Thursday 3 January 2013

2012: a year in Broken Barnet - Part Three

In July, the campaign against One Barnet really began to take off: a one day conference was organised by Barnet Alliance held and attended in large numbers by residents, who heard from expert speakers such as Prof Dexter Whitfield, and APSE's Andy Mudd about the enormous risks presented by the £1 billion outsourcing agenda. Barnet Alliance also organised an alternative Torch relay to protest about One Barnet, and which was planned to finish in Mrs Angry's local park, Victoria Park, here in Finchley.

Rather amusingly, Barnet Council's last minute desperate ploy to try to stop this event was based on restrictions listed in its own bylaws, contradicting the hugely controversial plans of erm, Barnet Council, created by Brian Coleman, to pimp our parks and open spaces, making them available for hire for private and corporate events.

The council's own Torch celebrations, paid for by funding from the Mayor, took part in the same park, in the dusk,  attended by a brave Richard Cornelius, with apparently no fear of the many dangers lurking in the bushes ....

Mrs Angry sat on the grass, beside herself with amusement, as we watched a frankly rather baffling display of some tubby, crane lifted angels disporting themselves above our heads. Where was Councillor Coleman sitting, though? He seemed to have disappeared. And how strange: one of the angels looked curiously familiar.

Fallen angel


August is traditionally the silly season - although here in Broken Barnet every season is silly. August in Broken Barnet is sillier than you could possibly imagine, or at least it was this year.

In the immediate aftermath of his fall from grace, Brian Coleman was uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps he was in a state of shock. Within a few weeks, however, he had bounced back, although clearly missing all the sturm und drang of his former life. No one was paying him any attention anymore: what could he do? He announced that he was writing his memoirs, and claimed that he already had a deal with a publisher. It was said that he had the same agent as Edwina Currie. Mrs Angry imagines that unless he has sat in the bath being fed strawberries by John Major - and frankly, if he has, she really doesn't want to know - this is unlikely to be the case, and that no one outside Broken Barnet would have the slightest interest in such a tale anyway. But break it to him gently. 

One of the more poignant, if somewhat susrprising developments of this year is the growing attachment to Mrs Angry that Brian has formed, and his subsequent eager desire to remodel himself in a form guaranteed to meet with her approval.

Having spent years being rude about local bloggers, our man has now outed himself as a social media fan, and even ... yes, started his own blog. This marvellous enterprise is so startlingly unrestrained that most readers at first thought it might be a parody. It isn't. No, Mrs Angry is not going to provide the link, as really we do not wish to encourage, him, do we?

August is a good time to bury bad news, and a good time for senior officers of the London Borough of Barnet to get up to mischief, while the Tory councillors were on their well deserved breaks -  (bloggers noted how many councillors could not be bothered to open any emails during the long summer break) and the dear leader was, according to new boy blogger Cllr Coleman, at his holiday residence in France when oh - whoops, Mrs Angry's favourite senior officer, Ms Pam Wharfe, 'Interim' Director of environment and all that sort of stuff, decided to send an email to staff regarding the DRS package of services due to be privatised. 'We have decided to form a Joint Venture with the successful bidder', she announced grandly.

Ms Pam Wharfe

Oh. Really? Have we? Who are we

We were the senior management team, the mysterious Directors Group, an assortment of senior officers, in collusion with certain private consultants, whose identity, in the usual One Barnet tradition of counter transparency, we are not allowed to know, but presumably are our extravagantly rewarded friends from Agilisys/iMPOWER. 

As it turned out,the elected members of the council, and even the puppet Tory leader Cornelius knew absolutely nothing about this decision to change the whole structure of the massive DRS tender now in process of dialogue. 

Mrs Angry immediately submitted an FOI request for the minutes of the Directors Group meeting, which was - eventually - refused on the ludicrous grounds that they were 'imminently' to be put on the council website. They were not: no such material has ever emerged, and the consequent appeal has been ignored, with no further explanation. This deliberate breach of the FOI act is now being dealt with by the Information Commissioner. It does not take any amount of thought to guess why this material is being withheld, and tells you everything you need to know about the stinking pile of shite that is One Barnet.


