Thursday, 28 June 2012

Exclusive: new poster prosecution threat to Finchley parking campaigner

Yes: believe it or not, Mrs Angry has heard that Helen Michael, the courageous Finchley trader and leading activist in the fight against the disastrous Barnet parking scheme, has again been threatened with action over the poster she published regarding the instigator of this scheme, our tedious former Assembly member and Cabinet member, Councillor Brian Coleman.

Helen, who runs Cafe Buzz in North Finchley, produced the poster, and distributed it in the area to other shops and businesses, who displayed it in protest at the new parking rules and charges that Coleman insisted on imposing on the residents of this borough, and refused to retract, despite the devastating consequences for traders and residents alike.

Ms Michael was visited by the police soon after the poster appeared, and was asked to amend them so that they were compliant with the requirement to give details of the publisher. She did so immediately, and the police told her there would be no further action.

Why then, we must ask, was she visited again this week by the police who informed her that they want her to attend an interview in regard to the poster. An allegation has been made, but they refuse to tell her the identity of the complainant. She has been told that they intend to proceed 'with your co operation, if possible'. The implication, one must suppose, is that if she does not 'co operate' she may be arrested.

After taking legal advice, she has responded by sending a statement to them, and requesting them to send it to the DPP. This would appear not to have been done.

This new and anonymous complaint about the poster, after the police had already informed Helen that there would no further action, is very interesting, isn't it? One wonders who on earth would make such a complaint? And why?

Clearly pressure has been exerted on the police for them to take up the issue again, after being satisfied previously that there was no problem with the poster. Indeed, the fact that they informed Ms Michael as much itself was reason to continue with the distribution and it might be argued that they are therefore responsible for this situation. One expects the police to be rather better informed than a resident on the legalities of such matters.

Mrs Angry has been told this morning by a local police representative that there have been no prosecutions for flyposting in Barnet in recent years, and that it is anyway the role of the council to prosecute. In which case, why is valuable police time being engaged in the pursuance of an allegation in relation to this poster, an allegation whose origin they refuse to disclose, when this borough is fraught with a record number of burglaries and robberies and no doubt other even more serious criminal activities?

Is the complaint about fly posting, in which case is the council, whose responsibility it is, going to prosecute the Mayor of London for the Boris posters splattered all over local bus stops and shop windows by highly organised teams the night before the election? Or is it about alleged inaccuracies in the poster - in which case, when will the council be prosecuting the local Tory party over the leaflet distributed in Brunswick Park making claims about the parking issue, in a period of purdah?

Does the complaint come not from the council but from the subject of the poster? If so, what offence is Ms Michael alleged to have committed? And why is it being investigated now, rather than when the poster was on display throughout the borough? Would that not anyway be a private, civil matter, rather than a matter for the police?

Now that Councillor Coleman has been so roundly trounced in the GLA election, lost his post as Chair of the Fire authority and has faced the further humiliation of losing his position of power in Barnet, the snivelling, cowardly Tories who dared not speak out against his policies previously, are now falling over themselves to declare that they always really opposed these dreadful proposals. Luckily they were not obliged to do anything about it, as the Barnet bloggers, activists, and enfuriated residents did it for them.

Wouldn't it be nice to see these Tories now rushing to the defence of Helen Michael, who has done more than anyone to fight the catastrophic parking scheme, while they all sat on their hands and did nothing?

Only in Broken Barnet would a woman who showed such courage and determination in standing up for what was right, and opposing a man who was so clearly wrong, now be subjected to petty bullying over what - a f*cking poster.

Mrs Angry hopes that everyone who opposes the parking madness will support Helen, and continue to resist the thuggish tactics of this administration's obsession with silencing all dissension or quashing any resistence to its dangerously lunatic policies.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Detrimental Clutter: Another Residents Forum

Park Keeper's Cottage, Victoria Park

*Updated, see below

Mrs Angry has had a trying day.

She would like to tell you the story about being menaced by a rat this afternoon, and use it as a suitable metaphor for this evening's Residents Forum, chaired by Councillor Reuben Thompstone, but she is mindful of the fact that she has used this device similarly in the past, when attending a meeting at the Town Hall, shortly after encountering a giant rat in the bakery section at Tesco. Hmm.

You probably wouldn't want to know, anyway, about the traumatic hour - the worst experience of MY LIFE, according to Mrs Angry's daughter, who has inherited her mother's tendency to exaggerate slightly - the hour Mrs Angry and Miss Angry spent shrieking and running about and throwing water at our idiotic cat who was tormenting the terrified rat, who then had the gall to sit on a window ledge and stare rudely at us in the kitchen.

