Monday 23 April 2018

End of Days: a Nasty Party, and the long, slow death of Easycouncil


The death of Easycouncil has been a long time coming. 

The death of Tory Barnet has been a long time coming. 

But here it is, now, before our eyes, even before the elections are over. 

And it all began, and ended, in two Audit committee meetings, years apart, in the faded municipal grandeur of what was once Hendon Town Hall. 

A Town Hall in name only, pimped out, like everything else now in Broken Barnet, as a rented space, here a nominal, liminal space, between two worlds: one imaginary world of civic splendour, decorated with stern portraits of dead aldermen, and fading photographs of past mayors and mayoresses, and another, more brutal territory, more familiar to us now  - a building emptied of its purpose, and a democratic process broken, and lying in pieces on the floor.

This Thursday saw the last Audit meeting before the election: a meeting squeezed into the carved up corner of an airless committee room, a room reduced in size to accommodate the new commercial function of the venue. 

The meeting was chaired by Hugh Rayner, a stalwart Tory member, and former Chair of Hendon Association, who has suddenly announced his 'retirement' - and attended by a newly independent member who has renounced the Tory group after his ruthless deselection by his local Conservative association. And it had been rumoured that Cllr Khatri intended to use the occasion to make a statement. Those in the know sat in the sweltering heat of the room, on the edge of their seats, waiting. 

Cllr Rayner's last meeting: but he took the time to thank the local bloggers for ... what was it now .... being 'helpful in concentrating our minds' ... and noting that he would hope to see members of the committee being more challenging in their own questions.

This meeting was to end in the most devastating way possible for the remaining Tory members on the committee, and for the party in Barnet, as Councillor Sury Khatri, while his former colleagues sank their heads in their hands, in abject misery, quietly denounced the Barnet Tory group, their record in office, the disaster of the Capita contracts- and urged voters to vote Labour. 

 "It has been an honour to serve as their community champion for the residents of mill hill for 8 years. in that time I have tried my best to take up their issues and concerns, and deliver real positive changes, such as the diving club, the future of the library and with the many planning applications we have received. I fear though that my zealous advocacy for the residents of mill hill may have cost me the selection. as Cllr Dan Thomas lays the ground for his right wing and hard brexit based leadership coup, he only wants yes men in the conservative group, and thus I have been discarded. astonishing that after 8 years of serving the community, without a blemish on my record and more than a decade serving the party amounted to zero.

 I have had residents contacting me expressing shock and disgust – a conservative councillor telling me among other things that when joined the conservative party it was not this party – a nasty party. Isn’t it telling that of the 31 other councillors only a handful had the decency to contact me expressing also shock and disgust. today have the party group chairman sitting alongside here but not even a squeak - silence is deafening? We have been hearing for some time that deselect ion was discussed last summer and that the exercise should be prolonged to the 11th hour – damage limitation was on mind. Momentum has arrived in the conservative party.

However, my time at the council has been overshadowed by the disastrous capita contracts, which are falling apart at the seams. 4 years on, issues still keep crawling out the woodwork. This contract represents poor value for money, and the residents are being fleeced. I believe my deselection by Daniel Thomas is motivated by my scepticism of the capita contracts.

 Today’s public questions and current media reports vividly illustrates the complete incompetence of capita.

 The contracts are a shambles and a disaster and performing badly and council taxpayers are being fleeced by capita ..."

He ended by saying:

"... all I can say is that the people of Hale will get a significant upgrade in the quality of their representation if they vote for the labour candidates - Ernest, Rachel and Liron. they deserve better.

I hope the residents deliver the right result on 3rd may – conservatives losing control."

Cllr Zinkin hides his face as former fellow Tory Cllr Khatri trashes the party's record in office

Well, to be fair: why, oh why, Mrs Angry? ... Cllr Khatri's criticism was perhaps too focused on deputy leader Dan Thomas, (you can read his reaction to the devastating speech in full here) did not mention the Tory 'leader', Richard Cornelius, and glossed over the fact that Khatri had approved the Capita contracts himself, and criticised them publicly only when they had been safely signed. 

