Friday 28 June 2013

Mrs Angry predicts: Gimme Shelter/A storm is threatening ...

Well, here we are, at the end of a heavy week, and so time for a Friday joke, perhaps. Well, a sort of a joke: Mrs Angry certainly has a smile on her face.

Look: Mrs Angry feels the spirit moving her to make a prediction. 

A weather forecast, in fact, as we look forward to the delights of Glastonbury. 

Oh dear: dark clouds in the sky, the sound of thunder, and a lightening strike hovering over the rooftops of Broken Barnet, if not the muddy fields of Somerset ...

What do you mean, Mrs Angry? Ah, well: wait and see.

There may be trouble ahead ... 

Do you believe in karma, readers? Mrs Angry does.

This is for anyone who, like Mrs Angry, is waiting for someone to get their well deserved come uppance, someone who will shortly be needing more than an umbrella to shelter from this particular storm ...

Wonder if the Stones'll be doing this one? A particular favourite of Mrs Angry's, in fact:

Have a good weekend, wherever you are.

Mrs Angry x

Wednesday 26 June 2013

The art of community engagement: another Residents Forum

As reported in the previous posts regarding the Cabinet meeting, it is more clear than ever that our idiotic Tory councillors are completely in denial about the implications of the One Barnet Judicial Review, the appeal hearing for which is shortly to be heard.

They maintain, in the face of all reason, that the Judge did not find that Barnet Council was in breach of the statutory obligation to consult residents about the mass privatisation of council services, and furthermore, they continue to defy the need to consult residents on this matter, or indeed any other important issue.

One of the core pieces of evidence which proved the lack of consultation was in relation to the censoring of the Residents Forums, achieved just in time to prevent discussion of One Barnet by an amendment of the council consitution. Residents are now forbidden from mentioning, let alone discussing, or criticising any council policy. Questions may only be raised that address strictly technical matters, 'public works': street based problems, parks, that sort of thing. No issue may be raised again within a six month period. The Forums are held at 6pm, when few working residents or parents can attend.

Such repressive and ruthless stifling of debate is clearly an affront to the principle of the freedom of expression, and any elected body with any pretence to the fundamental principles of democracy would be ashamed to adopt such a tactic in order to silence the views of their own electorate.

But this is Broken Barnet, not a democracy, more a Tory run tinpot administration where the swivel eyed loon holds power, and knows no sense of shame or self restraint.

Another restriction has been added to the draconian measure taken to censor the Forums - an earlier deadline for questions, couched in very misleading terms. The Forums are not advertised by the Council, except by means of an email sent in the week before to a few residents who persist in attending, and an advert hidden in the local press which is published the day before the deadline.

The result is predictable, and exactly what they want: low attendance and a shortage of questions. The Forums themselves, at least the one Mrs Angry attends, are run by an intemperate Chair, determined to silence anyone who dares to question the ridiculous rules.

Yesterday saw no papers published for our Forum until two hours before the starting time. Mrs Angry and other residents' questions, submitted on 'public works' issues, were blocked despite arriving on Friday, because they had missed the 10 am deadline - the date had not been given, only two working days before the meeting which one might reasonable assume to mean the deadline should be 10 am Monday, especially as the ad had only appeared the day before. But no: there would be no flexibility, even though only four questions were on the Agenda.

Interestingly, over at the Barnet Forum, maverick Tory councillor Kate Salinger had chaired a thoughtful meeting, with thinking allowed, and, heresy - a question from blogger Mr Reasonable that yes, was a matter of policy - the community engagement strategy. Or rather what passes for it, in an abstract sense, as there appears not to be one. But still, to be allowed to have an adult, daringly free debate about it ...
Libdem Cllr Jack Cohen stood obediently before the Chair (this is the feudal way in which proceedings are followed at these events) and asked for the indulgence of Councillor Old on behalf of his constituents who had a very important issue they wished to raise, that had been stupidly disallowed despite being submitted on Friday. He reminded Cllr Old that the Forums were supposed to serve the residents.  

There is nothing I can do, said Old, with evident satisfaction. 

Mrs Angry pointed out the unfairness of our questions being barred on these grounds. Councillor Old refused to listen to her, as usual.

One of the telling features of all Barnet council meetings is the appalling standard of the PA systems they use, and the difficulty residents always have in following the proceedings as a consequence. This suits the councillors very well, of course. They do not want to be heard, nor do they want to listen to members of the public and their impertinent questions. One councillor even made fun of Mrs Angry's hearing at the committee table on Monday - are you deaf? Slightly, yes, Councillor Rams, thankfully, when you are speaking, anyway.

