Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mrs Angry's Apprentice

As readers will know, Mrs Angry, keen to do her bit to coax the long term unemployed back into useful service to the community,  agreed last year to take on local NEET (Not in Employment, Education or the Tory party) Councillor Brian Coleman as an intern, (interim, unpaid) here on the Broken Barnet blog. 

She has tried, awfully hard, you know, to show him the ropes, help him to moderate his regrettable political leanings, and to put his mischief making to good use. 

To some extent this re-training has been unexpectedly successful: Brian has joined the fight against One Barnet, and has now started his own blog, rather sweetly copying Mrs Angry's philosophy, her house style, her terms of reference, and even, at times, her vocabulary.

Yesterday, however, he has let down his new mentor - and Himself - rather badly, in a somewhat unfortunate gaffe on his latest post. 

Usually, you see, Brian runs his drafts by Mrs Angry, and she subs them for him: 

Take out All Those Capitals, Brian ... no need for gaps before punctuation, you know: did you really want to use the words 'monolithic' ...  or 'pragmatic'? Are you sure you know what they mean? Yes, yes, I know you read it on my blog, but do try to put it in your own words ... 

So - sometimes Brian gets a little impatient, and yesterday: oh dear. Disaster. 

He was messing about with a screenshot, you see, and accidentally copied something into his draft, and pressed publish and OH NO - LOOK! His email in box, all over blogger for everyone to see ... 

Mrs Angry hopes that no one noticed, apart from her, and everyone on Twitter, and Blogger, and the entire online community of Broken Barnet?

Of course Mrs Angry is joking. It was no accident. In fact, it is pretty certain that by putting in the public domain details of his personal correspondence Brian was deliberately making a very timely point, about open data, and the right to freedom of information. 

Because, you see, as his post told us, he is now also experiencing the what the rest of the crusading blogosphere here in Broken Barnet already knows: that extracting information from our paranoid council is like drawing teeth from a poisoned jaw: protracted, painful and extremely messy. 

Councillor Coleman has submitted some questions to the next full council meeting. Now then. Mrs Angry is going to shock you.

These are actually cracking questions. 

The boy is learning. 

All of the questions are carefully chosen to cause maximum embarrassment for his erstwhile colleagues:

To Councillor Longstaffe:

How many Police Stations does the Cabinet member think the Borough needs

To John Thomas:

Could Cllr Thomas update the Council on the future of Stanley Road playing fields? 

To Cllr Joanna Tambourides:

Does the Cabinet member welcome the recent decisions of the Planning and Environment Committee and the Eastern Area Planning sub Committee concerning the Woodside Park and Barnet Eruvs? 


Where does Cllr Tambourides envisage Planning Officers will be based post the implementation of the DRS One Barnet project? 

Again, to John Thomas:

Will the Cabinet Member list the gross costs to the Council (including redundancy payments, accrued holiday pay , pay in lieu of notice , pension contributions ) paid out in relation to Assistant Directors and above who have not been given posts in the new management structure?


A sensitive point. There has been a cull at senior management level, and one or two familiar faces have not come out of the process intact. One favourite face is rumoured to have been demoted to AD. No names, no pack drill, of course. At ease. Shame. Stop laughing.

Brian asked two other questions on this theme which, to his fury, were not allowed. 

To John Thomas: 

Will the Cabinet Member list all those of Assistant Director level and above who have failed to be appointed to posts in the new Management structure or have opted to retire or resign? 


Was any money in lieu of serving notice or accrued holiday pay or any other sum paid to the late Chief Executive and if so how much ?

Oh dear, thought Mrs Angry, on reading this last question. Late Chief Executive? Has Mr Walkley gone to a better place? No, not Haringey, clearly: heaven? Or, more likely, one of the many rings of hell reserved for the promulgators of public sector outsourcing?

Anyway ... Mr Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance, informed Cllr Coleman that, in consultation with the present Chief Executive, apparently very much alive, albeit in a (very) long term 'interim' sense, that they could not disclose such information in a 'public forum'. 