Would he have spoken out, if he had been re-selected, and tacitly supported the continuation of the contractual bondage we are committed to for at least another five years?

Dan Thomas later commented to the local Times:

"Mr Khatri only has himself to blame for his de-selection, which was decided by a democratic process.

I believe he lost the support of party members because of an ill-tempered style, not attending many Conservative Party events and the fact that he delayed a new town square being built in his own ward".‎

A council spokesperson stated:

"The partnership between Capita and Barnet Council is performing as expected in many areas". 

This at least is undeniably true - if by 'performing as expected' you mean - badly.

This morning Capita admitted to pre-tax losses of £513.1 million. With their level of commitment to Barnet, clearly this raises many questions about the future delivery of our local services.

Over the weekend, Sury Khatri has posed for photographs with opposition candidate in Hale (Labour) and Mill Hill (Libdem). Clearly he wants to encourage tactical voting to ensure his former fellow councillors do not return to power, at all costs.

The meeting had begun with no clear sign of the looming trouble: the usual collection of now you see me, now you don't officers of the council, or Capita, interchangeable, and indistinguishable, some of them occupying the limited public seats with a droit de seigneur that has become the norm, in this last outpost of the Capita empire.

Fellow blogger John Dix, Mr Reasonable, had submitted a long list of questions to the meeting, on several issues, including a failure in addressing the risk of duplicate payments, and in regard to the alleged massive fraud currently under investigation - and the very interesting story of a very large gainshare payment to Capita, of £313,215, which he finds very worrying, and has reported to the external auditors at BDO, as an objection to the accounts. After nine months, this has still not been resolved. In John's view:

"Services are being cut, money is incredibly tight but because Barnet signed up to a contract which no councillors read in detail, we are being stuffed. This is nothing short of a scandal".

You can read John's summary of the meeting here.

Leigh Lloyd-Thomas of external auditors BDO and fellow blogger Mr Reasonable

Mrs Angry had only one question for the meeting: addressed via the Chair, to the auditors at BDO. Chair Hugh Rayner wanted the Man from Capita to respond first, before the auditors.

The man from Capita, Alan Parfitt, Operations Director for Capita Re, the 'Joint Venture' company that runs many of Barnet's services, sat himself at the committee table and smiled a blue eyed smile, in a blue suit, not in the least discomfited by the occasion. 

Why would he be? His demeanour was the usual insouciance of a contractual partner protected by an 8,000 page agreement, signed unread by councillors, that delivers power and profit, but not accountability, into the hands of private sector control: a complacency based on the sure knowledge that no matter how bad that relationship becomes, the commissioning council becomes, like the partners in any troubled relationship, caught in a trap: coerced into silence, for fear of the outcome of any challenge.

Sorry to bring you here, muttered Mrs Angry, with as great a degree of insincerity as could be imagined. No, murmured the man from Capita, still smiling, I quite enjoy it. Does he? Perhaps he does. Probably he did, usually. But then: some of us enjoy attending Audit meetings of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, for all the wrong reasons. 

Being totally disnumerate, as I most certainly am, is no bar to the enjoyment of a Barnet Audit meeting. If it were,  I would most certainly not attend. In truth, not understanding a single thing about accountancy, or audit, is an advantage. It leaves Mrs Angry better able to sense intuitively when something is wrong: to smell the odour of deceit, and tear apart the language of spin, and obfuscation, that is used to cover up the rotting corpse lying beneath the floorboards of the committee room. This is something that has been true right from the beginning, from the first Audit meeting that addressed the almighty stink of the MetPro scandal.

When the Barnet blogosphere was born, the first investigative story we uncovered was the scandalous tale of the bogus security firm used by the Tory council to stomp up and down the corridors of the Town Hall, in absurd paramilitary uniform, preventing members of the public from attending council meetings - and covertly filming suspect dissidents like Mrs Angry, with pinhole cameras. 

As we discovered, these jackbooted thugs, provided by MetPro, were operating illegally, without licences, and generously paid by the Tory council without any contract in place. 

