Wednesday 20 April 2011

Mrs Angry changes the subject

Yesterday's blog was hugely popular, for some reason, particularly with gentlemen readers of a certain age, obviously very keen to participate in the debate about a suitable model for local government, (Model X, Mr Harper?) oh, and ladies' underwear. Sorry, boys, though, here is a bucket of cold water - back to politics now.

A couple of things to catch up with:

In all the excitement over the MetPro scandal, Mrs Angry has not had a chance to publish the eventual, partial, responses to the following expenses in the last quarters of 2010, as noted in the online council expenditure over £500. Let's take a look then. Remember, these questions were made to a residents' forum, which proved too embarrassing for Barnet, along with the one about MetPro, and was, in an admirably creative time delaying strategy, turned into an FOI request.

The expenses I questioned were:

a) The payments made to Todd Worsnip, also known as ‘DJ Snips’, amounting to more than £2,000 in July and August by Childrens’ Services.

b) The two payments made to 'a named individual' , apparently a ‘hip hop’ artist, of £1,269 each, in August, by Adult Social Services (name later ‘redacted, although originally published’).

c) A payment of £550 to the RAF Museum in November by Adult Social Services for ‘staff training’.

d) Payments of £3,150 by Children’s Services and £900 by the Corporate Governance Directorate to ‘Higgins Cartoons’ in November.

e) A payment of £1,162 to Digby Trout Restaurants Ltd by Adult Social Services for ‘staff training’ on 9/12/2010.

f) Payments of more than £15,000 to the four star luxury Sandbanks Hotel in Poole for conference facilities in November.

g) Payments, by the Deputy Chief Executive and other departments, of more than £15,000 in the last quarter alone to Voice!Business Associates, a company that specialises in ‘voice training’. How many officers have been trained by this company?

So: on the last possible day Mrs Angry received a reply, of sorts, from Barnet. And how very enlightening. No wonder they were so shy about publishing the details. In fact: excuse me while I slip into the appropriate One Barnet hiphop style:

Yo, Walkley - Mrs Angry's on your case:
She thinks these expenses are a f*cking disgrace ...

Yes, Mr Todd Worsnip, aka hiphop producer and DJ Snips, has been paid for two music workshops, a marvellous opportunity for vulnerable young people in need of a mentor, and perhaps wishing to emulate his sound political views - (read what he has to say about David Cameron on the Salute website, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet ... ) Sadly, the entry over another apparent hiphop artiste must remain forever shrouded in mystery, having been redacted, and Mrs Angry being given a refusal to comply under some third party personal data clause. Now, you may feel that any individual being paid for services should not be eligible for anonymity under this excuse: but what do you expect, in our borough?

So: on to point c), money paid to the RAF museum, for 'staff training': another disappointment, I fear. This was not as I had hoped, in order that deputy CE Andrew Travers might learn how to pilot a Spitfire (hence his elocution lessons in received English, to sound more like Douglas Bader when radioing back to base at NLBP). No, this £550 was actually the cost of venue hire for an Adult Social Services staff awards ceremony at the museum. Oh, and point e), a payment of £1,160 to Digby Trout Restaurants Ltd was for the catering. So more than £2,000 for a party & doling out some awards to staff members. A perfectly reasonable use of tax payers' money, I'd say, wouldn't you, citizens? Rewarding staff for doing their feckin jobs with awards and catered functions, in the same month their colleagues in other departments are being made redundant? Nice touch.

Now then: the £15,000 plus spent on a conference at a luxury hotel in Poole? It was for a headteachers' residential conference. Ha: I'll bet there was some running about the corridors late at night, and a few discreet taps on the door at one in the morning, with that lot, don't you? But don't worry: Mrs Angry is told that the costs were paid for in full by the individual schools. Who get their funding from, er ... us?

Higgins Cartoons: oh yes. The first payment of £900 was for 'promotional material' for the 2010 election awareness campaign. What? Can anyone remember what that might be? Caricatures of our beloved councillors, to discourage young voters from visiting the polling station or ever thinking there is any point to taking part in the democratic process?

