Thursday 30 May 2013

Your Choice Barnet: don't ask questions - this is a private company

One Barnet: the greatest show on earth. Form an orderly queue.

What would you say is the mark of a civilised society? Is it measurable in terms of say, prosperity, or levels of educational achievement, or the rates of criminal activity, or the extent of liberal laws? Or is it in our attitudes to the less advantaged - to the poor, the sick, the elderly - to those with disabilities? 

In the past, disability was seen as something other, a freak of nature, a visitation from God. Those of us who had such needs were dependent on the charity of others, the care of family, or parish, without rights, or protection from the state. 

In a more enlightened age, the age of inclusion, such attitudes have been abandoned, or so we claim, in favour of the extension of a more positive approach, and the impowerment of disabled or differently abled citizens.

Oh: but of course here in Broken Barnet, we follow a different line.

Here in Broken Barnet, where market forces rule, disability is not so much an issue of inclusion, and empowerment, exactly, as rather an exciting business opportunity. 

With all the zeal of nineteenth century showbiz entrepreneurs, our Barnum and Bailey Tory councillors - or ratherled by their noses, like performing circus animals, by the senior management team and their associates, our high maintenance private consultants, have created the Greatest Show on Earth, that is to say One Barnet, in order to extract the maximum profit from a gullible audience - from us, the residents and taxpayers. Nothing is safe from their exploitation, as almost every council service is forced to sing for its supper, under the watchful eye and swishing whip of our new ringmaster, Crapita.

One Barnet: the greatest show on earth, starring your very remarkable Conservative councillors

On the sidestage, another show has already started - roll up, roll up: look, Your Choice Barnet! 

This marvellous production is based on an inspired theme: how to make money out of disability.

Who would have thought that the care of adults with special needs and physical impairments could be so lucrative? You didn't, did you? But our Tory council did. It washed its hands of direct responsiblity for such service provision and set up 'Your Choice Barnet', a company which not only would be self supporting, we were told, but would be able to generate enough profit to subsidise the mammoth enterprise that is Barnet Homes, the 'At Arms Length Organisation' that is another part of the Barnet Group, whose board is led by Tracey Lees, the Chief Executive, who is rewarded for her efforts with a six figure salary. This salary would appear not to be performance related.

Unfortunately, Your Choice Barnet has not proved to be a box office success. 

In fact, it is a turkey of a production, and in any other circumstance would have had its neck wrung as soon as it became obvious earlier in the year that not only will the scheme not produce the profits we were promised, it would need to be bailed out by Barnet Council in order to keep it going. 

And the immediate effect of this disastrous failure, it is clear, has been in terms of the impact on service users, the very people whose dependency and vulnerability makes any change in care support so significant. 

Cuts in staffing levels and downgraded duties place an intolerable burden on a demoralised workforce already working in very difficult conditions on very low pay. The service they can provide is necessarily below the standard appropriate to users' needs, and worse still, may put residents at real risk of harm. 

Another way in which the failure of Your Choice Barnet is being borne by users is in the truly scandalous hike in charges for certain services - up to 66% in some cases. 

For clients with personal budgets, this is disastrous, as the care on which they have come to rely may prove too expensive. 

The distress caused by this sort of constraint on a resident with a learning disability, to whom continuity of care is so important, is difficult to explain, not to mention the impact on their families.

There was a 'Your Choice Barnet' Board meeting last night, at Barnet House. This was only the second time that a Board meeting has been attended by residents. An earlier meeting this year which some of us went to was reported here.

Mrs Angry was not able to attend last night, but her spies were there, to lobby the Board and demand the return of all services to the direct control of the local authority. You can see here, in the New Statesman article by Kate Belgrave and Alan White, how they got on -

and view footage of the protests uttered by residents, at the end of the meeting, when the Board refused to engage with them, and then walked out of the room, informing those present that they had no right to attend the meeting of a private company.

Whoah: hold on.

