be more serious, no doubt because many take hold while people are asleep and are therefore not discovered earlier. I still live very near to a fire station, and I can hear for myself how often, day and night, the fire engines are called out.If coverage is reduced, it is surely an unavoidable truth that lives in our capital will be put at risk. Any extra delay in response time to the sorts of incidents I've experienced myself could have disastrous - fatal - consequences. Do you want this to happen?

Now then. Who is the head of the London Fire Authority? Oh dear. Our favourite councillor and GLA representative, Mr Brian Coleman. A man who is of course renowned for his remarkable skills in negotiation and conciliation, and well loved by firefighters all over London as a result. Er, yeah.

You might wonder what in God's name Boris Johnson is doing, putting Coleman in charge of the London Fire Service. Perhaps he thought it would keep him out of mischief, and well away from City Hall for as much of the time as possible. A relief for Boris, I'm sure. But the result is like - well, like leaving a two year old child with a can of petrol, and a box of matches, and standing back to watch the flames.

It will be suggested by those trying to impose the new working conditions that, by taking strike action, the firefighters are putting lives at risk, and even that there should be legislation to prevent workers in such vital services from taking industrial action. Let's turn that argument on its head, then: if this service is so vital, as of course it is, surely those who put their own lives at risk in order to deliver this service should be accorded a greater amount of respect, and better rates of pay and conditions of service, than they have now. If they take strike action, it is only to prevent the introduction of changes that really could endanger lives, if put in place.

During any strikes, fire services in London are being provided by a company called Asset Co, which has a contract to provide such coverage. Yes, the same Asset Co which features in the Gifts and Hospitality register of declarations by Mr Brian Coleman - remember the £350 Harvey Nichols hamper, and the dinners?

Nothing wrong with that, of course. No: in all honesty, I'm rather relieved to see that I'm not the only one worried whether our Brian is eating properly: just looking at him, you can see he must hardly eat more than a little sparrow, and is barely keeping body and soul together.

Rather more interestingly, in my opinion, is that in the same list of declarations, there is a mention of a more modest - and rather more appropriate - gift to Coleman, by the Fire Brigades Union. This is a book about firefighting in the Blitz. I hope he read it. My own father was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service during the worst of the Blitz, and the stories he used to tell us about his experiences always left a lasting impression of the courage, skill, and strong sense of duty that firefighters must have in order to undertake such demanding, stressful, and often deeply distressing duties. Where would we have been without them then, and where would be without them now?

So: who do you think does a more useful job, and deserves our support: a dedicated, courageous and hard working London firefighter, or Brian 'Harvey Nicks' Coleman?

*Updated Sunday 31st October: oh what a lovely story in the Mail on Sunday, where our Mr Coleman is up to his old tricks, quoted in an article claiming our firefighters are all really striking because new shifts might interfere with their day jobs, such as modelling for Versace (what?)...

"London Fire Authority chairman Brian Coleman said last night: ‘The reason the Fire Brigades Union does not want a shorter night shift is that it will mean they get three hours less sleep – and therefore make them less able to do their second jobs."

Er: hang on ... how many jobs does Coleman do? Not one, not two, but three jobs ... hmmm.

And he does these awfully well, doesn't he, citizens?

No problem about being a Barnet councillor and cabinet member, a member of the Greater London Assembly, and chair of the London fire Authority ... And for what, a mere six figure salary? (Not to mention his modelling contract for Versace, of course - oh, what, has that campaign been dropped? Just a Halloween special? Fair enough.)

And on top of that, poor Brian often has to spend his lunchtimes and evenings slaving away on our behalf, networking, stuffing himself with endless dinners, attending those vital civic functions such as cart marking ceremonies; there is just no end to his duties, and his dedication to public service. We must remember, however, that Brian is unique, (thank God), and very special, and he, and only he, is able to balance such a demanding and gruelling routine on our behalf.

Boris Johnson wants to be re elected as Mayor of London. If he is to acheive this, his work will be cut out: there is undoubtedly a swing towards the politics of the left, both nationally and locally. Here in North London, there is a direct link between the idiotic behaviour and arrogance of the Barnet Tories and 'Allowancegate' and the return of voters to Labour. The fire dispute, and the role played by Coleman, is only going to make things worse: almost everything he says, and the way he says it, is guaranteed to increase the sympathy of the vast majority of ordinary London residents.

If you are reading this, Mr Mayor, Mrs Angry's advice to you is that you instantly remove Coleman from the negotiations, and his post: if you cannot understand how badly this clown's remarks about the fire service reflects on your administration, you are in real danger of finding yourself out of a job after the election.

Londoners support their firefighters, you know, Boris: maybe it's time to show that you do too.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

True Grit, and a Cabinet of Curiosities - updated

It was a cold night, and Mrs Angry really just wanted to stay at home on the sofa, watching The Apprentice, laughing merrily as a bunch of hopelessly incompetent no hopers make a mess of their latest project. Instead of which, she forced herself out into the chilly night air, up again to the Town Hall, to watch a bunch of hopelessly incompetent no hopers make a mess of their latest project. Because, of course, tonight was the council Cabinet meeting.

It is a curiously voyeuristic experience, watching one of these staged events: a spectacle you can observe, but not join in. I suppose it is a political equivalent of dogging: watching other people shamelessly indulging themselves while you hang around feeling slightly ashamed to be there. Or so I imagine. (Note to self: be careful with your tags: remember what happened with spanking and Mrs Angry's schooldays ...)

Cabinet Meetings are particularly uncomfortable to witness as of course there are only Tories taking part and there is no real debate or disagreement, just a nauseating show of consensus and mutual satisfaction. The windows of the Committee Room get very steamy, in fact.

Before the real action starts, there is a token gesture of involvement with the proles, in which the Cabinet have to pretend to consider questions from members of the public. This procedure is barely tolerated by the mean mouthed Leader. She looks for any reason to stop the speaker, rather like a particularly bad tempered game of 'Just A Minute', in which the poor member of the public is pulled up for hesitation, deviation or repetition. The first questioner, an elderly gentleman, was given short shrift by her, and you can guess which councillor, can't you, rudely snapped 'Get on with it!' at the poor man?

I should add that the subject of this question was in regard to the example of cooperation in Newcastle, where the council and trade unions have got together to agree a package of £30 million of savings without any compulsory redundancies: this obviously demonstrates what can
happen when a local authority has a genuine respect and concern for its workforce, and seeks to work in partnership, rather than resort to confrontation, when negotiating with the unions.

The rudeness and lack of respect which is given to members of the public trying to exercise their right to ask a question is utterly indefensible and the Conservative councillors of this borough outght to be ashamed of the conduct of their leader and colleagues, in yet another example of the obstruction of the right of a resident to voice criticism and engage in debate with this morally degraded administration.

No doubt they resent the fact that residents have the right to ask any questions, and would prefer it if the public was not able to attend such meetings and witness what goes on. If you remember, at the last Full Council meeting, only a handful of people were actually able to get in to sit in the public gallery. It was encouraging to note last night that the Chief Executive himself came into the public seating area and, after pointing out that there were still many members of the public who needed seats, turfed out some disgruntled senior officers (including, funnily enough, the gentleman who barred Mrs Angry from the council facebook page, who foolishly tried to sit next to her and was subjected to her gorgon like glare until he shifted ...)

The second question came from David Young, the heroic campaigner against Lynne Hillan's plot to remove wardens from sheltered housing. This issue is once again back on the agenda. Why, he wanted to know, had they learnt nothing? He begged them to consider the people who might die as a result of the loss of residential wardens. He invited the councillors to visit the sheltered housing where individuals had told him they would even contemplate suicide if this support was withdrawn. What is your question? demanded Ms Hillan, in her horrible, grating voice. He gave an appropriate reply: his question was: 'How stupid can your Cabinet be?'

For the answer to this, carry on reading.

Councillor Maureen Braun stepped up to the meeting to speak about some work she and her chums had been doing on how to take wardens away from old people without looking evil and twisted -or do I mean, how to focus support on those with the most need whilst being mindful of financial constraints? She spoke in a lovely, soothing mumsy voice and said that the reason the courts had put paid to their first warden snatching attempt was because they were all so naturally 'imbued' with the need to consider the issues of equality that they had not thought to demonstrate this. The silly judge. He should have realised that their regard for supporting disability was clearly demonstrated by the proposed removal of wardens, shouldn't he!

Maureen and her group had looked at Hackney, where wardens had been successfully snatched. I say successfully, but obviously this is from the point of view of the snatcher, rather than the victims. Maureen told us, with some surprise, that their conclusions were that the elderly residents missed their wardens. Strangely, they had really missed the reassurance that these people had given them. Isn't that odd? You would think that in line with correct easyBarnet ideas, these feckless, lazy OAPs would welcome the chance to live - what is the phrase - more independent lives, wouldn't you? Couldn't our new MP nip round to remind them how to do the washing up? These old scroungers: just because they lived through the war, they expect the nation to owe them a living, and do everything for them, don't they?

