Saturday, 15 December 2018

The Saturday list #199 - The ten most overused words in the English language

This is a list I've been wanting to do for ages. What words do you think are overused?

1. Love - Love means a feeling of closeness and kinship with something or someone that causes almost physical pain with separation. You don't feel that with McFries, so don't say you love them.

2. Awesome - This means that something inspires a sense of awe. Again you do not have a sense of awe at McFries.

3. Brilliant - This means that something shines brightly, more so than all of the surrounding objects. It is completely misused to describe obscure B sides from Beatles records etc. If they were brilliant, they would be the A side.

4. Bargain - When you see something described by the seller as a bargain, you know they are lying. If it was worth more, they'd sell it for more. They want shot of it

5. Luxury - Luxury means something that is unaffordable by the ordinary person. It doesn't mean marginally better than a bog standard average one. If there was truly such thing as luxury toilet paper it would be guilded with gold leaf and a luxury appartment would cost millions, have a solid gold bath and taps that dispense the milk of yaks. A flat on the top floor of a development in Colindale, is by definition not luxury, but a bit nicer than the rest of the block.

6. Discount - This word means that something is being sold for a price less than it was originally sold for. Which means that for something to be sold at a discount, it should have been sold at a higher price originally. If a retailer says it is selling something at a discount, this is a lie unless it sold it for more previously. If it is marginally cheaper than some notional price, it is not a discount. So a retailer that advertises permanent discounts is does not really undertsand English.

7. Friends - This means people who you know, like and spend time with. It does not mean someone who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who you happen to have an association with on Social media.

8. Christian - A Christian is someone who believes that the teachings of a bloke called Jesus Davidson (circa 4BC - 29AD) superceded the teachings of the Old Testament. Not someone who quotes Leveticus at people they disagree with.

9.  Sell out tour - If you see a tour or play being advertised as a "Sell Out Tour" it isn't a sell out, because if it was, they wouldn't be advertising it.

10. Nearly New - This usually means a bit bashed uop, missing the instructions and really rather crap.


Friday, 14 December 2018

Join us tonight for The Barnet Eye Xmas Party and Community Awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club from 8pm

Click for readable image
You are cordially invited to attend this Barnet Eye Annual Xmas Party and community awards.
It's all happening tonight at The Mill Hill Rugby Club from 8pm (Friday 14th December). We have chosen Mill Hill Rugby Club as this years venue as they wereour 2017 Community Sports Club of the year. They have gone from strength to strength in this department, winning an award from Middlesex Rugby for their community work and launching an amazing collaborative scheme with Mencap for disabled rugby.

For those readers new to the blog,every year we hold the Barnet Eye Community Awards and it gives our community a chance to celebrate, let our hair down and have a party. And the more of our friends who come along, the better the party we have.

Best of all, it's all free

We'll be presenting our awards to outstanding local people and organisations


The categories this year are


Barnet Person of the year


Barnet Charity of the year


Barnet Pub of the Year


Barnet Band/Artist of the Year


Barnet Sports Club of the Year


Barnet Community Event of the Year

Barnet Campaigner of the year

There will be some great sounds being played by our resident DJ after the live music and we'll be boogie'ing into the early hours and live music by The False Dots + Support.
Please join us for an excellent nights entertainment. We will also be having a charity auction for the Charity of the Year, so please bring a few readies!
Do you have a nomination for any of these catagories? Drop us an email explaing why - Click here to email us.





The Party is being Co-Hosted by The #SaveLondonMusic Campaign, who are dedicated to preserving and promoting live music in London. The Campaign has arranged some amazing live music for tonight with The False Dots and The Republic of Brentford, two of London's finest bands, along with some special guest appearances. Support live music and come on down.



Special thanks to our generous raffle sponsors this year. The prizes are: 

1. A free recording worth £100 from Mill Hill Music Complex 
2. A free meal for two worth up to £35 from the Day of The Raj Express in Mill Hill East 
3. A bottle of fine Red Wine donated by The Barnet Eye
 4. A free T-Shirt donated by The #KickOutCapita campaign

Democracy has failed in the UK

Economic planning in the United Kingdom
What will be the lasting legacy of David Cameron? I guess he was rather hoping that he'll be remembered as the guy who saved the UK economy from disaster following the credit crash. Sadly, following the end of the coalition in 2015 and the end of moderating influence of the Lib Dems on the Conservative party, we've come to see that Cameron just got very lucky and was able to have five years of grown up government where ideology and pet projects were largely kept where they belong, in the darker recesses of right wing think tanks and late night gentlemens bars in the backwoods of Westminster. I am not saying that the Coalition was marvellous or that there weren't rotten policies and harsh decisions that hurt vulnerable people, but the worst excesses were moderated and some genuinely progressive policies were passed. Raising the minimum wage to something almost liveable on, equal marriage and stopping the routine detention of children in immigration cases are three that come to mind.

Whatever you think of the coalition, the government represented a majority of the UK electorate. The victory of the Conservatives in 2015 meant that once again the UK was governed by a party only representing a minority viewpoint. In 2016 we had the EU referendum. From my perspective, this was a calamitous process. Whilst I do not agree with the result, that's democracy and so you have to abide by it. The problem was that the whole campaign, by both sides, was based on the biggest load of lies, scare stories and misinformation. By putting someone as slippery as George Osborne in charge of the campaign to remain, the real issues that we are now facing were never discussed. Instead we had stories of recession and slump, with threats of emergency budgets the day after. There was no mention of the political chaos, Northern Ireland, the divorce bill, backstop arrangements and permanent subjugation to ensure free flow of trade, with no say at all. As for the leave side, we had the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS, an end to the laws of Brussels (which will all be written into UK law the day we leave), an economic boom based on Free Trade (that won't happen due to our need to keep markets open with the EU). How on earth can you respect a decision when no one who voted was told the truth and no one knew what the real effect of what they were  when they voted. Whatever you may think of the vote, there is no question that it was the most dishonest vote ever.

