Monday, 19 August 2019

Does a week in Lourdes really counter 'Love Island' culture?

There was a fascinating article in last Fridays Guardian, that suggested that a week in Lourdes may be the 'perfect antidote to Love Island culture'. The article states

The true miracle at Lourdes is the way in which sick people take centre stage. Lourdes functions because of the many volunteers who help look after the sick, with their chairs and stretchers, and take them down into the baths to the healing waters. There are specialist medical staff available but the volunteers, many of whom use their annual leave to do this work, ensure that those who are ill or disabled are the top priority. Many of them are young and say the encounter with people with illness and disabilities has changed their approach to life and helped them make friends with people they would otherwise never have met. As one of them said: “Lourdes teaches us that we are all equal in God’s eyes.” It’s rare to have that sense of people’s equal worth endorsed elsewhere. Bodies certainly matter in Lourdes, but so does the soul. In our culture, we pamper the body, whether through food or beauty products, but spirits seem to be withering from neglect; depression and anxiety are rife.

Mum's 80th with my brothers
What is interesting is that the author states that she's not been to Lourdes, put off by the commercialism and tat shops that abound. What was interesting for me was that the article was published on the day I was travelling back from a week in Lourdes with HCPT group 560, a trip I've done most years since 2001, the year after my mother had a major stroke. My mum accompanied me four times on the trip. She had gone from being a happy, independent woman, who looked ten years younger than her 75 years, to a frail, totally dependent old lady, unable to speak or walk more than a few feet unaided, looking ten years older than her age in the blink of an eye. For me it was a seismic shock, one for which I was totally unprepared. Sadly she was also totally unprepared for life dealing this card. Like many people who suffer a debilitating brain injury, she was depressed and had lost the joy of life. I have a small confession to make. The main reason I took her was a subterfuge, cooked up with my brother and sister. We needed to get her out of the house, to do essential repairs. She lived on her own, and her flat had become dangerous. The carpet was worn and had holes, an ant infestation needed treating and several appliances needed replacing. She refused, saying it was a waste of money. My brother and sister knew I could sweet talk her into going, whilst I was away, the work would be done and when she got back, there would be nothing she could do.

To all of our amazement, she agreed to go as soon as I suggested it. She was a devout Roman Catholic and she confided that she felt a strong desire to return one more time. As HCPT run a hostel set up for disabilities in Bartres (a couple of kilometres from the centre of town and in the Pyrenene foothills), with a spectacular vista to greet you every morning and an ample supply of willing volunteers to help with all tasks, it was ideal. My mothers only concern was that she would be able to drink the three pints of Guinness and three scotches a day that she needed to maintain her equilibrium. I assured her that she could drink what she liked and this was included in the fare ( there is a group funds contribution and drinks with the group came out of this). She agreed and the tickets were booked.

For me, it was a bit daunting. I've had a troubled relationship with my faith over the years. Until I was 14 I was devout alter server. The combination of a Parish Priest who told me it was 'not the Churches job to run youth clubs and my discovery of Punk Rock, had made we switch my allegiances to Atheism and Humanism,  a path both my elder brothers have chosen. From the age of 14 to 24, this was very much how I identified myself. When I was 24, I had severe health problems. A need to 'sort myself out' lead to me taking up Yoga. Under our Yoga teacher Joyce at the Flower Lane centre in Mill Hill, I found that the nihilism of Atheism couldn't supply satisfactory answers for my journey. I became aware of and connected with spirituality. The death of my Father in 1987, massively affected me and I found that I was at sea spiritually without a paddle. I went to mass a couple of times, but the experience seemed to confirm that the Church didn't provide the answers. I had developed an unshakeable belief that there was more to the universe than we could see and feel, and that the spirit persisted after death. However I couldn't really piece the jigsaw together. I was in this hiatus until 1995, when fate intervened yet again. My Brother in Law, Tim, had a horrific accident. He was knocked off a moped in Greece. He was not wearing helmet and suffered a massive brain injury, multiple fractures and had a blood pressure of almost zero in the ambulance.

When we heard, we assumed he'd die. As many people do, in times of trouble, I prayed. I promised God that if Tim survived, I'd go to mass every week that I realistically could. Sadly I thought that my prayer would be ignored. But Tim made a nigh on miraculous recovery. I felt obliged to keep up my side of the bargain. I did this with a  heavy heart, but I love Tim so I felt I had no choice. Every time Tim had a setback, I'd get asked if I'd skipped mass. It became a standing joke. For the first year or so, I found it to be a rather difficult chore, but one I felt obligated to perform. Then a new Parish Priest arrived at Mill Hill. Father Perry Gildea turned up. He was a breath of fresh air. His sermons connected with me. They were interesting and thought provoking and I found that rather than analysing the previous days footie in my head for an hour, I was listening. He constantly reminded us of our duties to our neighbours, he explained biblical passages in a way that was relevant. For instance, I'd not realised until he explained, but the example of a Samaritan was used in the parable of the good Samaritan as they were despised in Palestine at the time. He then pointed out that 'Asylum seekers' were the modern Samaritans. It wasn't the waffly language I'd been so accustomed to. Perry was the chaplain for HCPT group 560 and his description of the week intrigued me. I felt that I should do it once.

The view that greeted us each morning
So that was how I got to be a member of group 560. Travelling with my mum was a daunting experience. She was a difficult character and extremely stubborn. She was depressed and in a rut. Almost on arrival, she demanded that I take her home. I told her that I was staying and she could just lump it. She didn't speak to me until the evening. By this time, she wanted a Guinness and as she had problems making herself understood, she knew she had to ask me. I got a couple of tins and we sat on the terrace drinking. She relaxed and apologised. She said she'd just been really tired and overwhelmed. She relaxed and as often happened, once she was comfortable, her speech improved. A few other members of the group joined us, and for the first time since her stroke, she was relaxing and enjoying herself in the company of strangers.