Over to the constantly scowling Sachin Rajput to discuss the various options that they intend to consider in regard to the warden issue. He gave a little talk about equality, listing them all. Ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, all sorts of considerations must be made, and must be seen to be made. He reminded us not once, but twice, of the new need to prove consideration for transgender persons. His Cabinet colleagues looked bemused. Robert Ramsbottom thought of a question: were they, he wondered, still in danger of heading down the same path to failure as in the previous proposal? Rajput thought they had considered as much as they could. Councillor Richard Cornelius asked if they had developed records to prove we've done so? They really, really want to push this one through, don't they?

Item 7, the 'Fairer' Charging Policy for adult support. The warm hearted Mr Rajput was off again, starting - as is required by all Barnet Tories when beginning an address, with the Barnet mantra: every evil thing on this earth is a direct result of the wicked Labour Government. He told us we are not charging adults who need support enough for the service. Know what: if we have to screw more money out of vulnerable older people, Mr Rajput is the man for the job.

There were no questions for him, of course from his colleagues: they are not really allowed to speak up, you see, in case they utter deviant thoughts and let the side down.

Oh dear: Item 8. Actually, I was looking forward to this item: a report from a 'Task and Finish Group' on 'Council's Response to Cold Weather'. Cold weather, of course, is also the fault of the Labour government, let's be honest. It's what you expect with a socialist administration, isn't it, Brian?

Hello: here comes Councillor Dean Cohen, star of last night's residents' Forum. (see previous blog)He has to make the report, and sits at the big table with the grown ups. He is going to talk about a load of grit. I said grit. Grit, of course, being a commodity with which our Tory councillors are not awfully familiar, as recent events have shown.

Dean informed us we now have two and a half thousand tons of the stuff, and another fifteen hundred on order, to arrive in January. This is ok because now we have a Tory government, and they will make sure it does not snow before January, unlike the shambolic management of Gordon Brown, whose incompetence was responsible for sneaky pre January snow last year.

Dean had been out counting the number of grit bins in the borough: 260, plus 38 in town centres. He had important news. Our Tory council is creating the new citizen's role of, wait for it: 'Community Keeper of Grit Bins'. Please don't think I am making this up: it's true. This has been thought up to solve the scandalous activities of people who help themselves to grit without permission and use it. I know. Outrageous.

If you are lucky enough to be appointed Community Keeper of Grit Bins, you will be expected to bear the responsibility of looking after a new council issued padlock. Just like President Obama, you will be given an exclusive code, and you, and only you, will be able to activate it. This is the Big Society, and it's coming to Broken Barnet: are you big enough for it?

The cold war task force had other brilliant ideas. Why not adapt council vehicles by putting snow ploughs on the front? Yes: why not? The Mayor's car(s), for example.

Any questions? Of course not. The Dear Leader had her say, however. She welcomed the Big Society ideas. and the thought that residents might take part in clearing their own streets. Mmm. Might do some councillors good to get handy with a shovel too.

Aha. Step forward Councillor Brian Coleman who so far had been remarkably quiet. Unfortunately, he seemed to resent the intrusion of this task force onto areas of his responsibility. He was off on one of his rants, whoosh. Many residents in this borough have been known to - guess what - ring up the council to - you won't believe this - ask someone to come and clear snow or ice. Unbe -feckin -lievable. Not in forty years, bellowed Brian, not in forty years has this council ever done such a thing. Dear God, whatever next. Apparently, there have even been cases of - wait for it - residents taking grit from the bins to, you won't believe this: to put on their garden paths! Why can't they fall over and break their necks without complaining?

He then raged about Labour councils whom he claimned last year wouldn't share their grit. Then he calmed down, and expressed himself to be officially 'relaxed' about grit bins. Phew. However: padlocks? Absolutely not. They will cut them off, you know. Who, Brian, who? Grit thieves? International crime gangs? Socialist grit hoarding councils? As for snow ploughs: nonsense. Streets of of Barnet are not wide enough. We are not living in the Highlands of Scotland, you know. Snow plough attachments: not an option. Ah, but Brian was chilling again: he repeated his approval of the weighty issue of grit bins. And people must take more responsibilty. No doubt he will himself be seen this winter in a woolly hat, and fetching ear muffs, whistling a happy tune and clearing the pavements of West Finchley. His final remark was in praise of a report in the Ham & High, which is apparently, in Brians' opinion, for those who prefer a quality local newspaper. Ah: that would be a local paper which does not describe Brian as 'deluded', perhaps?

Poor Dean Cohen slipped out of the room, and Mrs Angry was tempted to go over to Mr Toad and box his ears on his behalf for being so unnecessarily rude to a younger and less experienced councillor. Actually, I'm surprised his Dad didn't do this for him, seeing as he was sitting next to Coleman.

But this sort of behaviour is par for the course amongst Barnet Tories, a party of mutual and thinly disguised contempt, factions and plots, the only unifying factor a lack of - er - grit, and a fear of reprisal if they step out of line. Mrs Angry noted with interest the reactions of some Tory councillors watching the proceedings. And some unlikely companions. She found it hard to tear her eyes away from the dream team pairing of, sigh, Councillor John Hart and the lost Prince, Mark Shooter. Wonder what they have in common? Apart from fatal good looks, and a winning way with the ladies, of course.

Item 9, dealing with financial planning. Shoot me now.

Ah, bless. Lynne Hillan stated now that she had not come into local politics to make huge cuts in spending. No, no, she had done so in order to 'bring something back to society'. And try to take a whopping great allowance rise while everyone else in society lost their jobs or pay increases.

Councillor Thomas opened his mouth for the first time and said nothing of interest. But don't worry, Brian was waiting to mouth off again. He reminded us we were in dire straits due to the - can you guess - the disgraceful behaviour of the previous Labour government, and that Barnet had to deal with the enormous debts left as you might expect by a socialist administration. Yes. I must admit that when we have a debt incurred by a council losing £27 million pounds of tax payers money in offshore investments I do prefer it to be a Conservative run administration, don't you? Tory incompetence is so much more acceptable, not to say spectacular in scale. Coleman then spat out some incoherent ranting about residents who should 'stop writing and asking for this, that and the other, because there is no money!' Citizens: please heed Mr Coleman's instructions and stop writing, phoning, emailing and bothering him about things- he's not paid to listen to you and oh hang on , Brian, yes, actually, you are! Did you know?

The turn of Andrew Harper, deputy Leader (at the moment, although eyeing that coveted chair next to Mr Walkley with a keen interest). Andrew reminded us all about One Barnet - oh yeah, whatever happened to that? He then said he was looking for a new relationship. Really? Mrs Angry sat up. Oh: with residents and partners. What: all of them? Even Councillor John Hart couldn't manage that. And if you want to launch a charm offensive, you may need to take radical action first: a coup, followed by the immediate defenestration of certain colleagues from the windows of the Town Hall. Otherwise, trying to appease the residents of this benighted borough is not going to work.

And now Councillor Richard Cornelius. He is an odd one, Cornelius: looks like Mr Punch and always has a slightly inappropriate smile, whatever the nature of his speech. He is rather like a minor Dickensian character, maybe a clerk or a haberdasher, obsequious but prone to unfortunate remarks. He claimed he was known as the cynical member of the council: oh yes? What a rebel. He said he liked bottom up decision making. I'll bet. And something about a block of flats in Grahame Park with a 77% turnover, which would be solved not by providing better housing, but by creating new shorthold tenancies.

Councilor Rajput got in another rant about the Labour Government. During this speech Coleman was openly looking at his blackberry, with his usual good manners. Or is it really his blackberry? Could it be the remote control that works Councillor Robert Ramsbottom, because I did notice that he then immediately stood up to speak ... He referred of course to the evil Labour government, and did we know there was a note left on the desk of - yes Robert, we do, move on: and ah his library survey was going marvellously (really: wonder if it has reached double figures yet?).

Hello: Councillor Melvyn Cohen speaks! Talking about the cost of civic events. Oh: good idea: what now then? Large scale cuts in civic entertainment? Smaller canapes? Broken biscuits from Costco? Selling off the Mayoral chain? No. He did try to suggest that there should be a reduction in overtime payments to the Mayor's drivers, that they should not be paid for waiting about but for actual use oh but then ex Mayor Coleman made a strange gesture to him - or perhaps it was an involuntary twitch - and he suddenly shut up. That was interesting, wasn't it?

At this point I had had enough and was going to go, but up stepped Labour Councillor Ross Huston to address the Cabinet on the subject of the impact of budget cuts and changes of policy on housing issues. He mentioned the loss of security of tenure, and the effect on families, the knock on effect on the private sector, the resulting increase in homelessness, the consequences for people on low incomes, and the need for a review of all these issues. He was wasting his breath, of course.

Lynne Hillan thought she might agree with some of his points but she was more interested in making sure no family received more benefits than the average wage, and she welcomed the cap on housing payments when she considered all those awful stories in the papers. Sadly it appears that the hardcore Tory decision makers in Broken Barnet arrive at their political policies by a process of ingestion of Daily Mail headlines. I'm afraid they don't have the intellectual capacity to follow any more reasoned arguments.

And then up pipes Richard Cornelius. The authority is not there, he informed us, 'to create a system that traps people in generational poverty'. No, indeed, in this borough you will now be 'enabled' to experience your generational poverty in the private sector, eh Richard?

