Friday 25 December 2015

Mrs Angry's Christmas Card

Mrs Angry wishes all her readers, dear friends - far and near; comrades and fellow campaigners, a very happy Christmas - and a New Year just stuffed full of ... peace, mercy, goodwill, and above all: hope

Real hope, that is - not the version offered today in the much vaunted declaration of David Cameron's professed 'Christian' values.

Hope for a better world, and a new Britain, where every life is valued, and honoured, and dignified; where government is run by the people, for the people: for the many, not the few; where those in need are not vilified, or humiliated, or stigmatised, but are supported, and respected, and given help - not according to their ability to pay, or as an act of charity - but as their right.

Merry Xmas. 

Next post: 2015 - A Year in Broken Barnet ...

Sunday 6 December 2015

It does feel a bit meaningless: or - what is a library? - Another library nonsultation, in Broken Barnet

Updated Tuesday 8th December: 


We are pleased to present this new animated film, illustrating exactly what sort of awful fate your Tory councillors have in store for your local library service.

Please watch, and support our campaign to fight these terrible proposals.


Ps: Mrs Angry is now available for all other offers of voiceover work, for a reasonable fee ...

North Finchley Library

The Judicial Review, in 2013, of Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' agenda of mass outsourcing was won by the authority not on the strength of its arguments, but because the High Court found the legal challenge was out of time. 

The judgement in the case, however, expressed a condemnatory criticism: the authority had failed in its duty properly to consult with the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet over the plans for mass privatisation of council services.

Yet here we are now, in the last weeks of 2015, poised to have imposed on us once again a programme of immense significance: the virtual destruction of our local library service - after a process of consultation that has become, once more, and continues to be, nothing less than a travesty of the principle of significant engagement with the residents of this borough.

What else could you expect, at a time when the elected representatives of the residents of this borough themselves fail to engage with the process of democracy in the way their roles should demand? In a borough where now, by default, the unelected senior management of the council, and their unaccountable accomplices, the private consultants who leech on our financial resources, and work to turn our local services into a marketplace of opportunity for the private sector?

Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable recently wrote about two committee meetings at which it was painfully clear how large a vacuum in democratic oversight has been created in Barnet by the failure in scrutiny by elected members of the current contractual performance by Capita, and in the current library 'review', which is nothing less than an act of softening up yet another council service for outsourcing.

As he pointed out at the Performance and Contract Monitoring Committee, the committee simply isn't holding anyone to account, councillors appear only to rubber stamp the decisions made by officers - and no one seems to be questioning why, in the course of a contractual partnership agreed under the pretext of making savings, we are, this year, likely to pay Capita a whopping £80 million in fees, and extra 'gainshare' payments. At this meeting, an indulgent Chair, Tory councillor Anthony Finn, allowed proceedings to conclude with no discussion of the largest contract, CSG: simply farcical.

At the recent Children's Education and Library Committee (CELS) meeting, again the utter impotence of councillors in their role of scrutiny was apparent: mutely accepting the recommendations of officers pushing the process of outsourcing educational services, even though there was only bidder, and the members had not seen the financial details.

This failure in scrutiny is the result of deliberate strategy by senior management, and a combination of laziness, and stupidity, on the part of members, of course. The Tories are happy to hand over responsibility for anything looking like hard work to their officers - and frankly cannot be bothered to hold to account the officers, consultants, or the men from Crapita, even if they have some suspicion that things are not as they should be. And if things are indeed not as they should be, they do not want to admit it, for political reasons.

There is also a failure on behalf of the Labour opposition: a failure in leadership, and strategy, in challenging the status quo, and fighting the cynicism and inertia of their Tory colleagues, and the actions of the senior managers. There is a new leader of the group now, Barry Rawlings: will anything change? Let's see.

The way in which the library issue has been handled is yet another example of the broken process of government in this borough.

Proposals recently have been presented to both CELS, and then Full Council, and approved for further 'consultation' by members without having sight of the full range of necessary information, and indeed given information that is both inaccurate and inadequate.

In the previous post you will have read about the risk assessment of the 'open library' model, which proves beyond a doubt exactly what a foolish, untested and deeply unsatisfactory excuse for a library service such a system would deliver. 

You have read it: your councillors did not read it, before cheerfully sending the current proposals forward through the process for approval. 

They did not read it, because it was not presented to them. And to be fair, it would seem they did not ask for it.

It was a member of the public who made sure the information was put in the public domain, through a Freedom of Information Act - but of course published too late to influence the two meetings described.

In the reports which did go to councillors, it was claimed that the open library approach was 'standard approach' in Scandinavia. This was, as Mrs Angry has pointed out, not true. It has not been corrected, however, and so councillors will have accepted it as fact. How convenient.

The many questions offered by members of the public, in the absence of any robust scrutiny from members, elicited the interesting fact that the so called business case for much of the financial arguments for the proposals are simply non existent: based on supposition, and assumptions. But this was good enough for our Tory councillors, whose entire belief system, and raison d'etre, is based on a creaking but happily untested mechanism of supposition, and assumption.

Following on from the risk assessment, Mrs Angry decided to make another FOI request, this time to put the assessment in the proper context of probability of risk - or likelihood, if you like, in audit terms.

This request was as follows:

In the last two years, how many entries have been noted in the Incident Books for each Barnet Library?

Please give each library's individual entries, in terms of figures, and types of incident eg theft, assault, accident etc.

The response was most interesting. Not all incidents are logged, of course - and there is variation between branches as to how likely an incident is to be reported in this way -  but here is an indication of the sort of behaviour and events that can and do happen in public libraries, until now addressed by trained, professional staff present on the premises. For example:

12 libraries have reported accidents. 

In addition, there were 8 injuries logged.

Incidents - (a definition which covers a range of possiblities): 28

Theft - 14 (not including stock, it would appear, which despite denials does go missing on a regular basis, according to staff reports)

Verbal abuse - 33 

Harassment - including sexual harassment of both users and staff - 11 reported

Other - including drunken behaviour, and disturbance outside libraries: 32

Library staff are trained in dealing with issues relating to safeguarding, health and safety, first aid, and in handling aggression at work. This is a necessity, as many users of libraries are vulnerable in some way: the role of a library within a community is - or was - includes the function of providing support for such people, and as a welcoming space for those who need it - a truth overlooked by our councillors and their officers, literally, as Mrs Angry was to note earlier this week, at another so-called 'consultation' event in one of the libraries under threat.

This event was not by any definition at all exactly that, more of a non-event: another nonsultation. Not so much paying lip service to the idea of consultation as baring the lips in a grimace of deathly irony, you might say.

In the previous round of 'engagement' with library users, a series of meetings in branches were organised, well attended by angry residents who made clear their absolute opposition to the library cuts proposals.

Because these meetings were well attended by angry residents who made clear their absolute opposition to the library cuts proposals, in this second, more important act of nonsultation, such events, brimming with risk factors on a catastrophic level, from the point of view of the would be library assassins lurking in North London Business Park, have to be avoided, at all costs.

They tried to spin the outcome of the previous public engagements, the yell of protest over the proposed cuts in service, by pretending to have listened to what the public said. In other words, they deliberately threw in some proposals so awful, that anything less offered in Round Two would seem comparatively sane. Hence the threat of closed libraries, and libraries shrunk to the size of a postage stamp.