Several of our group were young people in wheelchairs, with quite debilitating conditions. After a couple of days, my mum started getting up and getting her own drinks. She told me that she'd realised how lucky she'd was. She'd only been struck down at the age of 75 and she could still walk, go to the toilet on her own and live independently. She started helping feed one of the girls who needed assistance at lunch and helping her with drinks. By the end of the week, the turnaround was remarkable. She was chatting and interacting fully with everyone. It was like a curtain had lifted. For me, I felt I had my mum back.

Enjoying some refreshments
When we flew home, she told me 'That was great, but never again'. She went a further three times until she had another major stroke, two weeks after the last visit that sadly killed her. My sister Cath accompanied her on the next three trips, which was an added bonus. Cath is 14 years older than me and had left home by the time I was seven. We reconnected and it was great to build a close relationship as adults. As for the rest of the group, many became firm friends. The group is a remarkable bunch of people. It contains the former BBC director of light entertainment who killed off Dr Who in the 1980's, a Davis cup playing Tennis player, one of the countries leading Downs syndrome actors, a Michelin star winning chef, an esteemed retired doctor, several nurses, and teachers. It also contains some of the most amazing people I've ever met, for whom every day is a challenge.

For me, I learned a very important lesson about spirituality. It is not about some 'mythical being' and some 'magic process' where we become marvellous and go up to sit on a cloud and play a harp. Spirituality is about empathy with those around you, with the beautiful planet where we all live and an acceptance of all of the mystery and strangeness of the universe that we don't know. My view is that our time here is a phase, a small part of our existence, but a hugely important one, where we should learn as much as we can, we should be as kind as we can to one another and where we should make the world as good a place as we can. Travelling to Lourdes has always pushed me way out of my comfort zone. That is a good thing. It has taught me to value everyone. I don't mean this in a 'worthy' way. The sheer ridiculousness of some of the situations can be hilarious. There is some amazing banter and you soon learn that laughing is more powerful than tears in such situations. You get to appreciate that just because someone is in a wheelchair, talks a tad strangely or is immobile, they have the same needs, desires and sense of humour you have. There is a perception amongst those who've never been that it is all about 'holiness and praying'. We had a day on the beach in St Jean De Luz, which was amazing fun. Life has many aspects and there is nothing bad about having fun.

In Catherine Pepinsters article in the Guardian, she talks about the tat on sale in the town, the wealth of the church on display in the Churches and Basilica's and tourist kitsch. It is sad she hasn't been, because if she had, she'd also talk about the friendships forged in the busy cafe's, the moments spent spotting trout on the bridge over the river Gave, which runs through the domain. This year my 19 year old son accompanied me. Whilst I can't drag him near the Church in Mill Hill, he's been going for the last ten years with our group. Watching him interact with the rest of the group makes me enormously proud. I've no idea if he is immersed in Love Island culture. What I do know is that, as he has been with our group on numerous occasions, he knows that there is another side of life. He was a helper for a grown man who needed help washing, dressing and shaving. Not quite the sort of holiday many teenagers choose, but one he's done for years.  Whatever faith he has or hasn't (he doesn't discuss it with me), he has got something priceless from his association with our group. He's learned that we are all the same. Cut us and we bleed, tease us and we cry, rile us and we anger, but show us love and we will return it. Our group is not exclusively Catholic or even Christian. One year, my daughter bought a friend who is Jewish. He got as much out of it as anyone else. His Grandfather was delighted to hear that Father Perry thought he'd make a great Rabbi (although no signs of that yet). We've even had atheists in the group. They have 'got it'. There is no effort to convert anyone or change anyone. That isn't what Lourdes is about for us. The miracle for us is that such a diverse group of people can go away together and come back with a better appreciation of what is good in our life. Whatever you may or may not think, that is gift beyond comparison.

Catherine Pepinster asked whether Lourdes could cure 'Love Island Culture'. She's asked the wrong question for me. I don't think that the modern day Lourdes is about seeking miracle cures for anything. It is about sharing a journey and an experience and emerging from it a more whole person. There's no reason why you can't enjoy both Love Island and trip to Lourdes. I suspect I know which one will mean more to you in ten years time though.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet

I've been away, more of that tomorrow. So I've had a quick scour to see what I missed. Here is what If found.

1. Once more, Mark Amies is on the trail of despair in our community!

2. Always happy to give great small businesses a plug

3. We like a nice bit of stained glass window. Which is the best in the Borough?

4. A date for your diary if you run a small business

5. Fabcy some Jazz next Weds?

6. A good start to the season from our local football team

7. And if you prefer oddly shaped balls

8. Historical tweet of the week!

9. This is a project we support

10. Great to see the next generation of Rockstars are flourishing in Mill Hill

That's all folks

Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Saturday List #228 - Ten reasons why I'm a pleb

Are you a toff or a pleb? Tory Minister Andrew Mitchell used the term pleb as an insult to a police officer who rather inconveniently insisted he follow the rules. In certain circles, being seen as a pleb would be worse than death itself. However the foolish, the self appointed elite who have such prejudices clearly are ill educated fools, unaware of the long and rich history of plebs. I've always been associated with plebian tastes. As the youngest of six, I was the only one of my siblings who did not have a private or grammar school education. As I'm dyslexic, my parents wisely concluded that it would be a complete waste of money. The down side for them was that I never developed refined tastes. My sister Caroline often teased me when we were younger about being a pleb. Then along came punk rock and being a pleb was cool. I was in the right place at the right time and I found myself comfortable in my plebian skin. My wife feels far less comfortable with the concept. It is one of the many things that she thinks she'd like to change, but has come to realise that my plebian tastes are in fact usually far more fun. Whisper it very quietly (she will kill me if she reads this) but I've been far more successful in plebifying her than she has been in gentrifying me. I am always open to try new things, none of the things here have been said without trying the alternative.