But there was worse to come. He actually then stated - and I am having to reread my notes to be sure - this fool actually stated that 'there have been many cases in this country of people brought up in poverty who thrived on it.'

Yes. My own mother often talked with great fondness of growing up in the beneficial environment of abject poverty. True, her four year old brother and six year old sister died within days of each other in a diptheria epidemic in a slum standard colliery hovel, and they were so poor, the family could not even afford to pay for their funerals, until the local (Labour) councillor did so with his own money, but my goodness how they thrived otherwise. Happy days.
Words cannot contain the contempt I feel for this idiot, and all his equally obnoxious, stupid colleagues.

And now here comes Coleman with his contribution: this time he lets loose on those housing benefit scroungers who all want to live in Belgravia and Mayfair and expect the state to pay. I have to agree with you there, though, Brian, expecting to have your accommodation subsidised by anyone is appalling, isn't it? Eh?

And then, with one bound, he is spouting off on the subject of creating slums. Slums like Graham Park.

If there are any slum conditions in Grahame Park, you unspeakably objectionable man, I suggest that you remember who has created them. A slum is not a building: a slum is a neglected building.

Remember that unanswered question, from the sheltered housing campaigner: How stupid can your Cabinet be?

I think we all have the answer now.

*Update, Friday: well, last night Mrs Angry was just about to turn off Newsnight, when hello: up pops a clip of film with the unmistakeable visage of Councillor John Hart (has he been waxing his moustache?) ... goodness me, what a thing to happen, and just before bedtime. Poor Councillor Hart was shown struggling manfully with some admirably bolshy residents at another Forum (wish they'd come to mine) chanting 'We want answers, we want answers' ... and the item was all about the sad slow death of easyBarnet, where the Dear Leader was showing signs of panic at the prospect of changes in housing policies. Michael Crick wanted to ask the Dear Leader, her deputy, or the Cabinet spokesperson for housing about these issues, but he was left standing all alone outside the Town Hall, because they weren't allowed to speak to him. I wonder who shut them up?

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Talk to the hand ... another Residents' Forum

Last night, the shameless Mrs X was once more at her favourite sport, councillor baiting, at the Finchley and Golders Green Residents' Forum.

At the previous meeting she had raised the subject which must not be mentioned - ie the - here we ago again - the 54% pay rise for committee chair councillors. The Forum chair, poor innocent Councillor Dean Cohen, had somehow found himself manoeuvred into agreeing to ask these eight lucky lottery winners if they might feel inclined - in view of the hard times we are all supposed to be enduring together - to set a good example, restrain their delight at trousering even more of our money whilst most people are facing frozen pay, or even redundancy, and hand the pay rise back.

A written answer awaited her. (The lack of punctuation is nothing to do with me).

'On reflection on the last forum I realised that it is not within the duties of the Chairman of the forum to act as an intermediary beween other elected members and residents, particularly on personal matters such as their allowances.'

Oh, well, what a shame. Mrs X expressed herself pleased that Mr Cohen had spent time in quiet reflection on this issue, but was obviously not too happy with the response. She was of the opinion that the issue of allowances was not a personal one, as it was a matter of public money, paid for by residents, and therefore in need of justification.

Young Master Cohen suggested that (as he was evidently too scared) Mrs X might like to try sending the councillors concerned an email, or perhaps phone them up for a friendly chat. I can see it now:

'Hello: yes - Councillor? Good evening, I wonder - you know that allowance you get for chairing a couple of committee meetings a year, yes, yes - the one that has just gone up from oh, around £7,000 to more than £15,000 ... yes: 54 %! Brilliant! Well done. Money for old rope? Laughing all the way to the bank? Don't blame you! By the way: will any council employees be getting a 54% pay rise this year, or any ordinary workers, anywhere? Any nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers, oh - and fire fighters? No? Oh. What's that? Lots of them won't be getting paid at all soon, so they should keep quiet. Oh yes; no, no, you're quite right. Ours not to reason why, eh? But, er, here's the thing: your colleague Dean Cohen said if I asked you nicely, you might volunteer to set a good example, and forego the rise altogether. After all, the money saved could go towards paying for a couple of much needed support worker posts, such as care assistants, maybe ... care assistants? You know, they help look after the elderly and most vulnerable residents in the borugh, their personal needs etc ... What's that, you don't give a f***? As long as you're alright Jack?'


Next question from Mrs X. This was in regard to the Barnet Citizens' Panel, which used to function as a process of consultation with residents, assessing their level of satisfaction with the Council's delivery of services. When was this Panel discontinued, and why?

Now, in a response earlier in the evening to another question, a certain chief officer had mentioned the Citizens' Panel as evidence for the many wonderful ways in which our council allegedly seeks to assess and honour the opinion of the highly valued residents of this borough. Ah, but then, by this point in the meeting, Mrs X had read the written response to her later question in which it was stated;

'In the past the panel has proved very expensive to maintain, however we are still using the panel for face to face events and also exploring new ways we can consult with the panel in a more cost effective way.'

So, Mrs X asked, does this panel still exist or not?

There was a pause and a fair amount of uncomfortable shifting about on chairs by certain Forum members. 'Because,' added Mrs X, 'I'm supposed to be a member of the Citizens' Panel, and I haven't heard a thing from it for years, which is a great shame ...'

'Indeed,' remarked a certain chief officer, with what almost looked like the beginnings of a wry smile playing on his face, or perhaps it was some form of apoplexy, 'It is, as I'm sure you would make a very valuable contribution, Mrs X ...'

Next question: After the last Forum meeting, an article in the local press expressed concern at the low level of attendance and mention was made of the lack of publicity which these Forums receive. Are there any plans to improve the advertisement and promotion of these Forums?

The answer was a masterly example of corporate evasion:

'The opportunity to improve upon the promotional arrangements for residents forum meetings is a matter which is always kept under consideration.'

In other words, translated from Barnetspeak, not before hell freezes over. The last thing this administration wants is more people turning up to these events, for heaven's sake, Mrs X ...

Throughout last night's meeting, in fact, an underlying theme was clear. In this borough, the process of consultation is nothing less than a farce. For example:

On the agenda last night had been a petition by residents asking for a CPZ zone to be put in place in an area of Golders Green, around Sneath Avenue, which is plagued by all day parking by inconsiderate parkers, causing huge inconvenience to those living in the area and making the roads very dangerous - a young child was knocked down only last week. The Forum was attended by representatives of the surrounding Jewish community who are deeply concerned about the effect on their family lives. Many mothers came with their young children - (incredibly well behaved young children, who sat still throughout without complaining, something Mrs X always finds very hard to do in these meetings.) Several residents spoke. The outcome was that they were told they would have to wait until funds might become available 'to carry out investigations' and then, and only then, public consultation might take place.

There was outrage at this response. What do you mean: what more consultation do you need? What do you call this?

What they call this, in fact, is another dangerous example of people holding their council to account, and trying to remind them that they are answerable to the residents, and supposed to be working on their behalf.

In another item, an officer from Barnet gave a short presentation on something that is almost certainly a constant topic of discussion and heated debate in your own households:

'Core Strategy - Publication Stage and Development Management Policies - Preferred Approach'
Yes, come on, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. As it says,

'We are in the process of developing a set of planning documents, known as the Local Development Framework (LDF). Together these documents form the overarching local policy framework for planning the future of Barnet. The LDF is a 'folder' of separate documents and two of the most important documents are the Core Strategy and Development Management Policies. We are therefore seeking the views of residents on these documents during a consultation period that lasts until November 25th.'

There then followed a slide show presentation, (yes, real old style slides) with some of the most boring photos you could ever hope to see. Forget your friends' holiday snaps, which you have to watch with a carefully concealed yawn. The most exciting one here was an out of focus view of Tally Ho corner (with a noticeable lack of cars, or people, even the usual hard core street drinkers and Graveyard Family members). Then we had an interpretation, portrayed through the medium of mime and dance, by officers expressing the challenge of working in a corporate world of alienation and meaninglessness.

No, not really, unfortunately.

The lack of focus summed it up, actually. I still have no idea what this presentation was about. I have a horrible feeling it is rather important, possibly being about oh, I don't know, the future development of the entire borough over the next few years. But not to worry, no one really cares what we think, we'll only get in the way and ask questions, won't we?

Please note the latest consultation period started three weeks ago, and this is the first time any of us have heard about it. And when Mrs X asked why this proposal, or whatever it is, could not be made more accessible, and comprehensible, to residents, there was not exactly the most helpful of responses. Because of course, the last thing they want is for anyone to understand what they are talking about, or to proffer their opinons.

If you want to read the two enormous documents, you could try finding it on the web, (not easy) if you are prepared to sit reading it at your desk for three days without food, water or a toilet break. Or, and let me recommend this option: you could visit your local library, before it has been well and truly Ramsbottomed.

These documents have been around for a while, and, when asked, the officer said 334 responses had been made. After further questioning, it seems that none of these are actually from individual residents, all are from organisations or public bodies. Haven't you heard of the Civic Network? No. Or the something strategic partnership something? No. That's the health service, police, etc etc. Ah. Yes, I may have heard of those, why can't you just explain that, in simple terms?