In the Forums, they have elected not to bother with any microphones, and seem perplexed as to why this should be a problem. Can't hear? Sit at the front then.

Item 1 was about a CPZ extension in Hampstead Garden Suburb. The speaker stood before the panel, and spoke eloquently about his misgivings about the whole thing, the flaws in the whole concept of CPZs, and then pointed out there had been, ha ha: no real consultation. That, said Mrs Angry, is how things work, in this borough.

Later on, in the environment part of the evening, residents came along to support the extension. It is of course difficult to convey the sheer horror of what these cosseted residents have to suffer, as a result of other people daring to park outside their houses, but Tory grandee Cllr John Marshall was there to offer his fervent support, and counsel them in their hour of need, and even commanded the Highways Manager to install the CPZ earlier than he had agreed.  

He told an outrageous story of a local garage leaving a serviced car to be collected in - can you believe this - Winnifield Way? 

This is the exclusive road second only to Bishops Avenue in terms of affluence - the residents mostly massively wealthy international owners, and including a house owned by the Gaddaffi family, the occupation of which caused so much fury on behalf of the householder by our Tory councillors and MP. 

Mrs Angry wondered how Cllr Marshall would cope with the duties of a councillor in an area of social deprivation, where real need and the full impact of social exclusion would present an altogether less agreeable and easy role to play.

Some local councillors always attend the Forums: some local councillors, especially the Tory members such as Eva Greenspan and Dan Thomas do not. Councillor Thomas told Mrs Angry he did not think it was necessary. 

But Mrs Angry was puzzled last night to see Tory councillor Lisa Rutter sitting in the front row, accompanied by her husband. 

Councillor Rutter very much enjoyed her reign as Mayor, taking her husband with her everywhere as her escort, and she has retained her queenly air of graciousness since the time of her reluctant abdication in favour of Cllr Schama. 

Councillor Rutter is not a councillor in Finchley or Golders Green, nor a resident, and yet she was allowed to speak to Item 2, proposed by a resident who did not turn up. The resident concerned and 24 other people wanted a mirror put on a tree to allow a better view of the road for motorists. Rutter spoke - at some length - and with no little displeasure, about this item, an issue she said was of great concern to some people she knew in the road concerned, Mayfield Avenue, which is in Woodhouse Ward, and perfectly well represented by three Labour councillors.  She then took the opportunity to criticise unnamed council officers for not responding to her questions about the issue 'in a logical manner'.

It seemed to Mrs Angry that it was completely inappropriate for a councillor from another ward to use the Forum in this way, and especially so when we, the residents, are prevented from speaking openly about issues of our choosing. Rutter's colleague Cllr Old saw no problem at all, however and allowed her to continue unquestioned.

Is this a Residents' Forum, or a Councillors' Forum, asked Mrs Angry?

No reply.

Next up, Item 3 - residents wanting a crossing refuge and a 'keep clear' box to improve road safety in Regents Park Road. In the bad old days, presumably when Coleman was in charge, this had been refused. Now that we have been relieved of his attentions, we are allowed to proceed with such measures, or at least we are allowed to review the situation.

Item 4: a resident who did not turn up was cross about being splashed by buses driving through puddles in Llanvanor Road. It was agreed that a water company had not fixed the mess they made in recent works in the area. Mrs Angry reminded the Highways Manager that Crapita was going to do that in the future for him. He allowed himself the indulgence of a wry smile.

Item 5, and a load of old rubbish from the head of rubbish at the London Borough of Broken Barnet. In fact, he was a very nice man, keen to tell us all about the joys of the new recycling scheme, which will supply us with even more wheelie bins, which we poor taxpayers have to pay for, and then find a place to keep. 

Mrs Angry asked where people like her who live in terraced houses are supposed to put these blasted things, and wouldn't it be better to encourage people to compost their garden waste instead of collecting it, and why did we choose the more expensive tender for the new wheelie bins?

Composting was clearly not of any interest to our councillors, and some 112 streets have been identified as going to have problems with accommodating the new bins, although we are not allowed to know where they are, and the new bins are the most expensive because they will, like the new deal with Crapita, last ten to fifteen years (in fact they will outlive the deal with Capita, which is biodegradable and will be composted in a couple of seasons). And they have very nice wheels. The bins, not Capita.

Ah,last item, a survey sneaked into the Forum with no warning, at the last minute, in the hope that having put almost everyone off attending, a suitably small number of residents would take part. This low return would, in the time honoured traditions of Barnet consultation, produce all the evidence the councillors need to shut down the Forums forever.