Miss Angry locked the door. It was pointed out that this was probably unnecessary.

I thought rats were supposed to be clever, said Miss Angry. What? No. Not that clever, my darling. Then, she said, with her usual interesting perspective on things - what about all those experiments they do? ... I think, said her mother, that it is the scientists who do the experimenting, Miss Angry. Wrong way round, see. Or maybe she's right. Are the rats conducting experiments on us? We all think we are the ones in charge of the agenda, don't we, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell who is really running the show.

Ha, there you go - and here we are at the residents Forum, the faux Forum, where residents may speak only when spoken to, and may not ask anything which upsets councillors, who are supposed to be accountable to residents, but refuse to be. We are the rats, see, and they are the scientists. They have escaped from the lab, and are sitting on our window ledge, staring rudely at us with ill concealed menace. Ok, now I'll stop.

This rambling is because I don't really want to write about the meeting at all, as the whole bloody thing is so offensive to anyone who really cares about local democracy and the need for a real engagement between the community and our elected representatives.

This evening's meeting was sparsely attended by residents. Hardly surprising - the Forums are not advertised, and are deliberately held at 6pm to deter attendance.

There appeared to be more Labour councillors present than anyone else, to be frank. Cllrs Houston, Hutton, Tierney, Cooke, Schneiderman and Mittra, and Libdem Cllr Jack Cohen. No Tory councillors at all could be bothered to turn up, other than the pompous Chair, Reuben Thompstone, who appears to think he is presiding over a trial of Cockney barrow boys in the High Court, circa 1897, and his sidekick, Cllr Graham Old.

Where were you, Tory councillors? Of course Finchley Church End councillors John Thomas and Eva Greenspan never show their faces, which is a blessing, in many respects, but Harper, Marshall, Dean and Melvin Cohen? The latter came for the environment meeting later, but this turn out shows you the attitude they have towards the process of engagement with their own constituents.

Mrs Angry had submitted several questions, just to show willing. Two of them were, as she anticipated, censored and withheld:

1. Why has the Chair of the Forum refused a request sent to him by me after the last but one Forum asking him to explain how the new Forum rules, censoring the topics we may raise, are compatible with the government's localism agenda?

2. Since Councillor Coleman has been replaced as Cabinet member responsible for environmental issues have his plans to hire out our local parks and greenspaces been dropped, or will these proposals go ahead? If the plans are to go ahead, local residents would like to hire Victoria Park for a large party to celebrate the recent election of Andrew Dismore as our Assembly member, but clearly we would need to know if this is now possible.

First one barred, of course, because it is guilty of the greatest heretical sin in One Barnet: raising a question of 'policy', and no 2, well, apparently this issue was discussed at the last Forum, and may not be raised again in six months. Mrs Angry imagines that the park hire scheme was discussed, rather than the party to celebrate Brian Coleman's downfall, as that was then not even a twinkle in her naughty blogger's eye ...

So the rest were actually ok, genuine questions on yes, public works.

3. a.At a Cabinet meeting last night, the Finchley Church End Town Centre Strategy was approved by members, but Councillor Thomas remarked that 'we must be realistic as to how this is funded'. Has any new funding been allocated to the strategy, and if not, what chance is there that the recommendations contained within the report will be implemented, or any real benefit seen in the area concerned?

b. In the report, there are references to the detrimental and 'unnecessary clutter' of advertising and signage in the Finchley area.

The body responsible for this clutter in the first place is the London Borough of Barnet: why was this allowed to happen?

Why should tax payers now be expected to pay for the removal of signs and advertising which should not have been erected?

Can you confirm that questions in regard to the legality of the contract with street furniture providers JCDecaux have now been resolved?
Will the contract, if compliant, be continued, and if so, can any of the signs in Finchley be removed?

The answer was there was no funding. Ah.

Removing the 'detrimental clutter'? No: stand by for some fabulous One Barnet speak: 'for obvious reasons the Council cannot justify the expense of proactive removal unless as a part of an overarching project where locally their removal can be facilitated' ...

And the myserious JC Decaux contract ... or is a contract? We have already been informed that it is not a compliant arrangement. The response confirmed that it has still not resolved the issue.

What then, asked Mrs Angry, was the point of the town centre review, if there was no money for it? How much money had it cost is to carry out? And why? And why do we still pay advertisers with whom we do not have proper contracts whose installations appear to be cluttering our streets?

The officer did not know how much the strategy review had cost, but clearly it has used a substantial amount of council resources, and for what? As a meaningless statement which may or may not be referred to in future planning decisions, and only if it suits the purposes of the council.

