Sunday 20 April 2014

Scandalous: Barnet Council's million pound highways handouts: for Tory wards

Updated Thursday - see below:

Let's get the difficult part over with first. 

Brian Coleman was right. 

There. Said it. 

Ok, 99% of the time he is wrong: spectacularly wrong, but this time ... he was spot on. 

In fact, he was not just right, he was even more right than he realised.

Councillor Dean Cohen is a member for Golders Green ward.  His father Melvin is not only a fellow councillor in the same ward, but currently the Mayor of Barnet - and the other ward representative is Reuben Thompstone, the man who has just cut the funding for after school schemes at Mapledown school for disabled children, and told their parents to think more creatively about raising the money the Tories have cut in order to pull off a pre-election tax stunt.

Dean Cohen inherited the role of Cabinet member for Environment from Coleman, after the latter's fall from grace - and Brian has never forgiven the more junior councillor for usurping his post.
In January, Coleman accused Dean Cohen of spending a disproportionate amount of the Highways budget funds on his own ward. 

In an article in the local Times he claimed that:

Councillor Dean Cohen, the Conservative cabinet member for environment, allocated £800,000 of the authority’s £7million annual budget for 2013/14 to his own ward of Golders Green – more than any of the other 20 electoral districts. 

Mrs Angry was intrigued by this suggestion. Certainly there had been reports of a lot of activity in Golders Green in recent weeks, nice new pavements, and lovely new trees springing up: look - here is one planted by Councillor Dean Cohen himself ... (this is part of a 'priority fund' which was rolled out in Brent Street, East Barnet Road, as well as Golders Green Road. All Tory wards, as it happens).

Cabinet member for environment, Dean Cohen, improving the environment of Golders Green with a lovely tree a few weeks ago ...

But £800,000 on highways funding for Golders Green?

Mrs Angry decided to ask about this budget spend at the last meeting of the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum. 

But, oh dear: the question was not answered, and no one would say why not. 

How very odd.

Mrs Angry turned to Councillor Dean Cohen, and asked him what the figures were. He rather tersely replied that he did not know. He claimed the money was allocated according to 'need'.  

Ah. According to need.

Mrs Angry was pretty Angry that her question had been ignored: in fact filibustered to the end of a two hour meeting and silenced. But she was laughing up her blogger's sleeve, at the same time, as she had already submitted a Freedom of Information request for the same information. The spreadsheet data at the top is the response. 

Strangely, the council claim they do not hold figures for the previous years. 

(If Mrs Angry were a cynical, untrusting sort of citizen journalist - yes, the worst kind, of course - she might suspect this is because more data would make the accusation of disproportionate funding even stronger).

In fact, Brian, you were not quite up to speed with Councillor Cohen's spending list. 

It was not £800,000 spent on Golders Green this year, in the run up to the elections. 

Or perhaps it was then, in which case there has been a bit of a splurge in the last few weeks, because the FOI response has a different figure:

It was £1,055,983

Last year, Golders Green ward had already been given a generous amount of funding: again the highest level of allocation, £563,542, 66. A total handout, therefore, in two years, of more than £1,600, 000.

Just to put that into perspective, the Labour stronghold ward of East Finchley, represented by members including the Labour leader Alison Moore, received only £157,638 this year, and £164,442,72 the previous year. East Finchley, incidentally, includes the Strawberry Vale estate, the worst area of social deprivation in the borough.

And Colindale, one of the least advantaged areas of the borough, with areas within the UK's top ten percent of social deprivation, as measured in 2012, in terms of income - and of course another Labour ward, received ... nothing

Nothing. Not a fucking penny. 

And the year before it had received a paltry £92, 936.25.

Mrs Angry had to query this amount, as she thought there had been an omission, but apparently not, as confirmed twice by officers dealing with the FOI response. Let's look at a graph representing the last two year's budget spending, ward by ward, kindly created by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, who has some grasp of statistics, and is quite good at adding up, unlike Mrs Angry.

Well: how very interesting. The top four lucky recipients - by coincidence all Conservative wards - were given more than a million pounds over a two year period: and Golders Green is way ahead of the others, with £1.6 million.

Of course there may be a reason for this need of such high expenditure. 

And so Mrs Angry has written to Councillor Cohen to hear his reasoning behind the wildly varying range of budget allocation. 

No response as yet.

We await with interest the explanation for the second highest level of funding going to Hale ward, the Tory ward currently blessed with the representation of Councillors Hugh Rayner, Brian Gordon, and ... Tom Davey. 