Mrs Angry had an interesting exchange of correpondence with deputy Tory leader Daniel 'John' Thomas about the rejection by Cornish councillors of their own version of large scale outsourcing. John Thomas was not awfully keen on the idea that councillors should be engaging in meaningful discussions with their electorate. According to him:

"If residents would like to debate issues that is their right but the council should not be funding a debating club with taxpayer's money, it never has and I doubt it ever will."  

A debating club, funded with taxpayers' money. 

You might think this is a good enough definition of democracy, and the process of consultation. Not in Broken Barnet.

Democracy in Broken Barnet, refused the option of debate, had therefore no option but to take a rather more direct approach.

News broke then that Friern Barnet Library, closed and emptied by our Tory councillors, had been entered and occupied by community squatters. Shock horror. What did our Tory councillors do? Just when you thought nothing they did could surprise you, they pulled another rabbit out of the hat, and started negotiating with the occupiers.

Phoenix and fellow occupiers liberate the People's Library- for the people of Friern Barnet

Of course, in reality the council was already plotting a legal challenge to the occupation. 

In the meanwhile, the occupiers opened up the library to the local residents, forming a truly remarkable and inspiring partnership as custodians of a community resource which belongs to the people of Friern Barnet, but which our shabby Tory councillors see only as a potential property development.

Friern Barnet, the people's library: campaigner Keith Martin

In the meanwhile, Brian Coleman's career was rapidly sinking even further into the mire. 

At a full council meeting, heckled by one of the Standards committee complainants whose apology was outstanding he launched into an insulting invective directed at the public gallery, referring to 'the sad, mad, and a couple of old hags'. 

Coleman ranting

Oh dear again: Mrs Angry and a female companion appeared to be the hags in question, and when the Mayor Brian Schama refused to extract an apology for this slur from Coleman, Mrs Angry was not in a very good mood. She spotted Coleman nipping out to the gents, waited for him in the corridor, took a photo of him, and suggested he might like to apologise for his remarks. He was of the opinion that this was not necessary, insulted her again, saying she was 'a nasty piece of work', and tried to order security staff to stop her taking his photograph. They looked on, bemused, and did nothing of the sort, of course.

 The photo which upset Councillor Coleman. Aww.

For Coleman the end of days was nigh. He chaired his last scrutiny meeting, where the hostility emanating from his colleagues was palpable. The issue of the Joint Venture was laid before the committee. Pam Wharfe sat at the table and smiled while Cornelius three times observed that he knew nothing about any such decision. Apparently forgetting that he is the leader of one of the largest local authorities in London, and responsible for the outsourcing of £1 billion worth of council services, he declared wistfully that he was  'every bit as curious as you are' ...

Later that month came an even more extraordinary story, perhaps the story of the year. News broke that Brian Coleman had been arrested on suspicion of the assault of Helen Michael, the owner of Cafe Buzz. Councillor Coleman spent the night in custody and was bailed pending further investigations.


After an eventful trip to Manchester, to t'Labour conference, Mrs Angry returned with a. a potential case of Legionnaires Disease (after two weeks of tests, it turned out not to be, luckily) and b. the realisation that Broken Barnet had somehow become the centre of a whirlpool of media interest. The story of the library occupation was attracting attention from all over the country, and indeed all around the world.

 Mrs Angry, blogging diva, poses for the Grauniad in the occupied library with her colour co ordinated earthly manifestation: pic Graham Turner

Later that month, Brian Coleman was charged with assault by beating of Helen Michael. Rather to the surprise of everyone, he was not immediately suspended by the Barnet Tory group. Leader Richard Cornelius refused to act, defending his colleague: "I know and like Brian" ... Senior party figures lost patience with Barnet Tories' failure to act and took the decision to suspend him, and informed Cornelius of the move as he was on his way to a local Tory group meeting.

Also in October we saw the local premiere of the second Barnet film: 'Barnet: the Billion Pound Gamble', shown to a packed out audience at the Phoenix (although some of them escaped before the panel discussion, Mrs Angry noted). Another screening took place later back at Westminster: Hilary Benn, the shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government dropped by to say hello ...

