Tuesday 16 April 2013

You love Barnet: did you know? Barnet's Tory Town Hall Pravda - paid for by taxpayers

A lovely surprise fell through Mrs Angry's letter box this morning: oh look, she cried: a copy of Barnet First! 

This is a rare treat: the council's propaganda machine churns this crap out, at vast expense to local residents, but sightings of the damn thing are uncommon, especially in Mrs Angry's experience: this is only perhaps the third time in the twelve years or so that she has lived in her present house that one of these rags has actually been delivered. It is something of a mystery as to what happens to the rest. A shame, because as Mrs Angry has noted before, when opened up, Barnet First makes the perfect fit to line your cat's litter tray.

Odd that Barnet continues to publish this load of tosh, when Eric Pickles has made it absolutely clear that he does not approve of wasting taxpayers' money on such stuff. But then Barnet Tories appear not to give a shit what Eric Pickles, or any member of their own government, thinks about anything, do they? 

Issue 53 is a cracker, though. U Heart Barnet. Aww.

First of all the Leader's column. The dear leader himself, Richard Cornelius, informs us that we are thrilled to live in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. Oh yes we are. If he says so, we are, see. In fact this interesting conclusion is based on a residents' perception survey which has, of course, in the noble tradition of consultation in this borough, been artfully rearranged to say exactly what the council wants it to say.

Richard also congratulates himeself and his administration for keeping council taxes frozen, failing to mention that the cost of this will be recouped by stealth taxes like parking charges or cuts in services. Ah: no, no, Mrs Angry, 'we are able to do this because of the savings generated by ....' Oh, what's this? '... by the council's change programme ...' 

Erm ... a change programme? What's that, then?


Sorry to shout. Oh, but that is interesting: another example of the love that dare not speak its name, the Barnet Tory vice: the joy of outsourcing. 

Richard trails what he thinks is the irrestible lure of a second year of frozen council tax, an obsession which has taken absolute possession of Tories but has blinded them to the fact that people would rather accept sensible rises if this protects vital services. Like captives of the Snow Queen, Barnet Tories, who most surely have a sliver of ice in their cold, cold hearts, want an eternal winter wasteland of council tax, where the world stands still, and dying, under an ice sheet of Tory promises.

A second winter, we are told, 'is dependent on our winning a court case brought by opponents of the proposal'. Ah: the opponents of change, those wicked people, eccentric socialists, bloggers and American exiles.

Hmm. Thing is, Richard, the reason you and your chums have been up in the High Court was because you kept refusing to inform and consult residents about what is not just a 'change' programme, but a massive, fundamental and irrevocable disposal of our vital council services into the grasping hands of the private sector. But it seems like you have learnt nothing from your day in court.

Next page: aha! Some good news. No, Mrs Angry, some Good News. 

You might be forgiven for thinking, at times, that the devil is at large in Salem: that the Almighty has forsaken the sinful people of Broken Barnet, but behold - our Tory councillors will save us all. 

Yes, they may be cutting everything back, and selling our souls to Crapita, but look, salvation is at hand. 

With economic hardship comes a range of new opportunities for faith groups. We have seen this council give a grant to Jesus House, an evangelical church, and more recently Barnet's ALMO, the Barnet Group, has invited Christians Against Poverty to come and bear the load of 'counselling' the thousands of residents affected by the reprehensible Bedroom Tax. 

And now, in Barnet First, we are told of a new scheme run by another church, St Barnabas in Finchley, which, like Jesus House,  according to its website agrees with the statement of faith of the Evangelical Alliance, an association that holds 'homoerotic sexual practices', amongst other things, to be inherently sinful. (Phwah, bit of a turn on, isn't it, that phrase? Naughty evangelists, do try and stop thinking about other people's sex lives for five minutes. Enjoyable though it is.)

According to the article in Barnet First, this church is offering a drop in clinic for those in need of finding a job. That'll come in useful, perhaps, for the 397 council employees that will lose theirs, courtesy of One Barnet - sorry, courtesy of a programme of change. 

On the website, this scheme comes under the heading of 'missional communities', which gives you an indication of the underlying agenda of the activity, just as CAPS boasts of the Christians it has made through the debt counselling programme which was dropped by the government backed Adviceuk agency.

Let's move on. 

Page 8: oh, another cheering tale. 'My Barnet' is the heading, and here we read a profile of a Barnet resident, Dr Jonathan Collie. Dr Collie loves Barnet.

'I love the tranquillity of the suburbs while being able to get to central London in no time. You have all the advantages of staying local and having parks, cinemas, places to go rollerskating ... '

Hmm. Yes. Rollerskating. Reason alone to move here, of course. And tranquillity. Very tranquil, Broken Barnet.

Dr Collie has set up a new scheme too: 'Trading Times' ... a free job matching service: admirable stuff. This has, like Jesus House, received a generous 'Barnet Council Big Society Grant', incidentally.

Interesting man, too: he is too modest to tell us this here, but a quick check on Linkedin etc reveals that Dr Collie is a 'healthcare innovator'. He is Vice President of CREO Strategic Solutions, Ltd. (EU), where we learn his most recent experience was as Director, Healthcare, Perot Systems Europe (London, UK), (yes, as in Ross Perot) leading 'a team of senior healthcare transformation consultants in delivering complex change programmes in hospitals and healthcare systems Uk and Europe'.

Oh. No wonder he looks so cheerful, in a whole page of photos of him at various Barnet locations. Lots of healthcare transformation and complex changes ahead, one imagines, for him and many of his colleagues, not just here in Broken Barnet, but in the new NHS lite, coming very soon to a hospital near you, courtesy of the Condem government.