Next question:

5. Next to the lower entrance in Long Lane to Victoria Park, there is a former park keeper's lodge. More than a year ago, I believe, the family living there as tenants were obliged to leave, and the property has remained empty since then, becoming increasingly derelict. For some time now, the fence has been broken, trampled down and the site is accessible to anyone. This is in an area in which there have been instances of drug dealing, reported to the police.

Why has this property been left unoccupied for so long when there are so many homeless families in Barnet?

Why has the council not acted to secure the property?

Has the council put the property up for sale, and if not why not?

Is the council hoping that if the property deteriorates it can be demolished, and a more valuable site sold?

This was the answer.

Yes. No answer. A blank space.

The officer said he had been refused an answer by the Property Services department. The matter was now being referred to the Director.

God knows these Forums are farcical enough as it is: to refuse point blank to answer a perfectly valid public works question is really extraordinarily obstructive.

At this point, even the Chair was looking askance.

Labour's Councillor Cooke was angry - he revealed that he too believed there was a deliberate policy to allow such properties to deteriorate to the point where they may be demolished, and of course the site on which these properties stand are all much more valuable as more suited for developement. He talked about another park keeper's cottage in Oak Hill Park, similarly neglected.

Mrs Angry referred to her concerns about the former Church Farmhouse Museum, a beautiful and important listed building still standing empty and inadequately secured after a year of closure. Why is this building's security taken so lightly?

Some years ago a fire badly affected another listed property then in the council's possession. Such things can and do happen, accidentally of course. Church Farmhouse is rather a nuisance because it is protected by listing and the site cannot be fully exploited by development. There is no excuse not to give it every possible protection from deterioration or unfortunate accident, however, even in a Tory borough where heritage is seen only as a property asset, and not a thing of intrinsic value to the community.

The park keeper's cottage has been empty for more than a year. A family with children were removed from this property, as Cllr Tierney explained, being told it was wanted urgently for sale. They were rehoused, but they might have been better off staying in their home, or at least the property could have been used to accommodate another family in need. The fact that Property Services have refused to answer this question is clearly an indication, in my view, that there is something very wrong somewhere. Let's see what we can find out, shall we?

If you know of any similar properties around the borough, please let Mrs Angry know, via email.

Finally a question about the newly announced highways maintenance schedule:

"At a recent council meeting, plans were announced to allocate funds for highway works. I note that the funding in my road is being given to the other end from us, ie in the Conservative ward, rather than the Labour ward. I note that the area around the Sternberg Centre is included, which I would have thought has already benefited from the section 106 money that was supposed to be associated with the development of this site. Why is more funding being allocated to this area?

Nearly four years ago there was a fatal accident outside my house, due to a combination of a driver speeding at more than double the speed limit, and a junction with a notoriously bad sightline. After the accident we asked for improved safety measures to be put in place, as this junction, next to a primary school, is continually the location of collisions, and unfortunately it seem likely that it is only a matter of time before another fatality occurs. Despite assurances, nothing has been done, and worse still previous traffic calming measures have subsequently been removed.

Why does the council not see this eastern end of the road as a priority?"

Oh dear: Councillor Old has formed an opinion about something, and it is an opinion about Mrs Angry's question. His opinion is that she is being party political, and of course council funding is not allocated in any unfair way.

Mrs Angry became rather cross.

It is a party political issue, when money is being constantly diverted, in this borough, to party politically sensitive ends. Like subsidising the over privileged Hampstead Garden Suburb Library, at the expense of Friern Barnet Library, or arranging for unpopular car parking charge plans to be dropped during an election purdah period. And Cllr Olds (whose ward is this side of Finchley) could not explain why the Tory end of our road was being favoured with extra money for road safety measures, when already supported by section 106 money for crossings etc, when there had been no fatal accidents, and yet the blackspot near my house is still waiting, four years after a death, for any promised review. All the Coleman inspired council has done is to remove safety measures.

Local councillor Ross Houston said that he agreed with Mrs Angry, and said that she was quite right to raise the issue, that this part of the road had not had sufficient attention.

This is the story of what happened in the incident outside my house, four years ago, as reported in the Daily Mail. No doubt the driver, who ran off and left his victim lying at Mrs Angry's feet, is already out of prison, and able to drive up the road again at eighty miles an hour, should he wish, as the council refuses to allocate any funding to any safety measures which would prevent this happening again, or the countless other less serious but avoidable accidents which occur here.

Will it make any difference, pointing out this inequable treatment? Well, another review was promised. Another year will go by, and nothing will happen. Maybe nearer the election, the more marginal wards will be lucky enough to receive some benefit from similar funding.