It then emerged that the authority had literally thousands of 'non compliant' arrangements in place, instead of contracts - some of them in relation to the care of vulnerable residents.

This scandalous state of affairs was brought to the Audit committee, where it was properly investigated, by the Chair who was then, quite properly, deemed best appointed from the opposition groups. In those days this role was undertaken by Libdem councillor Monroe Palmer, now in the House of Lords: he was of course formerly one of a triumvirate of Libdem councillors, in Childs Hill ward. And Palmer made sure that the MetPro scandal and the further revelations that ensued were acknowledged, investigated, and put right. It was the birth of something new, in Barnet: the first major coup of the new phenomenon of citizen journalism - and the first sign of weakness in a failing Tory administration.

But- ah yes: Childs Hill ward. A former Libdem stronghold, now keenly fought over by three political parties.

All of which is why Mrs Angry and the Man from Capita were sitting at the committee table, at the Audit meeting, now chaired not by an opposition member - too risky - but by Hendon Tory Hugh Rayner (see last few posts) who has been a councillor for Hale ward, but mysteriously announced he was standing down, only a couple of weeks ago, when nominations were published. He said the decision had been made six months earlier. It had been alleged that Cllr Rayner wanted to stand in Edgware, and of course there was a vacancy after the deselection of Cllr Joan Scannell - but rumour has it after accusations of misogyny, Hendon Tories were obliged to appoint another woman. Whatever the truth, poor Hugh is out. Why would he not want to stand again in Hale? Because it was last time the most marginal ward in the borough, and Labour gained one of the seats in a traditionally Tory area.

Ah yes: marginal wards. 

And the reason Mrs Angry and the Man from Capita were were sitting at the table. 

This was in regard to a question put by her to the Chair in regard to the Audit report items on Highways expenditure. See the previous post, and the interesting pattern of higher spending on Tory wards, a pattern objected to at the time of the last election, when an FOI had exposed the highest level of funding had gone to the ward of Tory lead member of the Environment Committee, which approves spending- and the second highest to the most marginal ward of ... Hale. 

A report from Sharpe Pritchard confirmed that more money had been spent on Tory held wards, although unconvincingly concluding that this was not proof that the expenditure was politically influenced.

A new set of FOI responses revealed that in the run up to this election the highest level of expenditure had once again been to the most marginal ward in the borough - which is itself perhaps the most marginal in London. 

That ward is - Childs Hill, which is being fought over by Tories, Labour and Libdems. 

The question to the committee had been to note that there was still, after all these years, not in place a robust and objective system to prioritise the allocation of Highways expenditure on a basis of need - was that why so much money had been given to Childs Hill, while the roads in so many other wards in the borough were in such a terrible state? The response admitted that the final decision on funding is approved by the Environment committee, which clearly is politically weighted.

Supplementary question, then, through the Chair to the external auditors, BDO: 

This response confirms that the level of spending on each ward has been determined not according to need, either by regular inspection, or to address concerns raised by residents, but by a process that is open to exploitation for the purpose of politically influenced decisions. 

Bearing in mind findings of the Sharpe Pritchard report of 2014, commissioned after a previous FOI made to the council revealed a use of public funds, favouring Conservative held wards, including the previous marginal ward of Hale, the continued failure to protect expenditure from political influence is truly shocking. Childs Hill is of course again, the most marginal ward in this election. I think it is not reasonable to suggest this is purely coincidental, and should at least be the subject of investigation.

The Man from Capita was asked to come and comment, before the auditor. Blah blah blah, repeating how money was agreed, which we knew already. Turning to him, Mrs Angry asked why it was, did he think, that the roads in marginal wards wore out quicker than in others?

The Man from Capita

He didn't seem to know.

The auditor had never thought about the issue. Mrs Angry asked him to think about thinking about the issue, then, as it might appear to suggest ... an improper use of public money. 

Later on in the meeting, Labour lead Geoff Cooke took up this point, and suggested that the 'disparity' in allocation was indeed a matter for the external auditors, to see if it was an appropriate use of public money.