(Nothing to do with Dr Collie, but a dreadful warning of what is to come in this brave new world of 'transformation: this morning Mrs Angry read with astonishment that it is costing £199 a day for security to guard the newly refurbished Brunswick Park Health Centre, which is lying empty, and cannot return to providing services to local residents because NHS Property Services Ltd, a new company to run NHS property along commercial lines, has told GPs that their service charges will quadruple* from £5,000 a year to £25,000 a year).
Leafing through now .... on to page 12, where look: a little piece titled 'A Changing Council'.

*Mrs Angry, who cannot do hard sums, has been advised that 4x5=20, therefore this should be quintupled, but that doesn't sound right, does it? (Blame a Labour party press release, and an experiment in churnalism by Mrs Angry).

Leafing through now .... on to page 12, where look: a little piece titled 'A Changing Council'.

Apparently this is all about a new 'streamlined' management team - now the big cheeses in Barnet have given themselves grandiose titles like 'Director of Place' and 'Director of People', and tough luck on the rest. How many long term interim tax dodging consultants do we have now, Mrs Angry, I hear you ask? God knows. Or the other fellow, maybe.

How is the council changing? Is there any reference to ... you know, that thing we are not allowed to mention ... shhh ... One Barnet, (there, and you can't stop me) ... no, not a word.  We are next told, and Mrs Angry's rude remarks in red, as usual:

'The council will bring reycling services 'in-house' (the services are currently provided by a private contractor) to work more closely with the household waste service'. 

Ha! Note that we are straight off with the one service that was recently returned to Barnet, when they bricked it after the anti One Barnet campaign got going, but nothing about the stupendous scale of services being taken out of council control.

Plans to move back office services such as Human Resources and payroll to an outside contractor have been put on hold following a legal challenge. 

'Plans to move back office services ... ': this really is taking the piss: dismissing the larger of two tenders comprising the biggest act of local authority outsourcing ever, worth up to £750 million, a huge contract with one private company, as moving a few back office services ...  Take procurement, for example, which will supply the main promised savings, and something we decided to cock up, then hand over to Capita, rather than run it properly ourselves and retain all the 'efficiencies' ... but just back office stuff, of course, nothing important ...
'The plans will save £120 million over the next 10 years if given the go-ahead'.

Mrs Angry's horse in the Derby is due to win her a very substantial amount of money, as long as no one stops her on the way up to William Hill, and tells her she is a reckless fool for gambling her children's inheritance on the race.

'Other proposals to also be put on hold include proposals for development and regulatory services (the back office function of planning and environmental health) to be run by a joint venture between the council and a commercial partner, as they are covered by the same court case'. 

Ah: DRS - only 'back office' stuff, no need to worry. Just, you know, boring small scale stuff like, erm ... yes, planning, and building control, regeneration and trading standards and and oh, the crematorium where your dead grandmother, and my dead grandmother are supposed to be resting in peace. Nothing of importance. Whoah: hold on ...

'to be run by a joint venture'? When was that agreed? Before or after the Senior Management Team told the councillors?

'These proposals should save the council at least £26 million over the next 10 years'.

Mrs Angry's horse at Ascot should also come up trumps, although if it falls over at the last moment (like that annoying beast, Across the Bay, at the Grand National), her children's children's inheritance will also go down the drain.
Oh dear.

Barnet First is published four times a year, and despite the fact that it is clearly full of party political material intended to support the Conservative administration, the sizeable costs are borne by local residents and taxpayers. 

In March 2011, fellow blogger Mr Mustard asked for a breakdown of the cost - Barnet Council had claimed it 'only' cost 10p per copy. 

143,000 copies are published: that is supposed to be the number of households in Barnet. One can only wonder what happens to most of them, because most people do not receive a copy, or sporadically at best. You will find it, of course in libraries (while they are still open) and council offices.

In the first quarter of 2011, printing costs and distribution came to £17,975. In the next quarter, this rose to £18, 825 (making it 13.16 per copy). We don't have any more up to date costs, which must have risen, but it is clear to see that the total would pay for say, several 'Your Choice' care assistants, or a couple of days of One Barnet consultants' fees ...

Earlier this month, Eric Pickles launched another attempt to pull councils back in line with his ban on publishing political propaganda, and a consultation is now taking place as plans are drawn up for new legislation. As he said:

"Some councils are undermining the free press and wasting taxpayers' money which should be spent carefully on the front line services that make a real difference to quality of life.

It should not, under any circumstances, be used to fund political propaganda and Town Hall Pravdas and yet a hardcore minority of councils continue to ignore the rules despite public concern. 

The line in the sand is clear, publicity material straying into propaganda clearly crosses that line, and this legislation will stop this disgraceful misuse of public money, which damages local democracy and threatens an independent, free and vibrant local press."

An independent, free and vibrant local press? In Broken Barnet? Not bloody likely if Cllr Cornelius and your Tory colleagues can help it, Eric. Never mind: you can always rely on Mrs Angry, and the Barnet blogosphere to fulfill that function, can't you?


caebrwyn said...

Excellent post Mrs A, Carmarthenshire has an equal obsession with Pravdas (six a year, with 'complex' finances, to put it politely) and with funding evangelical churches for that matter. Even outsourcing is creeping along nicely with 75% social care services now with the private sector.
Mr Pickles is extremely unpopular in Carms too, but his influence can be safely ignored, devolution and all that.. publishing spending details over £500? Your joking. Barnet is Tory run, Carms is Lab/Ind run or Ind/Lab who knows....it doesn't make any difference here...it's long been a moot point as to who exactly is running the show anyway.
Perhaps those twinning arrangements should be revived...

Mrs Angry said...

Thank you, Caebrwyn: but yes, there are extraordinary parallels between the two councils - except perhaps that tyrannical regimes all have certain traits in common ...