Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Festive fun with Mrs Angry

Here's something to get us all in the festive mood!

Just in case any of my younger readers (yes, especially you, Matthew), or any of our more intellectually challenged Tory councillors are worried: don't be scared, this is NOT the real Father Christmas.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Refresh and Rebuild: the real cost of One Barnet

As we revealed in the last blog, the infamous 'Ideas Barnet' website, meant to be the shining example of Barnet's avowed committment to the process of consultation with its residents, is now totally discredited, and shown to be what we suspected all along, a clever piece of spin, planted with bogus, unidentified, futureshaped suggestions, which were allowed to remain on the site, masquerading as genuine ideas from members of the public. Other suggestions from residents were also censored, until protests were made.

Take a look at just a few of the ideas which did make it onto the site: (despite the temptation, I haven't edited or corrected them). Of course these stinkers may or may not be by residents, or by senior officers, or even a councillor: we just don't know ...

Staff Productivity:

"Why not bind staff salaries/renewal of contracts to productivity, as in the private sector? Not all tasks could be reduced to a KPI system, but certain roles, i.e planning, involve the allocation of cases, which must be cleared. Successful resolution of a case/issue would count towards productivity (like in the NHS-where a target is only met when the ailment is treated or resolved). This would also allow the council to audit inefficient/incompetent members of staff, and begin the process of streamlining. This is also a fair way of dealing with the issue of redundancy-making redundancy payments based on quality of service, as opposed to length. "
I think this has a lot of merit - if it were applied to councillors. Think how many of the eejits we could get rid off when their half baked policies fail, or they lose our money in overspends or dodgy investments ...

Refresh and Rebuild Barnet Council Staff

"Ideas about flowers and canteens are rather small scale.
You need a big solution. a Brave one.
Organisations get tired and inefficient. Big organisations, especially in the public sector, suffer terribly from this. An hour spent in the Barnet council offices reveals the weight of depression and frustration in the staff, many of whom suspect they are under-delivering but understandably do not want to blow the whistle.
I propose a root and branch review of staffing, where existing staff are asked to re-apply for newly challenging and newly accountable posts. I suspect many, faced with such challenges, will want to leave. Rather than find lump sums for redundancy, offer deferred payments over time.
This restructure will cost money: and deliver savings that will more than pay for itself.

Ah, the old 'root and branch review of staffing': always popular, that one. And: staff would much rather apply for one of those many vacant jobs elsewhere, rather than have to do their jobs in Barnet properly. I suppose you could try to be more offensive, anonymous writer, but it would be difficult.

Use the unemployed instead of contractors

"Barnet council pays council tax and housing benefit for people unemployed in barnet, it may not be there own fault, but at the end of the day if your paying them, use them to fill some gaps in services. You could pay legal decent wage, and do a 50/50 split, 50% of income goes towards housing costs, they pocket the other 50% (declaring it to the DWP)

That could save thousands on contractors for skills the unemployed probably do have. (Its a double saving, by utilising existing labour, you dont need so many expensive contracts. Painting fences, cutting lawns etc, collecting rubbish."

My only quibble is why we should pay the legal wage: can't we get a better deal by punishing the poor with a humiliating rate of pay, as well as enforced community labour?

Volunteers for repairs/services

"One of the most expensive area's would be repairs, the Barnet community charge and business rates could be used as an incentive for volunteers, saving some £40m per annum, for adult care repair alone.

This works only on an economy of scale, and calculating the incentive to be offset beyond cost, meaing if the volunteer did 120 pounds worth of work they would gain 60 pounds off there community charge/business rates the council would still provide all supplies - this over a year would effectively reduce the cost of repair."

Sheer genius, this one. Let's have volunteers fixing the lifts in NLBP, the plumbing in old folks' homes, rewiring the flats in the 'slums' of Grahame Park. If a few poor families are electrocuted as a result, well, so what: no one will miss them and it'll free up even more housing stock and reduce the housing benefit bill: win win, all round.

My two innovative suggestions are of course still in place. I'm not sure if the plans for the new Workhouse have been drawn up yet, though, and, rather disappointingly, my spies tell me that on a recent visit to NLBP, there was no sign of staff making use of my eco friendly sewage recycling/chamber pot usage scheme. It seems I am ahead of the times in my visionary insight and creative thinking. Should I should apply for a post with Barnet? Like Nick Griffin?

But to return to the point of this blog, (yes: there is one, somewhere). You see, the reason I think it was such a despicable thing to slip all these fake suggestions onto the website was not just because it made a mockery of the whole project, but because this was obviously something that will have an undeniable impact on so many fellow council employees. That's pretty low, in my book.

Almost everyone who works for this borough is facing the prospect of an uncertain future: no one, except a number of priviliged senior officers, knows whether their job is safe. Council workers are people with rent or mortgages and bills to pay, children to support. Unlike our greedy little Tory councillors, they cannot vote themselves nice little pay rises, or sit back for the next four years without the fear of losing their incomes.

If anyone doubts the anxiety and sense of fear that council employees feel, read the following statement by one officer:

"On Monday, Cabinet will be voting to proceed with privatisation of the Council's Development and Regulatory Services. To you and me, it is Planning, Environmental Health, Building Control, Land Charges, Cemeteries and Crematoria, Highways, Regeneration, Trading Standards.

The process to get there has been a total joke. The project team has refused to involve staff and trade unions. Like most Future Shape / One Barnet projects, the published documents are a real insult to staff's intelligence and residents. The report to Cabinet is based on assumptions and clearly driven by ideology rather than facts. Staff in those services are really worried about their jobs and the services that residents will receive in the future if our departments are privatised.

Some of those services are amongst the most efficient in London and provide very good value for money ... Staff are dedicated and understand that cuts will have to be made but also want to ensure that they are done in a way that will not affect the quality of the service to residents. Residents and the democratic accountability of decisions are totally ignored by the project team and this has to be exposed.

Last month 80+ staff stormed out of a staff meeting when our Director, Stewart Murray, refused to answer reasonable questions from a Union official.

On Monday, staff from those departments will be outside the Town Hall to protest against the proposed privatisation. We will be presenting Cabinet with a petition endorsed by a huge majority of staff.

Good luck to all those staff members attending the Town Hall tomorrow, and their colleagues.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Fora! Fora! Fora!

Yes: this week we see the next round of Residents' Forums, or Fora, as some of us would prefer to call them, at least, those of us in the Barnet blogosphere who studied Latin rather than woodwork, and didn't spend our schooldays behind the bicycle shed with a packet of woodbines, or standing outside the headteacher's study - oh no, hold on: that was me. Anyway, some of us - unlike Barnet Council, in its recent poster campaigns - some of us prefer to write in accordance with the basic rules of grammar, don't you know.

Oh, and on the subject of Barnet's recent posters, rather than worrying about grammatical errors, I feel more inclined to get annoyed about misleading claims being made: I do wonder if the Advertising Standards authority might like to take a look at the posters at bus stops which say the forthcoming sepnding cuts will be around 20% when we know that in fact the figure is almost 27% ...?

But I digress. Yesterday I informed Mrs X that she would once more have to grab her notebook and pen and nip off over to Golders Green to sit with baited breath for the answers to our latest questions to the Residents' Forum. Unfortunately, readers, Mrs X is getting a bit stroppy, and raised objections to my request.

- I'm not sure I can really be a***d, she muttered, rebelliously.

Whatever do you mean, Mrs X? And please mind your language.

-It's cold, it's dark, I'm tired, and I don't want to sit in a drafty church hall listening to a load of residents moaning about stuff. What's the point?

Mrs X, I don't want to hear that sort of defeatist talk.

- Well, she whined, why do we have to do this? Who are you to tell me what to do, anyway? I invented you, and now look, you have me running about everywhere annoying poor old Tory councillors who only want a nice quiet life at our expense: what for?

What for? Let's see: originally, of course, just in case you have forgotten, Mrs X, we started this blog to publicise the completely intolerable situation that we were in: that the Tory twats at Barnet Council and their appalling housing policy had inflicted the loathsome antisocial neighbours from hell on us and ruined our lives and then refused to do anything about it ...