Up until then, the two Tory councillors had been silent, and somewhat uncharacteristically subdued, sitting downstream from their coolly aloof former colleague Sury Khatri, who had been ruthlessly deselected only weeks before, and resigned the Tory whip in protest. But Cllr Peter Zinkin now launched himself into what was clearly an irrepressible outburst - he is prone to these performances, which are often deployed at  moments when distraction from an inconvenient truth is necessary.

He claimed now that his ward - Childs Hill, of course, had been forced to endure 'twenty eight years of Libdem misrule'. 

Bit harsh, thought Mrs Angry, no Libdem fan, but trying to think of Cllr Lord Palmer and Lady Palmer, and Jack Cohen, ruling the ward like merciless feudal overlords, revelling in the number of pot holes and broken pavements, while the peasants sat and waited for the day when they would be rescued by Tory councillors, who lavish them with attention, out of boundless generosity and fond feelings, and make sure their feet never have to walk on anything but the best laid paving stones, and the most perfectly maintained roads, and all of this being absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with being the most marginal ward in the most marginal borough in London. 

Cllr Zinkin was tweeting during this discussion, so Mrs Angry took the opportunity to ask if the previous pre-election splurge on the then most marginal ward of Hale was therefore due to about sixty eight years of Tory misrule? 

He didn't answer, but made a face at her from across the table.

The Chair intervened at one point and asked if Mrs Angry had noted that Hale was bottom of the list of expenditure. Yes, she retorted, because you've written it off, haven't you, Hugh? Is that why you wouldn't stand there again?

No argument, funnily enough: just a wry smile playing on the mouth of Cllr Rayner.

Newly independent Cllr Khatri showed the first signs of mutinous behaviour, that evening, by venturing to tell the meeting that despite constant requests over many years to repair areas in his ward, nothing gets done. He blamed the Environment Committee.

Geoff Cooke said it was a question of resources, and governance, and that despite the Tories' boast of spending £50 million on investing in them, the borough's roads were in a 'poor' condition. 

Earlier in the meeting there had been much debate about the pot hole issue, one which is blighting the borough, and is perhaps the biggest and most obvious manifestation of Tory incompetence, at least in the eyes of Barnet residents - and voters. With all the reckless zeal of someone with a compulsive deathwish, Barnet Tories have put the condition of the roads at the top of their manifesto, along with bin collection, another act of frantic flag waving of their own glaring failures in office.

The Tories would like to blame the contractors, although they are supposed to be -ha ha - in charge of them. The contractors, as it turns out, blame ... other contractors. Well, why not?

The Man from Capita, with a measured application of low, slow, Welsh accented murmuring, intended to soothe the worried hearts and minds of Tory councillors newly awoken to the catastrophe of their own making now unfolding, tried this tactic, anyway. 

He wriggled out of admitting that Capita Re, who run Highways, are accountable for the problem, by blaming their contractors, and saying in effect they, ie Capita Re, were not responsible for the holes, only the management of the people paid to fill the holes. 

He appeared not to be at all disappointed in their failure to manage the people who fill the holes, as if some dark magic force has somehow intervened in the process, and made it all impossible. 

But then: dark magic has been at work in the London Borough of Broken Barnet for some time now, even before the signing in blood of the devil's pact between our Tory council and Capita, in the summer of 2013.

What can you do, in the face of such malign influences? 

Not much. 

Except throw the Tory council out on May 3rd, of course.

Monday 16 April 2018

On the Road Again - Mrs Angry's Highway Code, and why not to be Angry About Bins - another election special

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire: but how many in Broken Barnet? Who's counting, Mrs Angry? No one knows: certainly not Crapita.  

Pic credit © Mrs Angry's Pot Hole photo archive: a work in progress.

Less than a month to go, now, before the local elections, and here in Broken Barnet the fight to win control of the council from - well, from no one in particular, as the Tories have already lost control - has begun at last ...