As we know, in Broken Barnet, forums are not for the disclosure of information, rather for the suppression of information, and the stifling of the principle of freedom of expression, in the interests of counter transparency, and a long term, strategic defiance of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. 

Mr Lustig has therefore, hiding behind his chair, told the Mayor to tell Councillor Coleman to feck off, and that they would not be asking his questions, on the grounds that they are as defined in the constitution, ' vexatious, irrelevant, or otherwise improper'. 

As you will know, this is perfectly correct, as any question by a Barnet blogger is always considered to be vexatious, irrelevant or improper, and Councillor Coleman is now one of us, a Barnet blogger. There can be no finer aspiration, of course.

Mr Lustig also sternly reminds Cllr Coleman of the following admonition in the constitution:

"Members should avoid undermining respect for Officers at meetings, or in any public forum. This would be damaging both to effective working relationships and to the public image of the Council. In general Officers are unable to ‘answer back’ or defend themselves against criticism in a public forum."

This is from Article 13, which, in Mrs Angry's copy, goes on to say:

"Members may with full dispensation undermine respect for Residents at meetings, in any public forum, and may refer to members of the public gallery as 'sad, mad, and a couple of old hags' as of course this will not be damaging to an effective working relationship with the electorate, or to the public image of the council, which is so fucked anyway that nothing could possibly make it any worse."

See: officers may not be able to answer back, but Mrs Angry certainly can.

Brian ain't having it though. He has written a response. In No Uncertain Terms. Referring to no lesser authority than The Daily Telegraph, in fact. (Mrs Angry sees the Mayor as more of a Mail reader, it must be said.)

"Mr Lustig , I believe you have advised the Mayor incorrectly. 

As the Daily Telegraph no less has published this week detailed information concerning payments made to former Director Brian Reynolds following an FOI request , I cannot see why the Council should attempt to withhold exactly the same information with regard to the former Chief Executive Likewise asking for a list of names (without figures) of Assistant Director and equivalent who have left the Council is information that elected members and indeed the public are entitled to . 

I suspect the DCLG and the media will take a dim view of the Mayor's decision and I ask if you have brought the Daily Telegraph article to the Mayor's attention ? 

I shall of course raise the Mayor's decision at the Council meeting and in the local media as appropriate and I am sure the Mayor will be able to explain to the media why he thinks the taxpayers of Barnet and elected Councillors are not entitled to this basic information In the mean time please treat both these questions as FOI requests."

Ooh, get you, Brian. That'll show'em. Expect your FOI responses in about four months time, redacted, or denied. 

Welcome to the club: this is Broken Barnet, didn't you know?

In the meanwhile, do get on with your memoirs, which sound FASCINATING, from what we read yesterday. 'Twelve Years at City Hall' ...? Meh. Need something a bit snappier. Perhaps Mrs Angry will hold a competition, for the most suitable title. 

Winner to be taken to lunch at the Haven, at your expense (that's when you get your wallet out and pay for someone's bill.)

Mrs Angry x


Mr Mustard said...

Let me borrow you crystal ball Mrs Angry for a momemnt if you please.

I predict that Brian will get none answers to his questions. The interesting part will be what he does next.

Mrs Angry said...

Mrs Angry's crystal ball may not be used by those without the gift, Mr Brian will get bored, and forget all about playing citizen journalist as soon as something else comes along ...

Mrs Angry said...

that should read ... gift, Mr Mustard, and Mrs A predicts Brian etc: wish you could edit comments. Oh well.

Andrew said...

I can answer one question for him: The Borough doesn't need many police stations as there aren't many police officers (proper ones, at least) to house, and the ones that we have got don't bother investigating unless they have super modern and trendy stuff like DNA and fingerprints to go on.
Leading from the front, their bosses at Scotters have now taken 5 weeks not to respond to my complaint. They're probably going to ask for DNA...