-Oh, yes, I do sort of remember that, now you mention it ...

Hmm, and then it was a question of revenge ...

- Yes: most enjoyable ...

Followed by sheer malice ...


Amusement ...

-Oh, definitely

And most importantly of all, and the reason we continue: because it is our civic duty, Mrs X. You could say it is our contribution to the Big Society, volunteering on behalf of the community to keep our beady eye on the arcane rituals and dubious activities of our elected representatives.

-I'd almost forgotten. Thank you for reminding me.

So here is your return bus fare, Mrs X, and please get going: you don't want to miss anything.

-Ah but hold on, Mrs Angry: if I am going to undertake this sort of work I feel I should be paid an increase in my allowance.

Two pounds there, two pounds back, what more do you want?

-I was thinking more like oh, I don't know, something in the region of £15,333 a year.

What! Just for attending a few meetings?

-Mrs Angry, you simply don't seem to understand the amount of er background reading and other stuff, like um, talking to a couple of people and thinking quite hard, that I have to do, in order to perform this selfless voluntary role on behalf of the residents of Broken Barnet. And this is, anyway, the recommended scale of pay widely recognised across the London boroughs by the vast majority of imaginary friends and/or alter egos of members of the blogging community ...

Is it really? I really couldn't give a **** .Mrs X. Here's an Oyster Card: now get to work.

Disgraceful behaviour: I do apologise. But Mrs X has now returned with her report.

First of all, the bad news. As we may have discussed, Mrs X was rather surprised to be told at the last Forum that the erstwhile Citizens Panel, of which she was a member, had been quietly put to sleep, due to the expense. At the same meeting, she was told that the Citizens Panel was also still being used, as part of the standard 'consultation' process. Of course in the Alice in Wonderland corporate world of Broken Barnet, it is perfectly normal for two completely different things to be true at the same time, as many of the answers given at these events will tell you.

In her intimate, one on one budget consultation with how green is my Councillor Daniel Thomas last week, Mrs X was told that the night before the cancelled public meeting (are you keeping up?) there had been a wonderfully organised -or do I mean orchestrated? - meeting of the panel - oh dear - without an invitation for Mrs X.

Mrs X has now been informed that she has been summarily 'retired' from the Citizens Panel. She should have been sent a letter informing her of this, with the grateful thanks from the authority for her sterling work over the years of service, and a signed photograph of Nick Walkley. Inexplicably, this has somehow all been completely overlooked. How very odd.

Oh well.

There were about thirty or so people at the Forum. Perhaps in view of the high risk of anarchist protestors, the panel last night included a police officer, looking rather surprised to be there. But no heavy objects were thrown, and everyone behaved impeccably. Except for Mrs X. In the audience were Tory Councillors Andrew Harper, John Marshall, Graham Old, and Labour members Alison Moore, Jim Tierney and Anne Hutton. couldn't see any Libdems: wonder if they've gone into hiding?

There were six written questions at the Forum, and oh, four of those were from Mrs X. After a question by someone who wants to cut down a group of eleven oak trees in Erskine Hill, Golders Green, (which seemed rather unnecessary), the first of Mrs X's contributions was on the subject of the idiotic 'Ideas Barnet' website, meant to be a mainstay of the current Budget Consultation process:

1. Although I have now received a written reply in regard to questions asked at the last Forum about the authority's consultation process, one of the questions, on the subject of the 'Ideas Barnet' website, has apparently been misunderstood. My question was about the integrity, rather than the 'integration', of the ideas submitted. It is widely believed that a large number of the ideas included on this site are not, as they purport to be, genuine suggestions from residents, and I would therefore like to ask of the 187 or so ideas on the site, how many can be verified, by means of email addresses, post codes etc, as being from individuals with no connection to the authority?

There was a frankly staggering official written reply, a small part of which I will quote:

"... the early ideas on the site were submitted by staff as they tested a beta version of the site. These stayed on the site to launch it. In the main these tend to be specifically internal issues. "

In other words, citizens, as suspected, the authority is admitting that some of the ideas included in this project are not genuine suggestions by residents, or even staff members in other departments, but bogus 'ideas' submitted by staff members associated with the project itself, which have been allowed to remain without being identified as such.

You might not think that this matters: it does.

This was supposed to be a an exercise in consultation with residents. The responses gathered are meant to influence the decisions which will dictate where and how much spending cuts are made - decisions which will have an impact on the jobs of many council employees, and of course on the delivery of so many essential services.

Some of the earliest 'ideas' on this site, purporting to come from residents, were suggesting ways for example in which volunteers could be used to replace council officers, or that certain services could be charged for. One awful 'idea' claimed staff knew they were underperforming and if made to reapply for their jobs, would be happy to go and work elsewhere. Other genuine ideas, as we know, were in the early days censored and removed or not published at all.

Mrs X commented on the extraordinary reply to her question, and pointed out that such interference with a public consultation invalidated the whole project.

A resounding silence fell upon the hall. Panel chair Dean Cohen looked uncomfortable and looked at Mr Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance. Mr Lustig looked uncomfortable and looked at Mrs X. Mrs X looked at Mr Lustig and waited.

Of course there really was no response anyone could make. Mr Lustig did his best, talking about 'different forms of engagement', some of which were 'quite innovative in their approach'.

Mmm. Rather too much so, I would say, wouldn't you?

This matter, by the way, has been reported to two councillors, one Tory, one Labour. Neither has said whether or not anything has happened as a consequence.

Next question.

2. There have been several stories reported in the local press expressing dissatisfaction with the lighting renewal project in this borough. Councillor Coleman assured the last full council meeting that this project was 'a good news story' yet the website of the contractors still has 18 roads in 2009, and 19 roads in the current year, listed as 'not scheduled', and are therefore not completed. This might imply that the project is in fact better described as a 'bad news story'. Why is the project running behind schedule, and when will the work be satisfactorily completed?

Poor long suffering Councillor Cohen breathed a sigh of relief, and attempted a joke, I believe, about Mrs X throwing some light on the subject. Mrs X responded in kind, agreeing that she was in need of clarification.

Trying to crack a joke at these Forums - oops sorry, DCMD, Fora - is the municipal equivalent of doing stand up at the Glasgow Empire. You could have heard a pin drop, and I think Mrs X may have seen a bale of tumbleweed roll across the floor. Nothing. Nada. Not a titter. Oh dear.

The written reply again neatly sidestepped the question about running behind schedule and concentrated on admitting that the contractors had not updated their timetable on the website, oh, but it was 'expected' that the programme will be completed on time. Hmmm. But what if the details on the website are not actually updated because they actually reflect the status quo, ie many roads still far from complete?

Next: ah, a question which Mrs Angry herself has wanted to make for some time now:

3. At the last full council meeting, in response to a question about stopping sites for members of the gypsy/traveller community, Councillor Richard Cornelius stated that this authority has always failed to identify a single site in the borough suitable for accommodating the needs of such people. The London Borough of Barnet is almost unique in failing ever to provide any stopping place for gypsy families, even to the extent of ignoring its statutory duties under previous legislation. It could easily be argued that this represents a form of discrimination against gypsies and travellers, who are of course recognised in law as belonging to an ethnic minority. I would like to know what this authority has done, over the last eight years, actively to locate and consider sites suitable for such a purpose, including, but not solely, in response to the recent but now abandoned proposal for a site by the Mayor of London.

Yet again, the written answer did not answer the question. No response whatsoever on the actions the Tory administration of the last eight years or so has or, as one suspects, has not taken, to identify a single site suitable for, or capable of being adapted to be, suitable for providing a stopping place for gypsy families.

So Mrs X tried again and asked for this point to be addressed. A strange stifled sound came from the seats accommodating our beloved Tory councillors. Councillor Cohen looked at Mr Lustig. Mr Lustig looked at Mrs X. Mrs X looked at Mr Lustig. He explained that he had worked for Barnet Council since the dawn of time ( he did look rather tired, poor man) and - and I can't read her notes here but he gave his usual brilliantly Sir Humphrey type response and kindly offered to
forward any details of any actions taken. I imagine that this will be in a very small envelope.

