Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Another prediction from Mrs Angry: Goodbye One Barnet ...

Mrs Angry feels moved to make another prediction ... her spirit guide is whispering in her ear ... yes, yes ... ah ... aha, really? Goodness me.

In the audience tonight, is there a model for local government, with the initials O and B?

Stand up: don't be shy, dear.

Yes, you in the easycouncil orange t shirt ... I have a message from - from your uncle? Uncle Eric? It seems you are going on a journey. Sorry, Uncle Eric says he wants you to go on a long journey, and never come home. He says you are a fucking disgrace. Tut tut: harsh words, Uncle Eric.

And what is this? Mrs Angry sees that you are going to run away, in shame, and assume a new identity. And then come home and try to sneak in the back door. Oh, but changing your name isn't going to help, though, is it?

Yes, citizens: Mrs Angry understands that there are plots afoot to drop One Barnet.

No, not the programme, the name.

Can't drop the programme: this would be like cancelling Christmas - think of all the tearful chief executives in all those multi-national outsourcing companies, with hankies pressed against their eyes, thinking about their lost bonuses. Too cruel. And some of those overpaid senior officers at Barnet Council would be in big trouble too, wouldn't they?

Some insightful people in the management team and a handful of Tory councillors now think that if you rename, rebrand a discredited concept, you can fool at least some of the people some of the time, and conjure up a wholesome new image for themselves and their shameful agenda, just in time for the run up to May's elections, where certain GLA members that we all know and love are due to get a well deserved hammering.

Mrs Angry would respectfully point out that spray painting a pile of shite will not resolve the problem of the appalling stench of rotting policies, widescale incompetence and endemic moral corruption, here in Broken Barnet.

Still, what fun: a metamorphosis of Ovidian proportions: easycouncil to Futureshape, Futureshape to One Barnet, and One Barnet to ... ?

Perhaps we should run a competition for suggestions?

Yes, let's: the best name will win a weekend at Champneys with Mrs Angry, or Michael Gove. Take your pick. The runner up will win a weekend at the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole, with [name redacted – s40(2) FOIA] - a senior officer of the London Borough of Barnet. (Mrs Angry, shamefully, is not a fully registered data processor, but always complies with the DPA & FOIA, and the European Convention on Human Rights - when anyone is watching).

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Not for the squeamish: Michael Gove in an anorak, on the picket line

Just to encourage lady comrades thinking about striking tomorrow on behalf of public sector pensions - and to upset Citizen Barnet's trolling Tory admirer, Mr David Duff: here is a lovely picture of swivel eyed trot Michael Gove setting us all a good example on the picket line. This will be the only occasion on which Michael Gove will appear in this blog, and in fact I am typing now with one hand over my eyes.

Thanks to Political Scrapbook for the photo.

Good luck to all tomorrow.

Mr Travers has a nice day out

Mrs Angry's favourite Fat Cat, lying adoringly at her feet, of course

Andrew Travers. Unlikely to find himself in the same position.

Everyone has their guilty pleasures. Mrs Angry has far too many, but then, being the product of a good Catholic upbringing, she knows that guilt and pleasure always go hand in hand, and these emotions are usually mutually beneficial. This is not always the case, of course, in Broken Barnet.

The London Borough of Broken Barnet's own guilty pleasure, our favourite friend without benefit, small but costly Andrew Travers, the £1,000 a day deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, is having a big day out today.

He has gone up to town to a big hotel to give a talk, you know. Andrew will be attending a Capita Conference - 'New Models of Service Delivery', exploring the timely subject of 'Opening up Local Government to New Providers'.

By a happy coincidence, the London Borough of Broken Barnet is, as we speak, opening up local government to new providers, and goodness me, look: Capita is one of the four short listed companies tendering for £750 million of our council services.

The conference will be beside themselves with excitement, therefore, at 12.25, waiting for Andrew to pass on, in his twenty minute slot, the wisdom of his views on the following issues:

The One Barnet Transformation Programme

• Creating a new relationship between public services and citizens
• Encouraging self-help and behaviour change
• Simplifying systems and access to services
• Creating a single customer services organisation
• A single Barnet insight function to support joint commissioning
• New ways of ‘bundling and delivering services’

Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers is of course a world renowned expert on all these issues, as we discovered at the time of the MetPro Audit Report. Just in case you are lost for words, Andrew, here are some briefing notes for you, thoughtfully prepared by Mrs Angry. No need to thank her.

One Barnet certainly has transformed the relationship between public services and citizens: from one of apathy and lack of engagement to one of overt hostility, mutual loathing and open warfare.

Self help is a concept familiar to all senior executives of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, particularly amongst the ever increasing number of fat cat, over paid, 'interim' consultants who manage to wangle themselves lovely jobs in our borough, at our ever increasing expense.

Simplifying systems means throwing everything together for the ease and increased profitability of outsourcing companies, but without regard for the effects for residents.

Creating a single customer services organisation is a disastrous idea, trying to combine differing types of access needs into one function is ludicrous and presents serious risk for vulnerable service users.

Joint commissioning? Anything which emerges from the One Barnet PR mouth with the words 'insight function' is doomed to fail in the real world. What does 'insight' in this respect mean, in fact, other than a team of largely pointless senior officers sitting around all day reading twitter or staring out of the window?

