Thursday, 27 October 2016

I, Mrs Angry: a night at the pictures, the 'reshaping' of a library, and - the Forum uncut: a question of morality

I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user.
I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, nor a thief.
I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen.
I paid my dues, never a penny short and proud to do so.
I don't tug the forelock, but look my neighbour in the eye.
I don't accept or seek charity.

My name is Daniel Blake, I am a man, not a dog.
As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect.

I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more, nothing less. Thank you.

On Monday night Miss Angry and I went to our local cinema, the Phoenix, in East Finchley, to see the new Ken Loach film. 

It's not your average sort of cinema, the Phoenix: an independent venue, and proud of its history, more than a hundred years old. 

This cinema has also seen some special screenings, in recent years, such as the locally shot 'Tale of Two Barnets', with an introduction by Ken Loach, a short film which highlighted the impact on ordinary residents of the local Tory council's obsession with outsourced local services. 

And recently we also attended a fundraising showing of 'Pride', with Jeremy Corbyn - and with the original members of LGSM, whose story is told in the film, and whose banner, now such a potent symbol of resistance, and unity, had been brought on the library march last year, along with that of the  Durham Miners Association, carried with equal pride by the late Davey Hopper, and taken to stand outside Margaret Thatcher House, the local Tory HQ, and former office of the enemy without.

A fitting venue, the Phoenix, then, to watch 'I, Daniel Blake'. With some trepidation, it must be said, having read of people leaving in tears at the end - in fact people were visibly upset, and increasingly so, all the way through. As the credits rolled, there was a silence: and then a slow, angry handclap. 

Yes, it was a mostly elderly, reasonably affluent middle class audience - the sort Camilla Long so nastily dismissed as enjoying a 'povo safari'. 

Well, frankly, for her to set herself aside so easily from those who are capable of compassion when moved by the representation of suffering, and injustice, is something that she should contemplate, and worry about. 

If we lack the ability to empathise with the distress of others, we might at least try to imagine how we would feel, if we find ourselves in the same situation - and yes, even the middle classes are not safe from the risk of becoming Daniel Blake. The loss of a job, and then a home: the break up of a marriage, an abusive partner: all of these events might lead you to find yourself penniless, homeless, dependent on support; caught in the perpetual cycle of hell that is the benefit system now, created by a 'povo' taunting Tory government.

Daniel Blake is a manual worker without the skills to navigate his way through the labyrinthine nightmare of the digitalised benefits system. He is forced to apply for jobs his health does not allow him to take, or lose all support: he must prove he has applied for the jobs he cannot do, online. He has no pc. He does not know how to use one. What can he do? He goes to his local library. Ah. 

Mrs Angry went to her own local library, in North Finchley, the very next morning, as it happens. Not to use a pc, which was just as well, as they were all booked, as usual, by some of the many residents in Finchley who do not have access at home to the internet. She was there to attend an 'information session' held by council staff as part of their 'consultation' - another nonsultation - in regard to what they call a 'reshaping' of Barnet Libraries. 

'Reshaping' libraries - or: carving them up and pimping them to the private rental sector

Arriving at this library, there were outside the entrance a pair of very intimidating men, drinking at ten in the morning, who proceeded to make comments to her and another woman - one of these individuals later came in and was later identified as one of the people who have been causing so much trouble for staff and library users. One member of staff, for example, has been involved in three incidents in the last few weeks with one of these men, involving aggressive behaviour, being sworn at, and racist abuse. In another incident, a man shattered a mirror in one of the toilets. Police were called: the man returned later. 

Senior library management appear to have been far too slow to deal with this increasing problem effectively. One might ask why. These incidents, of course, which are sadly all too common, serve to underline the real risks for any users of the new unstaffed hours: most of these individuals have tickets and will have access to library when no one is there to intervene should anything happen. The council does not want you to know about these risks.

But back to the library 'reshaping'.

The corporate language of Broken Barnet has now evolved to its ultimate level: to the point of complete inversion of the truth. The truth, in Broken Barnet, must as a matter of course be inverted, broken down, and buried under a cover of lies, for fear of risk to the advance of profit, or political advantage. 

Hence we must call these plans a 'reshaping' of a public library, not an all out assault. We may not make any acknowledgement of loss, according to the rules of this new language: the loss of space, the loss of a children's library, the loss of access for those children when there is no staff: the loss of qualified staff, the loss of jobs, the loss of study space, the loss of books. The emptying out of a library; the destruction of a public library service. 

Attending this event, apart from a number of disgruntled residents, were representatives of the council: the libraries manager, Hannah Richens, Val White - the 'Programme Director for Education and Learning', (we like education and learning, in Broken Barnet, as long as you are not a child trying to access a library, or a student looking for study space in a - ahem - 'reshaped' library ...) and two gloomy looking men in suits, with no ID, but whose demeanour, as Mrs Angry pointed out to one, to his dismay, instantly marked them out as senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Dreams. 

One was Duncan Tessier, Assistant Director for Children's Services, the other James Wills-Fleming, who, according to Linkedin, rejoices in the title of: 'Director of Corporate Programmes at Capita's Strategic Partnership with the London Borough of Barnet'. What does that mean? F*ck knows. 

Also, according to Linkedin, before he was at Capita, he was previously at - go on, guess - yes, our favourite consultants, Agilisys, and before that - go on, guess again - the London Borough of Barnet. Goodness me. And before that, Mrs Angry? Erm, let's see. Oh: Argos. Probably a Christmas job, bringing up all those hairdryers from the stockroom.

What were these two doing at this curious, stand up, move around the library when the conversation became awkward style of event? Apart from avoiding eye contact with stroppy library users? Not much. Just brought their suits to the library, and stood there, like a holographic representation of a hollowed out council: silent, but marking out the territory. 

This is theirs, now: the libraries have been handed over to Capita to manage. Kerrching: more fees for that, no doubt. Renting out space? Kerrching: more fees, if they manage to find any punters, in a borough with surplus, ready built office space. Kerrching again probably even if they don't, just for the process of trying: who knows? Not our Tory councillors, who look the other way, now that they realise what is going on.

When asked what was happening to the front of North Finchley library, in the 'reshaping', it emerged they did want to alter the front, but had to back off: they still are considering getting rid of the lovely, original, curved oak framed windows, of the present children's library, about to be closed, and rented out to unknown businesses - if they can find any that want the space. It will be an absolute scandal, and an act of mindless vandalism if they do removed these windows - but then the entire library cuts programme is in itself exactly that.

They claim that, once they have emptied both sides of the children's library, they will rent out these tiny rooms. Where is your business plan? There isn't one. 

