Sunday, 11 September 2011

The devil is alive in Salem: Residents Forums in Broken Barnet

Mrs Angry asking an awkward question at the Finchley & Golders Green Residents' Forum

'A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! ... For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud ...' The Crucible, Arthur Miller Act 3, Scene 3

Update Wednesday: see below -

Well, anyway:

This week sees the second round of the newly censored local Residents Forums.

In the tradition of Broken Barnet, because the Residents' Forums worked perfectly well, and offered citizens the opportunity to question their elected representatives, and hold them to account, the Forums had to be broken, and put together again so that they do not represent any threat to the comfort and well being of the Tory tyrants who sit on Barnet Council and dictate to us what we may or may not discuss.

Last week Mrs Angry duly sent in a few questions for the meeting:

Dear Ms xxxx

I would like to ask the following questions at the next Residents Forum:

1. At the last Forum it became clear that the new restrictions and format was hugely unpopular with all residents who attended. When will the council reconsider the changes it has made, and make the Forums a proper process of consultation with residents, in line with Eric Pickles' idea of localism?

2. When, in the interests of transparency, will the interests, gifts and hospitality of senior council officers be made accessible to the public?

3. Why are some local events in parks charged the full new rate, and others charged nothing at all? Who decides which event will be charged?


Mrs Angry

Oh dear: the response came back,almost immediately, from the long suffering council officer charged with dealing with this Forum ...

I confirm receipt of below email. Please note that full Council at its meeting on 17 May 2011 agreed the type of issues to be discussed at Residents Forum meetings as per below in italics. As Issues 1 and 2 do not cover public works, I will not be including them on the Issues List.
Residents’ Items
The Residents’ Forums will give residents the opportunity to raise local matters (basically “Public Works”). Items must be emailed to the Governance Service 24 hours before the meeting on a dedicated email address. There will be a guarantee that if a qualifying matter is submitted as above it will be discussed. A Six Month Rule shall apply preventing matters that have already been dealt with from being raised again within that period.
The types of matters that could be covered are:
  • Parks and Greenspaces
  • Trees
  • Allotments
  • Highways
  • Pavements
  • Traffic
  • Parking
  • Utility issues
  • Refuse
  • Street cleaning
  • Local crime
This may also be forum for certain consultations from the Council as decided by the Chairman. (This would not be referred to the Area Environment sub-Committees).
Petitions (on matters relevant to the Constituency only) can also be presented. Matters raised must not relate to Planning or Licensing Issues. “
Kind regards,xxxx

Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Very disappointing, but as it happens, there are some street based, public works type of issues which having weighing heavily on my mind recently:

Dear Ms xxxx,

Here are some questions that I would like to submit to next week's Finchley and Golders Green Forum, and I am glad to inform you that these do meet the new One Barnet criteria of approved subjects, and that therefore there is a guarantee that they will be included:

1. Parks and Greenspaces:

The Friern Barnet Summer Show takes place every year in a public park, ie Friary Park in North Finchley. At this year's Barnet Council sponsored event, a local community group was, after initially being given permission for a stall, barred from the show and members of the group were later thrown out of the event, and had their banner taken from them by show organisers including two Barnet councillors. This banner was then 'lost' by the same individuals.

I understand from a reliable source that a few years ago, the council attempted to ban Hendon Labour Party from having a stall at a fun day festival. Legal advice was sought, and this brought to light the law report of a case establishing that community organisations, including political parties, in fact cannot be banned from having a stall at such events. The defendants in this case were the London Borough of Barnet. After reminding the council of this legal finding, the authority was obliged to back down and allow the stall to be included in the fun day. I would therefore like to ask if the council would agree that the Barnet Alliance/ 'BAPS' were wrongfully treated at the show and will ensure that in future the group will not be banned from council sponsored events, and will the council ensure that BAPs will receive an apology and also be compensated for the loss of their banner?

2. Parks and Greenspaces:

I understand that this year's Friern Barnet show took place in a public park but was not charged the full new rate by Barnet Council for the event. By contrast, I believe the 100 year old Finchley Carnival which takes place in Victoria Park had to be cancelled this year because the full charges were going to be imposed.
  • Can you confirm that this was the case, and if so clarify why charges are made in one case, but not the other?
  • Can you confirm that the decision to charge or to waive the charge is made by the Cabinet member for Environment, or if he was present at council meetings at which the show was discussed?
3. Local crime:

Earlier this year Barnet Council was found to have been using a local unlicensed security company without a contract and in breach of various very serious regulations. Can you confirm whether or not any criminal investigations relating to possible fraud have taken place in regard to the five year long 'arrangement' with this company, and if not, why not?

4. Parking:

Barnet Council has just approved the withdrawal of cash based parking services, and expects any resident who does not have a mobile phone or credit card to use the PayPoint facilities as an alternative system. We are told that drivers will be timed by parking attendants and allowed three minutes to find a PayPoint, pay, and return to the car.