Hold on, just one moment. This is not a private company. 

This is a body set up by a local authority, to provide local services, and one that is failing, and which has avoided collapse by being subsidised by local authority funding, that is to say by the tax paid by me, and you, and all the residents of Broken Barnet. 

We, the residents, are effectively the shareholders of this company, and if we want to ask you questions, Ms Tracey Lees, and Mr Troy Henshall, and Mr Terry Rogers, you can sit at the table and bloody well give us some answers. 

If this was a private company, would failure on such a spectacular scale be tolerated? No.

You would all be sacked, and looking for a new position. 

This is not a game, and your responsibilities are not just to yourself, and to your careers, they are to every resident, and every service user. 

Your failures are having real consequences on their lives. 

And don't say you weren't warned: the business plan so lovingly created at such vast expense by One Barnet implementation consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER was clearly demonstrated as flawed from the start by a report commissioned by Unison, which was of course you all ignored. Shame, isn't it?

That so much of the One Barnet shite is based on an assumption of profit from 'growth', or selling services to external buyers is one of the fundamental, fatal weaknesses of the whole programme. What a shame that our auditors do not agree with Mrs Angry's analysis, and seem happy to approve all these high risk plans, with such a low guarantee of success.

Hmm. Take a trip across to the Brent Cross blog now: (but come back, don't want to encourage him) ...

and read the words of Barnet Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius telling us all about the DRS contract (part of the £1 billion pound giveaway to Crapita) which is, ha ha, now a Joint Venture (after his senior management team decided to change the business model, without informing him). 

Sideshow Bob: Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius

Says Richard:

"We are proposing that the contracting organisation will be a joint venture so that if there is other business that can be picked up by the new venture from different councils, the profits can be shared with the taxpayer." 

"if there is other business" ... if there is other business ... but just a moment, is the DRS contract not heavily dependent on other business - up to 86% dependent, in fact? 

If that goes wrong, will we not face another catastrophe like South West One? 

Do any of these people know, or care, what they are doing with our money, our lives, our future?

Ladies and gentlemen of Broken Barnet, roll up, wake up: this is One Barnet -one billion pounds worth of contracts with Capita - all the DRS , and NSCSO services. When problems occur, just as we are seeing with Your Choice Barnet, all real control will be outsourced to a private company, and just as last night, no councillors were present to ask any questions on your behalf, (why?), your interests will not be represented in any meaningful way, and your right to scrutinise the decision making processes of your own council services will no longer apply.  

This is no longer Broken Barnet, see: this is Capitaville Plc, a private company.

Leave the room now. 

And please close the door on your way out.

Monday 27 May 2013

Helen Michael: The phantom fly poster strikes again ...

Another extraordinary development in the story of Helen Michael, North Finchley cafe owner and parking campaigner who was the victim of Brian Coleman's assault in Finchley High Road last September, an attack to which he pleaded guilty, at the last minute, but in an interview published recently sought to justify his behaviour, and make further completely unsubstantiated allegations about Ms Michael. Unfortunately some of these remarks have been republished by the Standard, an action which has of course compounded the impact of the original, arguably defamatory allegations.

This interview, widely criticised for giving a convicted criminal the chance to cause further distress to his victim, has been the subject of at least one formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, and has been reported to the police and to the Crown Prosecution Service. 

The Barnet Press, incidentally, far from apologising for the ill judged interview with Coleman, published an editorial this week defending their actions - as well as some highly critical letters from residents objecting to the article. Apart from the fact that the writer clearly has no idea of the meaning of the word 'reactionary', it is a pretty shabby piece of journalism, in defence of an even shabbier one. (pic pinched from the Barnet Eye):

Coleman's latest idiotic blog, all about football (yes, really  ...) is largely in praise of Sir Alex Ferguson, "a Christian Gentleman of the first order and a man with a firm determination and a track record of achievement . A genuine "man's man" ... oh dear: but Mrs Angry notes with interest that Coleman makes an unusual reference to the Barnet Press - unusual in that he does not make any of his traditionally rude remarks about local newspapers, and appears to have a sudden new fund of knowledge of their relationship with Barnet Football Club. Clearly the Press is now back in favour.