But it doesn't matter, if they don't make any money from it: that won't affect the library budget. 

Well, yes; sorry: it does matter, to us, if you rob us of a children's library, in this way. 

It is the theft of a public building dedicated as a repository of books, education, information, and support. It is meant to be a place for local people to visit, for elderly people to come to - for children to feel safe, and have access to reading, and study space. Well: it was. It won't be soon, because those children will lose their library, and lose their access to the building, as they will be barred when there are no staff there, and only adults may enter the new DIY branch, through a keypad entry system.

And disabled users, I asked: what happens if they have problems getting through those doors, on their own, with no staff to help? Or if they have problems once inside?

They can report it. How - there will be no staff. There will be CCTV. So they must speak to the CCTV? Yes. And if say, someone with autism, or another less visible disability is unable to use the library, or has a problem? Do they also have to speak to the CCTV operator (in Swansea)? Yes.

Had any of them been to see 'I, Daniel Blake'? No. What was that? Well, part of the story concerns a man who relies on his local library and staff to help him access vital online applications. What were the Daniel Blakes in this area going to do, in an unstaffed library: teach themselves IT skills, in an empty room?

Perhaps the CCTV operator can help with that, too.

The Man from Crapita aims his suit at a resident at the latest library nonsultation

Last night saw a meeting of the local Residents Forum, in what was once called Avenue House, but has been 'rebranded' as 'Stephens House', in honour of Inky Stephens, the Victorian ink manufacturer and philanthropist. His portrait gazed down on the room, looming with irony over the Tory councillors who are busy undoing all his work, flogging off Victoria Park, which he and other local, civic minded businessmen gave to the people of Finchley, as well as his former home and grounds.

Mrs Angry had spent most of the week demanding they stop unlawfully censoring the questions put to this Forum: battle won, after a complaint to the Monitoring Officer (there is one, sort of, still, now that Davina Fiore has gone on another 'journey', but with a one way ticket - but don't ask the Capita switchboard who it is, because they don't know). 

Many of the other questions were about the black stuff ... tarmac. The residents do not like the new sort, provided by our beloved contractors. They are middle class residents who make their views known. The Tories looked worried. Labour looked worried because the Tory chair pointed out that, as is usually the case, they had voted for the change they were now complaining about. The same old story: they never learn, and the Tories never stop exploiting Labour's lack of effective opposition.

One of the questions that had not originally been censored was put in as a test by Mrs Angry - who is telling you this now in case you think she has developed an unlikely interest in pot holes. Yes. A pot hole, outside Tescos, in Finchley Central, one which, in its modest way, could be seen as a metaphor for life in Broken Barnet.

By the bus stop*, the busiest in Finchley, there is a large hole that has been there for years now, locked in an infinite cycle of self perpetuation, aided by your local council, at your expense. It fills with rain, which means every time a heavy vehicle passes by, all those waiting at the stop get covered in filthy water. Every now and then, it gets filled with a mysterious substance that is supposed to be tarmac, but looks like, and is about as useless as, black marshmallow: something baked in the kitchen of a satanic Mary Berry, perhaps. 

* Note for Tory councillors - a place where buses**stop.

** Note for Tory councillors: a 'bus' is a form of public transport used by those who are not Tory councillors in receipt of a self awarded, free parking permit. Also used by those disabled residents whose free travel passes you unlawfully cancelled, without warning.

It is not levelled out: a workman told Mrs Angry they don't bother now, leaving it to the weight of traffic to do that over time. Over time, as a result, more deep holes are created in the marshmallow. They fill with dirty ditchwater. People get soaked again. Someone reports it. They come out and fill it again. And again and again, for ever and ever, Amen: and so it shall be, until the end of time. They no longer even repaint the yellow line - and they LOVE yellow lines, in this borough - that's how bad things are.

Well, the response was that the council's direct labour organisation was to blame. Really? 
No: not really. It emerged, after further questioning, that the DLO lot only fill it temporarily, and oh, hello - the contractors are meant to come along and finish the job properly. Aha! Well, as Mrs Angry pointed out, they don't, it keeps happening, and no doubt all the while they are charging fees for unsatisfactory delivery of service. Kerrching again. 

One of the more serious questions which our Tory councillors had not wanted to allow was the following, on the subject of ... the library cuts:

Q: Tory councillors insist that the 60% cuts in library budget are necessary
because of the demands of 'austerity', which means £2.85m will be
culled from the Libraries service total of £4.8m, in itself a modest
amount for a service that was already independently assessed as
representing good value for money. Of course at the same time they
are spending £6 million on gutting libraries, shrinking the space, and
preparing them for a DIY, staffless service.

The impact on the well being of residents, especially children who will
be barred from the new unstaffed libraries, is incalculable and will
affect the most disadvantaged residents.

At the same time as cutting this vital service, Tory councillors are
happy to sanction the eye wateringly high level of expenditure - of £18

million in the last year alone - on private consultants and agency fees.

How is that morally or economically justifiable?

Mrs Angry was being rather optimistic, of course, in expecting a response addressing a question of morality, from a Barnet Tory councillor, but they made an attempt to answer the economic issue, by the usual tactic of pulling some totally arbitrary figures out of nowhere, and forcing them into the shape of a suitable answer:

A: The proposals agreed will keep all of the borough’s libraries open
in a climate where many neighbouring councils are closing them.
At the same time they will save £2.85m annually from the council’s
revenue budget. Over ten years, for example, this would therefore
be a total saving of £28.5m. There are capital (one-off) costs
associated with the changes, but these are far outweighed by the
ongoing savings and enable features of the new service, such as
technology enabled opening that will see overall opening hours
increase by over 40% across the network.
If spending £18m allows us to achieve a further £80m in annual
savings by 2020, whilst delivering on the £105m we have been
forced to save from our budget since 2010, then it is totally 


And the next question: 

Half of the library staff who currently help members of the public when
they visit their local libraries are about to lose their jobs, supposedly
because of the need to save money.
Please explain, therefore, why those same Tory councillors have just
handed half a million pounds, ie a substantial amount of the 'savings'
they claim we need from the library budget, to the RAF Museum, a
national and well funded museum - especially when they shut our own
local museum, again on the pretext of economy. Also explain why
another £800,000 has been spent on creating additional posts on the
council's PR team, specifically to 'manage the council's reputation', as
we head towards the next local elections.