There are four types of people in London. There are the patricians and the plebs. These are quite well defined. Then there are the plebs who would be patricians. There's also the patricians who want to be plebs. In our family, we've had all of these over the years.

I always felt my father was a patrician who desperately desired to be a pleb. The Tichbornes were a wealthylLand owning family from Hampshire, my great grandfather, not being the eldest, emigrated to Canada to make his fortune on the Canadian Pacific Railway. My grandfather moved from Canada to Australia to make his fortune as an engineer, boring for oil and water in the Outback. Sadly alcohol and misfortune took him too early. My Father came back to England as an Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force (I've often thought his posh name opened doors for him), but whilst he could mix with the Hoi Poloi, he was always more comfortable with working men, a hangover from his days working in Goldfields in the outback.

My mother's father was from a family with strong Irish Republican links. She was delighted to marry my father, as she could ditch the name Fanning, which identified her as Irish working class and become a member of the aristocracy as a Tichborne. She soon ditched the Oldham (where she'd been brought up) accent on arrival in London as a 13 year old. She changed her name from Gladys to the far more sophisticated sounding Celia. Strangely, after she had a stroke in 2000, she reverted to Gladys. She told me that she was through with trying to impress people over a guinness in Lourdes. When I asked why, she simply informed me 'It's my name'. She had been named after her aunty Gladys, who was her godmother and reputedly had a few bob. I've never really been sure whether I'm a patrician who wants to be a pleb or just a pleb. My sister Caroline has always been sure. She often told me that I'm just a pleb when I was as a child. Ironically, she introduced me to punk rock and having spent the first eighteen years of her life trying desperately to be a patrician, she rather uncomfortably had to connect with her inner pleb when punk made it cool. My missus is definitely a patrician and desperately regrets her low brow tastes in men. She had convinced herself, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I'm really a patrician. She thinks my plebness is simply a vehicle to further the goals of my immense ego. Sadly I suspect that she'll be bitterly disappointed if she ever finds the truth out.

1. I prefer Ska music to classical music. If you want to listen to a tune with no words, then try The Liquidator by The Harry J All tSars

2. Now if you want a bit of singing, I don't really like the warbling of Opera. I can manage a bit occasionally, but I prefer a different kind of passion from the singers I like. To me, this is best exemplified by John Lydon's first single with Public Image

3. I'd rather buy four bottles of six pound a bottle plonk than one bottle of exquisite £24 wine. There is nothing worse than having a nice romantic dinner and finding that you've run out of plonk before the second course.

4. I prefer to read 2000AD comic than translations of Dostoevsky novels, fine though they are.

5. I passionately believe that the smaller the portion, the worse the restaurant. There is nothing worse than ordering a 'Seared Scallop' starter and finding that it is just that. One tiny scallop on a massive plate.

6. If I want to sing, I do not feel inclined to join a choir, I prefer to travel to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and sing songs of celebration of the genius of Pepe Guardiola.

7.  My idea of virtuoso playing of an instrument is best exemplified by Johnny Ramone. This was the first Punk Rock track I ever listened to and there are few finer examples of the art of making a sound on a musical Instrument. Johnny Ramone proved that less is sometimes more

8. Prince Charles feels that unless a building looks like it's designed to be a bad mock up of something Julius Caesar erected in Rome, it is a monstrous carbuncle.  I disagree. The one building in London that I always enjoy seeing is the Shard. This is my favourite London view.

9. I do not understand the fascination with steam engines. A couple of years ago, we saw an advert for a steam train going from Mill Hill Broadway to Bristol. The trip came with a magnificent champagne breakfast and a three course dinner on the way back, in a Vintage Pullman carriage. The train was meant to be hauled by a steam engine. My brother lives in Bristol, so it was a great treat for our wedding anniversary and a good chance to see him. The Steam engine broke down the day before and they put a diesel engine on the front instead. It got us there an hour earlier, so we had an extra hour seeing my brother. The dinner was just as tasty, but everyone else was royally pee'd off. I quite like a bit of modern technology, especially when it works better!

10. I prefer to shop in TK Max to Harrods. now, I have nothing against Harrods, it is a fine store and I always take tourist friends there if they ask. I think London is a far better place for having Harrods, and it provides work for thousands, directly and indirectly, but when it comes to buying stuff, I nip up to TK Max . in Hatfield. Just before my recent trip to France, I stocked up on T shirts and found a great pair of trainers and a great set of boots. I think the last thing I bough from Harrods was a scarf for my Mum about 25 years ago fro her Birthday. Cost a fortune and she gave it to my sister as a birthday present a month or so later. 

Thats all folks!

Friday, 16 August 2019


This has been the view I’ve woken up to for the last week. We still have a beautiful planet. All we need to do is learn to cherish and respect it.

Whatever faith you may or may not have, we are blessed to have so much beauty in the world. We all need reminding of this occasionally. Later today, God willing, I’ll be back in Mill Hill, hopefully enjoying a curry at The Mill Hill Tandoori. It has been great recharging the batteries and not watching the news.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Why would anyone bother to read a blog?

This is a question I often ask. I am amazed at how many people have had a peek at this blog over the years. I'm even more amazed at how many people message me about the contents, tip me off about things going on in Barnet and just thank me for raising things. In Barnet we are blessed with some fine blogs. John Dix, Theresa Musgrove and Derek Dishman have all made an amazing contribution to our community. We also have two retired bloggers, David Miller (former Chair of the Chipping Conservatives) and Vicki Morris, who moved away but helped define the world of Barnet blogging. Finally we can't forget the rather spikey individual that was Dan Hope, a former Conservative Councillor, who fell foul of Mike Freer and his regime. Dan sadly passed away a few years ago, but dedicated a huge amount of time to videoing council meetings and making sure transparency in Barnet was maintained.