The day after the Coleman interview was published, Helen Michael was targeted by an anonymous letter writer, who posted an accusatory and intimidating poster on the outside wall of Cafe Buzz.

Ms Michael :
We hope you are proud of yourself now.
There was no need to commit  perjury and pervert the course of justice to achieve your petty vendetta.
Why not use a civil lawsuit  instead.
Mr Coleman is not well liked  hence the verdict!
This is a sad day for British  justice -when there are real criminals out there.
The "case" was only a public  order issue
We won't be using your cafe any more nor will our friends.
Matter of principle, Remember - "What Goes Round Comes Round"
We are not friends of Brian  Coleman  -by the way.

Ms Michael, whose mother had died only days before, was of course deeply upset by this unwarranted and cowardly act, and reported it to the police, who have taken the matter very seriously, and their investigations are continuing - including the inspection of nearby CCTV cameras.

This bank holiday morning, however, the story took an even more bizarre turn of events.
Helen arrived back at her cafe this morning, having been there until 2 am, working frantically to finish the redecoration which is in process over the bank holiday period. To her astonishment, another anonymous letter, smaller in scale, but apparently from the same source, was stuck to the side of the cafe:

Buzz Cafe

Re: note left outside

Please accept our apologies,
it was misworded in error and the 
full facts were not known at the time

It was meant to read "Why waste 
police time and blow incident up 
out of proportion". There was no
threat implied whatsoever of
anything illegal. Apparently 
Brian Coleman admitted guilt and 
obviously acted irrationally and 
was prone to outbursts.  He seemed 
obviously unsuitable in character
for his office and should have 
resigned sooner.
There did appear to be an apparent "vendetta" against him but this
may be put down to press hysteria
and inaccurate Web gossip etc.

Again - an unreserved apology.

Well, well.

Nice to see a poison pen letter writer with good manners, and having the courtesy to apologise, isn't it?

Clearly our anonymous friend is, after all, capable of feeling remorse for his or her actions. That's good.

Oh: or ... 

Could it be, perhaps, that he or she is worried that the old bill is going to be knocking on his or her door? 

The tone of these letters is frankly bonkers, and would be comical if it were not for the clear intention of the first missive to upset the victim of an act of violence, and imply that some sort of reprisal would ensue for daring to report her assailant to the police.

Speaking to Mrs Angry this morning, Helen Michael was simply at a loss to know what to think of the latest turn of events.

Nice to get an apology, she commented ruefully ... but what's really behind it

Have the decency to say it to my face, whoever you are ...

Mrs Angry imagines that the person or persons targeting Helen Michael are unlikely to have the courage to do so. In the meanwhile, Councillor Coleman, by way of reparation for his assault, has only a few days left in which to pay his victim the compensation he owes her, as ordered by Judge Wright  ... see notice below:

The money is to be donated to Marie Cure Cancer Care, in memory of Helen's mother.

Thursday 23 May 2013

The making of the Mayor of Capitaville

It should have been ME, thinks Brian

There are some council meetings  in the London Borough of Broken Barnet which, in themselves, are routine, trivial, meaningless, pointless - and need no reporting. Mrs Angry enjoys these events almost more than anything, to be frank. 

It is, you see, in the very banality of the occasion, the sheer nonsense and self indulgence,  that you find the answer to a very interesting question: why do the Tory councillors in Barnet behave in the way they do? What motivates them?

Yes, we are talking about the council's annual general meeting, where the ceremony of mayor-making is held, and appointments to all the committees and Cabinet are made. 

The usual full council meetings are awash with archaic municipal ritual, of course: the fondling of the mace, the footmen, the pantaloons, the tricorn hats, the bowing and scraping: and that's before Brian Coleman even leaves home for the Town Hall. 