I say 'fight'. Not sure that is exactly the right term. Bit one sided, to be honest, what with the Tories determined to defeat themselves - for fear of being returned to power and facing the consequences of their own spectacular cock ups - with the aid of a cunning plan: an election strategy sure to deliver failure, and on a spectacular scale.

Yes, after trying out a manifesto based on attacking the outcome of policies of their own administration over the last few years, our Conservative chums have now opted for a campaign of publicising these disasters, whilst at the same time trying to disassociate themselves from them.

Boasting about their record of investment in roads and pavements, for example.

'Investment' in roads and pavements is of course a policy run in parallel with Barnet Tory 'investment' in libraries. 

Tory leader Richard Cornelius and Tory environment lead member Dean Cohen 'invested' your money on this clapped out old bit of rusting equipment, allegedly for pot hole filling ...

In both cases the meaning of the word is grabbed by the neck, given a shake, and turned upside down to disguise a particularly ugly truth: that they are trying to disguise a cut in service, by insulting your intelligence: no, by assaulting your intelligence, in a system of coercive control, incrementally: gaslighting you - they hope -into a state of complete confusion, and ultimately a state of compliance. 

Yes, you will mutter, as you stumble along the broken pavements and potholed roads of Broken Barnet, pavements and roads which have been invested with slightly less money than is needed to repair them, especially if you live in a Labour ward (see below), to the polling station in a room that used to be a children's library - this is not a former children's library, stolen from us, robbed of books, and left empty, and purposeless. The roads and pavements of Broken Barnet are not broken, and pot holed. This is all evidence of the investment of our money, by our Tory councillors. Let's vote for more of the same, over the next four years. 

Well, that's what they think you will think. 

Maybe think again, Tory councillors.

About the ward expenditure, of the Highways budget: yes, that old story, one which pops up at every election. Remember what happened last time?

Yes, concerns were raised, and a complaint made to the external auditors by Labour councillors after Freedom of Information requests submitted to, and eventually answered by, the council, by Mrs Angry exposed an embarrassing truth the Tories would have preferred to keep quiet: that the allocation of Highways funding for roads and pavements favoured Tory held wards. 

A review was allowed by the Tory administration which concluded, rather absurdly, that yes, Tory wards got more funding, but this didn't show any political motivation. 

Or, as they put it:

'Whilst it is clear that the data supports the view that there has been more expenditure in administration held wards, this does not justify drawing a conclusion that there has been political bias'.

Quite what other conclusion could be reasonably be made of the data was not explained. 

Apart from questions over the particularly high expenditure in the ward represented by the Chair of the Environment committee, there were questions about the level of spending in the ward with the next highest level - in what was then considered to be the most marginal ward at the time of the last local election, that is to say Hale. 

As it turned out, Labour did take one of the seats in Hale from the Tories. This time round, two Tory councillors, Tom Davey and Hugh Rayner are not standing: and it seems likely that the ward will return three Labour members.

Well, no tears will be shed at the departure of Tom Davey, or the end of his gloriouspolitical career, the Tory who wanted only the wealthy to live in Broken Barnet.

See ya.

But hang on, Mrs Angry: Hugh Rayner not standing? 

Hugh Rayner, the former Chair of Hendon Tories, and former Mayor, featured in the previous two posts? The star of one of Mrs Angry's most popular posts

Listen: yes, that is the sound of voters the length and breadth of the borough weeping, wailing, and gnashing their teeth. 

Happier times for Cllr Rayner - here at Scratchwoods Open Space (in his capacity as local councillor) 

We knew there were rumours Cllr Rayner was worried about losing his seat in Hale, and wanted to stand in Edgware (where there was a vacancy after the deselection of Joan Scannell). Further rumours then suggested, however, that in the wake of the accusations by Cllr Scannell of misogyny 'rife' within the Hendon Tory Association, another woman had been chosen to replace her, and ... no room then for Hugh. (Mrs Angry has had an interesting chat with a couple of the deselected candidates, btw, & is promised a full account, post election ...)