Hale is number 17 out of 21 wards in terms of size, according to the council's own ward profile data, compiled in 2012 - and only number six on the list of most populous wards. It is largely a quiet, affluent residential, middle class area, unlike some of the wards with much lower levels of funding, such as Childs Hill, a Libdem ward, or traditional Labour areas like West Hendon. 

Childs Hill, West Hendon, Colindale, East Finchley: these are all wards with areas of high social deprivation - but apparently not worthy of high levels of highways funding. Of course by Barnet Tory reasoning, the feckless poor should not be driving cars they cannot afford, nor expect their pavements to be maintained to the standard of the millionaire residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb, or Totteridge.
Hale, of course, is a marginal ward, and very likely to fall to Labour in next month's elections. This is clearly a coincidental factor, and should not be interpreted as in any way influencing the provision of funding.

But here is another graph, this time courtesy of Mr Mustard, before he was famous - showing the allocation of funding in the last year, and just before the elections:

Interesting to see, is it not, the pattern of blue and red, and all the red drifting towards the bottom of the pile? Burnt Oak is the only Labour ward getting a decent hand out this year - oh, and West Finchley ... guess who lives there? That troublemaker, Mrs Angry.  And another troublemaker and, until May 2012, the former Environment Cabinet member.

And yet Mrs Angry's ward is still waiting for the life saving safety measures in the Squires Lane area, funding promised last summer, and delayed yet again until after the election. The crash barrier meant to protect primary and nursery school children at Manorside, destroyed in October, in yet another serious accident while we wait for the safety measures, is still missing, after several requests and promises made. What price is the life of a child, in West Finchley?

One wonders how many other wards have had projects agreed and yet not implemented.

As for Colindale, with £92,000 last year, and seemingly nothing this year - and if this is a mistake, it is one verified by the FOI officers - Mrs Angry understands from local Labour councillors that they have been desperately trying to find out what has been happening to promised repairs and  other much needed measures. 

It is alleged that all sorts of excuses have been given for the many delays in the installation of a much needed crossing in Aerodrome Road, for example: change of contractors, problems with S106 funding: although these were resolved and the implementation promised for April, councillors have now been told it will be after the election, in June.

Similarly it is claimed that a crossing in Colindeep Lane was delayed by TFL, funding, electrical problems. And residents nearby have complained about pavements, but nothing has been done. No money in the kitty, then? Why? Has it all gone to Golders Green, and Hale, and Finchley Church End?

When Coleman made his accusations about the disproportionate funding, it was revealed that a new system of funding allocation had been introduced by the new Tory Cabinet member:

Councillor Cohen, who was appointed in May 2012, scrapped the previous policy of equal allocation to wards in favour of a new system, under which highways officers identify areas of greatest need. 

Cohen explained the apparent disparity in funding levels, claiming that:

... the additional cash handed to Golders Green makes up for a “lack of investment in previous years. 

He defended the new way of doing things: 

It is based on need. We have a list of roads that are a high priority and that is constantly reviewed.
It comes to me and I make suggestions and take things out but it is always based on the need of an area. 

I live in my ward so I am able to identify problems but if the need is in Golders Green then I’m not going to spend money in other areas just because they are not my ward. 

So there you have it. Golders Green is in desperate need of highways funding, as are three other affluent Tory wards, and Colindale, and East Finchley are already adequately funded.

Convinced? Or are you worried about the lack of safeguards to protect this vital funding from the risk of political intervention and inequality in provision throughout the borough?

But then inequality and political intrigue is only what we expect, in our borough. This is Broken Barnet: If it ain't broke, we fix it - in a Tory ward, anyway: and if you are foolish enough to live amongst the less advantaged residents, then that's your hard luck.

If you don't like it, you know what you can do - and yes, there is something you can do, next month, on May 22nd: vote for a fairer representation of the real needs of the people who live here, and change this administration of fools to one where fairness, equality, transparency and accountability mean something more than the empty promises of this shabby Tory council. Mrs Angry

Updated Wednesday:
Mrs Angry is still waiting for a reply from Councillor Dean Cohen in regard to questions about this matter put to him in an email on Sunday. 

Dear Councillor Cohen

You may recall that at the last meeting of the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum, I had submitted a question about the allocation of spending in regard to the Highways Budget.

With no real explanation, my question was ignored - I asked you about the matter, and you said you did not remember the figures and claimed the allocation was 'according to need'.

