Thursday 20 January 2011

Are we being served? Secret shopping with Mrs Angry

Watched some of that Mary Portas programme the other night, in which she takes disaffected shop assistants to task for their lack of attention to customers. Service, as she pointed out, is what the customer wants, and what the customer deserves. Hmm.

I would agree, except I cannot abide the sort of bogus service you receive in so many shops now, whereby as soon as you set foot in their premises, you are assailed by a volley of insincere greetings and intrusive questions as to your shopping intentions. Much to the embarrassment of certain close family members, I have now refined a zero tolerance technique for deflecting this form of harrassment, because I know it for what it is: spin, and nothing else. It's no good greeting me like a long lost cousin at the door and then leaving me standing in the changing room in my undergarments waiting in vain for someone to go and get me another size (smaller, obviously). That's not service, is it?

As in shopping, so in life. And life in Broken Barnet is no exception. Imagine, perhaps, that our beloved borough is a big One Barnet department store, Grace Brothers style. I think I might cast Lynne Hillan as Miss Brahms, and Andrew Harper as Captain Peacock ... (as this blog is of course entirely politically correct, Mr Humphries' role must remain unfilled, and there will be absolutely no reference to Mrs Slocombe's feline friend). But are we being served?

In the One Barnet Department store, as Mary, Queen of Shops has found in the country in general, there is a deeply ingrained resistence to the idea that the customer is king. In the One Barnet store, the shop manager is king, and the staff defer to him, rather than the customer. We are told, all the time, that we are being given value for money, better for less: One Barnet, never knowingly undersold. What we are sold, of course, is a load of spin: 'service' replaced by disservice. Yes, we've all been left standing in the waiting room in our metaphorical undergarments, while the shop assistants are sitting by the back door, having a fag, and moaning about the customers.

Unfortunately, as in a rather grim Soviet era communist nation, we benighted residents of Broken Barnet have no choice but to shop at the One Barnet store, at least for the next three years or so. See the empty shelves, the mile long queues, the sense of hopelessness ... ?

What can we do about it? Not much. Except join in subversive activities and work towards the downfall of the state. Stuff like that.

In the meantime, let's catch up on some continuing stories from around our borough, shall we? Some good news stories, in the officially approved, all in this together, One Barnet style.

Actually, I should admit to you that Barnet's customer service may be slightly better than I have implied. I have great news, for example, in regard to my new lamp posts. Aha. And all it took was, let's see: about 25 emails, a few stories in the local press, some pointed questions submitted to my local residents' forum, oh and a handful of blogs, all over the course of several long months, and look, hey presto: as if by magic, our posts now have numbers stapled to them. Oh yes. No lights still, but then we mustn't ask too much. The road was only listed for work by the contractors in 2009, and we mustn't hurry them too quickly, after all. They might ask for more money.

Can you imagine my excitement, last week? Following some very interesting email exchanges and promises from a certain long suffering council officer, valiantly attempting to charm Mrs Angry with his wicked One Barnet ways (and impressive knowledge of Homer), one morning I peered through my net curtains and saw a man in a hi-vi vest staring at the lamp post outside my bedroom window, bold as anything. The cheeky monkey. And then - another man got out of a van, brandishing an enormous wooden pole (or maybe he was just pleased to see me) - you know, the sort of giant ruler they use to measure the overweening egos of certain Tory councillors. Well, that's all they did: just stare, and wiggle the pole around a bit; frankly, rather disappointing. And then this week, guess what? Another man turned up, and this time: he had a massive clipboard! Whoa. Put it away, son: we've all seen one before. Didn't look like the clipboard had seen much action, I have to say, but then I am easily impressed these days. Next thing: walked out next morning and found my lamp post is now officially number 18. Headless, but with a sense of identity. *(Update: came home this afternoon and found the post magically now has a lamp! Now we have our own pair of working street lights, one old, one new, twice the energy, twice the cost, right outside my bedroom window. Looking forward to going to bed in Guantanamo Bay surveillance lighting levels! I'm guessing this is all in hand with the Broken Barnet policy of transparency?)