All of these bloggers have one thing in common. We all put a huge amount of time into ensuring we have content that is worth reading on our blogs. I spend a huge amount of time researching blogs, writing Freedom of Information requests, collating stories from various stories, speaking to various councillors and council officials (in darkened doorways sometimes). The people who talk to me care and want the stories in the public domain.

Why would anyone read a blog? The sad answer is that if you really want to know what is going on in our locality, really want to know the stories that matter, there is no other real source of information. The local papers no longer have the resources to do in depth coverage of stories. It would simply be uneconomical for them to spend three days collating a single story. Some of the blogs I put together take weeks or even months to put together. You get a tip off. You put in an FoI request or attend a council meeting, sometimes, you have to go to several, over a period of months. Sometimes it is disheartening for me to put all that work in and only get a couple of hundred reads, when the next day I do a light hearted list of pictures of three legged dogs playing football that gets 27,000!

Over the last year, I've done a lot less political content. It had been my intention to stop that altogether, however the new Leader of Barnet Council has declared war on the public in Barnet and so like the old First World war vets in 1939, I've had to dust off my uniform, dig out my helmet and head off back to the trenches. There is work to do and thanks for being part of the journey. I have only one small request, for all the time I've out in. Please can you tell all your friends to have a little peak at my blog and that of the other Barnet bloggers. There is a lot of things going on in Barnet. Maybe your friends will not be interested, but if they are, then why would you want them to miss out on the fun.

Thanks for your support.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Environment Monday - Barnet Councils Climate Change Denial - A Guest blog by Sami Sami

By Sami Sami,

Last week I attended my first Barnet Council meeting. It was quite an experience, I had only a vague idea of how the system worked - how our councillors organised, made decisions and generally kept Barnet running (which, for all the ups and downs and bin collections, they generally manage).

The trigger for me attending the meeting was because one councillor (a member of the Labour party - not that it should be relevant) was putting forward a motion calling on Barnet to declare a climate emergency - following the lead of the UK parliament, the Scottish Government and over 100 other local councils (regardless of which political party controls them, not that it should matter).

Also last week - Ethiopia planted 350,000,000 trees. That's 3.5 trees per person. Barnet think they're doing their bit to avert dangerous climate change by 4,700 trees over the next 5 years. That's 0.01 tree per person in Barnet. Barnet say they're doing a few other things - but the example of the trees shows how much more we could do if we wanted.

Worldwide those in power are mobilising to deal with the threat - a threat which has been largely ignored by the masses since it was first recognised over 50 years ago.

Barnet Councils Climate Change Denial
Barnet Council - however - are continuing on the same path of the previous generation. The self focused, short term attitude that's left us with little over a decade to avert the worst of a crisis we've been warned about for 50 years. The extreme danger has finally reached Europe in the last few years, although several major disasters recently have been linked to climate change.

So we know it's real, the scientists know it's real, the people who have lost loved ones in heat waves and flooding know it's real. What's stopping Barnet Council from knowing it's real?

All the votes at last weeks meeting were along party lines. I don't think that all 37 Conservative councillors are climate change deniers any more than I think all 22 labour councillors see preserving the world for the next generation as a priority.

Screw the parties - save the planet
If there's one thing which should cross party boundaries (and indeed usually does, across the rest of the country) it's having a planet to live on. My second passion in life is accessibility, and I think it's critical that we have accessible busses, step free access at stations, screen reader friendly websites and service staff trained in dealing with dementia (those are my examples, I don't know if/what Barnet is doing for accessibility).

But none of those matters if we don't have a planet on which to implement those great thing.

So as well as learning how the council works, I learned how it doesn't work. Unfortunately, councillors are just humans - like you and - and they're fallible like we are too. Dangerously they're also party loyal - and that's causing our council to be dysfunctional.

The Future
The climate is changing, that is of no doubt (except by the usual conspiracy theorists). Science has told us what we need to do - the same science which has brought us faster transport, more food, warmer houses, global communication, holidays and the Internet. We don't ignore science when it's making our lives easier and we are not at liberty to ignore it when it's asking us to cut back a little.

Barnet is going to be a hotter place in 20 years time than today (and today it's hotter than 20 years ago). The south of France is already making preparations for it's tropical future, The country of Kiribati has already lost a few islands and is purchasing land on Fiji preparing for losing the rest of their land to climate change.

The world is acting, why is Barnet not?

What to do?
We need the Housing and Planning committees to make new builds ready for the weather of the future (hotter summers, colder winters, more extreme changes). The transport committee to help us cut out short car drives by improving public transport. The Education team to help train the youth of today in the skills of tomorrow - a whole new sustainable industry is finally opening up and Barnet are missing the boat. and the Financial Performance and Contracts Committee to award contracts to sustainable companies.

"Sustainable" think about that word for a moment. If something isn't sustainable, then sooner or later it's going to collapse. Lets make Barnet sustainable.

Is this our responsibility?
Yes. We have lots of problems to deal with in Barnet - but we're one of the most well of corners of the world. Like it or not - our strong position in the modern economy comes form the British Empire - which  comes from the Industrial Revolution - which was the start of human caused global warming.

We've outsourced most of our manufacturing to third world countries - so their emissions are ours. The argument that China should be doing more than us because their current emissions are higher than our current emissions is easily debunked when you realise that our clothes, our tables and chairs, our technology is produced by emissions producing factories in China - for us. There's also a billion people in China. So lets stop trying to blame someone else, recognise the privileged position we're in - and how we got here - and sort our own ship out.