As to the May government. Last year she held an election to get a democratic mandate for her EU exit policy. She stood on a platform of being strong and stable. She failed miserably. Wheras Cameron at least had the decency to form a coalition with a party that had mass support across the UK and presented a program both parties broadly agreed with and had a mandate from the electorate, May did a deal with the DUP, which is probably the party that least represents mainstream views in the UK. The two parties, unlike the coalition, do not represent a majority of voters. Inevitably if you have a coalition with such a party, things will go wrong. There may be periods where this doesn't matter, but with the biggest challenge in modern history facing us, do we really want a government marching to the tune of a bunch of secretarian homophobic bigots.

Theresa May has negotiated a deal that no one, not remain or leave want. The only people who will benefit are big business interests, who have a degree of protection for their products and trade. The voters, whether the 52% who voted leave or the 48 % who voted remain have been completely sold down the river.

This is bad enough, but lets forget Brexit for a minute. What about the other things. Normally governments don't spend every waking minute discussing Brexit. Normally, they have a program to manage the economy. Perhaps the biggest issue we face is that we've had no government for two years. What does this mean in real terms? What is happening in the real world? The answer is there to behold. Crossrail was meant to open next week. No one has a clue when this will now happen, the government has just announced a massive bailout. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary is nowhere to be seen, a minister with the mantra "Not my job, guv'nor". Heaven only know what will happen with HS2 with him in charge.

Another massive issue is policing. Yesterday, the government had to agree an emergency funding package as police budgets have been stretched beyond breaking point. Again there is no policy, just chaos. There's not much people really expect the government of the UK to do properly, but policing is one thing that traditionally we are proud of. Sadly, the police are simply being starved of funds and you don't need to be a genius to figure out what happens when you don't fund policing properly. Did you vote for decimation of the police? I certainly didn't and I don't know anyone Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP or Monster Raving Looney who did.

Then there is education. Our school budgets are in crisis, especially in London. Schools simply don't have the cash to provide the education our children deserve. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that any nation that seriously wants to succeed can do so without providing an education for the next generation.

What about industrial policy? We don't have one. Whilst China produces ever more of the products that we have in our home, Donald Trump enacts ever more policies to protect American industries, the UK is sailing listlessly towards the rocks. No company in the UK has a clue what our trading arrangements will be in six months. The government doesn't know what to do about it. They are just crossing their fingers and praying it will be OK.

Then there is the tricky issue that is racism. For decades, the UK has had strong policies, that have seen the UK become a country that doesn't tolerate racism. Sadly Brexit seems to have opened Pandora's box and racism seems to be on the rise. UKIP has embraced Tommy Robinson as an adviser. Chelsea fans this week have racially abused Raheem Sterling and shouted anti semitic chants at a Champions League game. Wheras normally this would warrant a comment from the Govt at the very least, sadly they are too busy navel gazing to care.

It isn't only at a national level. Council budgets have been slashed by central government and local services are collapsing. In Barnet, we have seen an example of this with the appalling failure to collect bins, the scrapping of the food collections, the neglect of parks, roads and the plague of graffiti across the Borough. The council hasn't got the cash to provide even the basics anymore. Of course Barnet Council have made matters worse by not raising council tax in line with inflation, but the huge cuts imposed by central government have made the situation impossible. The Conservatives identified that taxation was a vote winner, so have committed Hari Kiri on the finances to win elections. The response  in Barnet is mass outsourcing. This has removed democratic control from swathes of services, from Council housing to licensing. Planning is run by Capita, it is all falling apart before our eyes.

However you look at it, democracy has failed in the UK. Whatever you voted for, whatever you thought you'd get, be it #Brexit, sensible Conservative husbandry of the Police, regular bin collections in Barnet, a good education for your children, you have been failed. Our system of democracy simply isn't working. For someone who believes in Democracy, this is a galling truth. What is my remedy?

I don't have one. But I do have a way forward. We need a Royal Commission to be constituted to examine the way our nation works. This shouldn't be rushed, it should be thorough and look at issues such as whether PR would deliver a more representative government, whether we need a bill of rights and a written constitution, what role referendums have in our country and how we can ensure that local people are protected from the ravages of tinpot town hall regimes of all flavours, that blindly follow ill thought out, ideologically driven policies that have local residents as the last concern. Democracy is broken. If we don't take serious action to fix it, I dread to think where it will take us.

---- Don't forget to join us tonight for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.






Thursday, 13 December 2018

Capita reject the Grant Thornton Audit Report as incompetent

This morning my attention was drawn to an item on the Barnet Council website that has just appeared. It is the full, unredacted Grant Thornton report into Capita's cock ups

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of all is the response from Capita

Capita statement in response to Grant Thornton report

Capita wholeheartedly refutes the conclusions of this highly caveated and limited report, which Grant Thornton themselves admit is not a comprehensive formal audit. 

The report’s conclusions regarding financial controls across the council and Capita’s CSG and DRS contracts have not been independently verified, are not underpinned by clear evidence, and in many instances seem to be based on opinion and hearsay. 

Capita accepts that this case highlighted failings, which we have worked in partnership with the council to overcome. All the actions raised as a result have already been delivered by Capita and are in the process of being audited. We are committed to continue working with the London Borough of Barnet to deliver all of the activities in its rectification plans to achieve improved financial controls across Re, CSG and the Council. 
This is clearly the most crass example of an organisation in denial that I have ever seen. Does it not occur to Capita that Grant Thornton are independent? Furthermore, they call into doubt the professional competence and integrity of Grant Thornton. There are only three possible conclusions that can be drawn from this statement.

1. Grant Thornton are incompetent and Barnet Council should commission a new report from a company that is recognised as capable of doing the job and not presenting "opinions and hearsay" as fact. If this is the case, Capita should demand that a new report is commissioned by a company that can be deemed "independent". If this report exonerates Capita, Grant Thornton should pick up the tab. If it confirms Grant Thorntons findings, then Capita should issue an apology and pick up the tab.

2. Capita have issued a defamatory statement that is both misleading and libellous. If this is the case, then presumably Grant Thornton will sue Capita (and possibly Barnet Council) for publishing it. No potential customers of Grant Thornton could possibly consider working with a company that has such serious doubt cast on its professional integrity.

