Friday, 28 September 2012

Friday joke: No sackcloth and ashes for Brian Coleman

 "Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 

And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: 

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands." 

(Jonah 3:3-8)

'LOL ... ' (Brian Coleman, The King of Bling is Not Sacked, 27/09/12)
After the most extraordinary couple of weeks of controversy surrounding the behaviour of Barnet councillor Brian Coleman, and a meeting yesterday at which Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius was due to 'speak to' Coleman, what has happened?


No statement, no suspension, no removal of the Tory whip, no criticism of his behaviour, no censure, no apology for his behaviour, either from the man himself, or his group leader.

In the last week or so this councillor has been arrested on suspicion of common assault of a woman, directed insulting remarks at the public gallery informing residents that they were 'sad, mad, bad, and a couple of old hags', and he has ignored a formal ruling that he must apologise to two residents after sending them abusive emails, accusing an Israeli of being an 'anti-semite', and comparing a woman to a 'blackshirt'.

He has also not only insulted Mrs Angry inside the council chamber, and outside the council chamber, and made ludicrous, defamatory remarks about her in his self pleasuring blog, all of which has been the subject of complaint to Cornelius, on three occasions, and all of which have been completely ignored. A further complaint to deputy leader Cllr John Thomas has also been ignored. A formal complaint to the council has been, yep, ignored, after querying the protocol of the pointless new Standards system, whose fatal flaw is that the ultimate judge is the Tory party leader, ie Richard Cornelius, who is himself alleged to have been laughing and applauding Coleman's remarks in the council chamber.

*Updated: you may care to note that although Cornelius, in true Barnet Tory misogynist tradition, refuses to respond to Mrs Angry's correspondence, he is happy to confide his views to another chap, who has not been the victim of Coleman's recent offensive outbursts - see the Barnet Eye ...  

Barnet Council informed Mrs Angry that they would not be making any statement about the arrest of Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman, because it is nothing to do with Barnet Council.

Barnet Council's leader Cornelius simply will not make any criticism of his Tory pal.

Backbench Tory councillors privately express themselves appalled at certain recent events, but fail to disassociate themselves from them by speaking publicly. They also fail to understand that the negative publicity engendered by this individual in anyway reflects on them as a party, and as the administration running the borough. In short, they are in complete denial about the mire into which they are rapidly sinking.

In the meanwhile, a totally discredited leader has demonstrably lost control of the £1 billion outsourcing programme that has been carefully engineered by the senior management team in tendem with some helpful consultants, paid £250,000 a month by us, the residents, and as the leader himself explained, 'closeted with the bidders', who stand to profit so handsomely from our council services once they get their slavering mouths fixed on our corporate body.

So: nothing happens, life continues, Brian Coleman sits down in his low rent, charity owned flat and writes another blog, published yesterday.

Brian is looking forward to the Lord Mayor's show, he tells us, with feverish excitement. He adores all the faded ritual and moth eaten traditions of corporate City life, of course, and talks enviously about the honours, knighthoods, CBEs,  won or not won by the various old codgers he hangs about with, clinging on to the fraying coat tails of City life. Poor old boy, waltzing about with that old GLC medal on a ribbon just doesn't compare, does it?

Hmm. Mrs Angry's best friend has an OBE, Brian, you know, and well deserved, in her case. Can't tell you why, but it involved hard work, and selfless dedication to the best interests of the country.  And the thing is, honours have to be won for those reasons, for service to the community, Councillor Coleman, not for going out to lunch, falling asleep in your office, and insulting the community you are supposed to represent.

He tells us all about a lovely evening he had this week, as a member of his livery company:

I enjoyed dinner of Smoked haddock and chive crushed potato fishcake, followed by beef and chocolate and raspberry brownies with my Livery Company (The Farriers) the other evening at Vintners Hall ...

Marvellous. Yes: Brian is a member of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, which is an historic body supporting the ancient rights and privileges of tradesmen working with horses, reshoeing them and so on. Yes: a load of cobblers. 

At the Lord Mayor's show, we are told, Councillor Coleman will be parading with his mates through the City streets, led by the company Master, Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, KCVO, OBE, DL:

In his address Sir Evelyn outlined plans for his year of office including the Company’s participation in the Lord Mayor’s Show where the Major General (a fine horseman) will lead the Farriers float through the City streets with me and 50 other Liverymen dressed apparently in Hessian tabards (not sackcloth and ashes).

No sackcloth and ashes.

In other words, he does not give a a flying f*ck about recent events, will not apologise for his behaviour, and is carrying on as normal.