If there have been no responses from residents, could that be because no one has heard of it, and of those who have, probably don't know where to find it, and those that did, probably don't understand it? Another brilliant piece of consultation by our marvellous council.

The officer pointed out that he was pretty sure that mention of the whatever it is, proposal thing, has been made in that journal of easyBarnet propaganda, 'Barnet First'. This, as you probably don't know, is a small magazine which very occasionally arrives on the doormat. We've had one recently, the first in a long time, and I don't know how often it is supposed to come out. I was the only person present who had ever received one. I took one look at it and threw it in the recycling bin, but will see if I can fish it out now I realise what a good read it will be.

Alright: enough. All the issues last night pointed in the same direction. And the direction leads back to the place this blog has been centred in the last couple of weeks. This is a dark, sinister place where consultation with the residents, tax payers and voters of this borough is being increasingly controlled, as is access to information, and the ability to express opinion or criticism of council policies and performance.

All local authorities have a statutory duty to consult the public on major policy proposals. In a well run borough, where the administration has a healthy relationship with its residents, one of mutual respect and trust, the process of consultation will be clear, honest and acessible. In any relationship, communication is vital. In the disfunctional civic family that we have here in Broken Barnet, our relationship is one of mutual resentment, and mistrust, and, let's admit it, communications have broken down. Like the victim of any violent relationship, the residents of this borough are being subjected to an abuse and imbalance of power. This imbalance is being maintained by a complete disregard for the opinions and well being of the people, whose views are not being considered and valued, but ignored and crushed.

Censorship, the control of information, the distortion of the consultation process; all of these patterns of behaviour are the acts of a bully.

This administration is not interested in giving residents the ability to engage in open consultation. Consultation is allowed only according to the rules of the administration, a choice of loaded options which force the resident to endorse the already agreed policy of the council's own agenda.

As Mrs X mentioned specifically last night, there are two perfect examples of this - and worse - in recent weeks. Councillor Robert Ramsbottom's library 'survey', with its cleverly arranged 'choices' and then, oh, this is a good one: the malodorous, much hyped 'Ideas Barnet' website.

This latter ploy is claimed to be a forum of consultation for the residents of the borough to engage in the forthcoming budget proposals. Mrs X has pointed out that much of the content of this website is highly questionable and would bear closer inspection by senior officers at the highest level, and any councillors who care about the integrity of such material. Mrs X advises residents to avoid this site like the plague until such time as it has been proved that the toxic suggestions recommending radical staffing and funding reductions are genuine - and she is not referring to Mrs Angry's spoof ideas regarding the return of workhouses, and the sewage problem at NLBP.

Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: Mrs Angry would like to remind you that consultation is the way in which a local authority communicates with its electorate. Communication is a two way process. We don't want to talk to the hand: the ear is being paid, by us, to listen, and listen you bloody well will.

Saturday 16 October 2010

A Book at Bedtime with Mrs Angry

Now then. Let's get one thing straight.

Mrs Angry is pleased to say that she is not familiar with the bedroom arrangements of Councillor Robert Ramsbottom.

Nor does she harbour any ambitions whatsoever to inspect them for herself.

So it is with the use of a certain amount of creative thinking, and a sense of unease, that she is now going to speculate on the contents of his bedside table.

Aha. Let's see. A GLA blackberry, well thumbed. A half drained mug of Ovaltine. A box of tissues (always useful). A signed photograph of Brian Coleman (turned to the wall). The complete works of Shakespeare, of course: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, yep, Ulysses, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, a selection of Dostoevsky, Wittgenstein, all of the Booker short list for 2010, and the complete works of Maeve Binchy?

Maybe not.

Let's face it, there are very few signs that this councillor, or any other of the Tory group running this council, is interested in or cares about cultural matters, either literature, art, music, or any other medium of educational and creative activity. And that is why, of course it is that our libraries, as we are told, are now officially considered to be nothing more than a 'lifestyle choice', rather than places of learning, access to information, oh and a place where you find something to read, which might enrich your life, or change the way you think, or take you to unexpected places in the imaginative world of someone's literary creation.

In my distant past, I used to work in Golders Green Library. Our busiest time was on Friday afternoons, when families from the surrounding Jewish community would arrive to take out piles of books before the beginning of Shabbat. Yes, Mr Ramsbottom: books. And I mean piles of books, some readers using a shopping trolley to take their loans home, maybe six books for each family member. Reading is of course an activity which is permissable on Shabbat when all labour is forbidden, but reading is also highly valued in such families for its own sake. (I used to stamp the Chief Rabbi's books, and recall that as well as worthy tomes of the sort you might expect a man of his postion to read, he had a surprising but endearing fondness for spy novels ... )

Many of the older library users were once pre war refugees from Europe, or survivors of the Holocaust. Coming to the library for them was regular part of their routine, and they loved to chat with the staff. In fact, it was a privilege to get to know many of these people, and listen to their frequently deeply distressing life stories.

One elderly lady that I remember well was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto. She told me that she felt that she could not speak about her experiences to her family, but found release in reading about the experience of others who had lived throught the same times, feeling a compulsion to read every book she could find, or that the staff could find for her, on the subject of the ghetto. Reading, for her, was a necessity, an instinct as vital and important as breathing, or eating. It was not some sort of hobby, and her visits to the library were emphatically not a trivial 'lifestyle choice'. She was using a resource which is essential to the life of any civilised society, where a library is a repository of knowledge, information, and intellectual debate.

She was also exercising her right to an activity which is usually one of the first victims of any repressive regime, the right to read freely and widely on any given subject. Book burning is one thing, but there are many ways to prevent people from having free access to self expression, free debate and information, aren't there?

In fact, it is true to say that in Barnet we have some of the most highly educated and well read citizens in any local authority borough. This is why why our libraries have always been held in such high regard by residents, and that is why the Tories will not be able to vandalise our library system without a huge and vitriolic backlash from residents.

Perhaps we should remember that not everyone in our community can afford to nip into Waterstones to buy a book whenever they want, as our affluent Tory councillors assume. If you devalue the importance of a strongly funded book stock, you deprive less advantaged residents, pensioners, the unemployed, single parents, students, and, perhaps most importantly, children from poorer backgrounds, of the ability to access both reading material for free. Not just in hard copy of course, you can borrow e books, dvds and all sorts of media from libraries these days: if you didn't know that, why not go and take a look?

Any parent will know that not everything required of school study and homework can be found on the internet: books and personal support in accessing information from staff trained to help do still matter, in so many different ways. But I fear that our council is not interested in this aspect of the library service.

I've had a library ticket since I was four years old and first learnt to read, motivated by the frustration I felt at peering at my brother's old Noddy annuals and being unable to guess the stories which connected the luridly coloured pictures. Since then reading has always a hugely important part of my life. Noddy turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, though, always having had a firm dislike for bumptious would be authority figures like Big Ears and PC Plod. (No offence, chaps).

As a child, I relied almost entirely on Saturday visits to the library for reading material as we had few books at home, although reading was strongly encouraged by our parents, who themselves always had their noses in a (library) book. In those days you were only allowed to borrow three books a week, and quite often I would have read mine by Sunday evening. This was a problem, as apart from a lack of things to read for the rest of the week, I secretly longed to have an overdue book, so that I would have to pay a fine and drop the coins into the alluring brass slot of the fine box fitted into the librarian's desk. But I read my way through every volume in the children's library, from Orlando the Marmalade Cat to Jane Eyre, via all the Narnia books, the Borrowers and Mary Poppins series, Dr Seuss, and hundreds of others, several shelf loads of classic myth and folktale collections from all over the world, and hundreds of others, and I can still remember almost everything I read.

If you instill a love of reading in a child, you give him or her a huge educational advantage: a steeping in the rhythms of writing, a large vocabulary, and a memory bank of cultural references. It's no coincidence that in the past, when social mobility was acheived by education and not by materialistic aspiration, two ways out of a life limited by class barriers were the eleven plus, which identified working class children with inate ability, (then unhindered by competition with middle class children tutored up to the eyeballs), and also the opportunities proffered by the wonders of a public library system, which offered a refuge and access to self education to the less advantaged.

Obviously, things change. Many children today, and their parents, spend more time texting and on facebook than reading, but there is still a gratifyingly large, literate hard core of people who do read widely and would use public libraries even more if libraries were more attractive and better resourced, if the libraries were supported and promoted by our council rather than only remembered when looking for ways to cut the budget. I'm not confident that this will ever happen in Barnet, though. Culture is not something that is of high priority with our philistine, shallow minded Tory councillors, is it?

And a Ramsbottom library, you see, is not a place of culture. It is a building, a corporate asset. It is an opportunity. It might be sold. It might become a branch of Starbucks with a few token, yellowing old Dan Brown's sitting on a shelf. It might be used for another council service. It might be rented out. If retained, it will be made to justify its existence with a multitude of new uses. Most importantly, under the cunning disguise of a review intended to improve the service, it will be deprived of funding.

There is, I notice from Another Blog, a survey posted on the council website in the name of Robert Ramsbottom. If you think this survey is going to make any difference to what happens to our libraries, you might want to have a go at it. I doubt that it will make any difference, as the political decision makers will have already made their minds up, in the time honoured way of lip service consultaion in this borough. And if you think that the options given for you to endorse in this survey will help to protect the service we all know and love here in Barnet, think again. This is, in my opinion, a PR exercise, and weighted heavily in the direction the Tories want you to follow, thus giving them, they will argue, a mandate for the changes they want to impose.

