Wednesday, 22 November 2017

North Finchley Regeneration briefing at Cafe Buzz

On Tuesday morning I went to see a presentation from a member of BDP, the architects responsible for the North Finchley masterplan and one of the senior planners from Barnet Council. I will not name them as they suggested that they stated that they did not want to be filmed or identified when I asked if I could video the presentation (the explanation was that they do not 'want to be film stars')

So out of respect, I will not name or identify them, although this rather scuppered my plan to video the session and share it. I must confess I was rather disappointed as this is a very good way to ensure that as many people as possible are able to see what they had to say.

As an alternative I tried to tweet the key points. Here is a summary of what we heard.

The issue of compulsory purchases of buildings where the landlord did not want to participate in the redevelopment was discussed. It seems that the council sees this as a last resort, however did not rule it out.

The team said that developments could occur at any time and anyone could initiate schemes that did not necessarily complement the overall objective of improving North Finchley. They said that an overarching scheme was useful to signpost the direction for the regeneration and redevelopment.

For many it was unclear what the proposal actually meant. This was clarified, to some extent. The plan is not detailed, it is just a refinement of an already agreed policy, with the aim of moving the plan to the 'next stage'. This was part of the consultation and the purpose was to see what local stakeholders wanted.

The representative from BDP explained that the developer Jonathan Joseph (the developer behind the Brent Cross Scheme) was making a good offer, in as much as that he was prepared to shell out cash for High Street regeneration that would not necessarily benefit his business financially. To be clear, this is my interpretation on what was said and there may be nuances to this.

Jeremy Leaf was of the opinion that North Finchley did not need an external large stakeholder such as Jonathaan Joseph and local stakeholder, who have significant land and expertise in North Finchley may be a more appropriate partner for the council. He mentioned that they've been trying to engage the council for three years to discuss this, without success.

BDO have produced a map of the North Finchley with various areas classified as what they want to do with them and how this may affect local businesses and residents.

It was commented that some of the existing buildings etc should be left and others, the facade should be retained, with new buildings behind them. The Bohemia was identified as one that would definately be retained.

The subject of pedestrianisation and traffic flows were discussed. There was talk of making the area around Ballards Lane more pedestrian friendly. The one way system will also go.

There is also talk of a pedestrian town square area in the area in front of the art depot. Mention was made of the wind tunnel effect. BDO said this could be mitigated by good design and new buildings.

There was also the subject of how many new flats, the mix of businesses and what would be where. As the number of dwellings and residents would be increased, the subject of where these new people would park was also discusssed. BDO stated that there were no estimates of how many new dwellings there would be. I personally found this a little hard to take seriously. I don't believe that a developer would have put money on the table without some idea.

Then there was the elephant in the room. North Finchley traders has been a hotbed of anger ever since the council abolished pay and display parking. Ever since this was first mooted in 2011, Traders have been highly critical of the high handed behaviour of the council. Traders have had continual lectures from various councillors and consultants associated with the council explaining why they are wrong about the effects of the council parking policy on their turnover. Traders have their accounts and the 30-40% drop that happened on the day that pay and display was abolished and replaced with pay by phone.

As soon as this subject was raised, the local traders became visibly more hostile. When the representative from BDO start talking about parking, it really was noticeable how the mood changed. The plan mentioned that a parking plan should be developed to optimise parking. BDO stated that 'car parks weren't full'. It was suggested that for the high street, parking charges could be used to optimise turnover. I suggested that this didn't need a  big plan. Improvements should be developed and brought forward ASAP. I also suggested that any changes should be trialled. I believe there is a "best policy". I was surprised that BDO as consultants couldn't comment on this. If I was a regeneration consultant, I'd investigate models and set up local forums to discuss various models. These could then be trialled. Jeremy Leaf accused me of being psychic at this point, as he was just about to say the same thing.