Their response:

A: One-off financial support of £500k has been granted to RAF
Hendon, contingent on it being able to raise £6.1m in further
funding. This follows consideration of the community benefits of its
redevelopment. This £500k cannot be hypothetically used to offset
an annual and ongoing revenue saving. The communications restructure
saw a centralisation of existing spend.
The council is embarking on a significant programme of
transformation needed to improve services, while saving £61.5
million between now and 2020. We are also delivering £565million
of capital investment in the borough. Therefore it is important that
residents are kept informed of what the council is doing as well as
also involved and engaged.
Many of the posts in the new communications model are temporary
and the additional funding for the restructure has been identified 
from existing budgets.

Ignoring the nonsense about 'savings', which will be - are already - completely dwarfed by the total level of expenditure on the Capita contracts - taking the two questions together, then: please answer the point - how is this morally justifiable?

Shimon Ryde is now the Chair of the Forum, thankfully taking the place of the ineffable Reuben Thompstone, who had enjoyed the post so much in the days (pre High Court judgement) when censorship of the Forum had actually been written into the Council's constitution ... 

(Thompstone was entirely silent, last night, in fact - the wider his waxed moustache grows, the deeper the level of his silence: curious).

Morally justifiable? 

A woman in the audience asked Cllr Ryde to reply. He struggled. 

What do you mean?

I mean, how can you justify spending money on extra Pr posts, so as to 'manage the council's reputation', when you are claiming there is no money for library staff?

Oh, you know, we have to communicate with the public. 

No, you are using money for political purposes, on more spin doctors for the Tory administration while denying access to libraries for the borough's children.

Cllr Ryde stammered. And floundered. And then he did what Tory councillors always do, when in dire straits: he referred the matter to an officer. Oh dear, look: here again was Mr Tessier, who had brought his suit out for another pointless airing, at another public meeting. It was quite clear he had not been expected to be there in order to save Tory councillors from questions of moral probity, and he looked both alarmed, and displaying the sort of expression which suggested he had not even heard the question, being absorbed in an exercise of mindfulness, taking him into another zone, far far away from the irritating interruptions of what passes for the democratic process, in this borough.

Another member of the public shouted at the Chair: YOU answer the question, don't pass it on to an officer! Mr Tessier burbled some corporate nonsense, which made no sense to anyone, including, no doubt, to himself. He thought they had done awfully well, saving all our libraries. You haven't, said Mrs Angry: you've kept the buildings, but a library without staff, without librarians - is not a library. There will be some staff, he said. How many librarians? No reply. He didn't know. Or care.

The Chair, Cllr Ryde, Cllr Thompstone & moustache, Director of Pot Holes, and a Man in a Suit

The reaction from residents was indignant, and telling. Many have not realised yet what is happening to their local libraries. After Christmas, when half the staff will receive the sack, the 'reshaping' will begin, libraries closing for weeks at a turn as they are gutted, never to be the same again. Then we will see what the Tory voters make of that: there will be hell to pay.

Into the breach stepped veteran Tory councillor John Marshall, still sulking because Mrs Angry greeted Libdem councillor Jack Cohen at the beginning of the meeting with a warm embrace, which - understandably - drove him wild with jealousy, and induced him to announce very loudly I HAVE NEVER HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING KISSED BY MRS ANGRY to the assembled crowd of puzzled residents. Stand at the back of the (admittedly rather short) queue, Cllr Marshall. 

He now thought Mrs Angry should know that Hampstead Garden Library was staffed by volunteers and was the best library in the borough and was much better than before. 

This library in a listed shop in the the fabulously wealthy Suburb, populated by more billionaires, despotic overseas rulers, porn merchants and arms dealers than you can shake a stick at, is still subsidised by Barnet tax payers and will never close, even though it has always been a total drain on resources, for one reason: that would be politically unacceptable, and the Tory party would risk even more trouble from their cossetted constituents and members than that provoked by the noisy leafblower scandal of 2015.

In fact, Mrs Angry has worked in this branch, many moons ago. It is a faux library: a fantasy. It is the Suburbanistas' version of Marie Antoinette's model farm at Versailles, with perfumed sheep, and courtiers dressed up as peasants: in this case a handful of retired judges and headmistresses playing libraries, stamping books and organising displays of books on beekeeping: an indulgence, no more and no less.

But - oh dear. Suddenly, from the side of the room came a quietly furious, well spoken voice of an elderly woman:

Hampstead Garden Suburb Library, she said, is most certainly NOT better than it was. I should know, because I am a professional librarian ... and I used to work there.

Silence. And then a round of applause from incensed residents.

Marshall is one of three Tory councillors in the Suburb. The others are someone whose name I always forget, and doesn't do or say much, and the other is Gabriel Rozenberg. During the week our Gabriel decided to welcome one of his new constituents, via the medium of twitter:

Hey @justinbieber, welcome to Barnet. Your local councillors are John Marshall, @RohitGroverHGS and me. DM us if we can help with anything.

Yep: that Justin Bieber. He's just moved in to The Bishops Avenue. Can you beliebe it? Personal services, deliverooed to your gated door, courtesy of your Tory councillor

Beyond parody, you might think: but this is how things are, in Tory Barnet. Fawning over the rich, or any celeb. The poor are not welcome: driven out of West Hendon, and any other estate with social housing, like Sweets Way, that is in the way of private development, and private profit. We want only the well off in Barnet, as Cllr Tom Davis famously declared.

Watching Loach's film the other night, yes, fighting back furious tears, like everyone else, I thought about our Garden Suburb councillors, our Tory councillors, who live lives of such self satisfaction, insulated from the cold clear air of reality, safe from the reach - or so they imagine - of poverty, illness, humiliation - dependence on support. 

There is something in the Conservative psyche, a genetic flaw, that creates a fatal lack of empathy, and leaves them unable to feel the distress of others less fortunate. 

Here in easycouncil Barnet, the cradle and the shrine of Thatcherism, what else could you expect, but a war without cease on the very structure that supports those they so despise?

So they will shut the library Daniel Blake needs, and take away his access to a pc, and take away the people that can help him, because they never use libraries; they will take away meals on wheels from vulnerable residents, because they don't imagine they will ever be in need of such a service; they will take away vital travel passes from disabled residents, until someone shames them into giving them back; they will take away respite care from disabled children in order to make a few pennies' cut in council tax, because the principle of low taxation is more important than the exhaustion of their parents - and they will spend money on even more spin doctors because they worry more about their electoral chances, and retaining their own seats, than they do about the public services whose care has been entrusted to them. 

They don't see you as a person, let alone a person in need: they don't see you - you are a client, a customer - a service user. 

If you are in need, you are a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, or a thief. You may be a citizen, but they will never treat you with respect.

This is Broken Barnet, this is Broken Britain - and you are Daniel Blake.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Censored: Barnet Tories, gagging residents' views, once more ...