Mrs Angry asked how the survey would be conducted, other than in this way? The Chair claimed it would be available on the council website. Hmm. Nicely hidden. Unfotunately for our councillors, residents attending last night's Forum will be making sure the forms are made more broadly available, and a link to the survey will be uploaded later. 

NB: Thursday - the form would appear still not to have appeared on the council's website.

Time for part two, the Environment sub-committee. Mrs Angry usually goes home at this point, but had to stay last night as she was speaking to an item regarding the road safety concerns in her own road.

On the committee were Tories Graham Old, John Marshall, Libdem Lord Palmer, and Labour councillors Houston, Rogers and Hutton.

The first subject was road safety in the Moss Hall Schools area - a parent spoke very well about the urgent need for better safety measures in the vicinity, and raised many issues similar to Mrs Angry's experience in her road. One such subject was the problems caused by a failure to enforce parking regulations. Enforcement officers were never to be seen there, as indeed is the case here in Squires Lane. 

As we all know, this is because parking enforcement has become an income generating service, rather than one intended to manage the needs of drivers, and keep the roads clear, and the officers are targeting the lucrative high streets. Trying to make this point, however, was not allowed by the Chair. 

Really it would be preferable if we did not mention this fool anymore, and ignored him entirely, but now that disgraced former Tory councillor - and former Environment cabinet member - Brian Coleman has embraced the world of twitter, he has committed himself to making as many outrageous/tedious pronouncements as possible, in order to continue to receive the attention he so desperately craves. Today, in a hole, even if he doesn't realise it yet, and so still digging, and in a comment clearly inspired by the issues discussed in this Forum, displaying his usual offensive, sexist attitude, he tweeted:

20mph zones are sops to bored housewives who have no idea about traffic issues.Police have no power to enforce

By the time the committee had started, the hall's caretaker had been asked by someone, presumably a resident from Barnet Alliance, who use the same venue, to produce a microphone. Unfortunately for Councillor Old, therefore, when Mrs Angry's turn to speak came about, not only, for once, was he able to try to shut her up, her words of wisdom were amplified throughout the room.

You have five minutes, he told her, through pursed lips. 

Mrs Angry had not written a speech, just made observations on the report's recommendations, but the evening's experiences had inspired her to jot down a few brief comments, which she proceeded to deliver, to the visible annoyance of the Chair, who sat busying himself writing I hate Mrs Angry all over his papers, and pretending she was not there, or so she imagined. Labour Cllr Arjun Mittra recorded his reaction:

Cllr Arjun Mittra 25 Jun
Cllr Old enjoying speech

Cllr Arjun Mittra 25 Jun
Ok, he's perhaps not enjoying speech

The reason why Mrs Angry had wanted to comment on the points raised by the speaker from Moss Hall, she informed the Chair, was because it was directly relevant to her own item. In fact, this proves the point that we should, and  must discuss these issues not in isolation, but in terms of policy, and on a wider scale. The reign of Councillor Coleman is over, and now there needs to be a change of culture, and a boroughwide review of policy on road safety, particularly, as in these cases, in the vicinity of schools. What could be more important than the safety of our children? You should be prioritising this issue, and doing that thing so unpopular with the Tory councillors of this borough - consulting the residents and schools of the relevant areas.

Cllr Old did not want to hear this, and told Mrs Angry so, at some length, interrupting her allotted time. She ignored him and carried on, and then had a very productive discussion with Neil Richardson, the Highways manager about the measures necessary to reintroduce some improved level of safety in the Squires Lane/Manor View area. Old made no memorable contribution to the discussion, unlike Labour's Cllr Houston who has helped bring this report to the point of consideration, and the approval of a proposed budget of £21,000 worth of measures to be implemented.

What are the Tory councillors so afraid of, that they must act to control every possibility of free and open debate at any meeting involving members of the public? 

Why does the Chair of a Residents Forum think he is entitled to treat the taxpayers and voters of this borough with such condescension and lack of respect for their opinions? 

Why should we not question the policies, decisions, and possibilities of the issues that affect our daily lives and our rights as citizens? 

How on earth can they think that what they are doing is compatible with the policy of localism, as promoted by Pickles? 

Do they even care what their own party policies are?

Let's see what Eric has to say, shall we?

The Golden Share - or: words have meanings - Cabinet meeting Part Two

Dr Azi Khatiri made the last speech, urged on by an impatient Cllr Cornelius, who had somewhere to go to, it seemed, illustrated by Mrs Cornelius reportedly pointing at her watch at a later stage of the proceedings.