The options now on offer - no, no, Mrs Angry, not on offer ... you must adopt an evangelical expression, like all senior Barnet/Crapita officers, and breathlessly refer to: the new library 'offer', which isn't an offer at all, but a bare faced threat in which all libraries will be retained, in theory, albeit on a nominal basis, ie they will become buildings run by Crapita for commercial exploitation, with the name Library outside, and a few books inside, and the space not at all the size of a postage stamp, but ... the size of two postage stamps.

Unless you live in an important Tory ward like Chipping Barnet, or Edgware, of course.

In fact, as Mrs Angry reminded Andrew and the library manager, unless a sudden avalanche of volunteers suddenly appears, and of course at the moment Barnet has a woeful shortage of such people, prepared to do the jobs, unpaid, of professional librarians facing the dole queue - unless they miraculously turn up, those four libraries planned to function with their use will close. Three in opposition held wards, funnily enough: Childs Hill, East Barnet and South Friern, and one in Mill Hill, where the local Tory councillors don't give a damn, and think they can get the local residents to play libraries instead of paid staff.

But the latest plans pretend that this faux library service is what residents asked for, demanding that no libraries shut. Of course they opposed not only the shutting of libraries, but clearly demanded that the service be left as it is, and not destroyed in the pretext of 'savings', but that does not suit the agenda of the outsourcerers, and has been conveniently overlooked.

The new 'offer' relies heavily on what, with becoming modesty, our council's officers and consultants refer to as 'technology enabled libraries'. Yes, I know: sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? As if we still needed to move on from the age of Browne issue libraries - (not as scatalogically focused as it sounds, and yet a system Crapita might well be interested in, you would think), when we all had card tickets, kept in those lovely long, narrow wooden boxes, fingered lovingly by well manicured lady librarians in horn rimmed spectacles ...

But no, technology arrived in libraries, senior officers, consultants and Tory councillors, well: about fifty years ago, even in Broken Barnet, and the self service use which is meant for readers is largely avoided by them, because the older residents don't like it: and because most library users actually prefer to interact with other human beings, at the counter.

East Finchley library

But anyway, what you really mean by the term 'technology enabled' is 'unstaffed libraries', isn't it, the library system that dares not speak its name?

A system which creates libraries which are not so much technologically 'enabled', in the sense of being improved by the support of it, but which you can only access by the means of technology; a library that is not a library, in fact, but a token gesture: an empty room, in an empty building, waiting for the revenue that will never materialise from a market already saturated with vacant office space: an empty building, devoid of the very thing that makes a library what it is - not a collection of books, or dvds, or computers, or information, or tables and chairs, but human beings, in front of and behind the counter, talking to each other, engaging in dialogue, supporting a sense of community.

The horrible reality of the latest library proposals cannot be spun in the same giddy manner as the previous version. The dangers of close engagement, and an informed response, that must be documented, are too much of a gamble. Hence the low key arrangements this time round.

Unless you already knew, you would not know there is any consultation on the future of the library service, in fact.

So you may not have realised there is a library cuts consultation form you can complete, behind the counter of your local library, or online: see here.

You really should take part in this process and complete a form, one way or the other, but before you do, please read this advice from Barnet Alliance, to avoid the pitfalls carefully laid for you, so as to mitigate the risk of more data demonstrating even more resistance to their knavish plans.

You might also wanted to have take part in one of the four 'drop in' sessions that were held, apparently under the restrictions of a superinjunction forbidding disclosure of anything that might alert library users to the very existence of said drop in sessions, in four libraries, in order to allow the council to pretend it had held public meetings about the latest proposals.

If you did want to attend these sessions: hard luck. You missed them. What do you mean, you didn't know they were taking place? What's the matter with you? Don't you scour the backpages of the council website everyday, looking for secret council policies and covert announcements, just in case someone somewhere might be trying to slip something past you? No? Then you are not a Barnet blogger, and have retained full control of your faculties. Congratulations. What are you doing, living in this borough?

Anyway. No need to panic. Because Mrs Angry DID attend one of these sessions, on your behalf, last Tuesday, in North Finchley. Read on.

A previous event of this nature had taken place in Chipping Barnet, attended by only three residents. Two of those, Barbara and Bob Jacobson, from Barnet Alliance, had only gone because Mrs Angry had alerted them to the opportunity, having found out herself only by chance that these sessions were due to take place. Barbara had reported that they had turned up to find Val White, the senior officer always wheeled out to defend the library cuts, some guy called Andrew who claimed to be involved in the proposals, and someone from library management. Nothing happened, there was no planned discussion, just three people prepared to engage in answering a few questions about the proposals.

Arriving at North Finchley, the assistant on the desk didn't even know there was any sort of consultation event planned. Then two people suddenly emerged from the staffroom behind here and greeted Mrs Angry, who was somewhat perplexed, as clearly they knew who she was, judging by their amused expressions, but she hadn't a clue who they were.

We've met before, of course, said Andrew, nodding, and - was he winking? Had we? Oh dear. Mrs Angry felt rather disconcerted, and rather ashamed, like some bar crawling cougar, presented with a forgotten face, the morning after the night before. Of course she spends a lot of time winding up officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and Crapita, and assorted consultants, at meetings, and then instantly forgetting them as, to be frank, readers, they all seem the same after a while - that look of conspiracy, you know - and the smell of fear ...

And what do you do? asked Mrs Angry, in her default queen mum mode, as refined for the purpose of greeting corporate drones. Well, Andrew wasn't keen to be specific, but then, poor man, he may not be entirely sure himself.

Never mind, Andrew: Mrs Angry looked you up, when she got home. Impressive career, as listed in Linkedin.

Used to have a one-stop-shop Wedding Service operating in Hertfordshire and surrounding counties. Not a service likely to appeal to Mrs Angry, but since then he has moved on:

A "trouble-shooter" with extensive experience of managing a portfolio of projects designed to reduce costs and enhance resource efficiency, improve performance, increase competitiveness, boost customer satisfaction and take advantage of new opportunities through proactive implementation of strong leadership, risk management, stakeholder engagement and cultural alignment.

Cultural alignment. Good. And ... he has an 'end to end' portfolio, you know. Mrs Angry likes the sound of that. Entrepreneur, Business Angel, Gap Manager. Or is that, manager of Gap? When does the pre-xmas sale begin, Andrew? Need to buy some unwanted jumpers for male relatives.

Anyway, not sure how or why he fetched up in Broken Barnet, but now he is in charge of the library 'review', with apparently lots of experience in, well, filling gaps and being an angel and stuff, but no expertise in public libraries. So: ideal for the job. A dark angel, perhaps.

Also present was a library manager, to spare whose blushes, in line with the Broken Barnet policy in not punishing less senior officers for the policy decisions of their bosses, Mrs Angry will leave unnamed.

This manager was in the invidious position of having to defend a set of proposals which had been created in line with a political agenda, and by the senior management of the council, but no senior officer was there. Val White, they thought, was 'otherwise engaged', and no one else was replacing her. Hmm. So the manager and the mysterious Andrew were left to go through the motions with the only person who had a. found out about the event and b. could turn up, at two o'clock on a weekday afternoon.

