Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Barnet - A great place to do business?

I've run a business in Barnet for 35 years. We are one of the leading studios in London, if not the world. Many world famous artists started their careers rehearsing and recording at our studios. One thing which has struck me over the years is just how bad our local council is at telling the story about what a good place to do business the London Borough of Barnet is. We have great tube and rail connections to London and to the rest of the country and we are ideally placed on the road network as well. We have a great mix of urban developments and green belt, making the borough a great place to live and work. Contrary to the myths of the time, economic prosperity is not generated by housing. It is generated by jobs and business. without this, there would be no economy to support the mortgages and rents. Therefore it is vital that Barnet Council should play its part.

In Barnet, we have a vibrant branch of the Federation of Small Business. Every month, on the first Monday (Yesterday), they hold a networking meeting at Cafe Buzz in Finchley. The meeting is free to attend and dozens of local traders turn up to exchange details and discuss matters. There is a presentation. I was pleased to see a representative from the council at yesterdays meeting. I've recently been lobbying the council to do  its part and amongst the suggestions I've made have been]

a) Improve the visibility of business services on the council website
b) Have pictures on the front page of the site talling what a great place Barnet is for business
c) Business friendly parking policies.
d) Better and more identifyable corporate branding
e) Details of local businesses and services in the Borough on  teh council website

You may think that point d) is irrelevant, but the NHS style corporate logo for Barnet is tired and looks like the NHS logo. It is ideal for a sick borough. I'd like to see Barnet Council encourage businesses based in Barnet to display the Barnet logo on their website and have a link back to the council pages on what a great place Barnet is to do business (which don't currently exist).

There are many challenges facing the London Borough of Barnet, but local businesses providing local jobs will make a significant difference to solving them. For single parents with school age children, often a local job is the only realistic option to benefits. The more such jobs we create, the less tax we'll all pay. Surely our Conservative cuncil should recognise this and proactively be promoting policies to which create prosperity? Making it easy to do business in the Borough and telling our story would be a good place to start. Every job on the highstreet is potentially one less person claiming benefits and every job destroyed by bad policies such as the Brian Coleman era parking regime is another call on your wallet in tax.

I would like to invite the Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius to the next Cafe Buzz business network meeting in October, so he can see for himself what the council should be doing and who they should be talking to.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Guest Blog - David Cameron and the enemy within - by John Sullivan

By John Sullivan

Cameron attempts to frighten us with ISIS the enemy within , and there is no doubt we have much to fear from the likes of ISIS.

What Cameron fails to understand is for millions of us he and his millionaires cabinet and his wealthy backers that he is handing over our public services and our NHS to further line their collective pockets, represent a far greater threat to British working people than ISIS.

They have brought poverty, starvation, homelessness, slave labour , part time employment they call employment, a hatred for the poor and the disabled , suicides and unnecessary early deaths due to benefit cuts and bedroom taxes. I for one fail to se what we have to fear from ISIS who threaten sudden death. Rather than the slow painful death of poverty and despair Cameron and his ilk have brought us in such a short space of time..

Cameron should be careful what he wishes for, his cry to stand and fight ISIS, might encourage us millions to take up arms against our true enemy within, which is Cameron and a few hundred pocket lining MPs of all political persuasions, us millions verse those hundreds. Be careful what you wish for Cameron, we might decide to reinstate the democracy in our country you have destroyed by your non mandated cruelty to the many, whilst lining the pockets of the few.

