Thursday 2 February 2012

Wham, Bam: thank you Ma'am: Jubilee celebrations in Broken Barnet

Marvellous news: a press release has issued forth from the bowels of North London Business Park in regard to the Diamond jubilee celebrations here in Broken Barnet for HM the Queen. The Queen has been queen for sixty wonderful years, apparently, and is getting quite good at it now, so here in Broken Barnet we are marking the occasion with some events involving our Tory councillors and their immediate circle of friends.

Civic service to mark accession in Queen's Jubilee year

This weekend sees the first major event to mark Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in Barnet, with a civic service set to coincide with the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne in 1952.

The service, taking place at 3pm on Sunday 5 February, will be at Golders Green Parish Church in West Heath Drive.

It will be a multi-faith service, including readings from Bishops of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, and prayers from representatives of the borough’s main religions. It will also see the debut of a piece of music written especially for the Diamond Jubilee in Barnet, by composer Tim Benjamin.

Councillors, school headteachers and members of the clergy, as well as the Queen’s representative in the borough, Deputy Lieutenant Martin Russell, will join with members of the Golders Green Parish Church congregation for the rousing service which will end with a rendition of the National Anthem. [Members of the public are also invited to attend the service).

Following the service, the borough’s attention will turn to the Diamond Jubilee Festival scheduled for Monday 4 June in Golders Hill Park.

Meanwhile, residents across the borough are starting to sign up to hold street parties to mark the occasion via the council's Pledgebank website . 18 streets have already signed up to hold a party in their street during the double Bank Holiday weekend. All residents need to do is visit, register their street and if four of their neighbours pledge to join them, the council will provide free public liability insurance and advice on road closures.

Councillor David Longstaff, Cabinet Member for Safety and Resident Engagement, said: “I am looking forward to this weekend’s Civic Service and think it will be a great opportunity to show what high regard our monarch is held in our borough. A lot of planning has gone into this event and I believe we are one of a few places in the country to be officially marking the anniversary of the Queen’s accession.

“2012 is set to be a memorable year for many reasons and it is clear that residents from across the borough are already getting their plans underway to mark Her Majesty’s Jubilee.”

Mrs Angry is of course keen to get a place in the very front row of the church for Sunday's civic service, where a number of seats have been designated for the borough's much loved blogging community. Perhaps she will take the opportunity of asking Mr Tim Benjamin, son of Brian Coleman's friend, the banner snatching Reverend Adrian Benjamin, what he intends to do with the £1,000 of tax payers' money that has been given to him for his Jubilee composition, in circumstances that are as yet unclear, as Mrs Angry's Freedom of Information request about the way in which this commission was made has been obstructed, in breach of the law, and delayed with no good reason. This is what she asked:

1. When was the Steering Group for the Queen's Jubilee Celebrations set up, by whom, and what are the names of all the members of this group?

2. How many times has this group met?

3. I would like a copy of the minutes of the group's meetings and decisions.

4. Please give me copies of all correspondence by Councillors Longstaff, Cohen and Coleman or council officers, relating to the work of the group

5. Please give me copies of any material or correspondence held by the council relating to the award of £1,000 given to Tim Benjamin for a composition to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

When Mrs Angry complained about the lack of response last week, she was assured that it would arrive 'shortly' ie implying the same day. Nothing arrived. On Monday she complained again: she was promised it would be with her by the end of Wednesday. At the end of Wednesday afternoon, she asked again where it was: no response at all. Oh: please don't think that this is in any way unusual, by the way, because for any politically sensitive response, this is how Barnet always responds. Mrs Angry remarked to an officer earlier this week:

"If this delay were unusual, I should not be inclined to be so annoyed. It would appear, unfortunately, that those answering FOI requests in Barnet are under the impression that it is acceptable continually to flout the law.

The Freedom of Information Act defines a very important principle of the right of access to material on request by members of the public. This legislation is essential to the proper scrutiny of local government, and the success of the new policy of localism and open data supported by the Secretaty of State for Communities and Local Government.

Responses to FOI requests are in fact meant to be made well within the twenty day period, not days or weeks beyond that limit. I have never received a response earlier than the statutory limit. There is also a clear correlation between the length of delay and the extent of political sensitivity of the material requested. This is not acceptable in a properly run, open and honest system of government.

In this instance, there is absolutely no reason why this response should not have been addressed within the time limit, and while I appreciate this is not your fault, I do not intend to accept any more feeble excuses from the authority regarding these deliberate delays in reply."