Two other questions tonight were about speeding in residential roads: Petworth Road in North Finchley, and the Grove in Finchley Central. The good news is that now the enemy of traffic calming, Brian Coleman, is safely out of the way, we might see a change in policy favouring the well being of pedestrians and children rather than speeding drivers. We might.

Cllr Helena Hart trenchantly demanded, to much sniggering, at a meeting last week, that Barnet should remain a 'hump free' borough.

How Mrs Angry looks forward to the day when a Tory councillor would not dream of expressing such a demand, rather than the wish to see a borough where no child loses his life crossing the road, killed by a speeding driver.

*Update, Wednesday:

This morning Mrs Angry visited the park keeper's cottage to see if she could take some photographs. As you will see, not only is the gate wedged open, the fence down, and the grounds strewn with rubbish, including broken glass and evidence of drinking, the site is supposedly secured by a company - with remote CCTV. Mrs Angry imagines, therefore, that there is film of her this morning as she wandered in and took her photos. In fact, of course, this is complete nonsense, and yet again it would appear Barnet are handing over taxpayers' money for an inadequate service.

It should be remembered that this site is right next to a children's playground, and also an area known to attract dealing. There is no justification for this property to be left vacant when so many families are homeless in this borough: it is also a terrible shame that what is a really nice Victorian cottage, contemporary with the opening of the park more than a century ago, should be left to deteriorate in this way.

But what else do you expect?

Oh: Mrs Angry's daughter has come home and told her she has just seen workers arrive at the cottage - and they appear to be in a hurry to re erect the fence. If you want the missing pieces, chaps, they are broken up and piled in a corner of the garden, and some of it is wedging the gate open, no doubt for night time visitors.

No need to thank me, Councillor Thompstone.

*Update Thursday:

Well, on her travels today, Mrs Angry noted that as if by magic, the park keeper's cottage has indeed acquired a lovely new bit of fencing - good bit of work, actually: wish they would come & fix mine: look ... one of Mrs Angry's most exciting photos, you will agree. Almost as good as Roger Evans, AM & his interesting pictures of subways in Barking and bus stations in Gants Hill.

oh, but erm, presenting another convenient metaphor for the state of things here in Broken Barnet - look how they have left the entrance to the property:

Barnet Council: putting up fences, but leaving the front gate wide open.

I despair.

Leaning on a lamp post, and look what we can see - more subsidence in the One Barnet house of fun

Never underestimate the ability of the London Borough of Broken Barnet to dig a hole for itself, jump into it, and continue digging all the way until they reach the Antipodes.

This is an area of expertise, in fact, in our borough.

Unfortunately, the cost of this activity, ie the digging of the hole, its enlargement, and the eventual backfilling, is, of course, is paid for by you and me, the long suffering residents and tax payers. Think how many millions of our money has been paid or lost recently as a result of their cock ups in contracting, and other legal or financial disasters, whether lost in uncollected tax, overspends, fines for data protection breaches, or any number of avoidable failures in procedure ...

Forget for one moment the catastrophic mess of the almost totally non compliant 'contracts' which Barnet bloggers unearthed last year, a story still continuing.

Forget the competitive dialogue processes which are well underway, rushed into even as the procurement scandal was unfolding. This morning the Barnet Eye blog has picked up a most interesting story from a DPR (delegated powers report) published on the Barnet Council website, which you can read here ...

This tells us that Barnet Council has just authorised the spending of up to £75,000 on legal support from a firm called Addleshaw Goddard Solicitors. Why? This is what the report tells us - in order to pay for:

10.2 The appointment of Addleshaw Goddard, solicitors to advise the Council in respect
of the Cabinet Office Energy Reform Group (“ERG”) infraction notice and the
related Deed of Variation from the Senior Lenders for the CMS, regarding the
procurement process for the Street Lighting PFI Contract variation for energy
saving measures.

Apparently Barnet is in trouble again, this time regarding the procurement of work in relation to our PFI street lighting contract.

8.3 The EU Infraction Pilot file states a complaint has been received regarding the
procurement of energy saving measures and alleges that the London Borough of
Barnet has infringed EU public procurement legislation by not tendering the

8.4 The Council have been provided with a Timeline for the Infraction Pilot Response
and it must adhere to this timeline. A draft response to the complaint has been
submitted to the Cabinet Office ERG. It is important to urgently appoint legal
advisers to provide legal input into the process on behalf of the council.

Now then: Mrs Angry has long been fascinated by the arrangements made by our council for our street lighting, an issue which came to light, if you will excuse the phrase, around October 2010) during a long engagement with the authority over what appeared to be a completely unneccessary replacement of perfectly adequate lights all over the borough, and an apparent reluctance in some quarters to finish the job properly, or on schedule.

