Tuesday 12 April 2011

'Rabble': the residents of Broken Barnet

So: another full council meeting last night, at Hendon Town Hall, and another marvellous example of the complete contempt with which your elected representatives, the Tory councillors of our esteemed borough, view you, lowly citizens of Broken Barnet.

After several weeks of investigations, and of trying in vain to get the attention of councillors and or/senior officers in regard to the scandalous circumstances surrounding the use of the MetPro security company, tonight an emergency motion was submitted to the council for debate, although apparently only after yesterday's story in the Standard. I'm not sure why an item could not have been placed on the agenda before now, as Mrs Angry and others have been banging on about this for weeks now, but there you go. And as it went, it was a pretty good motion:

"Emergency Motion in the name of Councillor Alison Moore

Reasons for urgency - it emerged only yesterday that MetPro was not properly licensed, and the extent of the value of their contract - after the deadline for motions. The council has said they will audit the matter, but members ought to discuss the terms of reference of this audit and whether or not it is held in public given the nature of the public concern.

Barnet's Security Arrangements

Council notes the headlines yesterday in the Evening Standard relating to MetPro Rapid Response who have been covertly filming whilst on duty in council premises.

Council notes that it has now emerged that MetroPro was not properly licensed, and is now under investigation by the Security Industry Authority.

Council notes that around £1.2m of Barnet council tax payers' money has been paid to MetPro for security duties in council premises, but there does not appear to be any evidence of a Cabinet or delegated officer decision to employ MetPro.

Council also notes that there does not seem to be any official Council premises Security Policy in place.

Council is concerned that proper contract procedures may not have been followed in the engagement of MetPro, and that without a proper security policy in place the Council is vulnerable to something similar occurring in the future.

Council notes that the Council is investigating these issues, but believes that a full and proper public inquiry should be held in the interests of transparency.

Council therefore asks that an ad-hoc scrutiny committee is set-up to review the council's procurement of the MetPro contract, and the council's premises security arrangements."

It didn't stand a chance of being debated, of course. If you thought that it might, you would have to be someone who genuinely believed that the elected members of the Tory group on Barnet Council really gave a shit about the people they are supposed to serve, and in maintaining any kind of pretence at administering this borough with honesty, integrity and transparency. And what a tragic misapprehension that would be.

As it happens, tonight there really were some people in the public gallery naive enough to believe such things might be true. At least they arrived with such expectations, but I am afraid they left with any such ideals smashed into a thousand pieces. Because this is Broken Barnet, and we do things differently here, don't we?

Before the meeting started, a large and very noisy crowd of more two hundred people gathered outside Hendon Town Hall to voice their deep hostility to the new Pinkham Way 'eco park', which, as they pointed out, is not eco, and definitely not a park: it will be a waste recycling facility, just on the border with Haringey, but obviously going to affect many of us here in Barnet.

Once again, we stood outside and queued like a selection of particularly uncool clubbers desperate to gain entry to the exclusive venue that is the public gallery of our council chamber. We were monitored discreetly by a few police officers and, oh hold on: some new security people - smartly but soberly dressed, very polite, and -goodness me, wearing licences, and apparently not wearing secret, state of the art covert lapel cameras for the surveillance of dangerous anarchists and troublemakers like me and Andrew Dismore. Had a nice chat with Mr Dismore, by the way, Brian - sounds like he is so looking forward to dislodging you from your GLA seat, and indeed, how we all look forward to that happy day.

Once inside the hallowed portals of the Town Hall, Mrs Angry and Mr Tichborne and Ms Morris were greeted with warm welcoming smiles by a host of senior council officers, and directed to our seats. And so, after brushing away the drawing pins, and checking for live cables, we sat down and watched our councillors outdo themselves in yet another spectacular performance of arrogance, lunacy and total disregard for the interests of the community they are supposed to serve.

(Talking of senior officers: to that bloke in the stripey shirt who kept staring and staring at Mrs Angry through the doors, darling, I'm sorry, but I must tell you you're not really her type, and your continual gawping didn't do her persecution complex much good either.)

