Sunday, 19 December 2010

Mrs Angry's Christmas Broadcast

2010 has been something of an Annus Horribilis for our family, and indeed for the citizens of Broken Barnet.

The Angry household started this year in a state of deep despair.

Our family had been living for a full year next door to the villainous 'Smith' family: neighbours from hell - tenants placed in a private property by Barnet Homes, as part of their appalling practice, via a council sanctioned scheme, of placing 'vulnerable' families in uninspected houses, no questions asked, in a concerted effort to massage the figures of the council's housing waiting list. If you recall, the house in which our delightful neighbours were accommodated was a rat infested dump, surrounded by a mountain of squalid filth, courtesy of the owners, one of many landlords approved by the council for this scheme, whose properties were not checked to ensure they met the most basic of health and safety requirements. I wonder how many more vulnerable families - ordinary families in genuine need, rather than the vile Smiths - will be thrown into such appalling and practically unregulated accommodation, once the new housing policies are implemented?

For almost a year and a half, we were terrorised by a routine of continual daily - and nightly - antisocial behaviour by the tenants placed in this property, and their noise, intimidation and harassment. When we complained, at first the council agreed to act, then after months of empty promises changed their mind, and simply abandoned us to our fate. In the end, in fact, the council only took action to deal with the issues when Mrs Angry started this blog, and started to publicise what was happening. As this was shortly before the election period, this proved to be rather effective.

Funnily enough, at last week's full council meeting, Mrs Angry found herself unexpectedly reminded of the horrifying series of events which brought this blog into being. Sitting directly in front of her, in the public gallery, was one of the senior officers involved in the council's handling of the case. (When I say senior officers, I mean those fortunate few on the highest salaries, who are not, I believe, one of those who will be sitting down to Christmas lunch worrying about the redundancy notice they received the other week.)

Ms X, as we will call her, sat throughout the meeting armed with her council tablet/lap top, (you know, the ones that cost us a cool £3 million) - rather indiscreetly open to public view. Tut tut. Not sure why she was there, sitting in the public section, when on duty. Mrs Angry enjoyed reading her emails, however, and was amused by her covert googling of stories about Silvio Berlusconi's women, and Sam Allardyce's career prospects. Did you feel the eyes of Mrs Angry boring into the back of your head, at all, by the way, Ms X? She was warmly wishing you a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year, and sincerely hoping that the Smith family, or someone just like them, moves right next door to you, one day very soon.

Every cloud has a silver lining, as we know, and, happily, out of our year and a half of misery was born Mrs Angry, and this blog. Just think, Lynne Hillan, and Andrew Harper, and dear Mr Freer: if you had ever shown us the slightest sympathy and support, Mrs Angry- and Broken Barnet - might never have come to life, and what a sad loss that would have been!

Of course, after starting this blog, Mrs Angry fell very easily into the routine of writing about the machinations of the London Borough of Barnet, and discovered that there was a large audience keen to read all about the latest political idiocies of our lunatic Tory council.

First we had the election, and the disastrous result: then we had God's gift to the blogging community of Barnet - Allowancegate. Because as soon as the new Tory administration was in place, what did it do? It decided, or at least the leadership and Cabinet decided, to award itself a nice little - no: an enormous increase in pay. This sneaky attempt to fill their pockets with more of our hard earned dosh was engineered in full knowledge that only weeks later, the council was going to impose the most devastating range of cuts in budget savings, and serve redundancy notices on many ordinary members of staff. The attempted allowance rate increase was first highlighted by the Barnet bloggers, let us remember, and then picked up by the local press. A familiar pattern, in short. No doubt our beloved councillors had hoped that they could manage the pay rise on the quiet, which might explain the curious last minute arrival of the proposal on the agenda, due to oh what was it now? IT problems. Mmm.