Of course Councillor Brian Coleman has an appointment with Her Majesty's constabulary before then, being currently on bail on suspicion of common assault, and is due to return to be told the result of their investigations at the end of next month. Let us hope this does not interfere with his social engagements.

Indeed, Mrs Angry prays most fervently that he will still be at liberty to wear the hessian tabard and travel through the streets of the City of London for the entertainment of the grateful plebs. Mrs Angry imagines that, in response, some Barnet residents may wish to visit the parade and demonstrate their fondness for Councillor Brian Coleman with helpful placards and banners, and loudly voiced expressions of admiration and encouragement.

Sitting by the phone now, waiting for that call from SO15.


Mrs Angry is so desperate to escape Broken Barnet, she has decided to go to Manchester, to pretend to attend the Labour Conference, but will be bunking off as much as possible.  She may or may not blog, but will tweet from time to time. Try to make your own entertainment while she is gone. x

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Where the Filed Things Are: or how to ignore the Freedom of Information Act, Broken Barnet style

A performance of Marat/Sade/One Barnet

So: you are a senior officer or councillor in Broken Barnet. You have an embarrassing secret, and you don't want anyone to know about it. 

Uh oh: Mrs Angry knows about it, and asks to see all the minutes of the meetings where your embarrassing secret was discussed. 

What to do?

Hmm. Difficult. You must of course read the relevant regulations in the Freedom of Information Act, and the guidelines from the Department of Communities and Local Government on open data, memorise them, then work in completely the opposite direction to that specified by both sets of requirements. 

Or, even more cleverly, you must take the regulations and guidelines and make them serve your malevolent purpose by trickery, and subterfuge.

Cast your mind back to the Joint Venture debacle.

The 'interim' Director of Environment, Planning & Regeneration, Ms Pam Wharfe, sent an email a few weeks ago to Barnet Council staff informing them that a decision had been made to change the proposed model for one half of the One Barnet One Billion outsourcing sell off of our council services to the private sector. 

No longer would we have a strategic partnership: now we were going to create a Joint Venture with the successful bidder. Oh: this is unexpected news: Joint Venture as an option was discredited early on in the process as being even higher risk than the staggeringly irresponsible gamble of the strategic partnership. Such a fundamental change, in the context of One Barnet, is like putting all your money on a race on a horse with three legs, then swopping the bet at the last minute to a horse with two legs.

When Mrs Angry made inquiries about this rather alarming statement to staff, it became apparent that the decision was news to the leader, Richard Cornelius, and his Tory colleagues, the elected members who are, in name only, it seems, supposed to be setting policy and deciding the course of the One Barnet programme. Cornelius stated emphatically that no such decision had been made. Even more damning - at the last Budget scrutiny meeting, he denied three times that he had ever seen any papers related to the One Barnet programme. And then the cock crowed, and the room fell silent. It was an astonishing admission.

In short, the lunatics who thought they had taken over the asylum are in fact, well simply some theatrically minded inmates putting on their own version of Marat/Sade, watched by the indulgent hospital director and his staff.

After a lot of questions, we had managed to ascertain that the decision which is not a decision became temporarily less decisive as pressure grew on senior management to stop undermining the leadership. Ms Wharfe was obliged to write to staff again, smoothing over the unfortunate gaffe, saying:

"... the JV has developed as a progressively more attractive option following detailed discussions with bidders. As a result the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussions with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option."

Aha. The DRS project board, a mysterious entity which comprises a handful of senior officers, including Ms Wharfe, and a couple of unaccountable, unnamed private consultants from the One Barnet 'implementation partners', Agilisys/iMPOWER, who receive around an incredible quarter of a million pounds of tax payers' money EVERY MONTH, for services unknown.

Mrs Angry wondered when the JV option was recommended to Corporate Directors' Group, and what sort of discussions took place. So she submitted a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of all of their meetings which took place since December 2011. A response turned up a couple of days ago ...


I can confirm that London Borough of Barnet holds the information you requested.

Please find attached a set of minutes from January 2012.

However, we are withholding copies of Minutes after that date since we consider that the following exemption applies to it.  We consider that the qualified exemption set out in Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) subsection 1 applies to the information requested. Therefore, we have decided to withhold the information.

It is the Council’s intention to publish the Directors’ Group Minutes on the Council’s website in a planned programmed way, by quarter, six monthly in arrears.  The first set of quarter’s minutes are due for publication imminently, with a further quarter to follow in accordance with this timetable.  This information will be available at

It is reasonable to refuse disclosure until  publication as there is a planned programme for publication, and the first set of minutes will be published imminently.

In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the interest in favour of disclosure.

