Wednesday 2 November 2011

A mummified cat, with no head, and of no worth: another Barnet council meeting

An alternative buffet for our Tory councillors

Quite a few councillors - and bloggers - were absent from tonight's full council. Some councillors, like Robert Rams, had important engagements elsewhere. He was at a meeting about the controversial Cat Hill development, which he opposes because it is so ENORMOUS and it is something in his back yard, but in another authority. Brent Cross Cricklewood is ENORMOUS too but it is in Tory Barnet, in a Labour ward, so it is of no consequence. Sadly, therefore, as we shall see, any questions to him in his Cabinet member capacity had to be answered by the leader, Richard Cornelius - and what a mistake that was ...

Our favourite councillor, Brian Coleman, was in attendance, and appeared to have arrived from a very important function, in full Moss Bros Fat Controller outfit, tails, waistcoat, the whole package. Mrs Angry thought perhaps he was dressing to impress her, after her harsh words about his down at heel shoes and clashing shirt and tie at the last meeting. Who knows?

Also present was the former Tory leader, Lynne Hillan, who was warmly welcomed with a round of applause from councillors on all sides of the chamber, after her recent serious illness.

The question and answer session was packed full of the usual One Barnet idiocy. Most of the questions were, funnily enough, answered by Coleman, whose responsibilities appear now to embrace every function of the council: like we said, the One Barnet one stop shop. At one point he even complained that his email inbox wasn't big enough to contain the volume of correspondence he receives. So popular. But perhaps it is also true to say he has to answer the most questions because his decisions are the most questionable.

And, equally predictable, was the number of nauseatingly brown nosing back slapping non questions placed by Councillor Brian Gordon, who has evidently learnt NOTHING from his recent performance appraisal by Mrs Angry. Just wait.

Is Barnet going to introduce the new 20 mile speed limits? Guess what: no.

Will Coleman join Gordon in welcoming the chance to raise the 20 mile speed limit in certain areas, which will ha ha 'increase safety' ?

Yes, Coleman most certainly would.

Labour's Cllr Coakley Webb asked several pertinent questions about the collection of historical artefacts that belonged to the Church Farmhouse Museum, recently shut by our shameless Tory councillors so that they can sell off the listed building for property development.

A written answer from Rams claimed that the only objects to be removed from the collection have been three old council signs - and a mummified cat, without a head. How very apt, thought Mrs Angry.

Were the other objects being properly cared for, and were they secure? The leader shrugged: they were in the same building.

But had the collection been valued and insured? Cornelius was clearly bored by these questions, and sneeringly informed her that as someone who valued things for a living (he is a Hatton Garden jeweller) he could assure her that she should not place any relevance in the worth of the collection. In Broken Barnet, Councillor Coakley Webb, there is no value other than monetary worth. Heritage is only of value if it can be sold off to someone else. Who cares about the priceless pieces, the artefacts and ephemera of our local history? Not Richard Cornelius.

Here is the most amusing question of the evening, though. This is from the poison pen of Councillor Brian Gordon, addressed to Councillor David 'Goldenarse' Longstaffe:

Q:What is your view on the so-called alternative residents' forum staged recently by certain political activists under the rather nebulous title of 'Barnet Alliance'?

A:On the one hand it is good to see that residents are interested in discussing the services that Barnet Council provide and I appreciate the frustrations that have brought the Barnet Alliance together (Blimey: bit radical, Cllr Longstaffe). On the other hand (ah) the aims of the Barnet Alliance, as epsoused on their website - no reduction or change in delivery of services by the Local Authority, the NHS and the Education Department - will make us bankrupt. The Barnet Alliance's few members want political influence on a vast range of policies, but without having any responsibility or accountability to the electorate.

Yes, that's right, no accountability to the electorate - just like, er ... Uh oh: now Brian Gordon is on his feet. He refers to certain 'irritating agitators' (you looking at me?) who will be dealt with In A Summary Fashion - and who should Find Something More Constructive To Do ... Mrs Angry laughed, wondering what sort of Summary Fashion he had in mind. Arrest? Death by firing squad?

And on to Question 12.

Mrs Angry has to declare an interest here. This is an issue she had a hand in referring to council, along with her local Labour councillor Ross Houston, after our last local safer neighbourhood police panel meeting, to which we both belong.

In these panel meetings, members set the priorities of concern for local police SN teams: in our ward, the most important issue is always Barbara Langstone House, a council hostel for vulnerable residents, which you may recall was staffed for years by MetPro, Barnet's unlicensed, non CRB checked and illegally operating security employees.