Let us not forget the scenes in the council chamber when the allowance increase was voted on by the full council, supported by all Tories except for Kate Salinger, who abstained, and was treated abominably by her colleagues as a result. Long serving council officers who witnessed this performance were visibly stunned by the extent of vindictiveness which was demonstrated by the Tories' act of revenge, and Mrs Salinger was seen to leave the chamber in tears.

Mrs Salinger's callow colleagues allowed this outrageous increase to be voted in, and watched the public flaying of their colleague without protest, remaining silent until the public reaction embarrassed them into a somewhat belated attempt to distance themselves from what had happened.

What followed was an unprecedented reaction from the residents of this borough, many of them previously loyal Conservative voters. Their sense of outrage was explosive: Lynne Hillan was forced into a humiliating retraction, and the increase was cancelled. Oh: except for a fortunate eight members who found themselves rewarded with a 54% rise in pay for their additional allowances as Chairs of committees, in some cases committees which meet only twice a year. These favoured few saw their allowances rise from a mere £9,000 or so to a stonking £15,333. The extra money which has been thrown at these councillors amounts to more than £40,000: this of course would pay for, say, several posts in the now threatened children's centres, or wardens in sheltered accommodation, but of course in our borough, the well being of our Tory councillors' bank balances is far more important than a few staff redundancies, or a massive cut in vital services for residents.

The furious reaction to Allowancegate was not just confined to local bloggers, the press and the residents of Barnet. It was widely criticised in the national media, and by senior Conservative figures. Only then did our greedy, craven councillors decide to try an exercise in damage limitation, and seek to retract the increase. Dissent within the Tory ranks began to seethe and threatened to boil over into, goodness me, rebellion by the disaffected councillors, who felt themselves to be increasingly marginalised by the dubious Cabinet system of decision making. New boy Mark Shooter made a valiant effort to challenge Lynne Hillan for the leadership - and very nearly pulled it off. As time goes by, it becomes more and more interesting to wonder what might have happened if he had succeeded.

The past year has seen other eye wateringly awful revelations from our beloved council, of course. Most of these centre around the strange cult like movement to which the Barnet Tories have become fanatically attached. I refer to the alleged 'model for government', formerly known as Futureshape, which now, of course, in its latest divine incarnation, has taken the form of 'One Barnet'. Every time this idiotic plan reaches a critical level of notoriety, it must shape shift into sonething else, in order to survive. By the time you finish reading this, of course, it may have undergone a further metamorphosis: who can tell?

The L Ron Hubbard of Futureshape, little Mike Freer: whatever happened to him, btw? Well, yes, I know he became an MP, but whatever happened to him? Any sightings? What's that? Last seen touring the Lake District in Sooty's camper van? Bless.

Well, anyway: some consultants came along and had a little look at One Barnet, which was very kind of them, although of course they were well rewarded for this, as we are very fond of consultants in this borough and like to throw money at them whenever possible. Oh dear, though: they didn't like what they saw, you know ... well, the truth is that they had problems finding anything to inspect.

In fact, it reminds me of the end of another cult story: Joanna Southcott, the self styled eighteenth century prophet, who claimed to be the mother of a new messiah, and left a box of sacred writings which might only be unlocked in the presence of several bishops, more than a century after her birth. When the box was opened in the 1920s, it revealed the contents to be a night cap, a horse pistol, and a lottery ticket. And nothing else. And when Grant Thornton broke the seals on the One Barnet box, they found much the same - a load of nothing: no business plan, no timescale, no costings, no risk assessment; in other words, an empty policy, devoid of meaning, with no structure and no solid foundation.

As in all cults, however, the true believers - and the cynically controlling leadership - of One Barnet are united in their determination to maintain their committment to the empty box, all the way to Armageddon, if necessary: and unless someone stages a last minute intervention to free us from their grip, that is surely where we are all heading.