The drop in session was actually a stand up arrangement: not just in terms of amusement, but literally: we stood in the middle of the library, by a table with a board pinned with a poster on it about the library nonsultation, while all around us the users carried on, choosing books, reading, using the PCs, unaware that the library itself was under threat.

At that point, thank God, the familiar figure of fellow blogger Mr Reasonable approached the table, and some time afterwards, the somewhat unrepresentative consultation process with two local bloggers was made even more atypical by the addition of Angela, a local children's author.

Until Mr Reasonable had turned up, Mrs Angry had been about to make an exit, as clearly the lack of participants made the exercise entirely meaningless. But now some questions ...

What is the point of this, asked Mrs Angry, and why, she wanted to know, had these events not been properly advertised? This was a question raised by the Jacobsons, at the previous session, and received the same complacent response. Oh, but it is on the website, and ... other places.

(Your views will be noted, and used in consultation, we were told later - How, when you haven't taken any notes, asked Mrs Angry? Would you like a copy of mine?

Here you go, then, Andrew: please feel free to download this, and Manage the Gap with Mrs Angry's lovingly transcribed account ...)

Who is likely to spot any reference to this meeting, hidden away on some obscure page of the council website, asked Mrs Angry?

It was also on "social media", they thought. Mmm, yes: a corporate tweet, likely to have been missed by 99.9% of the borough's residents.

Mr Reasonable was fuming over the plight of his local library, East Barnet: depended on by so many residents, but especially local schools and students who have no other place to study. He fumed, they shrugged: what is there to say?  Other than repeat the line about the need to make savings.

Why then, asked Mrs Angry, if there are such restraints on budget, are you spending £6 million in order to implement the library 'modifications', and prepare the service for outsourcing?

Oh no, they said: libraries aren't being outsourced. No, no, no ... there are no plans to do that ... Erm, yes,  we retorted: that is the next stage - and of course we know they have already conducted a market testing exercise with potential bidders. Oh, but even if we did go down that route, they thought, there might well be an in-house option for consideration.

Yeah, right.

Mrs Angry asked about the infamous risk assessment of the open library proposal, as outed in the previous post.

Why did councillors not see this report before approving the reports put to them proposing the scheme?

- Didn't they?

No, they didn't.

- Well, you know, the pilot scheme was a work in progress ...

And one, commented Mrs Angry which could have been updated as late as the day of the CELS meeting, or Full Council.

And why does the report contain inaccuracies, such as the false statement that open libraries are 'the standard approach' in Scandinavia?

- Well, it is used in Scandinavia. And ...erm ... Peterborough ...

It is used to an extent, in one country in Scandinavia, replied Mrs Angry, ie Denmark, in a rural context utterly unlike the proposed use here, and therefore that claim would give councillors a completely misleading idea of the appropriateness, or safety, of the scheme.

(And have you ever been to Peterborough, thought Mrs Angry, having a horrible flashback, involving a view of the Fens, a bleak and empty landscape, a sense of doom and a loss of all hope?)

Mrs Angry then, having lost concentration, as usual, looked around at the library, musing about the significance of this venue, the place where in February 1959 a young prospective parliamentary candidate by the name of Margaret Thatcher made a speech to the Whetstone Tories' AGM - where the meeting was told, with barely concealed horror:

 "In the local Ward elections there would be a Liberal candidate this time as well as the Socialist. This would serve as a spur to the committee ..."

And again, in 1970, Margaret Thatcher had addressed the annual meeting of Friern Barnet Conservatives, and while Nelson Mandela lay in his cell in Robben Island, criticised anti-apartheid protests that might disturb a planned South African cricket tour.

(Good to read, however, that the meeting also heard that Mr Leonard Juniper - and his wife Edna - "had organised a number of enjoyable social functions, and as a result had contributed £155 to ward funds ...").

As mentioned at the CELS meeting, Margaret was in fact a keen supporter of public libraries.

What would she make of the proposals her constituency councillors were forcing through now - or indeed the state of decline to which the library service has deliberately been allowed to reach, in order to justify cuts and privatisation?

Mrs Angry mentioned the horrifying decrease in volume and quality of stock, since her far distant time working in libraries.  Frankly it was a struggle to find anything to borrow. Apart from this, of course ... (Not as good as "Beth and the Barbarian", Julia ...)

Denied by the library manager: but she cannot have known what the library was like, when it was supported and invested in by the council, and valued as a vital service. Now the neglected buildings are deteriorating, even the wonderful listed branch at East Finchley, above whose door there is a municipal coat of arms, and a motto:

Regnant Quis Serviunt  

(Mrs Angry stood outside, yesterday, peering above the doorway, and trying to put her somewhat limited schoolgirl Latin to use.  Something about serving and ruling? She thought she might ask her best friend from school, who was the class swot, you know, whereas Mrs Angry was the pupil most likely to be sent to stand in the corridor, especially in Miss Cory-Wright's Latin lessons.

Best friend from school, class swot, but not half as smart as she thinks she is, was stumped, then said she thought it might mean 'May they rule, who serve'. Mrs Angry's racing correspondent, Mr Tom Roper, who is a classicist, you know, as well as a militant librarian, thought it meant 'They serve, who rule'. Either way, sounds like our Tory councillors haven't quite grasped the meaning either, have they?)

Angela, the children's author, was very worried about the impact of the library cuts, specifically on the standards of literacy amongst children: an impact which, as she pointed out, will take years to identify, and cause untold damage in the meanwhile. And she questioned the point of the 'drop in' session, as an exercise in consultation ... "It does feel a bit meaningless, " she suggested, tentatively, in tactful understatement.

Mr Reasonable again raised the issue of children and students being unable to use libraries under the new system, unable to visit the library unaccompanied after school, accusing the perpetrators of this new scheme of living in a world of middle class fantasy, where all parents were free to take children to the library, or could provide studying space and guidance at home.

What they proposed to offer, in place of what there was now, what was it? What is a library, he asked?

Oh, well: the open library pilot scheme was all part of the current 'review'. Footprints were being studied, you know. Yes: footprints. Mrs Angry looked down guiltily at her shoes, having walked over the grass verge from Sainsbury's. Bit muddy, to be fair.

To the right of us was a small room, with a printed notice on it, soon to be redundant: This room is for use by 12-18 year olds only ...

As we spoke, standing ridiculously in the middle of the library, in front of eight members of the public with no access to IT of their own, using PCs to search for jobs, or find information, or answer emails, while we were furiously criticising the plot to put an end of libraries as we know it, and attempted to debate the unquantifiable social value they hold, and the risk of impact on the most vulnerable members of our community, someone came and joined us, unnoticed.

Every library in the borough, probably every branch in the country, has regular visitors who spend hours there, especially in winter, because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Some of these visitors are lonely, and struggling with the painful consequences of profound social isolation; some are homeless, or have mental health problems.

One of the men who travels around the libraries in Finchley, and has done so for years,  was there on Tuesday, sitting down, watching the discussion from a distance, listening, and fixing us with an unblinking stare.

He got up and walked over, and stood between the two Barnet officers, right between them, inches away, staring into their faces.

They neither commented, nor acknowledged his presence.

Eventually he moved away, back to his seat, without speaking.

Where will he go, when the libraries are closed, or made for the exclusive use of card carrying readers, on a secured entry system?

He'll do what he does the rest of the time, and sit out in the cold, lying on a bench by the bus stop, and eventually disappear, another invisible, undocumented and unlamented victim of the age of austerity.

Just around the corner from North Finchley Library, outside Sainsbury's, incongruously placed at an angle, plonked in the middle of the pavement that runs along the Great North Road, that fault line that causes so much disturbance, here in Broken Barnet, there is another library: a model library, not a library model, and not so much an open library, as a library out in the open: a miniature version, like a road shrine, honoured in tribute, but safely within the footprint of the supermarket's embrace, a demonstration of the triumph of commerce, and private profit, over the ethos of public service.

Yes: this is Broken Barnet, in December 2015.

Move along: nothing to see here, except - the last moments of our public libraries, dying slowly, and about to see their lives ended in penury, bondage, and exploitation.

Except: this is not the end of the story, exactly.

The final library cuts proposals go to council for approval, with most unfortunate timing, just before the GLA and Mayoral elections. Blue eyed boy, and True Blue Tory hopeful Councillor Dan Thomas, who is a member of the CELS committee that will have to endorse these awful plans, is going to have the library issue pursuing him all the way to the ballot box.

Oh, and something else.

This: the raising of funds for a legal challenge ...

Within hours of launching an appeal, to the amazement of all concerned, the crowdsourced money flooded in, and there was enough to begin the process.

Did they think we would just sit back and take this?

They were wrong, if so.

The initial stage is underway, but to begin the expensive process of a Judicial Review would of course be difficult, and expensive. But this is an option that is possible, with funding.

If this process continues, campaigners will need to raise an awful lot of money - if you really do care about the future of your library service, please help by considering a generous donation: details will be published as and when necessary.

In the meanwhile, there is a seasonal fundraising event arranged by the magnificent library campaigner Polly Napper, which you might like to attend: a carol service, with the fabulous brass band, London Metropolitan Brass ... oh and a version of 'In the Bleak Midwinter', in which the lovely lyrics of Christina Rossetti have been recklessly rewritten by Mrs Angry, in defence of our library service. Do join us, come along, and donate to the library campaign:

Thursday 5 November 2015

At Risk: or - Welcome to the Open Library: a Survival Guide

Take Mrs Angry's hand: come with her now, in the dark, dank gloom of an autumnal afternoon in Finchley, down (or is it up?) the garden path, right to the very end of the garden, to her ramshackle old shed ...

Now pull open the creaking door, climb over the broken lawnmowers, and rusty spades, and nests of mice, and half used tins of paint … and close your eyes. 

A certain Libdem councillor is now beside himself with pleasurable, shed centred thoughts, aren't you, Jack? Fifty sheds of grey?

Hard luck. Wake up.

In fact, gentlemen of Broken Barnet, and beyond: this is no ordinary shed, but - well, yes - a portal of unlimited opportunity, in its way, not so much for the hoarding of useless garden implements, or hand holding with Mrs Angry, but more interestingly, in the tradition of magic realism, now to be revealed as nothing less than Mrs Angry's Time Machine,  courtesy of which, if you keep your eyes shut, and think awfully hard about Kansas, or Aunty Em, or Toto, we should be empowered to take us far from Broken Barnet, far, far away, into the future: landing with a thump in a future shaped, easycouncilled paradise, where everything has its price, and - yes again - where our corporate masters know the cost of everything, and the value of ... nothing.

And just look around: in the Brave New world of Broken Barnet, sadly, there are no public services, as such. 

There are few services at all, in fact, and those that remain are delivered by private companies, at vast expense, while our elected representatives sit back in their chairs in the council chamber, clawing still at the public purse, relieved of all responsibility - and any tiresome duties on our behalf.

One of the public services we will surely miss more than any other, perhaps, in this new world, are our public libraries. 

Because in that futureshaped Barnet, libraries, as we know them, will no longer exist. 

And that future, readers, is not light years away, in another era of time, but about to arrive here, in our borough, within months – if we allow it to happen.

Barnet Tories are closing their eyes too, and wishing awfully hard, hoping that their electorate will be fooled by the spin they are creating around the destruction of our library service, claiming that their masterful plan will not only provide the £2.85 million in savings they claim to need, but that no libraries will close, as a result of their proposals.

As often as they keep perpetuating this myth, we must tell the truth. 

The library buildings are going to be handed over to Capita, as part of their licence to make profit from our services for their shareholders. They will manage the buildings, and be paid extra fees for doing so. The buildings will no longer be dedicated as libraries, but become council properties used for commercial purposes (safe in the sweaty hands of Crapita) in which a nominal service is run, so as to pay lip service to the statutory requirement for a library service. 

They boast of increasing opening hours: but they fail to explain that although some ‘libraries’ will indeed be open for long periods of time, for those with access via pin number entry, or a smart card, these ‘open libraries’ will be nothing more than a token collection of books, & dvds, squeezed into a corner of an empty building, with no staff present. No one at all. 

Barnet’s Tory councillors have just voted to sack 46% of all library staff, which is why these pretend libraries will be unattended. 

Can you imagine what that will be like?

Children under 16 will not be allowed in these unstaffed libraries, and anyone who might need the help of any member of staff, let alone a professional librarian, will find simply that there is no one there.No professional librarians, no trained staff, no one to offer support, or guide you to the right information, or even to supervise the building.

But what if there is any sort of problem, or emergency, you are probably thinking? We're stuffed, aren't we?

You are probably thinking that, but your Tory councillors, directed by libraries lead member Reuben Thompstone, (above) gave it no thought at all, when they voted – twice, once in committee, and once in Full Council, to approve these plans. 

As proof of that, Mrs Angry can offer you evidence in the form of a risk assessment for the open library scheme, which the council was obliged to publish, belatedly, two days ago, in response to a Freedom of Information request. 

To make it clear, this information was withheld from the public domain until now, and it is not clear if any councillors saw it before Tory members forced through the plans’ approval. If they did, that means they knowingly approved a scheme with potentially disastrous risks, not just financial or reputational risk, but in terms of danger to those who might use such a 'service'.

There is no real comparable data to put these dangerous proposals into context: although some risks need no context, as you will see. The much vaunted pilot scheme in Edgware has not been running long enough to provide any real test: and has not been subject to any independent assessment, of course.

This risk assessment is shocking, frankly: the level of risk, and the type of risk it details, makes it abundantly clear that the open library system, on such a scale, in the context of a heavily populated, urban area of a major capital city, represents not only a virtual parody of the idea of a public library, but will seriously compromise the personal safety of any resident who may seek access in this way.

Look at the detail. Ah. Well, you can't, at the moment, because, as the council admits, the link, for some reason, and how conveniently, does not work. 

Mrs Angry will add the link, if Crapita IT ever sort it out. Don't hold your breath. 

But here is an idea of what there is to see:

A list of risks, rated from level 1 to level 5: in terms of likelihood, and impact. There is no key, but there is a standard format for risk levels.

The scale of likelihood ranges from rare to almost certain, and impact from negligible to … catastrophic.

Of 28 risks that were identified, ranging from the misuse of computers to access 'inappropriate' material, hacking of the library network, vandalism, unauthorised entry by members of the public, theft etc, FIVE others were rated at the top level in terms of potential impact, ie ‘catastrophic’, with three of those considered, under ‘likelihood’, as ‘possible’, and two as ‘likely’

The first three of these top scoring risks, considered ‘possible’ are as follows:

No 8: An incident that requires the evacuation of the building during a non staffed period.

No 7: A building fault or maintenance issue renders the library or part of the library unsafe.

No 6: A customer has an accident during an unstaffed period.

Then there are two risks considered to be ‘likely’:

No 2: The safeguarding of vulnerable adults is compromised

No 3: The safeguarding of children and young people is compromised.

Now then. How does Barnet Council propose to mitigate these risks? 

Well …

No 8: If any unstaffed ‘library’ needs to be evacuated? 

Don’t panic.

Or rather - no: do panic. 

And standing as we are now, lost in the future landscape of Broken Barnet, where these libraries are the norm, please arm yourself with a copy of Mrs Angry's Survival Guide. 

You'll need it.

Your easycouncil’s response, in the case of the need to evacuate an unstaffed library, is to ... erm, provide 'user education' - a poster on a wall, presumably) and … fire evacuation signs. 

And, just to spoil you, yes, there will be fire alarms, and even the odd fire extinguisher. 

In True Blue Tory Barnet, see, we not only expect you to volunteer to run your local library: we will now be expecting you to act as firefighters too. 

That some ‘users’ might be tempted to become firestarters appears not to have created a risk that interests the council.

Should you fail to beat back the flames, trapped in your unstaffed library, having failed to read the self help user education manual for fire management, you will find emergency numbers and a phone provided somewhere, we are told. 

And no, I am not making this up.

No 7: If the building is unsafe? 

In response to this, the assessment rather cryptically comments that during the pilot scheme in Edgware, the toilets were closed

Mrs Angry imagines this is to mitigate the clearly deep rooted and possibly Freudian aversion that Councillor Helena Hart has to the (possible, level 3) risk of ‘unpleasantness’ left on the toilet floor, in an act of contempt by an unknown ‘customer’.

But not to worry. If the building is unsafe – say, some wires are sticking out of a plug, or water flooding through the roof, or a wall collapses: not only will those emergency numbers be available, you will also be provided with … feedback cards. 

While holding up the wobbly wall, or replastering the ceiling, or encountering any sort of maintenance problem or fault, please write down on these cards any observations you may have, such as: 

FYII have just electrocuted myself, when unplugging the pc, or:  

Please help me: I am buried under a pile of bricks in the crime fiction section ...

Customer satisfaction level? Level 1. Negligible

No 6: If a customer has an accident*, in an unstaffed library? 

*(Not the sort that worries Councillor Helena Hart, which would be intentional, and therefore an incident, rather than an accident.)

Note this only applies to ‘customers’, not users. Presumably only premium library members who have paid, easycouncil style, for a superior service will be assisted. Well, you will not be assisted, as such. In truth, you will be well and truly f*cked. 

In space, and in an unstaffed, open library, readers, no one can hear you scream. 

No mention of a feedback card, either, which is the final insult, isn’t it? 

To be serious: as anyone who has ever worked in a library will tell you, with a fairly elderly user membership, it is vital to have trained staff, including a first aider present in a library. There cannot be any branch in the borough in which there has not been someone taken ill, with a heart attack, a stroke, an epileptic fit or other medical emergency. And of course immediate assistance in these circumstances frequently makes the difference, quite literally, between life and death.

It should also be mentioned here that there are, in all public libraries, even when staffed, thefts of stock, books and dvds, and continually attempted thefts of bags, purses etc, as well as, reportedly, incidents of drug use. There are also, of course, in all public libraries, many incidents involving users with mental health problems, which require careful intervention by trained staff.

And that is in libraries that are staffed, if in Barnet now, on minimum levels, after previous job cuts.

For an accident, however … the mitigation is: 'user education': probably a helpful leaflet: where to find books on, say:  

I am alone in a public library, and I tripped over and broke my leg’ … 

Again, your caring council has thought of everything: in mitigation of this risk ... an emergency first aid kit will be available!

No, really. Or rather, no, not definitely: an emergency first aid kit is to be considered… don’t want to mollycoddle you, do we? 

Can’t you make your own splints, and hobble down to A&E? 

What: closed, is it? Ah well. 

No 2: The safeguarding of vulnerable adults.

I promise you this is really what they propose, to address this risk.

Easy-read versions of ‘user education’, and ‘consent forms’.

Easy-read user education: wtf is that? Have they any idea of the wide range of needs of a vulnerable adult?

Quite how that vulnerable adult, perhaps with a profound learning disability, can properly give consent, via a form, without assistance, is one thing. How on earth could such a process, even if appropriate – or legal -be safeguarded, with no trained staff to help and support them?

And yes, more feedback cards, and this time we are offered the reassurance of CCTV cameras. 

What help are they, in regard to protecting vulnerable adults? 

None whatever, of course, because these cameras will not be monitored at all, and will only record. 

Or as the mitigation describes it, they will offer ‘event recording’, which has an ominous echo of the ‘offer’ in regard to potential new business opportunities at the Capita run ‘Easycrem’ post-life facility, up the road in Hendon. At least the Crapitorium intends to sell live streamed funerals, rather than only recorded events. 

Still, what a comfort it will be, if you are a woman who has been sexually assaulted in an unstaffed library, or an elderly resident who has been mugged, or any user robbed of their laptop, or phone, to know that the ‘event’ will have been recorded for posterity. 

And there are always the feedback cards, of course.

No 1: the risk to children, and young people

The mitigation for this is given as ‘restricted access’. 

In other words, because of the likely risk of some catastrophic incident involving children in an unstaffed library, children will not be allowed in an unstaffed library. 

Er, except ... in the plans that were approved, in fact, children were to be allowed in with a parent or ‘adult friend’, which is a puzzling contradiction, is it not? 

Easy solution to all risk: entirely avoid any impact on the identified group, by excluding them, rather than provide a solution – the only real solution, that is to say, not to have unstaffed libraries in the first place. 

The FOI response has also given an insight into the wider implications of the library plan. If you recall, the pretext for these devastating cuts in service is one of cost, a lie that is revealed by the £6 million that is being thrown at the preparation of the libraries for the new scheme. 

The truth here is that the service has been prepared, like every other council function that might provide a profit to private contractors, for outsourcing, and the capital investment is in order to make the service more appealing to potential bidders.

Now we know more about the ‘soft market testing’ exercise that has been carried out by Barnet with a number of selected partners: this is what it is really all about: not savings, or austerity, or budgets, or council tax. This is about the plundering of public service, for private profit. But in what form? If Barnet are not going to run their own libraries anymore, who will, and how?

A dialogue has taken place with the following potential bidders:

Redbridge Culture and Leisure

LSSI is the largest library outsourcing company in the US. GLL is of course Greenwich Leisure. Carillion is the company that faced accusations of blacklisting, which it strenuously denies. Civica is yet another outsourcing giant, Canadian owned - and Redbridge? 

Dear me. God knows why they were asked, apart from being a former Tory backwater authority, (and the home of Mrs Angry's blushing, true blue twitter admirers, Mr Roger Evans, who claims to be deputy Mayor of London, or something, and his dark nemesis, Mr Morris Hickey). 