The Mayor welcomed the people in the public gallery. Carried away with an overabundance of goodwill, Mr Tichborne cried out 'And Good Evening, Your Worship', which for some reason set off an inappropriate reaction of childish laughter from Mrs Angry, who, sadly, often cannot restrain herself from helpless mirth in these stultifyingly po faced meetings, as you may note.

The Mayor's chaplain, poor man, struggled to deliver another well meant homily on the need for the councillors to be a source of blessings, harmony and happiness, to be honourable, devoted to our wellbeing, and reminding them that wisdom is the gift of the Lord, from whose mouth all understanding flows. It might be my imagination, but I thought I detected a note of sadness in the Rabbi's speech o this occasion, as if he knew he was wasting his time, and had been all throughout the year.

The Leader of the Council, Lynne Hillan, was mysteriously missing, which was a great shame. It also meant that at the meeting, Deputy Leader Andrew Harper suddenly found himself the possessor of a sudden and somewhat alarming increase in the size of his portfolio. Or it might just have been the way he was sitting. He did look awfully pleased with himself. But then he usually does.

Ah: questions and answers. Good. As usual Mr Toad tries very hard not to answer any, and Brian Gordon toadies to the Tory cabinet members and asks questions that allow them to remind everyone how marvellous they are.

Brian Coleman further endeared himself to the officers who do his work by blaming his mistake in wrongly describing a parking charge on 'Sheer incompetence and inefficiency by Council Officers'. Rather foolish, I would say, in view of the reduced numbers of council officers available to do any work and with those in place already working flat out to cover the amount of reports etc that the councillors rely on.

A Labour councillor asked if Coleman, who is a member of the North London Waste Authority, supports the building of the waste transfer station on Pinkham Way. His answer: 'This is a matter for Haringey Council's Planning Committee.' It was pointed out that this did not answer the question, to little avail. (Mr Coleman's connections with the NLWA do not, I am assured, represent any potential conflict of interest when this matter is discussed in council meetings.)

Mr Coleman is on best behaviour at the moment, in the run up to the GLA elections. Rumour has it that he has even taken to using a spin doctor to boost his chances of re-election: just imagine ... what a job, eh? Apparently, in the summer, Brian is being sent to a finishing school for young ladies in Switzerland, where he will learn to speak with (less) confidence, and acquire useful skills like not spitting at old ladies, and how to get in and out of taxis without showing too much ankle. Watch out for a new, smiley Brian Coleman, fond of kissing babies, backsides and bloggers - though not this one, probably. No tongues, anyway, Brian: sorry.

Ah: another idiotic question from Brian Gordon, this time asking that the council approve of er, schools being strict about the use of mobile phones: do we really have no more important issues to discuss?

And then: the chamber erupted in fury after Gordon chose to make a passing comment about the continuing chanting going on outside from the Pinkham Way protestors: incredibly, the word 'rabble' was used. There was outrage, not just in the public gallery, but within all sides of the Chamber. Even the Mayor's jaw dropped open, and he quickly reprimanded him by pointing out, no, he mustn't call them that, they were demonstrators ... The residents from the Pinkham Way group in the gallery, already horrified by the grim reality of what passes for democracy in our Town Hall were turned in one instant into lifelong non Tory voters, this adding neatly to several other new disaffected groups of residents, natural born Conservatives fatally alienated by the policies and recent behaviour of their elected councillors.

While this was going on, a certain councillor had summoned a council officer, who went to see his manager, who spoke to his boss, who spoke to the Mayor, who spoke to the public gallery, to tell two people who were filming that they must stop. The residents told the Mayor in no uncertain terms what they thought of that, and filming continued. Nip over to the Barnet Eye if you want to take a look. But not yet: oy, where are you going?

Labour Councillor Alex Brodkin asked when will Lynne Hillan support the webcasting of meetings and the blogging, tweeting etc of meetings, and if not, why not? On Hillan's behalf Andrew Harper noted wrily that he believed there was indeed great interest in this subject and therefore the matter would be discussed at a future meeting, on the twelfth of never - no doubt at the same time as the MetPro scandal and oh, maybe the conveniently forgotten performance appraisal of councillors?

Labour leader Alison Moore asked 'Will the Leader confirm that speaking rights for all councillors at Council will be maintained?'