Attendance at this hostel absorbs a large amount of police time. Since MetPro's removal, and - at last - an agreement by the council, in belated response to many requests by police and other parties, to provide support to the hostel, rather than use it as a dumping ground, problems which have been a continual cause of local concern, including drug dealing and anti social behaviour, have greatly improved. Councillor Houston and others also persuaded the council to stop placing families with children in this place, as clearly it is a highly unsuitable and potentially dangerous environment.

To our horror, we discovered that Barnet has resumed the placement of families in this hostel despite the fact that there is a continuing problem with drug abuse and dealing, and that the council does not provide ANY support or counselling for the several residents in the hostel with serious mental health issues. You might imagine that Barnet, post MetPro, might feel under some duty of care to vulnerable families with young children and be mindful of their safeguarding responsibilities. Sadly, this is clearly not of any significance to our Tory councillors. This is a scandalous situation, yet all that Leader Cornelius had to say was that he was going on a visit there sometime soon. Simply appalling.

Q:Following the decisions made at the Barbara Langstone House 'rapid improvement event' held in 2010 it was agreed to immediately re-locate families with children and to 'cease placing families with children forthwith'. Barbara Langstone House continues to house vulnerable adults. Can the Cabinet Member confirm that this policy of having no children is still being implemented. If it is not can the Cabinet Member confirm when and by whom this policy was changed and whether or not there are any children currently staying at Barbara Langstone House?

Answer by Councillor Tom Davey

Following an initial attempt to implement the approach agreed at the rapid improvement event, it was subsequently found that there is ongoing need to use Barbara Langstone House to provide short term accommodation for some households with children. This is partly because of the increased difficulties in procurement of other types of short term temporary accommodation due to market conditions and changes to local housing allowances, but also because it was found that there was a shortfall in the number of single people needing accommodation.

The lease on Barbara Langstone House is due to expire in 2013, and the Council will be
considering whether to renew this over the coming months in the context of the ongoing needs of housing applicants.

NB: No formal decision was taken to depart from the policy agreed at the rapid improvement event.

In other words, they don't care about the risk to the well being of children, and it was admitted at the meeting after a supplementary question that there are children there at the moment. The denial that a decision was made to cease placing families there is typical, and the fact that children are now living in such a place again is further indication, if any more were needed, of the total inadequacy of the housing policy of this council.

Hello: look here - Question 40:

Would the Leader and Cabinet Member confirm that no jobs will be lost to the local economy as a result of the One Barnet 'easyCouncil' Outsourcing Programme?

Written answer by Robert Rams:

The Council will continue to do everything it can to support the local economy through its
partnership work but we live in difficult times caused by the previous Labour government. As the Member is aware we have had to cut our budget by 26%. This does not weaken the Council’s focus on providing good quality services to Barnet’s residents. It does, however, mean that the council does need to work ever more efficiently. The best support that can be provided to the local economy is to provide those services in as efficient and cost effective way as possible.

If the council did not make these savings, it would have to raise council tax by 46.86 per cent over that three year period. This would equate to a £521 rise in council tax, which would be detrimental to the local economy.

While every sympathy is felt for the people the council has made redundant last year, its relentless drive for efficiency has led to far fewer redundancies being planned than in many other local authorities. Kent County Council in the last year has made 3,107 people redundant.

Where the council will outsource staff, its objective is to secure the best possible contract whilst balancing the needs of the various stakeholders, including our employees. The Council recognises that change can create uncertainty for staff and so it has developed a clause which exceeds TUPE requirements and will ensure that Terms and Conditions are unchanged for the first twelve months of the contract. This is a significant guarantee.

The council is not seeking to limit potential contractors’ delivery proposals by specifying where services are delivered from. Over and above this, the Council under European law is not able to restrict a bidder to the delivery of services from any particular location.

He does love that phrase, 'relentless drive for efficiency', doesn't he? In fact he uses it at every opportunity, with, er, relentless efficiency. Councillor Ram's sudden enthusiasm and expert analysis of European is interesting, but may not entirely stand up to scrutiny.

What is clear from the leaked documents published this week is that Barnet's senior management team and leadership have made strenuous efforts to make the outsourcing tender process as amenable as possible to the wishes of potential bidders, rather than protect the best interests of residents or employees, and that no consideration whatsover has been given to the wide impact of the loss of hundreds or even thousands of local jobs as a result of their reckless policies.

Labour leader Alison Moore stressed the vital importance of retaining as many council jobs as possible, and referred to the leaked document and comments she had read on this blog yesterday, asking Cornelius to deny the devasting implications for council workers' jobs. Mrs Angry watched the Tory councillors shifting in their seats and staring at the ceiling. Leader Richard Cornelius stood to answer Councillor Moore. 'I would not comment on a leaked report', he said, with a smirk, and sat down. And that was that.

That, council officers of Broken Barnet, is how much the Tory leadership of this council cares about you and your future: and remember this, won't you, when the Chief Executive writes to you again and refers coyly to staff members about to be made redundant as 'those feeling less valued today'.