John Sullivan is a Barnet resident and carer for his daughter Susan. Guest blogs are always welcome

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It's not clever to celebrate George Galloway getting a smack

I awoke yesterday to year that George Galloway MP had been beaten up. I am not a fan of Mr Galloway and my first thoughts were "Ha Ha Ha, he deserved it". Then I thought about what actually happened a little bit more deeply and I realised that my gut reaction was completely wrong. We live in a democracy. That means we sort out political issues via the ballot box. The report I heard indicated that Mr Galloways assailant shouted something about the holocaust before the attack. The implication was that the assailant was enraged by Mr Galloways opposition to Israel and perceived anti semitism. Many of my Jewish friends were rather chuffed in their responses on Facebook and Twitter. I think they should step back and think about it. Sure Mr Galloway is offensive. He actually strikes me as a bully. On several occasions on TV I've seen him actuallyask "invite" opponents out side to settle things "man to man". He revels in his image as a tough, Glaswegan ex boxer. Usually the people he's picked on are slightly built academic types, who are not exactly likely to take up the offer. As such it is extremely hard not snigger at him getting duffed up. However we must. No matter how good it may feel to see an obnoxious bully get put in his place, it demeans us all to sink to his level and use the violence to settle arguments. Every tweeter and facebooker who has revelled in Galloways misfortune is in effect condoning violence.

If it's OK for Galloway to get a smack because he disagrees with the policy of the Israeli govt, then no one can complain if someone gets a smack for the opposite point of view. The logical conclusion for such behaviour is ISIS and Hamas. The biggest bully wins. In the UK we have always rejected violence as a legitimate way to settle such disputes. There is an interesting piece in the Sunday Times today that says armed police in the Met have only shot dead one person in the last three years. for such a large city that is extraordinary. We don't condone violence and we dont believe in thuggery.

That is why, however tempting it may seem at the time, we should condemn anyone whoe beats someone up for their political views, even if that person is George Galloway

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Saturday List #67 - The ten fatal mistakes that have doomed Manchester United

This morning there are further reports that Lois Van Gaal has stated that things can only get worse for Manchester United before they get better. Is this kidology or is it a frank acknowledgement of the scale of the crisis facing Manchester United. One has to ask how things could get this bad this quick. This time last year, they were Champions. They have spent more money than any other premiership club and they have a manager who took his team to the brink of winning the world cup.

In truth though, the situation is not something that happened overnight. The crisis has been building up for several years. Here are the fatal mistakes that United have made.

1. Underinvestment in the squad under Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie worked a miracle winning the league two years ago, but he did it with a threadbare squad. Bringing in Van Persie was the catalyst that allowed the feat to be pulled off, but it was clear to everyone that United had an ageing defence and midfield. With Scholes, Giggs, Evra, Ferdinand and Vidic getting long in the tooth, all should have been replaced by then, or at least have credible replacements lined up. Take that out of the League winning team and you don't have a team.

2. Bad succession planning in the business. It was clear that Fergie would go at some point. To lose the Chief Exec at the same time was catastrophic. All businesses need  a degree of continuity in their team. United lost the plot, by allowing themselves to get into this situation.

3. Flawed process for appointing a new manager. United are one of the worlds top brands. They could have their pick of managers. It seems the process was that they simply let Fergie pick a name out of the hat. Worse than that, they picked a manager with no trophies and no Champoins league experience.

4. Bad signings. We listed the five key players who were past their sell by date. They replaced none of them, instead indulving Moyes by signing Fellani, a player they didn't need and who doesn't fit in. It was clear what United needed, they left it too late and picked the wrong players.

5. Inept clearout of backroom staff. The first act of Moyes was a clearout of backroom staff such as Mike Phelan. As such he had no one around who could offer any insight into how to get the best out of the players, why things may not be working.

6. Ineptitude in conducting transfer business. The debacle of the attempt to sign Leighton Baines and Fellani showed the world that United were there for the taking. This has resulted in them paying top dollar for all subsequent signings such as Di Maria and Mata signings.

7. Panic buys in the transfer window. When it was clear that it was going wrong under Moyes, United made the classic mistake of a big name panic buy, bring Juan Mata to the club. Whilst it is true that you can't have enough great players, Mata addressed none of Uniteds problems and unsettled the existing attackers.

8. Showing a lack of class in sacking Moyes. United sacked Moyes the day after they technically couldn't qualify for the Champions League. This was done to save the compensation bill. This type of behaviour saves money in the short term, but in the long term sets down a marker which shows the club are more interested in bean counting than running a football club. Ryan Giggs was brought in as a temporary manager to get the club through to the end of the season. Whilst this may have given him a bit of experience and may assist him in his ongoing role at the club, the whole sorry episode tarnished United.

9. Lack of planning for managerial appointment. Whilst Louis Van Gaal is an excellent manager, with a great track record, given the mess United are in, I believe he was the wrong appointment. The reason is simple. United needed a root and branch rebuilding. the timing of the sacking of Moyes showed that they had clearly been planning the change. They chose someone who couldn't come in until almost the end of the Pre Season. With Van Gaal being totally wrapped up in the World Cup, the pre season was wasted. Had they brough a new manager in when Moyes was sacked, they could have gone into the pre season with somone who'd actually seen the players in action. Transfer targets would be identified and the players could be prepared. As it is, Van Gaal turned up and half the squad were missing. I believe his current predicament is caused by the fact that when the real business started, he hadn't got a clue what his squad could actually do. As such, by the time the transfer window reopens and he actually knows what he needs, United may again be out of the chase for a Champions league place.

10. Chosen the wrong man again? It is too early to say, but for me the signs are not good. In the first point, I listed the players United need to replace. You could argue that Di Maria may be a suitable replacement for Ryan Giggs. That still leaves the other four to replace. Not only that, but Van Gaal has tried to implement a 3-4-3 system with players who clearly are not up to it. Watching the first three games, it was clear to me that the players look terrified. Johnny Evans looked particularly uncomfortable against the mighty MK Dons. Van Gaal has a rep as a stern disciplinarian, to me it looked as if the United defence were scared stiff of making mistakes, so were nervous and jumpy. In the opening PL games, on numerous occasions defenders would receive the ball in space and simply look for a quick sideways pass. Under Fergie in their pomp, they would drive forward and create space elsewhere. Another disturbing feature of Van Gaal is the way he publicly attacked Luke Shaw. Shaw is a young player with a lot of expectation. His manager has put the boot in. How will this help build him up. I cannot imagine Ferguson making such a statement ever. I also think that Van Gaals statements about United not being fit for purpose don't help his cause. Other teams are losing their fear of facing United and these sort of statements don't help. It also undermines his existing players. How must they feel?

Of course, I'm a City fan so I find it hilarious, but that is really by the by. I don't think a single thing I've said hasn't been mentioned by friends who are on the dark side of the football divide.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Friday Joke - 29/8/2014 - Biker special !

We know you've been waiting for it!

Big Mick  says to his mate Greasy Jeff 
'My mate came off his bike today'.
'Oh really?' Says Greasy Jeff'
Yup' Big Mick answers 'He has brain damage, 2 broken arms and is blind in one eye!'
Greasy Jeff says ' Feckin Hell, no wonder he fell off!'

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Do you care about how benefits cuts affect the disabled - Sign this petition now please

I just saw this post on Facebook from a mate of mine. Says it all really

My son (aged 17) is Autistic. I dread to think what will happen to him when we are no longer around if this is how the DWP people behave towards the vulnerable.


Rotherham child abuse scandal

I am somewhat incredulous at the current debate around the child abuse scandal in Rotherham. Why is there any debate at all about a bunch of incompetents keeping their jobs, which lets face it, are about as important as it gets. As a parent, I happen to believe keeping children safe is probably the primary thing any half decent human being should aim to do. The fact that people were paid large salaries and decided that they couldn't be bothered is pretty much the end of the argument.

Let me draw an analogy. I have run a rock and roll band for the last 35 years. Clearly this is on a different planet in the scale of importance. So lets for arguments sake say I am auditioning a new drummer and I say to the candidate "We are going to play a cover version Rebel Rebel by David Bowie at the audition, so make sure you've learnt it". Just suppose he turns up and when we start playing it, we realise he's not bothered to even listen to it. We'd show him the door. Why? Because he clearly isn't interested in doing the job which he was engaged to do. It isn't hard is it?

What is interesting is that the whole scandal is being blamed on "political correctness". I find this a rather bizarre conclusion. What do we blame the Jimmy Savile, the Rolf Harris and the Cyril Smith scandals on? All of these scandals have one thing in common. People didn't do the job they were well paid to perform. As Savile roamed the wards of hospitals, preying on unsuspecting minors, hundreds of people saw what was going on. None of them did anything about it. In my book, they are all just as guilty as the actual perpetrators, as they were facilitators. Whilst the Savile type characters did it for perverse self gratification, those who were getting paid a wage to look after people and didn't are a different breed. They pocketed the cash and sat on their hands.  There is no excuse and the sooner we start sending the message out that if you work in the public sector in a position of responsibility, with a big salary and you don't do your job, you will lose your job and you pension, the sooner these sort of terrible scandals will stop.

Scottish Independence - The death of a National rail network?

One of my biggest fears for the UK, in the event of a Yes vote for Scottish Independence is the calamatous effect it is likely to have on the UK rail network. There are two huge issues that no one really seems to have considered or discussed.

1. Network Rail. This is a 'not for profit' company which is wholly owned by the government. Presumably it will have to be split into two organisations in the event of Independence. This will require a whole new layer of bureaucracy, a whole raft of new IT systems and a massive team of lawyers to sort out issues arising from this divorce. Presumably the new "Network Rail Scotland" will be given its orders from the new Parliament and these will be a whole set of different orders from those issued to "Network Rail UK" in Westminster. What will this mean in practical terms? For one thing it will mean that HS2 will never reach Scotland. It is likely to ultimately also mean a massive shift away from freight on the railways to more and more lorries thundering up and down overused and underinvested motorways. Political decisions about transport spending will not be made for the benefit of the UK economy. Instead, they are likely to be made with short term pork barrelling in mind, which invariably means projects which benefit small areas rather than a more strategic long term plan to ensure freight is move efficiently and in an Eco freindly manner around the UK. Upgrading railway infrastructure is horrendously expensive and why on earth would Westminster invest a penny to improve links with a foreign country, with little benefit to the UK economy. The Scots are likely to make their infrastructure spending decisions around projects which will deliver votes, ie small scale improvements close to large centres of population. This means that longer term schemes, which deliver few votes but have massive eco benefit such as upgrading long distance freight handling capacity will be put on the back burner.

2. Awards of franchises. At present these are awarded on a UK national level. What happens with the franchises that straddle borders such as the East and West Coast main line contracts? At present Virgin runs the West Coast and the Government runs the East Coast, following the last debacle. It is inconceivable that the newly elected Scottish government will be happy to simply let the UK govt dish out such important contracts. So the franchise bidders will have to dealw ith two governments with presumably very different agendas. Once the divorce is completed, there is no reason why the UK government would have any interest in ensuring decent services north of the Border. One presumes that for the Scots, they will be keen to preserve services and ensure that any franchise award doesn't damage their economy, but how on earth can this be practically achieved? Of course where there are lucrative contracts on well used services this will not be too much of a problem, but over the course of time the network is likely to evolve into a more Uk centric system. With ever increasing demands on capacity, it seems likely that services to Scotland will be the first to go when making decisions as to timetabling constraints on overcrowded lines. It seems highly unlikely that the UK government will want to give any subsidies to prop up less well used regional services and will divert this money towards improvements which benefit the UK rather than the Scottish taxpayer.

Furthermore, one has to wonder what will be the view of the UK government on cross border road links. If the cross border rail network is run down to provide better inter UK services, then what will happen to the roads as traffic builds up? Will the ministry of transport sanction huge spending and development on expensive new roads and upgrades to existing roads? Again this seems unlikely if the chief beneficiaries are the Scottish taxpayer.

So who will benefit? It seems likely to me that the biggest winners will be the low cost airlines. They will take up the slack. Both Scottish and English airports will benefit from this, but again there are only so many air traffic control slots and can they cope with a massive expansion of cross border short haul flights. What seems fairly clear is that flying, which is the most polluting and non eco friendly mode of transport will be the growth area for transport in this brave new world.

So to sum up, what will the likely effect on the transport network.

1) Move away from rail freight between UK & Scotland
2) Running down of long distance passenger services between UK and Scotland
3) More concentration on urban rail services
4) Running down of UK/Scotland Motorways
5) Increase in cross border flights & air traffic congestion

Is this a problem? Well for someone like me who lives in London and rarely visits Scotland, but travels into London every day, a huge refocussing of transport spending away from Scotland and into more local services could actually be a good thing. I don't liv near enough to any airports for the extra noise to overly disturb me and in actual fact more spending on transport in London would probably improve air quality locally. I wouldn't be so sure it was a good idea if I was Scottish though. I can't logically see how any of these developments would persuade international businesses that Scotland is a good place to invest.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A short walk to dictatorship holding hands with Boris Johnson

I was appalled to hear Boris Johnsons suggestion that anyone travelling to Iraq or Syria would have to provide "a good reason" or be presumed guilty of being a terrorist. I am truly amazed that a so called libertarian Tory could tear up a thousand years of legal precedence of "Innocent untiln proven guilty" in the British legal system, purely because a few spotty, adolescent young men choose to decamp abroad to join up with a rag tag bunch of fundamentalist nutcases.

The concept of going abroad to fight other peoples wars is not new. George Orwell wrote a book about his experiences in the Spanish civil war with the Left fighting Franco in Homage to Catalonia. In fact one of the largest contingents to decamp to Spain were anarchists, who were at the time seem as a grave threat to the UK. These arguments are in no way new. What is even more ridiculous is Boris Johnsons idea that he could easily identify those who have signed up with ISIS. Does Boris really think that those who are planning terrorist outrages would broadcast the fact. During the 1980's I travelled extensively around the USSR without paperwork and documentation. It is easy enough to bypass border controls if you know a few people who are familiar with the system. Anyone planning on joining ISIS will have a whole network of contacts who could set up all manner of routes via Turkey, Jordan etc, perhaps via two or three other stops. It is not even particularly difficult to get bogus ID's or "spare passports" especially from other countries where a UK citizen has dual nationality.  My father was a commercial pilot working in the Middle East in the 1940's and 1950's and he specifically had two passports due to issues with certain countries objecting to certain other countries border stamps. One was British and one was Austrailian, which afforded him the luxury of getting less hassle in countries where Great Britain was none too popular at the time.

So what would happen in practise is that the terrorists would do what terrorists always do. They will hide in the shadows, and evade the autorities. Who will be inconvenienced and treated as criminals? Well I guess everyone with family and friends in Iraq and Syria, wishing to pay a visit. Everyone who wants to volunteer to do humanitarian work in countries suffering all manner of terrible sufferings.

But lets put aside the practical stupidty of what Boris is suggesting. Lets look at the theory. How many countries do not have some sort of terrorist nutcase group operating within them? I've just returned from Egypt, which has had its own problems. What about closer to home? In Spain there are still active Basque separatist terrorists. In Northern Ireland, part of the UK we have the Real IRA, who I suppose are more likely to actually kill British people. Should anyone travalling to these countries "without good reason" have to be presumed guilty until they can explain themselves? You may say "What a ridiculous proposition", but once the principle is established, experience shows that no one can predict how it will develop. Let me give an example. Speed cameras were originally sold to us as a way of preventing accidents at hotspots. Within no time at all they became nothing more than a cash cow for tax greedy councils. Millions of motorists driving perfectly safely have been fined, often because cameras have been strategically placed at points where they are most likely to catch you ( a good example is the A1 approaching Apex corner from Sterling Corner, where the camera is immediately after the sign where the speed limit changes from 70 to 50 mph, so if you decellerate slightly too slowly you get caught).

