Monday, 30 June 2014

The Highway to Hell: Tory councillor Dean Cohen, Brian Coleman, and another FOI response that Barnet tried to avoid




Last Thursday was the day of the Colindale election, an event delayed by the untimely death of the Green party candidate, and taking place more than a month after the rest of the borough went to the polls.

Colindale has returned three Labour councillors: Zakia Zubairi, Nagus Narenthira, and Gill Sergeant. Returned three Labour councillors with a 68% share of the vote, a swing of ten per cent, and seeing the Tories beaten to  humiliating  level of only 15% - close to the UKIP share of 10%. 

This ward has traditionally been a Labour stronghold, but Colindale is one of those areas that have been targeted in the insidious Tory plantation strategy, via a housing policy in which so called 'regeneration' schemes see areas of social housing and rental accommodation for low income families replaced and dominated by private development schemes. 

Beaufort Park - whose quota of affordable housing was removed by the Tories last year - and similar developments are changing the face of areas like this. 

The Peel Centre, a former police HQ is also due for development - and of course the Brent Cross Cricklewood plan, that will transform the neighbouring area, is going to be massive in terms of transformation of the western side of the borough.

The result in the long term on the political and electoral landscape will be hugely significant.

In Colindale and West Hendon these schemes are having - and will continue to have - a devastating impact on the local communities.

The faux regeneration might be seen as some as designed to remove the sense of community, as part of a strategy of social engineering.

Call it gerrymandering, if you like, or social cleansing: whether deliberate and politically motivated or not, the effect is the same. 

In line with the Barnet Tory wish for only the 'well off' who are not 'dependent on council services', the poorest residents are being pushed out of these areas, and out of the borough.

The demographic representation of wards like these is rapidly changing, but the process is not complete, and in the interim period, the time of change, life is becoming increasingly difficult for those who remain in the parts of the borough which are being prepared for development, or which simply do not register as a priority for support from our Tory councillors.

Yes, we are talking about the interesting case of the Highways expenditure, a matter now under investigation by the Monitoring Officer of Barnet Council.

On the way to the polling station, on Thursday, as the story featured above, published in the current edition of Private Eye suggests, voters in Colindale ward may well have noticed that the streets and pavements in their ward are curiously ill maintained. 

If they tripped up on a loose paving stone, or stood forlornly at the edge of a pot hole filled road, wishing there was a safe crossing point, they may just have wondered why this was so - why their pavements, and their roads are in such a state. 

They might have wondered why their local council has not addressed these problems - and left the roads and pavements in such a state.

Clearly we live in an age of austerity, and tightening belts, cuts in budgets. 

We are so strapped for cash, apparently, that our Tory councillors must deprive disabled children of their after school and holiday respite care, in order to pay for such necessities as their pre-election 23 pence a week tax cut.

Maintaining the highways of Broken Barnet, the road surfaces and pavements, therefore, might be expected to take a low priority, at the moment.

Well: yes, and - no. 

Yes, if you live in a Labour held ward.

No, if you are in a Tory ward.

If you live in Golders Green, a Tory ward represented by the Cabinet member who had the last word on the allocation of funds for highways - kercching! Well done. Your pavements are likely to be crack free, lovingly and recently  installed, and the surface of your road as smooth as silk. 

Oh: unless you live in the further extremes of the ward, the NW2 side, where there is a certain amount of social housing, and where poor people live, who are likely to vote Labour.

These uncomfortable truths have been well documented, in various posts on this blog, and indeed are the subject of a formal complaint by Labour (eventually).

But that is not the end of the story. 

When Mrs Angry made the original FOI request for the breakdown of the Highways expenditure, only a partial response was given. 

There was a refusal to supply the first two years of the former administration term's funding, on the clearly spurious grounds that such information was not available. 

This data was important, as clearly we needed to see the full range of expenditure, and is necessary to verify Councillor Cohen's claims in regard to his own wards' needs.

An appeal was made contesting the withheld information. 

When it came to the date when a response was due, an officer sent a statement that the authority needed another twenty days in which to respond. 

By coincidence, this dragged the moment of disclosure right up to the time of the Colindale election. Wasn't that a surprise?

At last the response emerged. 

The previous refusal, Mrs Angry was told, was certainly not as she suggested, due to political sensitivities, but due to 'mistakes and incorrect assumptions' made by another officer. 

Mmm.

But how revealing is this response, with the previous two years expenditure.


Dean Cohen took over Cabinet responsibility for Environment in May 2012, after Brian Coleman's loss of his Assembly post sent his political career into freefall. 

Cohen therefore had pretty much a free reign over spending for the last two years shown on this spreadsheet, as he altered the system of allocation from one of equal distribution to one by which he could have the last say in expenditure. 

Now look at this written question, submitted to Full Council on the 21st January 2014 by former councillor Brian Coleman, in regard to spending in Golders Green ward: Mrs Angry's emphasis in glaring red -

Question 64 Councillor Brian Coleman 

What is the average amount being spent in a Ward on pavement and highways repairs and renewals during the current financial year? How much has been spent or is planned to be spent in Golders Green Ward? 

Answer by Councillor Dean Cohen 

Approximately £800,000 is being spent in Golders Green ward in 2013/14. This is as a result of the lack of investment in previous years, for example in the years 2010/11 and 2011/12 Golders Green ward was awarded less than £20,000 in total. I asked officers specifically to work on a list based on need, not like previous years on an even split in constituencies.

Set aside the fact that he claims £800,000 was to be spent that year in Golders Green, whereas the total was more than £1 million - Dean Cohen has given several excuses for the disproportionate amount of money channelled into his own ward. Having a long road in it - that was one memorable reason, but he also has promoted the idea that such a large input was due to lack of funding, and here we see specifically he has claimed that only £20,000 in total was spent in the two years whose details have only just been released. 

According to the new information, in those two years, a total of nearly £276,000 was spent.

Even if Councillor Cohen were to try to say now that there had been a typo, and the figure was £200,000, clearly that too would be wrong. 

Mrs Angry has asked him to explain the apparently misleading information given to Full Council, and will update the post if and when he does. As of Monday, 10.00 am, he has not done so.

It is true to say that in the period where his former colleague Brian Coleman was responsible for Environment, Golders Green fared less well than other Tory wards, but in no way was it underfunded in the wider sense. 