We pay our taxes, said Azi, in good trust ... She accused the councillors of betraying that trust, and prioritising companies' profits and shareholders' dividends. What is there to protect us, she asked?

The councillors looked on, silently.

She was told to stop.

We shall overcome, she promised, as she stepped away.

It was time for another presentation from Pam Wharfe, the Director For Place. (Director For Place, I ask you: how up themselves these people are). Mrs Angry's heart sank. The Director opened her mouth and lots of One Barnet shaped words spewed out onto the table, making a neat little pile of jumbled up concepts and meaningless jargon.

 Cllr Cornelius asked someone not to take a photograph of the public gallery. 

To be fair, it was a pretty horrible sight, stuffed full as it was with One Barnet executives, Capita spies and grumpy looking men from Trowers and Hamlin.  

Are you worried about your appearance fee, asked Mr Shepherd, as he always does.

Time for Captain Cooper to step into the breach. He adopted a steady, but beautifully soothing tone, the sort of approach you might use to placate a small child having a tantrum - or perhaps a badger, just before you cull it - and addressed the Tory Cabinet in carefully rehearsed words. He kept referring in hushed tones throughout the evening to 'the relationship' they were going to experience with Crapita. Not a business partnership, see: or a marriage between equals: a casual relationship, slightly seedy, but replete with mutual satisfaction. An abusive relationship, suggested a member of the public.

Cooper talked blithely of what might happen in Years 6 and 7 of the new age of Capitaville.

Will you still be here, Craig, wondered Mrs Angry aloud, and rather tactlessly?

... swiftly moving without comment over the awkward subject of KPIs (those crucial measurements, half of which are still in dispute) the Captain explained once more the story of the 'Golden Share' in the Joint Venture, which is like a golden ticket from Willy Wonka, or in this case Paul Pindar, to visit the chocolate factory of Capitaville, and try some of the sweets, and then disappear, kidnapped by the Oompa Loompas, turned into fudge. (Yes: and Mrs Angry expects to be offered an everlasting gobstopper).

Capitaville: artist's impression, courtesy of our implementation partners

Time for the councillors to try to formulate some questions. Robert Rams had nothing to ask about the multi million pound contract he was endorsing, but wanted only to demand why no opposition member had asked to speak? He had a point. Apparently Labour or Libdem councillors had the right to address the committee, but had chosen not to. Labour, as Mrs Angry found out later, had decided to leave the questioning to residents, being mindful of the fact, unlike the Tories, that they have few enough opportuntities to engage in such meetings. Whether or not that was a wise decision is debatable. It might be thought that the point of opposition is to oppose, and be seen to oppose. Still: luckily, residents were doing it for themselves.

Rams again refused to pose a question but attempted to make a political jibe. He began a petulant rant about 'the silent majority' he claims he represents, people he meets on the doorstep who raise no objection to One Barnet. That, Mrs Angry pointed out, is because you have not informed them about it, as the judge noted in the High Court ... Silent majority: that is what the Tories want from their residents, of course: silence, tacit and unquestioning approval of everything they do.

Councillor Dean Cohen's turn. This was a rather baffling contribution. Dean was only worried about the future provision, in Capitaville, of grit. Dean likes grit: when he was Councillor Coleman's environment lackey, he was given a supply of grit to play with, and allowed to invent a diy grit distribution scheme with shovels and buckets, and he has never quite got over the heady excitement.

Oh God, moaned Mrs Angry, please: see the bigger picture. A flash of rebellion from Cllr Cohen: You can laugh, he said, which she was, uncontrollably, these are the things people raise on the doorstep ...

That's because, repeated Mrs Angry, you don't tell them about anything else ...

Councillor Rajput asked one of his questions which always cause listeners' eyes to glaze over and induce a sense of losing the will to live, to which Mrs Angry clearly did not listen, as there is nothing in her notes, but the response from Ms Pam Wharfe caught her attention, as - yes, she did, she referred to a profound challenge which is clearly her responsibility: how we maintain the place that is Barnet?

The place that is Barnet.

Ms Wharfe is of course - in case you did not know - Director For Place. Not just any Place -in the Place that Is Barnet. 

The rest of the response escaped Mrs Angry, who had stuck her fingers in her ears, but before she managed that, she heard a murmured mention of demand pressures going forward ... 

Fingers out and, hello, an intriguing throwaway reference to another new relationship - one between Capita Symonds and Barnet Homes, over 'land'? What's that all about, then? 