And lastly: aha, a query about the new online register of councillors' interests.

4. The register of councillors' interests, gifts and hospitality has at last become available online, although seven members have been allowed to 'opt out' of what is presumably intended to be an excercise demonstrating a committment to 'transparency'. Rather confusingly, some of the councillors whose declarations do appear on the online register appear reluctant to give details of their homes in the borough. Without implying any deliberate wrongdoing on the part of any individuals, it is stated on the register that it is a breach of the code of conduct for members 'to omit information that ought to be given in this notice' or 'to provide information that is materially false or misleading'. Can you clarify the rules on the declaration of property interests within the borough by councillors, either as owner or tenant?

Now I would like to be able to tell you that Mrs X reported back with a full and frank explanation of this issue. She tells me that yet again, the written answer was unforthcoming and queried this at the meeting. She told me that after a short but confusing verbal response talking about tenancies and tenure she is no more the wiser than before as to why so many councillors appear reluctant to give details about their homes. If they do not own these homes, do they not have to declare that the accommodation is rented? Well, some actually do, others simply say nothing at all. If the councillors themselves do not understand the rules, how can the residents be satisfied that all the necessary information is in the public domain?

A group of women had come to the meeting to ask the following, which is no doubt of concern to many parents throughout the borough:

'In the light of the proposed cuts to early years funding within the Borough, what is Barnet's future commitment to funding its children's centres?'

Ah: like greased lightening, Andrew Harper ran to the front of the hall and stood in front of the women. If you recall, Mr Harper is keen to forge deeper relationships with residents. Thank you so much for coming, he gushed. This gave him the opportunity to correct the 'scurrilous' reporting in the local press last week, with the title '21 centres will close', next to his photo, tut tut. Yes,but, the women wanted to know, what is going to happen? Oh, well, we couldn't possibly tell you, because the local funding amount wasn't going to be fixed until next month. However: here it comes, the new Tory mantra, resources must be channelled to those who (pause for caring expression) need it the most. (Like Tory councillors trying to up their allowances, remember). The women looked less than reassured and continued to ask about a more specific commitment to the centres. A glint of impatience flashed in the councillor's eye, and he emphasised again the inability to make any committments at this stage.'But thank you all so much for coming' he finished with, as if he were handing out coats at the end of a Garden Suburb drinks party: 'So nice to see you!'. The women stared back, totally bemused.

Mrs X wandered out into the mean streets of Golders Green, and back up to the station. In a bookshop on the high road a lovely old man fell into conversation with her, leaning across the piles of remaindered books. 'Do you know dear, ' he said, as he left, looking up at the night sky, 'There are 28 billion stars out there, in the universe: don't you think there must be intelligent life out there, somewhere, far away?'

'Yes,' said Mrs X, 'At least, I do hope so. Because there isn't much evidence for it down here on planet earth, is there?'

And in the civic world of Broken Barnet, citizens, there is, I would suggest, an almost complete lack of any evidence at all.

Taking a joke too far

Please: stop voting for this twerp.

It's not funny, and it's not clever.

Update, Monday 29th November: please note, citizens that the curse of Mrs Angry has struck once more, and poor old Wagner must be rueing the day he tried to insinuate his leather trousered behind into the seat next to her, on a memorable Aerlingus flight back from Ireland in August ... be warned, all those who incur the wrath of Mrs Angry; you may be next ...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mrs Angry's Register of Interests/A night with Brian Coleman

I must start this blog with an apology to the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. I think I may have been rather unkind, in the past, to some of our Conservative representatives, accusing them, in the wake of Allowancegate, of being a bunch of greedy, grasping, lazy, cowardly ne'er do wells.

You see, I simply had not appreciated, until the register of councillors' interests, gifts and hospitality came online, that so many of them are far from comfortably off, or well placed in life.

Imagine my shame, therefore, when, on reading through the register, I discovered how many of our Tory councillors are in fact - oh dear - homeless, and indeed unemployed. At least, I think that must be the explanation.

First of all, let us be clear that this is not a full register of interests, gifts and hospitality. Despite a stated committment to the principles of accountability and oh dear, 'transparency', councillors have been given the option to withhold their entries from publication online, thus making a nonsense of the whole thing.

Seven councillors have refused to allow their details to be open to public scrutiny in this way. They are all Conservative councillors. Let Mrs Angry repeat the roll of honour:

Brian Coleman

Barry Evangeli

Sachin Rajput

Joan Scannell

Daniel Seal

Mark Shooter *

Andreas Tambourides

Brian Coleman is no surprise, of course, and, of course, we should not question his right to privacy in the matter of his financial interests, the listing of who buys him lunch, or sends him the odd Harvey Nichols hamper, should we? Absolutely none of our business. He isn't acountable to us is he? Oh: is he? Ok. But, do you know, I'm guessing he may not be entirely thrilled to see that former Guardian parliamentary correspondant David Hencke has, in his recent blog, taken a close look at our friend's career:


I note there are details here of a Brian J Coleman who, in 2008, was renting a three bedroomed flat in West Finchley, his landlords being the Methodist Church, a local body which is now a registered charity, by the way.

I think it is too easy to draw conclusions from this. It may be another Brian Coleman. Whoever it is, since 2008, he may have trebled the rental. Or he may have fallen on hard times, and now rely entirely, like Blanche Dubois, on the kindness of strangers, in order to keep himself fed and housed. Poor old Brian. If only there were a soup kitchen nearby, run by the church for homeless people ... oh what? There was one, in the church hall, but it had to be closed down? Complaints? That is a shame. For those in genuine need of Christian charity.

Mr Shooter, though: look at the company you are keeping, Mark, really .... Mrs Angry is disappointed with you. Again. * Update Friday 4pm: according to a local press report, Mark Shooter will now put his details online, attributing his opting out to being a new boy and not realising the implications. This is indeed a rare example of a Tory councillor in Barnet regretting something they have done - and putting it right. Hooray.

Of course the residents and tax payers of Broken Barnet may be granted a peek at the details withheld from the online listings, if you are prepared to ask nicely, say whose details you want to see (why?) are granted an appointment, and prepared to troop over to NLBP, where you will have supervised access. Fancy a trip?

The entries, then.

I should explain that in many cases, it seems that standards of literacy amongst these councillors leave a lot to be desired. I can only imagine that they did not benefit from an education at the better schools in the borough, but attended one of the other ones, you know, the sort Andrew Harper doesn't talk about, the ones that lost their investment funding recently without so much of a squeak of protest from our local authority ...

In fact much of the hastily and evidently reluctantly scrawled entries on these forms from our Tory chums is practically illegible, for some reason. It has occurred to Mrs Angry that perhaps a graphologist might have some interesting observations to make, in some cases, about the scarily disordered handwriting of our Tory Councillors. Could it be that there is a link between messy writing, a disordered mind, and an adherence to lunatic fringe Conservatism?

There is also, in these entries, an unhelpful use of mysterious and unexplained acronyms, abbreviations and so on. Nevertheless there is much of interest. Oh by the way, did I mention that I have opted out of the need, in this blog, to analyse the interests of Labour and Libdem councillors? If you want to know more, you can apply to Mrs Angry, and I will arrange, at mututal convenience, an appointment, in a dark alleyway at midnight, for a three second glimpse of my notes. You will be sworn to secrecy, at the risk of having your tongue cut out and nailed to the Town Hall door, should you divulge the contents.

The Register. Of particular interest, then, in alphabetical order:

Maureen Braun: Mrs Braun's declaration is a frankly tedious repetition of NONE, NONE,NONE. (The size of the NONE on the hospitality bit is frankly rather scary.) No employment, no expenses, no declarable charity involvement, no home. Perhaps she rents, and this does not have to be declared, although other councillors have given details of their homes, rented or otherwise. Or perhaps this is why she wanted to build that shed? Ah ...

Tom Davey also has no property interest or rental declared, poor lamb. Perhaps his 'real job' -working as a finance analyst for 'British Imperial Tobacco' - does not pay as well as you might think. Shame, eh?

Andrew Harper's job: Being Andrew Harper. That is to say, councillor, Deputy Leader, and Cabinet member. I suppose that is pretty well rewarded, anyway, no need for any other day job.