Factors in favour of disclosure
Documents will be made public in any event
Public interest in scrutinising mechanics of the council

Factors in favour of withholding
Documents will be made public in any event, and disclosing in an ad hoc way will pre-empt planned publication.

Disclosure in advance of publication will cause a duplication of effort.

Disclosure in advance will render otiose the council's planned programme of publication, and circumvent its rationale.

In all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Oh. Really. Come close, London Borough of Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry wants to whisper something in your ear.


There. Sorry. Because what you are saying is: as this information must be put in the public domain, we must keep it secret, and that, London Borough of Broken Barnet, is ridiculous, desperate, and, a frankly embarrassingly bad excuse for obstructing the requirements of the FOIA, yes, even by your admittedly gobsmackingly low standards.

The one set of minutes sent to Mrs Angry, as some sort of token gesture, were from the 3rd of January, and funnily enough, included no mention of the Joint Venture.

Mrs Angry responded to the hapless FOI officer obliged to send this shameless response:

Ms *

Whilst I am fully appreciative of the fact that you will be acting in response to a decision made elsewhere, this response is, quite frankly, an absolute disgrace, and in my view represents the intention of the council deliberately to avoid forwarding politically embarrassing material, specifically anything relating to the Joint Venture.

Please respond immediately to the following, not as an appeal, or a FOI, but to clarify this response:

  • I note you claim the information is to be published 'imminently' without giving any date: when is the date for publication, exactly?

  • Why have you forwarded one set of minutes in January, which coincidentally contains no reference to the JV, and no others, despite the elapse of eight months
Two further questions:
  • When was the stated decision made to publish the minutes with a six month delay, and why is there a six month delay? Please send me a copy of this decision.

  • If there is a six month delay, why have no minutes been published yet?

The public interest is quite clearly in the release of this information now, while the issue of the Joint Venture is being debated, and not at some unspecified time safely after the competitive dialogue is finished.

Refusing to release this information is blatantly in defiance of the FOIA, and the guidelines from DCLG, and will be reported to the Secretary of State as well as the ICO if you do not immediately forward the minutes as requested.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Later in the day Mrs Angry was able to add:


I have since discovered that these meetings take place at least fortnightly.

The minutes you sent were for only one meeting at the very beginning of January, the 3rd, to be specific.

Where are the minutes for the rest of the month at least?

It is perfectly clear that the information I requested is being held for political reasons, and I ask you once more to forward all the relevant material without further delay.

Thank you.

Will any response emerge? Nothing as yet.


Oh, and: Mrs Angry nearly forgot - in response to an FOI request for the minutes of the meetings of the mysterious DRS board, she received this:

Thank you for your request received on 28 August 2012 for the following information: I would like to make the following request under the terms of the FOI Act:

Please send me the minutes of all DRS project board meetings since the beginning of December 2011.
We are now considering the request but we need to extend the deadline for response. The Freedom of Information Act allows public authorities an addtional 20 working days where a qualified exemption under the Act is engaged and the Public Interest Test needs to be considered. We are currently considering the Public Interest Test with regard to section 43 of the Act, which exempts information the disclosure of which could prejudice the commercial interests of the council or a third party.
We will aim to respond to you by 23 October 2012.
So: 'Public Interest' - what do you think that means, by the definition of the senior management team of Broken Barnet? Do you think it will be interpreted as:

'According to the principles of localism, the residents and tax payers of this borough have a right to know how we, the senior management team and our private consultants of the unaccountable DRS board cooked up a decision to adopt the Joint Venture option before the democratically elected members of the community had even considered a change', 

or do you think it means: 

'oh f*ck: here is another embarrassing secret which we must keep secret'?

Is what is meant by open data for armchair auditors? Open, but not in our lifetime? 

What do you reckon, Eric?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Who's sorry now? Not Brian Coleman: more embarrassment for Barnet Tories

Yes: just when we thought we may have been delighted rather too well by the never ending one man show that goes by the name of Brian Coleman, along comes another story to distract us.

Here, in fact,  we have another extraordinary example of the remarkable indulgence shown to this tedious man by the vacillating leader and equally submissive Tory councillors of Broken Barnet.

Readers may recall that earlier this year Brian Coleman was found by a Standards Committee in Barnet to have breached the Members' Code of Conduct, in failing to treat others with respect, specifically after sending emails in which he accused an Israeli resident, Mr Ron Cohen, of being an 'anti-semite', and comparing another correspondent, Dr Charlotte Jago, to the 'blackshirts'. See here:

The sanction from the Standards Committee required Coleman to write a letter of apology to Dr Jago and to Mr Cohen. Instead of submitting to this judgement, however,  he exercised his right of appeal. This appeal was heard by the First-Tier Tribunal on 27th July, and the judgement issued on 8th August.