Here is something puzzling, however, even by the standards of Broken Barnet. The DPR is asking for a waiver so the council may ignore its own rules of procurement so as to hire the very company which we are told was involved in the original PFI contract, part of which now is alleged, erm, to have ignored the EU rules regarding procurement. Have I go that right? What?

8.7. The decision to appoint Addleshaw Goddard Solicitors is being made based on
urgency, on their expertise in the specific field and in light of their significant,
previous, input and advice as Legal Advisors to the Council with respect to the
original Street Lighting PFI Contract.

It seems someone has complained to the EU about the tender process. If these allegations are found to be correct, and yet again Barnet is found to have messed up another tendering exercise, not only will we, the taxpayers have to fork out more money to pay for their cock up, it will demonstrate yet again, most painfully, the utter incompetence of the senior management team of this authority.

How much more evidence do the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet require before they accept what is so obvious to anyone with any sense - that to continue with the wildly over ambitious scale of the £1 billion procurement of One Barnet, with so many unresolved problems in the management of the current scope of commercial activities, is absolute madness?

Or, as perhaps is becoming increasingly likely, will the companies presently engaged in the competitive dialogue process decide they simply cannot risk investing in a programme of such high risk, and more importantly from their point of view, a diminishing certainty of profit from a programme built on such unstable foundations?

What do our external auditors at Grant Thornton think of all this? Are they really happy at the continuing revelations of incompetence in procurement? At what point will they step up, wise up, and call a halt to any further progression of the One Barnet programme, until a full and independent assessment of Barnet's competence in procurement is satisfactorily proven?

Well: Mrs Angry has been communicating with auditor Paul Hughes through the medium of song, channelled through, of all people, George Formby - and his ukelele.

This is for you, Mr Hughes.

Can you hear what I'm saying?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Birthday Boy Brian - in trouble again ... the comeback tour continues

It's Brian Coleman's birthday today ...

Oh dear me.

Last week Mrs Angry reported that after a very short period on the naughty step, contemplating his bad behaviour, and considering, we hope, just why the voters of Broken Barnet have decided to forego the honour of another four years of his role as our Assembly member, Brian Coleman is back in business. That is to say, the business of upsetting each and every resident of the borough, one by one: a lifetime's mission, and, it would seem, one to be pursued with the One Barnet house style of what's the phrase ... mmm, relentless efficiency.

At a meeting last week of a minor council committee of which he is Chair, in the absence of any stroppy bloggers, our Brian decided to prevent a member of the public from exercising her right, as confirmed by Eric Pickles, and then Barnet Council itself in July last year, to film the proceedings. He declared her perfectly discreet and fully authorised activity to be 'obtrusive', and she was obliged to stop filming, after being spoken to by a senior governance officer, who really should have known better.

Clearly Brian was in a very bad mood last week - and the filming ban was just the preamble to an even more outrageous act. Today, by chance - or maybe not - is his birthday, apparently. Maybe he has been taking stock of life, and feeling rather disgruntled. Time to grow up, maybe, Brian, rather than continue in this tantrum throwing, self indulgent manner, Mrs Angry would suggest.

Take a look at Mr Mustard's blog today:

and you will see that in response to a perfectly valid email, sent to a number of local councillors, Brian Coleman written the most disgraceful, intemperate response, informing him that he may not contact him at all, that any further communication will be considered to be 'harrassment', bizarrely accusing him of parking near councillors' houses on 'several occasions' , which he construes as 'moving into the realms of stalking' and alleging that he has been submitting hundreds of FOI requests which have cost 'tens of thousands of pounds', a practise which should be addressed by new rules to prevent 'malicious and obsessive' FOIs.

Of course Mrs Angry has experienced a similar message of ill will from Councillor Coleman. You may recall that in January, he threatened her with the police:

Mrs Angry referred him to her no 1 fan, who was then, fortuitously, the acting Borough police commander, and who sadly failed to send round a black maria to take her off to the de luxe custody suite for lady bloggers recently installed at Colindale police station, ( ah - in fact, that might only have happened in the nightmare world inside your head, Brian ...) and luckily she escaped the dreadful consequences of a conviction for daring to email an elected member of the council. Phew.

Poor old Brian. Clearly he is missing his spotlit place on the stage of the Broken Barnet palace of varieties, and is trying to force his way back, the only way he knows how.

Oh well.

Happy Birthday, anyway, Brian. -

Oh .... and many happy returns from the Barnet blogosphere:

Mrs Angry xxx

Friday, 22 June 2012

In all the dark places - an Audit Committee, and I want to go home

"May God stand between you and harm, in all the dark places you must walk."