John Hart: ah ... John (who has rather nice writing, btw, as you might imagine) is a retired lecturer. In linguistics, I believe, is it, Rog? And President of the Mill Hill Allotment Society, being a horny handed son of the soil. I wonder if he ever invites lady bloggers to visit his potting shed?

Lynne Hillan. Ah, yes. She is a councillor, apparently with the LBB. The other five days of the week she is a director of Silverdale Ltd, or - oh dear - was, at the time of writing. And also does something in IKEA, poor old girl, just to make ends meet. Oh hold on, no that's IDEA, some sort of Local Government thing.

David Longstaff (really?) - well, what a surprise. He declares himself to be 'an actor and comedian'. I imagine this fits in very well with being a Tory councillor in this borough. His details on 'Castingcallpro', an online agency for luvvies, is absolutely fascinating. He is small, but perfectly formed, 5 foot 7 - and has a 'playing age' of 47, we are told. Mrs Angry is thinking very hard about adopting a playing age. Hmm. Anyway, his roles have included: a maniac, in the Accidental Death of an Anarchist, a monk, and of course 'Wig Man'. Longstaff had a small part in Mary Whitehouse (sadly miscast) and once played a 'Beige Man in Ikea'. Wonder if he bumped into Lynne? He is willing to perform nude, but only professionally. Phew. I wonder if he might be available for the Mrs Angry's forthcoming Broken Barnet production of Midsummer Night's Dream: it would be marvellous to see his Bottom, wouldn't it?


Graham Old's declaration is as boring as, well, oh dear, Graham Old.

Wendy Prentice, though, is a mysterious woman. Her form is as informative as Maureen Braun's, but with the tantalising detail that she lives in 'about three acres of Hadley Highstone' ... I can only imagine this means she lives in some sort of tent on the common, like Mrs Angry's gypsy forebears, or perhaps as a new age traveller. Your secret is safe with Mrs Angry, Wendy, but don't tell Brian Coleman. Or the Daily Mail.

Robert Ramsbottom's entry is rather sweet and disingenuous. Stop it, Mrs Angry. Pull yourself together. Well, apart from being head of the Conservative office at the GLA (do say hello to Roger Evans from me, Robert!) he tells us he is a member of the lodge of 'fraternal unity'. Isn't that the Communist Party of Great Britain? No? Also, he says 'I am a member of the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade' What, both of them? At the same time? I would have thought he was a bit old, but then perhaps they go by height, like Legoland. By the way, Rob, a friend of mine wrote the official history of the Jewish Lads Brigade, 'A Good Jew and a Good Englishman' - now out of print, I believe, but luckily available through your local library's interloans system for a very modest charge. Don't get that sort of service in Starbucks, or Waterstones, or Amazon, do you now?

Andrew Strongolou: I'm worried about this young man. No employment and no property declared and, according to the Barnet online information, appears to live at the Conservative Group's members room at the Town Hall. Can't be comfortable, sleeping on those racketty old chairs. A sign of the challenging times we all face, all in this together, as we are.

Finally, Joanna Tambourides. Unlike her shy and retiring spouse, she has at least not withheld her details online. She even tells us that she is declaring some hospitality, courtesy of the Morphou Municiplity in Cyprus, a nice few days' break last month, but as she points out, she paid for her own flights and, and I don't know why she might think we might imagine any other arrangement - her hotel room was 'shared with my husband'. Well done.

Of course the really interesting entries are the ones we are not allowed to see except through a ridiculously bureacratic and controlling process. Funny, isn't it that the sort of councillors - bar Mark Shooter perhaps - who have insisted on withholding their details would normally be the first to complain about those Tory obsessions, red tape, bureaucracy, form filling?

And now for something completely different. My night with Brian Coleman. How was it for you, Brian?

It was prizegiving night at my son's school last night. This is Finchley Catholic High School, yes, the one whose sixth formers organised yesterday's tuition fees demo - an event which so scared the local Tories, I noticed yesterday, that bus loads of bored policemen, and stacks of barricades had to be brought in beforehand, as if they were expecting a revolution rather than a polite protest by some admirably stroppy sixth formers. But anyway.

The Angry family duly trooped off to the school last night. Imagine my horror, then, as we drove up to the school and spotted an all too familiar tubby little figure stomping through the gates, in the direction of the school hall. Oh no, cried Mrs Angry, what on earth is he doing here? Is there no escape?

In fact we were blessed with the presence of three councillors: Coleman, Richard 'Mr Punch' Cornelius, and poor old love, Maureen Braun, probably glad not to have to spend the night in the shed. But the honoured guest and speaker was someone of real standing, Chief Constable, and President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, who presented all the prizes and gave an interesting speech about the challenges of policing in Northern Ireland. He also mentioned - and I hope you were listening, Brian, - the necessity, in the process of negotiation, of being prepared to respect the opinions of others, and make concessions in order to acheive a fair settlement.

As you may recall, Coleman has been making himself rather unpopular with London police chiefs recently, and I was rather hoping that Sir Hugh, on behalf of the Met, and in the tradition of old school community policing, would sort our Brian out with a well aimed clip round the ear, but no; rather disappointing. Never mind though, because our man had to listen, for once, and without yelling objections, to Sir Hugh's reference to the effects of cuts in police spending, oh and then to the address of the head teacher, Seamus Mc Kenna, who pulled no punches on the timely subject of government cuts in education spending, and of course the appalling financial burden that pupils now face due to the tuition fees hike. In fact he used the term 'a sense of betrayal', which no parent in the room would have disagreed with, I am sure.

The highlight of the evening, of course, was to witness Mrs Angry's son collect a special award, for achievements not entirely unrelated to the skills which he uses as technical assistant to his mother in the art direction of this blog, producing so many lovely pictures of our beloved councillors. Oh, how we laughed and cheered, as he trooped past a dutifully applauding Brian Coleman with his prize!

This school is a comprehensive school, by the way: it educates boys - and some girls in sixth form - of all abilities and backgrounds and produces outstandingly good academic results from such a varied intake. It also has a strong pastoral ethos. Last night, I noted, a special prize was given to a new boy at the school whom I know has difficult home circumstances and with their help, has made a great start to his life at the new school. In any good school pupils receive a well rounded education, and an awareness of the greater community in which they live. The success of a school should not measured by league table results alone. Faith schools traditionally manage to provide a high standard of education , academic and otherwise, for their pupils, but what about the many non selective, state schools?

Unfortunately, in this borough, we have too many schools with a highly selective intake who naturally produce continually high rates of high exam grades, and are then congratulated by themselves and the borough for their marvellous achievements. (Please pay attention, Andrew Harper). Perhaps it's time that the Tory adminstration looked at some of the less high acheiving schools, the ones serving the less advantaged children of the borough, and think a little less about how quickly they can wash their hands of responsibility for them via hare brained schemes like the academy system, and a lot more about how they can help such schools help these children acheive their own largely unrecognised and unsupported potential and individual successes.

*Update Saturday:

- just seen the latest Barnet Eye blog and read that the ghastly Guido Fawkes blogger has stupidly implied that the FCH pupil who organised the anti tuition fees rise demo was in some way influenced by the presence at the school of Damian McBride, former spin doctor and special adviser to Gordon Brown, and that the pupils were 'bunking off' school. Oh dear. The demo was after school, was well behaved, well organised (see comments in the local Times from Cdr Basu) and Alex is to be commended for his effective and well disciplined protest.

Yes, McBride is an old boy of FCH and is now employed there as a Business Liason Officer. Maybe it's a form of penance: more extreme, perhaps, than three Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers, trying to instil some business sense into the minds of spotty schoolboys, but there you go. Oh, and another of his duties is organising events like Thursday's prizegiving, which he does very well. And I must tell you, readers, how much we enjoyed the look on a certain councillor's face when the head thanked Mr McBride personally for his efforts ...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly ...