The decision of the Barnet Standards committee was upheld by the appeal tribunal. The  appeal summary referred to what it viewed as, in the case of Mr Cohen: 

 'personal, offensive and insulting abuse which lacked any reflective content'

and  the case of Dr Jago:

 'ill-tempered, irascible personal abuse'

The summary concluded:

The Tribunal noted that there was nothing in the papers which provided any mitigation for the Appellant’s actions and indeed was surprised that such an experienced councillor should behave in this manner.

Councillor Coleman could have appealed again: he did not, yet neither Mr Cohen nor Dr Jago have received an apology. The deadline for submitting such an apology has elapsed some three weeks ago.

Mrs Angry understands that Barnet Council has not had the courtesy to explain to the two victims of Coleman's abusive emails that the apology was overdue, and it seems that they were obliged to raise the issue with the authority in order to clarify this point, as they had not been kept informed of the progress of the appeal. 

Yesterday the local Times paper confirmed in a report here that Barnet Council is aware of the lack of an apology from Councillor Coleman. It quotes a spokesperson for the Tribunal appeals service as stating:

“There is no real sanction the tribunal can put in place – we can’t force him to make an apology. It would be down to the local authority."

The article continues:

The Times Series understands Barnet Council is looking to sanction Councillor Coleman for failing to apologise but the authority is yet to make a statement on the matter. 

So: yet again, neither Barnet Council's press team nor any spokesperson for the Conservative party would appear to feel obliged to make any comment on an issue of significant public interest concerning the behaviour, alleged or otherwise, of this elected representative. 

Here we have a clear case of a blatant defiance of a ruling regarding the breach of a code of conduct, and no action is taken by the authority to enforce any sanction. The victims of this breach have not been extended any support by the authority, and were not given any information regarding the appeal until inquiries were made by them. It would appear, in the absence of any statement to the contrary, that Barnet Council has not taken action to enforce the judgement of the Tribunal.

What is going on?

Why does Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius show such indulgence for the offensive behaviour of Brian Coleman, and refuse to criticise him when he insults members of the public, whether in the Town Hall, sitting in the public gallery, or by email? 

Why did he refuse to take any action or to issue any statement when Coleman was arrested last week on suspicion of common assault?

Why should the residents of this borough be expected to tolerate such a craven attitude from someone who is paid to be leader of the council, and is supposed to be undertaking such duties in order to serve the community who pay his allowance? 

Is there not a duty for the leader to put the best interests of the residents of this borough before any personal sympathy or the pressure of his own party's political sensitivities?

The Tory party in Barnet is in complete disarray: they have lost control of the One Barnet programme, and now they have entirely lost all sense of integrity and any credibility as the elected administration of this borough.

Richard Cornelius has a simple choice to make: start acting like a leader - or resign. 

What will it be?


This story has now appeared in the Standard, quoting a comment from Coleman himself :

"Barnet said it was unclear what sanctions were available to discipline Mr Coleman. He was censured by the Local Government Standards Tribunal, which has since been scrapped, and a council spokesman said they were in “uncharted territory”. The spokesman said he was still required to apologise. But Mr Coleman, who lost his London Assembly seat in May, said he was “under no obligation ... This was a matter dealt with by the flawed Local Government Standards regime, now abolished."

So our Tory council finds itself in 'uncharted territory'? Clearly, Councillor Cornelius, you are all at sea, but rest assured: you are still in Broken Barnet.

Do you really need Mrs Angry's advice?

Find your balls, stand up to Coleman - and suspend him from the Conservative group. 

Or face total annihilation at the next local election.

Update no 2:

 The local Times website now has a story quoting the Standard and a response from Tory 'Leader' Richard Cornelius:

Sadly the article does not quite live up to the promise of the headline: it claims that Cornelius ... ' is reported to be furious with the Totteridge representative’s defiant stance' ... but such a claim is belied by the rather less than challenging comment from the leader, as described:

'Councillor Cornelius said he would be speaking with Councillor Coleman about the issue tomorrow morning.
When asked if he was disappointed or surprised by the senior politician’s attitude, Cllr Cornelius said: 

I certainly look forward to hearing his views. He has not said to me what he will or will not do as of yet. I can’t make any comment on my own views of the situation. We’re all part of a larger party and there is a way of dealing with matters that will be followed.'

 Well: I think we are all looking forward to hearing Coleman's views, aren't we?