I say they want to impose: history has shown that meddling with libraries in this borough is, invariably, another form of political suicide. Of course our lemming like Tory administration has no fear of heading in the direction of the nearest high cliff, as recent events have shown, but the more experienced councillors amongst them might just remember the poisonous fall out from a previous attempt to take a hatchet to our libraries.

It is true to say that there are improvements which can and must be made to the library system in Barnet. Many of the libraries we now have are not necessarily in the best locations, for example. The problem is that I would guess the changes which ought to be made are not necessarily going to deliver the savings that this slash happy administration is demanding.

As technology and society evolves, public libraries must adapt and change. But for the right reasons, and in line with the demands of the communities they serve. Don't let the Tories in Barnet take the axe to your library, or dumb it down, and tell you it's what you want, under the cover of a 'review'. Voice your own opinions, write to your councillors, or whoever you think might listen, and tell them what you want. Yes, change is needed. But we want change for the better, which our Tory councillors keep telling us they can do for less money. Let's see whose version of 'better' is best, shall we?

Wednesday 13 October 2010

And Mrs Angry said: 'let there be light'

Just to update the two D notice Barnet news stories of last week ...

Pot hole news, then, and lighting too. Oh yes. Please don't complain that you don't get all the top stories here. But of course what is of real importance is not so much the content of the information, interesting though it is, and which has been so hard to get hold of, but rather the reason it was so difficult to obtain.

Ahem, as I believe I may have mentioned, once or twice, but let me mention it again just in case anyone has forgotten, Mrs Angry's facebook persona has been gagged by the Barnet council thought police, and she has been given an apparent statutory two month's suspension. She is sitting, with head bowed, on the bloggers' bench to kick her heels, and to think very hard about her misdemeanours and regrettable tendency to deviant political opinions. The shame, oh, the shame. And what a shame that they cannot seem to enforce the suspension, ha ha. However: I am enjoying being the victim of censorship, so am playing along, and in the meanwhile my friend Justitia has stepped into the breach to ask some awkward questions on my behalf.

If you remember, last week the press were unable to obtain satisfactory information on the state of the pot hole programme, allegedly on the orders of a certain favourite councillor of ours. Justitia therefore visited the Barnet Council Facebook site, 'liked it' (she tells me this made her feel rather dirty and used, like any old Libdem/shameless tart), and left a question.

'Please tell us,' she asked on the 10th October, 'how the pothole filling programme is going, and if it will be finished as promised at the end of this month? If not, how much is outstanding, when will it be finished, and why the delay?'

Eventually a Barnet spokesperson was allowed to reply:

'The Pothole Elimination Programme (PEP) is on course to eradicate potholes from all of the borough's roads by the end of the month as planned.

Phase 1 of the scheme saw 14,253 square metres of pothole repairs made on the major road network at a cost of £660,000.

Under the second phase, an estimated 39,392 square metres of repairs are expected to be completed by the end of October on the borough's remaining roads, costing £1.8 million.

Before the repair programme began on 1st July 2010, approximately 9,000 potholes had been attended to.

Initially these were given temporary repairs due to the sheer volume, however, the method of repair moved to permanent between March and June. It is estimated that this has cost approximately £350,000.

This programme will pick up any temporary repairs and will make them permanent."

Justitia commented on Monday 11.46 am: 'Good news, then: so why was the council's press office not allowed to give this information to journalists last week?'

Barnet, 12.29: "The Council's press office publishes information once it has been confirmed by the relevant department."

Justitia, Tuesday, 08.43: 'Are you saying the story in the local Press claiming a councillor 'vetoed' the release of figures is untrue?

Ah. Since then there has been a resounding silence.

Sadly, to the despair of her long suffering teacher Miss Bender (yes, really) Mrs Angry spent much of her maths lessons at school staring out of the window, or passing notes, and never quite grasped the finer points of addition, subtraction etc. So she is struggling to make sense of these figures. Perhaps their complexity is the reason why there was such a long delay in their being released? Trying not to be distracted by the tune in my silly little blogger's head: (I heard the news today, oh boy: four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, And though the holes were rather small, They had to count them all ... ) it does occur to me that there is an awful lot of money being spent, possibly twice on some of the same holes, unless I am getting hold of the wrong end of the stick? If the Barnet Roads Tzar feels the need to correct this I am happy to turn the stick around, and put it to some other use ...

Moving on then, to the lighting issue, for further clarification. Sorry.

On Tuesday Justitia asked 'Now that we have, hopefully, obtained the full facts about the potholes, can we also have some clarification of the state of the lighting replacement project which is now in its fifth year, but appears to be causing some confusion. Is this project up to date, as the company's own website suggests otherwise, judging by the 2010 schedule?'

On Wednesday at 10.44 Justitia asked:'hello guys: any chance of an answer to this one?'

and then, naughty Justitia: 'Or are you being censored?'

The response: "The council's contractor has confirmed the replacement lighting project is on schedule. Regarding the latests information on the contractor's website we have passed this on to them."

Justitia: 'I hope that is so, but again, why was it reported that the press were denied details of the lighting scheme? I think we are entitled to an explanation, both in this case and in the case of the potholes.'

Barnet: "The answerto this is as below. The council's press office cannot provide a detailed response to enquiries until the figures/information has been signed off by the department as accurate. Here are links to articles in the Hendon Times about these issues:

'here is a link to another story: is it true or not?'

(This refers you back to the original story in the local Times which stated:

"He (Coleman) said he did not know how much the PFI contract had cost the council so far, or the likely cost and banned the council's press office from handing over technical data about the scheme." )

No answer yet. Funny, that.

Yesterday, though, after some animated correspondance with the council about our own street lighting mystery, I spotted something rather interesting across the road. A van was parked in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, and two guys got out, each of them clutching a cannister of spray paint. Oh, dear, I thought - taggers? Should I ring up the local police, before they're all made redundant, and inform them about yet another incident of ASB? It's been a bit quiet lately, they might be grateful for something to do. But no: I realised the van had a logo, with the lighting company's initials on ... so they waved the cans about a bit and it looked like some of it even may have landed on the already painted new lamp post (not the one pointed at my bedroom window, another one with a real lamp in it). Hmm, what's that? In big letters, along the side of the post: something you Mrs Angry, LBB rules?

Joking, of course.

Odd though, isn't it, what looks like token resprays, when some posts still don't even have lamps installed?

Saturday 9 October 2010

Lights out for the territory

... anyway, as I was saying, before I got distracted... Mrs Angry noticed yet another interesting story, the other day, in the course of browsing that source of so much useful information, the local Times website. I feel it my duty to bring it to your attention, inspired by the stirring lines of Margaret Thatcher's favourite prayer: 'Where there is darkness, Lord, let me bring light ...'

An article reported that some stroppy citizens in that hotbed of rebellion known as Lullington Garth, in the mean streets of Woodside Park, North Finchley, had dared to complain about the lighting proposals that were being installed in their road by the council's lighting contractors. They mentioned various problems including the loss of parking space, inappropriate locations of seemingly unnecessary new lamp posts, oh, hold on, including 'placing lamps outside bedroom windows' and asked when the old ones would be taken away, pointing out that old ones appeared to be left in situ in a neighbouring area. Mmm.

Aha: a lightbulb moment, you might say, for Mrs Angry. Suddenly light was shed on a dark mystery that has been hovering over my head for some months now.

Earlier this year, we received a letter from a company claiming to be working on behalf of Barnet Council. It told us new lighting was going to be installed in our street. Funny, I thought, doesn't seem much wrong with what's there already. There were a load of plans sent with the letter, with no explanation as to any relevance to us. And to be honest, one would have to have been a fully qualified civil engineer to have understood these plans, which were highly technical and completely baffling. I could see nothing that would affect our property, however, so I put the letter aside and forgot about it.

Some weeks later, without warning, I came home to find, rather to my surprise, that an eight metre lamp post had been erected outside my bedroom window; for some reason less than a metre away from a more distant, already installed, and perfectly adequate older lamp post, still in place. And I mean that it is even now, still in place.

This new post was rather worrying, as, due to a nearby crossing and all the lighting that goes with that, we already have a fair amount of light pollution in the front of our property. Erecting an extra and probably stronger light directly outside might be beneficial in terms of being able to read in bed without bothering to put the light on, but obviously one would prefer not to have to sleep in light levels comparable to those of detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

The new arrangements look to be a boon to peeping toms, of course and/or any council officers still on surveillance duties (see June blog 'Panic on the Streets of London), but represent yet another nuisance served to us by Barnet, who seem set on driving me out of my tiny mind, turning me into a permanent insomniac, having this year and a half provided us with the infamous Neighbours from hell, a year of unceasing road works, unfixed manhole covers that go bang bang all night long, a drunk-magnet bus stop moved close to our house, (with no consultation) and now a spotlight on my bedroom window.

