A warning from history for the Tory Cabinet of Broken Barnet
On the screen at the Town Hall last night, the Cabinet Resources committee meeting was listed as being from 7pm to 10pm. Mrs Angry's heart sank: ah, but no, then she remembered that this meeting, in fact, had no chance of lasting that long. Any Barnet Council meeting with 'Cabinet' in the title is guaranteed to be over and done with in around half an hour, as our Tory masters hurtle through their agenda with all the speed of a committee whose decisions have already been made, in secret, long before the rubber stamping charade about to be performed in public.
Last night's agenda was not available for the public, nor the reports: as we know, information is the enemy in Broken Barnet, and must be contained, and restricted. Why bother printing a document of 150 or so pages, anyway, when all 16 items would be approved in 35 minutes? Who would want to read their way through? Had anyone read their way through, apart from the bloggers and union reps present?
Let's name and shame the guilty parties.
Chair Daniel Thomas, with his humourless, icy control of the meeting - Mrs Angry almost felt less disposed to dislike him, however, for one brief shining moment at the beginning of the meeting when he told Brian Coleman off for talking instead of listening to him - but the moment passed and normal hostilities resumed.
Apart from Coleman, leader Richard Cornelius, hopelessly out of his depth, the dull, po faced Sachin Rajput, little Robert Rams, looking a bit feverish: oh and Andrew Harper. Mrs Angry saw you sneaking looks at her, Andrew, and trying to maintain a - oh dear, can't read my writing - a straight face?
Seated in the public area were two union reps, one Labour councillor, one Tory councillor and three bloggers: Mrs Angry risking accusations of matrimonial intimacy with Mr Mustard on one side, and Mr Reasonable on the other. Mr Reasonable has a broken leg - nothing to do with Mrs Angry - and walked with some difficulty to the table to present his supplementary questions to the committee. Councillor Coleman said very patronisingly to Mr Reasonable, possibly because he does not realise Mr Reasonable is Mr Reasonable, that it was 'very noble' of him to make the effort to attend. Brian was in a good mood, see - to start with.
Mr R had asked about Item 10, the scandalous cemetery issue, and questioned why the options appraisal was being ignored by the Tory Cabinet. As usual, every question he submitted last night was pertinent, important, and necessary. And as usual when the Tory councillors sense their vulnerability to constructive scrutiny, the shutters came right down and his questions were simply deflected with empty, meaningless responses.
Item 10 was a point of extreme vulnerability, of course, an open target - the ruthless commercialisation of a public cemetery, blatantly against all recommendations of value for money, after years of neglect by the council, an offering to the outsourcing tenderers to be enabled by a payment of nearly two million pounds of capital funds - of residents' money. No discussion must be allowed, and it was not.
Item 15 was about leisure service contracts, another sensitive subject the Tories did not want to debate. Robert Rams opened his mouth to respond and came out with his usual, sulky bla bla bla better services for less money ruthless drive for efficiency bla bla bla One Barnet claptrap. Other than the word ruthless, there is no significance to what he says. It means nothing, it is meant to mean nothing, and if it did mean anything, Rams wouldn't understand the difference.
Mr R did his best, but was met at every point by obstruction. When he was in danger of saying something too risky, Rams was immediately assisted by the Chair or a legal officer, or Brian Coleman's helpful officer Ms Pam Wharfe, all of whom intervened at some point, advising no response, citing 'commercial interests' or similar grounds for silence.
There was a lot of interesting body language at the table last night, in fact, between one or two officers and one or two Cabinet members. Unless Mrs Angry was very much mistaken, corporate love was in the air: a meeting of true minds. Mind you, Councillor Coleman wasn't feeling particularly free with his affections: later in the evening he told us that he wasn't getting into bed with ... with who? Checking notes ... with any councils who were 'not in the same league' as Barnet. What, like Camden? Ooh get you, Brian. We must only sleep with nice Tory councils who take us out to dinner and whisper sweetly in our ears, mustn't we, in Broken Barnet?
Never mind: question time over, time for a sprint through the agenda.
Allotments: yes, Brian Coleman is happy to talk about this. He is still in a good mood - he has good news, in fact. Everything is wonderful. Allotments will no longer be a council concern, so yet another responsibility has been safely dumped. He told us that this is the Big Society in action. He told us again, in case we had not understood.
People on allotments will now be able to design their own toilets. And 'grow their own' ha ha, although he did not understand why people became so excited by vegetables: carrots and parsnips, for example. Mrs Angry was surprised by this confession. There are in fact, Councillor Coleman, many things you can do with root vegetables, although not all of them are legal in some of the more conservative wards of Broken Barnet. Oh look: here is a queue of residents outside the Town Hall, lining up to offer to give you a demonstration ...
Item 6: Mill Hill Sports Club - see the Barnet Eye for the shameful story on this - all agreed, in less than a minute.
Item 7: school provision in Colindale - this is not good news: no, Andrew Harper tells us this is VERY good news.