Golders Green Ward received more money in this period than Colindale, yet Colindale's underinvestment was followed by a sum less than £93,000 in the next year, and nothing at all last year, compared to Cohen's ward being given  £564,000 in the next year, and more than a million in the final year - before the election.

Golders Green also benefited from some joint funding with neighbouring Childs Hill, which is fortunate for the then Libdem held ward, which, as you will see was given in two years the tiniest possible level of funding: £35,000 in the first year, and just under £41,000 the next.

Quite why Cllr Cohen felt it was necessary to stop joint funding to wards is rather puzzling. 

Clearly to him the boundaries between wards are of some significance, and important to maintain when it comes to funding.

Interesting, incidentally, that in the first year, Totteridge, then Cabinet member Coleman's ward receives a whopping handout of nearly £425,000. 

That this was at the time when there was supposed to be equal allocation suggests how influential a Cabinet member may be, in terms of arguing for higher funding, when it comes to their own wards. 

Did the hugely affluent, leafy lanes of Totteridge really require such a high level of expenditure when Labour wards of Woodhouse, East Finchley and Coppetts, represented by Labour and rebel Tory Kate Salinger were given nothing?

Yes: just look at the figures for Labour stronghold, Woodhouse Ward. 

For two years, no funding. At all. 

East Finchley, the equally staunch Labour ward, represented by the group's leader Alison Moore: nothing at all in the first year.

Coppetts, which had two Labour councillors, and one maverick Tory, Kate Salinger, the only Tory to dare to defy Coleman that year over the allowance increase row, when he was whip - now defeated by a Labour candidate: no funding. 

Of course there may be perfectly rational reasons for these curious decisions: we look forward to the explanations.

Broadly speaking, in the first two years, the funding was more widespread. Quite evidently, after there is a change in the Cabinet member, need was defined not so much in terms of equitable benefit, but on rather ill defined subjective criteria. And any safeguard that a commitment to equal allocation gave was lost.

Apart from an apparently anamolous degree of generosity to Burnt Oak, Tory wards have done particularly well in the total expenditure: but then clearly the 'needs' of the Tory wards were in some way deserving of more support - and their political status was purely coincidental.

What is most worrying is the level and proportion of funding in the year leading up to the elections, in May.

There is quite clearly an electoral advantage that will attach to a candidate who approves a million pounds worth of funding for his own ward in the form of high visibility expenditure: the very ground his constituents walk on, or the roads on which they drive their cars. 

As Councillor Cohen comments in one of the emails to Highways officers included in a previous FOI request, a demand for such maintenance comes as a high priority in resident surveys, for obvious reasons. 

Questions must be asked about the very high level of expenditure in marginal Hale ward: again, there is clearly a political advantage to incumbent Tory councillors if this area receives such a high level of maintenance in the run up to the election.

Equally in a Labour held area, it is reasonable to assume that a low level of expenditure will have an impact on the councillors' electoral prospects as constituents may become dissatisfied by the efforts made on their behalf by their representatives.

As it turned out, the delay in the election for Colindale meant that the issue of the lack of any budget for this ward was outed and voters informed by Labour in their election literature, so the policy of underfunding would appear to have backfired in this instance. 

Who can tell, however, how it may have influenced voters elsewhere, especially in Hale, or Mill Hill?

It is clear to see that there is an urgent need for reform of the system of approval for any significant expenditure, to mitigate the risk that no political influence can be brought to bear - or the perception that it could be - on the final outcome. 

Safeguards must be put in place that ensure the fairest possible allocation of funds, on the basis of real need, and not for any other reason,  to prevent any perception, proven or not, of favouritism.

The Monitoring Officer is currently investigating the Labour Party's complaint about the Highways budget, Labour having first written to our external auditor, Grant Thornton: and Mrs Angry has updated the Monitoring Officer regarding the new information - but let's remind ourselves of the Labour group's statement:

Labour refers £4m highways allocations to auditors 

Barnet’s Labour councillors have referred highways allocations worth £4m to the external auditors to investigate after discovering that no formal decision had been taken on which schemes were awarded money. The final decision over which schemes were progressed was delegated to the Cabinet Member for Environment whose own ward received the highest award of over £1m for 2013/14. 

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: “It’s hard not to be left with the perception that the process has been politically biased during an election year and given the sums of money involved there is clearly a public interest in this issue being investigated further. “Members of the public will not understand how an individual Cabinet Member can be directly involved in the allocation of resources to their own ward in this way with no real formal decision and no public scrutiny or challenge.” 

Cllr Alan Schneiderman, Labour’s Environment Spokesperson said: “The whole thing is a scandal! Opposition councillors were just by-passed by the Cabinet Member and not even asked to submit schemes for consideration. Quite how they decided what roads to include is surprising when we can all see roads and pavements in a far worse state than those chosen to be repaired.”

Labour's complaint was specifically in regard to what has happened since the current Environment spokesperson took over, and detailed in the letter to the auditor are claims regarding the process of decision making regarding an extra £4 million agreed last year which they claim appears to have been spent on the wards he approved, without a fair system of consultation. See here the letter sent to Grant Thornton:




On receipt of the evidence from this latest FOI response, it would seem clear, however, that the problem maybe even wider than first thought. Perhaps it is time to scrutinise any other ward based expenditure?

The scandalous matter of the Highways expenditure raises serious questions about the way in which tax payers money, in the form of budget allocation, is used in Barnet - is it for the benefit of all, or for the benefit of only those favoured by the ruling administration?

Yet again, in Broken Barnet, we find ourselves enmeshed in a culture of denial; denial of the needs of those without a voice, the forgotten residents of our borough.

The Tories, as always,retreat to the safety of their comfort zone: a place where all the people like them live, or, they think, aspire to live: the roads where the pavements are not cracked, and potholes are instantly filled. 

If some live in less advantaged areas, it must be their fault, according to the philosophy of our Tory councillors, and these people should not be rewarded by, or even expect, the same level of investment as those who who live in the nicer parts of the borough. 

Worse still, it would appear that those who vote to return a Conservative council are rewarded by a higher standard of service from their local authority.

This is the logical conclusion of the Easycouncil ideal, of course, so do thank Mike Freer, if he is your MP, and you object to a two tier scheme of funding for the pavements and roads of Broken Barnet. 

Those who pay the most, who vote the right way - they get the better service: and this is your choice, they would argue. You have chosen to be poor, or old, or young, or disabled, and you must take the consequences.

And if you don't have the means to afford any 'choice'? 

Clear off. 