So I looked at the correspondance from the council contractors for a contact point. Oh: there wasn't one. No phone number, anyway, I found an address, wrote twice to the company, asking various questions. Eventually a reply arrived with no assurances as to the effect on us. So I sighed, and just hoped for the best. Months later, the new lamp post is still there, next to the old one, with no lamp, only a piece of yellow tape fluttering forlornly in the wind, which worries the Angry family cat, who spends hours anxiously monitoring it from the window, trying to work out if it is some sort of exotic bird and if he ought to try to catch it. (Yes, he is a bit dim).

It appears from the story in the paper, and other anecdotal information, that this state of affairs may well be a common story around the borough. Or it may not. We don't know. In fact, citizens, we may never know. Why? Because, according to the Times' story, the council's press office has been given orders not to release any technical information regarding the lighting project.

Oh really? I hear you ask. By whom, Mrs Angry? You will, I am very sure, be surprised to hear that it was in fact that stalwart champion of free speech, and transparency in government, and Mrs Angry's personal favourite, Councillor Brian Coleman.

Brian obviously thinks it is not necessary for residents, the people who pay for the lighting of their borough, to have access to the details of how their money is being spent. No, no, this matter is best left to the sparkling intellect and superior judgement of Mr Coleman, who informs residents, via the Times, that 'he did not know how much the PFI contract had cost the council so far, or the likely cost' ... he would only say the project is going 'quite successfully'.

Oh. Only quite successfully? Translated from Colemanspeak, this is a very interesting comment. Our Brian is not one for understatement, or modesty. Remember his remark that the residents of Barnet would be 'delighted' that he had awarded himself a whopping pay rise, not so long ago? I think we need to see the facts, and judge the matter for ourselves, as the armchair auditors we are supposed to be, don't you? Set that thought aside for the moment though: WTF is Coleman to instruct anyone to withold this information? And for what reason?

Ok: Brian thinks we are not entitled to ask, or the press is not entitled to ask, on our behalf, about the intricate details of the lighting project. So Mrs Angry made her own enquiries.

It seems that the company which has the contract for lighting our streets was, as part of a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal, for a 25 year period. Yes: 25 years. Gosh, said Mrs Angry: that's a long time. I am sure that things are going just swimmingly in this case, but in theory, what if, say, a company went bust in that period? Oh, she was told, don't worry: the finance is always held in a special account guaranteed by a bank. Oh: which bank? Allied Irish? Ah. God bless. Safe as houses, then. Ireland -no, don't be thinking Iceland, silly readers. World of difference.

And we are in Year Five of a Five Year Plan, soviet style, which I have found sort of detailed on the company's website, whose address was not given to us in any literature. I say sort of, because the details for 2010 are not awfully helpful, listing all roads as 'not programmed'. Oh. And my road doesn't seem to feature at all, except in reference to locating another, more important road. Odd. Have none of the streets listed for 2010 been completed? The schedule for 2009 also lists quite a few as 'not programmed' rather than 'complete'. Has the information just not been added to the website? Surely residents have a right to know?

Nevertheless: it has been decided that the press may not be privy to information which might inform the tax payers and voters of this borough as to how their money is being spent, and yet again in recent weeks we see this panic stricken Tory administration resort to censorship, and the stifling of information to which we are entitled.

And this was not the only example of this nasty habit last week.

In the current Hendon & Finchley Press there is a story - page 7 - entitled 'Tory councillor keeps pothole repairs secret'. Yes, it's that man again. It tells us that 'Official progress on how many potholes have been repaired after the severe weather earlier this year will remain a secret, by order of a senior Barnet Councillor' ...

The story states that Coleman 'vetoed' the release of figures to The Press which would show whether the council has reached its target of repairing all roads damaged by the snow by the end of October. Why?

Libdem councillor and leader Jack Cohen is quoted as saying 'It's ridiculous to refuse to provide this information as it's something that every resident in the borough will be interested in. It's ludicrous to have this kind of secrecy on something like this. What has he got to hide?'

Yes: what has he got to hide?

If these projects, lighting and potholes, are going to plan, tell us: that really is a 'good news' story, Brian, isn't it? But if there are problems, we are entitled to know, because we are paying the bill.

Does it matter? Yes, it does, in both cases, both lighting and potholes, not just in these specific issues, but on a point of principle.

We need to know that the council is able to control the management of tenders and contracts, and to justify its choice of contractors. If, as we are told will happen, this reckless council throws the responsibility for delivering so many of our services into the lap of private contractors, we need to be sure that the authority is able and willing to choose the right companies, and to hold them fully accountable for the quality of service that they deliver - with our money.

We have the right to be kept informed as to the details of these contracts, and how well the delivery of services is performing. Neither Big Brother Coleman, nor anyone else, is entitled to withhold such information.

This is information on a matter of public interest which ought already to be in the public domain, or to be freely available on request . If this information is withheld from us, we can of course access it eventually via a Freedom of Information Act request. Currently, and rather shamefully, the London Borough of Barnet is one of 19 bodies being monitored by the Information Commissioner due to its apparent reluctance to answer these requests within a reasonable time. It would not be advisable for Barnet to drag their feet over any more requests, or to complain about the expense involved in answering any such request when it has only been made necessary by obstruction of a perfectly reasonable question made by by the local press on our behalf.

In fact, as the Hendon & Finchley Press so eloquently puts it in its editorial, entitled 'Deluded Coleman is not running borough':

'It is simply outrageous that a politician should not only have the temerity to feel he has the right to stifle news about an issue that affects virtually all of his constituents and thousands of others, but that officers of the council - paid for by those constituents -can be silenced by that decree ... Mr Coleman has stepped over the line again - we wonder if there is anyone big enough to tell him that Barnet is not his personal fiefdom.'

I volunteer for that job.

Coleman: a word of advice from Mrs Angry - do try to remember one very important thing: you are the servant, and not the master, of the residents of this borough.

You seem set on a course of electoral self immolation. Sadly, the likeliness of anyone offering to quench the fire on your behalf, in the proverbial fashion, or indeed in any more conventional way, seems minimal, chum.

If you had any loyalty to the party you claim to support, you would try and make up for the damage you and your mates have done to the party's chance of re-election in this borough, and beyond: yet, here you are, after Allowancegate and the Grant Thornton report, all at the bottom of a big hole, and still digging.

The thing is, in truth, you just can't stop yourself, can you?

Friday 8 October 2010

In A Dark Place

This blog was going to be about street lighting (see what I did there?) and PFI, and all that stuff, but the eagle eye - and easily distracted attention - of Mrs Angry has been taken by an interesting story on the local Times website today, and actually my original title fits nicely here too, so, let us continue with the theme of Big Brother, censorship, the restriction of access to information etc etc ....

On Monday there is a meeting of Barnet Council's Standards Committee. You may or may not know that this committe has responsibility for monitoring standards of behaviour of our beloved councillors, and also deals with certain other ethical issues. (Yes, ethics, in Broken Barnet, who would believe it?) You may recall that the Standards' Committee is the local body which considers any complaints made about councillors, like, oh, who was it now, some nonentity, I can't quite remember; shy, retiring little fellow .... Mr Tichborne, who was it you successfully complained about? What did he say? Something rude about bloggers, was it? Tut tut.

All councillors are obliged to declare all financial and personal interests, and also any gifts or hospitality that they may have received, in order that we, the electorate, may be confident that every decision they make is entirely honest and above suspicion. In the interest of oh, what's that interesting word, so badly misused - ah yes, 'transparency', these registers, in the case of Parliament, the GLA, and other local authorities, are increasingly being made available online. And fascinating reading they make, too.

What happens in the swinging, transparent, open, and freely accountable world of Barnet Council? Well, actually, the arrangements here are far from being transparent. Any desire to peer through the diaphanous fabric of council procedure to the naked truth of our alluring councillors' intimate details is firmly discouraged, their secrets modestly concealed by the corporate equivalent of a buttoned to the neck, winceyette nightdress.

If you want to know what business interests, hospitality or gifts that your local representative has listed, you must trek all the way up to North London Business Park, having asked to see the register, and if lucky, been given an appointment. Obviously you cannot do this in anonymity, or privacy.

It's well worth the trek, though: you will find the reading of these registers most illuminating. I've done it, in the past, and found it a rewarding experience ... but that's another story.

It seems the standards' committee has at last managed to persuade our councillors that their details must be made available online.

Oh, except for those that don't want to.


Yes: we must understand, citizens, that transparency is only for those who wish to be transparent. We do not have a right to this information, we may only be granted it by those who either have nothing to hide, or who don't care anyway. It is not for us to decide who tells us what, and how.

Some councillors have apparently already indicated that they wish to opt out of having their details online. You will still be able to inspect their details in person, but will have to apply in writing in order to do so, and wait for a mutually convenient time to be agreed for this - probably on the twelfth of never, and in circumstances as offputting as possible. Do it anyway, just to prove you have the right.

Something else of interest was included in the agenda for Monday's meeting: a table of the types of allegations made to the committee. These include complaints on the basis of: respect, bullying/intimidation, impartiality,disrepute, use of position to confer an advantage/disadvantage, use of the resources of your authority for decisions/regard to relevant advice when reaching decisions, personal interest and prejudical interest. Most of these had one allegation, and seem not to have reached a further stage.