Now my friend Mrs X, being a concerned citizen, just like Mrs Angry, but much better behaved, has a keen interest in local politics. Obviously Mrs X and Mrs A have much in common, but generally speaking Mrs X is much more polite, shy and retiring than her mouthy friend. And, as she has been attending quite a few council meetings and forums recently, and was really looking forward to attending the Barnet budget consultation meeting this week (she doesn't get out much these days) she was therefore very annoyed to hear it had been cancelled.

Happily, being a devoted reader of the Barnet Council Facebook page, she had taken the step of registering her interest in attending and was therefore one of four lucky residents promised that they would receive a phone call from Councillor Daniel Thomas, who was going to hold a personal, one to one consultation, with each of the four residents.

Just think, mused Mrs X, as she sat with bated breath by the telephone: I am going to be responsible for 25% of the consultation meeting input ... how did that happen?

At last the phone rang, with a merry tinkle.

Councillor Thomas introduced himself politely. There was a an awkward silence.

'Er, well, what would you like me to talk about?' ventured Mrs X, in a silly opening gambit, then, worried that she sounded like a woman on one of those unsavoury phone lines, launched firmly into: 'Actually, I would like to ask you about the cancelled consultation meeting: do you really think that it was adequately publicised in the first place?'

Councillor Thomas, as it turns out, surely has an assured future in politics, because he is adept at talking at great length in a smooth, hypnotic and brilliantly evasive manner. Plus he has that sort of seductive Welsh accent that makes you think about Dylan (rather than Daniel) Thomas and How Green Was my Valley, Anthony Hopkins, bachelor sheep farmers and strange cheeses, rather than nasty neo Thatcherite Tory councils. A gift for the ambitious Tory would be politician. So. Adequate publicity? Oh, yes, he thought so, all in all. There had been an advert in the local Times and Press, you know. Oh and Barnet First. And some stuff online. And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose, my youth is spent by the same wintry force. What? Pull yourself together, Mrs X.

Hmm, she said, but what if you don't get the local papers? And how many people actually receive (or read) Barnet First? And what about those who don't have access to the internet - many older residents, for example? Or the many residents of our borough for whom English is a second language? It's not a very inclusive approach to consultation, is it? Why not publicise such consultation exercises, and other initiatives such as Residents Forums, more effectively, perhaps through local community groups, residents' associations, synagogues, churches, mosques? If you really want to engage with residents, wouldn't that be a good idea?

Well, said Councillor Thomas, he did know that there were some proposals to 'reinvigorate' the Residents Forums, and that might include wider publicity. There had been a Citizens Panel meeting last night, with all 400 members invited: oh, said Mrs X, that's funny, because I am a member of that panel, and yet, when I asked at the last Forum what had happened to it, I was told it had been too expensive to continue, and I certainly was not asked to attend this meeting: how very peculiar!

And as to the Residents' Forums, she added: yes - now then, you're a Finchley councillor, aren't you? I've been going to a few of our local Forums recently: I haven't seen you there, though ...

No, he said. I've never been to one.

What? Never?

No. No need. He was very busy doing other things. He is an executive councillor. Very busy.

Yes, but surely, spluttered Mrs X, - other local councillors of all parties regularly attend, not as panel members, but to listen to residents views, which is pretty important, isn't it?

Well, he didn't have to. Councillors can largely make of their roles whatever they want, you know, like MPs. (oh dear) He preferred to hold surgeries, and knock on peoples' doors. He was going to be knocking on doors in my road any day now, by the way, by an uncanny coincidence.

But my road isn't in your ward, Mr Thomas.


Mrs X dropped that line of discussion, and moved on to a subject dear to Mrs Angry's heart: the lack of interest by the administration in a process of engagement and consultation with the public. The avoidance of free debate. The preference for 'surveys' which like the library one, are loaded with 'options' that oblige the participant to endorse a pre set agenda. Oh and had he taken a close look at the Ideas Barnet website? Was he aware that rumour has it a large proportion of the 'ideas' submitted to this site are not genuinely from members of the public, and have suspiciously pro Future Shaped suggestions? Oh, and if this was true, didn't it invalidate the whole project?

No. He wasn't aware of any rumour. He would take a look at it. Mrs X is not holding her breath in expectation of any imminent investigation, however.

Thing is, said Mrs X, you don't seem to understand how much damage has already been caused to the relationship between your administration and the residents of this borough ... I'm talking about the allowance rise fiasco, she added, helpfully, just in case he had forgotten ...

Oh, yes, that. Ahem. Well, of course the proposals were rescinded, after listening to the bla bla bla ... the sloeblack, slow, black night zzzz

Only partly, Councillor Thomas. If you remember, eight of your colleagues just voted themselves a pay rise from £7,000 to more than £15,000 for the extra 'duty' of chairing a few committee meetings, in some cases, committees that only meet twice a year. Do you not understand how inappropriate such an increase is, at a time when you tell us our services are going to be so drastically cut, and so many council employees are going to lose their jobs, or at best face frozen salaries for the foreseeable future? The £40,000 which this rise costs could fund the posts of two or three care workers, to look after elderly and vulnerable residents in the borough, couldn't it?

Well, yes, he saw her point.

So: nice that you see my point, but what are you going to do about it? Why don't you suggest to your colleagues that they forego this rise?

Well , he could, but then burble burble burble bla bla bla and I am going into the darkness of the darkness forever, I have forgotten that I was ever born ... STOP! Stop right there.

Because you know, apart from the allowance scandal, you and your colleagues do seem to act as if you are in some way not accountable to the people they are supposed to represent ... I've sat through council meetings in the last few months and listened in disgust as Tory councillors have ranted about there being no such thing as poverty, or that people actually 'thrive' in poverty, that people in receipt of benefits are lazy and lack aspiration, that people in the public sector should get 'a real job' - (this apparently from someone whose real job is selling tobacco), and oh, let's not forget your collegue Mr Coleman's charming references to people who live in the 'slums' of Grahame Park ... do you not understand how offensive these remarks are to the residents of this borough?

Oh! Something pierces the smooth and previously impenetrable surface of this councillor's defences: he is here to discuss the budget proposals, and he will not comment on individual councillors' comments.

Ah but, countered Mrs X, don't you see that there is a direct relation to your performance as councillors, and our rights as the people who pay your allowances? The people you offend by such remarks? Have you forgotten you are supposed to be working on behalf of us? Volunteering to do your bit for the community, Big Society and all that? Many residents do all forms of voluntary activities without demanding any payment at all, you know.

Well, he said, as regards Councillor Coleman's remark: it was an 'extreme comment' but we live in a free world, you know, a free country ... Mrs X shook her head in despair. And in the new budget proposals, you know, there are plans to 'streamline' the committee system, in order to make savings. Ok, said Mrs X, but it might be feared that this is an excuse to further increase the Cabinet system, and continue to restrict decision making to a few individual councillors, rather than sharing the process with your party colleagues ... Councillor Thomas disagreed, and seemed to think his colleagues were sufficiently involved in decision making.

That's not what your colleague Mark Shooter thinks, is it? enquired Mrs X: I was a the last full council meeting when he raised this very point ... oh dear. Mark Shooter appears to be something of a sore point with Councillor Thomas, for some reason, and for the second time he showed a spark of impatience with Mrs X.

Ok: the budget itself then. Why is it in council reports etc you state we have to save 26% in spending cuts, whereas in posters stuck up at bus stops and so on the figure is reduced to 20%?

Actually, he said the figure is 27%. What? Well, 26.7. So why the discrepency? Mrs X, like Mrs A, cannot understand any calculations more complicated than 12x12s are um whatever they are, without being walloped on the hand with a wooden ruler, so she is unable to recall what the explanation was. I am sure there was a perfectly reasonable one. Maybe.

Oh, btw: what happened to the what was it now, £9 million pounds of lost revenue from the council and business tax you Tories somehow forgot to recover last year? Any chance of that turning up? Only in dribs and drabs. Oh, what a shame. And the money in Iceland, another £27 million lost by a Tory administration? Nope. Those greedy Icelanders won't give it back. Tut tut. Because 27+9 makes (ouch) er £36 million pounds, doesn't it, and goodness me, I wonder how many wardens, and care assistants and vital services that would support? Hmm? Hello?

Before you go, can we just talk about Future Shape, or whatever it is called this week? Thanks. Er, now, again, Mrs X has a poor grasp of economics and accounting, but she understands that this was created two years ago in order to save money. How much money has it saved?

None. In fact it has cost money.

Oh dear. Really?

Another £3 million pounds lost. Let's see: £36 million plus £3 million = what, £39 million of our money lost ?

Thank God we have a Tory council, eh, citizens, to save us from the economic catastrophe of Labour incompetence.

Councillor Thomas said that Future Shape was going to deliver savings. Ah, yes, said Mrs X, savings have been 'identified' but if they do materialise they still have to offset against the costs, don't they, so there is still no net gain?

Oh, and the Grant Thornton report was rather worrying ,wasn't it? Telling us there has been no business plan, no costings, no timescale, no detail? How have we got two years down the line without such a basic structure? If I went to a bank manager with a proposal to set up my own business without any such fundamental information, I would be shown the door, yet your administration is proposing to run the borough on a business model which does not exist in any detail. This seems rather peculiar, you know.

Councillor Thomas became quite impassioned at this point. He has obviously been extending a certain amount of thought as to the value and direction of Future Shape.

He said that he too had at times been 'impatient' with these plans. But the Grant Thornton report had really come 'too early' in the process. (well, that's always a disappointment, and what a shame the council wasted so much of our money on paying for this report then, eh?) and he assured Mrs X that, and I have her notes here to confirm this, readers, that we are 'on the cusp of getting results', and if these results do not materialise, if things aren't 'working out', if for example 'outsourcing' is promising to look 'too risky' well then, and get this: 'we won't go ahead' with Future Shape.

You heard it here first, citizens. Future Shape is living on borrowed time.

I want to believe Councillor Thomas meant what he said, that this council will abandon its ideological committment to the Future Shaped future of this borough, unless we are soon presented with the evidence that it really can run this borough satisfactorily.

Unfortunately, as we have seen so many times before, life in Broken Barnet is not quite so straightforward, is it? And if there is a choice between saving face, and sacrificing us all on the altar of an ideological nonsense, or admitting that this bunch of twats have made a major mistake and sold us down the river, well, my friends, I think we all know which way this will pan out, don't you?

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Art of the Impossible

I was looking at the shortlisted artists for the 2010 Turner Prize the other day. Of the four listed, one is actually a painter, although of (yawn) celebrity culture subjects, one an artist who uses her own voice in installations, another a cooperative project working with found objects, and there is also a woman whose work features subjects like a pile of broken wardrobes. Rather like a nasty accident in the Ikea warehouse. But anyway.

Of course this is largely the sort of stuff that that reliable representative of Middle England thinking, the Daily Mail reader, likes to snort at in disgust on the basis that conceptual art, or performance art, or art installations, are all a load of crap, and completely meaningless.

Hmm. Funny that. Because the same sort of Middle Englander, the middle of the road, middle class Tory voter such as we have in shed loads in Broken Barnet, is perfectly happy to accept without question the equivalent meaningless conceptual work of art dressed up as a political model, as presented by their local Conservative council at the last election, and to pay through the nose to share in ownership of a piece of crap which doesn't exist.

I'm talking about Futureshape, of course. Futureshape, or One Barnet, as they want us to call it, in the hope that we will forget the negative press, is a concept as empty and meaningless as anything you may dislike about modern art.

If you look askance at some of the installations in Tate Modern, or snigger at John Cage's 'Four minutes thirty three seconds' of silence, or get cross about Carl Andre's bricks, ask yourself what you were doing voting for a council administration intent on running this borough on the basis of an idea which existed in name only. Of course if you did vote for that, you probably aren't reading this, but there you go.

Futureshape, the easyCouncil concept, is of course a piece of conceptual art - and arguably also an example of installation and performance art. You can't understand it, now you've bought it and taken home to hang above the fireplace because there is nothing to understand. It doesn't exist. It isn't a work in progress, because there is nowhere for it to go.

As we know, the external auditors and sometime art critics Grant Thornton have reviewed the Future Shape plans and dared to mention that - oh dear - two years down the line, there are still basic questions to be asked about the real benefits of the scheme, the cost, the timescale, and worryingly, the 'high level risk profile'. They have had to tell Barnet to stop messing aorund and come up with a business plan, as astonishingly, no such thing has yet been created. Money has been thrown at these alleged cost saving plans but as yet savings have only been theoretically 'identified' and do not exist.

Why is it that ordinary people, who are so resistant to the art of the avant garde, and dismiss such pretentious rubbish out of hand have fallen for the empty promise of this Tory administration's worthless economic policy? Is it because they are too lazy to inform themselves about political matters and simply vote without thinking?

If you've ever had to work in a polling station on an election day, you cannot help but notice the number of people who stand for ages in the booths with their slip wondering who to vote for. They probably haven't given it much thought until that moment. It is a very depressing thought, that so many voters can't be bothered to use their vote in an informed way.

Maybe it is because unlike in matters of art, where someone will think, in time honoured fashion, I don't know anything about art but I know what I like, and is not intimidated into abandoning their love of pictures of kittens in baskets and vases of flowers, when it come to politics they feel out of their depths, intellectually bullied by people claiming they know best, and telling them how to think and how to vote.

Well: if you know how to make money out of a shark in a tank or an unmade bed, why not do it? It's the ultimate expression of free enterprise, and successful modern art is as much of a profit making commodity as anything else. It may annoy the Daily Mail, if you are lucky, but it doesn't have any impact on people's ordinary lives.

If only we could say the same for Future Shape.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The death of Brian Coleman/Pond Life

Breaking news: a tragic loss has just been discovered.

Just to explain: there are two small ponds in the Angry family's garden. One pond is occupied by frogs, and the other by newts. The frogs are a bunch of fat, lazy, slimy cannibalistic bullies,who sit around all year round doing nothing very much, other than eat their own offspring, whereas the newts are charming, subtle and elusive creatures, oh and pretty adept at eating the unhatched frogspawn. Luckily, by a process of hard won consensus, they have agreed to disagree and keep to their own territories.

Anyway. The Angry cat, although an alarmingly large ginger and white tom, known to have fully grown policemen quaking in their boots at the very sight of him, ( I refer you back to the beginning of this blog if you are wondering why we spent so much time in the past year and more helping the police with their enquiries) is actually pretty dopey, and utterly hopeless at catching birds, luckily, or fighting other cats, spending most of his time outdoors skulking in the bushes, hiding from his arch enemy, a horrible grey and white tom called Derek. Part of his daily routine, apart from sauntering down the garden, poking his head insolently through the fence and winding up the equally dopey dogs next door, is his dedicated monitoring of activity in the ponds. He spends hours on guard, watching and trying to catch frogs, always without success. Until recently.

There is - oh dear, was - a particularly big and ugly frog with distinctive markings who squats in the frog pond and lords it over the others. In the absence of any toads - except for a dead one we spotted round the corner,near the park, squashed in the gutter, ironically in a road whose speed humps had been removed by You Know Who - Mrs Angry's daughter amusingly decided this frog should be named Brian Coleman.

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Angry's daughter was alerted to a most peculiar noise coming from the garden. She noticed that our cat was running around with something in his mouth. Uh oh. You may not know that frogs emit a horrible high pitched scream if in peril: and here was a frog in peril - Brian Coleman, no less, in a state of terror, his head and legs poking out of the mouth of the Angry cat, who was looking very pleased with himself, and in no mood to let go.

After being chased around the garden, and then bribed with left over chicken, we managed to persuade the cat to open his mouth, and Brian Coleman fell gratefully on to the lawn, playing dead (although it's difficult to tell with frogs, isn't it? And Tory councillors.)

Ever since then, Brian Coleman has been hopping around the garden with a limp, and something of a persecution complex.

Until this morning, I am afraid to say, when our cat arrived at the back door looking very smug, and dropped a present at my feet. Brian. Dead, and not playing.

Brian is now in the wheelie bin with the rest of the rubbish.

I do hope this isn't an omen, don't you?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A penny for the guy?

Brian Coleman loves to be the centre of attention, you may have noticed.