Oh hang on: it seems Redbridge has some sort of visionary cultural enterprise, which includes ... an Owls Play Centre. Reuben Thompstone, at least, will approve of that. 

Culture and Libraries, in Redbridge come way down the list, after the owls, and even after the 'exercise by referral' scheme: second but last, in fact. The only way, in Essex: gyms and spas, rather than book clubs. Not so much of a surprise, perhaps.

There was a ‘discussion’ with all these contenders, anyway, earlier in the year - (although LSSI dropped out after a certain point), in which Barnet breathlessly welcomed the participants to ‘an opportunity to have a conversation’ …

We don’t know much more than this because Barnet is refusing to publish any further details, on the grounds of, ha ha - ‘confidentiality’, and, of course, that favourite excuse, ‘commercial sensitivity’.

What we do know is that the process has come to a halt, as the potential bidders did not want to make proposals in regard to a service that has not yet been properly realised – and who could blame them? As one seasoned observer has remarked to Mrs Angry, they clearly failed to see where the profit lies.

Yet our Tory councillors have approved the destruction of our current service, on the basis of required savings, while spending £6 million on the ‘modification’ of that service – only to try to palm it off on some other company or enterprise. They have obediently done so, at the behest of their senior officers, and the help of those legions of private consultants who feast off our outsourcing projects – look: here are old friends from iMPOWER, running the soft marketing exercise … 

They did this, not caring about the risks involved, nor with the benefit of any credible business plan. Or rather, there was a business plan, with no plan. A crapitorial fantasy, based on ‘assumptions’ and imaginary revenue returns, just as the excuse for an Equalities Impact Assessment was based on modelled, that is to say made up, data. 

Not that the lack of a ‘robust’ business plan has ever stopped them before, our Tory councillors, in launching an unworkable model for some cockeyed scheme, viz the truly catastrophic business model for Your Choice Barnet, which has had to be bailed out by us, to prevent collapse.

And after all, in that not too distant future, somewhere just over the rainbow, if all goes wrong, it won’t be our elected representatives who bear the financial risk, will it? It will be us, the taxpayers and residents of Broken Barnet.

They may consider themselves to be relieved of the financial consequences, of course, but Mrs Angry’s own risk assessment, in regard to the political impact of failure to listen to the building voice of protest from residents who object to this assault on our library service, is that there will be no mitigation, in the end, for our Tory councillors, and candidates, on the way to the ballot box, next year in May, and at the next local elections. 

Thursday 22 October 2015

A tendency to disagree: or Full Council, and how to kill a library service, the Broken Barnet way

Next door to the Town Hall, in the Burroughs, where all Barnet council meetings take place, stands Hendon Library. Another pleasing example of the buildings which are now part of a conservation area, and central to the history of our borough.

Not just in terms of the architecture, but because of the people who have worked there, over the decades, and played their own role in the story of what we are now, and everything we stand to lose, if the latter day heirs of our corporate administration are allowed to continue in their relentless policy of mass privatisation.

The Town Hall would have been sold off, had it not been listed, and protected from most forms of development, but now is a Town Hall in name only, used by Middlesex University by day, for council meetings at night. And next door's Library is about to become one in name only too, like the rest of our library service.

How sad to look at Hendon Library as it is now, and consider how it will be - and remember how it was.

Built in 1929, this was the borough's central branch, with a reference library, a music library- and of course a children's library.

Hendon's children's library was designed and developed by a pioneer librarian, and story teller, Eileen Colwell, the 'doyenne of children's librarianship' in Great Britain: a woman who devoted forty years of her life to her work at Hendon, and became widely renowned, and much respected for her professional achievements, on a national and international scale.

This is what the Telegraph had to say about her career, in the obituary published in 2002:

Eileen Colwell, who died yesterday aged 98, was an author and librarian and one of the founders of the children's library movement; her knowledge of children's literature was unrivalled and she was much consulted by book publishers, translators and library administrators who came from all over the world to study her methods.

In the 1920s, when Eileen Colwell first became a librarian, there were no children's sections in libraries, and the presence of children, especially young children, was discouraged. She considered it of vital importance that children should have access to books from an early age, and that their first introduction to literature should be a pleasant one.

The Guardian's obituary observed:

... in 1926 Eileen saw the answer to her prayers in a newspaper advertisement for a post at Hendon, in north London: "Wanted, librarian to found library system - especially for children." She applied and was accepted, but on her arrival found "no books, no shelves, just a room".

Ever practical, she hand-picked an initial stock of 2,000 volumes, chosen with the help of Eleanor Graham and other friends, and set about laying the groundwork for a welcoming, inclusive children's library, full of colourful and interesting books.

Before long, Eileen's reputation spread, persuading other boroughs to follow suit, and her library - "I saw it built from the first brick" - established itself as a showplace. "Visitors," she said with justifiable pride, "always had Hendon on their list." She also initiated clubs and storytelling, and encouraged the children to chat about their books and help run the library. One of her many helpers was a boy burglar; another became a professor in California ...

She was, in short, responsible for the establishment of something of immeasurable worth: the creation of the very idea of libraries specifically for children, that promoted a love of reading, access to children of all backgrounds, lifting children out of the limitations of poverty, and endowing them with the opportunity for something better, through the world of fiction, and imagination, and education.

The achievement of Eileen Colwell in her work at Hendon Library set a standard of excellence throughout the country - but I was one of the first generation in this borough to benefit from that standard of excellence here, in Barnet's children's libraries.

How grateful I am to her: coming from a home where reading was encouraged, but books rarely bought: how else would I have discovered the love of reading, and the world of infinite possibilities contained within the power of the written word?

Storytime in Golders Green library, pic credit Museum of London

And now, how truly angry am I, to see those opportunities stolen from the children of succeeding generations, the children whose parents cannot afford to buy them books, the children now to be barred from unstaffed libraries, or libraries only at a long bus ride's distance from home?

I thought of Eileen Colwell, last night, at the beginning of the council meeting, at Hendon Town Hall, next door to Hendon library, during the address made by the Mayor's chaplain, Dayan Abraham, a thoughtful, conscientious minister, who clearly takes his role very seriously, and actually tries to inculcate, in the withered black hearts of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, some sense of moral purpose in what they do, on our behalf, as our elected representatives.

As you will know, this is a thankless task, and one with little prospect of success.

Mayor's Chaplain, Dayan Abraham

Rather to the surprise of all of us in the public gallery, and certainly to the lost souls sitting on the Tory benches, Dayan Abraham decided to give a short sermon on the duty of the council to observe their responsibilities as corporate parents, and their duty to provide the education that our children deserve, that they require, in order to become good citizens, citizens who are, as we are, united in diversity.

It was an impassioned speech: political, by implication, and no less effective for that. More effective, perhaps.

He mentioned libraries, specifically, and alluded to contentious issues, that needed to be resolved ... invoking the story of the judgement of Solomon.

The Mayor looked on in surprise, but perhaps not without some sense of amusement, at his chaplain's speech: the Chief Executive, normally so inert during these meetings, turned round, and regarded him with a fixed eye, and an expression of barely concealed astonishment.

But it was well said: what could be more important, than the wellbeing, and the education, of our children?

Well, hang on, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking: this is Broken Barnet, and things are ... more complicated, aren't they?

More important, in Broken Barnet/Capitaville, than the wellbeing of our children, is money, profit, and an ideological opposition to the very idea of public service, service that is accountable to residents through the democratic process.

The Mayor's chaplain had pleaded with councillors to remember their duties to the borough's children, to their education.

Education, to Barnet Tories, is something they like to claim as something they provide, to the highest standard, in this borough. They sit smugly in the council chamber, and congratulate themselves on the wonderful schools we have here - as if they had anything whatsoever to do with it.

The truth is that there are some good schools here: either highly selective schools full of pupils from all over London, or faith schools, or - God help us - academies, or free schools.

The selective schools take the top scoring children from the widest catchment areas - thereby tending to inhabit the top of league tables, and of course not as a result of  any value added acheivement.

There are also some pretty awful schools in Barnet, to which the less advantaged children inevitably are sent.

And it is those less advantaged children who rely on public libraries the most, for books and for study space, and for help, from qualified librarians. If the library plans go through, it will be the education of those children that will suffer, as they will find little space in the newly shrunk libraries, and will be completely banned from the ludicrous, 'open' or unstaffed branches.

Our philistine Tory councillors, sadly, do not understand the importance of culture, or education, or literature, or the imagination - or anything else you cannot round up, and put a price on.

And so we found ourselves, last Tuesday, facing the inevitable approval, by the Conservative led administration of Broken Barnet, of the most savage plans to destroy our library service, which only a Tory councillor would fail to see as a vital part of the educational and cultural foundation of the intellectual development of our children.

In the judgement of Solomon, the baby was to be cut in two, and divided up between the two women claiming it as theirs. The real mother's conscience would not allow that, and the baby was spared, and returned to her. In Broken Barnet, the baby, the library service, is to be slaughtered, anyway, due to the lack of any conscience on behalf of our corporate parents, our Tory councillors. And the chaplain's words, needless to say, fall on deaf ears.

Yet they were so terrified, some of these councillors, last week, of being personally identified with what they know is a vote losing policy, this unparalled assault on our library service, with a budget cut of 60%, that they chickened out of approving the plans at committee level, and referred it up to Full Council.


At this week's Full Council, then, the ineffable Libraries head, Tory Reuben Thompstone, stared straight ahead, and repeated, like a dutiful schoolboy,  the proposals to cut staffing by 46%, and hand the library buildings over to Capita, leaving a nominal service, provided, in many branches, by unstaffed opening hours, and employing, if that is the correct term, the 'enthusiasm of volunteers'.

      Reuben Thompstone

Mrs Angry and fellow blogger Mr Tichborne had much correspondence with Cllr Thompstone, last weekend, on the subject of voluntary work, which you can read here. In short, it would appear that Cllr Thompstone does not agree that he should act in any voluntary capacity in regard to his civic role, or indeed his own job as a teacher - but everyone else may happily see their jobs replaced by 'volunteers'.

There were no easy options, he told us, with the air of someone who had forgotten that this was because of the self-limiting rules he and his Tory colleagues had invented in order to sanction this brutal assault on our library service.

There was a curious silence from the Tory benches: they squirmed in their seats, knowing perfectly well that what they were doing was shameful, and even, from their own point of view, risking significant electoral damage, and many of them have privately expressed dismay over the plans - whilst lobbying frantically behind the scenes to get their own libraries protected - successfully in some cases, as you can see.

One or two pretended after the event that they might have voted against, or abstained, but didn't because Labour did not have a full attendance - but they would say that, wouldn't they? Cowards, all of them.

Labour's Anne Hutton highlighted the lack of vision for libraries shown by the Tory administration, the lack of any coherent business plan in regard to the current proposals, and put forward an amendment asking for at least a delay in the process, and reserves to be used to keep the libraries going until an alternative solution to the funding problem had been found. Pointless, of course, as the Tories are simply not open to alternative solutions, and if they were, their own senior management team simply wouldn't let them proceed.

Having referred the toxic library cuts plan up to Full Council, to spread the blame, and try to protect GLA hopeful Dan Thomas from the electoral fallout, our Tory members now sat back and handed the poisoned challice of speaking in favour of the proposals to their least experienced councillor. A stroke of genius, keeping the more prominent members safely out of the picture.

Step forward Val Duschinsky, from Mill Hill, who was very proud to be making her first speech - a 'maiden' speech, by yet another of the type of Tory matron that the party tolerates, amongst its ranks, rather than any younger and potentially less obedient woman, or one who might actually have any driving political ambitions, or new ideas. Odd that in the six months since the election this was the first time she had spoken, but still: what a privilege to begin in this way!

Against a volley of heckling from the small number of residents who can squeeze into the public gallery (the large overflow room was, well: overflowing), Cllr Duschinsky prattled excitedly on, telling us, for some reason, that she had been a primary school teacher (then you should be ashamed of yourself, yelled someone. It might have been Mrs Angry. Ok, it was Mrs Angry.) ... and complaining about the 'relentless negativity' of the opposition, and by implication anyone who objects to the destruction of our library service.

Duschinsky claimed that when she held her councillor surgery at her local library, there was often no one else there. Mrs Angry resisted the temptation to suggest that might be because everyone was hiding in the bushes outside, too scared to come in, and instead reminded her that libraries had been underfunded and the book stock halved, deliberately, over the last few years - this making libraries less appealing and appear to be failing, of course.

Mrs Angry also observed that the residents of Mill Hill would be bound to thank her for her efforts, at the next election.

Mill Hill's other councillors are no better, of course. Cllr John Hart confessed to Mrs Angry's friend Alice, earlier in the year, that he was all for the proposals, saying:

"... the library purchases are mostly Millsey Boonsey rubbish; few people visit the book shelves; the premises need to be put to better use (plus library use on a reduced scale); premises may well be disposed of to raise capital for other uses (sadly, not for Conservative councillors’ emoluments)"

And Sury Khatri is the man who agreed with Mrs Angry this year that the proposals were awful, but voted for them anyway. After voting for the Capita contract agreement, he expressed grave doubts about the deal, and the way in which Tory councillors were distanced from the process - but only when it was too late.

This is how they are, the Tories.

That Duschinsky, a former teacher, who might be expected to understand the enormous need for public libraries, easily accessible to children of all backgrounds, could so readily support these appalling plans, is shocking - although perhaps not, in the context of Broken Barnet.

Labour tried to speak against the inevitable approval: leader Alison Moore as usual complained the Tories knew the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. Reema Patel gave an impassioned, tearful speech, clearly distressed by what was being forced through.

As is usually the case, the best opposition speech came from sole surviving Libdem, Jack Cohen, who, no blushing maiden he, (so rumour has it), was making his 800th speech.

He observed that the Tories had been trying to close libraries for thirty years. This is absolutely correct: when Mrs Angry worked for Barnet Libraries, they wanted to shut at least three branches, but backed out because - can you guess? They were in Tory wards. One of them, the vanity project that is now Hampstead Garden Suburb library, was always top of the list, and a waste of resources, now happily retaining a subsidy from the council, so as to satisfy the residents whose voice is so much louder, even, than the dreadful noise problem now causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis amongst the massed ranks of millionaire suburbanistas.

Please give generously.