Ah: an interesting question, at last to Captain Cooper: perhaps the most important question of all - what would happen in the case of 'multiple service failure'?

Cooper's response was perfectly calm, and fooled no one who knows anything about the history of outsourcing public sector services. Persistent breaches would be addressed, he assured us by remedies, stepping rights, and blah blah blah ... but the truth is that the contracts contain a web of legal knots that can only be untied by dispute which will take time, money and possibly legal action. In the meanwhile, any loss of standard of service will be borne by the taxpayers and residents of Broken Barnet. 

The deal was approved, of course. The show of Cabinet members asking a few meaningless questions, and receiving a litany of platitudes in return is a necessary ritual, that's all.

 Blogger Mr Mustard had been there  and bought the appropriate t shirt ...

Tagged on to the Cabinet meeting was a Cabinet Resources Committee meeting. 

 This proved to be a fitting footnote to the evening's main event.

Public questions, again: John Dix wearily took his seat at the table once more. He raised the subject, once more, of the £5 million overspend on the bills for the One Barnet implementation consultants, Agilisys/iMPOWER. 

An overspend of five million pounds, from an original agreement of two million pounds. 

Yes: the obscene extravagance of £7 million of taxpayers' hard earned cash on one small private company, and all in the name of saving money. 

The sum to be saved from the DRS contract is now less than the bill for the consultants. 

Do the maths - because clearly our Tory councillors cannot manage this for themselves. As John said, before walking off in despair - the council is in denial.

Barbara Jacobson took her turn again. She addressed her remarks, in fury, to the young deputy leader, Dan Thomas, who is Chair of CRC. He cowered under the force of her attack. There was NO BUDGET for this spending on consultants, she asked? 

You don't know how to manage a project? 

Thomas seemed completely unable to respond - probably because there is no response to make. He has previously criticised overspending on the salaries of senior officers, even the Chief Executive - he knows perfectly well that there is no justification for such profligacy with the consultants fees, and yet has chosen to do nothing about it.

Barbara was not going to let him off the hook, reminding him of the High Court judge's finding that there had been no consultation with residents over One Barnet. 

The Tory leadership and the Cabinet are determined judgement deniers, of course. They refuse to acknowledge this finding, in the absurd way a child caught red handed stealing from the biscuit jar insists they did not do it.

I hate to go on about it, said Barbara, not entirely truthfully ... these are only words ... but they have MEANING! ...Let me just remind you ... You did NOT consult!

Thomas' carefully adopted One Barnet smile became harder and harder to maintain, in the face of her fury. He looked like a pupil trying to brazen it out in the headteacher's study, but slowly realising all protest was useless.  

She tried then to ask how much it would have cost to fund a proper consultation. Thomas tried to wrong foot the argument by talking about the cost of a referendum. No, she retorted, as did various members of the public, not a referendum, proper consultation! He did not know, because no one had ever thought to find out.

The Tory councillors looked on, puzzled, as of course the very idea of informing and consulting their own electorate is totally incomprehensible to them.

Thomas stupidly tried the argument trashed in the High Court, that the annual budget consultation addressed any need to consult over One Barnet. He was yelled down, of course, and looked totally discredited. It was a shockingly bad performance, but then again: he had no defence. In court, even the highly experienced QC acting for the council visibly struggled to put together a case to support the authority's claim to have addressed the statutory requirement, and failed, as the judgement showed.

A change of subject in the questions now, but still another insight into the way in which this council works, in secret, and in defiance of any need for transparency and accountability.

Mr David Hersch had tabled questions about a very interesting issue, and one which is deeply mysterious: the tale of the sale of the former Hendon Football Club, a saga which has enthralled us all for many years.

In Broken Barnet, as we know, a football club, like a library or a museum, is not a community asset, but a potential property development. For some unknown reason, Barnet Council is determined to sell this property, derelict for years, and now occupied by squatters, to the tenants, Montclare Developments, who propose to build housing there. 

Mr Hersch is the Chairman of the London Jewish Girls High School, a much needed school for girls from the charedi community, and one which desperately needs a new location. For once, in contrast to the ill advised plan to move a huge school from Harrow to the Broadfields site,  a new school is proposing to move to somewhere entirely suitable, and should, one might think, be supported by the local authority. The school's bid, however, was rejected, even though it was a higher offer. The case has gone to court, and judgement found in favour of the council, although an appeal is planned.