Bundling and delivering services: rushing out an OJEU the day after the catastraphic MetPro audit so as to get the £750 million package process in course before anyone can stop them, and the outsourcing companies might have had to come to terms with a grave disappointment, and broken promises.

Just to make our Mr Travers feel at home, and support him on his big day out, some Barnet residents, including blogger Citizen Barnet, will be there at the Lancaster Hotel today, waiting to greet him warmly - and to protest against the shameless prostitution of our local services.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Love thy Neighbour: 'race relations' in Broken Barnet

Broken Barnet, the politically incorrect retro sitcom

Earlier this week Mrs Angry reported the proceedings of a Barnet Council Standards sub-committee hearing, in which a Tory councillor, Kate Salinger, successfully complained about the behaviour of a fellow Tory member, Andreas Tambourides. Councillor Tambourides was found to have breached the members' code of conduct in failing to show proper respect to his colleague, in the course of forwarding a derogatory article to the other Tory councillors.

The Barnet Eye blog (see link at the side) has published part of the findings of a recent Standard's sub-committee, this time involving a complaint taken by a member of the public against Mill Hill councillor John Hart. The findings in this case, as reported, are frankly quite astonishing.

Earlier in the year a local teacher, who happens to be Sri Lankan, attended the Mill Hill/Hendon residents forum and asked a question of the Chair, councillor John Hart. He replied to her by repeating what she had said, and mimicking her accent. When, rather unsurprisingly, she objected to such behaviour, he suggested that she should take it up with the 'race relations council'.

The conclusions of the sub committee, as reported in the Barnet Eye, are said to be as follows:

"(a) that the facts found and accompanying details are not sufficient to warrant a finding that paragraph 3(1) of the Code (You must treat other with respect), has been breached. There is no doubt that Councillor John Hart was unwise to repeat the complainant’s words whilst imitating her voice (section 4.7.3(b) of the Investigator’s report) and that this is a reprehensible occurrence which he should never repeat. However, the Sub-Committee do not consider that the circumstances surrounding it warrant a conclusion that what Councillor John Hart did was sufficiently abusive, offensive or direct to come within the criteria set out by the decided cases. The Sub-Committee makes the same point regarding Councillor John Hart saying to the complainant that she could take up any complaint with the Race Relations Council. Councillor John Hart’s remarks were unpleasant and unnecessary but that in itself is not sufficient to justify a finding of failure to show respect given the standard set by judges in the High Court and the statutory tribunals. This conclusion is further endorsed by the requirement set by the courts and tribunals to take into account the accompanying circumstances. In this instance, the finding that the complainant and a regular number of other persons at, and prior to, this meeting had made the chairing of the meetings difficult at times by virtue of their conduct (section 4.7.3(e) of the Investigator’s report), significantly weakens any justification there might have been for finding a breach of paragraph 3(1);"

So: according to this finding, to imitate the accent of a woman from an ethnic minority is a 'reprehensible' occurrence but does not demonstrate behaviour which fails to show others respect. What?

One of the arguments put forward by the Director of Corporate Governance at last week's Salinger v Tambourides hearing was that the code of conduct's requirement to show respect was 'a positive obligation'.

Mrs Angry would be very pleased to hear from the committee members who arrived at this astonishing conclusion as to how, exactly, mocking the accent of someone from an ethnic minority can be said to be a demonstration of this obligation?

Can you also explain how in this context such behaviour does not consitute a form of racist insult? Is it because racism does not come under the definition of showing respect?

Is it possible, perhaps, following the logic of this argument, that one could be a respectful racist?

I would imagine that most black, asian, muslim, or jewish victims of racism would feel so much better if their abusers were well spoken, and delivered their insults with perfect comic timing, no doubt crafted after years of watching old episodes of Love Thy Neighbour, Till Death Us Do Part, and the Black and White Minstrel Show. Nazis with table manners, the Klu Klux Klan riding out for a lynching with perfectly ironed cloaks and hoods? Marvellous.

I'm not suggesting that John Hart is a dyed in the wool racist: he is a man in his eighties, and somewhat eccentric, and possibly thoughtless, and is of a generation untutored in the sensitivities of political correctness. Frankly, he is probably incapable of understanding the full implications of what he did. If he is unable, however, to engage in public life without due regard for the subtleties of what is and is not acceptable in public office, he should no longer be a councillor, and in my view, and I would have thought the view of most reasonable people, he should have been sanctioned for his remark, whether you consider it to be racist, disrespectful or merely rude.

The real responsibility in this case, ultimately, lay with the committee, which has a duty to protect public confidence in their body, a body which is supposed to uphold standards of behaviour in our elected representatives.

Time and time again in this borough we see certain local Tory councillors evade any disciplinary sanctions for the most disrespectful outbursts or written communications to residents, the voters and tax payers who provide the generous allowances which the same councillors enjoy.

Further examining the decision of this committee, we see they felt that justification for finding Hart's behaviour not to be in breach was supported by the allegation that the complainant, and others, oh dear: 'made the chairing of the meetings difficult at times, by virtue of their conduct'.

Ok. Made chairing difficult. So what? Anyone who has read reports of these forums knows exactly why they are difficult, both now and in the golden age of slightly less pre-censored meetings. They become fractious because of the sheer tyranny of the councillors and their obsessive drive to prevent any real debate. And meetings, plural. And where is the evidence for this claim? Or have the investigators just taken someone's word for it? In any case, does a slightly argumentative reception from understandably frustrated residents justify what the investigation itself acknowledges to be a 'reprehensible' act from the Chair?