(Mrs Angry found a copy of this photo on google image labelled 'Mr and Mrs Eric Pickles' ...)


Remember, remember, the fifth of November? Mrs Angry doesn't, because, most annoyingly,  she was too indisposed to attend, but this was the date that Coleman appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates Court and pleaded not guilty to the assault charge, which will now be heard on February 6th.

Just before his appearance in the dock, Coleman had launched a pre emptive strike against his own party, no doubt in order to deflect attention from his own position, (and clearly in a desperate ploy to curry favour with Mrs Angry). Yes, our Brian, who only weeks before had made his 'sad, mad and old hags' insult in the course of a speech defending One Barnet, now decided to out himself as a total One Barnet sceptic. His revenge was perfectly timed, at a point where it could do him no further damage, but would attract maximum attention, and further inflame an already uncontrollable rise of public opposition to the reckless privatisation programme.

By now, in fact, the Tory councillors were beginning, at long last, to grasp the enormity of the commitment that the One Barnet plans represent: backbench Tories tried to raise their newly awakened concerns with the leadership and Cabinet, but to no avail. At this late stage in the tender process, Barnet Alliance at last managed to extract a promise from Tory leader Cornelius to attend a public debate about One Barnet, a promise he may well have regretted, as the evening turned out.

Cornelius's reluctant appearance at this meeting was too late to count as any form of consultation, of course: and all the important decisions had all already been made. Towards the end of the month it was announced that, to no one's surprise, Capita had won the NSCSO customer services bid: £750 million worth, if the deal lasts for the maximum fifteen years they would like. Yes, fifteen. At this point the senior management team and the few Tory Cabinet members still pushing One Barnet sat back, and felt very pleased with themselves: they thought they had it all sewn up, didn't they?

They were wrong.


This was another hugely significant month in Broken Barnet: the library occupation case went to court, and although repossession was ordered, it was only after much deliberation on the principle of the interference with articles of the human rights act. Time was given for both sides to try to negotiate some sort of licensing arrangement, and more importantly, there would appear to be strong grounds for an appeal. 

The 8,000 page Capita contract: democratic control of local services packed up and carried out of the Town Hall in a cardboard box by private consultants from iMPOWER and Trowers & Hamlin

On December 6th, the Tory Cabinet was due to meet to approve the deal with Capita. Many residents came to the Town Hall to attend the meeting, and watch their elected representatives hand over our public services to the profiteering private company waiting in the wings. Oh dear, though: our councillors and their officers and their consultants looked rather glum. Was something wrong? Something was wrong: that morning the council had been served with a notice of intention to apply for a Judicial Review. The application is well founded, with plenty of supporting evidence for a successful challenge. Bring it on.

At the Cabinet meeting itself there was even more reason for the Tory councillors and their senior management team to feel concerned. The meeting was interrupted by a dramatic demonstration of the extent of opposition to One Barnet: members of the public protested about the stifling of debate about the programme, and the denial of democratic freedoms.

The meeting was taken over, councillors were forced into a small adjoining room, and residents sat around the committee table to hold their own discussion. The Chair of Barnet Alliance read out a declaration which concluded:

No matter what the Cabinet decides, whatever the Cabinet decides, it is only the beginning. We are fighting to take back our democracy.

We will keep on the fight. 
We will keep on the fight. 
We will keep on the fight, and reclaim our democracy.

January 2013

We will keep on the fight - and we will reclaim our democracy: even if we have to fight all the way to May 2014 in order to do so.


baarnett said...

"Mrs Angry, having published her famous trilogy "Barnet 2012: The Year the Earth Stood Still" is now suffering from creative exhaustion, and is temporarily restricting herself to the odd tweet and to book-signings at prestigious literary festivals around the country.

Permission to use her image should be directed to The Guardian and to Barnet Bugle Royalties Ltd.

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm. Truth is I am feeling rather weary, Baarnett. Still: I may try and cobble something together,or I may make retire from blogging, and run away.