Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Lost Highway, or: the road to Broken Barnet, May 2014

                                        Now, boys, don't start your ramblin' round 
                                        On this road of sin or you're sorrow bound 
                                        Take my advice or you'll curse the day 
                                        You started rollin' down that lost highway 
Hank Williams

and the revelation of what is undeniably an absolute scandal - the disproportionate allocation of funding from Barnet Council's Highways budget, in the course of which some wards have inexplicably been given hugely generous handouts, and others, such as in the case of Labour held Colindale Ward this year - not a single penny. 

The allocation of the Highways budget funding was, until Tory Cabinet member Dean Cohen took over from Brian Coleman, allocated equally between wards. He changed the system, supposedly so as to dispense the money ... erm, what was it - ah yes, ... according to 'need'. 

Earlier this year, Coleman alleged that Cohen had spent more than £800,000 on his own ward of Golders Green. Mrs Angry submitted a Freedom of Information request to verify the level of expenditure on a ward by ward basis, and the response was truly stunning: in two years Golders Green Ward had been awarded a staggering £1.6 million - one million alone in the last year, the year before the current election. 

The disparity in the level of spending was plain to see, and is is clear that the most favoured wards tend to be Conservative held, or potentially marginal. 

By contrast to the million pounds plus given this year to Golders Green, Colindale, a Labour held ward with areas of social deprivation, Colindale, despite long standing requests from local councillors, received absolutely nothing. After these revelations, a local councillor complained about this matter to the Chief Executive. Weeks later, and there has been no adequate response. 

It would appear that such a reluctance to respond might be because there is nothing that Mr Travers can say in defence of what is clearly an indefensible situation: that the Labour voting residents of Colindale are subsidising the expenditure on pavements and roads of the residents of Tory Golders Green. 

Mrs Angry therefore decided to submit another Freedom of Information request, this time asking for a breakdown of expenditure of the £1.6 million that Councillor Dean Cohen allocated to his own ward, over the last two years, since he changed from a system of equal allocation to one based on 'need'. The response to this request is simply incredible.

Here is the expenditure: I have added the postcode to the addresses, for reasons which will become clear.


Footway - relay

Heathfield Gardens NW11          £69,281,07
Hurstwood Road NW11               £89,515,93
Hurstwood Road NW11               £70,305,79

Carriageway Resurfacing

Tilling Road NW2                       £50,057,45
Prayle Grove NW2                     £22,241,54
Heathfield Gardens NW11         £51,833,56
Highfield Avenue NW11             £200,506,58


Footway Renewal

Western Avenue NW11              £42,450,37   
Princes Park Avenue NW11      £296,663,58
Woodlands NW11                        £242,991,06
Gloucester Gardens NW11        £70,853,22
Woodlands Close NW11              £58,295,75

Carriageway Resurfacing

Claremont Road NW2               £68,166,45
Hurstwood Road NW11             £36,160,00
Princes Park AvenueNW11      £231,650,00

You will note that the lowest payments are to roads in the NW2 area. This is the less affluent part of the Golders Green ward, lying west of the Hendon Way. Tilling Road, in fact, is the location of the Mapledown School for disabled children, which has just had its vital respite care schemes cut thank to the Tory councillors, including Schools cabinet member Reuben Thompstone, who is a local councillor but had never visited Mapledown. A forgotten part of the ward, it might appear.

Most of the roads which have received rather more generous handouts from the Highways budget are in a relatively small area, north of the Golders Green Road, an area where Councillor Dean Cohen himself lives.

Most fortunate of all are the residents of Princes Park Avenue, who have been handed nearly £530,000 in two years for their roads and pavements.

To put this in perspective, let us take another look at the graph showing the distribution of Highways funding in all wards, across two years: 


You will see that the total amount of funding given to one road in Councillor Cohen's own ward amounts to the same total given to some wards over two years,  in entirety

Libdem stronghold Childs Hill received less than Princes Park Avenue - around £488, 000, the Labour ward of East Finchley - £322,000. And of course the Labour  ward of Colindale received only £92,936.

The highly marginal ward of Hale has been given a particularly large amount of funding, second only to Councillor Cohen's own ward in Golders Green. This must of course be a coincidence, and it is unfortunate that in both cases, Hale and Golders Green, according to Mrs Angry's spies, for some reason the work which this funding has paid for is still continuing in the last few days before the election, a reminder to all voters, of course, that their council is keen to facilitate their easy route to the nearest polling station. We wouldn't want any voter to trip on their way, would we? Unless they live in Colindale, or East Finchley.

After Mrs Angry brought this interesting distribution of funds to the attention of certain Labour councillors who were given continual excuses from officers as to why their own Highways related improvements were not forthcoming, one member made a complaint to the Chief Executive, and asked for an explanation. Oh dear. Tactless. And there is apparently still a problem in formulating a full response, despite the involvement of Mrs Angry's favourite officer, Ms Pam Wharfe.

Ms Wharfe's excuse for the lack of funds for Colindale was:

all roads and pavements works are evaluated on need therefore there should simply have been roads and pavements in a worse position elsewhere. Clearly a lot of work is being done in 2013/14 on Lanacre Avenue in relation to regeneration works connected to Grahame Park.

Mmm. Clearly. That would explain everything.

Oh, and then ... there is this briefing on a four year expenditure plan, which may or may not tally with what actually was distributed, but tells you something about their intentions:

All that dosh for Totteridge? Interesting to see the winners and losers, compared to this projection, isn't it?

At the last Audit meeting, the Chair suggested that any concerns that the disparity in Highways expenditure was unlawful should be referred to the External Auditor.

What do you think of that, readers?

But anyway, here we are, on the eve of the election, and all is up for grabs, at least in theory. The truth is that the Tories are flailing about, unable to present anything to offer the voters - too frightened even to mention the mass privatisation of council services that they have overseen in the course of the last administration, with no mandate, or consultation with residents - and shrinking in fear of the impact of blunders like the parking policy, the allowance rise they awarded themselves, the support they gave to Brian Coleman, the cuts to disabled children's respite care, the handing over of Hendon Crematorium to the profiteering sweaty hands of Capita.

Their manifesto, such as it is, only surfaced in the latter days of the campaign, and what a cracker it is:

The Tories promise -

Low council tax (even if they have to take the money away from disabled children)
New school places ( for children out of the borough who get through the selective entrance exams of the best scoring schools in Barnet)
A green borough (what is left after providing more potential sites for developers, or in the case of our parks, pimping our open spaces for commercial hire)
Better roads and pavements (ha! Good one: see above - only applies in Tory/marginal wards)
New homes (if you are 'well off', preferably a Russian oligarch, or lucky enough to be allocated one of the three new council houses, the first for 22 years).

No mention, of course, of any extension in the privatisation of our council services, which is absolutely guaranteed, should the Tories return to power.
The campaign for the local election has had the Tory administration fighting a rearguard action, of course, with nowhere to go. What could they say, to defend their record in power, and persuade residents to vote for more of the same? They managed to return in 2010 by not informing voters of their plans to privatise council services, and then refusing to consult on those plans. They know only how to impose policy, not how to work in partnership with their own electorate, and respect their views. 

The last four years in which they have been in control of Barnet has been marked by a virtual civil war, between an increasingly politicised and well informed opposition of activists, bloggers and campaign groups, a guerrilla war, striking right at the heart of the Conservative agenda, and continually disrupting what they thought would be the easy installation of an easycouncil regime, a flagship borough, and a new model of local government.

From easycouncil, to Futureshape, to One Barnet: then as the toxic brand became too much to deal with, the privatisation of this borough became merely 'a change programme', a euphemism discreetly murmured by Tory leader Richard Cornelius, with all the discretion and unctuousness of a handwringing undertaker, perfectly cast in the era of Easycrem, and the Capita way of death that we now must subscribe to.

Such is the level of concern over the failure to convey to the ungrateful voters of Broken Barnet the magnificent achievements of our Tory council, in one ward, key to electoral success, they have had to call on the help of local Tory MP, the godfather of easycouncil himself, Mike Freer. 

This is Childs Hill, traditionally held by the Libdems, but now Lord and Lady Palmer are standing down, Tories have convinced themselves that they have the natural first call on the ward, as indeed have Labour. Which party is right? Or will the ward remain loyally Libdem? (Yes, I know, but I like Jack Cohen, and would like him at least to return, as frankly he is the only councillor in Barnet with any wit, and intellect).

Freer did his best to help his Tory colleagues by sending out a 'survey' about the Mansion  Tax, and trying to frighten what the Tories imagine to be the great hoardes of wealthy mansion owning residents who might resent paying their fair share of contribution to the public purse. Tax, you should remember, for Barnet Tories, is an anathema, and teh principle should apply only to poor people, who should stop moaning about the Bedroom Tax, because it does not exist, and anyway they are poor, which is their fault.

This 'survey' has got Freer into trouble, because he is alleged to have misused parliamentary resources for electoral purposes, and will now face an investigation into the matter. But what is telling about this is it shows the Tories have misread the situation and made assumptions about residents which are inaccurate: in fact most people in Barnet are hard working people who aspire to own their own homes, and feel no sympathy for those owning properties worth £2 million or more. The very phrase 'Mansion Tax' is guaranteed to alienate most of the voters they need to persuade to support them.

Their fatal error, the Barnet Tories, is that they confuse the interests of those who make the biggest donations to their party with the ordinary residents whose lives have become so much harder over the last few years. 

Aside from the demands of austerity, the residents and traders of Barnet have been incensed by the parking fiasco, by the arrogance of Brian Coleman, and the failure of his former colleagues to sanction his behaviour: they do not approve of cuts to disabled schools in order to pay for a 23 pence a week tax 'gesture', and they most certainly do not want to see their local crematorium run for profit. 

They don't care about the tax burden of absentee home owners in Bishops Avenue, and yet even if they are not directly affected themselves, they see the injustice of the Tory housing policy, and the immorality of trying to make profit from the provision  of care to the disabled.

In short, the inherent decency of most people in this borough has reached the extent of tolerance that they can bestow on the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Tomorrow they have a chance to make their opinions count: let's hope they do just that. 

Over the last four years, I have chronicled the story of this Conservative administration, in loving detail, all for your reading pleasure. 

What a story it has been: one long tale of incompetence, immorality, greed, laziness, inertia, corruption, hypocrisy, and abject submission to the influence of private interests, conflict of interests, and swivel eyed lunacy, promulagated by a bunch of neo Thatcherite, doltheaded Tory councillors who care more about prancing about in a set of moth eaten mayoral robes, and stuffing their tupperware boxes with goodies from the corporate buffet table, than they do about the residents facing real hardship as a direct result of their own policies, and those of the Tory government they support.

The real Tory manifesto is there, for all to see: what they have done, and what they have failed to do, and what they will do if they return to power. 

I never intended to carry on writing this blog as long as I have - frankly I have had more than enough, and would welcome the chance to escape Broken Barnet. 

If Labour take control of the borough tomorrow, Mrs Angry can retire, and I can run away. 

Do me a favour, please, and put me out of my misery, the only way that counts - vote Labour, and kick the likes of Richard Cornelius, Robert Rams, Tom Davey, Dean Cohen and all the rest of the fecking eejits that have hijacked this borough, and got us travelling on the lost highway, right up the *rse.

Thank you.

This was Broken Barnet.

It's up to you, what happens next.

And this one is for you, Councillor Cohen - enjoy: 



John S said...

Brilliant blog, I for one as the parent of a disabled adult daughter with learning difficulties, live in fear for her future continuation of the hate campaign against the vulnerable. Pursued with such glee and enthusiasm by Cornelius and his crew, my fear of this bigoted ideological hatred on their part for my daughter and her peers gives me sleepless nights.

I therefore hope and pray the local Conservatives are not given another term in power, but hold out little hope my prayers will be answered.

Howeer even if Labour or a coalition with Labour and others take control for the next four years, your input to hold them to account Mrs Angry is vital. Because the reality is, very few politicians of any political persuasion can be trusted to honour their election promises.

Local politics is now more about the perks than the people, greed has replaced need, and ideology and dogma have replaced basic humanity. Which I personally find mind glowingly depressing.

Finally a word of thanks to the famous five now sadly four Barnet bloggers for attempting to retain some element of democracy and freedom of speech, in what has become the Democracy Free Zone of Barnet. So try grateful thanks to you all.

Red Sonia said...

Oh please, let right prevail so the left wins!

Just cast my vote (we have only Euro election and a ward election where I live). It was pretty quiet when I voted at 9 am and I think many people are staying away.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, Red Sonia, we hope for once right does prevail, and the left is victorious. I feel sense of change here in Barnet, and the Tories are remarkably quiet - normally they would be bragging by now about how confidant they are. But let's see. We have the count tomorrow, and I will be there - another long day ...

Thanks John. Just feeling tired, and fed up.

Still: fun to be had tomorrow, hopefully.

Red Sonia said...

Barnet results very late - is Crapita doing the counting!

Now it's spooky: one of the words I had to write for moderation was diddler!

Red Sonia said...

So sorry, so close. Move out, Mrs Angry, move out now. I recommend Exeter - a thriving red beacon in a sea of blue!