Updated Monday:

This morning, despite the best efforts of the Crapita switchboard operator who hotly denied, for twenty minutes, that there were any such posts, Mrs Angry contacted the acting Assurance Director and (interim) Monitoring Officer and pointed out that the council was acting unlawfully (again) by refusing to abide by its own Constitution, and by barring awkward questions to our beloved Tory councillors at our Residents Forums.

Guess what? Mrs Angry has now been uncensored, and will be disposing of her pieces of cardboard. Don't say you haven't been warned.

And if you have had questions banned, do get in touch with the officers, and insist yours are included too.
9th July 2013

"Mrs Angry pressed the Chair as to whether or not, in his view, the censorship and the repression of the freedom of speech was the mark of totalitarian regimes all around the world. Councillor Cohen seemed unhappy with this suggestion, and could think of no sensible response, but merely asserted, not once but twice, avoiding eye contact, but as if saying it aloud might make it true: There was no censorship. 

 Erm, yes: yes there was, replied Mrs Angry. But of course it makes no difference: Barnet's Tory councillors are simply unable to face reality, and merely repeat the same untruths over and over again, like obstinate children: we did consult, the Judge didn't find we had broken the law, we didn't censor the Forums, the moon is made of cheese, and we are going to win the next election ..."

Updated, 23rd October 2016:

(They did win the election. 

They are trying to censor the Forums again. 

The moon is not made of cheese).

It's hard to believe I'm having to write about this subject again: but then, in the rotten borough of Broken Barnet, it is inevitably going to be the case that the same sort of shabby behaviour recurs, with tedious frequency, and battles we thought we had already won must be fought anew. 

Three years ago, I wrote here about the decision by our shamefaced Tory councillors - after criticism in the High Court about the lack of consultation with residents over the mass outsourcing of council services - to remove the outrageous ban that they had introduced on free debate at local residents' forums, amending the constitution to forbid any questions about, or reference to, council 'policy', and restricting all discussion by residents at these meetings to matters of 'public works', things like potholes, and street lamps. 

They had introduced the new rules specifically to prevent discussion of the looming privatisation, and clearly had never imagined that they might end up explaining to a High Court judge why on earth they had done that, the very opposite to what they were expected to do, indeed required by law to do: to inform their residents, consult them on the proposals, listen to them, and consider their views. 

Consider the views of residents? Why would a Barnet Tory councillor do that? And a senior officer would never allow it: not when the mass privatisation of services must be pushed through, with such haste - and no opposition.

A typical Residents Forum: Tory councillors and officers lining up to face the enemy, and duck the questions they don't want to answer

With admirably McCarthyite zeal, Tory councillors and officers alike had scoured any questions put to residents' forums - put by the people who pay them to run the borough - for anything that might touch on 'policy', or present even the most oblique criticism of such policy, and pounced mercilessly on any attempt to exercise the right to free speech, or free debate. 

Each meeting was prefaced by a lecture read out by whichever po faced Tory councillor was chair, pompously reminding those attending of the new rules, and sternly lecturing them of the dire consequences, should they dare try to defy the authority of their elected representatives. 

This of course led to the most ridiculous confrontation at such meetings, created the most unwelcome publicity for the idiotic councillors and officers trying to wrap up the outsourcing without anyone noticing; and ended in court, with a legal challenge that won the argument, but lost the case - only because the application was deemed to be out of time.

Three years ago, then, the Tories were obliged to review their policy (if I may use the word) of censorship, and then dropped the draconian regulations which forbade residents to raise matters of heresy, that is to say political debate, or criticism of our council's performance, at their own Forums. 

The truth was that by then we were on the way to signing the whopping great contracts with Capita, and no one really had anything to lose. 

Or so they thought.

Censorship is the first and last resort of any desperate right wing regime, and will always be used as a weapon against those who pose a threat to the rule of those who wish to be unaccountable to the electorate. 

In the battle of Broken Barnet, as elsewhere, the first casualty of any new outbreak of war is the truth. And whenever the truth may look as if it may become an obstacle to their agenda, or to an opportunity for profit, there will be a new assault.

The story of our Tory councillors' attack on our public services is a long one, with many skirmishes along the roadside. This is not so much a battle, in fact, as a crusade: a holy war based on an uncompromising political ideology, but used as a pretext for empire building, and commercial exploitation: the latter day equivalent to the templars, perhaps - soldiers of profit masquerading as priests, conquering and plundering in the name of divine right.

If you watched the BBC documentary last week by Jacques Peretti - 'Who's Spending Britain's Billions', you will have some idea of what is happening not only in local government, but in central government, and the NHS. The conquest of the public sector, by private consultants - and by the outsourcing companies, like Capita, Serco etc.

Barnet has always prided itself on being the 'flagship' for a new model of administration, the hollowed out council, which hands over the delivery of services to such companies.  

Problem is that now the cracks are beginning to show in the new model: the so called savings that are meant to accrue from the contracts are revealed to be irrelevant, compared to the massive weight of extra charges demanded for all sorts of other things: all hidden away in the contract, almost entirely unscrutinised by your elected representatives, before signing.

This year saw the most catastrophic crash of the library IT system, and massive loss of data: a system which was meant to be maintained by contractual agreement with Capita. There was also the revelation - by local bloggers - that contractors had been given an extra £100,000 to renew travel passes for disabled residents - that were still valid until 2020 - and had been cancelling some of those passes unlawfully, and without warning, causing enormous distress, utterly unnecessarily. And now we learn, from Mr Reasonable, that the contracts have led, in the last year, to no less than £18 million spent on consultants and agency staff. 

Only now are even the most doltish Tory councillors beginning to realise that the contractual agreement they so easily and lazily endorsed is little more than a licence to print money, and will make them unpopular with voters, as standards decline. Oh dear: because they are committed to more and more outsourcing: and what cannot be outsourced, because there is no money in it - such as parks and - ah, libraries - must be dumped, and kicked over to 'the community' to run because they can't be bothered.

Hmm. Tricky, though, because ... parks and libraries are sensitive and inflammatory issues, politically. People care about them. Voters care about them: Tory voters. Hence the almighty fuss when we publicised what was happening with Victoria Park, here in Finchley, and what is going to happen to all parks, if we are not careful, with parts sold off for development, and responsibility for maintenance shrugged off by the council we already pay to look after them. 

And hence the fear, amongst our Tory councillors and their senior officers, about the shit about to hit the fan, as the library cuts begin to become a grim reality, and no longer an abstract proposal. 