Or, if necessary, we'll give you one way ticket out of here, to take you over the border into someone else's responsibility.
 
How ever did we get to this point: our borough run by such a cynical, decadent Tory administration - one for the few, and not the many?

With apologies to one famous former resident of Golders Green, music hall star Marie Lloyd - all together now:

Oh, Lady Porter, what did we do?

We wanted a democratically run local authority, 

And we've ended up with you.

Yep. This is Broken Barnet: June 2014 - a Tory flagship council, and a model for local government. 

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A heartbreak too difficult to describe: the children of Oakleigh School, and the Tory councillors who took away their funding

*Updated 8th December, see below

*Updated Thursday with footage, and again, below

Barnet Tories had a real problem, in the run up to the recent election.  

What could they put in their manifesto? 

What could they use as encouragement for the residents of Broken Barnet to run to the polling stations, on May 22nd, and beg them to form another Conservative administration? 

What had they achieved, over the last four years, other than preside over a sequence of unfortunate events, as a result of their catastrophic agenda of policies?

They could not talk about the mass privatisation of services, the handing over of every council function that was not already nailed down or protected; could not mention Capita, or One Barnet, for fear of giving the game away to those residents who have not cottoned on to what has been happening to their borough and local democracy.

Coy references to 'a change programme' took the place, therefore, of any overt mention of the massive outsourcing of our services: but what was left to brag about? Nothing. A dilemma then. Still: they had one trick up their sleeve. 

They pride themselves, the Barnet Tories, on their ideological resistance to the principle of taxation. Except, of course, in the form of punitive levels for the poor, as in the bedroom tax.

They become almost hysterical at the thought of the millionaire residents of Totteridge, or the arms dealers and pornographers of Bishops Avenue, being obliged to cough up a bit more in the form of mansion taxes, but of course they should not be expected to pay their fair share of costs which have nothing to do with them, such as healthcare, education, and other indulgences that the lower orders seem to think they have a right to enjoy.

Here in Barnet, they think, despite the continuing reduction in funding from central government, and the devastation on local services that this inevitably causes, we must deprive those services of even more money by cutting our own way of raising revenue, that is to say via council tax. Why? Because ... we don't like the idea of tax, and because we think everyone thinks the same. 

Everyone does not think the same, of course, and most decent people understand very well that their local tax supports vital services, and don't want tax cuts that will have a direct impact on such funding.

But Barnet Tories are incapable of empathising with such philanthropism, of course, and therefore, in order to make their electoral chances more favourable, chose this year not only to freeze council tax again, but to go a step further, and cut it, by one per cent. This their leader Richard Cornelius described as a 'gesture', acknowledging the benefit in real terms was negligable: a few pence a week, pointless, and merely symbolic. A gesture, as it turned out, of contempt for those unlucky enough to have to pay the cost of this pre-election bribe.

Within a short while of the tax cut being announced, it was revealed that Mapledown School,  a secondary school for children with complex and profound needs, was to lose funding for its vital respite care schemes, which support children after school and during holidays.

This devastating cut, and the impact it would have on the children and their families, was dismissed by both Tory leader Richard Cornelius and education spokesperson Reuben Thompstone, in whose ward the school is located, but who had never visited it. 

Cornelius commented, about his plan to deprive Mapledown of funding at the same time as giving his council tax cut gesture:  I think the average person in the street thinks this is fair.

Reuben Thompstone suggested that parents should be 'more creative' in the ways they find funding, and that the school could use its own reserves. At a meeting, Tory Councillor John Hart dismissed the funding as 'handouts'.

Exhausted parents came with their children to a council meeting to explain exactly why comments about creative fundraising were so offensive. The headteacher reminded Thompstone that the school was not allowed to use their reserves in the way he had recommended and that he had already raised a large amount of funding himself.

Widespread criticism of the cuts finally forced the Tories into a reluctant retreat, and won back the vitally needed respite funding - at least for now. But then it emerged that there may be other schools or charitable concerns that have also been the victims of the Tory axe - ten service providers, in fact. They had not had the same focus of publicity for the case of Mapledown, and for them the cuts still applied.

Oakleigh School is the feeder school for Mapledown, and addresses the needs of children from the age of two to eleven: children with a range of profound and complex physical and learning disabilities. No children in the borough could possibly be more vulnerable and dependent than these, yet Barnet Tories had seen fit to impose petty cuts in the funding which provides holiday respite care through its OOPS scheme.

Last night saw the first meeting of the new Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding committee, where the cuts to Oakleigh were due to be debated.

Before the meeting, parents, children and supporters gathered outside the Town Hall. One woman stood patiently, protectively, behind her crying son, like a madonna and child, a latterday piet├á.  

As you looked on you could only reflect on the absolute villainy of the Tories' action in cutting the funding - how could they even think of taking away any support from these families?

Once inside the committee room, the seats in the public gallery quickly filled, and the councillors and officers took their place at the table. Mrs Angry noted one of the new co-opted members as the man who had been headmaster of St Theresa's primary school, tasked with the almost impossible job of educating her children - the lovely Denis Carey: a valuable addition to the committee, being a man of the utmost integrity and wisdom: qualities, alas which were demonstrably missing from some of the elected members present.

The ineffable Reuben Thompstone, a young councillor whose robust frame somehow exudes the sort of pomposity more usual in a much older man, is the chair of this committee. 

To remind us that he was the chair of this committee, he clearly felt the need to exert his authority.

If we can get a bit of quiet, he demanded.

That might seem like a reasonable request, just before a meeting.

In a roomful of young children in wheelchairs, children with multiple disabilities, who are in distress, crying, wailing, twisting in their seats, calling out, banging the floor - this is not, was not, a reasonable request. 

It was a really badly judged thing to say.

To say it once, in the circumstances, was bad enough.

To say it again, was simply appalling. 

A bit more quiet, he commanded, having acknowledged, graciously, that some might have difficulty in complying with this order.

Not sure, Cllr Thompstone, how you expected the mums and dads of Oakleigh to keep their children quiet, so that the entire room could enjoy the sound of your voice, as you yourself so clearly do. 

Some of the children are heavily medicated, and sedated. Some of the children are on the autistic spectrum, and live in a world of infinite confusion, which causes them to become upset, and try to express their feelings without language, by making noise.

Perhaps you might consider, if you find their behaviour challenging, quite how difficult it is to deal with, night and day, all year round - especially with no respite care, in holiday periods?