  • my elderly neighbour drives a car, but does not own a mobile phone and does not wish to use a credit card to pay. He also cannot use the internet. How will he know where the PayPoints are, and how can he be expected to sprint there and back in the three minutes allowed by Councillor Coleman's new rule? Will the council be holding free fitness classes for elderly residents wishing to avail themselves of this payment process?
  • it seems that as Councillor Coleman does not approve of non cashless payment, the PayPoint system is only an interim measure and will be removed. How long is 'interim', in this case: is it as long, for example, as the 'interim' description for semi-permanent consultant senior officers?

Can you confirm that councillors still qualify for free parking permits that ensure they do not have to use any payment system when parking in the borough? If so, can you confirm that this generous gesture for our elected representatives will continue, despite the 'ruthless drive for efficiency' and aim of 'better services for less money' of the One Barnet programme?


Can you explain why the council continues to refuse to allow Residents Forums to allow free debate and the freedom of expression, in direct contradiction of the policy of localism and the empowerment of the citizen being promoted by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government?

Many thanks,

Mrs Angry ("as she has every right to be": Eric Pickles)

cc Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

*Update Wednesday:

Rather to Mrs Angry's surprise, two of these questions will actually be allowed at tonight's Forum: goodness me, citizens, how did we manage that? Mrs Angry has an interesting theory, in fact, which she will explain later. Here is the explanation for the censorship of the other questions:

Thank you for below email. Questions 2 and 5 have been added to the Issues List. However further to my earlier email advising of issues that can be raised at Residents Forum meetings, please note that the following Issues do not cover public works and will therefore not be included on the list.

Q1. These are allegations/civil matter which are not appropriate for a forum discussion.

Q3. This is not a public works issue and has been dealt with in the last 6 months.

Q4. This is a Policy Matter and also has been dealt with in the last 6 months.

Q6. Not public works issue.



baarnett said...

Are you allowed supplementary questions, Mrs A?

You could say you were thinking of offering a vehicle convoy to accompany the Mayor's limo to a few high-profile, public events, to escort the Mayor there and back as "sponsorship": "This Local Authority Comes To You Courtesy of Broken Barnet, the Thinking Person's Blog" and "Mrs A, refreshes the parts other blogs cannot reach.".

You could then ask if that would be acceptable to the Council.

You would, of course, want something in return. Perhaps the Council could offer £1.4 million pounds of Council business over the next few years, at let us say, 50% over market rates, and naturally without any sort of contract.

You could get your people to talk to their people, to sort out the detail - nothing on paper though, you understand.

Mrs Angry said...

I'm not sure questions are allowed, let alone supplementary ones, baarnett: not that that will stop Mrs Angry asking them, of course.

Barnet Council and I do have an informal 'arrangement', whereby I offer free appraisals and PR facilities. I'm afraid I cannot discuss the financial details, which are agreed between me and Mr Travers, at our monthly summit meetings at the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole.

baarnett said...

We haven't heard much lately. Mrs A, about your visits to Champneys, and your hob-nobbing with News International executives and members of the Metropolitan Police (which some cynics might say were the two sides of the same coin).

There is a review in today's newspaper about some new spas in London, which you might find agreeably more convenient.

Perhaps you could try them, and report back who you notice there.

Mrs Angry said...

funny you should mention that, baarnett ... obviously you can tell Mrs Angry is in need of therapeutic assistance: the article was very interesting, and I like the sound of the Connaught: 'A young male therapist with film-star looks led me to a large, dimly-lit treatment room with a heated bed.' Hmm.I believe the massage is quite good too. However, my first duty is to One Barnet, and reporting all significant developments to citizens. And this week will be very important in the history of Broken Barnet, I think.

MickeyN said...

...and doesn't your original question 2 (re: transparency) address "local crime"? Surely one wishes to view expenses/hospitality etc only to assure fellow citizens that a "local crime" has not taken place?

Mrs Angry said...

indeed, Mickey. But the point of these Forums is to avoid accountability and transparency whilst at the same pretending to give a shit what the residents think of their council's performance. It's all a game. Senior officers have their own agenda, and Tory councillors only care about getting their allowances, a free buffet at meetings and a free parking permit. Proper scrutiny by the public would only get in the way of their tedious, self interested and utterly cynical behaviour. Sorry: feeling very tetchy this morning. Let me go and kick something.

Barnet Community Action said...

Here is an EMERGENCY RESOLUTION which I [Julian Silverman] am going to put to the Finchley & Golders Green Residents' Forum, and I hope others will be putting at other forums:

We regard the coming decision of the council to sell off all council services to one for-profit company as an impending threat, which, on top of present government and council policies can only mean further attacks on libraries, the Health Service, education, welfare, social care, small businesses and ordinary householders, housing, the loss of adequate care for the elderly, children, the sick etc. etc.

As responsible citizens as participants in a forum intended for residents, we therefore call upon this meeting to suspend the new restrictions on questions so as to allow an urgent discussion of how to save jobs and services in Barnet.

On behalf of Barnet Alliance For Public Services

Ask what you like. Unrestricted discussion at

Mrs Angry said...

well said, Julian: looking forward to the meeting, as I'm sure you are ...