Asked about the value of the bids, Thomas said this was commercially sensitive. Not after you have accepted one and approved it? We haven't, said Thomas. Wait til the end of the meeting and ask again, suggested another resident.

As Mr Hersch left the table, clearly incensed, and who could blame him, the Chair, very unwisely boasted: '... another court case we won' ...

Not yet, riposted Mr Hersch. 

And Mrs Angry hopes there is an appeal, and that the school wins. 

The offence caused by the actions of the Tory councillors - and such an ill judged remark - will be felt amongst all those residents who would wish to send their daughters to this school, and will have an impact in next year's elections, without question. Odd that no local Tory councillors had the courage to support the school's representatives at this meeting. But the whole story is very peculiar, is it not?

There was one more issue, and one more example of what is to come for all us new residents of Capitaville: an illustration of what happens when privatisation goes dreadfully wrong, and standards of care deteriorate, in this case with fatal consequences. 

In December 2011, an elderly resident of Dell Field Court, a council care home managed by a company named Fremantle, died after falling from a first floor window, in an unexplained incident. 

It should be remembered that not only did this fatal accident occur during the company's tenure, residents at homes managed by Fremantle have been found to have been exposed to legionella. 

Yet in a decision which seems beyond belief, despite this record, our councillors are quite happy to extend the contract with this management company for another ten years, and did so at this meeting.

Resident and Barnet Alliance member Tirza Waisel questioned this astonishing decision, and commented on the inappropriate reference in the report to 'a risk of adverse publicity' rather than showing respect for the tragic death of a human being.

She asked how the family of the resident who died felt about the contract being renewed.

The Chair thought they would 'be pleased to know' that there was going to be a prosecution.

Yes: believe it or not, following the death of a vulnerable elderly resident, a health and safety prosecution will ensue, but we will reward the same company with another contract.

But it's ok: officers assured us all that 'lessons have been learned'.

Councillor Rajput mouthed some platitudes in support of the decision.

Would you put your parents in that home, asked Mrs Angry?

No reply.

Tory councillor Kate Salinger had asked to address this issue.

She reminded her uninterested colleagues of the duty of all councillors to safeguard the dignity and rights of all residents. She pointed out that there had not been a safeguarding investigation. The councillors looked on, unmoved. 

Mrs Angry remembered asking for a safeguarding investigation in the wake of the MetPro scandal, when illegally operating private security officers employed by our council, without CRB checks, boasted of working with 'looked after' children. The council refused to investigate any potential risks to which that these children had been exposed. Let us hope that in the future none of these children come forward with allegations about their time in the protection of the London Borough of Barnet.

Kate Salinger reminded her colleagues of Winterbourne View.

No reaction.

She asked again for assurances that the council had fulfilled its obligations in regard to safeguarding. 

We do give those assurances, said the Chair.

What are they worth, asked Mr Shepherd, in the public seats?

Nothing, replied Mrs Angry.

Words, you see, have meanings, but in this borough, they mean whatever our councillors and their senior officers want them to, or nothing at all.

This is Broken Barnet, where meaning, and empty promises, are nothing more than a little pile of words on a committe table.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Sink without fail: Barnet Tories, going down in flames - Cabinet meeting Part One

 Hissatsu: Cllrs Rams, Thompstone and Thomas

Last night saw the meetings of Barnet Council's Cabinet and Cabinet Resources committees, a marathon session for all who attended, and a masterclass in the art of thwarting the democratic process. Nothing unusual in that, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking? 

True, but as the evening followed its course one thing became very clear: the Tory councillors have lost complete control of everything except a cockeyed, fatal sense of loyalty to their own group, and to the reckless policies they have adopted.

They know they are doomed, but look, there they fall, crashing down like kamikaze pilots dying for the greater glory of the empire of the dumb, here in the last outpost of Capita. 

Remember when diving into the enemy to shout at the top of your lungs: "Hissatsu!" ["Sink without fail!"] At that moment, all the cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo will smile brightly at you.

(Advice to kamikaze pilots)

Ok. No cherry blossom in the committee room, but Mrs Angry spotted the pink, shining faces of Trowers and Hamlin and Capita smiling brightly in the public gallery. 

Sink without fail.

Chairing the meeting, of course, was Tory leader Richard Cornelius. 

He had graciously allowed not only some public questions, but in a trembling flirtation with the voluptuous pleasures of localism in action, granted permission to a handful of speakers intent on addressing the committee. Mrs Angry was rather annoyed by the latter decision, in fact, as she had bargained on him refusing our requests, but no: he caved in, and then Mrs Angry had to spend quite some time writing and rewriting a speech until it was Angry enough. Not as easy as you might think - in only five minutes, that is.