3. Both Grant Thornton and Capita are equally culpable. Capita have failed to deliver the services that they were commissioned to provide and Grant Thornton have failed to provide a competent assessment of the failings. The only way that this can be proven would be to commission a new, independent report. Should this be proven, then both Grant Thornton and Capita should pick the tab up between them.

It is quite clear what should happen now. Grant Thornton must issue proceedings against Capita for defamation and seek a full retraction and apology. If they do not, they have no credibility. If they do, then Barnet Council will have to await the outcome of the case.

If Grant Thornton do not, then either scenario 2 or 3 are clearly the likely outcomes. Barnet Council should immediately commission a new report from an independent firm and explain that they will expect whoever is found to be incompetent to pick up the bill. If indeed it is Capita, they should be summarily ejected from the Council.

 I have written to the CEO of Barnet Council, Chair of Audit, Leader and Deputy Leader this morning to express my concerns

I will keep you informed of any response


Dear Sirs,

I read in disbelief the response from Capita to the Grant Thornton report. This response, in effect calls Grant Thornton incompetent and unprofessional.  (Financial controls - barnet.gov.uk)




The response states
"Capita statement in response to Grant Thornton report

Capita wholeheartedly refutes the conclusions of this highly caveated and limited report, which Grant Thornton themselves admit is not a comprehensive formal audit.

The report’s conclusions regarding financial controls across the council and Capita’s CSG and DRS contracts have not been independently verified, are not underpinned by clear evidence, and in many instances seem to be based on opinion and hearsay.

Capita accepts that this case highlighted failings, which we have worked in partnership with the council to overcome. All the actions raised as a result have already been delivered by Capita and are in the process of being audited. We are committed to continue working with the London Borough of Barnet to deliver all of the activities in its rectification plans to achieve improved financial controls across Re, CSG and the Council.  "

There are only three possible conclusions that can be drawn from this statement.
1. Grant Thornton are incompetent and Barnet Council should commission a new report from a company that is recognised as capable of doing the job and not presenting "opinions and hearsay" as fact. If this is the case, Capita should demand that a new report is commissioned by a company that can be deemed "independent". If this report exonerates Capita, Grant Thornton should pick up the tab. If it confirms Grant Thorntons findings, then Capita should issue an apology and pick up the tab.
2. Capita have issued a defamatory statement that is both misleading and libellous. If this is the case, then presumably Grant Thornton will sue Capita (and possibly Barnet Council) for publishing it. No potential customers of Grant Thornton could possibly consider working with a company that has such serious doubt cast on its professional integrity. In this case, the Council should call time on the Capita Contract in short order.
3. Both Grant Thornton and Capita are equally culpable. Capita have failed to deliver the services that they were commissioned to provide and Grant Thornton have failed to provide a competent assessment of the failings. The only way that this can be proven would be to commission a new, independent report. Should this be proven, then both Grant Thornton and Capita should pick the tab up between them.
It is clear that Barnet Council need to take this accusation seriously. Unless Grant Thornton seek a retraction and apology in short order, a new report is required that is beyond reproach. At a recent Audit meeting the chair assurred me that Grant Thornton were a professional company with great integrity. Given that Barnet Councils chosen partner and procurement agent have issued such a scathing assessment of their work, this assessment has clearly been called into question. I seek your assurance, as  council tax and business rates payer that Barnet Council will take immediate action to ensure that residents can have confidence in the management of the Capita account. Following this statement, there can be none until either Grant Thornton are exhonourated or a new report has been published.
Regards
Roger Tichborne

Just for the record, I see no reason at all to believe that Grant Thornton have not done an entirely professional job. If Capita can support their assertion, they really will have to provide some serious evidence.

------------------------------------------

.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Can playing a musical instrument improve your mental health?

One of the joys of playing lead guitar for The False Dots is that after rehearsals, we always have a chat. In years gone by, we'd adjourn to the pub, but these days, we usually just put down our instruments and chat. No subject is out of bounds and often we touch on subjects that I would never dream of blogging about. Last night, the subject of mental health came up as we were packing away our equipment. For one member of the band, this has been a lifelong issue. This is not the time or place to go into those issues, however one of the questions I asked was whether playing with the band has in any way helped.

The answer I got was rather interesting. The answer wasn't  yes or no. I guess if you had to choose a word, this would be 'sometimes'. When things are OK, it certainly makes a difference is probably the best way to describe it. The physical and mental exertion and commitment required to play in a band is quite unique. Although there are many team sports that require players to work together and be creative, these are very in the moment. In a band, a moment of brilliance can be captured and built upon. When one of the Dot's does something brilliant, we are keen to ensure that this is not simply a passing fancy, it is added to the performance. In many ways this is why our songs are better now than when we first wrote them, some 34 years ago.

But the flipside of that is that sometimes, the monumental effort to actually turn up and give your all is in itself a stress. This can be made a million times worse if you play with people who are not very nice. This can actually make things much, much worse. But playing in a band is not the only aspect of playing an instrument.

Playing an instrument at home, is an altogether different proposition. One of the saddest things I hear is parents at our studio laugning about how listening to their children practice musical instruments "drives them mad". To me this should be celebrated from the rafters. It is funny that so many parents want children to succeed at musical instrument exams, but are so scathing of the work required to get there. Many don't seem to want the children to enjoy the instruments. As someone who has played guitar for 40 years, I guarantee that it is a great way to reduce stress. Often I listen to tracks and work out guitar riffs etc. It requires 100% focus and is a very calming activity. It is also almost impossible to do with ther family members around. Sometimes I can be in a very produuctive songwriting or song learning session and th children will come home and destroy the ambience of the mood, which is actually quite stressful.

Why do I mention this? Because I believe that we all need quiet time to do relaxational activities such as playing guitar. I passionately believe that one of the reasons we have a mental health crisis is because soceity has removed the possibilities for quiet, reflective time, especially for young people. We are always on a timeline. Playing a musical instrument gives our mind time to relax and recuperate.