And what, exactly is meant by the suggestion by Councillor Hart that the complainant should take up a complaint with the 'Race Relations Council' - something, incredibly, here endorsed by the Standards sub Committe?

Are they perhaps referring to the defunct Race Relations Board, created in 1966? Are they, somewhat unbelievably, unaware of the existence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose foundation and title gives an indication that we have moved on from the Enoch Powell era of 'race relations', to one where regard, both in law and, one had hoped, in the wider community, is given to the dignity of the human condition, in all its diversity?

Mrs Angry: have you forgotten that you are living in Broken Barnet?

I think I must have, just for one fleeting moment. How very foolish of me. And of course Councillor Hart, and, it seems, members of the Standard Committee are still living in the 1960s and betraying their own lack of awareness of equalities issues as they are here in the real world - that is to say the real, real worl, not Brian Coleman's real world, in 2011.

This decision is idiotic, and as insulting in its way as the original comment, but rather than insulting one individual, it offends every resident in the borough who is vulnerable to abuse simply because of their culture, religion, or ethnicity.

At last week's hearing, the defending solicitor made mention of the Localism act and the new rules regarding standards committees, and there was a reminder that the action of sanctioning a councillor in terms of suspension for disrespectful behaviour would appear to be no longer an option. The new legislation will still require local authorities to agree on a code of conduct, but with a different emphasis. One can only imagine what the councillors in Barnet will be able to get away with in the future, when the present code is so clearly failing to impose any real discipline on the ghastly bunch of miscreants currently in office.

Here are the seven 'Nolan Principles' which are supposed to inform the new codes of conduct:
  • Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends
  • Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  • Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
  • Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
  • Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
  • Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  • Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

I can say in all honesty that I think many of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet are more familiar with the career of the Nolan Sisters than they would be with the wholesome, shining ideals enshrined in the Nolan Principles: and how exactly would we be able to hold them accountable for failing to live up to these standards?

The only new 'positive obligation' which just might have one or two Conservative councillors feeling slightly hot and uncomfortable is the fact that it will now be a criminal offence for members to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a financial interest. Listen: do I hear the rustling of freshly printed declaration of interest forms?

Honesty, integrity, and respect for others is always the best policy, Tory councillors, you know, even here, in Broken Barnet.

Friday, 25 November 2011

A little more decorum? Oh feck off Councillor Thompstone, this is a residents forum, and you are in Broken Barnet

Councillor Reuben Thompstone, Chair of the Forum

Tonight's Finchley & Golders Green residents forum took place in Avenue House, in Finchley, which is fortunate enough to boast a large meeting room, a necessity, as it happened because the room was packed, and copies of the agenda ran out far before the room was even half way full.

I say agenda: I mean the strictly limited list of officially approved questions that have been allowed for inclusion by our Tory masters, and the formal responses which will be their last word on the matter, as the new rules mean we may not raise the issues again within a six month period. At the forum for once, after Mrs Angry complained about the lack of them at the previous two meetings, an action sheet was produced, regarding the issues raised at the last meeting. Whereas at most meetings, the minutes or action points are quite reasonably checked and agreed, here we were told that no reference to the actions may be made. Why? Because of the six month rule. But what if, asked Mrs Angry, being steadily ignored by chair Councillor Thompstone, what if the actions have not been actioned? What do we do then? He would not respond.

All questions submitted by residents must now go before the new McCarthyite scrutiny process to be examined for traces of dangerous heresy: the unspeakable sin of challenging One Barnet 'policy'. We may not ask anything which questions 'policy'. We may not ask why we may not ask anything which questions 'policy'. What is policy? F*ck me if I know. Is it an ill wind which blows through the late autumnal trees in the soon to be pimped parks and open spaces of Broken Barnet? Is it that secret thought lying at the muddy bottom of Councillor Coleman's dark imaginings? Is it a divine mystery, like the holy trinity, or the number of long term, over paid interim consultants hidden in the ever fluctuating structure of the senior management team?

The only issues which may now be raised at a residents forum are those which are directly a matter of 'public works'. Do you know what that means? No, nor do I. It raises an image of something that might be the subject of derision in a Will Hay film of 1943, perhaps, with bowler hatted public servants drawing up blueprints for a public convenience outside the Town Hall, and it all going horribly wrong, but in a lovely, black and white way, with a cameo role from Stanley Holloway as Brian Coleman, the portly, loud mouthed and slightly common alderman. No offence, Brian.

Mrs Angry is of the opinion, as you may gathered, that the forums are now in fact a complete and utter travesty of their intended function, as part of the process of consultation and debate between voters and their elected representatives. There is no debate allowed here, and all consultation is doctored so as to suit the preordained strategy of the ruling junta of Tory Cabinet members running this borough. Or so they think: in fact the senior management team runs the borough, according to their own objectives, and one or two Tory Cabinet members assist them when this suits their self interests.

Just because there is a reign of terror in Broken Barnet, however, does not, in Mrs Angry's eyes signify that we should just sit back and let them have it all their way. We must engage in acts of resistance, or civil disobedience, and disrupt their silly games wherever possible.

With this in mind, Mrs Angry continues to submit questions, and continues to attend the forums, and attempts to subvert the process of the evil new system as much as possible.

For this forum, she submitted the following questions to the governance officer:

Dear Ms A:

I hope that you are well. And Mr Lustig too.

I would like to submit the following questions to the Finchley and Golders Green Forum:

1. The council has just announced plans to hire out parts of some of our local parks for private functions and other events. I would like to know:

a. Is it the intention of the council to allow any of these parks to be fully closed to the public for any event?

b. Has legal advice been taken on the grounds for allowing such use of the parks?

c. Has an equalities impact assessment study been carried out?

d. Why has Friary Park been missed off the list of parks intended for the scheme? Has the Cabinet member for the Environment withheld it from the scheme and if so why?

e. The scheme includes Scratchwood greenspace. Is the Cabinet Member for the Environment aware that this location is known for its use by 'dogging' enthusiasts, and does the council really think this is a suitable venue for weddings and other such events?

2. Is there a potential conflict of interest in the fact that Friary Park is used by the Friern Barnet Summer show at a minimal rate of hire each year, when the Cabinet Member for Environment, who has the choice to waive charges for hire, is himself a director of the company which organises the show?

3. At a recent council meeting it was disclosed that budget priority was being given to spending on roads rather than footpaths, and that the only work on footpaths has come from 'LIP' funding. Bearing in mind the state if many of our local paths, could you explain what this means, and inform us how much in total has been spent on footpaths from this source of funding, and compare it to the amount spent on footpath funding in previous years from each source?

With many thanks,

Mrs Angry

Rather naughtily, Mrs Angry had submitted question 1(e) for no other reason, she must confess, than to tease the Director of Corporate Governance, and she really had not the slightest expectation that it would be accepted. By the 'public works' rule of course, arguably it should be submissable, addressing an issue which certainly takes place in public, and does require a certain amount of effort, if not work, at least on the part of some of the participants. Or so Mrs Angry understands: she also understands there are some members of the council who might be able to confirm this from personal experience?

Question 2 was a serious question, a matter of public interest, and one which in any open democracy, is a perfectly valid subject for scrutiny.

Of course here in the topsy turvy world of Broken Barnet, what is right is wrong, and what is wrong is right, and we must always expect to be surprised. And of course Mrs Angry's question about dogging was accepted, and her question about a potential conflict of interest was rejected.

When she picked up the sheet tonight and read the question listed as written amongst all the parking and road safety questions, she was overcome with an unseemly fit of schoolgirl like giggling. This was not helped by the response to one of the first items, concerning some ugly new parking signage, in which there was far too much po faced talk by the forum panel about the rather lax control of erections by Barnet Council, interrupted in timely manner by the late entrance of Councillor Andrew Harper. Make up your own joke.

Tory councillor John Marshall, who is, of course, Mrs Angry's secret admirer, was sitting behind her, safe enough from her swivel eyed troublemaking, but not too far away to bask in her presence, as he always does, the old fox. Councillor Marshall is an old fashioned sort, and obviously believes in long courtships, you know. He is rumoured to have been engaged to Jane Austen, in his youth, or so they say, but it is said she tired of waiting, and took up writing instead, with a broken heart. Rather like Mrs Angry.

In a way, Mrs Angry rather fancies herself as Broken Barnet's answer to Jane Austen, her two inch piece of ivory being this blog, perhaps, with all the same comic elements of human frailty closely observed, although with ruder jokes, and more swearing. Admittedly, Jane Austen didn't write much about dogging. Although there is that bit in 'Emma', isn't there, where she goes to Box Hill, and has a disappointing picnic? Perhaps it was Mr Darcy that was a disappointment, rather than the lemon posset.

At this point I am tempted to tell a very rude story I've just heard about a certain Barnet councillor, and no, I can't. I must self regulate (and sincere thanks to the Barnet Press for the advice).

Anyway, the first question was a petition in support of a 20 mile speed limit in a road in NW2. The resident who presented it did so because he thought, rather controversially, that children being put at risk of being knocked down was a bad thing, which of course it may be in other boroughs, but not here in Broken Barnet, where we have plenty of spare ones to make up the deficit, being the most populous London borough, so the Cabinet member for the environment and all his chums aren't that bothered. Same goes for old people, who are a fecking nuisance, and want to cross roads slowly, and get in the way of cars being driven by Tory councillors on their way to lunch at the Haven.

A Highways officer thought that things might improve in the road when the massive Brent Cross-Cricklewood development was built. In 20 years time, muttered Mrs Angry. Well, exactly when will that be, demanded the resident. 2015, said the officer. Ha: three years, said Mrs Angry. Councillor Marshall tutted behind her: 'Four, if you can count, ' he remarked waspishly, looking askance. 'Ah well,' said Mrs Angry airily: ... 'I can't.' ... Councillor Marshall looked appalled, but frankly not surprised. He still loves me, I think, airhead though I am.

Funnily enough, this afternoon, Mrs Angry had to give an phone interview to a financial journalist about - oh dear - the audit process - ha, yes, me, Councillor Marshall, can you imagine? I did explain she was talking to someone who can't remember how to do long division, or even simple subtraction, as you see, but luckily she was blinded by my ability to talk a load of balls about things I really know nothing about, and I think I got away with it.

So anyway. Speed limits. Ah, hold on just one flipping minute: looking at the written response to this question, what do we find?

"20 mph speed limits are not supported by current policy but the location has been investigated to see if other traffic management measures might be justified ..." What? Who said that they could refer to shhh, you know that thing we are not supposed to mention. Yes, go on then: policy. POLICY. There. So: it is ok to invoke the black magic of 'policy' as an excuse not to do something, just as long as no one asks why.

Next question: ah. And this is why there were so many people packing the room tonight. The issue of cashless parking. Hold on, isn't that policy? Er ... well it is cashless parking in Temple Fortune, which must be a public work, then, as it is related to a specific location? Trying to second guess here.

A petition was being presented by Loretta Paterson, a shop owner who has been featured in the local press, focusing attention on the real impact on local traders and businesses of the idiotic new parking arrangements and charges imposed by yes, him, the Cabinet member for the environment, little Brian Coleman.

Loretta explained the disastrous effects that the new cashless parking system was having on trade. This is not a slow burning issue: the impact has been immediate, and catastrophic for all our town centres, struggling to survive in the present economic recession, and desperately in need of a boost from the pre Christmas trade. As she told the forum, to repeated applause, local businesses, shop owners felt they were being held to ransom by Barnet Council. Do we not need to keep our local shopping centres alive? What would happen to the council's income when all the traders were forced to close, and revenues from business taxes fall? Apart from the inherent problems with cashless parking, the difficulties it causes for older residents, there are continual issues with the automated system itself, further deterring customers from trying to park locally and use the shops. Even the larger retailers like Waitrose, M&S, Smiths, Starbucks, Smiths, Boots were complaining of the dramatic loss of trade.

Mrs Angry noted that Councillor Marshall, one of Ms Paterson's councillors, joined in the several rounds of applause that accompanied her speech. Councillor Harper, also a councillor for her area, looked worried, as well he might.

An officer by the name of John Mc Cardle addressed the issues raised. Brian Coleman would have been proud of him. He repeated almost verbatim the Coleman view on cashless parking. Give that man a promotion. The council had to raise charges for economic reasons. Oh, no, not for income generation in a general sense, you know, because that is not supposed to be allowed. He said it's for, er, funding things like provision of transport for children with special needs. Yes, come on, you remember, 'these people' whom Councillor Coleman would prefer not to have to provide transport at the council's expense, because we have other priorities, like councillors' taxi bills.

Mr McCardle said that we should not say that cashless parking, and the need to use credit cards to pay, should in any way endanger vulnerable residents, such as the elderly. He said that the Metropolitan Police supported cashless parking. Really? Mrs Angry asked for the evidence to support this claim, and he said that the borough commander was completely in agreement, so any senior police officers reading this, please confirm that Commander Basu really does agree with this (whoops) policy, and that, as reminded by a Temple Fortune resident, the police notices warning elderly people not to have their valuables, phones and credit cards on display are going to be withdrawn. Thank you.

Mr McCardle said, to the vocal derision of attending residents, that the new payment system had proved to be popular 'across the borough' ie as there was no other way of paying, some people were using the payment system, rather than incur a penalty. Well of course they are, yelled members of the public: what choice do they have? Oh, and I have just remembered his most ridiculous statement: shopkeepers complaining about loss of business should offer to pay for their customers parking. No, really. That went down awfully well, as you can imagine.

The chair, Councillor Reuben Thompstone, had so far tried to stick to a pretence of conciliation in his role. You know, firm but fair. He had desisted from reading through the page and a half of new rules which has been read out at previous forums like papal bulls, intended to strike fear into the congregation: episcopus servus servorum dei and all that. The Bishop dropped his mask here, however, and stomped his crook on the carpet, under the watchful eye of Inky Stephens, the original owner of Avenue House, and whose portrait hangs on the wall. 'Can we have a little bit of decorum?' he demanded. Stephens left Avenue House and grounds to the people of Finchley. Luckily it now belongs to a trust, otherwise of course our Tory councillors would be flogging it off to developers.

McCardle carried on in loyal defence of the new Coleman parking arrangements. Paypoint, scratchcards bla bla bla - DISGUSTING shouted a shop keeper. McCardle said witheringly that he thought the problem was really 'a generation thing' ... A rather patronising remark, suggested Mrs Angry. Ridiculous, someone yelled. Old people could text the parking service from their cars, if they didn't want to be mugged. My elderly mother was mugged in her car in Temple Fortune just a week ago, shouted another resident.

After more yelling, Reuben Thompstone, remembering he was supposed to be acting nicely said thank you for your comments. Yes, but what are you going to do about it, he was asked. He began to lose his composure.

Why are we here? demanded another resident.

Well, said Mrs Angry, let's see what the Temple Fortune councillors have to say, shall we: at least two of them are here ...

Councillor John Marshall, to his credit, stood up. Turning to Andrew Harper behind her, Mrs Angry said, don't you want to speak? He shook his head, in panic, and pointing to John Marshall, said 'he stood up first' .... 'Chicken', hissed Mrs Angry.

'You're too scared of Brian Coleman', someone shouted.

'Bring him here!' demanded another. This is an invitation which has been issued before, but strangely never accepted.

Mr McCardle added now that it was very unlikely that there would be a change of sshhh 'policy'. Of course not. That would be like asking the Pope to drop the doctrine of transubstantiation, or to sanction gay partnerships. Get real, residents of Broken Barnet.

Are you performing some sort of comedy act? asked a resident. Mrs Angry thought that if he was, he would need to work on it a bit more before he was invited to perform it at the Edinburgh Fringe, or live at the Apollo. More jokes, and less blatant contemptuous disdain for the opinions and well being of the audience, perhaps.

Mrs Angry reminded Mr McCardle that Paypoint was only an interim measure. Mr McCardle, whose post, Mrs Angry believes is itself theoretically only an interim measure, disagreed. Mrs Angry was obliged to tell him that she was present at the council meeting where Brian Coleman had confirmed this very point. She also asked how many tenders there had been for the Paypoint system. She did not receive a reply. Still, she remarked, looking round at the faces of the quivering Tory councillors, there would undoubtedly be a reversal of this idiotic cashless payment system, although not until nearer an election.

The next item was a plea from residents of a very nice road in Hampstead Garden Suburb in regard to their need for a CPZ. They don't like white van man parking outside their lovely houses, and talked about the sheer horror of watching people from other roads parking in their road, and even taking overnight luggage out of their boots. They may have been going on holiday, but the curtain twitchers of Garden Suburb weren't quite sure.

Mrs Angry wondered if they knew how lucky they were to have such a trivial problem. A trivial problem that suited the purposes of the puppet show forum. Their case, however, was presented with professional flair by a resident whose articulacy and skill will undoubtedly acheive what she wants, in a Conservative ward, while the rest of the borough is left to go to hell in a hand cart.

Item 8 concerned a topic raised by a Dr Hines, regarding road safety in our area. Traffic calming measures have been taken out of our main road, thanks to you know who. After they were removed, we were asked if we wanted to be consulted about their removal. This has never taken place. Accidents, often involving children attending one of the several schools in the area are too frequent. A fatal accident has taken place outside Mrs Angry's house, and she was assured that something would be done to improve safety and prevent speeding. It never was. Nothing ever is done about road safety in our area. The priority in Broken Barnet must always be for the benefit of traffic, and the motorist, rather than safety, and the pedestrian.

A resident raised the issue of speeding around Moss Hall School, and daringly, the individuals of the last two items asked for their issues to be linked. Ridiculously, Councillor Thompstone decreed that to combine two items would constitute a challenge of ha ha, guess what: policy, and therefore was not admissable. Four legs good, two legs bad, in Broken Barnet.

At this point Mrs Angry was beginning to lose her composure. What, she demanded of the Chair, exactly is your definition of 'policy'?

Mrs Angry, he spat out, rattled at last, I explain this to you at every meeting ...

Mrs Angry lost her temper.

Just who, she yelled, do you think you are to tell us what we may or may not discuss at our residents forums? You are our elected representatives, and it is we who should be deciding what we want to raise here ...

Oh yes, Mrs Angry, ranted Thompstone, I so look forward to your contribution and outbursts ...

Do you? Good.

Councillor Thompstone looked at his watch. Oh look, he said with a smirk ... we have run out of time ... we simply can't continue with the next items, I am afraid ...

The next items were Mrs Angry's: questions about the incredible proposal to hire out our parks, and the mysterious omission of Friary Park (where Brian Coleman has his Friern Barnet show) from this list- and also a query about the decision by guess who to approve more spending on roads and stop funding any improvements to footpaths.

The meeting could easily have continued for a few minutes: it was deliberately shut down to a. annoy Mrs Angry and b. prevent any discussion of these issues.

Sadly, therefore, Mrs Angry cannot tell you if the Cabinet member for the environment is aware of the conflict between the needs of the dogging community in their use of Scratchwoods, or throw any light on the strange desire of the council to offer the site for hire to wedding parties. Mrs Angry was approached afterwards by an apologetic council officer who very kindly offered to supply any information she required, however. Watch this space.

As Mrs Angry slipped her coat on, she noted Councillor Harper fixing her with a glare. I suppose - MRS ANGRY - he said, the cheeky monkey, that all this will be written up tonight. Hmm, said Mrs Angry, possibly, looking him up and down ... did you bring your portfolio with you tonight, Councillor Harper? He looked back at her blankly. Oh dear, thought Mrs Angry, have I been wasting my time, trying to sustain a lewd, childish and pointless series of double entendres over the last few months?

What was really important about this meeting was the realisation that the senior Tory councillors of this borough are in a state of barely repressed hysteria in regard to the state of feelings amongst the residents of Broken Barnet. They are running scared. Mrs Angry understands that Brian Coleman is now in a very vulnerable situation, and that not only is his glorious career at the GLA and London fire authority at stake now, even the quaking councillors here are ready to stick the knife in.

Dead man walking, Brian?

Uh oh.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Part Three: Night of the Long Knives - the hearing

Councillor Andreas Tambourides

Committee Room 3 is right at the end of the corridor of power in Hendon Town Hall, the least used of the Barnet council committe rooms, a fusty old room with a disused fire place, a faded carpet and nineteen thirties lighting, a suitable venue for the hearing of a complaint taken by one Barnet Conservative councillor against another.

Today's hearing, thought Mrs Angry, as she sat idly musing throughout the six hour epic meeting, was really a trial of old style values, the idea of public service for its own sake, and integrity in the democratic processes of local government, versus the mutant brand of brutal, self serving conservatism that we have here in Broken Barnet.

Today's hearing saw the presentation of the report of the investigation into the complaint brought by Tory councillor Kate Salinger against her colleague, Andreas Tambourides, the background to which is dealt with in the previous two blogposts.

Present at the hearing were Tambourides and his solicitor, Mr Hocking, three members of the Standards committee, two independent members and a councillor, legal and governance officers and the Director of Corporate Governance who was present as Monitoring Officer, but also had to substitute for the absent investigating officer. His was a difficult role, in fact and Mrs Angry has to admit, through gritted teeth, that he undertook this part with great skill and navigated the course of the process to the rightful conclusion.

Also present were a couple of bloggers, a union representative, a couple of members of the public - and a reporter from a local paper. Also in attendance were Councillor Barry Evangeli, to support Andreas Tambourides, (and who, ha, Mrs Angry caught shamelessly helping himself to biscuits at the adjournment) Councillor Joanna Tambourides, and oh look, at the back, Councillor Alison Cornelius, wife of Tory leader Richard Cornelius.

At the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that a decision had been made that filming and any similar method of reporting of the meeting would not be allowed. (If you nip across to the Barnet Bugle blog, you can see what happened when this decision was announced ... ) Anyway: Mrs Angry can't really tweet and write at the same time, so this was no great problem, for her. It would seem others present carried on regardless, and indeed why not, as the vote taken in full council not so long ago supporting the filming of meetings had not been qualified in any way.

The acting sub-committee chair, Ron Rosenhead, accompanied by Stephen Ross and Labour councillor Claire Farrier, reminded everyone that this was not a court of law. Jeff Lustig, Director of Corporate Governance, said that he did not see the hearing as a 'confrontational process'.

Introductions were made around the table. Andreas Tambourides, the subject of the complaint, introduced himself and reminded everyone that he was a member of the very same standards sub-committee which was hearing the complaint against him. Mrs Angry tried not to laugh.

Mrs Angry, in fact, spends most of the time in the council meetings she attends trying not to laugh, and trying to keep a straight face. This is impossible. Throughout Mrs Angry's childhood and school days, she was always in trouble for making faces and being perceived as undermining the solemnity of any given situation: Sunday lunch, holy mass, school assemblies, funerals, that sort of thing, and now, in her unrespectable blogging middle age, this regrettable tendency has resurfaced.

Several times during this hearing, in fact, a certain legal officer turned round to look disapprovingly at Mrs Angry, just for sniggering very quietly in her seat, and Mrs Angry would like to point out to the same officer that it is very rude to slip your shoes off under the table in the middle of a serious council meeting and twiddle your bare toes as if you were at the seaside.

Anyway. Where were we?

Let's reduce all the arguments and processes - six hours of them - down to the essential points.

The investigation found that Tambourides has breached the code in not showing respect, and in misusing council resources. Lustig explained why his actions would be seen as those of someone who was a member of a political group, and that it was a 'highly persuasive' argument that he was acting 'on council business'. The timing and context of the the email in question was important in terms of the political significance of the motive and effect of the article that was forwarded to all Conservative councillors in respect of the subject ie Councillor Salinger.

Councillor Kate Salinger was called to the table to assist the panel.

She explained what had happened on the night of the council meeting where her colleagues voted for the now notorious allowance rise. Before the meeting, she had stated that she could not support the vote, as a matter of conscience. In a time of hardship, when so many employees were expected to lose out financially, it was sending the wrong message. Barnet Council workers had been told that their pay wages would be frozen, or capped.

Kate Salinger was told that if she took this position, she would have to suffer the consequences.

She told the panel that she thought - and prayed - very hard about the matter and decided that she had to vote with her conscience.

At the meeting, she was removed from every position which she held, except in one or two cases where this was technically impossible. She listed each one, and it was clear that this ritual punishment had hurt her very much. She had interpreted the rules governing voting as allowing members to vote or abstain on a matter of conscience, which had a greater influence,in any case, than a group ruling.

Lustig asked her about her feelings at the time of the email sent by Tambourides. At first, she replied, she had found it almost laughable. As the day progressed, however, she had had a vast number of phone calls, emails and even letters put through the door in regard to the issue, and been featured on both the BBC and ITV news. The two paragraphs in the emailed article relating to her, and the allegations they made, especially regarding the borough solicitor, were simply not true, and she felt 'livid' at the false assertions that had been made.

Interestingly, Councillor Salinger also told the meeting that she had received many calls and emails from other Conservative councillors who claimed they now wished that they had acted as she had. Safely after the event, of course. This was one of the occasions which provoked exasperated mutterings from Mrs Angry, and another baleful look from a certain legal officer.

Kate Salinger said that she felt that the sending of the emailed article had impuned her integrity. 'I always try to be honest' she commented, ' and to behave with integrity and honour'.

When asked by Lustig why she felt she had not been treated with respect, she explained that respect involved treating people as you would like to be treated yourself. To impune her honour meant she was not being treated with respect.Andreas Tambourides had not checked the veracity of the article, and such behaviour was hardly what you would expct of someone from someone who was himself a member of this Standards Committee.

Four fellow councillors had spoken immediately to Kate Salinger about the article, and seven others had also done so later. It consequently transpired that Councillor Salinger's snivelling Tory colleagues had almost all been too scared of reprisals to agree to be identified when contacted by the investigator.

Stephen Hocking, the solicitor acting for Andreas Tambourides, has some questions. Did she ask Tambourides for an apology? She said that her lawyers, Carter Ruck,(blimey) had done so.

Hocking tried to suggest to Councillor Salinger, at some length, that the article in question was not really about her even though it included the following statement:

"Sources within the Conservatives in Barnet have also confirmed that Councillor Kate Salinger has been contacted by Barnet's borough lawyers over her conduct in a previous incident, unrelated to this incident ...' and claimed Kate Salinger was:

"Already a marginal figure and her actions have ostracised her entirely and she is now history."

Mmm. Kate Salinger listened patiently to what he said, reminded him, as clearly he needed reminding, of the two paragraphs in question, and wrily remarked that his line of questioning was 'very clever'. Not clever enough, as it transpired.

Tambourides' defence thoughout this hearing was that he was not acting in the capacity of councillor when he sent the email, therefore the code of conduct did not apply, and anyway he had done nothing wrong, and not used council resources to send the email, the veracity of which he had no reason to question.

Jeff Lustig carefully tiptoed through the minefield of legal arguments, and pieced together a case to disprove the arguments put forward on behalf of Tambourides. The lengthy addresses of Mr Hocking, and his attempts to quote legal precedent to support his client's defence were interrupted more than once by the committee chair, and it was clear that the committee were not going to be moved by wasted sympathy for Councillor Tambourides' plight.

Mr Hocking spent some time criticising the methods of the appointed investigator, in the course of which he constantly acknowledged, at some length, while continuing his criticisms, that he was not there to defend himself.

He thought that even if the action in sending the email had caused concern, this should have been a matter for party discipline, rather than dealt with as possible misconduct under the code of conduct and a matter for the Standards sub-committee. Tambourides had no intention of upsetting Kate Salinger when he sent the email. (Clearly he thought she would be thrilled to discover all her colleagues were being told she was history, ostracised, and a marginalised character, and to find that her character had been subjected to a baseless slur, a nasty lie about being contacted by borough solicitors over 'her conduct'). But no, it wasn't Andreas Tambourides' fault if he had not realised the article was inaccurate and hurtful, because, and I quote: ' we all assume what we read in the press is true' ...

Here we adjourned, the fact finding part of the hearing having finished.

After lunch, the next part of the process began with the panel announcing its findings of fact.

It was decided that it was more likely than not that Tambourides was acting as a member of the Conservative group and conducting the business of the council when he sent the email.

In response, Hocking said that his client's purpose and state of mind in sending the email was of significance. There was no past history of any disagreements or disputes between him and Kate Salinger (there was some muttering behind Mrs Angry at this point) and then he reminded us of the vital importance of the freedom of the press, and claimed his client had had no obligation to fact check the article before sending it. Really, thought Mrs Angry? Hocking droned on: even Tambourides was looking bored by now, and in danger of falling asleep. Oh God: another legal precedent was quoted.

Jeff Lustig now made some very important points. He reminded the panel that the members' code required a positive obligation to treat other councillors with respect. We must all ask ourselves how we would feel if a colleague were to forward a news article to all other colleagues with unfavourable comments included. Would this demonstrate the fulfillment of the obligation to show respect? He then queried the statement that there was no obligation to check accuracy in such a situation.

In the matter of using council resources, the key word was 'improperly': again there was a positive obligation for councillors to follow when using such facilities.

The committee now adjourned again to decide if there had been a breach of the code.

On the return from their deliberations it was decided that Councillor Tambourides was in breach of the code in relation to:

Paragraph 3(1)
You must treat others with respect

He was found not guilty of the other charge, failing to ensure that the resources of the authority are not used improperly for political purposes.

It was concluded that someone with Tambourides' experience should have been aware of the derogatory references within the email, their capacity to cause offence and the potential effects they would have.

His solicitor said that there would be appeal and asked therefore that any sanction should be suspended pending the outcome of any appeal.

Tambourides had not made up the allegations in the email. There was no history of 'bad blood'. He had no previous, guvnor.

The panel deliberated and their final finding was that, despite taking the submissions into account, they nevertheless had to recognise that Councillor Tambourides was a member of the Standards Committee itself, the implication of course being that he of all members really ought to have known better.

He was ordered to attend a course of appropriate training in the members code of conduct. He must also submit a written apology to Kate Salinger for the distress he had caused her. The sanctions would not be suspended.

There was no mention of whether Councillor Andreas Tambourides would continue, as he has throughout the time since the complaint was lodged, as a member of the Standards sub-committee.

Throughout the long course of the day, sitting in the committee room, Mrs Angry had the great pleasure of the company of Councillors Kate and Brian Salinger. They are a charming, honourable and decent couple, in fact, who are a credit to the values they espouse.

Kate Salinger was the only Tory who had the courage and integrity to refuse to support the abominable allowance rise vote last year. After doing so she was treated in the most vile fashion by each and every other member of her own party, who stood by and allowed her to be subjected to an immediate public humiliation, a ritual punishment, the vengeful stripping of all her council posts, positions I have no doubt that she undertook with commitment, honesty and dedication, unlike so many other of her lazy, greedy, feckless Conservative colleagues.

When this was done, and Kate Salinger left the chamber in tears, significantly, it was a female Labour councillor who came to her assistance, and offered her support. What does it say about the bullies, whimpering cowards and absolute bastards who constitute the rest of the Conservative group on Barnet Council, that they could stand by and let this happen? That they continued to lack the courage to support her openly even though some of them later privately expressed their horror at what had happened?

It says remember: this is Broken Barnet, and this is how things are. No doubt already the Salingers' phone is ringing with colleagues keen to congratulate Kate on her success today. I hope she tells them to f*ck off. She won't, because she is too nice, so let me tell them on her behalf. It really is my pleasure.