The questions? Mostly from Mr Reasonable, John Dix, and Mrs Angry. The responses, of course, were not sent before the meeting, nor were they available downstairs shortly before the meeting, nor were we allowed upstairs to see them until about ten minutes before the scheduled time. Almost impossible to formulate the supplementary questions in such circumstances, therefore, which is exactly what they want. 

Almost impossible.

Mr Reasonable will tell you what he thought of his responses: Mrs Angry's were hardly worth the effort of walking back and forth to the table. To paraphrase:

First reply from the Chair, regarding the £7 million spent on consultants Agilisys/iMPOWER on a 'savings' programme? 

Not bothered. 

You still confident about your legal advice from Trowers & Hamlin, when somehow they overlooked the fact that you acted unlawfully in not consulting with residents over One Barnet?


Think it's ok to switch from an already high risk strategic partnership to an even higher Joint Venture dumping the burden of risk on us the Barnet taxpayers rather than Crapita Symonds?

We believe it is.

Capita are going to use Barnet as a base to 'grow business' for their company, and it says here we only may receive additional benefits from this. That ok with you?

That's ok with us, as far as we can see, from this position on our knees, tongues poking out, waiting for further instructions.

On to the public speakers. Julian Silverman lectured them again on economic history, and the Industrial revolution. Whoossh - right over the head of our dopey Tory councillors, for whom history began in 2010.

Blogger Roger Tichborne pointed out politely that our dopey Tory councillors had something of a credibility problem with their residents. 

He listed the substantial number of legal challenges made in regard to the authorities' most controversial policy decisions: the sheltered housing issue, the library occupation, Catalyst, the CPZ campaign, Unison agency workers, Maria Nash's judicial review, and now the Sullivan challenge to Your Choice Barnet. He asked the councillors to reflect, and learn to engage with residents, to consult them. 

They looked on incomprehendingly. 

Here follows an example of the extent of delusion amongst the Tories:

Leader Cornelius said he thought there had been a lot of consultation.

Deputy leader Daniel Thomas claimed that the authority 'had won all these cases'.

You can imagine the reaction from the public gallery.

Roger Tichborne reminded Thomas that the Nash JR is still ongoing, and had found Barnet had failed to consult, that the CPZ is ongoing, that the library occupation led to the recommendation from the judge which led to the agreement on the community library, that John Sullivan's challenge had already forced YCB to agree to consult users of care services due to be hit by cuts, as they should have done already.

Dear me.

Barnet Alliance's Barbara Jacobson next. 

Barbara is a formidable woman, and always delivers a magnificent, incisive speech. 

She described Cllr John Marshall, at the recent scrutiny meeting, promoting the unlikely benefits of the Joint Venture like a sideshow performer selling snakeoil. 

She trashed his attempts to pretend that there had been proper consultation over One Barnet, please explain it to him, she begged: as the judge found, there was no intention to consult, we were not allowed to discuss it at our own residents forums, our petition of 8,000 signatures was ignored. 

As for Cllr Gordon, who said it was too late, the decision had been made, we can't change our minds - what then is the point of scrutiny? Cllr Rayner thought he was there to 'educate the public gallery'. 

And what an education it is, she remarked.

Mr Reasonable's turn. 

He pointed out the long, dangerous process of 'de-skilling' officers at high level that had taken place, the heavy reliance on interim post holders, the shockingly high bills now reached in the Agilisys accounts he had just inspected: we will pay heavily for this dependency, he predicted. 

Time for Bob Jacobson, another 'American exile', married to Barbara. His laid back speech began with the reminder that the Barnet Alliance which has done so much work to coordinate opposition to the One Barnet privatisation is indeed an alliance, and not a single minded party. He said it necessarily concentrated on One Barnet because they gave us no option: 'we know all ... this doesn't concern you ...' 

And he finished by concluding with, shall we say, a dry, thoughtful and pointed observation that cast aspersion on their competence, sincerity and probity in public office, expressed in less than respectful terms. 

It was an enjoyable moment.

Mrs Angry's turn. As she sat down, Councillor Cornelius tried to tell her she could have only three of her five minutes. Mrs Angry responded that she had timed her speech, which was five minutes and one second in length, and she was only willing to do without the one second.

As it turned out, he tried to shut her up, but she carried on anyway. Here is the text, sans a couple of ad libs.

"When you were elected to office three years ago, one of the first acts you undertook, under the pretext of an emergency motion, was to vote yourselves a handsome increase in the rate of your allowances.