Very intriguing, however is a reference, tucked away, to an assessment sub-committee of a complaint by an unknown councillor against another councillor. This complaint has now been forwarded to the Monitoring Officer for further consideration. Ooh er, handbags at the Town Hall: wonder what that's all about?

But there are two worrying developments mentioned in the reports attached to this agenda: worrying for all of us who care about standards in public office, and the behaviour of councillors in office, and in their relations with their electors.

Item 9.11 informs us that, courtesy of our Coalition government, local authorities will no longer be required by law to have standards' committees. Of course the Standards Board for England has already had its death sentence: so where does this leave the future of democracy and accountability in local government? Further in the shit, in my humble opinion.

The Tory/Libdem Coalition government wants 'serious misconduct for personal gain' to be more stringently punished - in fact it will become a criminal act, which is a good move, but there is a move to ignore the 'lesser' issues of behavioural standards, and valid complaints which might constiute less serious but still unacceptable misconduct, it seems, because they 'waste tax payers' money'.

So many of the issues listed above in the list of allegations will not stand a chance of being acted upon, and it might reasonably be expected that certain councillors will take full advantage of this permission to behave in an even more unacceptably and unnecessarily rude, confrontational and generally obnoxious manner.

The new government shrugs and says that any allegations of 'incompetence' will be dealt with by the Local Government Ombudsman (Ha! Anyone who has any knowledge of that body can well understand why they have chosen to retain their services whilst kicking out anything with real teeth ... )oh and for all other examples of bad behaviour, that will be up to the electorate to deal with, in other words, wait until the next election!

I don't think I can honestly recall any previous government that is so recklessly, shamelessly determined on stripping out every last defence that an ordinary citizen might have against the forces that are now threatening to undermine our liberty, our civil rights and our prosperity. You might expect it from a Conservative government: the fact that the Libdems are prepared to prostitute themselves and allow this sort of change to happen in their name too is despicable.

The Big Lie of the Big Society idea is that it will give power back to local communities: here is a perfect example of the hard truth, that we are seeing an unpredented loss of power from the electorate, left at the mercy of local authorities who will be even less accountable to the people, and who are given a four year licence to do exactly what they want, with no fear of sanction.

Somehow, I don't think that that licence is likely to be extended, do you, readers?

Thursday 7 October 2010

Sheer Poetry

It's National Poetry Day today.

Recently my eye was caught by the list of tags which this blog has run up since it began, and it struck me that it was a work of art in itself, speaking eloquently of the nature of things as they are here in the wilderness of Broken Barnet: I print the tag list unedited, sequenced alphabetically as they are -oh, and uncensored - but I have broken them up into bite sized verses. Enjoy.

Broken Barnet

a boot stamping on a human face - forever a good kicking absent friends absent without leave accomplished banker ah go on Anarchy in Broken Barnet animals antisocial ASB

bargain basement Barnet, Barnet, Barnet Council, Barnet Tories, Barnet Tory housing policy begging bowls betrayal beyond a joke Big Brother Big Joke Bishop Willie blackberry fool Brian Coleman Brian's electric prodder Brokeback Barnet Broken Barnet Brutalist bullets bullies bullying

Ca ira Cameron caring Conservatives censorship censorship in Broken Barnet chamber pots clowns cock up cold hearted Coleman common compassionate Conservativism Conservative obsessions Conservatives corrupt cowards crap crime cringe cruel cynical

daft Ideas Barnet death of democracy debate deckchairs decline in literacy dementia dirt dirty dancing dirty politics disturbed Dixon of Dock Green Do the Right Thing dysfunctional

easyBolics easyMoney elder abuse emotionless aliens et merci a mon fils ... evictions

fag ends Father Ted fear fear and loathing feck free speech Freedom is slavery Freer funny business furtive smell of lying Futureshape

gamblin' gangsters give us a revolution glove puppets gobbledegook God Help Us Good Old Days gorgons greedy Tories grubby business guilt gypsies

hard nosed harpies he drank it all and said I feel fine ... heartless help: let me out Holocaust Homechoice Hug a Hoodie hypocrisy

idiotic economic theory Ignorance is Strength incompetence inhumane


la la la laziness leader listens Libdems lizards loathing LOL low life shits low pay lunatics Lynne Hillan

machinations menace Mike Freer Mike Freer's derriere Monsters morally bankrupt more money Mrs T Ms X

naughty naughty London Borough of Broken Barnet nice work if you can get it no brains no heart and no courage no paddle no scruples

obscene gesture offside oops oppression Orwellian

pants on fire petitions against the pay rises Pigs in shit pimps poison poop

ra ra rasputin racism ranting rats raving nutters rearrangement revenge revolution in Barnet rubbish

screwed self interest sewage sex shafted shameful shameless sheep shit creek sinister slum landlords smear social injustice sociopaths spanking spawn of Beelzebub sponging stinking pile of sewage strange but true

that's entertainment Thatcherite clone The Getting of Wisdom the shadow of the workhouse thievin' and whorin' Titanic Tories Tory Tory Barnet Tory run Barnet Tory Trip Advisors tragic life stories trouble makers tyranny

ugly unlikely unscrupulous unscrupulous opportunists unworkable

Vote for anyone else vote Labour

waste matter we're all doomed whores worthless bunch of spineless Tory shits yob yob rule


Wednesday 6 October 2010

Mrs Angry's Index on Censorship: Broken Barnet

Ok: so one of two things has happened. Big Brother has given up wielding his blue pencil, or has decided that idiotic suggestions for the Ideas Barnet website are preferable to sensible, but politically deviant, contributions from free thinking residents.

Mrs Bottomley's sewage recycling idea not only is still in place, but appears to have found some support: there is a comment agreeing that the idea should be given consideration, and that this method is very efficient and with no odour. Evidently this earnest citizen is unable to detect a whiff of irony, so may not be best placed to comment on the success of such schemes.

Mrs Bottomley has further contributed, suggesting that valuable staff work time could be saved, and the success of the scheme might be enhanced, by the provision of chamber pots for each member of staff (two for senior officers) - and a commode for the Chief Executive (if he doesn't already have one).

Most gratifyingly, her somewhat retro Future Shape Workhouse idea, despite its blatantly politically deranged foundation, is still in place too, and apparently rather popular. In fact, it appears to have struck a chord with Barnet residents: 14 endorsements!

Again, encouraged by this support, the formidable Mrs Bottomley has suggested that disadvantaged and/or anti-social families would, in such institutions, would be properly monitored and offered support for their needs. A diet of plain but nourishing gruel and some light industrial activities such as stone breaking, rope picking etc will provide a firm but charitable regime. The savings made from housing & social care budgets might, she thinks, in part be awarded as a bonus to our oft mocked councillors, who do such a difficult job for so little reward.

Let's see if these comments make it to publication.

The correspondent who had submitted the suggestion about the unnecessary number of PR people has contacted me to say that now at last his idea has been published. Also, gratifyingly, there are (or were) some good comments rebutting the idiotic 'Refresh and Rebuild Staff' idea. Wonder how long they will last.

Sadly, Mrs B's suggestion about compulsory electricity generating treadmill sessions for staff appears to have been ignored. I suppose those troublemaking unions would have stuck their oar in, the spoilsports.

Finally, Mrs Angry has attempted once more to raise the issue which must not be mentioned: the - ssh - allowances, suggesting in 'Reflect 25% budget cuts in councillor allowance rates', that the extra £40,000 just given to eight lucky councillors, ie a 54% rise for each, could pay for a couple or more care assistant posts, so desperately needed in order to look after out elderly and most vulnerable residents.

I wonder if Big Brother will let that one through?

Monday 4 October 2010

Twas Christmas Day in the Workhouse ...

Laugh Out Loud, as the young people say ...

Well: Mrs Angry has been laughing out loud quite a lot recently.

In the last few days, the infamous Ideas Barnet website has been heavily criticised by Mrs Angry, and many others, for its unsubtle use of censorship.

Suggestions, comments and tags have been submitted, then disappeared, and sometimes reappeared, with bewildering speed, with the excuse that anything removed is on the basis of being 'party political'. In practice, this appears to mean anything which embarrasses the council, such as asking for the chairs' allowance rise to be returned.

Only yesterday, Mrs Angry was contacted by a resident who had made a perfectly reasonable cost cutting suggestion which had been ignored. More of that later.

Mrs Angry has been assured by the assistant Director of Communications that party political comments in favour of Conservative policy would not be tolerated on council forums. Mrs Angry found this a little hard to believe.

Last evening she sat down to look at the Ideas Barnet site and was shamefully amused to find the following suggestion:

"Sewage Recycling:

Why not turn the ponds at NLBP (North London Business Park) Hendon Town Hall, and other council buildings, into natural, eco friendly, sewage recycling facilities? Plenty of waste material available, one would have thought, and significant savings to be made on water use, plumbing maintenance etc ... "

Now Mrs Angry happens to know that this submission was made by a Mrs Margaret Bottomley.

Bottomley ... sewage? Waste material coming from NLBP? Hello?

Not only was this clearly satirical submission allowed through the moderation system, someone had already rated it - with one star!