Can playing a musical instrument improve your mental health? I can only speak for myself. I started learning guitar aged 14, at the time I was suffering from mild depression. For me, music gave me an outlet and built my self esteem. So for me, the answer is yes, but if you join a band, make sure that the people in it are supportive! And if someone is playing an instrument at home, please be considerate. They may really need the space.
Here's a little example of what the False Dots do. I hope you enjoy it

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free. You can see the False Dots play live at this amazing party

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Barnet Council Special - Is the Capita Deal working for the voters of Barnet

Today the Barnet Policy and Resources committee vote on what course of action to take with regards to One Barnet.  Regular Barnet watchers will know that five years ago the Conservative administration of Richard Cornelius signed a deal to let Capita take over running much of the operations of the Council. Voters were lead to believe that this would lead to permanently  low council tax rises and better services. How has all of this worked out? I was struggling to work out how exactly to demonstrate this. One of the benefits of having written a blog for ten years, I have a wealth of examples to quote, but I was drawn to a comment left on my blog. I'd posted a blog detailing how there had been four extremely negative stories concerning Mike Freer, then leader of the Council (now MP for Finchley)

A public spirited resident, who described himself as a "floating voter" and "not a member of any political party", set out a spirited defence of the record of the local Conservatives. I was rather intrigued, not least because the IP address was exactly the same as a string of other comments I'd seen from people working in Mike Freer's office. I thought that the said individual must have been very publicly spirited indeed, breaking into Mike's office in the middle of the morning to rifle through his private papers and check all of the facts when leaving comments. But 'Jack's' comments about the Tory regime of the time are well worth a revisit in light of the current malaise at the Council. Here is what he said back in 2009. Does this description of Barnet then make you think things have got better. I thought I'd add a few tweets from the last year to illustrate this wonderland. 'Jack's' comments are in Large Italics

So the positive things Barnet Council have done:
Let’s talk about the achievements:
Road resurfacing - my own road was neglected for 12 years, massive potholes, wobbling kerb stones and uneven pavements. This problem has now been corrected and I have a road with no potholes, no wonky paving slabs and kerb stones in place.

Pot Holes Fixed - as above, Barnet was horrific for potholes, driving round Barnet is part of my job and now it is very rare I come across them and when I do, instead of my emails being ignored - 99% of the time get a response and it is fixed. 

Town Centres - The once dilapidated Temple Fortune, Tally Ho and Mill Hill Broadway are now totally different looking places to what they used to be. Rusty benches, litter, pavements with gaps and cracks in them, streetlights not working and so on... now what I see is some improvements being made especially with the new streetlights and it is amazing what a lick of paint does! 
Bin collections are still weekly despite the Government wanting them to be every 2 weeks something which is just abhorrent in this day and age 
Plastic and Cardboard is now being recycled (the previous administration always fails to admit they tied the council into a long contract which didnt account for this)
Local parks actually looking like places we want to visit thanks to money being invested in them. Victoria park in Finchley is always looking wonderful when I drive past it in a morning 
Less Graffiti - One thing, which always annoyed me, was the amount of graffiti across the Borough of Barnet as a whole; it was embarrassing to drive around with clients. Now I would estimate 90% of it has gone. 
And I could go on and on and on.

These are the key things that the Conservatives wanted to be judged by in 2009. If their policies were working, they would be even better now (especially as we've had Tory/Tory lead governments for nine of those ten years). So nine years down the line, how are they measuring up. Lets start with the marvellous new road surfaces and pavements, which clearly impressed 'Jack'. Sadly these are as wonky and the surfaces as dodgy as they've ever been. I can honestly say I can't recall the halcyon era of 2009, when Mike Freer's administration made sure they were all fixed, but lets take Jacks word. Freer was the architect of the "Zero Council Tax increase policy" (only just abandoned in favour of maximum tax rises)  which ensured that such roads and pavements are simply a warm memory.

As to potholes, sadly the intervening nine years of Conservative rule later and we've never seen more potholes than last winter. As we lurch into another winter, doubtless all of the patches and bodges will start falling apart once more. At the bottom of my road, Millway, NW7 the road surface is simply deteriorating. I hate to think what it will be like after a few frosts.

It also seems that back in the halcyon days of Mike's rule Tally Ho, Temple Fortune and Mill Hill Broadway were free of litter, pavements were perfect and no wonky streetlights and dilapidated street furniture. Sadly they all look shabbier than they ever have these days.

In Mike's days, you could set your watch by when the dustmen came. A recent reorganisation has left some residents dreaming of a fortnightly bin collection, let alone weekly ones. The service has literally fallen apart since the new bin rounds were introduced.

Mike also took recycling seriously. Sadly, due to the financial mismanagement, the current administration, food waste recyclng was stopped last December (although residents were only told after the election in May).

It is interesting to read the comments about Victoria Park. The council has recently flogged off the Lodge there, to be replaced by a block of flats. As to other parks, local residents have had to organise their own litter picking groups to keep the parks usable and pleasant.

As to graffiti, this is a scourge that is now worse than ever, a topic we covered not too long ago in detail.

So what has gone wrong? Why has the council crumbled from the halcyon days of Mike Freer? The answer can be summed up in one word - Capita. The contracts that the council signed with Capita have resulted in the council completely losing focus on what its core function is.  In many ways 'Jack' had a point. Under Freer, they were at least doing the core things councils were supposed to do. Bins were collected and potholes were filled in, All of the management changes, designed to transform the Council into  a "future shape" commissioning Council have resulted in a council without effective management. Procurement of services is not controlled by the council, it is outsourced to Capita, as were financial monitoring. What we have now is the result. The only parts of the Barnet Council empire safe from cuts is the parts run by Capita, as these are protected by contracts. Sadly these guarantees have not translated into better services. Previously well run in house services, such as bin collections have had to be decimated to ensure there is cash to pay Capita its dues.

I wonder what a "floating voter" such as jack would find to cmmend Barnet Council for today? I'd love 'Jack' to update us. Let's just hope that tonight at the meeting of Barnet Council, we start to see the end of all this outsourcing madness.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.




Monday, 10 December 2018

Environment Monday - Children should not have to breath toxic air in the Borough of Barnet

Every Monday, the Barnet Eye features a special feature on the local environment. We believe that the people of Barnet are being let down by our local politicians, who need to step up and start to seriously start addressing the many issues which are blighting the lives of local residents. Today we look at air quality in the Borough.