Ancient Egyptian Proverb

Barnet Audit Committee 21st June

One Christmas, when Mrs Angry's children were small, she took them to the National Theatre to see a rather fabulous production of 'Peter Pan'.

The first half was enthralling, and they enjoyed it very much, but during the latter parts, Miss Angry, who was then about three years old, became rather bored and wriggly, and spent the rest of the play lying on her mother's lap, kicking her legs, and sucking her thumb. With perfect timing, she waited until a moment of classic theatrical silence, a particularly affecting and poignant scene with Wendy and the Lost Boys, took her thumb out of her mouth and wailed plaintively, with increasingly dramatic emphasis:

'I - WANT - TO - GO - HOME ...!'

The accoustics of the Olivier auditorium ensured that the whole audience was able clearly to hear her announcement, and indeed so did all of the cast, who stopped in their tracks. Everyone laughed. Captain Hook bowed, and made an apology from the stage. Mrs Angry went scarlet with embarrassment, and wanted to slide to the floor in shame.

It was a long time before we ventured to the theatre again.

Miss Angry's powers of concentration have not improved much, and really her mother is beginning to have some sympathy. She often thinks about pulling some similar stunt in many of the interminable Barnet committee meetings she frequents.

Dear reader, really you have no idea of the sacrifices your local bloggers make in order to scrutinise the behaviour of the miscreants who sit in the Town Hall on your behalf.

The only thing that makes it all bearable, usually, is the thought of visiting the pub afterwards and exchanging scurrilous gossip with the other bloggers and friends.

Last night's audit meeting was a struggle. Mrs Angry tried arriving late, to minimise the duration of the experience. That helped. She also decided to follow in the tradition of most committee members, and not read the reports beforehand, to try to make it more exciting. Alright, that is a lie, actually, she had forgotten about the meeting until the night before, when reminded by another blogger, and she did not have time to read through the many hundreds of pages.

In fact there was no need, because, as is the case with most Barnet meetings, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Mrs Angry wants to go home. Mr Hughes wants to go home.

Chair Monroe Palmer is a conscientious councillor, and a good man, a rare thing in Broken Barnet, and does his best: an opposition, Libdem member as chair makes a refreshing change in our borough: Palmer, Councillor Lord Palmer, is a former auditor, and knows his stuff. He also has an instinct for when officers are trying to pull the One Barnet wool over his eyes. His weakness, perhaps, or his vulnerability. is that he does not like any criticism of the internal audit process, and in Mrs Angry's view, there is, unfortunately, reason to be critical of both the internal audit process - or at least the limitations placed on the internal audit process, and the same must be said of the external auditors: yes, our friends at Grant Thornton, represented chiefly by Mr Paul Hughes.

Mr Paul Hughes was present last night, looking as usual, very wary, and rather depressed, and prone, as usual, to the performance of some interesting body language, indicating to Mrs Angry a sense of desperation, and desire to be anywhere else but the audit committe of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. And who could blame him? He gave all the signs of a man wanting to engage in a heavy session of pen wobbling, or tie fondling, but too afraid that if he did, Mrs Angry would write at least two paragraphs about it the next day. Well, he was wrong, see? Mrs Angry has waited until Sunday to write her critique, as you will note. And anyway, he resorted to holding on to his chin, with manic determination, and casting sidelong looks at officers as they spun their reports.

Normally Mrs Angry is contained, in audit meetings, by the presence, on either side, of Mr Reasonable, and Mr Mustard. Mr Reasonable usually sits throughout, weeping copiously, and muttering, and Mr Mustard kindly explains the finer points of numeracy to the mathematically challenged Mrs Angry, as if she were a particularly obtuse child in reception class. We all missed you, Mr Reasonable, last night: no sensible questions to the committe. In fact, as far as I am aware, and of course I was slightly late, no questions at all.

Throughout the meeting, Labour councillor Jeff Cooke did his best to raise criticisms, or make observations, directed chiefly at the senior officers. Captain Craig Cooper, the representative of the senior management team, yawned, sucked the end of his pen, or stared into the mid distance, and shrugged off any criticism, as if it were completely irrelevant. Perhaps, in the end, it is.

Let's try to summarise the few interesting revelations from last night.

A year after the infamous MetPro Audit meeting we hear that at last, all managers who ought to have had it several years ago, but did not, have now received training in procurement - marvellous news, and only took twelve months to accomplish! That's the beauty of action plans, of course, here in One Barnet, performed not in real time, but slow motion.

All contracts are now noted in a central repository. I say all contracts, that means all sort of probable 'contracts' are maybe listed together.

Except for the ones that aren't.