After a public outcry, you were forced to withdraw this self serving attempt to screw more money out of the taxpayers of Barnet, except for those of you fortunate enough to be Chair of a committee, who now receive a 54% increase in allowance, even if, as in one case, the committee meets only once a year.

These allowances are meant to be in recognition of the responsibilities you bear on our behalf. Responsibilities which demand a real commitment to the role you have been given by your constituents, and to show respect and consideration for their views.

In the course of this administration I’ve observed Conservative members fail at every level to fulfil the demands of their role:  failing to scrutinise the reports written by senior officers, failing to read reports, failing to ask questions, failing to turn up to meetings, or turning up late, or sitting at the table, clearly bored, tweeting - or even falling asleep.

I’ve sat through countless meetings where residents have tried to engage in the democratic process of local government. Their questions have been ignored, swept aside; they have been treated as a nuisance, an imposition. 

You have refused to consult residents on the One Barnet privatisation, and voted to prevent any meaningful debate on any council policy by censoring the issues we wish to raise at our own Forums. The consequence of this has brought you to the High Court, when your failure to consult us was recognised by Judge Underhill, and is the reason the matter has been referred to appeal.

Still you continue to betray the best interests of this community by forcing through the approval of a second contract with Capita.

Have the residents of this borough been consulted on either of these contracts?

They have not.

Have members properly informed themselves of the contents of either of the contracts, or properly considered the implications of this massive act of privatisation?

They have not.

I refer you to the meeting of 6th December, when the first contract was due to be approved, and Cabinet members were asking the most fundamental questions which should have been raised years earlier, clearly showing the depth of ignorance of the enormous undertaking they were agreeing.

The leader admits he has relied on the assurances of senior officers, and allowed himself to be persuaded to abandon a position of scepticism about One Barnet, and then the Joint Venture, an issue which is crucial, not just in its immediate significance, but in the way it demonstrates the catastrophic failure of the democratic process in Barnet.

The decision to change to JV was made not by you, the Cabinet, or the Leader, although you have now dutifully approved it.

It was made in secret, by senior officers in un-minuted meetings with private consultants and bidders, under the guise of Corporate Directors Group, a body with no executive powers, acting in defiance of the principles of transparency and accountability.

Why have you been ‘persuaded’ to commit us to an arrangement which abandoned one high risk proposal to one which creates an even higher level of vulnerability, and lays the burden of risk more heavily with us?

Who benefits from this change of policy? Is it us, or Capita?

Who has benefited already from the One Barnet programme? Is it us? 

Or is it the private consultants who have billed us for millions of pounds, on the basis of a programme supposed to make savings which now, as we hear, are pathetically small because ‘the bidder has identified a more modest figure’?

How many senior officers involved in the One Barnet programme have had links with the companies who were bidders in this process? How many have taken jobs, or previously held jobs with them? Some most certainly have.

Why did the auditors, only after a year and a half of being asked, investigate the issue of the regulation of declarations of interest in the NSCSO and find so many failures, and why did they ignore the DRS process?

Why did you only approve a more robust regulation of the risk of conflict of interest to take effect after the tender process was over?

Why did you refuse to commission an independent risk report of One Barnet, and why did you ignore all the union reports which tried to explain to you the real dangers? Look at the warning given to you, and ignored, about Your Choice Barnet, whose business plan was written by the same consultants.

And finally: why were you so determined not to consider an in house option as an alternative to One Barnet, when this was the most obvious course of action to follow?

It is quite likely that the appeal will be successful, and the Capita deals struck out. Cllr Cornelius has again been persuaded that this would necessitate the imposition of punitive measures: savage cuts and mass redundancies. Punitive is the right word: it would be vengeance for its own sake.

We all accept the need for greater efficiencies and savings – but this is not the way to make them.

Look at the huge amount of profit Capita will make from running procurement, and remember with shame the grossly incompetent way you ran it, until we exposed what a mess you’d made of it.

Do it yourselves, with your own highly skilled staff. Dump the overpaid senior officers, and cut out the predatory consultants.

Instead of sitting back complacently, welcoming this overt act of carpet-bagging opportunism by the private sector, for God’s sake, before it is too late, sit up, man up and face the truth: you’ve been had.

Learn to say no to your officers, and the bidders, and the consultants, and remember what you have been elected to do: to serve the residents, taxpayers and voters of Barnet, and not to sell us and our public services into bondage to Capita, and their profiteering shareholders, for the next ten years."

continued in Part Two ...