What Next?
This all begs the questions as to what next? If our councillors aren't listening to the masses (last week they also passed the gagging motion to restrict public say on council motions - thought to be an instinctive response to the Capita fraud - it's common human nature to try and avoid criticism rather than apologise and deal with it) what are we to do?

With the council getting increasingly defensive and sticking their fingers in their ears, it's easy to see how groups like Extension Rebellion (of which we have a local Barnet Group) feel the only way to get them to listen is through non violent direct action.

As a local resident, what can you do? Support the groups fighting for your area.

Find a cause you believe in, and get involved.

Do you know any other ways Barnet residents can get active? Let us know in the comments. 
Sami is a Barnet Resident and a member of the local Extinction Rebellion campaign. Guest blogs are always welcome at The Barnet Eye, please send us yours CLICK HERE   

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Saturday List #227 - Ten Laws I'd pass tomorrow if I was doing Boris Johnson's job

When Boris was four years old, his ambition was to be World King. When I was four years old, my ambition was to have a model of Thunderbird 3. When I was about seven, I was asked at school what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said "I want a dog and a pond". It didn't occur to me that having a pond wasn't a job. I guess I've over achieved as I have two dogs and two ponds. Sadly neither pay the bills. But I digress. Whereas I've overachieved by 100%, Boris has massively under achieved. He's risen to the heady heights of Prime Minister of a United Kingdom that his policies are likely to dismantle. I wonder if it is all part of a cunning plan to oust her Majesty and at least get to be King of South East Grinstead, as the UK fragments into a million pieces, each with a different policy towards the EU. I spent the day at The Great British Beer Festival yesterday and if nothing else, I am pleased to report that the UK is still able to organise a pretty good booze up in a Brewery. As I made my way home, trying to work out whether the Coconut Porter was actually the finest tipple sampled, a thought occurred to me. What if Boris offered to swap dreams with me. He could have my two dogs and two ponds and I had his job. What laws would I pass? It occurred to me that on reflection, Boris had a more interesting ambition than my own. So here is my collection of laws.

1. Make all elected politicians personally liable to be sued for any losses incurred by anyone in the event that they can be shown to have knowingly lied about a policy. So if Boris and his mates say that the NHS will get £350 million a week extra in the event of a hard Brexit and we get a hard #Brexit and no cash for the Health service, they should be personally liable and sued for every penny. Not just Brexit, any porkies.

2. Pass a law so that anyone who is made a minister of state has to be able to demonstrate their competence for the post. Far too many are simply given the job because they tow the party line and are being rewarded for brown nosing. Many of them are completely unfit for the job they are given.

3. Pass a law so that any MP or Councillor who is elected, actually has their primary residence in the area they are elected for, be it council ward or constituency. In my ward, Mill Hill, not a single councillor is living in the ward. That to me is plain wrong. If they subsequently move, I would give them a year and then they would have to leave and a by election would take place, unless that was less than six months before a council election. If parties can't find someone local to stand, too bad.

4. Pass a law which sets a minimum fine of £500 for littering. I would also require some of this to be used to put up name and shame posters of Litter louts in their streets, if they do it more than once.

5. Pass a law that anyone who drives down a street with their windows open and the car sound system playing at more than 90 decibels should have their car taken away and crushed. Especially the bloke who did that at midnight last night, woke me up and set the dogs off.

6. Pass a law that any consultant who works for the NHS and cancels an operation on an NHS patient to perform surgery on a private patient would have to pay the NHS patient a fixed compensation of £2,000. We get compensation from airlines when they delay our flights, so why not apply the same rules to NHS consultants.

7. Pass a law stating that anyone who has been on an NHS waiting list for any procedure for more than six months is given compensation of  £1,000 for every subsequent month. Part fund this by fining the directors, senior managers etc of the NHS trust responsible up to 50% of their wages.

8. Pass a law that any train company that fails to deliver its agreed performance target for reasons other than acts of God, will have its directors and senior managers fined up to 20% of their salary package. The money raised would be used for a fund for good causes in the locality that their bad service operates in.

9. Pass a law that nobody in the country can receive an honour unless it can genuinely be demonstrated that they have worked for the public good or have been an outstanding sports person or musician.

10. Pass a law guaranteeing that every Ex Service person who served more than five years in the armed forces, or who saw active service in a war zone, or had a life changing injury, will receive a guaranteed living pension,  appropriate accommodation and medical treatment of a standard available to those with the best private health plans by right.  I would also award all such people a gold star, so that, if they chose to wear it, we can see that they deserve our respect and thanks.

None of these measures would solve the problems facing the UK. I would never claim I could solve them. But I absolutely believe they would make the UK a far better, fair, cleaner and more fair place than it is at the moment.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Barnet Council - Why 'They don't know what they are doing' - The Barnet Council training scandal

Contracts signed but no proper scrutiny
I've been writing this blog for over ten years now. of all the things that I've come across, I can honestly say that what I am writing today is the most alarming. I've long wondered why so many bad decisions are made in Barnet. I've long wondered how Councillors can seem so ill informed and badly briefed when performing tasks of scrutiny. I run a business and I know just how important it is to ensure that people doing important tasks (many far more trivial than what Barnet Council does, which affects peoples lives and livelihoods) are properly trained. I take no delight in writing this, but this is a very serious matter.

Yesterday, I received a long awaited response to a couple of Freedom of information requests. Barnet council seem to have a policy of always responding on the last possible day to such requests. A third request they have apologised for not meeting the deadline and promised a 'prompt response' once they've checked the facts.

The requests concerned the training of councillors to fulfil their roles on the various committees they participate in. Councillors receive an allowance of over £10,000 a year and my assumption is that in return for this, they should be properly trained.