The ones that aren't that they are prepared to admit to, we were told, number at least 25, and represent a total value of well, just a mere £9 million of taxpayers' money, so no one is that bothered. There was a moment of genuine astonishment in the room when this sum was revealed, and mouths dropped open. Drop in the ocean, Mrs Angry reckons.

The reason for these remaining non compliant arrangements, we are told, is that 'it is quite difficult to get some suppliers to sign contracts'.

It was politely suggested by the Chair, with commendable self restraint, that it might be possible to cease paying those suppliers that refuse to sign.

It was then implied that all of the remaining non compliant contracts were care arrangements for poor little old ladies in nursing homes, who would be thrown out onto the street in their nighties and bedsocks and all Lord Palmer's fault, if he kept banging on about it.

Captain Cooper assumed a tragic expression and nodded gravely, holding a pair of kittens and a picture of the late Queen mother. A violin played on soulfully in the background. A tear spilled out of Mrs Angry's blogging eye, and slid slowly down her cheek.

Cruel and heartless Lord Palmer nonetheless insisted on having a full listing and valuation of the remaining contracts.

Over in the auditing corner, Mr Paul Hughes of external auditors Grant Thornton tried to stop twitching, gripped his chin again, and stared hard at the floor.

Item 7 on the agenda referred in part to a limited assurance regarding procurement controls.

Mrs Angry cast her mind back to the previous night's Cabinet Resources meeting, where Chair Daniel Thomas had thrown aside all concerns about the ability of an authority whose incompetence in procurement is so well documented to take on the extraordinary challenges of properly negotiating the outsourcing of £1 billion of services to the private sector. He is convinced that any problems uncovered in procurement have been dealt with. A limited assurance is hardly proof of this, is it, Councillor Thomas?

It has been brought to Mrs Angry's attention that at the CRC meeting it was stated that internal and external auditors have assessed the risks of One Barnet, but in fact it would appear they have reviewed only the process, to a limited extent, and not the wider scope of the programme.

Even so, Grant Thornton have expressed concerns not so long ago about the lack of proper planning for the project. Since then, have they taken a more detailed look at the finer details of the competitive dialogue, or any of the really essential elements of the massive outsourcing proposals? Are they able to? Have they been asked to?

We have always assumed that we need to convince our Tory councillors of the error of their ways, and persuade them to suspend the flogging off of our local services.

It has been increasingly clear to Mrs Angry that the real vulnerability of One Barnet is in terms of the risk not just from the point of view of residents, but of the companies bidding for business.

Their interest in Barnet is based on one thing only: the potential profit to be made from the provision of our local services.


Mrs Angry would suggest to the companies sniffing around the delights being proffered by our borough that it might, as you secretly suspect, actually be a rather bad investment of your time and efforts.

Clearly the senior management team of our local authority is incapable of organising their own commercial activity. What else have they cocked up, you might wonder? Do you trust them to have organised the competitive dialogues properly? Are they capable of even tying their own shoelaces without falling flat on their faces when they stand up?

Are you relying on their competence in say, describing the projected costs of the services you will be expected to to provide?

But back to the Audit Committee.

Captain Cooper has taken over the lead of business control in Broken Barnet. Yes: we are all doomed. He promised the Chair that he was going to produce a certain report in regard to his duties - when, asked the Chair? No date had been given. Cap'n Cooper wasn't particularly bothered, but pulled a date out of the hat ... oh ... sometime in December. The way you said that, commented Lord Palmer, did not give me a lot of confidence ... Cooper looked on, unconcerned. The committee, remarked Palmer, will not be happy if this is not completed. Cooper smiled enigmatically.

Labour's Cllr Cooke had some concerns about the data protection risk highlighted in regard to children's data. Cooper dismissed his concerns. An officer now reported to the committee on the process for storing other sensitive customer data. He said it was locked up in a cupboard. Mmm.

On to the Internal Audit Annual Report. This found that despite an apparent improvement in funding and key financial systems, 'it was clear that the overall control environment had not improved significantly so as to change the limited assurance ...' Oh. And why not? It seems we do not know.

Geff Cooke again: what about One Barnet: we have two audits, he said, and no opinion ventured on this issue. Maryellen Salter, head of Internal Audit said, in her rather monotonous drawl, that the One Barnet programme was being well run. Mrs Angry failed to notice something significant at this point, because, in truth, she was having a bit of a 'I want to go home' moment, and had become shamefully distracted by the sight of Ms Salters very high heeled shoes, black patent, with cream toe caps and mint green straps. But apparently the significance missed was, yes, that it is the process of running the implementation of One Barnet rather than any other aspect which has been audited. A proper independent audit, one would imagine, would take a rather broader view of the risks that must be assessed.