Traffic Mayhem on the North Circular
Lets start with a statistic. According to the Greater London Authority, 9,000 people a year die due to poor air quality. That is three times more every year than died during the troubles in Norther Ireland. It is a truly shocking statistic and the worst aspect is that it is completely avoidable. Whilst this cannot be addressed in a single day, the technology exists to completely eradicated this problem within 7-10 years in London. It may (or may not) come as a surprise to learn that Barnet Council has an action plan to address these issues ( Air Quality Action Plan 2017 – 2022).

Sadly, this is a complete joke. Let me do a little run through their (in)action plan. My comments are in Red Italics. One can only conclude that the current administration of Barnet council either have not read their own policies, or they couldn't give a stuff about the effects their inaction has on local people, especially school children.

Action 1 Minimise dust emissions from construction sites.
This action refers to dust emissions.  Environmental Health responds to dust nuisance complaints from residents as part of its duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  Environmental Health also enforces dust emissions from other construction plant under the Environmental Permitting Regulations, for instance concrete crushing machines.  Construction method statements required as a planning condition ensure dust is dampened down on building sites.

Anyone who lives in Mill Hill and has seen the demolition of the National Institute for medical research will know that this is an absolute joke. In July, we wrote a blog that comprehensively proved that dust control was completely inadequate. There is a primary school less than 100 yards from the site. It is simply scandalous that the Council cannot be bothered to enforce their legal obligations or follow their own action plan. Have a look at this video that we made. No enforcement action at all was taken, despite our video conclusively proving that dust suppression was totally inadequate. NIMR is one of the largest sites in Barnet. Sadly this is being repeated at sites across the Borough

Action 2 Enforce Non Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) air quality policies.
This is a key element of the London Mayor’s air quality strategy and aims to reduce tailpipe emissions from vehicles on construction sites.  All Non Road Mobile Machinery of net power between 37kW and 560kW must meet at least Stage IIIA of EU Directive 97/68/EC and its amendments.  The London Borough of Barnet is leading on a joint project with the London Boroughs of Haringey, Waltham Forest and Enfield to employ a shared Enforcement Officer for dust and NRMM emissions on construction sites.  A grant of £180,000 over three years has been awarded for the project from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund.

Given the dust generated by the demolition, it is clear that the grant of £180,000 has been wasted. I wonder what Mr Bard, who was featured in our video will think of his taxes being spent in this way

Action 3 Enforcing Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant and biomass air quality policies.
Environmental Health require detailed air quality dispersion modelling assessments of proposed CHP and biomass plant from applicants, to ensure they meet the criteria required by the GLA.  Where the criteria cannot be met then developments will be refused on air quality grounds.  This is written into the Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance on Sustainable Design and Construction.

Given that Barnet Council has abandoned food collections and now simply sends all compostable waste for incineration, it is 100% clear that this is a pledge that they have zero interest in. 

Action 4 Enforcing Air Quality Neutral Policies.
The Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for sustainable design and construction requires air quality assessments to be carried out for certain developments.  These developments may be in an area of existing poor air quality, or could result in a decrease in air quality due to their size.  Environmental Health review the assessments and ensure that exposure to poor air quality is minimised through mitigation measures.  Where this is not possible, or there is an unacceptable increase in pollution levels, Environmental Health will recommend refusal of a planning application on air quality grounds. Highways also monitor Sustainable Travel Plans for new Developments in accordance with Regional Enterprise Performance indicator PITD03

There are many huge schemes across Barnet in the Pipeline. The Brent Cross Scheme will add 29,000 cars a day to the already polluted North Circular road. Whilst there is clearly a need for more housing, there is little in the plan to improve public transport. The council points to the new Thameslink Station, but any user of this service will know that the rushhour trains are often full by the time they leave Mill Hill, let alone by the time they get to Brent Cross. We believe that the Council should start exporing light rail options for the busiest traffic corridors. The biggest problem in Barnet is radial journeys. There are several disused rail lines in Barnet that could either be adapted as dedicated cycle ways or light rail lines. Other corridors that could be adapted should be identified and prioritised, with developers picking up the tab.

Action 5 Increase the planting of green barriers and vegetation.
Belts of vegetation along roads can reduce the amount of air pollution that people behind it are exposed to.  They consist of hedges between a road and pavement or cycle track. Urban vegetation is the sum of parks and smaller green patches within the city such as green walls made of ivy and green roofing.  Vegetation has the ability to clean the air by filtering out pollutants.
The 2013 to 2016 Mayor’s Air Quality Fund enabled the planting of 221 nitrogen dioxide reducing trees on the Borough’s streets.  LIP funding enabled the planting of a 40m long ivy green-screen to
remove air pollutants from a school playground adjoining the A41.  Greening has a key part to play in removing air pollution.  Environmental Health will continue to apply for funding for similar schemes. 
Planning requirements for new developments also act to ensure green spaces are not lost but enhanced. 
 Future improvements from the Borough’s Open Spaces and new Tree Strategy:
• committing to a program that involves a net gain in trees across the borough 
• strengthening the quality of the landscape (through planting avenues, tree groups, park boundaries and woodlands) 
• addressing urban warming and reducing pollution (tree planting concentrated in the south of the borough where it is needed most) 
• addressing NO2 (tree planting next to major roads) from 2016




This is something that The Barnet Eye has long been a supporter of. Sadly, as with most things in Barnet Council, there is simply no vision or innovation. A huge number of people in Barnet would love to contribute to this project. Barnet could and should lead the world here. Local residents, working as individuals and through Churches, Mosques, Synagogues or in association with funeral directors etc, should be encouraged to plant trees and shrub beds as memorials to beloved friends and relatives. I would love to see the council set up a memorial site, where residents could have a tree planted and have a little biography as a permanent memorial to residents who have passed away. This should be self funding. I for one, would love to plant trees to remember my parents who lived for decades in the Borough, and made a huge contribution to civic life. We should identify the sites and then appeal to the local community to make it happen. It is a win/win. 