Ah, and Cllr Coleman wants to ask Cllr Harper when will there be good news about free schools in Barnet? Cllr Coleman is suddenly keen on educational matters, which is nice: he is 'mindful of the need for free schools', in fact. Ah, thank you for asking, Cllr Coleman (yes, they really do address each other like this) ... it is of course Barnet's policy to be open and welcoming to such expressions of interest, because of course we like to encourage the already over supplied middle classes with more choice in education while children from less advantaged backgrounds carry on going to all the crap ones in Labour areas. Got it?
Item 8, and it is still only 7.15pm. Early intervention contracts.
Oh: Mr Cornelius actually has a contribution. His only remark so far has been to ask about allotments being subject to equalities impact legislation, which he says 'seems to crop up everywhere'. Such a nuisance, these laws, Mrs Angry can only agree - wanting equality for disabled residents, or gay residents, or who knows what these days, so unneccessary, don't you think?
Cornelius is not happy. And he is confused. He says that when reading the report, he didn't understand what it was all about. The senior officers responsible for the report looked somewhat taken aback. Harper agreed that 'more people should be able to write in plain English'. As you can see, the Tory leadership and Cabinet is able instantly to grasp the really significant priorities of issues coming to committee. Marvellous. On to the next item then, as it is - look at the time - 7.20.
Item 9: Something about savings being frontloaded, but Mrs Angry got distracted at this point thinking about her tumble dryer, and didn't write anything down, and can't remember the details. Didn't miss anything, she is sure. Oh, and leader Richard Cornelius made another useful contribution: this time complaining about a rather nice chart, with blue circles, which he said was both pointless and meaningless, rather like himself.
Item 12 next. Er ... no one dared interrupt the Chair for a minute. Then, had he perhaps overlooked something?
Ah: Item 10. The cemetery. The disgusting proposal to pay for it to be tarted up and then handed over to an outsourcing company to make profits from. The Item no one wants to talk about, so they don't. The Chair simply said: Item 10, agreed? They agreed. All over, in three seconds: a record even by Andrew Harper's standards, I imagine.
And there you go: my dead grandmother up for sale, and at least four other family members, and who knows how many other relatives of all of us.
I thought about my grandmother, Daisy, a formidable South London matriarch who moved the Angry family from Brixton to Edgware, for a better life, just before the war. I wondered what she would make of the grasping councillors who had just put her last resting place up for auction. I think, actually, she might well have got hold of her walking stick and beat the shit out of Councillor Coleman and his shameless Cabinet cronies. This is my way of doing the same, grandma, on your behalf.
And then everything speeded up: items 11, 12, 13, 14, 15: all went by in a blur of Tory conspiracy and pre arranged agreement. Ah: Item 16.
Item 16, and a reference to the transport arrangements for clients including children with special educational needs, and vulnerable adults. I could hardly believe what was said next: none of us could, and we all reread our notes later in absolute amazement.
Councillor Coleman declared that in his opinion the law should be changed in order to stop councils being obliged to provide such transport for 'these people'.
Mrs Angry gasped, and started laughing - what? These people? Children with special needs, the disabled?
Coleman snapped at her: 'Could The Public Gallery' (he talks as he writes, with Capital Letters emphasising his bullying tone) 'Could The Public Gallery Be Quiet' ...
No, said The Public Gallery, I could not.
'It Is Very Annoying! ' said Councillor Coleman.
'Good', said The Public Gallery, 'So Are You'.
It seems, citizens, that in Broken Barnet, taxis must be provided and paid for by us for Tory councillors on their way to and from their banquets and other vital engagements, but provision for an autistic child, or a resident in a wheelchair is a luxury we cannot afford.
Where is that fucking stick?
Sorry: Mrs Angry has been swearing a lot this week, but with a great deal of provocation, I am sure you will agree.
Ok. Last item. Something about investments, which is an area of expertise for Broken Barnet, as we know, although since the inspired direction of Private Eye Banker of the Year, Mike Freer, now our MP, of course, we do not have the option of investing in Iceland, as his previous Tory administration did with such spectacular success. Any news of the missing £27 million, by the way?
Anyway, now apparently, we may or may not have some money in a branch of Santander - if it's the one in Finchley, it must be a bugger for finance chief Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers queuing up there every lunchtime: very slow, aren't they, Andrew? Oh, and we have some money in Canada and Australia. Councillor Coleman was pleased by this: supporting the Empire, he remarked, approvingly. Oh God: someone tell him, please.
Andrew Harper wants to try something different, though. He is feeling experimental: should we feel bound by too much constraint? He doesn't want to be tied down. Stop there, Mrs Angry.
Daniel Thomas, who works in a building society, but not Santander in Finchley - although that might explain the queues - says it is always best to be cautious, and not to put it about too much. Not much risk of that by our Tory Cabinet, Mrs Angry is pretty sure.
And that was that. Motion to exclude the public and press, and bloggers, immediately and enthusiastically seconded by Brian Coleman. We waved a cheery goodbye as we left.
All done in thirty five minutes: localism in action, Eric, in Broken Barnet.
Is this really what you had in mind?
A very Happy New Year to all Jewish friends and readers, from Mrs Angry x