I also submitted a Freedom of Information request for the data which was refused at the Forum, and I have now received the response to this. I can see now why there was such a reluctance to release the information voluntarily.

In the last year alone, more than a million pounds has been given to your own ward of Golders Green, in addition to the previous year's allocation of more than half a million pounds: a total of over £1, 600,000.

Such a total by far exceeds any funding given to any other ward. In fact no ward in the borough has received anywhere near such a level of allocation in either year, and in the current year and in a period approaching an election, such a large amount of funding could reasonably be argued to be totally disproportionate.

In fact the range of allocation would seem to be disproportionate.

I should like to ask you why it is, for example, that Colindale has received only £92,000 in funding in the previous year, and apparently not one single penny this year?

Is there not a risk of a perception of bias in that the wards which gained the most funding are Conservative held wards - the top four all receiving funds over a million pounds in two years?

I queried the amount allocated to Colindale with officers because I simply did not believe it could be accurate, but am assured that it is. Were there really no Highways related problems in Colindale which required attention in the last year?

Do you think it is fair that in two years, £1.5 million should be spent on your own ward, whilst only £92,000 was given to another ward, in a less advantaged area of the borough?

Is the allocation of funding in compliance with the Localism Act and its requirement for local government to follow the Nolan principles in public life, in particular, in this case, the need for 'objectivity' in carrying out public business?

The system of deciding Highways funding was changed by you from an equal allocation process to one by which needs of wards were allegedly to be assessed on a case by case basis. Please explain what safeguards there are to ensure no political influences can be brought to bear on such considerations.

I should be interested to hear your views and look forward to an early response.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Angry

No response at all: so a reminder has now been sent asking again for a reply. Mrs


Mrs Angry has now heard from Councillor Cohen, who has promised her a response. While she waits with great excitement for his considered reply, the Barnet Press has a very interesting article  about the funding here

As you will see, Labour Councillors Gill Sargeant from Colindale ward, and Arjun Mittra from East Finchley, are pretty furious about the clear disparity in allocation of funding, and the excuses given for failing to address problems in their areas when £1.5 million has been spent on Councillor Cohen's own ward.

In a frankly ludicrous statement, Dean Cohen now claims that the disproportionate spending in Golders Green is because there is a long road that runs through it.

Can't even be bothered to comment on that one - make up your own response, and send it to Councillor Cohen, complete with descriptions of long roads in your own neighbourhood that have not had a million pound makeover ... 

This story has a long way to go yet, I think, don't you?
Thursday 5pm

Councillor Cohen has now replied: Mrs Angry takes no responsibility for his grammatical errors, but do read on:

 Dear ms musgrove

As you know a large element of this budget went through the relevant area environment committees and it is there decision not mine.

Where the decision was mine the list was produced by officers on the following criteria set by myself;

Side roads where people live
Roads which have had complaints from residents
Roads which have had concerns raised by members
Roads where money was continuously being spent on re-active maintenance

With regards to colindale, there is huge amounts of development going on there and as a result much improved infrastructure in the highways which wouldn't come out of this budget.
However if colindale ward members or any other ward were concerned about specific roads they had the opportunity at the relevant area environment committee, whether they did I am not the right person to ask.

I stand by my decision to split the money across the whole borough based on need of the footway\carriageway and not evenly across constituencies.

Kind regards

As you will note, Dean Cohen has not responded to the questions about the need to observe the principle of objectivity in the allocation of public funds, nor the safeguarding of the budget allocation from the risk of political influence.

This matter has raised very serious issues of transparency and accountability: most importantly there are urgent questions still to be answered about the gross disparity and inequality in levels of funding given to wards around the borough.


Anonymous said...

It's great to see trees being planted, especially in urban areas and irrespective of whether they are being planted in the conservative ward of Golders Green, or any other parties ward for that matter.

One must assume therefore that the planting of these 'luxury items' (during times of austerity) should be heralding the imminent and triumphant anouncement by Barnet Council that all life saving traffic schemes are complete, all potholes have been filled, and so on and so forth.

Have I missed it (the announcement that is, not the pothole)?

Anonymous said...

This must be one of the most gormless bits of gerrymandering of all time.

For example, there's a good chance that a Hale resident often drives along roads in Colindale since it is a route from Hale to the Watford Way and other major roads. A cracked axle could happen anywhere in the Borough and reflect badly on the administration.

Not a bright lad our Dean is he?

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, Anonymous: I love trees, and welcome planting in urban areas, but when I see photo of a Tory councillor and a spade weeks before an election, I feel - and this is unusual for me, of course - I feel slightly cynical about the timing and motivation of the said councillor. Isn't that awful of me?

