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.

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