Oh well. Time for some light relief: business for debate, the real issues that concern our councillors. Item 3.1, for example:

'Appropriate punishment for burglars - Councillor David Longstaffe'.

Yes. Really. The first piece of council business was a rant by Actor-Councillor David 'Goldenarse' Longstaffe, who is very cross about burglars. Very cross. He wants them to be punished. Appropriately. He wants them to have 'gaol sentences'. How quaint. Presumably he would like a Victorian gaol with hanging, flogging, and a treadmill.

Mrs Angry can report that this was one of the funniest performances she has yet witnessed in the council chamber of Broken Barnet. Councillor Longstaffe may claim to be an actor, but his delivery and sense of timing is abominable, especially in conjunction with his pomposity, and virulent anti lefty ranting, and and the more he tries to act the part of an accomplished speaker, the funnier it is.

He began his speech with a very puzzling statement.

He mentioned policing in London and told us he dismissed the 'scaremongering' statistics put about by 'Labour's greatest sperm donor' ...

No: really ... the chamber and public gallery fell silent, and Lisa Rutter, the Tory Mayor, resplendent in her red gown, frothy blouse and moth eaten furs peered across the chamber at her colleague. She stopped his rant: 'Er, can you explain that last remark?' she asked, in evident confusion. 'Sperm donor?'

Labour's Kath Mc Gurk exchanged looks with Mrs Angry, who knew what the scowling Goldenarse was alluding to, and was unable to stop herself becoming overtaken by an unseemly fit of childish laughter.

Longstaffe muttered something inaudible, and the Mayor asked him again to explain. 'Yes,' said Kath Mc Gurk: 'As a good Catholic girl, I think you'll have to explain it to me too ...'

For the third time the Mayor asked Longstaffe, who was trying to carry on, to explain his reference. His ill tempered and ridiculous reply was that Ken Livingstone, who has expressed his concern about police cuts, and whose figures Councillor Longstaffe disputes, er ... has many children.

'So does Councillor Brian Gordon' yelled a Labour member, to the amusement of the now semi hysterical chamber.

Eventually Longstaffe managed to rise above the raucous laughter amongst all sides of the room, and public gallery, and return to his rant. Burglars were evil parasites. The rise in burglary was entirely the fault of the Labour party, who have encouraged burgling. What? Councillor Longstaffe has recently been burgled and his personal space was invaded. Ah. Now we are moving towards an understanding of why this item is on the agenda: good to know that the constitution of our council allows for Tory members to let off steam about their personal issues, isn't it? Much more useful than extending an opportunity for debate of One Barnet, outsourcing, the future of our council services and so on.

Let's have a heated debate, then about burglary. It was generally agreed that burglary was a bad thing. Labour's Pauline Coakley Webb pointed out that it was particularly bad in Barnet and that it would get worse, thanks to Tory cuts in policing in our Safer Neighbourhood teams, meaning we are losing five much needed sergeants, and that, despite the sudden anxieties of Boris Johnson after the riots, these and other cuts still stand.

Tory ranter Brian Gordon rose to speak. The public gallery groaned. He too felt we should not be too scared to take a strong line with burglars, and send them to prison. He explained to us that burglary was as serious a crime as rape. Yes: as serious as rape. Mrs Angry suggests that Councillor Gordon asks any woman, perhaps his wife and daughters, if they would agree with him. Mrs Angry imagines that Councillor Gordon does not have a high regard for the opinion of women, however.

Longstaffe rose to respond to comments. He started raving about some burglar in Nottingham who should have gone to prison but got off because he cited his right under the Human Rights Act to a family life.

'Did he have a cat? asked Mrs Angry, trying to see it from all points of view.

'Was it a mummified cat?' asked a neighbour in the public gallery.

After this lengthy waste of time we moved on to a Labour item for debate: Barnet's local economy. Alison Moore did her best to raise concerns about the wide ranging impact of the Tory administration's policies on the prosperity of the borough, from the effect of the extortionately high level of Brian Colemans' new parking charges, and the difficulty of the new payment processes, to the newly topical issue of the shameful secret procurement agreement not to protect local jobs in the massive outsourcing of council services.

The Tory leader sneered across the chamber: in regard to the impact on town centres, he told us, we needed to realise that 'we don't live in Toy Town' ... we don't need a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker ...'

Labour's Kath Mc Gurk, no doubt like Mrs Angry eyeing the gowned up Mayor and the two white stockinged, Mace bearers in their embellished robes, breeches and tricorn hats, disagreed with the Leader's view. 'Well: I must disagree - welcome to Toy Town', she said, looking around the chamber. 'We've just heard from Noddy, but of course, sadly, Mr Plod will not be in attendance, because you've cut his post.'