The second payment of a whopping £3,150 was for promotional material 'for a recycling campaign', (incorrectly coded, we are told, and really incurred by Environment & Operations, ie the responsibility of our beloved councillor, Brian Coleman.) So: in order to promote recycling and the conservation of energy and finite resources, we spent thousands of pounds on er what: wasting finite resources and energy printing leaflets that probably no one read? Hope they got recycled, anyway.

Ah: the £15,000 plus spent in payments for glorified elocution lessons to Voice!Business Associates, mostly from the Deputy CE's department, but also Env & Ops and Planning, Housing & Regeneration. Here is a partial breakdown of the deputy CE expenditure alone:

Half-day session for 2 officers
Day session for 12 officers
Day session for 12 officers
Half-day session for 1 officer

Half-day session for 1 officer
Day session for 3 officers
Short day session for 2 officers

Day session for 3 officers
Half-day session for 2 officers
Half-day session for 1 officer

Again, money well spent, I am sure all residents will agree. It's vital to the success of One Barnet that senior officers feel confident when spouting a load of shite in meetings about the necessity of a relentless drive for efficiency: an efficiency which allows such extravagance in expenditure for the priviliged few.

Just a sample, then, of the type of things which Barnet Council wastes our money on, while handing out redundancy notices to staff members, and making devastating cuts in vital services like childrens' centres, and in grants to local voluntary bodies.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an event at the Arts Depot: a dance festival performed by children from Barnet schools. I was invited to attend because the evening was held in memory of a family friend, a beautiful young woman named Nadine Mehta, a former PE and dance teacher, and pupil, from my old school St Michael's, who lost her life in tragic circumstances, just before Christmas. It was a very emotional event for many reasons, but notably because of the excitement and pride of the children taking part, young children of many different abilities and cultural backgrounds, many from schools in some of the less affluent areas of our borough, and most touchingly, perhaps, including a class of children from a school for special needs. It was impossible to watch that particular performance without being moved to tears, because it was so joyful, and they obviously gained so much from the experience - and indeed were reluctant to leave the stage.

At the end of the evening the organiser made a speech, and mentioned, regretfully, that he did not think such an event would be held again. I was sitting near the Mayor, as it happened, and watched him while this remark was made. He looked away, and suddenly felt the need to busy himself with his handkerchief. As well he might. Because, as we know, the budget cuts made by our philistine Tory councillors include a massive reduction to the Arts Depot.

The Tories want us to believe that such cuts were unavoidable: looking at their accounts, and seeing where they throw money with such reckless abandon suggests to me that this is absolute rubbish. They choose to waste their budgets on themselves and the whims of senior officers, whilst local bodies, and venues like the Arts Depot, must do without the level of funding that sustains all the fantastic community based projects that bring so much pleasure, and so much benefit, to the less advantaged residents of our borough. There is something badly wrong here, isn't there?

Finally: warm congratulations today to Andrew Dismore on securing the Labour candidacy for the forthcoming GLA elections in this constituency. He is the man who will deliver us from Brian Coleman, and what a happy day that will be for us all, here in Broken Barnet.Today is the day, ctizens, where we start to loosen the grip of the Tory stranglehold on this borough, and move towards a more positive future.


baarnett said...

Glad we've all come down to earth, Mrs A. (Did it move for you?)

"Payments made to 'a named individual' of £1,269 each, in August, by Adult Social Services." I simply don't think they can "redact" someone's name they choose to pay money to. They will be doing it with "MetPro" next.

And for obscure reasons, I know that Barnet is one of only four London boroughs that HASN'T received money for recycling from City Hall - so what could that "£3,150" have been for, then?

Mrs Angry said...

Mrs Angry is easily impressed, these days, baarnett, as it happens.

As for the redactions: as in the case of FOI requests, it is unfortunately too easy to withhold information that is in the public interest for spurious reasons, when the information is politically sensitive.

darkstar said...

Great blog as always. By the way, I stumbled across some blogs about Bexley council - sounds very familiar to what you're uncovering at Barnet.

As an aside, I hear Brian Coleman is on LBC973 radio shortly (23/4@11:00) as a presenter with David Mellor - I would love to know why LBC think he's worthy of presenting on there.

Mrs Angry said...

Darkstar: thanks for the warning: there will be radio silence in the Angry household 11 am onwards ...