Mrs Angry had guessed that, forewarned as they were of the visit to the town hall by the families of Oakleigh, and fearful of more negative publicity, just before the delayed election in Colindale, our Tory strategists would have something up their rapidly unravelling sleeve aimed at deflecting the further avalanche of opprobrium that was going to descend on their horrible heads, should they insist on going ahead with the cut.

Thompstone, as predicted, moved quickly to try to defuse the inevitable emotional impact of parents coming to the table and pleading for councillors to restore the funding. He submitted a motion that would give back some of the money: enough to pay for this summer's scheme. He claimed he was doing this because he now realised that parents had not had enought time to take the cuts into account, whereas, as one parent claimed later:

 Ms Charles also disputed Mr Thompstone's claims that parents had not understood the impact of the cuts. She added that OOPS had made repeated attempts to obtain a contract with the council, but had been met with opposition by the council officers.

She said: “It is simply not the case. The people at short-breaks are well aware of that. There have been heated discussions for two years regarding the contract.”


In fact it is quite obvious that the Tories were merely backtracking on a mindlessly cruel decision simply because they were caught out, and publicly shamed. But what they have approved, now, is only a partial reprieve: £21,000 of the £38,000 needed for the schemes. There is also promised the ominous threat of a more general review of overall funding.

Perhaps Thompstone and his Tory colleagues hoped that would be the end of it, and they could drop the item, and move on. Not bloody likely.

Sarah Sackman, a local barrister who - thank God - is standing as the Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, against Mike Freer,  in 2015, has been a staunch advocate for the children at both Mapledown and Oakleigh schools, and had submitted questions to the meeting. She now addressed the committee. You might think that the local MP would naturally undertake such a role - but that is not the sort of thing he does, is it? And next year you can choose between him, and the sort of person who cares enough to make the effort.

Although welcoming the restoration  of the lost funding, Sarah pointed out it was unfortunate that it had had to take such a concerted effort to achieve this end.

These parents had had to fight for every bit of support they had. We should be there to support these people, and these children. The council had to do better, to avoid the huge amount of distress caused by their actions.

At this point the Chair cut her off, as she was over what is now a preposterous three minute limit for such public contributions. Our Tory councillors are not awfully keen on the idea of engagement, or consultation, or democracy, and too long an opportunity for criticism from an uncensored source is of course too dangerous a risk to contemplate.

Fortunately, for the purpose of restoring some sort of democratic involvement within the limitations of this meeting, a Labour councillor came to the rescue. Anne Hutton invited Sarah to continue with her comments.

She did continue. She made the point that what was happening here in Barnet is actually counter to what is happening nationally, where we are seeing funding for such schemes increased, not slashed. We must protect the most vulnerable children, surely?


Mr White, parent of a child at Oakleigh, spoke next.

He reminded the committee that OOPS needs long term funding, and explained why, from his own  perspective.

Many of the children at Oakleigh, and Mapledown, he said, with courageous honesty, were almost impossible to manage. 

OOPS provides the only opportunity for families to find a skilled and dedicated standard of care, from staff who know their children, children who know the staff, and who can benefit, through the scheme, from being in a safe and stimulating environment.

Many of these children, he said, were not mobile, and many have very, very challenging behavioural difficulties. 

He talked about his son, who is eight and a half, and is 'non verbal'.

He works for the BBC. He used to work five days a week. Then it was four, then three, then two - and now he struggles to do one.

OOPS helps him to keep going, to contribute in some way to society. Without it, he would be dependent on benefits, and the taxpayer, at an enormous cost. This was not the way forward. 

I implore you, he said, to ensure that the funding of OOPS continues.

At this point, Mrs Angry felt a terrible sense of shame. Why should a man of his articulacy, and in his position, be reduced to having to implore a bunch of self satisfied, disinterested Tory councillors for what clearly should be his, and his son's, by absolute right?

New Labour councillor Ammar Naqvi commented that his contribution had been very poignant. He wondered what Mr White thought of the proposed further cuts: were they acceptable?

No, was the emphatic response. It was incumbant on the council to provide the more vulnerable members of society with the support they need.

Another father sat at the table. His son has autism. He pointed out that many parents and children could not attend the meeting as the time was way past their bedtime: such children are generally exhausted, by this time.

He explained that having a child with such complex disabilities might be understood by any parent as going back to the time when your child was a baby. Except that that time, with such a child, goes on and on and on. So the respite offered by OOPS and similar schemes was like 'a pearl in the life of parents like these'. It gave them the chance to recharge properly.

And then it was time for Rose.

                         

Rose and her daughter's partner Ross had been sitting next to Mrs Angry.

Mrs Angry had read Rose's story in the local paper, and been humbled by her dedication to her two disabled grandchildren, for whom she cares, as their mother is too unwell. 

Can you possibly imagine what it is like, to be the carer for two children with such complex, distressing disabilities: children whose lives will be limited by their illness, and have no outcome other than the most bleak?

Rose was determined that the councillors who had wanted to remove the funding for her grandchildren's respite care to understand exactly what impact such a move would have.

She began by explaining the level of medication her sixteen year old grandson Ben relied upon: some fifteen different types of drugs. What were these for? To try to relieve the pain and distress his deteriorating condition caused him. The seizures to which he was prone - sometimes 80 a day. The thrashing about, scoliosis, neuropathic pain, difficulty in breathing, an inability to swallow, constant infections.

His sister, Sophie, only seven years old, suffering from worsening epilepsy, no longer mobile, continent, or able to feed - 

Reuben Thompstone interrupts this pitiful, painful description, crassly, stupidly, telling her she has only a short time left to speak.



She continues, increasingly distressed, speaking of the more joyful moments of her time with Sophie, when she takes you by the hand, she said ... at this point her daughter's partner turned to Mrs Angry and said he wanted to comfort her, would it be alright? Yes, yes - go and sit next to her. He did so, and sat silently as she said, speaking with unbearable candour, straight to the heart of anyone with any semblance of humanity:

I love my children, more than you can understand, and I want to look after them at home, before they die, which is inevitable ...  

Unbelievably, Thompstone interrupted her again, to the disgust of almost everyone in the room.

The heartbreak, she told us, is too difficult to describe.

She explained that she was always one inch away from the end of her tether: who could blame her?

And her message to the councillors was this: with knowledge, comes understanding - and responsibility. She rejected the insulting pretence that the temporary reprieve over funding was due to an administrative error, and referring to the UN charter on the rights of the child, she said: 

I urge you to give our children the respect and dignity they deserve.