But Cllr Rayner announced last weekend that he was not standing for council again - and that he had made the decision some six months earlier. A shame, if so, that he had not, along with all the other departing councillors, had taken the opportunity to delight us all with a valedictory speech at the last Full Council meeting: but we must learn to live with this disappointment.

It seems that the Tories have now written off Hale. And it has not been lavished with attention it received last time round, in terms of Highways funding. In fact ... it has had the least amount, over the last four years. Second least, incidentally, is the safest Labour ward, and most disadvantaged ward, Burnt Oak. 

Oh yes: forgot to mention, after the usual struggle, and tactics deployed to try to obstruct Mrs Angry obtaining the information, and a new strategy in which Capita Re Highway officers took over the FOI process from the council's own FOI team, we now have the latest figures. 

And very interesting they are, too. 

Of the top half of ward expenditure, most of the wards are ... Tory. And the bottom half? 

Yes, mostly Labour held. Who could have guessed? Just coincidence, of course.

Now then.

What is the most marginal ward in Barnet, in this election, you may be wondering, if not Hale? The most marginal ward, in perhaps the most marginal borough in London?

Well: it is Childs Hill. Keenly fought over by Tories, Labour, and what is left of the Libdem party in Barnet. 

Funnily enough, readers - and you will be surprised by this, I know you will - the ward which comes top of the Highways expenditure chart, over the years since the last election is ... Ta Dah!

Yes: Childs Hill.

Top of the chart, by a long way. 

More or less double, in fact, the amount given to the next highest spend.

Childs Hill ward has had more than £4.5 million pounds spent on it since 2014/15: most of it in the last two years.  A truly astonishing figure.

In the previous four years up to the last election, the combined expenditure on this ward -(then a Libdem stronghold, represented by three local well known figures, ie Lord and Lady Palmer, and Jack Cohen), was only around £564,000: spending in the last four years on this ward, in other words, has been eight times the amount in the previous period. Here is the full list:

In order of scale of expenditure (ignoring the cross ward listings, as Mrs Angry can't be bothered to devise a way of representing this, (and her graphics consultant let her down, didn't you, Mr Mustard?) ...

Childs Hill 
West Finchley
Mill Hill
Golders Green
West Hendon
East Barnet
Finchley Church End
High Barnet
East Finchley
Brunswick Park
Hampstead Garden Suburb
Burnt Oak

The second highest spend is something of an anomaly in regard to the true blue tinge of the favoured wards: West Finchley. Hmm. An increasingly middle class ward, even though traditionally returning Labour members. Home of course to our local MP and - oh - to Mrs Angry. This is sheer coincidence, of course, and please could you divert some of this lavish expenditure to the long sequence of pot holes in Long Lane, N3, and the broken pavements? Yes, hard not to trip up, on the way to our polling station at St Paul's. 

As it happened, when the Palmers decided not to stand again, (Susette is standing this time) the Libdem votes evaporated, and even Jack Cohen struggled to be returned to his seat, by the narrowest of margins. Two Tory councillors were elected, Peter Zinkin, and Shimon Ryde - enabling their party to retain control of the council  by a slim majority. 

Now the retention of Childs Hill is itself even more crucial, in an election in which the Tories are for once so much disadvantaged - as a result of their own glaring incompetence, and the increasingly evident failure of their farmed out, privatised local services.

Standing in Childs Hill for Labour this time round is a particularly strong team of candidates, Anne Clarke, Lisa Pate and Nigel Young, all of them very active in the community - and the indefatigable Anne Clarke has also taken a prominent role in the Save Barnet Libraries campaign. 

Owen Jones lends his support to Childs Hill Labour candidates Anne Clarke, Lisa Pate and Nigel Young.

Childs Hill Library, of course, is now rarely open, having been turned by the Tories into a 'partnership' volunteer concern - a genuinely local community bid to run the 'library' was of course overlooked. (And the nearest alternative, Golders Green library, is shut much of the time, barring under 16s when unstaffed - and having had its wonderful children's library ripped out, for no good reason).

Other issues in this ward which will most certainly have lost the Tories crucial votes include the aggregate 'superhub' which has been forced on the people of Cricklewood, despite their very valid concerns about pollution, and volume of heavy vehicle traffic in the area.