Another issue was the effect on local businesses. There was a desire for some guarantees for the small businesses in the room. They wanted assurances that the regeneration wouldn't leave them High and Dry. Luxmi, who recently bought a local opticians, was keen to ensure that new parking policies wouldn't affect her elderly customers. There was a discussion as to the mix of businesses. BDO suggested more co-working spaces and a different mix of offices & retail to the existing one. A local business owner with 40 staff felt that this didn't reflect the reality of his requirements.

After the meeting I bumped into Keith Martin, local arts and libraries campaigner. I discussed the meeting. Keith was disappointed as he'd like to have attended and was unaware of the meeting. He was pleased to hear of the Town Square area proposals. He also wanted a commitment to see a department store, along the lines of Owen Owen. This wasn't mentioned, however this doesn't mean it isn't on the cards.

My observations and recommendations

1. Don't wait for the scheme to start addressing the parking issues. Bring forward a scheme ASAP.
2. Involve local experts such as Jeremy Leaf, who know the area, the market and the Landlord.
3. Hold regular briefings and involve business stakeholders such as the Federation of Small Business(FSB).
4. Hold regular local engagement sessions.
5. Ensure that in future, presenters are comfortable with the presentation being video'd. I am sure many would like to see this (Keith Martin was disappointed).
6. Send a few councillors along. There should be democratic oversight.

I hope none of these seem too unreasonable.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Barnet Eye Xmas Party and Gala Awards Ceremony at The Chandos Arms, Colindale - 9th December 2018 at 8pm

You are cordially invited to attend the Barnet Eye Annual Xmas Party and community awards, with live music by The False Dots + Support. It's all happening at The Chandos Arms from 8pm. The Chandos Arms has been nationally recognised as the Community pub of the year at the British Pub awards, so what better way to see what all the fuss is about.

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 the resident DJ after the live music and we'll be boogie'ing into the early hours. 

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!

Here is a number from the False Dots forthcoming album to get you in the mood!

Rueben Thompstone wants Barnet to become a "child friendly community" (* Conditions may apply)

What is a fact? Barnet Council's childrens services were condemned as inadequate by OFSTED in July. Barnet's own website acknowledges this failure and the head of Childrens services states that they need to improve. Chris Munday, Strategic Director for Children and Young People said

“We fully accept the findings of the report and are committed to taking further action to ensure better support for children and young people in Barnet. The need for systemic improvement across the service was identified by us and we have been working extremely hard to implement necessary changes, but these have not yet had the impact that is needed."

What is an alternative fact?

Maybe you should ask Councillor Reuben Thompstone. He seems to be an expert in the subject (or maybe just lives in a parallel universe). Last week he was championing a bid for Barnet to become the "London Borough of Culture" in 2021/2, after the administration he is a senior member of has closed Barnets leading local museum and decimated the library estate.  This week, he's launching a bid to partner with UNICEF to make Barnet a "Child Friendly Community". The Times Newspaper reports

Cllr Reuben Thompstone, chairman of Barnet Council’s children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, said: "I’m delighted that Barnet has become the first local authority in London to partner with Unicef UK, it’s a really exciting opportunity and reflects our ambition of becoming the most family friendly borough in London.

"This three-year partnership will give us the chance to really focus on embedding children’s rights into more of what the council does." 

Strangely the story in the Times is nearly word for word what the Council's own press release said. It seems that these days, the Barnet Times thinks that journalism is simply cutting and pasting council press releases into their website. 

Sadly the Times couldn't be bothered to talk to the parents or head of Mapledown school, which is a specialist school for children with disabilities. If they had, they'd have been reminded how Rueben Thompstone wanted to shut afterschool and half term activities, which gave parents much needed respite. It is sad that they couldn't be bothered to read the story on their own website. 