After she had returned to her seat, Labour's veteran councillor Agnes Slocombe angrily demanded to know why it was that we always take so much from those who have so little.

Because those people don't have a voice, said one of the parents.

If it had not been for the tactful intervention of Labour councillors Rebecca Challice, Anne Hutton, and Ammar Naqvi, Rose would not have been able to make the speech that she made, on behalf not just herself and her two grandchildren, but all of those who benefit from the vital support schemes that this money has always funded. 

Apart from the rudeness and insensitivity of the Chair, none of the members of the Tory group who imposed these cuts, in order to make savings necessitated by a pathetic 23 pence a week tax bonus, had the courage to speak to any of the parents who sat at the table. They sat in evident discomfort, silently listening, their body language speaking eloquently of their unease. Perhaps they thought of their own children, or grandchildren, and had the glimmerings of an understanding about what they had done, and what they will probably do again, as long as they think no one much will notice.

This is the real face of the Barnet Tory group: they vote for these proposals, and then withdraw them if there is protest, but sit silently by when brought face to face with the victims of their policies in action.

The money they are making in savings, and the further savings - the 'haircuts' that Kate Kennally later so efficiently explained, including those being proposed for childrens' services: this pales into insignificance when compared to the funds squandered on the consultation fees alone for the implementation of the privatisation contracts - contracts that give us a modest amount of pocket money, and allow Capita to give all the rest to their shareholders. 

In the upside down world of Broken Barnet, run by our Tory councillors, this is how things are, where the rights of disabled children, by definition the most vulnerable of all residents of our community, take second place to the best interests of private enterprise.

It's no wonder that the Chair of this meeting didn't want to hear the noise made by the children of Oakleigh School, or listen to the stories their parents had to tell. People with a voice are so much more difficult to ignore, aren't they?

The parents and teachers of these schools are heroic, truly admirable people. 

Who could be more worthy of respect - and who could make some of our elected representatives look any less worthy? 



Updated Thursday: 

Please see the comment below from Lisa Dresner, on behalf of the marvellous 'Resources for Autism', which, along with several other bodies, has lost a third of the funding needed to provide vital short breaks with children affected by this extremely challenging and distressing disability. 

As she says ' 6 weeks with no appropriate respite is a very long time for both the child and their families' ... their cut has not been restored, and the only conclusion that one can draw is that it is because they have not had the ability to campaign as loudly and as effectively as Oakleigh and Mapledown schools. 
 
What sort of council do we have where policy is to cut funding to disabled children  to pay for pre election tax 'gestures', and then restore some of it if the affected recipient is able to perform well enough before their Tory representatives, and plead with them for mercy, and ask for what should be theirs, by right, as a priority of funding, and with humble thanks from the authority for the invaluable, irreplaceable service they so lovingly provide?

Updated 8th December 2014

In the last week,  Rose Charles' grandson Ben passed away. 

Sincere sympathies for their loss to his family, carers, and supporting staff at Oakleigh School.

Rose continues to care for Ben's sister, Sophie

Monday, 23 June 2014

A dictionary of fools, in the people's library: or - question time, in Broken Barnet


Question time at Friern Barnet Library - the library shut by Barnet Tories, as part of their war against culture, in this borough, but re-opened by occupiers, and returned to the people of Friern Barnet to enjoy, as intended by those who opened the library, with funding from the Carnegie Foundation, in 1934. 

And, as usual, the magic powers which surround and protect the people's library worked their influence, that night, energised by the faultlines which underlie our troubled borough.

Mrs Angry was keen to attend, because there was an interesting array of candidates due to take part, including Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius, and veteran councillor and silver fox, the handle bar moustachioed councillor John Hart, both of whom are almost certainly guaranteed to make ill advised comments whenever let loose in public. 

And Mrs Angry had a question ready for them, carefully prepared, hidden at the back of her notebook.

Also present was the Labour leader, Alison Moore, who arrived wearing her trademark red jacket - which perhaps she should have retained throughout the meeting, so as to avoid confusion.

There could not have been a better time to find Richard Cornelius and his colleague exposed to public scrutiny, of course.

After a week of absolute farce, in which the new Mayor faces calls to resign because of his questionable business activitities, including the matter of a lease pre-signed by Councillor John Hart, another councillor has been referred to the Monitoring Officer for investigation of his expenditure on his own ward, and the council committee system has been found to be unlawful, you might think that Councillor Cornelius and Councillor John Hart might be a little shy of turning up at all. 

Not a bit of it. 

Cornelius arrived early, perfectly relaxed and his usual affable self, his Mr Punch like grin primed, and at the ready.

At the door a man was holding a bucket, collecting contributions for the library that Mr Punch had closed, and put up for sale. 

The Tory leader, a member for the very affluent area of Totteridge, and the owner of a Hatton Garden jewellery business, peered suspiciously at the bucket, and seemed unsure how much to give.  

From each, according to his means, suggested Mrs Angry, keen to help, and keen to convert Cllr Cornelius - or any other party leaders present - to the cause he fears so much ... the evil of Socialism

She also told him she had a question ready, and one which he would enjoy.

This was not entirely true, to be fair, as we shall see.

His smile tightened, and became a little more fixed than it had been on arrival.

Apart from the Chair, Barbara Jacobson, the other member of the panel was an interesting man called Aubrey Rose, CBE: a fromer lawyer and human rights activist, who has been involved in many causes legal, environmental, humanitarian: the first jewish commissioner at the Commission for Racial Equality, serving on the Board of Deputies for British Jews for 50 years. 

On the far right, announced the Chair, is Richard Cornelius. We knew that already, but laughed anyway.


And then the questions.

The first resident wanted to know, how did the panel see the future of Barnet politics affecting the poor, homeless, elderly, and how can we enjoy our borough when so many others are not in a position to do so?

Richard Cornelius responded that Barnet is 'a nice place for people to live' . He thought that in terms of the political situation the close result means that 'we must work together '. He seemed pretty cheerful about the future, but then: 'I am an optimist', he said.

Labour leader Alison Moore agreed. All the funding cuts meant we have 'a huge challenge' ahead of us, but ... Barnet is a borough we all love to live in.

Everything is a huge challenge, it seems, to the Labour leader. 
 
The issue, she said, to Mrs Angry's bemusement, was 'how we as politicians hold the ring, collectively ...'

Mrs Angry has an aversion to idiotic PR terminology of this nature, but what did it mean? 