Action 6 Ensuring that Smoke Control Areas are enforced.
The Council has a statutory duty under the Clean Air Act 1993 to prevent dark smoke from chimneys.  This involves responding to complaints about residential chimneys, providing advice on approved appliances and fuels, and taking action where necessary.  The majority of the London Borough of Barnet is a designated Smoke Control Area.  As part of the 2014-2016 Air Quality Champion project, leaflets about Smoke Control were distributed to local businesses.  These included restaurants using charcoal, and businesses selling wood burning stoves.  This work will continue.

I am quite interested to read about this leaflet, stating that "leaflets were distributed to businesses". I wonder which businesses received the leaflet and how much this cost. I would guess that outside of the restaurant and garden centre trade, virtually no business does anything in Barnet that involves burning coal/charcoal. The biggest nuisance for most residents in terms of smoke are bonfires in residential areas, burning garden waste. In recent years, this has nearly been eradicated by the green bins. Now Barnet Council wants to charge residents £50 for a green bin, so it is likely that we will see a return of the familiar smell of buring leaves and wood at the weekend. In short, there is no joined up thinking at all. It is typical of Barnet Council to be looking both ways at the same time, blaming business and residents, whilst making policy decisions that make matters worse. 

Action 7 Brief Director of Public Health on Air Quality in Barnet.
The Director will be periodically briefed on air quality measures and improvements as it has a direct influence on the health of Barnet residents.

Just occasionally, a Barnet Council document leaves me speechless. Is it really possible that prior to this 2017 action plan, the Director of Public Health wasn't being briefed?  No wonder Barnet has the worst measured air quality in Western Europe (at Mill Hill Bus station under the M1).




Action 8 Director of Public Health to sign off Annual Status Reports and new Air Quality Action Plans.
This action aims to ensure that air quality is high on the agenda for the Health & Wellbeing Board, and also to promote partnership working.

If the aim of this is to conclude that air quality is high on the agenda for  the Health and Wellbeing board, given the lack of enforcement of dust controls, cancellation of brown bins, charging for blue bins, lack of public transport planning for mega schemes, etc, one has to conclude that it really isn't working. 






Action9 School travel planning.
The London Borough of Barnet encourages walking and cycling to school.  It develops school travel plans, provides bicycle training, maintenance sessions and teaches road safety. The work is evaluated by the No. of Local Authority, Independent, Academy and Free Schools with TfL STAR Accreditation (TfL STAR  - Sustainable Travel Accredited and Recognised). Currently this is 90% of schools.





This really angers me. "School travel planning" has nothing to do with teaching kids how to ride bikes. It demonstrates that the people who write these reports do not understand English. Travel planning for schools should mean developing sustainable admissions policies (ie reference for local kids who are within walking/cycling distance, deveelopment of "safe cycling corridors" for all pupils living withion 2KM of schols. As an example, 85% of the admissions for Mill Hill County High School (the largest secondary school in Barnet) have to cross a major arterial rode on their journey to schools. None in this area have a safe cycle route. Another thing I would like to see is a requirement for all selective/faith schools to start the school day at 8am. I have no issue with selective/faith schools, but their catchment base is much larger, meaning a high proportion of pupils travel to school by car. An 8am start would ensure that the majority of these journeys would be outside of the rush hour. Staggering of school oepning times should be centrally planned across the Borough to ensure the effects of school run is minimised. I would also like to see parnet sign up to a walking charter, wih financial penalties for those that sign up to ensure admission, then renage on commitments.

Action 10 Air quality projects with schools.
The projects initiated by the 2013-2016 Mayor’s Air Quality Fund will continue where funding is realised.  These include an anti-idling awareness campaign at primary schools; campaign work with the charity Living Streets to promote walking to school and “Clean Air Routes”; work with the music industry to encourage secondary school children to walk or cycle to school to improve air quality and their health; and provision of information to parents about air quality in the form of leaflets. The Council has worked with 45 schools, directly delivering lessons about air quality, anti-idling initiatives and road safety/active travel initiatives. Over a seven day period, outside 10 schools,  189 drivers have been advised about not leaving vehicles idling and 64 instances of idling were stopped. 1,600 secondary school pupils attended a “Go Your Own Way to School” show; 92% of these pupils are now committed to improving air quality outside their school, and 87% have stated they will make an effort to walk and cycle more for their health.



This is all very well, but the primary problem is that parents are driving short distances. Sadly until the way admissions are conducted is resolved, this will continue.
 
Action 11 Investigate joining North London Freight Consolidation Scheme.
Barnet has recently been awarded £55K as part of the London Mayor’s Air Quality Fund over a period of two years to join the existing North London Freight Consolidation Scheme on a trial basis.  Boroughs work together to consolidate their deliveries.  Goods are delivered to a consolidation centre, from which cleaner, low emission vehicles make the final part of the journey to Council offices.  The aim is to reduce the amount of vehicle trips and therefore the amount of air pollution.  The project will start with a review of the Council’s existing deliveries, and contracts with partners to understand the current behaviours around ordering and deliveries.  The second phase will involve joining the existing consolidation scheme, if appropriate to Barnet’s needs and requirements.

I did some research. I was interested in how the "North London Freight Consolidation Scheme" is supposed to work. It is clearly an aspiration as opposed to something that is actually up and running. Strangely the TFL document detailing this does not mention Barnet. The scheme says 
"Councils should work together with Universities, Business Improvement Districts, Hospitals,
Offices and Retailers in their local areas to achieve maximum throughput. Once the facility
is in place, adding volume increases the efficiency, cost effectivenessand environmental benefits for all." I run a business, I've heard nothing from Barnet Council about any of this. If nothing else, Barnet was rather late to the party. 


Action 12 Achieve Bronze accreditation of the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) for the borough’s own fleet by October 2016 and Silver accreditation by March 2018.
The Borough’s vehicle fleet numbers approximately 380, and includes rubbish trucks, gritting lorries, road sweepers, small vans, minibuses, mowers and other machinery.  All of the fleet complies with the requirements of the Low Emission Zone and there is a mix of Euro V and the highest Euro VI standard vehicles. The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme is an accreditation scheme encompassing safety, fuel efficiency, vehicle emissions and improved operations.



A degree of credit where credit is due. At least there is a degree of progress, although I'd like to see a firm commitment to going electric.