There are two major impending disasters hurtling towards each other now, bound for a major collision: the drive to make savage cuts in public spending, and the impending implementation of One Barnet policies, also intended to deliver savings, but on an ideological basis rather than as a reaction to the greater economic crisis. Lest we forget, these theoretical savings are just that: paper promises with no substance, and as yet this idiotic policy has actually cost us millions of pounds, rather than save us any money.

These two pressures on budget policy, ie One Barnet, and the government's spending review, are being fatally confused, as if they are and always have been driven by the same considerations; this is, unquestionably, very seriously damaging to the forward planning of our borough's economic well being.

Added to the burden of the One Barnet claptrap, and a feverish enthusiasm for the Coalition government's brutal campaign of cuts, we, the residents of this borough will have to bear the weight of this Tory administration's ludicrous claim that they are going to deliver 'better services for less money'. Any school child could work out that this is a lie, an impossibility, and one contradicted by the council's own statements on the need to cut so many vital services, - ones whose removal or reduction will hardly be viewed by those reliant on them as 'better', even by Barnet standards.

Another deception which this administration upholds is a committment to the principle of consultation with the electorate over matters of council policy. There is of course a statutory obligation for local authorities to consult residents over certain matters, and Barnet has to toe the line, in theory. In practice, this process, as we have all seen in recent months, is a farce, and stage managed by the administration for its own political purposes.

Public surveys, such as the one for libraries, are designed in such a way as to lead the resident to endorse the pre set political agenda of the council. The much vaunted 'Ideas Barnet' website was proven to be secretly loaded with One Barnet friendly suggestions, and the most popular ideas which happened to be critical of such things as councillors' allowance rises, or the expense of the mayoral cars, were blatantly ignored. The public meeting which was supposed to be open to any resident to discuss the budget was barely advertised and then conveniently cancelled, while on the quiet, a 'Citizens Panel' was organised to replace a free discussion with a controlled event, with unknown participants chosen by a process unverified by independent assessment. The cynicism of such behaviour, and the fear of honest engagement with residents is truly shameful, but it seems the leadership of the Tory group is quite beyond any sense of shame.

After nearly a year of waiting, the long promised register of councillors' interests, gifts and hospitality went online. This was meant to be in acknowledgement of the need for 'transparency'. In true Barnet fashion, transparency was taken as necessary only in the cases of those who wished to be transparent. Those councillors who refused to take part - all of them Tories - simply opted out.

And what of those who did agree, eventually, to put their interests online? Were they all entirely forthcoming about the information that was required? Well, this is a very interesting subject, isn't it? Some councillors seem to be incapable of understanding the most basic requirements of such forms. Should they then be trusted with the burden of responsibilities and decision making that the job of running our borough entails?

And what a responsibilty they have ahead of them.

What was it Vince Cable said earlier this week?

"There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of control. We are trying to do too many things, actually ... Some of them are Lib Dem inspired, but a lot of it is Tory inspired. The problem is not that they are Tory-inspired, but that they haven't thought them through. We should be putting a brake on it."

What he describes is happening nationally, but is happening here in Barnet to an extreme degree: a reckless, ill thought out and irresponsible upheaval on such a scale that no one really understands the scale of the impact that it is going to have on our lives. And in charge of this apocalyptic onslaught on everything we hold dear is the biggest bunch of fools you could hope to meet this side of Bedlam.

So: what to do it about? Not so long ago, our local Press newspaper said that we were in need of a revolution in this borough. I don't disagree. It's time to stand up to these fools and remind them who is boss. I'm not sure if it is a revolution, or a fight for justice. But we all have our part to play.

Citizens of Broken Barnet, as we move towards the end of this eventful year, take time to reflect on the state of this borough, and the direction in which we are being led. If you are unhappy at the thought of what is heading this way, it is up to you to do something about it. You elected these nincompoops: now is the time to hold them to account. You are entitled to question your councillors, regularly, either by letter, email, phone or in person as to their conduct in the performance of their duty to represent you, so exercise this right. Go to council meetings, ask questions, attend the residents forums, before they try to do away with them. Ask the opposition councillors to stop being so polite and well behaved, and maybe do a bit more yelling and screaming on our behalf.