But the annual do: dear God - you can have no idea, dear reader, of the feverish excitement amongst our elected representatives, at least on the Conservative side of the chamber.

On Tuesday night the councillors packed out the room and the public gallery with their wives, mistresses, mothers, lovers, and an assortment of members of the armed forces, one in camouflage, clearly hoping he would blend into the background and disappear from view. So many men in uniform, in fact, that Mrs Angry wondered if certain Tory councillors were planning a military coup, and to replace the ruling junta of benevolent dictator Richard Cornelius with a regime of robust discipline, to kick the council back in line with the right sort of swivel eyed loon values that linger in the heart of Barnet Conservatism. 

But there were no tanks on the lawn outside the Town Hall, just a demonstration against the blacklisting of building workers, and consequently a lot of impertinent noises at the most hushed and reverential moments of the evening, which caused Mrs Angry no little amusement.

The Tories love the excuse this annual event affords them, to dress up in academic style gowns, and prance about feeling intellectually validated. Mrs Angry was reminded of some of the teachers at her old school, who insisted on wearing this sort of get up. The ones that did were barking mad. 

Disgraced councillor Coleman, fresh from his conviction for criminal assault, was all the more determined to turn up to this pantomime, and wear his gown and that medal on a ribbon he is so proud of - Mrs Angry informed the public gallery that he won it for swimming a width at Squires Lane pool, circa 1969, a revelation which bemused some of the Tory wives in the reserved seats.

The Tory Mayors of Broken Barnet hate having to give up their role, at the end of their reign, and pass all the bling and moth eaten, fur trimmed velvet robes to their successors. When Coleman had the Mayorship wrested from him, he actually cried. 

Last year, when Toyah Wilcox lookalike Cllr Lisa Rutter stepped down, her speech, uttered in the curiously royal tone she had adopted for the role, was almost longer than her year in office, and threatened to leave new boy Brian Schama fretting impotently at the side forever, like Prince Charles waiting tetchily for the throne, with nothing to do but sell Duchy biscuits and argue with Camilla. 

Retiring deputy Mayor Kate Salinger now led the chamber in prayer. 

She beseeched the Almighty, on behalf of her shameless colleagues:  

Give us wisdom, insight, patience, dedication, integrity, open mindedness, and above all: humility ...

Yes, thought Mrs Angry, chortling in her seat, these qualities are certainly in short supply in the ranks of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet ...  

And above all: humility ... Councillor Coleman, at this point, had his head bowed, and his eyes closed in prayer. 

What was he asking, wondered Mrs Angry, full of grudging admiration for the old rogue's total lack of shame?   

Dear Lord, 

Please make me a Good Boy. 

I promise to stop assaulting Women in the street, 

and parking in Loading Bays, 

if only You will give me back my Glorious career, 

and teach the Old Hags of Broken Barnet to Shut Up 

and know their place, 

at the *rse end of everything, 

in Your Plan for the World, 


Amen, prayed Mrs Angry, silently, as she looked on, deeply moved.

Councillor Hugh Rayner had proposed Melvin Cohen to be Mayor, and wanted us to know why.Mrs Angry wanted to know why too, as he has already had a go at it, and the other contender Brian Salinger, has not. As 'La Bloggeuse' tweeted to Barnet Council last night:

To swear in Melvin Cohen as Mayor of Barnet once may be regarded as a misfortune. To do so twice looks like carelessness.

Still, Hugh likes the cut of his jib, and recommended him for the following reasons:

1. Because he thinks before he speaks
2. Because he doesn't feel obliged to speak, just for the sake of it. 
3. Because he doesn't interrupt.

Hmm. But most of our Tory councillors are similarly silent, and probably not so much because they are thinking but because they are not thinking, or thinking about something else entirely, like their dinner, or how much longer the meeting will last, or why Mrs Angry is looking at them and laughing, and scribbling down notes.

Scourge of the unions, Cllr Andrew Strongolou, thinking awfully hard

Hugh told us that Melvin Cohen had lived through the leadership of five prime ministers, and listed them dutifully, reserving a tone of deep forebearance for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and a certain amount of equivocation for -oh dear, David Cameron.  Hugh Rayner is not, of course, a swivel eyed loon, but some of his best friends in Hendon Conservative Association most certainly are.

Cohen, he told us, had also outlasted six Chief Executives. Apparently this is some sort of rare victory. We were also informed that Melvin was an expert on the constitution. Expert? Certainly he presided over the emasculation of the constitution with great zeal, overseeing the silencing of Residents Forums, for example.

Are there any other nominations? No? The chamber was silent. 

Now that's what I call an election, declared Mr Shepherd, the perenniel one man chorus of disapproval in the public gallery, from behind his copy of Jewish Socialist magazine.

After much traipsing about between the chamber and a side room, where Cllr Cohen received the secret initiation into his new role, comprised of solemn oaths, trouser rolling, threats of violence and manly handshakes, he was seated on his throne of office, with Mr Jeff Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance, at his right hand side, like an awful foretelling of Judgement Day.

Goodbye to the former Mayor, Brian Schama - a very long goodbye - and farewell to his wife, who for some reason had to put on a pair of white gloves in order to be presented with a badge, for her 'very splendid service', presumably in putting up with Cllr Schama, who is still in Mrs Angry's bad books for not telling Brian Coleman off properly when he insulted the women in the public gallery with his 'old hags' slur.

Another farewell too to Mr Lustig, who is retiring after working for Barnet Council for more than thirty years. Mr Lustig must have done something very, very bad in a previous life, and has been well and truly punished for it in this one. His sentence is coming to an end, and escape is in sight. Mrs Angry will miss him, as he was a worthy opponent in the game of corporate scheming, here in Broken Barnet, and was a master of his art. Once he leaves, the council will self destruct, as only he has any real knowledge of the way to run the bloody thing, and with him go many secrets, one suspects. 

Tributes were paid by all parties, including one from the Independent party of one, represented by Brian Coleman. Coleman had spent the evening sat next to the long suffering Libdem councillor Suzette Palmer, who was too gracious and well mannered to tell him to shut up when he kept whispering comments in her ear, the free use of Tory ears being in rather shorter supply than in the past. 

Lady Palmer is a keen knitter - a worthy occupation for the women of Broken Barnet - and often sits with her needles clacking throughout meetings. Coleman was lucky that she had left them at home on this occasion, or Mrs Angry imagines that he may have found himself skewered on the end of one, as the evening continued.

Mr Lustig, declared Brian, with all the patronising approval and demi-god like authority of someone who imagines that he is still directing the course of events on earth, and has forgotten he has been returned to the real world, to dwell among mortals once more .... Mr Lustig is one of a dying breed of local government officers ... 

This made Mrs Angry laugh, as of course he was no doubt also obliquely referring to her brother, who worked in Corporate Governance with Lustig, for about the same length of time. (Brian bumped into Mrs Angry's brother at a funeral, recently, and informed him that everything had gone to pot, since he had left: see, Brian - can't cope without us, can you?)

A sad moment next, for Mrs Angry, as we heard from Councillor Andrew Harper, who is stepping down from his Cabinet post with responsibility for education. He has handled his portfolio with great enthusiasm throughout the last three years, and clearly finds it difficult to stand down now, but the demands of such a position are apparently too hard to sustain, for the full length of the current administration. 


Ah: next on the agenda - the question of committee membership. 

Mrs Angry had been particularly looking forward to this.

Can you guess, readers, which councillor was not at all happy about being excluded from the membership of any committee? 

Brian wins a hollow victory, and Lady Palmer wishes she had brought her knitting needles

Yes, Independent councillor Brian Coleman, having recently pleaded guilty to the offence of assault by beating of a female resident in the street, seemed to think that his criminal conviction should be no bar to appointment to a place on one of the council's committees.