Library staff are now going through the process, nicely timed for the run up to Christmas, of finding out which of them will be likely to lose their jobs, as a result of the cuts and the introduction of DIY, unstaffed libraries, from which children will be banned. And plans are in place to have a rota of library closures as 'modifications' are going to be made to existing library buildings, so that the buildings will become libraries in name only, with smaller space, fewer books - and half the staff missing, if present at all.

Clearly such moves are going to cause a huge reaction amongst residents, once in place, and there will much criticism of the council. What to do, to avert this? 

Stop people talking about it, of course. Gag the residents' forums again. If they don't talk about it, we can pretend it's not happening.

The next round of Forums are taking place this coming week. As part of their relentless drive to make these meetings as inaccessible as possible, incidentally, the Chipping Barnet meeting will be held in  ... Hendon.

I submitted a number of questions on a range of issues to my local Forum, Finchley and Golders Green.

Back came the response: 

... the Residents Forum has within its remit the responsibility to consider local matters for Finchley and Golders Green area and these matters fall outside the scope of the responsibility of the Residents Forum ...

Eh? The list of questions was already published, I was informed - with only two of mine allowed, one about a pothole, and another about parking. 

Public works, see? Vanilla. Nothing risky. Of course, plenty of scope for Mrs Angry to create opportunities, via the supplementary questions, for condemnation of privatised council services, but requiring a certain amount of effort. And besides, potholes in Finchley are the favourite subject of Labour councillor Arjun Mittra, and no one is allowed to talk about parking, ever, other than Mr Mustard.

The following questions, the really important issues, were forbidden: they would not be allowed to be referred to at the meeting, or discussed, but written queries would be forwarded to the relevant departments. 

Er: no, thank you - I want this debated with other residents, and councillors and senior officers held to account. 

Another female resident, prominent in the summer's campaign to stop the development in Victoria Park, had also had questions barred on the same pretext: perfectly sensible questions about matters such as on the placement of planning notices, pavements and driveways, the peculiarities of the Barnet Capita planning website, the FOI process. Nope. Banned.

These were mine:

Subject: Library staff
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Tory councillors insist that the 60% cuts in library budget are necessary because of the demands of 'austerity', which means £2.85m will be culled from the Libraries service total of £4.8m, in itself a modest amount for a service that was already independently assessed as representing good value for money. Of course at the same time they are spending £6 million on gutting libraries, shrinking the space, and preparing them for a DIY, staffless service.

The impact on the well being of residents, especially children who will be barred from the new  unstaffed libraries, is incalculable and will affect the most disadvantaged residents.

At the same time as cutting this vital service, Tory councillors are happy to sanction the eye wateringly high level of expenditure -  of £18 million in the last year alone - on private consultants and agency fees. How is that morally or economically justifiable?

Subject: Budget
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Half of the library staff who currently help members of the public when they visit their local libraries are about to lose their jobs, supposedly because of the need to save money.

Please explain, therefore, why those same Tory councillors have just handed half a million pounds, ie a substantial amount of the 'savings' they claim we need from the library budget, to the RAF Museum, a national and well funded museum - especially when they shut our own local museum, again on the pretext of economy. Also explain why another £800,000 has been spent on creating additional posts on the council's PR team, specifically to 'manage the council's reputation', as we head towards the next local elections. 

Subject: Library staff
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Tory councillors believe that a professional library service can be run by unqualified volunteers. Are they willing to become unpaid volunteers, and carry out their civic roles without their allowances, and free parking permits?

Subject: Fees for renewal of travel passes
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

The council was recently exposed as allowing Capita to charge another £100,000 fee, on top of the normal massive contractual charges, to renew travel passes for disabled residents which did not need renewing, and in some cases were unlawfully cancelled, causing enormous distress to their users, often finding themselves stranded, unable to access public transport.

Why was Capita not asked to return this fee, and why was no one held accountable for this 'mistake'?

Now why on earth would our councillors not wish to discuss these issues in public with other residents, do you think? 

I objected to the banning of my questions, and asked for details of the section of the Constitution which authorises the censorship of questions by a resident to a residents' forum. No reply. 

 I wrote again: 

I'm afraid if you do not give a satisfactory response to this asap, I will be making a formal complaint about what is a breach of the Constitution, and yet another attempt to censor the views of residents and taxpayers, in defiance of the Nolan principles of openness and accountability.

Reply, which the officer had copied to the Tory chair, Cllr Shimon Ryde, so evidently he is well aware of the censorship, and indeed may be the one insisting upon it:

Can I just signpost you to Responsibility for Functions Annex A of the Constitution that explains that the forums are an opportunity for any resident to raise local matters. 

Hmm. Let's take a look. Ah.

My reply: 

May I just re-signpost you to the part of the Constitution to which you refer?

Local matters are any matters which are relevant to the Council except for matters relating to specific planning or licensing applications.

Just to repeat, with my emphasis: 

Any matters relevant to the Council. 

This is perfectly clear, and your refusal is therefore in breach of the Constitution. 

I realise that censorship is a necessary part of the Tory process of government, but even this administration is supposed to be compliant with the definitions of its own Constitution. 

Please confirm either that:

a. my questions will be included, or

b. you intend to act in defiance of the council's Constitution.

Many thanks

Mrs Angry 

They never learn, do they, our Tory councillors, and their senior management?

And they appear to have no respect for the process of democracy, resenting anyone who asks them to be accountable to the residents and tax payers of this borough, and as soon as they think they can get away with it, resort to their usual tactics of avoiding transparency, openness, debate or genuine consultation. No doubt even now they are plotting to rewrite the Constitution again.

Don't let them get away with it: please keep making life difficult for them, and insist on your right to take part in that process of democracy. Don't stop asking questions, and demanding answers.

The Forums are held on 26th October, at 6.30 pm (timed so as to deter as many residents attending as possible) - Finchley & Golders Green meeting at Avenue House, East End Road.

And if you are concerned about the library cuts, please look at the last post and see what you can do to voice your views on the subject, or attend a local 'information' session, and ask difficult questions. If you live in Finchley, there is one of these 'events on Tuesday morning, 10-12, at North Finchley library.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Black October: Barnet Tories sharpen the axe bringing devastating cuts to your library service; the Lodge, and Freedom Passes- the next step

Victoria Park Lodge, October 2016

Ah yes: autumn. Season of mists, and mellow fruitfulness: the time of harvest, where once we laid the altars with the bountiful goodness of our labour in the fields, but now, here in Broken Barnet, the product of all the furtive planning and toil of our Tory councillors, their contractors, and consultants, so lovingly tended over yet another summer of discontent, is put to one side, as they begin to feast on the profits of their work.

After the silly season of August, and the even sillier Conference season of September, we find ourselves in Black October, when nights draw in, and we must contemplate the dark winter to come. And this winter promises to be a very dark one, in Broken Barnet.