According to a helpful definition, it means: to oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it.

Ah: I'm with you. Yep. Makes sense now.

John Hart wondered, does party politics affect this? He was part of the problem, being already old. In the past, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when he was a boy, people didn't live as long. 

Mrs Angry, mindful of his views on the repugnant idea of 'handouts' to disabled children, wondered what might be about to emerge from Cllr Hart as a solution to the burden of too many old people. Being one himself, of course, may have induced to him to a more liberal view than he might otherwise have expressed.

Although we live in a less spiritual age, he told us, we care for the old. It is a fact. He didn't think it was a party political issue.

Aubrey Rose said he was not a member of any political party, although he had been a member of all three, at some point. He was 'delighted' to hear the common approach, and yes: Barnet was a marvellous place to live.

Oh dear. Mrs Angry was getting very fidgety, by now.

A resident whose late husband depended on support given by the now notorious 'Your Choice Barnet' venture, pointed out, with polite but clear impatience, that in her experience, Barnet was not quite so marvellous for those, for example, with disabilities.

And Mrs Angry pointed out, unable to remain silent much longer - always a difficulty in these circumstances - that all the members of the panel were clearly comfortably placed in life and very probably, therefore, did find Barnet a lovely place to live, but they appeared to be rather complacent about the fact that for many people in the borough, life is less than lovely - those living in West Hendon, Strawberry Vale, Dollis Valley, and Colindale - forgotten people of this borough - the invisible people.

Quite some time later, clearly after he had been brooding about this point, Cornelius blurted out that Barnet was merely 'average' in the ranking of areas of social deprivation. 

Being merely average is ok, it seems: except for the fact that Barnet Tories refuse to acknowledge the existance of this problem, as it simply does not register with them as something of any significance. They close their eyes to it. It spoils the image of the 'successful suburb', the leafy borough. 

Why worry about the people who live there, the ones who rely in foodbanks, and pay housing benefits to landlords who set their rents at the London Housing Allowance level, who work on zero hours contracts, who live in areas where the roads are not fixed, and the pavements not lavished with care, whose tenancies are from month to month, whose children don't know if they will be at the same school in a year's time, whose quality of life is defined by want, and need, and worry, whose life expectancies are lower than those who live in Totteridge, and Hampstead Garden Suburb - they are never going to vote Tory, are they?

The Labour leader remembered she was a Labour leader, and talked about 'those who struggle to lead good lives'  and 'a real challenge'. She referred fleetingly to the theoretical concepts of 'principles' and 'moral obligation'.


Burble burble. Then John Hart was off again, rewriting history - a habit common to quite a few Tory councillors at the moment, as we were to see later. He thought we could do more for ourselves, so as not to be a burden on the NHS.

He mentioned his childhood in Sheffield, which was privileged in the sense of having an inside loo. Families were closer then. Family members, daughters and daughters in law, looked after sick or elderly members. A woman's role, of course, thought Mrs Angry. But ... people didn't live as long. Nowadays ... who would look after him, when his time came? He seemed to think the NHS would do the job.

A woman in the audience suggested that John Hart had forgotten his history, and reminded him that the NHS was created for people who couldn't afford to pay for care.

New councillor for West Hendon Devra Kay reminded him of something else he had forgotten: or perhaps was unaware of: that the care he may rely on, sooner, rather than later, was private care, not the NHS: and why, she asked, did he think Your Choice Barnet care workers are thinking of going on strike? 

He appeared non plussed by all these issues. Clearly there is a large difference between the way in which Cllr Hart sees the world, through the filter of his own preconceptions, and a mind living in the distant past - and the way things are now. Despite the impression given by his sprightly appearance, he is a man in his eighties, and clearly he is not going to adjust his somewhat trenchant views, at this stage in his life.

Up stood Green party activist Poppy, delivering a blistering address to the panel on the assumption they were making about the demands of austerity. Austerity was a choice, she said, not a force of nature, like a tsunami. There are alternatives: plug the tax loopholes; dump Trident; increase funding to local government. 

Question time organiser Keith reminded us of Napoleon Bonaparte's observation: Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools. 

Quite.

Blogger Mr Reasonable, who sat behind Mrs Angry, sighing, and groaning, as he does throughout most Barnet meetings said 'it's always about the money' ... he told us he had been dealing that week with members of a major financial institution in the city, who made it clear that within the square mile there was so much money available - trillions of pounds of the stuff looking to be invested - practically limitless resources. 

Instead of spending so much money on housing benefit, why not invest in house building?

There is a real need for social housing, as we know (especially, interjected Poppy, to the general amusement of the audience, with so many rogue landlords around).

Aubrey Rose endorsed this idea. He referred to the case of the Barnet Spires development, and seemed to be under the rather naive impression that the new owners were acting only on behalf of a philanthropic motivation, rather than for business reasons. 


A nice thought, but of course the new owners are a hugely wealthy but deeply private family company which is also behind the development of Gateway House, in Finchley Central, which hopes to get planning permission from Barnet Council in a eyewateringly profitable plan which will see no affordable housing, on the basis of offering a new library we do not need, thus enabling our Tory masters to close and flog another purpose built library that is perfectly suited to its purpose. 

Why can we not encourage a philanthropic interest by developers in the idea of social housing, and accommodating the needs of those without a million quid to spend on a penthouse flat, and for whom living in this borough is not as nice, and lovely, as the Tories want us to believe?

And on this theme Mrs Angry asked Richard Cornelius why his administration did nothing for the needs of those who are less well placed in life. He denied this was the case. She reminded him of the statement of his housing spokesperson, Cllr Tom Davey, that they wanted only the 'well off' to live in this borough, and that he was happy to see the development in West Hendon, which will see so many social tenants and leaseholders ejected from their homes, replaced by 'Russian oligarchs'.

Next question was from a resident who is involved in the community library in Friern Barnet: the building you're seated in, as he reminded the panel: what did councillors think about the possibility of a ten year lease for the library - or being re-incorporated into the public library system?

Aubrey Rose thought the community library was a remarkable example of what grassroots activism could achieve. He thought a ten year lease was a good idea, as that would enable the library to bid for lottery funding.

Oh: Richard Cornelius now says they are 'pushing on an open door, as regards asking for a longer lease'. Marvellous news, and what a change in tone, now that Robert Rams is no longer here to delight us with his war of attrition on the cultural life of Broken Barnet.