Ah: up speaks our rarely seen Deputy CEO and Chief Finance officer, Andrew 'Blackhole' Travers. How's the other job going, Andrew? No, not the the one with Domino's pizza, the one in East Sussex? Marvellous. In this time of austerity, of course, many workers have to hold down more than job, just to make ends meet. Even if you are being paid £1,000 a day for your efforts.

Mr Travers told us something we didn't know. In Broken Barnet, we take audit seriously. Yes, really. You can tell, because apparently we have once a month meetings about it with him and two other statutory officers. That's a good idea, isn't it? Well done.

Erm: now on to 'penetration testing'. In a hump free borough? Surely not. Yes, Mrs Angry sat up. Then it transpired this referred to a really rather staggering discovery. Or at least it would be staggering, were it not in Broken Barnet. A couple of years ago it had been found that Barnet's IT system was not properly secure. Despite the length of time that has ensued since then, and despite the truly awful IT data protection breaches which have occurred also within this period, the system remains vulnerable. As the report says, with an amber light, and Mrs Angry wonders why such a serious failure is not scored red:

"• Little progress has been made to address the
issues identified in the External Penetration
Testing (testing of the externally facing
infrastructure – Internet). Of the 17 issues
identified none have been fully remediated.

• Some progress has been made in addressing
the issues that were identified as part of the
Internal Penetration Testing (testing of
infrastructure within the Barnet IT environment).
Of the 37 issues identified;

• 20 have been resolved and
• 17 remain open (five high and 12
medium severity.)

• In addition, three high severity vulnerabilities
identified during the March 2010 Penetration
Testing were identified again during the
Penetration Tests carried out in March 2011."

From penetration testing to carrots: the Chair asked if more emphasis on better assurance ratings might be acheived by dangling carrots to the various directorates?

Blackhole was waspish in his reply, and then rather foolishly attempted to joke, in a deeply unfunny defence, about never attempting anything during a major football championship.

Summoning up all her psychic powers, Mrs Angry closed her eyes, and willed no one to laugh.

No one laughed.

It's the way you tell'em, Mr Travers.

Laughing all the way to the bank, with our hard earned cash delivered to you, every day, in amounts of £1,000.

Bit of a discussion then, or a mention, anyway, of Barnet's usable and unusable reserves. Tory councillor Graham Old had one or two questions: prefacing these with the explanation - ' I am a very simple soul, on the whole ...'

Mrs Angry ain't arguing with that, Cllr Old.

He thought that there were some 'quite significant differences in the figures.


Mrs Angry ain't arguing with that, either, Cllr Old.

Mrs Angry was feeling more than a bit wriggly by now.

But then she was distracted by the next item and a reference to heritage asset year - no, don't get excited, this is nothing to do with reverence for our culture, history and heritage, this is something to do with looking for any assets which the authority has but might have forgotten about - but of course, in Broken Barnet, this might be something we can flog off to the highest bidder, or closest friend, like the Church Farmhouse Museum, or as Cllr Cooke suggested, yeah, he's right - selling off the family silver. Seems like not much new has been unearthed, though, disappointingly, despite what we were told had been; ' a diligent search, in all the dark places ...'

Yes. In all the dark places.

When it was auditor Paul Hughes turn to speak to the committee, it appeared that he was overcome with shyness. His address was a matter of maybe twenty words. The Chair was rather taken aback, referring wrily to his minimal verbal report, 'loquacious as it was'.

Mrs Angry imagines this is because we have opted in for the minimal service from GT, rather than the super de luxe, tell it like it is, then stand back and watch it all burn down version, as seen with say,... mmm, Assetco ...

Mr Paul Hughes looked back at Lord Palmer with a rather tight smile.

What is the point of an external auditor? We pay them an awful lot of money, don't we? Are they anything, ultimately, more than a rubber stamping exercise? What do you think, Eric Pickles? And who audits the auditors? Is it us, sitting here in our armchairs? If not us, who is looking after the best interests of the residents and tax payers of Broken Barnet?

Mr Paul Hughes, when he does speak, has a charming, homely retro Lancashire accent, which really would better suit say, a bingo caller in Clitheroe, or maybe a shoe shop manager in Lytham St Annes ... no, no ... while Mrs Angry was lying awake last night, as is her habit, in the early hours, worrying about all the awful things there are to worry about in the early hours, for some reason she remembered who exactly he does remind her of and found herself laughing aloud:

When you're cleaning windows, best not to look closely. Not in Broken Barnet, anyway.

Turned out nice again, didn't it, Mr Hughes?