Look over there: half our library staff about to be packed off to the Job Centre. Goodbye, all: we don't need you anymore. We have thrown out half the books, shrunk the library spaces, and introduced staffless libraries, from which the borough's children will be banned. Unfortunately, not banned will be the individuals who are currently causing problems for staff and residents alike by their behaviour, who are reported all to have tickets, and will be able to hang out in these unsupervised libraries, terrorising any other users who dare to come in. 

Incidents in recent weeks reported to Mrs Angry include a member of staff sworn at when censuring a member of the public for racially abusing a disabled child; police called after a member of the public smashed a mirror, and then returned to the library, later in the day; a female member of the public so drunk, in the daytime, that an ambulance crew had trouble in persuading her to accompany them for treatment;  this is part of the everyday life of libraries, in a 21st century society.

Let us emphasise again, that the majority of these residents have library tickets, and will be able to access the new, DIY, unstaffed libraries, with no one there to intervene.

Yet, as Mrs Angry understands, we have yet to see the promised 'Safeguarding' policy that needs to be in place in order to address some of the many risks and unanswered concerns over the new unstaffed libraries - something which we must emphasis has never been attempted, on this scale, anywhere comparable.

Barnet and Capita have had two years in which to prepare for the programme of cuts, and to help staff at risk of redundancy prepare for their own futures, once they are sacked. 

There are 51.5 full time equivalent posts being slashed from your local branches - but the final number of people who will lose their jobs is yet to be determined.

Those members of staff getting the old heave ho, however - still waiting, many of them, for the information they are due, in regard to their financial futures. Pension seminars have been cancelled. Deadlines for competitive job selections were set, but are now being passed.

Six local organisations have been asked by Barnet Council to submit business plans to supplant our sacked library staff, and attempt to run what will be presented as a public library. These are:


Inclusion Barnet

Mind in Barnet


The Hope of Childs Hill

TES Youth

There were other bids, of course, including - and you may find this absolutely astonishing, as I did, when I heard about it - a bid from the Labour group's spokesperson for Libraries, who proposed running a sort of training hub, linked to her own company - properly declared in her interests, it must be said.  The proposal was rejected.

I am not entirely sure why I was astonished, to be frank. But the political ineptitude of such a move - or at least the extent of the group's naivete in allowing such a bid to go forward - is breathtaking.

Jenny and Siobhan O'Dowd, victims of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme

Freedom Passes, next: one of those issues that the opposition group messed up on, leaving it to local bloggers to kick up about, and pursue. 

I didn't bother writing about the Policy and Resources meeting, some weeks ago now, at which this issue was the subject of questions to the committee - but where of course, as usual, the Tory leader shrugged his way through any suggestion of blame for what was by any standard an utterly scandalous matter: the demand by Capita for a further fee of £100,000 on the pretext of renewing something that did not renewing, ie the travel passes that disabled residents are entitled to, under statutory criteria. 

We found out that some of these most vulnerable pass holders were finding themselves stranded, their passes arbitrarily, and unlawfully, cancelled without warning, on spurious grounds. Labour did not understand the issue and kept banging on about criteria set by London Councils. They were still banging on about it at this meeting. And one councillor even thanked officers for their hard work on clearing up the mess created by this unlawful process. One officer at the table earns a six figure salary, and had previously admitted that he was responsible for the scheme which caused so much distress to so many vulnerable residents. Sorry, but I'm not sure he deserves anyone's thanks for having to put right what should never have been done in the first place. My sympathy is for the victims of this scheme, who are still contacting me, worried about the future of their travel passes.

Tory councillors now maintain the renewal process was and is still necessary, because 'people's circumstances change'. 

Reminding them, at the meeting, of the young man whose father was driven to write MY SON STILL HAS DOWN'S SYNDROME all over his form did nothing to pierce their impenetrable sense of self satisfaction. They are beyond shame, of course.

Let us say it one more time. The criteria, as explained in a letter before action from counsel representing one of the residents affected, are STATUTORY. They cannot be ignored, or changed. 

Barnet, and Capita, however, are now reviewing the Freedom Pass scheme. Rather like  WC Fields reading the bible, looking for loopholes, you might think. 

Please take part in the consultation process, and consider attending the drop in sessions to make your views known.

But the matter of the unlawful process that took place earlier this year will be left as it is: with no one in trouble for sanctioning an unlawful and deeply distressing process - and Capita facing no financial penalty at all for their actions. Indeed they continue to prosper from it. 

The reason I did not write about this before was because, frankly, I had felt so sickened by the failure of all concerned on the council to take ownership of this scandalous story, sort it out, admit it was just wrong, penalise those who were responsible, and make sure it will never happen again. 

It will happen again, of that you can be sure. Maybe not with the passes, but with other contractual profiteering schemes, other scandals, other injustices. And who will speak out about it, and do something about it? Only the 'usual suspects'.

Sitting in this meeting I had begun to feel a sense of total despair, and one which is hard to shake off: the Tories are utterly shameless, and would rather defend such a wretched scheme, than admit wrongdoing, and lose face, and have to admit that the contract with Capita, which they approved without thorough scrutiny of the detail, in which is hidden the devil's own work, making excess profit from payments beyond the core contract 'savings'.  

And the Labour opposition which should be jumping on the evidence which prove the diabolical nature of these schemes, and those that agree them, simply fail to do so. The fear of appearing too radical, or unkind to senior officers, leaves them in a state of inertia - and one in which too many of them are too comfortable. Too many of the longer serving and 'moderate' members don't really seem to  want to win control of the council: and they fail to understand that they never will, anyway, unless they convince voters that they offer a robust rejection of Tory policy, and a viable alternative to the current administration. It is a reflection of how things were, with the party nationally, until the arrival of a new leader.

As individuals, most Barnet Labour councillors are hard working, well meaning representatives: but the more important responsibilities need to be given to some of the younger, and frankly brighter members, so that collectively, as an opposition, they begin to - well, oppose. We expect nothing but the worst from the Tories: but we depend on something more, something better, from Labour.

Still, at the meeting we spent most of the time debating something much more important than the destruction of our library service, or the removal of travel passes for the borough's disabled residents. 

Diving facilities at Copthall: well - this is a matter about which a small number of parents who have children training in this sport care about very much, and although one has sympathy for them - the council has decided not to bother with such facilities, in the future, on the grounds of cost - it hardly necessitates a greater level of debate than other more subjects: but of course parents were sitting in the gallery, and had a very articulate representative making a strong case for the retention of diving. This always concentrates the minds of our councillors.