Except: uh oh - Richard Cornelius also says that he wants Friern Barnet Library 'to be a model' for the future ...

Readers: if the alarm bells are not ringing in your head now, they should be.

Have no doubt what the Tory councillors are about to do.

They are going to try to get rid of other libraries, and either shut them, or give them to community groups to run. 

Why? Under the guise of encouraging 'big society' ideas, and getting people to 'help themselves', they will liberate several potential property assets to flog, and divest themselves of the need to run a proper library system.

You might think that sounds ok.

It is not ok.

It means, as the volunteer librarian at Friern Barnet pointed out, a further devaluation of the role of professional input, and the principle of a public library system.

A library without librarians is  just a book club. You wouldn't want your children to go to a school run by untrained volunteers, would you: so why encourage them to use a library with no professional organisation?

Mrs Angry was angry. 

She pointed out that the only reason we were all sat in the 'community' library was because it had been liberated by occupiers, and the plot by Cornelius and his cronies to flog the building for development had been foiled. 

She reminded everyone that once upon a time Barnet had one of the best library services in the country - including in terms of value for money - and that not only were the Tories undermining the role of professional librarianship, as demonstrated by the closure and plundering of Church Farmhouse Museum, they clearly had no understanding of the value of  heritage, the arts, or literature: they were cultural philistines.

John Hart said he was old enough to remember lending libraries, such as those run by Boots. Probably old enough to remember the circulating libraries used by Jane Austen, thought Mrs Angry: here we go - the good old days ... yes, his father had run one, and he had worked in it, becoming, he said, a librarian at the age of 14. 


No, muttered Mrs Angry, you were a 14 year old boy lending books, and you were not a librarian .... he resented the implication that the Tories were uncultured. He was, he said, an artsy craftsy person. Mrs Angry considered the requirement by William Morris, that all objects should be useful, or beautiful: which is Councillor John Hart? 

Time for Mrs Angry's question.
 

I grew up in an era when a public figure, a politician, or a public servant, would as a matter of honour, offer their resignation, for the benefit of the party or service that employed them, should matters arise that brought their judgement into question.

Where do the members of the panel think that the point occurs, when resignation becomes necessary?


Cllr Cornelius refused to pressure his former colleague Brian Coleman to resign, at the time of his assault of a female resident not so long ago. He refuses to accept that the Mayor should stand down, despite the controversy over his activities as a landlord. Does Cllr Cornelius not think the time has come to admit that the current catastrophic state of the council is his responsibility as leader, and offer his own resignation?
Behind her Mrs Angry thought she could hear the sound of a fellow blogger laughing, almost as if he thought the suggestion might have relevance to a wider range of the members of the panel than might be understood.

Councillor Cornelius denied that he had failed to condemn the actions of his former fellow councillor. The record, of course, speaks for itself, and no amount of rewriting history can undo the abject cowardice of the Tories when it came to Coleman, and in particular the assault of Helen Michael. 

His answer, as to whether the Mayor or he should resign, he said, red with indignation, was - NO, and - NO. 

Aubrey Rose, clearly shocked, in the course of the evening's discussions, by the level of hostility in the room to our Tory councillors, but making the only possible conclusion that an intelligent observer could come to, remarked at this point, in his careful way, that  'there is really a feeling of deep concern as to the conduct of the council' ... that there was 'a feeling that the council really hasn't cared ...' that there was 'a gap between the council and the people' ...

The Labour leader thought residents had an absolute right to have a properly run council, that listens and responds. The events of the last few weeks since the election had been a pretty shambolic process, including the mess up in governance, and the rubbish IT provision from Crapita to new councillors. As to resignation, she said, we all had our own code of honour. 

And? 

And nothing.

Poppy then dragged another elephant into the room, and brought up an issue which might well suggest the need for resignation: the involvement of Councillor John Hart in the pre-signing of a lease that one of the Mayor's tenants alleges she was pressured to sign, late at night, without having read the rest of the document.

Oh, here we go, muttered Hart.

No comment, he said. The matter was under investigation.

But then, rather foolishly, he did comment: he referred to his actions as ' a silly lapse' which he regretted - but claimed he had merely 'helped a friend'.

It was an astonishing, and rather damning admission, from his own point of view.

Mrs Angry suggested at this point that in her opinion, he should have been asked to resign after the remark he made in regard to the cutting of funding to Mapledown School, for vital respite care for disabled children. He had dismissed this vital support for exhausted parents as 'handouts'.

Hart claimed he had no recollection of ever saying any such thing. Mrs Angry told him she had been present at the meeting at which he had said it. 

If I said it, he stated, I am sorry.

Cllr Devra Kay now spoke. She referred to what has become known as the 'indecent proposal' made by Barnet Tories to the Labour leadership, at the beginning of the new administration, at the farcical Annual Meeting, a proposal that reportedly threatened the removal of certain allowances if Labour would not agree to a pairing agreement that the Tories wanted.

Richard Cornelius claimed now that such an offer was only in regard to any members that were ill.

Cllr Kay refused to accept this, and asked her party leader to clarify the point: what was the offer? Was it really only about members who might be ill, or was it broader than that, which is what Labour members had been led to believe? It was an uncompromisingly direct question, and the leaders of both parties were on the spot.

Alison Moore appeared uncomfortable, as indeed did the Tory leader. She said something about it being for members who were unable to turn up. 

In other words, it seems that the arrangement had been a broad one, that would enable Tory councillors to retain their majority when they thought they might be in danger because a member was away, or had another commitment - or could not be bothered to attend.

A rather more conservative minded member of the audience tried to suggest that the pairing agreement was perfectly acceptable and even democratic - Mrs Angry disagreed, and pointed out that what counted, according to the Tory view of matters, was winning by numbers: the majority won. 

If their members could not be bothered to turn up - then the truly democratic conclusion was that the other side should take the majority - and that really was democracy in action.

As for the debacle which followed this cack handed suggestion, and the ruthless way in which the Tories then voted to move the date of the September full council meeting to the day of the leader's speech during the Labour conference: that was pretty shabby, wasn't it, suggested Mrs Angry, to Richard Cornelius? 

In his typically disingenuous way, he had the grace to look embarrassed, and quietly agreed, and even admitted that it needed 'to be adjusted' - a pretty sensational admission, after the previously intransigent position his party had taken.

A couple more questions. Parking: the usual complaints. Round and round we go, with this subject, and nothing is ever done to resolve it.