I was surprised to find that only the Planning and Licencing committee require mandatory training.  I would have thought staff dealing with children and money would require training. I used to work in the Financial Services industry, providing IT Services and we had quarterly required training, as it was recognised that we had access to all manner of information. Barnet have no such requirement for their councillors to understand their roles. The initial reason for the enquiry was that before the last Council election, Councillor Hugh Rayner, who was the departing chair suggested that the Audit committee had woefully inadequate training to perform the role. It seemed to me logical that the council would address this issue.  I am a fair minded person, so I thought it only right that I allow a reasonable length of time for the council to ensure all councillors are up to speed. As there are many committees doing important work, I thought I'd ask for all of the training completed. What I found had shocked and disturbed me. This should be a national scandal. 

So lets start with the Audit committee. It's members currently are:

Chairman: Councillor Rohit Grover 
Vice Chairman: Councillor Peter Zinkin 
Councillor Laithe Jajeh Councillor Alison Moore 
Independent Members Geraldine Chadwick Richard Harbord 
Councillor Kathy Levine Councillor Alex Prager Councillor Arjun Mittra 

Substitute Members Councillor Melvin Cohen Councillor Lachhya Gurung Councillor Anne Hutton Councillor Reema Patel Councillor Lisa Rutter Councillor Alan Schneiderman

So how many of these have received training and when according to the FoI request?

4.07.18 Statement of Accounts 
Cllr Levine, Cllr Moore, Geraldine Chadwick [Audit Independent Member] 
17.07.18 Audit 
Cllr Finn, Cllr Zinkin, Cllr Gurung (sub), Cllr Jajeh, Cllr Moore, Cllr Hutton (sub), Cllr Levine, Cllr Rawlings, Cllr Edwards, Cllr Prager, Cllr Mittra

To my amazement, it appears that despite the fact that he chaired the last meeting, the chair has not had the recommended training. Only Councillor Kathy Levine had the training to understand the Statement of Accounts. As you can also see, several of the substitute members have not received the training. Why is this important? Well the Audit committee is the most important committee of all, ensuring that the Council has proper oversight. Given that lack of training was highlighted by Hugh Rayner as a major weakness, surely this should have been addressed? Councillors are supposed to take their role seriously. Although I have no doubt that Councillor Grover is a sensible chap and will work diligently, appointing a chair who wasn't even a member of the committee previously is, in my opinion, a mistake. Audit needs a deep understanding and a background. There are far too many things that require attention to detail, to learn it on the fly. 

When I looked through the list, there were plenty of other rather disturbing things that I noticed.

One item that leapt out at me was this

20.06.19 Government Scrutiny Guidance Symposium
Cllr Hutton

Levels of scrutiny and how it is done in Barnet is a huge issue. One of the reasons myself and the fellow Barnet bloggers have dedicated so much time to our work is because the levels of scrutiny by councillors is appalling. The fact that only one Councillor, who is a member of the opposition, attended the Government Scrutiny Guidance Symposium is highly disturbing. Who within the governing group has responsibility for this?

And what about this? The regeneration of Cricklewood/Brent Cross will have huge implications for the whole of the Borough. The Council organised an 'All members briefing'. How many attended this

3.06.19 All Members briefing - Growth Strategy and Brent Cross Cricklewood 
Cllrs Ryde, Longstaff, Teare, Roberts

Not even all of the councillors in the wards affected bothered to turn up to this. What does this tell you about how much they are interested.

Then we have the Pension Fund Committee. There are some very serious issues with this, as readers of the Barnet blogs will doubtless be aware. So who attended the training?

29.05.18 Pension Fund 
Cllrs E.Simberg, P.Zinkin , A.Hutton, A. Moore, A.Finn, Mark Shooter, J Marshall and Danny Rich

16.10.18 Pension Fund 
Cllrs Shooter, Finn, Marshal, Zinkin, Hutton and Moore

22.1.19 Pension Fund Committee Training
Cllrs Shooter, Finn, Simberg, Hutton and Moore

26.3.19 Pension Fund Committee Training
Cllrs Rich, Moore, Shooter, Marshall, Simberg

30.05.19 Pensions Training: Assessing the performance of illiquid asset mandates
Cllrs Zinkin, Hutton, Moore, Marshall, Finn, Rich

I find this fascinating. There has clearly been a lot of training for the committee. I had a look at the attendence for the last meeting

Chairman: Councillor Mark Shooter 
Vice Chairman: Councillor Elliot Simberg 
Anthony Finn Anne Hutton Danny Rich John Marshall Alison Moore 
Substitute Members Stephen Sowerby Eva Greenspan Peter Zinkin Ross Houston Reema Patel Arjun Mittra 

A few things are immediately obvious. Firstly John Marshall only attended the 'Assessing the performance of illiquid asset mandates'  training. It also appears that none of the substitute members had received any training at all. If you are one of the people who receives a pension from Barnet Council and you want to know why there are problems, I would suggest that you ask your local council why they allow people who don't know what they are doing to be making decisions. While it is clear that some Councillors are taking their duties seriously, some are quite clearly not in the least bit interested.

Now, like me I'm sure you will be a bit surprised by all of this. But there is something that surprised me far more. We all know that Barnet is a commissioning Council. They outsource everything. We all know about the issues with Capita. We all know that Barnet has made a dogs breakfast of monitoring the Contracts. I was absolutely flabbergasted to find that there is no training at all for Councillors in Contract monitoring, supplier management and supplier oversight.  The Council gives no training at all to the Councillors who have the role of oversight and scrutiny in how it's done. This explains to me two things. The first is why Councillors never seem able to concoct even the most obvious and basic questions about the various proble, contracts. The second is that it demonstrates that Barnet Council is not interested in getting Councillors to provide proper oversight and scrutiny of these contracts. If I was a councillor I'd be demanding training in how to discharge my responsibilities to the people who elected me and pay my allowances.