The Tory members, incidentally, claimed that the Labour opposition had already voted for the plans which included this proposal. Oops. Splash: quite a bellyflop, in fact. Yes, but now, said Labour, We Are Listening To Residents. 


At the P&R meeting, our Tory friends, who are always keen to lecture us on the need for cuts to public services, especially our libraries, due to the economic burden, and yet fresh from throwing £800,000 on the creation of more PR posts to 'manage the council's reputation' (To be fair, £8 million might be a more appropriate sum) - now decided to approve the gift of £500,000 of our money - that is to say the money of the hardworking tax payers of Broken Barnet - to the RAF Museum.

Why? F*ck knows. Because they could. Who needs libraries, or meals on wheels, when you can look awfully big giving money to a national museum?

What a shame our own local museum at Church Farmhouse was shut, its irreplaceable collection ransacked & flogged off, and the beautiful listed building put up for sale - unsuccessfully - by the same Tory councillors: on the usual excuse of lack of funds. 

The RAF Museum - which was host for BBC Question Time last night - has a perfectly sound system of fundraising, and is perfectly capable of managing without half a million quid from Barnet residents.

When heckled (by Mrs Angry) on the point about funding this museum, while depriving the borough's children of libraries, and our elderly residents of meals on wheels, Tory deputy leader and failed GLA candidate, Dan Thomas, remained unmoved, of course, staring straight ahead, with his usual cool, blue eyed indifference. 

They know, the Tories, that this sort of handout, and the money splurged on propping up their shabby reputation in the run up to the next local elections, is really proof of the lie of austerity, and indefensible, on any moral ground - but then they do not measure policy by moral standards. Or rather they see a higher purpose: loyalty to a ruthless ideology that despises the very idea of public services.

You would hope that the Labour opposition thinks otherwise, and would seize this opportunity to lay bare, and then eviscerate, the damnable hypocrisy of the Tory expenditure. Not a bit of it. The leader waffled on about the Museum arguably being a good thing for the local community in terms of ... apprenticeships, maybe? Eh? And muttered that on the whole there probably were better things to spend the money on. But then - the Labour councillors abstained, did not oppose the RAF grant. This was infuriating.

A Labour councillor since explained to Mrs Angry the rationale was that if they had opposed it, the Tories would tell voters that Labour ... was showing a lack of respect for our armed forces.

Give. Me. Strength.

My father served in the RAF during the war, defending this country from fascism - although sometimes, these days, one might ask why he bothered. Before that, he served as a local Auxilliary Fireman, defending this area from fire, and explosions - including an incident at what was then Hendon Aerodrome, now the home of the museum.

Many of my Sunday afternoons as a child were spent being obliged - most reluctantly, it must be said, (and in revenge for which I would routinely sabotage my brother's squadron of airfix models ...)  - to wander around the wonderful collection of planes, and RAF memorabilia with my father and brother.

Saturday mornings, however, were always spent visiting the local library, in Edgware, which entirely supported the voracious reading requirements of all four of us, on a weekly basis. 

My father held a Barnet library ticket until his death, aged 95. 

He was thrilled that his grandchildren used their local library too. 

He was a dyed in the wool Tory, as it happens - but he would have been beside himself with fury at the thought of the current assault on our library service, by a Conservative council; depriving other children and elderly residents of easy access to books, and information, and support. 

He most certainly would not have wanted to see the profligate giveaway of half a million pounds to the RAF museum, whatever his own part, and sense of pride, in its history, while our libraries are destroyed on the pretext of shortage of funding. 

But then again, earlier in the year, lecturing the Tories about the proposed library cuts, and quoting Margaret Thatcher and her protection of libraries at them failed to do anything more than make the relentlessly prim, self confessed Thatcherite Cllr Helena Hart look as if she had a mild case of indigestion. One cannot expect any policy decision made on the basis of caring Conservatism, or even Thatcherism, in Broken Barnet.

The Barnet Tories, who claim to worship the memory of the Milk Snatcher, in fact are doing everything they can to undo the foundations of her legacy in one respect: her determination to give the feckless hoi-polloi a sense of aspiration, and a means to social mobility. Look what they have done to the council flat right to buyers in West Hendon: and now look at what they have done, or are about to do, to the local library service. 

Victoria Park Lodge, under new ownership

Another issue which reared its head during the summer, and continues still, is the interesting story of the park keeper's Lodge, in Victoria Park. (See previous posts in Juy and August). After a briefing by local campaigners, local councillor Ross Houston submitted questions to officers about the sale, which they would not answer at the meeting, but agreed to do so in writing within two weeks.

When the matter was discussed at committee, two Tory councillors declared interests, in that they had knowledge of parties related to the Lodge application, as you will note from the minutes. Only one left the room, when the item was discussed, although Mrs Angry can't recall whether or not he did when her questions on the matter were discussed. 

If you have followed this tale, you will probably know that despite the covenants which campaigners believe should protect the park from development, Barnet disposed of this property in a cash sale to - well to whom, exactly, is a very good question. No one is quite sure. 

The name of the purchaser on the contract has proved rather difficult to track: a man who apparently lives at the address of a property owned by the builder of the man who apparently is the developer of the Lodge. But who also gave the address of the developer - and whose signature was witnessed by someone with an overseas address - at the time of purchase. And had two different solicitors. Got that? 

The other odd thing is that a group of residents who went to pose for a group photograph outside the Lodge were told by someone claiming to represent the managers of the property that the company that owned it was another company altogether, whose director, it would seem, from checking it out at Companies House, is a Russian national. How curious. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding, or something ... lost in translation. 

And now the Lodge ownership has changed hands again, on 16th August, according to Land Registry records: from the man whose name is on the contract - to the developer's company. That was a few days before the decision was made which refused the application to demolish the Lodge, and build a monstrous block of flats in the park. Curiouser and curiouser. 

An application to put in a loft conversion has now been made - why, when the developers wanted to demolish the property and build a block of flats is unclear. 

Of course, Barnet sold the Lodge knowing that the covenants appear to forbid the building on the site of anything other than a park keeper's Lodge, a cricket pavilion, or a bandstand - so it would seem to be a case of 'caveat emptor', and what one lawyer acting for Barnet suggested might well be 'a white elephant'. Oh dear. As I've said before: I'd as for my money back, if I were you, Mr - oh. Well, whoever's money it was - did you keep the receipt?

Mrs Angry's friend, the Park Lodge crow ...