On Tuesday night, however, he may have felt that perhaps, for once, the reaction that he inevitably provokes in people may just have spilled over into something a little beyond his control. Because there he was, last night, sat outside the Town Hall, surrounded by a mob of lively protesters, forcibly dressed in a Mr Lazy t shirt and made to hold a placard demanding a 'penny for the guy'.

Now that was just plain silly, as I happen to know, from the results of a survey on another Barnet blog, that in fact no one would spend a penny on Brian Coleman, in any circumstance, even if he was on fire. I dread to think what happened next, anyway, after Brian was removed from the scene by a group of burly firefighters, just back from shooting the latest Versace season for Vogue - and they looked as if they meant business, if you know what I mean.

Obviously I am talking about Brian the stuffed shirt: no, no, not that one, he was elsewhere, at a question time in Camden with Boris, I mean a Brian Coleman bonfire of the vanities guy, lovingly made for last night's protest. In some kind of weird, totemic way this effigy seems to have acquired supernatural powers, because just as it was the focus of energy at the protest, a wonderful news story appeared on London Tonight on the interesting themes of the Fire Authority, AssetCo, Brian Coleman and £350 luxury hampers. Oh, dear: the media campaign isn't quite going to plan, is it Brian? Nice picture in the Mirror, though, Sleeping Beauty.

So as Brian was otherwise engaged, the Full Council meeting went ahead without him.

As usual, the Mayor's chaplain, Rabbi Ginsbury, started proceedings with an exhortation to the assembly, referring to a daily Jewish prayer which asks the Almighty to save us from 'the arrogant', and indeed, from arrogance itself. The subsequent absence of Brian Coleman from the meeting was therefore possibly not a mere coincidence, and the Mayor naughtily promised that he would inform his colleague of the content of the Chaplain's address.

The Q&A session started. This is where written answers have been given by councillors to councillors, and then the same councillors ask supplementary questions. It is another Barnet ritual, whereby no real information is asked for, with any seriousness, and none given. As regards the public, this process is almost impossible to follow, as the questions are rushed through often with no clue given as to which questions any answers might address. Of course, again, in Broken Barnet tradition, this is done to avoid the chance that any of us might cotton on to what they are up to. But for the record, here are some of the more choice items:

The session started with a frisson of excitement. Up stood the erstwhile pretender to the throne, Mark Shooter, with a follow up to his question about Eric Pickles' plan to abolish the Standards Boards, 'create a new criminal offence' and let councils 'organise themselves'.

In her written response, Lynne Hillan had expressed her delight at the plans to stop residents complaining about councillors, and then claimed she didn't know what sort of criminal offence he meant. Let me remind us all, Lynne, then, that, as explained in a previous blog, 'In a Dark Place', it is proposed that 'serious misconduct for personal gain' by a councillor should become a criminal offence. Got that?

On the subject of standards: we have been assured that the long awaited online access to the register of interests, gifts and hospitality of our councillors would be up and running by the end of October. It isn't. We have been waiting since January for this: why? We are told that, shamefully, some councillors have been allowed to opt out of this alleged move to 'transparency', but why are we still not able to access those that have fallen into line?

Mark Shooter, an alpha male type forced to hang around with the beta boys, and hating every minute of it, then asked when the council will dump the current Cabinet system, which leads to only ten out of sixty three councillors playing any real part on decision making. A very good point. Lynne Hillan replied smugly that the original question was about the standards board and the supplementary nothing to do with the original. So no reply. Shooter sat down.

Ah, pot holes; the subject of much heated debate this last month, and Coleman's responsibility. His written reply stated that the Pothole Elimination Programme 'has been a complete success, on time and on budget'. So: any pot holes you see in any road in Barnet, citizens, do not exist, and that is official. Despite this claim, the sceptical Labour group tried to get a list of all completed roads. Not a chance. Because there are over 1,000, and no roads in Barnet are uncompleted. No, madam, that is not a pothole, that is a figment of your imagination.

Next: lighting, oh yes ... according to Coleman, this is 'another good news story for Barnet'. In fact, sshh: this is such good news, and such cause for celebration, Brian wanted to keep it a lovely, intimate secret, and stopped the local press from finding out about it, until er Mrs Angry and her friends kept asking about it. The funny thing is, that, despite all promises, all these weeks later, the lighting contractors have still forgotten to update their 2010 target schedules on their website with the good news. You would think they might want to share such joyful tidings, wouldn't you? Oh, and of course the new lamp post outside my bedroom window: months later, still no light. And yes, the old one is still there.

Hello ... stand by your beds -here comes Councillor John Hart, looking particularly dashing tonight, I thought, in a very becoming suit, and brandishing an immaculate scarlet poppy on his lapel. Was he expecting more media attention, after last week's moment of fame on Newsnight, struggling manfully, although entirely unsuccessfully, to control his local Residents Forum? He rarely speaks in larger meetings but tonight he was on the case: tackling the weighty issue of allotments, which are now a Good Thing, because they are in line with Big Society thinking and can therefore be relieved of funding.

Councillor Hart desperately wanted Brian Coleman to be made aware of his interest and expertise in this subject. Ah. the world might be falling apart, we may be in a double dip recession, and facing the worst spending cuts in recent history; here in Barnet our services are about to be hacked to death, but Councillor Hart evidently has his own priorities, ie his fruit and veg, digging for victory and all that. War's over, John, by the way. (To be fair, though, he does look like a man who might know how to produce an award winning marrow with very little effort. Even at his age.)

And he was on a roll: he had had an idea about libraries. Why not have them on a 'subscription basis'? Yes, really. Even Robert Ramsbottom looked alarmed and muttered that he 'wasn't keen'. Of course we have had subscription libraries in this country. Two hundred and fifty years ago. When literacy was rightly restricted to the better classes, of course, rather than the plebs who live in one of Coleman's disgusting 'slums'.

Councillor Rowan Turner has submitted a question about the Mayor of London's decision to scrap the targets for gypsy and traveller sites. Did Richard Cornelius, the relevant Cabinet member, welcome this decision? Yes, he did. If you remember, as revealed in this blog -see 'O Porrajmos' if you are interested - in Barnet we have NEVER had one single site for these people, even in the years when this was a statutory requirement. Why has the authority refused to address this need, and formerly even resorted to flouting the law to avoid making any provision? You tell me. In truth, we all know why, and the reason is racism, of the most base and unreasoning sort.

Can you imagine if Barnet refused to find a location for a synagogue, or a mosque, or cleansed the borough of all homeless people? No: it is unthinkable. This is supposed to be an ethnically diverse community,where all cultures and traditions are welcomed and respected. Yet last night I heard once more a councillor repeat the same old rubbish - that in all these years, Barnet really has searched in vain for one single place suitable for accommodating, or being adapted to accommodate, a few gypsy families in need of a stopping place, and somewhere they could gain access to the most basic necessities: clean water, electricity, healthcare and education facilities for their families. It's funny, isn't it, that we can find sites suitable for billion pound profit making developments, but not even one derelict site for romany or travelling people to stop on?

Most of the questions in this session are by opposition councillors. Those few placed by Tories will tend to be submitted in order to give an opportunity for a slap on the back response from colleagues. But a real sign of the trouble within the Tory group in Barnet came in the shape of the questions asked by one or two disaffected members of their own group. Apart from Mark Shooter, we had some interesting queries from Councillor Brian Salinger. He asked, for example, what steps are being taken to ensure that all Freedom of Information requests are fully answered within the timescale laid down by the legislation.

If you remember, as this blog recently revealed, Barnet is in trouble with the Information Commissioner and is being monitored to see how it attempts to improve its record on answering these requests. Salinger's supplementary question was to ask how many requests have not been complied with? Conveniently, Melvyn Cohen could not supply this information and yet again stated that the ICO had only stepped in because of 'one case'. This is frankly ridiculous. I myself had to complain to the ICO last year because of unnecessarily withheld information, and I know at least two other individuals who have had to do the same. Whether you believe that these delays are due to incompetence or from a more sinister cause, ie the political control of information, is up to you. The end result is the same, in either case.

On to the motions.