The Granville Road estate, after Grenfell, had to have its cladding removed (see below). Residents in social housing and leasehold properties alike have been left shivering all winter with no replacement - and have seen green spaces and storage removed from the estate, while the promised community centre has failed to materialise. But then the least advantaged, Labour voting residents of Broken Barnet are always at the back of the queue, when it comes to attention from the Tory council.

Nicky Gavron, Tom Copley and Andrew Dismore with Labour candidates on the Granville Estate this weekend.

Well, the at least the roads in Childs Hill may now be pothole free, if not paved in gold, and the wards favoured by generous spending may also be comparatively well maintained - but throughout the borough there are so many potholes that driving along many roads requires a level of proficiency more generally required in battle scarred war zones. 

This is hardly something that can escape the attention of the usually carefully cosseted Tory voters, already upset by issues such as parking, the cuts to libraries, the threat of over development, in even our parks and open spaces - such as the story of the Lodge, in Victoria Park - and the Capita run planning service which appears so slow to enforce action on those who breach the rules, demolish properties or convert houses to HMOs, without permission. 

I read the news today oh, boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small

They had to count them all

No one knows how many pot holes there are in Broken Barnet. 

No one dares count. They don't go looking for them. They wait for people to make complaints, and then you wait to see if something is done. The something that may be done is hardly worth the wait, in the end, as botched repairs all over the borough remind us every day.

But in these last weeks before the election, Twitter and Facebook are now awash with pictures of potholes around the borough left unfilled: or, as in many cases where they are belatedly filled, and left unfinished, with unswept gravel left strewn around the roads - and of ugly broken pavements, fixed only with a patchwork of tarmac in place of replacement slabs. 

Something of a mystery, then, isn't it, why Highways budgets are not being used to address this problem, and how or why we can afford to divert so much of it to a ward that happens to be the most marginal in London? 

Our Tory councillors have not restricted themselves to drawing attention to their own failures in maintaining the roads and pavements of Broken Barnet, however. As part of their masterly election strategy, they have extended their tactic of flagging up their own deficiencies to another issue, launching a most audacious gamble: waving around Mrs Angry's favourite Tory election bingo card: yes. It's time for a round of  ... #angryaboutbins ...

Whenever a Conservative politician or authority is in trouble, flailing around desperately for something to bang on about to electors, either because a. the current Labour administration is well run or b. the current Tory administration is abysmal, they can always rely on one subject that is bound - they think - to galvanise their own natural voters. Bins, waste, and a load of old rubbish. 

There was an amateur attempt to jump into a version of this game early on in the campaign by one enthusiastic new Hendon Tory candidate, who kept tweeting pictures of himself looking stern and picking up litter. Until it was pointed out to him that it was the Tory council who had cut the street cleansing teams, and caused the stuff to accumulate in the first place.

Well, Tory voters do get annoyed by litter, and they do get #angryaboutbins: but they are also astute enough to notice when their elected representatives cannot provide a decently run service - or even cut that service. Hence the problem with this campaigning tactic, in Broken Barnet. Barnet Tories are entirely responsible for the increase in litter, fly tipping (free skip service stopped) - and bin collection, through their own policies and decisions.

#angryaboutbins is a grassroots political issue, on both sides of the Atlantic

Bin collection was taken back in house, much against the will of the Tory members, who are of course ardent outsourcers, and hate to have to admit to any failures in privatisation. But despite warning by the unions, they have cut staffing levels to the point where they need to use agency workers at times of sickness, and rumour has it wanted to cut agency use and force workers to go out without a full crew. Have they done this deliberately to cause industrial strife, blame the workers, and make the case to residents for privatisation? Maybe.

And then of course there is the matter of the depot itself. Why? Well, maybe simply due to their innate love of budget cuts - or maybe, as some have suggested, because they want to run the service down in order to outsource it once more: the old trick, of course.