Answer, outrageously was:' No. The Special Committee (Constitution Review) is currently considering council procedure rules on the rights of speakers and we await their recommendations.'

There you go - citizens, as Mrs Angry has warned, this Tory council is determined to stamp on every possible way in which free debate can take place within council procedures, and your elected representatives will in future be prevented from representing your interests in council meetings, in what is a truly shocking assault on our local constitutional process. This is localism in action, is it, Mr Pickles?

Time to move that the emergency response (see what I did there) motion on MetPro be allowed at the meeting. Guess what: Andrew Harper rejected the idea. The matter would be sent to the audit committee, to be sat on. Oh how we loved that, in the public gallery: howls of DISGRACE, COVER UP, WE DEMAND A PUBLIC INQUIRY were hurled at the Tory end of the chamber.
They looked away, as well they ought. With perfect timing and political judgement,Tory councillor Wendy Prentice suddenly complained: 'We're being filmed!' The bloggers and residents in the gallery who had been at the last meeting exploded in fury: 'We were filmed secretly by MetPro: so what are you doing about that?' She shut up then, amid a barrage of further furious heckling from the gallery.

*NB: there will be a further blog today on all the new MetPro revelations, due to the significance of recent developments.

The farce continued: the next item listed - and, oh, I promise you that I am not making this up, was:

A motion by Councillor Andrew Harper - Squatting.

Sorry, had to stop typing, laughing too much.

I wish I could tell you which very senior officer of the London Borough of Broken Barnet I spotted trying, unsuccessfully, to wipe the naughty schoolboy grin off his face, at this point. He knows who he is, I know who he is, and Mrs Angry has made a note of it in her One Barnet logbook of dissident behaviour, for future use.

Please note that we were not allowed to discuss the scandalous and 'illegal' use by Barnet Council, with apparently no contract or visible tendering procedure, the unmonitored use of apparently unlicensed bouncers who have been secretly filming ordinary residents, and despite a plea from the opposition, the item concerning the Pinkham Way plant was deliberately left to the end of the meeting, meaning the hundreds of residents, some with small children, were made to wait hours to see their fears dismissed as 'premature'. When the 'rabble' comment was made about demonstrators, the Mayor commented that in an hour or so, they would lose their voices anyway: I think that indicates to you pretty well what the Tories in Barnet think of the opinions of their residents: meetings must be managed so as to limit the amount of engagement by annoying members of the public. Controversial and important items are sat on, and idiotic, irrelevant ones are given endless attention. Which brings us back to Harper and his malodorous motion.

Mr Harper is very interested in squatting, apparently. Each to his own, Andrew: Mrs Angry is very broad minded. He is taking a position on this: and indeed, has an almost missionary zeal about the issue. He gave us what seemed like 69 different reasons, in fact, why we should be worried about it too. Oh, but especially in Hampstead Garden Suburb, where, as we speak, the house of the son of Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddaffi is being occupied by what you might call protestors, but Mr Harper would describe as squatters.

This, we were told, at great length, is probably the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of Broken Barnet. A hugely valuable house in the most affluent road in London has some uninvited guests, a house which belongs to the son of a tyrant, a despot engaged in civil war against his own people, who are struggling to acheive democracy after decades of oppression and abuse. Dear oh dear: my f*cking heart bleeds, Mr Harper.

He lectured us about the need to further criminalise squatting and spoke with fury about ha ha -'Neighbours From Hell' ... ah, yes, now then: just stop there. When Mrs Angry's life was turned upside down, and her family spent eighteen traumatic months being terrorised by neighbours from hell, courtesy of Barnet's housing policy, she wrote to Mr Harper to ask for his help, as Ms Hillan would not reply to any emails. Mr Harper shrugged his shoulders and refused to do anything. What goes around, Andrew.

It seems neighbours from hell only matter if they live in Winnington Road, and upset a couple of billionaire constituents of Andrew Harper - oh and my admirer John Marshall, who seconded the motion, so enthusiastically I am afraid to say he resorted to the most appalling language, and used the word bl*ody. And I thought you were a gentleman, Mr Marshall.

The truth is that recently the residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb have become a little disillusioned with their Tory councillors, and efforts must be made to win them back after upsets over the parking charges, the rudeness of Brian Coleman, oh and now they want to shut their little library too: Saif Gaddafi will be gutted, I am sure. He loves rhymetime with Starbucks on a Tuesday afternoon.

Having mystified the inexperienced residents in the gallery with the amount of council time spent on this ludicrous motion, they were now obliged to listen to the hypnotically boring drone of Councillor Thomas on central government budget matters, the deficit, yawn, bla bla bla mumble mumble mumble, all that stuff, with no new relevance to anything or anyone: so bad an elderly man in front of me shouted out: 'I can't hear you - thank God!'

A very frustrated resident stood up and tried to address the meeting: 'Do you ever talk about Barnet?' he demanded. (Not if they can help, it, is the answer, of course.)

Andrew Harper again, oh God help us: he went on, with no sense of irony, about localism and how we must not ride roughshod over local communities - yes, really. Councillors, he informed us, are elected to speak for local communities - ah, I knew they were there for some reason. 'But you don't' shouted a resident. 'Do you know what local means?' shouted another.

Mrs Angry's mind began to wander at this point. She was brought back to the debate, eventually, by a realisation that for some reason Jack Cohen was talking about arsenic levels in food in 1959. Wishing fervently that there was some arsenic to swallow and release her from the interminable proceedings, it was a relief to find it was now time for the break - and an opportunity for Tory Councillor Barry Evangeli to avail himself of as many biscuits as he could stuff down in eighteen minutes.

During the break, Mrs Angry had an interesting discussion with fellow blogger, the charming Mr Mustard, and then she talked to the Pinkham Way objectors behind her who were incensed at what they had seen at the meeting so far. In their naivete, they really thought that they would see an evening of honest, open debate on issues of local concern, and what did they get? The careful management of controversy, insulting remarks about their protest, and a showcase rant by the Deputy Leader on behalf of the Gaddafi family's property rights.

When the meeting resumed, things didn't improve much. We were obliged to sit and listen to Robert Rams tell us how fabulous he is, (in his own estimation) how fabulous our libraries are - yes, we know, and goodness me, he kept mentioning sshh ... reading. He did slip a Starbucks reference in as well, mind you.

Susette Palmer, thrilled at being coalition partnered into the library review, thought everything was therefore marvellous. She likes libraries because they hold stitch and bitch sessions, or maybe knitter and twitter, or Rutter and nutter, sessions. She sat down, very happy, and continued knitting while Barnet burns. Actually, is that allowed, under the council constitution, knitting in the council chamber? Ask Eric Pickles, someone.

Brian Gordon told us he liked libraries too. He liked them when he was a child. He liked them when he was a teenager. He carried on liking them. Now his children really like them and spend a lot of time in them. Who could blame them?

What Robert Ramsbottom wished to tell us, he informed the chamber in an unbearably smug way, which had Mrs Angry itching to leap over the glass barrier and give him a good slap, was that with his not quite as bad as could have been library review, he had produced an outstanding example of the One Barnet master plan. Er: no, Robert, in fact the residents of Barnet have produced an outstandingly good example of how a well organised, locally focussed campaign can obstruct the idiotic ambitions of a lunatic fringe Tory council set on a path to perdition, dragging their hapless electorate with them.

The people of this borough made it emphatically clear that they would not stand for a major dismantling of their library service, and you backed down. This is people power, and this is why your administration so fears any expression of dissent, and any open debate, and why stage managed council meetings such as we had last evening are so horribly frustrating for anyone who values the principles of local democracy.

But what what else can you expect, citizens? This is not a democracy: this is Broken Barnet.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Did Cllr Gordon apologise for his 'rabble' comment? I am sure that such a remark constitutes a breah of the members code of conduct.

Mrs Angry said...

If he did, I didn't hear it, but then there was such an uproar over the remark, you wouldn't have been able to. And the Mayor's comment about the demonstrators losing their voices wasn't exactly his finest moment, and offended the already incensed residents in the gallery from the Pinkham protest.

baarnett said...

I believe that Pinkham Way in Haringey is also supposed to be the new depot for Barnet's dustcarts, drain suction trucks and snow plough gritters. Barnet then sells off the current site in Mill Hill East for housing.