What is interesting is that I've been doing some reading up on the so called terrorists who beheaded the US journalist. It seems that the main reason for taking hostages is to extract huge ransoms for them. These are paid by governments and companies. There is even a view that the beheading has made the trade more lucrative. In short, I suspect that they are more of a criminal gang than driven religious fundamentalists. As far as I understand, the execution of a journalist in retaliation for the US government bombings is something that is totally unjustifiable from any readings of the Koran. It seems to me rather sad that Boris doesn't have the wit to assemble a bunch of leading Islamic scholars to make the point. I suspect that Boris could actually make a difference if he used his power and his office to try and get the point over to these thugs that killing innocent people does not give you entry to heaven and 70 virgins, but a ticket to Hades and enternal torment. Boris has a huge intellect, but he is using it solely for the purposes of moving on "Project Boris for PM" rather than solving any problems or making the world a safe place.

Now I don't for one second think Boris is an idiot or any less travelled or versed in the ways of the world than I am. I don't for one second think Boris actually beleives that his rewriting of the principles of English law will stop a single terrorist. So why is he saying it? There are two possible believable reasons. The first is that Boris wants to appeal to the hard right core of his support, who don't really have a clue about anything beyond the bottom of their garden and who have never bothered to actually educate themselves. This lot never think things through and simply seem to rely on the likes of Boris to come up with bonkers schemes which have no practical purpose. The second is that he wants to set the scene so that if and when he becomes Prime Minister, he has all of the essential tools to run a banana republic, where we are even more controlled than we are at present. To me his 'guilty until proven innocent' stance has all manner of obnoxious outcomes. If I decide to go for a 3am walk to clear my head, will I have to prove I'm not a burglar? If I write a blog saying that I disagree with Boris on repressive laws, will I be a dangerous subversive?

The truth is that when I hear Boris talking as he has done, it scares me to death. Prior to the end of communism, when I travelled around the USSR, on several occasions I had conversations with friends who confided in me the true political situation in the USSR. They were so scared that they would only say this when no one else was around, as they weren't completely sure their mates wouldn't dob them in. I travelled from Minsk to Vilnius on a train (without accreditation) and the friend who took me insisted that if anyone else entered our compartment that I was under no circumstances to speak English. As a result on the return journey, I spent 2 hours simply drinking beer and looking out of the window as my friend chatted to a rather attactive young lady, who it transpired was a local state security co-ordinator. Amusingly she was disgusted by my behaviour and dismissed me a  'Belorussian Peasant' much to the amusement of our friends. You may wonder why I took such a risk? The answer is simple. I was curious to see what was actually going on in the USSR. according to the law of Boris, I suppose that makes me a terrorist. I wouldn't do it today, but if I was my teenage self, I would be quite interested to go to Iraq and Syria and see for myself what is actually going on. At the time I was obsessed with music and I was actually more interested in the Soviet music scene. I assumed that there would be a strong underground punk scene and all manner of exciting subcultures. In truth (bearing in mind no internet then) the whole thing was hugely disappointing in that my Russian friends were more interested in the Beatles. I can say for certain that if I was younger, I'd have flown back to find out about the "Pussy Riot" scene when that story broke. To me that was exciting and perhaps they are the first real punk band for 30 years.

But then we hear nothing from Boris about them and the way they are being repressed, do we? In fact, we even had blogs on the Boris Johnson fan club house mag (AKA The Spectator) that Pussy Riot were wrong http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2012/08/why-pussy-riot-were-wrong/ - how a so called libertarian can oppose freedom of expression, I don't know, but there we have it.

In the last century, the UK has seen two world wars, a cold war, Northern Ireland, and a whole swathe of regional conflicts. Each has thrown up threats to the UK. Have any of these resulted in changes to the law requiring us to "prove we are innocent", even when the nation was threatened with destruction? Was I asked to justify my trip to the USSR, which had a hundreds of nuclear warheads pointed at London as I flew out? No of course I wasn't. But then, Boris wasn't in charge then, was he?