And when a 'priority fund', according to the newspaper report, prioritises tree planting in what we know to be Tory wards ... well ... are the people in less advantaged areas not in greater need of trees, let alone decent roads and paving?

The truth is that there really are two Barnets: one is Broken where the poor live - until they are all removed from the borough - in the highways of despair, and the other is where our Tory councillors dwell, in leafy avenues, safe in the knowledge that their needs will always come first.

Mrs Angry said...

Anon 13.31: I don't think it would be fair to accuse Cllr Cohen of being a bright lad, that is true.

I'm afraid the larger picture is often one which escapes the limited imagination of our Tory councillors, often with disastrous results, as we have seen in the last four years.

Red Sonia said...

To them that hath shall be given - could be the Tory Party motto!

Shirley Porter set the bar high for gerrymandering but Barnet is proving to be a worthy successor to her. Would that it ended the same way with the Leader forced into exile!

Mrs Angry said...

I think, Red Sonia, that once a politician starts engaging in such high risk activities, the writing is on the wall, and the end is nigh. It is a sign of desperation, is it not? If you can't hold on to power by persuading voters of the value of your policies and achievements, nothing else is going to work.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs Angry

I must confess to leaving a rude comment on your blog in the early hours of this morning, when I was at a loose end, and had nothing better to do. I then deleted it using the wrong proxy. Are you still willing to write me that reference for a job at GCHQ, or should I stick to the day job?

Mrs Angry said...

Dear me, Anonymous 09:34.

What were you doing up so early? Or at least - why were you awake? Troubled thoughts? Or over excited - by too much chocolate?

I should stick at it. Not sure you are cut out for the old counter intelligence lark.

Mrs Angry said...

PS: How rude was the comment? Do you mean rude as in impertinent, or salacious?

I would prefer the latter, frankly: I get all the disrespect I need at home, whereas I am desperate for attention, from the other point of view.

I should probably not have written a comment referring to GCHQ and counter intelligence, because I have been receiving some very odd blog visits since then. Unless of course that is you again, being the master of disguise? (Or so you think ...)

The Ranty Highwayman said...

I wonder if you have used FOI to get copies of engineer's recommendations and the like. It is often the case that the lead member in a cabinet style set up has to sign of the maintenance programme and the decisin *should* contain some kind o technical advice. Or has that all been outsourced now?

Mrs Angry said...

Ranty highwayman - that a typo? You may be assured that further enquiries are in progress ...

Anonymous said...

Mrs Angry: since the spectacular demonstration of your pyschic powers, I have been hiding in the cupboard under my stairs, wearing a tinfoil hat, too scared to come out. It was a very uncomfortable night. Is it safe to come out yet?

Anon 09:34

Mrs Angry said...

Don't worry, Anonymous 09:34: your secret is safe with Mrs Angry. Better keep in her good books, though ... and do learn to spell: pyschic? Tssk.

Anonymous said...

Mrs A. If I may, and answers on a postcard please. Under which category does the tree planting photo opportunity fall?

A). Side roads where people live
B). Roads which have had complaints from residents
C). Roads which have had concerns raised by members
D). Roads where money was continuously being spent on re-active maintenance

Excuse the pun, but I'm stumped. Unless of course you add:-

E). Anywhere in my ward with high profile election propaganda opportunity.

Finally, was it just the ONE tree, because if it was..........

Mrs Angry said...

Yes,yes, Anonymous, I am sure we are all agog to hear the rest ... if it was the ONE tree ...? Hang on. Let me have another look.

Yes: only the one. But then at £1.5 million a go, I'm not sure we could have afforded any more. One must draw the line somewhere: this is the challenge of austerity, you know.

I believe that over in Colindale, the undeserving poor are hoping to save up towards a tree, sometime in the next two decades. Sadly, none of them will still be living here, as they will have been bussed out to somewhere like Stevenage, and serve them right.

Anonymous said...


If it was only the one tree then surely there can be only one real conclusion. A totally cynical pre-planned photo opportunity.

Mrs Angry said...

You could be right, Anon. I may have to go on a covert, fact finding tour of the Golders Green Road, (which according to Dean Cohen is AWFULLY long), looking for new trees. Poor boy will be up early in the morning now, shoving them in before I get there. Except judging from the pose in the photo, Monty Don he ain't,and may well not know one end of a spade from another. I'm rambling now, better go to sleep ...