One of West Finchley's councillors, Kathy Mc Gurk, had submitted a motion on the subject of police cuts in Barnet. She had asked about Safer Neighbourhood Team officers already being taken away from their wards on other duties as a result of the Mayor's cuts to police budgets, and also about the threatened reduction to the number of officers in these teams, particularly worrying at a time when burglary rates are increasing in the borough. Because of the importance of this issue, she had asked for this motion to be withdrawn, and sent instead to Cabinet. The Tories gleefully voted against this, and so the motion will be lost, and the issue went undebated. That's how much the Tories care about safer neighbourhoods, and policing, in this borough, friends.

This administration will do almost anything to score a point against an opposition councillor, even if the issue in hand is one in which cross party cooperation could benefit residents. Tribal warfare is more important than the end result.

I'm sorry, but I now have to quote a motion submitted by Lynne Hillan. you need to see the sort of drivel that our councillors waste time and our money on submitting for 'debate'.

"Council agrees with the Coalition Government that Local Authorities should have the powers to run their affairs as Elected Representatives of local people see fit (sic), and not according to dictats from Whitehall.

Council welcomes the abolition of the Standards regime. local agreements and many of the associated targets.

Further, Council welcomes the statement by Eric Pickles MP that Boroughs such as Barnet will soon be able to manage their own affairs through a general Power of Competence. This is, Council believes, the foundation of the new Localism Bill.

Council is pleased that LBB already seeks to shape services around local people, particularly through One Barnet.

Accordingly, Council calls on Cabinet to tailor even more of its work around local people following the moves to restore power to Local Authorities."

(The incoherence, hypocrisy, excruciatingly awful grammar and lack of punctuation is nothing to do with me.)

So: getting rid of bodies like the Standards boards and the Audit Commission will empower residents, by giving our councillors a free reign to indulge themselves even more than they do already. We have no way to criticise their behaviour, other than once every four years at the ballot box. Our representatives, having proved their competence and integrity so well this year, expecially in concentrating their efforts on voting themselves a nice fat pay rise, are to be trusted with even more vital decision making. And this will all be dressed up as being for our benefit, tailor made for our needs. Thanks very much.

Labour's Alan Schneiderman pointed out that the present administration doesn't competently use the powers it already has. He reminded us of all the money lost in Iceland, on the bridge overspend, missed grant payments. How are they going to tailor their work around the needs of those in sheltered or social housing? Instead of following ideological obsessions, they should be listening to residents, and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

Libdem Suzette Palmer welcomed some of the sentiments expressed in the motion: however -(the first of many Libdem 'howevers' last night) - she had grave concerns about other aspects and as Mark Shooter had suggested, worried that currently there was not best use being made of the majority of the councillors, Tory or other wise.

The Libdems are in a very odd place now: neither fish nor fowl, poacher or gamekeeper. I suspect that Jack Cohen is deeply uncomfortable at being placed in this position.

Andrew Harper spoke with dutiful 'enthusiasm' about seeking to become engaged in a much better and deeper relationship (there he goes again) with residents. Or some of them anyway.

Lynne Hillan mentioned that she thought One Barnet would present a common face to residents. And you are the face of One Barnet, Lynne, really you are.

Alison Moore said we needed common sense, not Futureshape, which is is all smoke and mirrors, spin, and has no substance.

Libdem Jack Cohen said that Futureshape, or was it easyCouncil or One Barnet, presents more questions than answers, was a load of gobbledegook, and he hadn't got a clue what it meant. He told us that at the Scrutiny committee he attends, he was barely allowed to ask how much it was costing, and what he did find out, he was not allowed to tell anyone.

Ah: Councillor Tom Davey: the jerk who at the last full meeting insulted public sector workers, whom he claimed did not have 'real jobs' . You might recall that this fool apparently works, or has worked, for a tobacco company, and of course that is a real job, one to be proud of.

His contribution was to allege now that the Labour councillors on scrutiny committees did nothing except point out spelling mistakes and ask for data to be reprinted on A3 paper. This went down awfully well in the chamber, as you can imagine. As Lynne Hillan beamed in motherly approval, he ranted about opposition councillors being political luddites, and then bizarrely about buying a bunch of flowers for his girlfriend. I'm not sure why, except perhaps to tell us that he has, rather surprisingly, got a girlfriend.

The 'debate' fizzled out then, but not before the dear Leader made an unforgettable statement, assuring us that 'You won't teach me anything about incompetence'.


One issue which really excited the chamber was - can you guess? Libraries, of course. In fact, it is true to say that this subject generates more passion and fear than any other, at the moment. It might be taken as a symbolic issue, a point of focus, for the opposition to the present Tory administration, and its idiotic Futureshape 'model'.

It's not just the opposition councillors who worry about the threat to libraries; many Tories do too. Let's see if they can find the guts to stick to their convictions - obviously we can't be too optimistic on that score. But even the Tory hardliners know that they are in trouble on this one: they know that the residents of this borough will not tolerate an attack on libraries, and there will be an uprising if any such thing is attempted.

Robert Ramsbottom, looking rather forlorn in the absence of his mentor, stood up -at least I think he was standing up - and made his speech. How long before Starbucks is mentioned, I wondered, just as the very word flew out of his mouth. Labour's Councillor Brodkin had proposed an amendment stating a pledge that no libraries would close, and pointed out how highly efficient and well visited our libraries are, on a national scale, with proven high value, at a cost much lower than the national average. You listening, Robert?

Suzette Palmer reminded us that she liked libraries. Good. Apparently they have knitting sessions in some of them, called Knit and Knatter. Wherever that is, shut that one down NOW. Oh - and she thought they ought to have solar panels on all their roofs, and sell electricity back to the Grid. Hmm. She was cross, though, because Councillor Ramsbottom had said he was going to ask for her involvement in the library review, being a Libdem, don't you know, and easygoing and all that, but he had cast her aside, and she was hurt. The cad.

It was good to hear councillors of all parties praise the borough's library staff: Kathy McGurk reminded the chamber that they were amongst those despised ranks, public sector workers, and also reminded us of the less than impressive record of Barnet Tories in defence of the library system.

The formidable Tory Bridget Perry (the old style Anne Widdecombe look alike) backed up Robert Ramsbottom. She said that like any shopkeeper or housewife, he was determined to save money.

Robert stood up rather hastily then, and blurted out that the reason he had turned aside from Suzette Palmer was because the day after he had offered her the hand of friendship, and honoured her with an invitation to be involved in the review, what happened? Her party (all three of them) had tabled A Vote of No Confidence in his party's leadership. Oooh, er, mocked the left hand side of the chamber, and the public gallery.

At this point, a cold chill swept through the room. Yes, you guessed, Brian Coleman was in the building and slipped into his seat. 'Ha,' yelled the elderly, badge covered activist sitting behind me: 'Enter the prince'. Prince Charming? Hamlet? Prince of Darkness? I am sure he was rivetted by the next topic, a timely reminder by Labour's Claire Farrier of the greater effects on women of the recession, the cuts, the loss of benefits and so on.

Bridget Perry expressed herself to be 'insulted' by this speech. Why? Although frankly, she looks like the sort of woman who is easily insulted. Because Councillor Farrier was 'splitting men and women apart', and she wasn't having that. She had been a girl guide until very recently you know (what?). She then talked about womens' plumbing - oh dear (or is it women plumbers, can't tell from my notes?)

Jack Cohen pointed out how few women were now in government, nationally and here in Barnet.
On cue, our best female role model, Lynne Hillan, stood up to remark that Claire Farrier's speech smelled of the 1980s, and ramble on about Red Ed and the looney left. What was needed of women was hard work, not quotas and positive discrimination. Lynne knows a lot about hard work, as you know.

The meeting ended shortly afterwards, thank God. It came as something of a shock to realise that throughout the forty five or so minutes that he was present, the normally unstoppable Brian Coleman had not uttered a single word, and had sat almost invisibly in his place. Had he been swopped for the penny for a guy Coleman? Or has the unfavourable publicity given to him in the firefighter dispute taken its toll on his normally ebullient spirit?

Well: what happens when you play with fire, Brian?