In the meanwhile, the lovely garden of the Lodge has been the focus of attention: the hedging mercilessly cut back, and a delightful old yew tree cut down. The Lodge crow is pretty damned furious about it as you may imagine - or so he informed Mrs Angry this afternoon, as she passed by, admiring the trail of rubbish in the bushes, and bags of it dumped outside - but at least passers by may now admire the remaining stump of the Arts and Crafts chimney which was mysteriously cut in two, in the middle of the night.

The other yew remains,  being subjected to a preservation order, but an application was submitted to cut this back too. Latest news, we understand that details on this move has been updated as 'application invalid on receipt' - so who knows what is going on? 

Well, one person who may be able to tell us is the council's External Auditor, who is reviewing the circumstances of the sale, and whether Barnet did indeed have power in law to sell the Lodge, as part of his annual review of the accounts. The audit certificate has not yet been awarded, while objections to the sale, and those in regard to other matters, are still under investigation.

East Finchley library, pre cuts

Back to libraries, now: just received this copy of an email sent to Barnet councillors, regarding something the Tories are keeping awfully quiet about, of course.

Here is the beginning, then, of the end for Barnet Libraries - or it will be if you don't kick up about it:

1.       Proposals for resident, member and staff engagement on changes to library buildings - prior to submission of planning applications
2.       Submission of planning applications
3.       East Barnet Library – Public consultation on the proposed co-location with the new leisure centre
4.       Changes to library fees and charges.

1.    Resident, member and staff engagement on changes to library buildings

Resident engagement: Resident information sessions, led by officers, are being scheduled to take place at library sites from the end of October, two weeks prior to the submission of planning applications during November. The aim of each session is to engage and inform residents about key changes to their local libraries, with indicative timelines of building works and any temporary closures required. They also provide residents and library users with an opportunity to comment and ask questions about the proposals ahead of the final submission of the planning application. The same information will also be available to view on the Barnet website as the sessions begin. The sessions will be advertised at library sites, in the local press, and through use of social media.

At each session, proposed floor plans and indicative timescales for the building works will be shared together with any potential period of temporary library closure. Where it may prove necessary to temporarily close a library building to enable works to be completed, information about alternative library services and transport options will be provided. Following each public information session, display boards will remain at each site for ongoing information and updates on the changes taking place.

Information sessions will take place at:

North Finchley

Tuesday 25 October

10:00 - 12:00


Tuesday 25 October

14:00 - 16:00

East Barnet

Wednesday 26 October

14:30 – 16:30

Chipping Barnet

Wednesday 26 October

18:00 – 20:00

Burnt Oak

Thursday 3 November

14:00 – 16:00


Thursday 3 November

18:00 – 20:00


Friday 4 November

11:00 – 13:00

Mill Hill

Friday 4 November

15:00 – 17:00

South Friern

Wednesday 9 November

11:00 - 13:00

East Finchley

Wednesday 9 November

18:00 – 20:00

Golders Green

Thursday 10 November

12:00 - 14:00

Childs Hill

Thursday 10 November

16:00 – 18:00

South Friern, Mill Hill and Childs Hill, and East Barnet Partnership libraries will be included, although it will be explained that any changes to the current library space are dependent upon the organisation(s) that are successful in their applications to run these Partnership libraries. At East Barnet however, we already know that building works to the toilet arrangements need immediate remedy.

Member engagement: Ahead of these resident engagement sessions, we have arranged for members to have early sight of the proposals. For members, some of you will have attended the briefings held over the summer period and therefore be aware of the outline proposals at particular sites. These have now been further developed, together with an indicative timetable, all of which will be available for members early in the week commencing 17 October, when we will send out another email.

Staff engagement: The design proposals and indicative timetable will also be shared with library staff in the week commencing 17 October.

2.    Submission of planning applications for changes to library buildings and for potential change of use (commercial letting)

Following the resident engagement sessions, planning applications will be submitted during November for each of the sites that require it.

3.    East Barnet Library proposed co-location with potential new leisure centre – public consultation

Through the consultation undertaken as part of the wider strategy for libraries, residents told us that co-location of services was a good way to tackle some of the financial challenges faced by the service. As you may recall from the committee report on the Library Strategy, there is a potential opportunity to re-locate the Partnership library at East Barnet to within the proposed new leisure facility at the Victoria Recreation Ground in New Barnet. Although the new leisure centre is not due for completion until 2019, in order to ensure the building provides new, fit for purpose library facilities we need to finalise the building design shortly.

Therefore we will be consulting with local residents around the current East Barnet Library site and the proposed re-location using an online and paper questionnaire starting at the end of October. The results will be collated and analysed, and a report of findings produced early in the new year to inform the final decision. In the meantime, the procurement of a partner organisation to run the East Barnet Partnership library continues and all applicants are aware of the potential future move.

4.    Changes to library fees and charges

From 1 December, a number of the library service fees and charges will be changing as outlined in the Library Strategy Committee report.  We will be introducing fines for the late return of child and teen items.  These will be charged at a rate of 5p per item per day.  Fines for adults will be increasing by 5p, however we will be removing the charge for reservations on items already in stock.

Nice touch at the end there: reminding us of the new income generating whizz by your Tory councillors - to make money from overdue books borrowed by those few children who manage to find a Barnet Library from which they are not barred, due to the staff having been sacked. And yes, the income from those children's fines are part of the budget calculation, so they are depending on this money ...

Now that the cuts are not just a matter of proposal, a vague threat hardly understood, but are about to be put into action: this is when the majority of residents will begin to find out what exactly their Tory councillors have decided to do to their local library. They will be shocked, once they understand exactly what it will mean - and this is when the terrible thing the Tories have done will begin to cause electoral trouble for them, especially amongst their own voters. Good.

But what can you do, if you are a Barnet library user who passionately objects to the destruction of your library service?

It is up to you, now: don't leave it to the politicians - lobby them, all of them, councillors, MPs, and insist they listen to your views. Look at what happened, this summer, with the Lodge: the weight of publicity, and the pressure from residents stopped that planning proposal in its tracks, and even had the local Tory MP trying to appear on the side of campaigners (including his favourite blogger) when - ahem - he was the guy in charge of the council when the property was put up for sale ... Grassroots campaigns can and do work - if you are prepared to get involved.

Visit your local libraries, before they disappear: borrow books, support staff - they need it, now, more than ever - go to the 'engagement' sessions, and give the people promoting this nefarious process a hard time, in defence of your library - demand answers to your questions, and tell them what you think of their wilful destruction of the service, on the spurious pretext of economic need. 

Tell them you want to spend your council tax on library staff in libraries, not on more spin doctors trying to mend the tattered reputation of this council, or to make a grandiose gesture to a national museum. 

And please consider joining the national demonstration, next month - remember, remember, the 5th November - in support of libraries, museums and galleries.