Unless, like Mrs Angry, you do not give a flying f*ck.

Thank you.

Jack Cohen remembered the days when Barnet councillors actually took an interest in libraries, and books, and reading. Mrs Angry thought then about the councillors' own little library that was set up, in the members' room, so that our elected representatives could have first run at the latest best sellers, before the hoi-polloi could get their hands on them. And they were of course only best sellers, rather than anything with any intellectual content: oh, come on, what did you expect?

And Councillor Cohen recalled with affection the late Labour councillor Ellis Hillman, (the only Mayor to have been rated by Barnet Council's in-house chorus of disapproval, Mr Shepherd, who likes to point at Hillman's picture in the rogues' gallery of corporate fame that hangs along the corridors of the Town Hall, and tell you, with glee, that he was the only Trotskyite Mayor of Barnet - (So far, Mr Shepherd, so far, Mrs Angry always responds, with hands clasped, in fervent prayer ...)

Mr Shepherd, and Unison secretary John Burgess

When he took office, apparently, Ellis Hillman's first act was to clear out all relics of the sainted Margaret Thatcher from the Mayor's Parlour: it was even rumoured that an old friend offered him a bust of Lenin, to take her place.

Hillman used often to come in and chat to Mrs Angry at work in Golders Green library, as it happened: the most erudite and well read of men, he had a brilliant mind, and a breadth of knowledge that was quite extraordinary. What would he have made of the Tory attacks on our library service? I think I know.

He was also, as Jack reminded us, President of the Lewis Carroll Society, which was fitting, as last week's library committee had been apparently entirely enacted in the style of Alice in Wonderland, with Cllr Tombstone happily empowered by his own ability to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast, hence his keen support for the library proposals, based as they are on a fantasy business plan, supported by made up data, assumptions, invisible risk assessments, and crapitorial assurances that aren't worth the paper that, well - they're not written on.

They voted then, and not one Tory councillor abstained, or opposed the proposals.

Morally bankrupt! shouted the man next to Mrs Angry, in the public gallery.

He was right. He is right. They looked on, silently: knowing they have done something awful, and not one of them with the courage to follow their conscience.

The Tories tried to redeem themselves, in the latter part of the meeting, by a joint motion welcoming a small number of refugees to the borough - fifty in total. Big deal.

Mrs Angry noted, with wry amusement, that several of the Tory members kept looking in her direction, as if to say, look - see, here we are, demonstrating our compassion, even as we continue in our agenda of relentless war against the poor, here in Broken Barnet. Forget about the libraries, and the terrible thing we have just done: look at us, wringing our hands over an international crisis.

Some of the more politically sound Labour members tried hard to give the wider context to the refugee issue, and the failure of the Tory government to respond effectively to the international crisis, but of course this was not welcomed by their Conservative colleagues.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius made one of his curious speeches in support of the motion, an incoherent stream of pasted together phrases that meant nothing much at all, and in fact, on closer scrutiny meant nothing whatsoever. And unusually for the Leader, he ran out of things to say, and was clearly not inspired enough by the issue to have to worry about the red light ending his speech. Meh.

Still: We all come here from somewhere else, he said, rather mysteriously. In his case, it probably means he moved from St John's Wood to Totteridge - a journey of perilous danger, and hardship, for sure.

And - being nice to fifty people from Syria did not mean, he observed, with soothing words to those whom he thought might be worrying about it, that we were 'importing terrorism'. Phew!

The prematurely festive theme of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, however, clearly does not extend to women, that is to say German women, as the Tory leader now deviated into a swipe at the awfulness of the European Union, which is all the fault, of course, of a woman, and a German woman, at that, or 'Frau Merkel', as he likes to refer to her.

Cornelius, with masterly understatement, remarked on the novelty of a motion to council supported by all three parties. Well quite.

In fact, he reminded us darkly,  at some meetings, rather than what he would clearly prefer, a submissive consensus - there can be snipers ... and often, he added, somewhat sniffily - A Tendency to Disagree ...

Well, if only we would all just agree with them, our Tory councillors, and do as they say, without argument.

If only we could stop sniping, and being negative, and support their betrayal of the best interests of the people of this borough, their abandonment of the principles of public service, their fawning facilitation of private profit, at our expense, without complaint.

As Mrs Angry arrived at the Town Hall, on Tuesday night, one of the Tory councillors, former leader  Brian Salinger, was standing on the steps, sharing a joke with staff.

Mrs Angry had met Councillor Salinger in the supermarket, a few days earlier, (you can't push a trolley round Waitrose, North Finchley, without being pounced on by a Tory councillor: she once had a memorable encounter with veteran Tory Cllr Marshall by the nut counter, for example) - and had given him, at some length, the benefit of her views on the library cuts he and his colleagues were about to approve, despite the secret misgivings of many of them about the proposals.

He had had no real argument to offer, in defence.

As he stood on the steps now, she offered to take his photo, and he stood to attention, showing off his tie (he prides himself on his ties, and is always fondling them in front of Mrs Angry, for some reason), which was hand painted, you know, on silk. From somewhere in the Baltic. Lovely.

Mrs Angry admired the tie, but suggested the photo, bearing in mind the forthcoming vote, should be a commemoration of his status as library killer. He made the following gesture: Mrs Angry, having been educated in a convent, has no idea what it means, so please do let her know, if you do.

Councillor Salinger thought this was awfully funny, of course.

But the truth is, in regard to the library issue, as to all the other contentious issues that our Tory councillors vote through, in loyalty to party, rather than to their residents - they simply do not care, and here we see a moment's careless gesture speak more eloquently than anything else, as to exactly what they think.

Look at their faces, in the photo above, where they vote through the cuts. Some hiding their faces, others laughing. They know what they are doing, and they just don't give a damn.

This is not the end of the library story, however, quite yet.

Barnet will shortly begin another round of pointless 'consultation', after which, whatever residents say, they will go ahead, and force through the plans, more or less as they are now: brutal, mindless: the devastation of a once magnificent library service, destroyed by the policies of barbarians, at the behest of their own senior management, and the army of outsourcing consultants who plague this easycouncil borough. Remember this post, back in January, with the alleged overheard conversation regarding plans and yet more business opportunities to be screwed out of our libraries?

They will try to force the plans through: there will no doubt be attempts at legal challenge, and protests from residents, and perhaps some light tinkering with the plans, to make them appear less awful than they really are. But they will still be really, really awful.

Barnet Tories like to see our borough as the flagship of privatisation: a beacon of enterprise, in the evergrowing market that our plundered public services now provide.

Once upon a time, as Eileen Colwell might have begun one of her storytimes, in this borough, we were the flagship of something rather more worthy: the creation of a library service that excelled in giving the very thing Conservative philosophy pretends to want, the opportunity for children to learn, and play, and grow into happy, well educated and resourceful adults.

That was a dream, that became a reality, here in Broken Barnet.

Now we are living in Capitaville, and even our libraries must be turned to profit, or die.

Well: next May, voters will have the chance to express their views on library cuts, via the ballot box.

And this is one issue that will hang around the neck of Councillor and GLA candidate Daniel Thomas, right the way through his election campaign.

The Tory voters who are now coming to all the library meetings, and marches, and protests, are not going to forget what they have done.

And nor will the rest of us.