So next time you read that there are problems with Barnet Council, why not write to your local councillor and ask if they've had adequate training to do their job. Whether like me you think Outsourcing is not the way to manage public services or whether you agree with the Uber Thatcherite Barnet Council boss Daniel Thomas that it is the best thing since sliced bread, surely you'd want your councillors to be able to provide proper scrutiny. They do not have the tools, so they can't. It is quite clear that Councillor Thomas and his Conservative regime have failed in their duty of care to the people of Barnet to ensure that our Councillors, who get massive allowances, are fit for purpose and trained to do their job.

And as for the Leader, what training has he undertaken? Am I surprised that the leader of an organisation such as Barnet Council has not had any training to do the job? I would be if I wasn't living in  the London Borough of Barnet.

23.10.18 Treasury Management 
Cllrs R Cornelius, Thomas, D Cohen, Houston, Longstaff, McGuirk, Mittra, Moore, Rawlings, Zinkin, Rozenberg, Hutton,

13.05.19 ARG and Local Plan Members Advisory Group

Cllrs Thomas, Prentice, Rozenberg, Zinkin, Houston, Cooke, Prager, Wardle, Edwards, Smith, Ryde, Roberts

6.06.19 All Members briefing - Growth Strategy and Brent Cross Cricklewood Cllrs Zinkin, Mittra, Thomas, Ryde, Gurung, Hutton, Cooke, Grover, Houston

Here are the complete responses.

----- FoI First response

7 August 2019
Our ref: 5447228 Thank you for your request received on 8 July 2019, for the following information: For various committees at Barnet Council, there is recommended training. Please can you supply the following details
1. Details of current training courses recommended for each committee
2. Details of which current councillors have attended these training courses
3. How many times have councillors not attending training been reminded since the Council election in May 2018 of this requirement

We have processed this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Response The council holds the information requested and it the answers to your questions are below For various committees at Barnet Council, there is recommended training.

Please can you supply the following details
1. Details of current training courses recommended for each committee
Please see table below.
2. Details of which current councillors have attended these training courses
Attendance is listed below for each session .
3. How many times have councillors not attending training been reminded since the Council election in May 2018 of this requirement Zero. Reminders are only sent for Mandatory training session for Planning and Licensing and all Members have attended training.

08.05.18 All Member Induction All except Cllr. Jajeh
21.05.18 Planning
Cllrs A. Clarke, R .Weeden-Sanz, F. Byers, J. Cooper, J. Grocock, L. Gurung, L.Jajeh, J.Teare, G.Bokaei, T.Smith, S.Don, P.Coakley-Webb, G.Cooke. C. Farrier, E. Simberg, and Cllr. Gill Sergeant
23.07.18 Planning - Repeat Session
Cllr Danny Rich, and Cllr Kath McGuirk

24.07.18 Planning - Repeat Session All Planning
Members as of Cllrs H.Richman, W.Prentice, D.Longstaff, L.Rutter, P.Zinkin, B.Gordon, A.Naqvi, V.Duschinsky, M.Shooter, P.Edwards, J.Grocock, R.Patel, N.Fluss, Z.Zubairi, and E Simberg this date trained

24.05.2018 Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee
Cllr Alison Cornelius, Cllr Golnar Bokaei, Cllr Geof Cooke, Cllr Saira Don ,Cllr Paul Edwards, Cllr Linda Freedman, Cllr Anne Hutton, Cllr Alison Moore and Cllr Felix Byers

29.05.18 Area Committee & Resident Forum
Cllr A Cornelius, P Zinkin, R Grover and A Hutton 

29.05.18 Pension Fund 
Cllrs E.Simberg, P.Zinkin , A.Hutton, A. Moore, A.Finn, Mark Shooter, J Marshall and Danny Rich

31.05.18 Corporate Parenting, Children's Safeguarding and the Role of the Ofsted Improvement Plan
Cllrs G.Sargeant, Z.Zubairi, P.Zinkin, L.Freedman, N.Fluss, F.Byers, J.Teare, T.Smith, S.Ryde, A.Prager, D.Longstaff, R.Grover, G.Rozenberg, C.Stock, N.Narenthira, A Naqvi, A.Clarke, G.Cooke, K.Levine, A.Moore, A. Hutton, S.Don, H.Richman, S.Conway, R.Houston, L.Gurung, J.Cooper, D.Cohen, and C.Farrier

04.06.18 Adults & Safeguarding
Cllrs R.Weeden-Sanz, A.Clarke, F.Byers, J.Cooper, J.Grocock, L.Gurung, N.Fluss, G.Bokaei, T.Smith, H.Richman, A.Prager, C.Stock (NEW) Cllrs J.Brayne, M.Cohen, G.Cooke, P.Edwards, A.Hutton, D.Longstaff, N.Narenthira, S.Rajput, B.Rawlings, C.Stock, Z.Zubairi (Returning)

05.06.18 Environment  
Councillor Dean Cohen, Councillor Peter Zinkin, Councillor Elliot Simberg, Councillor Thomas Smith, Councillor Laithe Jajeh, Councillor Alison Cornelius, Councillor Alan Schneiderman, Councillor Jo Cooper, Councillor Geof Cooke, Councillor Sarah Wardle, Councillor Roberto Weeden-Sanz, Councillor Nizza Fluss, Councillor Tim Roberts, Cllr Richard Cornelius, Cllr Don and Cllr Gurung

06.06.18 Early Years
Cllrs A.Hutton, T.Roberts, D.Longstaff, F.Byers, B.Rawlings, A.Cornelius

07.06.18 Licensing (& Sub-Comm)
Cllrs L.Freedman, L.Gurung, A.Cornelius, J.Marshall
19.07.18 Licensing - Repeat Session
Cllrs D.Rich, A.Cornelius, V.Duschinsky, C.Farrier, J.Hart. W.Prentice, B.Rawlings