Somehow in the course of this issue, Councillor John Hart ended by hurling an obscure Spanish proverb at Mrs Angry - something about her being a bull in a field.

No hablo espanol, replied Mrs Angry, who spent all her Spanish lessons at school misbehaving, and provoking the wrath of the hapless teacher, poor Senora Lee, and being moved a record 25 times in one term for her efforts. Try French, she suggested, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. Richard Cornelius tittered.

A last question from a resident on an issue of immense importance: the fate of the failing Your Choice Barnet care service. Was it destined to be handed over to Crapita, when it completely collapses?

Aubrey Rose confessed to the audience that he was prejudiced against outsourcing. Another reasonable response from a reasonable man, and Mrs Angry hoped that Cornelius would take his measured, but clearly critical position on the issues debated during the evening as a warning that it was not just 'the usual suspects' who feel so alienated from the Tory administration, and its agenda for the borough.

We waited to hear from the Labour leader what the opposition party would do about the appalling state of YCB, whose workers are now facing a 9.5 % cut in their already pitiful wages - wages which do not even include being paid for travelling between the very vulnerable clients who depend on their care.

Her reply, expressed in tones that made it clear that such a possibility was highly unlikely, was that it would be, yes - 'a challenge' to bring Your Choice Barnet back in house. A member of the audience corrects her when she says that the enterprise was 'arguably' underfunded, and only then does she retract her qualification. And then she concludes:

Bringing YCB back in house was not necessarily a magic wand ...*

A magic wand.

*(Mrs Angry's hearing is dodgy and she originally misheard this as not necessarily what we want. Not that this phrase makes the statement any better). See below for update.

It is hard to explain the impact of this feeble response on those present. 

Members of the audience whose relatives are users of YCB looked on in horror.

It was truly an excruciating moment for any Labour party member to witness: yet another failure in leadership - and a betrayal, accidental or not, of the families who are at the mercy of this catastrophic venture, and the workers who are being so ruthlessly exploited by a subsidised failure kept on life support for reasons of political expediency. 

Where was the anger, on their behalf? Where the opposition to the Tory agenda of profit before compassion, ideology before need? Why, yet again, do we hear what effectively is an endorsement of the status quo, an acceptance of defeat, complicity with the failings of the ruling administration?

Is it now Labour group policy not to press for the return of YCB to direct control? When was that decision taken, and on what basis? Is it the view of the majority of Labour councillors?

What about the unions, and the effect on negotiations over industrial action over the pay cuts?

Two family members of YCB users spoke in fury of the impact of the rapidly deteriorating service, to little avail. Cornelius at least had the grace to look uncomfortable, especially when, after he claimed staff were not paid the lowest wages, Mrs Angry asked if he would be prepared to undertake such a job, seeing to the personal care of such dependent people, on such a level of pay. 

He said quietly that he would not choose such work. Mrs Angry pointed out that no one chooses to take a job with such poor rates of pay, and that if he had had a parent at the mercy of employees so demoralised by such conditions, he might feel differently, and that such low pay and the reliance on agency staff inevitably poses the risk of another Winterbourne View. 

Cornelius' discomfort at least suggested an element of troubled conscience. And after all, one expects the Tories to defend their own cock ups. But what excuse can there be for the leader of the opposition, who demonstrates such equivocation when called on to defend the rights of those who bear the burden of impact from the mess the Tories created? What alternative can there be to rescuing the disaster that is Your Choice Barnet from further collapse?

Not so long ago the Labour group allowed themselves to be persuaded to endorse a Task and Finish group which whitewashed the whole YCB fiasco. Now the leader is apparently refusing to contemplate the need to take the most obvious course of action: to take a failing enterprise back in house, protect the needs of the vulnerable users who rely on these services, and crucially at this moment, to fight for a decent level of wage for the workers who deliver them.

But is this view, expressed on Friday, actually party policy? If so, does the rest of the group know that, and were they involved in any debate over the matter?

What is curious is that at a Residents Forum last week, and after a truly appalling speech by a senior officer seeking to justify the cut in wages to staff, Labour councillor Alon Or Bach had said the party does think the council should consider taking YCB back in house. 

And indeed this view was the subject of a motion submitted to council in April last year by the deputy leader, Barry Rawlings.

This apparent contradiction in policy is significant - it represents something that is happening within the Labour group now that the party is returned to a much stronger level of representation on the council: a growing schism between those who support the old way of doing things, and those who want to see a new direction, and a more radical, combative approach, once based on policies that defend the principles of social justice, and challenge rather than endorse the Conservative agenda of what we heard last week must include a 'sustainable market place of care'.

Mrs Angry's question about resignation was not only aimed at the Tory councillors. 

And as the democracy, as the system works now, is about winning control through majorities, not about forming a consensus.

Labour lost the election: it should have won. 

If the party had campaigned in a more focused and better directed way, it would have won.

Failure is not good enough: there is too much at stake - the people of this borough deserve an opposition which fights, not conciliates. 

An opposition which opposes, not endorses, the Tory agenda. 

It's not good enough to say, well, we don't think we can really get out of the Capita contracts, so we won't bother to try.

It's not good enough to tell families dependent on a sinking service for care support that market forces are the only effective option for the future, and to tell the workers you are going to stand by and do nothing.

It's not good enough to support the Tory budget, and the shameful tax cut, and then witter on about 'fairness commissions'.

Whether or not there is a leadership challenge within the Labour group, one thing is clear: the way in which the group works in opposition can and must adapt and evolve. 

As even Richard Cornelius commented, at the end of the discussion: 'that's the nature of life - things change ...'

Things change: things fall apart.

Question time came to an end.  

This is the kind of meeting, said the Chair, in conclusion, that proves the value of democracy

The trouble is, thought Mrs Angry, stuffing her notebook in her bag, furiously, and heading for the exit, that democracy means different things to different people, doesn't it?
 


*Update: the Labour leader's apparent equivocation over the Your Choice Barnet fiasco, and whether or not it should be brought back in house has caused a good deal of controversy and Labour councillors have been given a statement on the group's position which, we are pleased to see, is far more robust in its position, and contains no references to magic wands: Mrs Angry's emphasis in red:

The agreed Labour group position is that if the YCB business plan continues to fail, YCB should be brought back in house in order to protect the service.  At the moment YCB are currently in negotiation with staff and the unions to find savings of £400k that would not mean pay cuts of 10% and a deteriorating service.  The Labour Group supports these negotiations.