Ah, but then another helpful suggestion from Mrs Bottomley, rather astonishingly to the right of David Cameron's compassionate Conservative values, and despite all assurances, keen to support the Barnet Tories' master plan, Future Shape:

"Rebuild Barnet Workhouse:

A few years ago, despite public protest, the old Barnet Workhouse was demolished in order to make way for a car park. The car park was never installed: why not rebuild the workhouse and allow Barnet Homes to run it as part of Future Shape housing policy? This would make significant savings in the housing benefit budget, and if successful, more workhouses could be provided, possibly by stakeholder partners, around the borough!"

Oh please.

Let me out myself. Yes, I created Mrs Bottomley, and these were my suggestions. And er, yes, I was joking.

I wonder if someone can explain why these idiotic and clearly, in the latter case, insanely political but supportive, submissions were allowed, when perfectly reasonable ones, and ideas critical of the council, are being ignored, or withdrawn?

It could be, I suppose, that Lynne Hillan's alternative to providing wardens in sheltered accommodation has taken a rather extreme course, and Robert Ramsbottom has had his crayons out, drawing a picture of the new One Barnet Model Workhouse, in which case I apologise.

The gentleman who contacted me yesterdayday said that he had made a suggestion that 'all PR employees should be made redundant - they are a cost and don't add to the service, they just try to make it look pretty ...' He was upset that his suggestion had not appeared and was going to resubmit it.

Mrs Angry is of course entirely confident that the Communications/PR team have no interest in censoring non party political suggestions of this nature and will post the suggestion asap!

I wonder if they will also post Mrs Bottomley's latest suggestion about compulsory electricity generating treadmill sessions for all staff?

Btw, if they do decide to do a 'root and branch' 'rebuild and refreshment' of the Communications Team, Mrs Angry will shortly have a vacancy for a censor/comment moderator for the Broken Barnet blog. No pay will be available, but you might like to think of yourself as a professional volunteer serving the community, as suggested last week?

Sunday 3 October 2010

Naughty Broken Barnet: Stand in the Corner

It hasn't been a good week for anyone who is interested in well, you know, democracy, justice, the right to freedom of speech, or freedom of information, that kind of stuff, in the London Borough of Broken Barnet.

Mrs Angry herself became a martyr to the cause, after being summarily and officially 'dis-liked' for, gulp, a punitive sentence of two months, by Barnet Council's stern faced Facebook masters.( Mrs Angry would like to thank them and point out that this merciless punishment is probably the only thing that has ever happened to her which has significantly raised her credibility with her teenage daughter, and her FB obsessed classmates.)

Mrs Angry's unspeakable crime was to mention our easyChair councillors' 54% pay rise, and then to dare to ask why the remark was removed. Oops, as Britney said, I did it again ...

The fabulous new 'Daft Ideas Barnet' site was monitored by unceasing surveillance by vigilant council officers, trained to sniff out any traces of intelligent thought or deviant political thinking, and all subversive activity was excised with ruthless efficiency. Sort of: until they all came bouncing back again. And then disappeared. And then ... well, you get the picture.

A disaffected Barnet employee leaked a document to a blogger (not me, obviously, being an empty headed lady blogger, I only get mostly unprintable and/or indecent comments and the odd racing tip) which was apparently a Bad Thing. And unprofessional. Never mind, eh: worse things happen at sea. To lifeboatmen & stuff. Or something. Eh?

Oh, ah, and then: talking of racing tips: Mrs Angry's official racing correspondent - fellow blogger, occasional librarian, dandy, and man about town, Mr Tom Roper - has, apart from spotting a winner at the Queen Elizabeth II stakes last week, also brought to her attention a very interesting press release by the ICO, the Information Commissioner.

On Friday 1st October, the ICO announced that there is now a list of 19 organisations being monitored by the commissioner for a period of three months, as it appears that they are not meeting the requirement to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on time. During the three month period the ICO may anyway take action if an authority's standard of compliance is 'revealed to be particularly poor' or it appears 'unwilling to make the improvements necessary'.

The London Borough of Barnet is one of the organisations singled out by the ICO.

Mrs Angry cannnot claim to be in any way surprised, having herself had cause to complain (successfully) to the ICO in regard to a delayed FOI response on an issue of political sensitivity, and having heard significant anecdotal evidence of similar stories, a suspicion now backed up by the figures quoted by this press release, she is very glad indeed to see that the ICO is at last taking a firm stand on this matter.

Why does this matter? Because the witholding or the delaying of the supply of information to which residents are entitled is yet another form of censorship, and an obstruction of the democratic process, and yet another symptom of the malaise which is infecting this administration. The sooner that this disease is cut out of the corporate body, the better for all of us, and the distant prospect of some form of accountability, genuine 'transparency', and a relationship of mutual respect between this council and the people it was elected to serve.

Friday 1 October 2010

Mrs Angry Fights Back

Mrs Angry noted with interest and amusement lots of frantic visits to her blog by council officers after the email sent to her by Mr X , the assistant Director of Communication at Barnet Council. And then this helpful explanation arrived in her inbox:

Dear Ms Gry

Local Government publicity is governed by the “Code of recommended practice on local government publicity”. All local government officers are expected to follow its recommendations.
The Code covers “Any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public”.

In arriving at a policy for moderation on the Council’s Facebook and ideas websites we paid particular attention to the following obligations placed on the council as publisher:

The Code will therefore be relevant across the whole range of local authorities' work. It covers all decisions by a local authority on publicity and most public relations activities, such as paid advertising and leaflet campaigns, and local authority sponsorship of exhibitions and conferences, as well as assistance to others to issue publicity.

Publicity should not attack, nor appear to undermine, generally accepted moral standards.

Publicity should not be, or liable to misrepresentation as being, party political. Whilst it may be appropriate to describe policies put forward by an individual councillor which are relevant to her/his position and responsibilities within the Council, and to put forward her/his justification in defence of them, this should not be done in party political terms, using political slogans, expressly advocating policies of those of a particular political party or directly attacking policies and opinions of other parties, groups or individuals.

In answer to your questions, any comment praising “conservative policies” would have to be removed.

Comments that we felt could be considered racist or offensive were promptly removed. Had anyone repeated those comments we would have felt obliged to ‘defriend’ them’.

It may be tempting to believe that such decisions are taken on a political basis, but like most local government activity, this is a case of officers meeting obligations as defined by legislation.

I hope that deals with your concerns.

Yours sincerely


Mrs Angry has now sent the following response:

Dear Mr X,

Thank you for taking the trouble to send this reply. Unfortunately, it does not really clarify the issues I raised in my previous email, and I would like you to answer these points as follows:

I note with interest that there has been a statement in the local Times group newspapers by the council, disassociating itself from the accusation of censorship, specifically in this case in relation to the new Ideas Barnet website. I have to tell you that in my view, this denial of censorship is fatuous and insulting to those of us who have put perfectly reasonable suggestions on this site and watched with bemusement as these items disappear, then return, sometimes with comments deleted. This is in parallel to what is happening on the Facebook site, and I am afraid that the only reasonable conclusion that anyone can come to is that this is, in fact, a perfect example of censorship, an obstruction of the right to free speech, and an interference in the democratic process of consultation.

Taking your comments in your last response, referring to the legislation regarding the code on Local Government publicity, I would point out to to you that you are confusing publicity with debate and consultation: there is a fundamental difference. We are not discussing communication 'addressed to the public at large, or to a section of the public', the issue concerns, in regard to Facebook, a Forum for interaction by residents, and in the case of the Ideas site, an opportunity for the public to express their opinions on the content of the forthcoming budget of spending cuts.

The confusion arises, I think, because in fact this council does see both sites as opportunities for publicity : party political publicity supporting the policies of the Conservative adminstration. It fears genuine debate and consultation, and is trying to silence criticism.

This is really why comments and suggestions which are critical of the administration's policies are being withdrawn, and this is unacceptable.

You have no right to withdraw comments or suggestions which are merely critical, if they are not offensive. This is censorship.

You have no right to withdraw critical comments or suggestions on the spurious basis of being party political simply when they are stating a truth, such as reference to the 54% pay rise just given to councillors. It may be a truth that causes embarrassment to the administration, but it is neither party political or offensive to refer to it.

I note that, contrary to your remarks in this reply, there are still many comments on the Facebook site which are definable as offensive, particularly those relating to the Edward Meakins controversy: remarks claiming for example that Barnet 'sucks', is bullying the elderly, even a 'joke' about hitting a wife. Additionally, I would point out, there are at least two separate personal comments, in August, referring to a female Labour councillor, which have been allowed to remain. Why? Would you allow a remark of this nature about a Conservative councillor to remain? I think not.

I must also ask why your committment to the Code of Practice does not prevent a council officer from using his own personal Facebook link to comment on contributions from members of the public without specifying that he is a Barnet employee? Presumably he is obliged to do this as part of his duties, but the council should not be using a personally linked page to monitor a council site, without the risk of being accused of deliberately misleading the public.

I suspect that political pressure is being put on you to control the content of Barnet's sites, and although you have my sympathy, you must know that this is unacceptable to the vast majority of residents in this borough who have the right to expect a free and open opportunity to express the full range of their opinions at a time of enormous significance to us all, both locally and nationally.

Yours sincerely,

Ann Gry