Well: let's forget all that for now. It's nearly Christmas, here in Broken Barnet.

Fights are breaking out in Waitrose over the last of the organic brandy butter, black snow is everywhere on the ground - and look: deep in the protecting shadow of the local church spire, poor old Ebenezer Scrooge lies still in his bed, a sheet pulled up to his chin, waiting breathlessly for the sound of a Harvey Nichols hamper arriving outside his front door - but what is this? Clanking chains and heavy footsteps echo in the dark; the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, line up, one by one: oh, Mr Scrooge: what fearful visions will they have to show you?

Merry Christmas, dear readers.


ainelivia said...

Happy Christmas Mrs A, and a better New Year.

2010 was the year I discovered several interesting Barnet Bloggers including yourself, and I have often sat here reading your posts feeling very angry or laughing so hard I cry, or all three - caused by the antics of Barnet Council I hasten to add, not your writing.

The Blog Header Picture is marvellous, a veritable work of art.

all the best Mrs A, "see you" in the new year. By the way if you and your family are looking for a local skating rink/toboggan run, I can personally recommend the ungritted pavements of Mill Hill Broadway side roads, Millway in particular offers wonderful surfaces for anyone on ice skates or using a toboggan, pedestrians however can forget it, or walk in the road.

Mrs Angry said...

thank you, Ainelivia, and I hope you had a lovely Christmas ... We have our own Cresta Run here, despite being on a busy road and hill, the pavements are lethally dangerous. Last weekend, despite being a primary route, the road was no gritted, with chaotic and nearly fatal results. We watched cars sliding all over the place as they attempted to get up the hill. Funnily enough, the car which had the most trouble was a Porsche, whose driver rather grumpily had to be pushed up and along the road by a group of amused hoodies. The ungritted pavements are causing great hardship for elderly and disabled residents: the other day I had to help one old lady struggling home on the ice with a zimmer frame, and noticed a blind guy who lives locally taking his life in his hands trying to negotiate his way up the road. So after a,er, rather well celebrated Christmas lunch, and some heated political debate, a few drunken members of Mrs Angry's family decided to get some fresh air and exercise, and perform a good deed. Mrs Angry looked on, shaking her head, as, dressed in Xmas cracker party paper crowns, on which they had scrawled BIG SOCIETY in felt tip, they made their way to the local grit bin with a bucket and shovel, ready to return and clear the pavement of ice. Oh dear: unfortunately, when they got there - it was empty. Tut tut, naughty Barnet Council. The fresh air sobered them up slightly, though, so it wasn't entirely a waste of time.

ainelivia said...

I telephoned Barnet Council last week to ask for our bins to be refilled, explaining that as we are a cul de sac and the exit to the main road is a steep hill, no-one not even 4x4s would be able to leave if we didn't have some grit/sand. There was hmmming and hawing, though the person I spoke to was understanding and said they would do their best. I thought that was a put off. Imagine my astonishment when 24 hours later the bins were refilled. I called to thank them and the hmmmer and hawer, said with a smile in their voice that they had 24 calls on the same subject for our road. Pester-power it seems, works. Hope yours is refilled soon. all the best.

Mrs Angry said...

Well done: I think, though, that I read somewhere that no bins will be refilled now until the New Year, which if true is unfortunate, and potentially very dangerous for pedestrians.

Moaneybat said...

"dressed in Xmas cracker party paper crowns, on which they had scrawled BIG SOCIETY in felt tip, they made their way to the local grit bin"

Should have done BIG SOCIETY on the grit bin and signed it BS.

My Compliments of the Season to you.


The wonderful memories of pushing my bike on my paper round through the snow cleared paths of Millway Weymouth through the alley into Lawrence Court Newcombe Park Goodwyn Ave all those years ago. Cheers!