The bin collection service usually is efficient, and reliable, but in the run up to the election there have been a couple of problems which the council appears slow to explain. First of all the failure to provide the Christmas tree collection until February, when the festive season was ancient history, and Lent had already begun - and then this week the sudden failure to collect bins in many areas of the borough. This mysterious event was further clouded in suspicion when the council gave a series of different reasons for it: lack of agency staff, vehicle breakdown and 'operational issues' at the depot. Ah.

With masterly timing, dutiful Tory councillors had been boasting, just the week before, as their major policy pledge for their manifesto, that they were going to protect the weekly bin delivery. 

Who from? From Labour. There was a Socialist plot to undermine our British way of bin collection, weekly. 

Except of course this was Fake News, there wasn't, as Labour hadn't proposed anything of the sort. 

On the other hand, Barnet Tories appear to have forgotten that they themselves had proposed something of this sort, should they feel the need, in the future. 


See the evidence from Labour's Cllr Alan Schneiderman:

And here they were, anyway, not able to deliver the weekly collection they were promising to protect. 

One of the more entertainingly extreme Tory councillors, little David Longstaff, the Actor (resting) tweeted his thoughts on this subject on Saturday: it was all the fault of Socialists. As well as the Bolsheviks* of Broken Barnet, and, of course, The Unions. 

(*To be fair, it's rarely acknowledged that Lenin only went into politics after his local bin collecting services was outsourced to Kapita, whereas initially Trotsky favoured a workers' buy out, rather than in house options).

Residents queued up to put Cllr Longstaff right, reminding him that the reason for the non collection was in fact not because it is an in house service, or anything to do with union membership, or rampant Bolshevism (how quaint!) but erm: because the Tories' spanking new depot at Oakleigh Road South was ... having problems, despite the enormous cost of the development, which was  - oh, project managed by Capita?

You remember the story of the depot, don't you? 

In their haste to flog the old depot at Mill Hill East some years ago now, our Tory friends somehow forgot to bother to secure an alternative location for all the services which used to be based on the site. They then found themselves running out of time, and options. This is how the gritting service ended up in Harrow, and how we ended up, during the snow that fell one weekend earlier in the year, with gritters unable to cope with the situation, unable to get to Harrow, and back again, with new loads, until after the worst of the situation was over. Or at least until the back roads in Hampstead Garden Suburb had been gritted, while ambulances and buses struggled up Barnet Hill ...

But where to put waste and recycling? First of all they were going to shove it all at Pinkham Way, but that didn't work out. Then they began to panic. And did something rather rash: blew £13.5 million on the old Abbots Way site, which, curiously enough, had changed hands only the year before for only £750,000, sold to ... the council's own landlords. Confused? So were councillors, when they found out. And apparently officers, who hadn't realised. Or forgot to tell them. 

So all this dosh - your dosh - was spent on panic buying a site which anyway was known to be required for the proposed Crossrail 2 scheme, at enormous cost, and the new depot, left in the hands of Capita, has now turned out to be in need of what the council coyly refers to as 'vital works'. Well, Mrs Angry's network of informants (yes, Bolsheviks, Cllr Longstaff, every last one of them) inform her ... that the vital works are necessary because the lovely new depot, only months old, is already literally falling apart - the bulking area must have a new concrete floor laid, for one thing. £13.5 million quid on this? Whose fault is it? Will they be held to account? Or will Tory members continue to load the blame for an inefficient service on the workers, rather than themselves, in a last, desperate attempt to retain some credibility with their own voters?

In truth the signs are that Barnet Tories know the game is up. One of these portents came in the absence of the Tory leader, last week, from the series of hustings held by local business people in North Finchley. The lack of explanation or apology led those left waiting with the impression that the leader was avoiding the opportunity to engage with members of the public.

Elsewhere, on social media, local Tory accounts have been busy tweeting about anything other than local issues, as much as possible. 

But then: what can they say? What can they point to, without drawing attention to the failing delivery of local services, and the cost of easycouncil contracts spiralling out of control?

Time is running out to make sure you are registered to vote. Do it now, and make your voice heard, on May 3rd. 

Find out more here.