Changing the subject: just borrowed a fascinating book from my local library, making the most of it while it's still there, don't you know. Biography of Mussolini. Hmm. Interesting life. Came to a bad end, sadly, like most dictators. Very unfortunate. Something to do with a lamp post.

Which reminds me - I forgot to say, it's true we have no lights still, but when we do, I have been promised an official One Barnet lighting up ceremony, with the lamp posts officially turned on by a councillor of my choice. Hmm. Thinking carefully about that. Councillor of my choice. One of the great and the good: a popular, well loved figure, and someone who would draw an enormous crowd of local residents, all keen to express their appreciation of his or her many admirable qualities ... Nope. No one springs to mind. Or rather, too many candidates spring to mind. Che peccato: such fun we could have had, eh citizens?

Anyway. What else? Ah yes - the infamous charge hikes. Blogger 'Don't Call Me Dave' has pointed out something which escaped the watchful eye of Mrs Angry - the fact that our beloved councillors are still being allowed a free parking permit. Yes: the councillors bringing in the new parking charges are themselves exempt from the same parking charges. Doesn't that just say it all?

*Update: here is a petition to sign if you object to this sorry state of affairs:

A week later, and I am afraid to say that I still have had no answer to questions about the mysterious vanishing act of the grossly insensitive proposed hike in the charges for the burial of children and still born babies. Let's hope this objectionable proposal has been thrown in the bin where it belongs.

Oh: and the online expenditure listing is revealing more and more highly questionable entries detailing the somewhat unexpected payments made with our money. Here are just a few more examples:

Forget about the previously mentioned expenditure on conference expenses by Children's Services: my attention has been drawn by an observant resident to a whopping £9,000 plus spent on the 15th of July at the Holiday Inn, Elstree. Yes, £9,000.

Oh: and in April, Children's Services paid £1,200 to some football club called Tottenham Hotspur, for 'conference expenses'. What's wrong with the Emirates, then? Who's a Spurs supporter? Really? Doesn't surprise me.

In June, Environment and Operations paid £7,600 to a theatre company, for 'other services'. This company presents plays on such subjects as the dangers of playing with fire, so perhaps this was for the benefit of certain councillors. At no little cost to us, unfortunately.

In April, and again in May, a company which apparently provides 'eco songwriting workshops' was made two payments totalling more than £5,000 for 'consult fees' by 'Environment and Operations...

Most bizarre of all, there were two mysterious payments, around £1,269 each, made in August by Adult Social Services to someone called 'Blondie Waka'. This is presumably - and of course I am happy to correct it if I am wrong - the same as 'Blondy Waka' , yet another obscure hip hop 'artiste' whose delightful ditty can be heard on Youtube, extolling the virtues of 'rude bitch music' which apparently goes 'in like a dick' and is addressed to 'you motherf*ckers' out there. You get me? I think she means us, ladies and gentlemen. 'Tell me what the f*ck you want', she asks, rather touchingly. Adult social services, eh? I wonder if she was hired to entertain the old people in a residential home? Keeping it real, and more challenging than a sing along with Dame Vera Lynn, I suppose.

But what I would really like, Blondy, is for someone to explain why we are supporting so many potty mouthed hip hop artistes, and daft theatrical ventures, and jollies at such expense, at a time when we are told we cannot afford children's centres, sheltered housing wardens, must decrease support for children from educational psychologists, slash funding from the early interevention and prevention services which protect vulenrable children, cut the maintenance of grants to essential charities, the continued protection of libraries, museums, lollipop ladies etc etc etc. That's 'what the f*ck I want'. Thanks.

Oh, and while you're there, in the interests of 'transparency', could you perhaps find out why someone at Barnet has recently ordered that your name be withdrawn and replaced with 'named individual' in the expenses listings, along with some other parties, since the list was originally published? Is there something they didn't mean us to see?

How transparent is a piece of black out material?

Happy Birthday to the Broken Barnet technical advisor, from possibly the most embarrassing mother of all time ... xxx

No comments: