Friday 29 July 2011

Twenty two minutes and thirty seconds: democracy in action, in Broken Barnet

Shortly before attending last night's Cabinet Resources meeting, Mrs Angry was obliged to make a quick trip to her local branch of Tesco, in order to purchase a crust of bread for her starving offspring to feed on while she left them home alone again (note to safeguarding team, if there is one at the moment, they are 16 and 18, and don't play with matches anymore). By the way, as you can tell, I'm having to pad this post out, due to reasons alluded to in the title, so bear with me.

Imagine the scene, as you may, as Mrs Angry wandered idly through past the bread section, and the air was pierced with a sudden scream of 'RAT! THERE'S AN ENORMOUS RAT!' A woman was pointing at the floor as the monster rodent walked calmly through the dairy section and sauntered into the bakery department. Mrs Angry froze in hysterical girly horror, tempted to drop her basket and run. Eventually a security guard strolled up looking cross and told people to stop screaming. I'll sort it out, yeah, he said.

What are you going to do
? asked Mrs Angry, who has no reason to like security guards with attitude, Arrest it?

You don't even know if it lives here,
he said, ridiculously, it might have just walked in the front door.

Oh yes, she replied, thinking of the dead flies in the fish section of another supermarket on Tuesday: that's alright then. I expect it got the bus down from Waitrose. (And yes, all reported to Environmental Health, citizens, don't worry).

They say things come in threes, don't they? Flies, rats, and then more rats - cowardly Tory councillors: what a week. Because an hour or so later and Mrs Angry was sat in front of yet another distasteful scene, a council meeting where the members of the Cabinet Resources committee took a mere twenty two and a half minutes to deal with an agenda of 13 items, including the agreement to sell Hendon Football Club - and of course Church Farmhouse Museum.

Lets name and shame our long tailed friends:

Daniel Thomas, the wet behind the ears Chair and deputy leader
Richard Cornelius, Leader
Andrew Harper, demi idol and Cabinet member
Robert Rams, sulky Cabinet member
Sachin Rajput, po faced Cabinet member
Brian Coleman, clown, irritant, and general nusiance: sent his apologies. I'm not sure how sorry he was though, to be honest.

A member of the public, local campaigner Mr Gordon Kerr, had wanted to address the committee in regard to the football club sale. He had been refused permission, and seemed not to understand that by submitting a written question and supplementary question, he could have addressed the members that way, and given them a piece of his mind at the same time. As we know, there is no desire amongst the councillors or senior council officers of Broken Barnet to inform members of the public of their rights to engage in the processes of council meetings. This might lead to dangerous debate, or even opposition of political policy, and we do not allow alternative ways of thinking in Broken Barnet.

Mr Reasonable had submitted questions, and had supplementary ones to follow. With his usual eye for detail, he had spotted an anomalous entry in one of the reports and asked for an explanation. Maryellen Salter, the head of internal audit was asked to respond. She stared unenthusiastically at Mr R and demanded that he repeat the question. One or two councillors hid their faces at this point. He repeated the question, patiently, but was told that he would not be given an answer, because, well, some details should not be in the public domain.

Mr R carried on valiantly. Daniel Thomas, the fresh faced Chair blathered on at one point, citing solmenly as an excuse 'because of what happened at the last Audit meeting' ... which amused Mrs Angry, as he has gone to such great lengths to ignore the magnitude of the MetPro audit findings, dismissing it all as merely confirming his expert opinion that one or two things in relation to contracts needed 'tightening up'. This of course was like saying the Titanic only had a rivet missing as it plunged to the icy depths of the Atlantic, but it seems he is happy now to use this as cover for other One Barnet mischief.

Some discussion (well, a brief exchange) took place on the subject of whether or not Barnet could share its audit service to save costs. Maryellen Salter and Daniel Thomas thought that sharing this service was indeed a good idea, but for some reason, 'the desire to work with us isn't there'.
Mrs Angry laughed: I wonder why, she mused, loudly, to the glaring disapproval of councillors, and mirth of the watching public.

A very concerned resident had submitted questions raising his concerns about the shameless development of the Church Farmhouse, which is a Grade 2* listed building. He was worried about the protection of the interior: how would this be ensured? At this point, leader Cornelius had the gall to sit there nodding sympathetically, as if he gave a shit. Mr Malcolm asked, no pleaded, that local groups such as HADAS, the district archaeological society, might be involved as trustees, so as to safeguard the future of the building.

The response from the icy Daniel Thomas was that this was not necessary. Here in Broken Barnet we take great care of our heritage. Look how we look after our Town Hall. What? Hendon Town Hall was listed, citizens, in the teeth of opposition by certain parties, by a friend of Mrs Angry's whose post was deleted, coincidentally, a few years ago, after doing his job too well and trying to protect our built heritage from the grasp of developers. If it hadn't been for the listing, the Town Hall would already be flats, or one of those private schools Councillor Coleman tells us are queuing up for venues like Avenue House, when they dare to ask for council funding.

When Mr Malcolm asked another awkward follow up question, Thomas told him immediately that he had exceeded his time, but then went on to suggest that the amount of involvement by any local trustees or bodies would depend on 'how much people are willing to pay' for the Farmhouse. It is just extraordinary, the naked commercialism of the Tory attitude to our heritage, and our history. But entirely predictable.

The Farmhouse sale, when put to councillors, provoked no expression of protest - not even a whimper. Hello, though, something is stirring: Andrew Harper rises to the challenge. Obviously, his portfolio does not really hold any direct interest in the matter in hand, but he managed to show willing, and raise some enthusiasm. Did Middlesex University want to buy the Farmhouse? Maybe. Ok, thanks. Nope: that's it. All done. Already asleep. You carry on.

Ah. Time for the guilty party, Robert Rams, to speak. Robert is of course in charge of libraries and museums: oh. He was. Mrs Angry imagines his allowance will now be cut, proportionate to the loss of his responsibilities, now that three libraries and two museums are being dispensed with, no? No. Oh. I see.

Robert Rams has twigged that some of us might just be wondering how we had arrived at the point of flogging our seventeenth century listed museum and grounds to any old punter who wants to make a quick buck. So he is going to give us the background information to explain. Yes, do tell us, invited Mrs Angry, sitting with pen poised. Councillor Rams gave Mrs Angry a Bad Look.

Rams then, outrageously, made a comment which implied that HADAS was entirely to blame for the failure in negotiations to retain the Museum, in a Big Society style venture. He was so disappointed. Oh, how they had let him down. This is utterly unfair: the society could simply not meet and deliver the terms demanded by a council who are totally committed to a property sale, as part of an asset stripping jamboree to fund their disastrous One Barnet nonsense. Neither HADAS, nor any other local group, ever stood a chance of saving the museum.

Earlier on the agenda was Item 5: Month 2 Monitoring, which included the proposal that the authority help itself to £900,000 from our 'contingency fund' so as 'to cover the establishment of critical business posts following the transformation of the commercial directorate' ... in other words, yet another load of taxpayers' money is to be taken out of the piggy bank for the One Barnet idiocy: nearly a million pounds worth. Incredibly, there are still NO savings from One Barnet, and still we are throwing money at the bloody thing.

Other items such as a half a million pounds from the same source to go to Environment & Operations 'to fund the leisure budget pressure' (oh yeah? What's that all about then, Councillor Coleman: oh, not here, is he ... )and hello - another 0.436 million is being pinched for E&O for the PFI street lighting costs. Why is that, I wonder? Was the pointless replacement of my lampost too expensive after all?

We then came to the Hendon FC sale. The committee was told that in contradiction to objections raised by local campaigners (who were not able to speak to defend themselves) advice given to the authority was that it did have the legal right to sell the property. Oh good: always nice to know, isn't it? RUBBISH, shouted some residents, and again, louder: RUBBISH! Andrew Harper looked cross.

The campaigners maintain that restrictive covenants prevent the sale, but of course the authority does not wish to know about that. Interestingly, Mrs Angry hears that the long and contentious fight to prevent the development of this site, has been marked by an equally, and unusually, long lasting award planning permission. This, apparently, is because the stages which are supposed to mark the closure of such periods, originally three years and now five, were never formalised, so the original agreement still stands. Make of that what you will.

No councillor took the opportunity to ask any question of this substantial and controversial development. Mrs Angry tutted loudly. Again, Robert Rams fixed her with a glowering look.

There was an item about some new play equipment, being funded not of course by the kindly uncles on Barnet Council, but by Boris, all due to be installed nicely in the period of the run up to the GLA election, which is a coincidence, of course. Brian Coleman wasn't there to boast about this, or answer a question about consultation, sadly, but yet another interim senior officer, Pam Wharfe, who is always very helpful to Mr Coleman stepped in and said she thought someone might have spoken to some 'old people' and children, about the designs, which is nice.

And that was it: all over in twenty two minutes and thirty seconds. Even Andrew Harper looked embarrassed.

Almost no questions, no address by any member of the public, no debate, no dissent.

Some of the residents who had come for the Hendon FC item left the room in disgust. As they walked past the open doors where the councillors were still sitting, one shouted: 'How do they get away with it?'

Indeed. How do they?


Mr Mustard said...

was that idle or idol Mrs A

Mrs Angry said...

Mr Mustard, when you go to Rymans to buy your bargain pens, please buy some question marks as well.