Action 13 Investigate the possibility of increasing the number of hydrogen, electric, hybrid, biomethane and other cleaner vehicles in the borough’s fleet.
Continued decreases in vehicle emissions are possible with cleaner vehicle technologies. The council currently has none of these vehicles in its fleet, however it   is actively exploring the use of Hybrid Vans  and the feasibility of introducing them.
Action 14 Accelerate uptake of new Euro VI vehicles in borough fleet.
Euro VI vehicles have the lowest emissions for nitrogen dioxides and particulates for standard vehicles, and the higher the percentage of these vehicles in the fleet, the lower the overall pollutant emissions. All new vehicles procured will be to the highest Euro VI standard.
Ditto. A degree of credit where credit is due. At least there is a degree of progress, although I'd like to see a firm commitment to going electric.

Action 15 Safer Urban Driver Training for drivers of vehicles in borough’s fleet.
LIP funding is provided for CPC Safer Urban Driver Training for borough fleet drivers.  The training focuses on the challenges of driving in cities in a way that lowers the risk to vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians.  The training includes an outdoor on-road cycling session to gain insights into the cyclist experience on the road.


Whilst I am happy that this is being done, this statement does not actually address the purpose of this document, which is to reduce pollution. Are these courses training council drivers to drive in a manner that reduces emissions? Not over revving of engines and turning them off whilst idling are two measures that can make a difference. Are these covered?

Action 16 Control air pollution from industrial / commercial and residential sources.
The Council has a statutory duty to regulate over 100 premises to reduce emissions to air, including cement batchers, dry cleaners, crematoria, printing presses, petrol stations, vehicle re-sprayers and concrete crushers.  It also has a duty to investigate complaints of dust nuisance, including complaints about construction sites.  The relevant legislation is the Environmental Permitting Regulations and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Key Performance Indicator EH02(LAPPC) sets an annual target of 100% inspection of medium and high risk rated premises. This has been achieved every year since 2005.

Back to dust. Mr Bard, who runs a business at Burtonhole Lane and is featured in the above video has complained numerous times about the dust from the NIMR development. He has yet to receive any sort of satisfactory answer. I wonder how he feels about the council receiving 100% ratings?
 

Action 17 Monitor air quality. 
The London Borough of Barnet has a duty to review and assess air quality. There are two automatic air quality stations at Tally Ho and Chalgrove School (measuring particulates, PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, NO2).  These results are published on the web at www.airqualityengland.co.uk.  Nitrogen dioxide is also monitored using 15 diffusion tubes across the borough.  The results are reported to Defra and the GLA, and help to inform residents, and consultants acting on behalf of developers. 
Action 18 Ultra Low Emission Zone to cover the whole of the London Borough of Barnet.
The ULEZ will come into being in September 2020.  It includes all vehicles and covers the area of the current congestion charging zone.  A feasibility study was carried out for TfL in 2015 to consider the expansion of the proposed ULEZ.   One proposal is to have the boundary of the A406 as the limit of the zone.  This could lead to residential streets close to tube, bus and railway stations near the A406 North Circular Road in Barnet becoming more congested with people trying to avoid paying the charge. There are also highly polluted trunk roads north of the A406 in Barnet such as A1, M1, A41, A5 and A1000 that if not in the ULEZ will not see a significant reduction in vehicle congestion or pollution reduction to residents.  It is recommended that the option to increase the ULEZ to cover the whole of Barnet is explored and members consulted on this option.  This action is likely to have the most significant impact on reducing air pollution in the Borough.  In the GLA evidence for a ULEZ, in 2025 there was a 31% predicted reduction in NOx emissions in Barnet if all of Barnet is in the ULEZ, but if only the area below the A406 is in the ULEZ there will be only an 8% decrease in NOx emissions by 2025. The major roads in Barnet are significantly used by commuters who drive through the borough without stopping and they would be subject to the ULEZ by 2019-20, whereas Barnet residents who  can have an exemption until 2023. This means residents with petrol vehicles pre Euro IV would be at least 14 years old and diesel cars at least 9 years old before they were noncompliant and subject to a charge. There is consultation on a generous scrappage scheme for pre Euro VI diesels for all residents in the ULEZ. The ULEZ should also encourage more sustainable and active transport.

This is an absolute farce. Everyone in Barnet Council knows the undercroft of Mill Hill Broadway bus station is the worst air quality spot in the Borough of Barnet and Western Europe. This is the sort of site that should have permanent air quality monitoring, not least because 2 million commuters a year have to breath the smog as they emerge from Mill Hill Broadway Station and hundreds of children breath it in as they wait for buses. I believe that Barnet deliberately does not site monitoring at such spots because they know it will be appalling and people will demand action. 

Action 19 Lower legal speed limit to 20mph in areas close to schools.
This is a policy that was agreed by the Council Cabinet in 2014.  LIP funding is being used to design and implement 20mph zones close to schools for road safety.  This should have indirect benefits for air quality as more people are encouraged to walk and cycle to school instead of taking the car.  There are currently 23.2km of 20mph road in the borough. There is an achievable target of an extra 2km per year subject to feasibility studies.

Again this is an example of muddled think from Barnet Council. Whilst I am for a 20mph limit outside schools in school hours for safety reasons, a 20mph limit actually increases pollution. This is a road safety issue, not an air quality issue. It appears that the council does not understand the difference

Action 20 Differential charges for residential parking permits based on pollutant emissions.
The Council’s new parking permit scheme for residents links the charges to the emissions in gCO2 (grams of carbon dioxide) that the vehicle emits in order to try to persuade car owners to move towards vehicles emitting less carbon dioxide.  There are three payment bands.  Cars in the 2 higher bands must pay a higher price for their permit.  This action reflects the Council’s Parking Policy and helps encourage the take-up of low emission vehicles.  Electric vehicles incur no charge.  The Council will carry out an annual review of emissions based bands to reflect national and regional policies.

We are broadly supportive of this, however given that the government was until recently encouraging road users to buy diesel, we'd prefer a carrot and a stick, so if a user switches to a zero emission car from a diesel or a high emission, they should receive a full refund for one year

Action 21 Improved electric vehicle charging point infrastructure.
Encouraging motorists to choose electric vehicles rather than the traditional petrol or diesel car is a key government policy to improve air quality.  The installation of more electric vehicle charging points in residential streets as well as car parks will encourage the take up of electric vehicles.  Some LIP funding is being spent in 2016/2017 for installation of new points and EVCP infrastructure will also be provided by Bluepoint as part of Source London, following the first 12 points installed in 2015.  In addition, charging points are a requirement of certain new developments.