After this pointless 'debate' it was time for a break and the councillors' buffet. Kath Mc Gurk came to the glass wall which separates our elected representatives from the danger of contact with members of the public, and leaned over.

'I still don't get it,' she yelled to Mrs Angry, 'That joke about semen ...'

'No, no, not semen,' yelled Mrs Angry, in reply, as the Director of Corporate Governance, still in his seat, stared hard at his shoes - 'Sperm ...'

Kath Mc Gurk still looked puzzled, and here Mrs Angry should explain that we were both pupils at a local Convent grammar school where sex education was not given a high priority. Perhaps you can tell? Mrs Angry can recall, however, a memorable biology lesson from Sister Mary Paul, in which she went into a long and detailed explanation as to how, in the 21st century, national sperm banks would mean that women could take over the world and continue to populate it without any need for men, who weren't much use for anything. Sister Mary Paul, I think you may have had a point.

Mrs Angry used to know what men were useful for, at one time, but has forgotten. *

After stuffing themselves on the tax payer funded buffet our councillors drifted back to resume the meeting.

Kath McGurk had an item about Boris Johnson's fare increases. Tory members always talk through or deride the speech of any Labour member: if the member is a woman, this is even more marked - grossly disrespectful of course, but typical of the Barnet Tories, who have little respect even for the participation of their own women councillors.

Councillor and assembly member Brian Coleman sat back with his usual expression of contempt and attempt at ridicule. In fact, looking at him last night, Mrs Angry could not help but be reminded, by his insolent 'smile', of a line by the poet R S Thomas: what was it - ' a grin, like the slash of a knife on his face' ...

Councillor Mc Gurk patiently explained, at some length, in her fearless manner, to Councillor Coleman that ordinary people depend on buses, not taxis - his grin became slightly more difficult to maintain, and just for a fleeting moment, a One Barnet nanosecond, Mrs Angry was surprised to see a hint of vulnerability by our Councillor Coleman to a sensitive subject - goodness me, has all the recent particularly bad publicity about his 'living in the real world' outburst actually caused some sense of unease? He showed another reaction of, no, it can't have been - discomfort - when she referred later to his plans to push through privatisation of our 999 call centres. Kath is the only councillor who can really get to Coleman in the way he so deserves, in fact. Don't mess with St Michael's girls, Brian.

Councillor Coleman stood up to announce that he had, in fact, renounced no, not Satan and all his works, had renounced the use of his free travel permit. Well, as he prefers to make use of travel expenses and in particular taxis, this is hardly a saving for the taxpayer, is it?

More childish, boorish behaviour by male Tory councillors as the debate continued. Tory Rowan Turner declared himself to be astounded by the audacity of the motion. He thought, ha ha, look at him, carrying on the metaphor with such aplomb, that Pinocchio was living in Toy Town. Kath retorted that he put the dick into Dick Whittington. Oh dear.

They all carried on arguing pointlessly. Arguing, not debating. There is no debate in Broken Barnet, and our council meetings, like the residents forums, have become stage managed events designed to prevent discussion and the expression of dissent. Although, in order not to offend, she continues to stand when the chaplain prays, Mrs Angry now refuses to stand up in council meetings, when the Mayor and mace bearers parade in and out of the chamber. A small act of rebellion, but there you go. Until the Tory council remembers that their administration is on office to serve the best interests of the borough, rather than their own, and until they undo the anti democratic assault on our consitution and council procedures, MrsAngry will no longer recognise that their administration has any right to respect or formal acknowledgement from her.

Remember what the idiotic Councillor Gordon said about the alternative residents forum:

"The Barnet Alliance's few members want political influence on a vast range of policies, but without having any responsibility or accountability to the electorate."

Yes, but that's how we do things, here in Broken Barnet, isn't it, Councillor Gordon?

*Mrs Angry has now remembered: something to do with putting up shelves.


Mr Mustard said...

Using a council meeting for self-interested reasons Mrs A, not seen that before at a council meeting, have you?

I will keep an eye out at car boot sales for a gold plated cast of a bottom. I won't be seeing any stolen golden figures 34cm high though will I? ( an oscar statuette )

Mrs Angry said...

Apparently Cllr Longstaffe does stand up: hard to tell, I imagine.
He is a perfect example of what is wrong with the Barnet Tories: completely unaware of any sense of their own absurdity, and therefore unable to judge any important issue from a clear perspective.
I have a sudden insight into my own absurdity, so I'll stop there.

Mr Mustard said...

Had a sudden thought Mrs Angry.

If Cllr Longstaff wants to send burglars to jail then he should become a magistrate. It is a voluntary post though which might not appeal to him. An actor should surely have the free time - they are always resting - some more than others.