7.08.18 Licensing - Repeat Session All Licensing Members now trained
Cllr. Zubairi 11.06.18 Resources (P&R) Cllr Zinkin ,Cllr McGuirk, Cllr Longstaff Cllr Moore, Cllr Rawlings, Cllr Finn, Cllr R Cornelius, Cllr Rich, Cllr Mittra, Cllr Rajput

12.06.18 Community Leadership & Libraries Briefing (Community Safety)
Cllrs A.Hutton,,S.Conway, R.Thompstone, L.Gurung, F.Byers, D.Longstaff, B.Rawlings, J.Grocock, N.Narenthira, D.Rich, J.Teare, and G.Sargeant

4.07.18 Statement of Accounts 
Cllr Levine, Cllr Moore, Geraldine Chadwick [Audit Independent Member] 
17.07.18 Audit 
Cllr Finn, Cllr Zinkin, Cllr Gurung (sub), Cllr Jajeh, Cllr Moore, Cllr Hutton (sub), Cllr Levine, Cllr Rawlings, Cllr Edwards, Cllr Prager, Cllr Mittra

06.09.18 Media Training
Cllrs R Cornelius, Cllr Ryde Cllr Longstaff (Note: Cllr Thomas previously received training and Cllr Rozenberg declined)

12.09.18 Education & Skills
Cllrs Anne Clarke, Pauline Coakley Webb, Julian Teare, David Longstaff, Felix Byers, Anne Hutton, Rohit Grover, Linda Freedman, Val Duschinsky, Nagus Narenthira, Reuben Thompstone

20. 9.18 Performance Indicators and Care Act Duties
Cllrs Anne Hutton, Claire Farrier, Sachin Rajput, Anthony Finn, Jo Cooper, Jess Brayne David Longstaff, Caroline Stock, Reema Patel 

16.10.18 Pension Fund 
Cllrs Shooter, Finn, Marshal, Zinkin, Hutton and Moore

16.10.18 Media Training - MediaFirst 
Cllrs Rajput, Stock, Thompstone, D Cohen 

17.10.18 Member Briefing of CCGs Cllr A Cornelius, Duschinsky, Bokaei, Cooke, Don, Freedman, Hutton, Moore, Longstaff, Rawlings, Stock 

23.10.18 Treasury Management 
Cllrs R Cornelius, Thomas, D Cohen, Houston, Longstaff, McGuirk, Mittra, Moore, Rawlings, Zinkin, Rozenberg, Hutton, 

21.11.18 Prevent & Counter Terrorism Cllrs Byers, Freedman, Moore, Rich, Teare, Hutton, Conway, Gurung, Duschinsky, A Cornelius, Cooke, Rawlings, Thompstone, Longstaff, Grocock. 

26.11.18 Adults & Safeguarding (repeat session from June) Cllrs Houston, Edwards, Moore, Rich, Roberts, Farrier, Williams, Naqvi, Stock, J Hart, Wardle, Zinkin, Rozenberg, Teare, Ryde, Longstaff, Weeden-Sanz, A Cornelius

29.11.18 Planning: The nature of Planning Permission
Cllrs M Cohen, Farrier, Ryde, Simberg, Bokaei, Fluss, Freedman, Grocock, Moore 

06.12.18 Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association - Trustee Conference Cllr Anne Hutton 

18.12.18 Adults and Safeguarding Repeat Session Cllrs Patel, Duschisnky, Coakley Webb, Conway, Zubairi, Schneiderman, Mittra, Hutton

22.1.19 Pension Fund Committee Training
Cllrs Shooter, Finn, Simberg, Hutton and Moore

4.2.19 Planning Enforcement
Cllrs Simberg, Hutton, Zubairi, Moore, Rawlings, Gurung, Duschinsky, Roberts, Farrier, Weeden-Sanz, Fluss

12.03.19 Scrutinising Council Performance
Cllr Hutton

26.3.19 Pension Fund Committee Training
Cllrs Rich, Moore, Shooter, Marshall, Simberg

27.3.19 Planning
Cllrs Hutton, R Cornelius, Rawlings, Fluss, Richman

13.05.19 ARG and Local Plan Members Advisory Group
Cllrs Thomas, Prentice, Rozenberg, Zinkin, Houston, Cooke, Prager, Wardle, Edwards, Smith, Ryde, Roberts

30.05.19 Pensions Training: Assessing the performance of illiquid asset mandates
Cllrs Zinkin, Hutton, Moore, Marshall, Finn, Rich

3.06.19 All Members briefing - Growth Strategy and Brent Cross Cricklewood 
Cllrs Ryde, Longstaff, Teare, Roberts

6.06.19 All Members briefing - Growth Strategy and Brent Cross Cricklewood Cllrs Zinkin, Mittra, Thomas, Ryde, Gurung, Hutton, Cooke, Grover, Houston

20.06.19 Government Scrutiny Guidance Symposium
Cllr Hutton

20.06.19 Briefing for Area Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen
Cllrs Don, Prentice, Grocock, Duschinsky

24.06.19 Planning (for new committee Members)
Cllrs Teare, Narenthira Fu


2nd Response - 

1. Full details of all externally provided courses, paid for by Barnet Council, attended by Barnet Council since May 2018

Date         Councillor             Training session                                                     Cost + VAT
22.11.18   Cllr Tim Roberts   Policy  Forum for London-
                                               The Future for Housing and Planning in London             £276
28.11.18   Cllr Anne Hutton   Tackling Health Inequalities in London                           £294
12.03.19   Cllr Anne Hutton   Scrutinising Council Performance                                   £230
20.06.19   Cllr Anne Hutton   Government Scrutiny Guidance Symposium                    £85