Now one of the things that worries Mrs Angry about this commission to the Rev's son is this: the delegated powers report authorising the payment to him was published at the end of December, and the piece is due to be performed this Sunday. Did he really come up with a bit of a tune over Christmas, rehearse it & have it ready so quickly? How much of the creative process has gone into the conception of the work? For £1,000 I want something pretty substantial, Mr Benjamin, not something cobbled together in a couple of weeks ... Oh ... unless of course it was written quite some time before, in the knowledge that it stood a pretty good chance of winning the contract? Fair enough, so. (Do you think that it might be Bishop 'Don't call me Len' Arnold coming to the service, by the way, Mr Hanley?)

It might have been nice to have had a local competition - any competition, actually, but preferably involving some of our schools, or one of the brilliant musicians and music groups in the borough, but no, Mrs Angry is sure that Councillors Coleman and Longstaff know best and it is much better to spend money we are always being told we do not have to spare on a commission to someone they know and trust.

Mrs Angry notes with amusement that the two events scheduled to celebrate the sixty year reign of our monarch are both in the same area, ie the Hampstead fringes: one 'rousing' (rabble?) service at St Jude's in the Garden Suburb, safe now that the Gaddafi house and the Congolese Ambassadors' homes have been cleared of squatters by the concerted campaigning of local Tory MP Mike Freer - and then a festival in Golders Hill Park. Lovely. Hope Councillor Coleman's park hire scheme is up and running by then, and that he charges us all for the pleasure of entry. Ooh er, Mrs Angry.

But to be serious, sort of, for a moment: why should two such privileged parts of the borough be the focus of all this fuss? Mrs Angry would imagine that actually the Queen would expect a rather more inclusive and diverse celebration, involving the less advantaged areas of the borough, elderly citizens, children and young people who might benefit from a free community event.

The truth is that Coleman and his pals want an excuse to show off to an audience in a setting that matches the grandiose imaginings of his fantasy life, a world festooned with moth eaten civic ritual, where Brian is forever Mayor, and everyone is obliged to bow before his majestic glory.

Send Him victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us ... but only til May.

Ha. Here is a rousing tune for you, Brian. Commission free.

Mrs Angry x


hanlemic said...

Mrs A, would that be Bishop Len Brennan you're thinking of?

He knew how to get his kicks.

Mrs Angry said...

indeed it would, Mr Hanley. Nothing wrong with a well aimed kick up the arse of annoying clerics or councillors, I feel.

Cneifiwr said...

On behalf of the now abolished Wales Tourist Board, anyone wishing to escape the Jubilee or the Olympics should seriously consider coming here.
I went to one community council meeting where a nervous councillor asked, cough, if the council was planning to do anything to commemorate the Jubilee. Long silence, and some awkward shuffling of bottoms. Err, no, came the reply at long last. I did spot a Union Jack in the neighbouring village at the time of the wedding last year, but I think they were just trying to annoy the neighbours.
Apparently we may get the Zimbabwean women's wrestling team stopping at a service station about 40 miles from here while they "stretch their legs". But that's about it as far as the Olympics go. The torch is being paraded at some point, but with any luck it will piss down.

Liz Maffei said...

I was already angry - about inequality (good opportunity to try to do something about it in the run up to the Mayoral elections at - but responses to FOIs seem to be marked with a maddening degree of insouciance the more sensitive the request. Then again, maybe, that reflects the fact that sensitive requests are made by angry people so I hear about their experiences more.

Mrs Angry said...

I'm not always consumed with anger, Liz, to be honest I find most things rather amusing, but it is impossible to remain amused by the wilful obstruction by Barnet Council of what is a right in law: the right to obtain information within a statutory period. I have sent another reminder this afternoon, and this was ignored as well.

Cneifiwr, is all this rabbiting on about the Olympics your shy way of inviting me to come and stay with you this August? As I am short of other offers, I may well accept. Don't ask me to help you with the sheep though.

Doesn't it always piss down in South Wales?

Citizen Barnet said...

Don't know how it relates to anything, really, but Golders Hill Park belongs to the Corporation of London not to LB Barnet. It's a really nice park, much posher than even our premium parks.

Perhaps something has been worked out with someone at one of those banquets Coleman goes to.

You don't think there might actually be a royal visitor at some point?

I'm also looking forward to hearing the massed voices on Sunday. (Actually, if I'm not under pre-emptive arrest for most of 2012 I shan't be able to hold my head up among my normal fraternity!)

Mrs Angry said...

ha, Citizen Barnet, you forget Mrs Angry is already at risk of detention and questioning by HM constabulary for daring to email Brian ...

Will be updating on the Park thing soon. Funnily enough, still haven't had my FOI response re the Jubilee composition. Are they stringing it out for after Sunday? As if that would deter me. I have already chosen my outfit, and made an appointment with Raine Spencer's hairdresser ...