The devil is in the detail. The number of charging points for a Borough the size of Barnet is woeful. Every parking area should have at least 10% of spaces reserved and enabled for electric cars, with a 50% reduction in parking costs. 

Action 22 Increase provision of cycle parking.
Support for cycling is provided financially through the Local Implementation Plan (LIP).  Better parking provision for cyclists helps make cycling an attractive alternative to the private car, encouraging modal shift.  Sites for improved facilities will include leisure centres, shopping areas, rail and tube stations, and other transport hubs. Target of between 50-100 cycle spaces per annum.


We are supportive of this action.
 

Action 23 Encourage modal shift to bicycle through improved bicycle routes and encourage walking with safer, attractive and more accessible pedestrian routes.
A key strategy is to encourage alternative means of transport as road traffic is the primary source of air pollution in Barnet.  The LIP is funding the improvement of bicycle routes and the details will be in the finalised cycle strategy.  Quietway routes are being progressed in the Borough.  These give cyclists an alternative quiet route to the busy main roads. Many of the major roads in Barnet are sufficiently wide to accommodate a cycle lane (1-1.5m wide with a white line).  This would improve car and bicycle lane discipline and reduce congestion for motorists, while making cycling a safer option. This need not impede parking or restrict access to business. This type of option would be subject to a road space asset review.  It is important to continue to consider the needs of different road-users.
 The target for 2016/17 is aiming to train 2,000 children (Bikeability Level 2 or 3) and 250 adults.  
In 2015 1,764 pupils and 261 adults were trained.

Performance Indicators HSTD02: target of 3 % of all journeys by cycle in 2024 and HSTD01: % trips by walking to increase from 29-31% by 2024.
Current evidence suggests a 1% modal shift of increased journeys from cycling based on 3 years data from TfL.

The action on safe/segregated cycleways is painfully slow and woefully inadequate. Whenever Barnet are seeking to discuss this, they always bung in the "we're supplying training for children". This is a red herring in terms of provision of safe routes. You can train an astronaut, but if you don't build him a rocket, he's a bloke sitting around without a purpose. The same is true of training children to cycle in Barnet. There is simply nowhere that it is truly safe for them to use their skills.

Action 24 Actions on TfL-controlled roads.
Transport for London manage the roads which are the busiest and the source of the most air pollution in Barnet, namely the A406, A41, A5 and A1. TfL also run the buses that operate on Barnet’s roads.  The Council will liaise with TfL to explore options to reduce congestion and improve air quality on these roads.  This could include deploying the newest lowest emission buses, creating cycle lanes where feasible, and better traffic signal management and junction design.

 The title of the council document is an "action plan". When it comes down to the biggest source of pollution in the Borough, it is the second last item on the plan, there's been no action and there is no plan! It is quite shameful. The Mayor should hang his head in shame for not being able to work with the Council.

Action 25 Actions on the M1.
The M1 motorway is managed by the Highways Agency.  It passes through very populated areas of Barnet, causing poor air quality and also high noise levels.  The Council will liaise with the Highways Agency to explore options for improving air quality in Barnet.  Work is currently taking place on feasibility studies of noise and air quality barriers in Mill Hill.

Noise and pollution are two different issues, however there is a degree of linkage. The M1 is at the bottom of my garden, so this is an  issue close to my heart. When the M1 was built in 1968, Hawthorn trees were planted on the embankment. These are not evergreen so provide no sound screening at all for four months of the year. Planting of evergreen species with sticky leaves would remove particulates, provide better sound insulation and generally make a massive improvement to the environment.  As our business is socially responsible, we planted a row of 20 such trees on our boundary in Bunns Lane with Flower Lane. These provide a degree of screening for residents in Woodland Way from the worst noise of the M1. It is not rocket science, it is not expensive and I am sure many residents would contribute to such a planting scheme. I certainly would. 

Why do we continue to tolerate bad air quality which kills so many. Why do we force children to wait for buses in sites that have dangerous levels of pollution? Why do we allow developers to produce clouds of potentially toxic dust next to Primary Schools? Barnet has a plan to deal with this, but it is woefully inadequate. The Barnet Eye is working to pull together everyone who cares, to come up with a new plan, one that the community can support and make happen. Do you support us?

London air quality can be tracked here. Twitter for London AirBarnet council has opted not to be a member of the London Air Quality Network and support the services we bring to the public. As a result, information displayed here for this area is limited compared to member boroughs.

We can only speculate as to why.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Tweets of The week in the London Borough of Barnet - 09/12/2018

We are in the final straight of 2018. Have you had a great year? Only three more Tweets of the Week left! So what has/ will be happening around the London Borough of Barnet according to the Tweeters of Barnet? Here's our round  up.

1. Pub champion @Superfast72 now has the antisocial plague of stickers for sexual services on street furniture in his sights. Many of the women advertising these services have been victims of human trafficing. I discussed this with a Barnet Council official last week. They said that it was difficult to make contact with the women. I asked if they'd tried ringng the number. Embarrassed silence


2. Ryan was none too pleased with the quality of utility works in Colindale. We can understand why


3.This is my type of Christmas tree tweet. One with a guitar and a drumkit in shot!


4. Looking for something fun with the kids in the festive season? This looks great


5. There are times it must be great being a police officer. Imagine getting paid to stroll around the lovely Sunnyhill Park. I'm jealous! And I'm glad that they are working to discourage anti social behaviour in such a great spot

6. We saw the first winter frosts in Mill Hill this week. It looks rather fetching, doesn't it


7. We love this. A big thumbs up to the Cricklewood town team


8. I suspect that Golders Green wins the Menorah of the year contest in Barnet. Very impressive! Maybe we should have a contest!


9. One of our old friends is upset because his bin hasn't been emptied! To misquote the old saying "He is not alone"


10. Yes, please do come along




That's all folks
---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.