He tried desperately to wedge himself into a position, forcing a vote on the issue. The chamber looked on as the motion was put. Only two councillors put up their hands (although Mrs Angry could not see the Mayor to note whether or not he supported his old ally). 

The two councillors who approved Coleman's bid were Councillor Brian Gordon, the right winger who once 'blacked up' in order to impersonate Nelson Mandela, to 'amuse' the poor residents of a care home, and thinks gay partners should not be allowed to foster or adopt children, and handle bar moutachioed, silver fox and expert linguist Councillor John Hart, who has also been the subject of a complaint in regard to an alleged racist remark to a resident at a forum, and is the only councillor Mrs Angry can recall daring to use the f word in the council chamber. No, not Finchley, or fishwives: fucking. Tssk.

Councillor John Hart votes for Brian, as Mrs Coleman looks on

Mrs Angry has written to Councillors Gordon and Hart to ask why they think Councillor Coleman should be given such a position of trust, after his recent conviction. She has received no reply yet,  but looks forward eagerly to their response.

Just to make sure, a count was taken of the number of Tory councillors who did not want their erstwhile colleague to be given a committee place. Twenty eight, intoned Mr Lustig, with, Mrs Angry may just have imagined, the very slightest trace of lingering satisfaction. 

For one ugly moment, Coleman's face darkened with fury. He then pulled himself together and set about trying to cause havoc by objecting loudly several times - Not Agreed! -to the remuneration status of the committees, an action which has consequences requiring a proportionality of selection, and was not welcomed. Pointless, as he achieved nothing other than revenge.

When it had been possible that a vote might have won him a seat, leader Richard Cornelius looked petrified, and started signally wildly at the Mayor. He then managed to interrupt and say that Coleman had been offered, at some point, a position, but had not liked what was on offer, and had demanded something else. 

Tory 'Leader'Richard Cornelius

Quite why any place was offered at all, was not explained, other than that our Tory leader appears to be utterly incapable of standing up to the man. He managed to blurt out that he thought the question of his membership of any committee should be delayed until another meeting, by which time, of course, Coleman may be - may be - finally thrown out of his local association.

Mrs Angry is informed that there is to be a meeting on 5th June at which fifty members of the executive of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association will listen to their chum's tale of woe, and then take a vote, by secret ballot, as to whether his membership should be re-instated. Ms Michael's side of things will not be presented, naturally. It is entirely possible that Coleman's colleagues will continue to support him: in that case central office will have to step in, one hopes.

None of this scandalous state of affairs was allowed to impinge on the evening's performance, of course: nor any mention of the real issues facing the residents of this borough - in fact amongst all the self congratulatory proceedings there was no acknowledgement of those whose interests this prize collection of fools, charlatans and incompetents purport to represent: the residents, taxpayers, and voters.

Only the day after the empty headed Tory councillors were told by their senior officers to accept the bid from Crapita for the DRS contract, giving away another massive range of our council services for the profiteering of the private shareholders, at our expense, they had already forgotten, and were busying themselves with their gowns, and their speeches, and their backslapping, and gleefully accepting lucrative posts on committees where, for the next year, they will look on in total indifference, nodding through reports they have never read, while all around them the residents they represent struggle to pay their rent, or to find employment, or keep their families together, in good health, security, and a modicum of happiness.

So there it was, the council meeting where the new Mayor of Broken Barnet became, by default, the Mayor of Capitaville, and no one cared. 

And as we write, the long fingers of Capita are probing the secret places of the corporate body, and familiarising themselves with all the temptations and promises of the pleasures, and the profit, to be found here. 

There is of course one other thing that was not spoken about, in all the fun on Tuesday night: the small matter of the Judicial Review, and the appeal which is due to take place. At any moment we expect to be told the date of the court hearing, and the next performance will be: Capitaville goes to the High Court.

Mrs Angry has her seat booked.