The council claimed that parents had enough cash to provide services themselves. Councillor Thompstone admitted that he hadn't visited the school before claiming there was “no joy” in removing 25 per cent of Mapledown’s budget for after-school sessions and half-term play schemes described as “vital” by angry parents.  Thompstone was asked about why the council had used the resources to fund a small tax cut rather than keep vital services. He said "These are austere times and we want to show we are on the side of tax payers. There is no joy in taking money out of these areas but we’re trying to do more with less."

How a man can prioritise tax cuts before disabled children and then claim to want child friendly communities is beyond me. More recently his policies have seen segregated specialist childrens libraries removed from many Barnet libraries. Some libraries are now "self service" and have seen under 18's be denied access. Yet again this was a policy of Reuben Thompstone.
I have no idea who has been advising UNICEF on who they partner with, but clearly they are totally unaware of the track record of Reuben Thompstone when it comes to dealing with childrens rights and wellbeing. Or maybe Cllr Thompstone doesn't think childrens libraries and disabled children are things which matter

Monday, 20 November 2017

Failure in Housing Policy - Barnet should hang its head in shame

Last week, the Prime Minister Theresa May visited the Borough to review our progress on housing. Quite unbelieveably, she came along believing that Barnet Council have some sort of story to tell in how things should be done. The council press release is perhaps the most dishonest and misleading press release I've ever read. It makes the claim
The figures show that in 2016/17, Barnet delivered 1,799 additional homes, the 7th highest amongst the London Boroughs.
From this, you may be tempted to believe that Barnet Council has huge teams of builders working around the clock to resolve the housing crisis in the Borough. What the press release should say is

The figures show that in 2016/17 private developers in Barnet built 1,799 new dwellings. Despite Barnet being Londons most populous borough and geographically the second largest, six other Boroughs delivered more homes.

Back in March this year, the Local Government Ombudsman deemed that Barnet Council has "systemic problems with its Homeless services". The Ombudsman concluded

“Councils are legally required to issue a written decision to people who approach them as homeless. Without this those people are left in limbo; denied their review and appeal rights, and are potentially without access to accommodation which they might need.

“The LGO issued a special report on councils’ duties to homeless people in 2011 and I am disappointed to see councils are still making errors in this area. As shown in this report, failing to deal with homeless people properly can have very real and serious consequences for some of the most vulnerable in society.”

Andrew Dismore, our local LGA representative recently revealed that Barnet Council are the 17th worst council for Homelessness in the country. Dismore explained

Recently the National Audit Office warned that government welfare policies are directly contributing to the homelessness crisis. These appalling figures show that the Government has wilfully turned its back on those who’ve had the misfortune to find themselves homeless.
“With Barnet needing 3,134 new homes a year to meet local demand, the consequences of the abject failure of Conservative run Barnet Council, who are always willing to give planning permission for high cost homes but underperform on affordable homes, are obvious.
At the weekend I had a friendly chat with one of our local Conservative councillors and I discussed the issue of housing. They stated "It is not quite as simple as pulling houses out of a magic hat, schemes take years to develop and implement". I responded by asking why the Millbrook Park scheme in Mill Hill East will not be completed for nearly ten years, when we have a desperate need for those houses now. The rather lame response was "that was what was agreed with the developers".

Today we hear that the Chancellor Phillip Hammond is taking measures against developers who are "landbanking", getting land and planning permission and then sitting on it, waiting for land values to rise. It seems quite perverse that Hammond is seeking to address a practice that is rife in the very Borough where the Prime Minister has come to launch her housing policy.

What is the biggest tragedy is that our locality used to be seen as one of the shining examples of social housing. The Watling Estate was a model of how social housing should be done. It has great transport links, shops, schools, places of worship, gardens, parks and green spaces for children and young people and community centres and clubs for teenagers.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in Barnet is just how many of the new dwellings in the Borough have been bought as investments by rich foreigners as investments. Some of these have never even visited the Borough. When we look to address the housing crisis, surely we should start by making sure empty properties are used. This is surely an absolute no brainer. Barnet is one of the worst offenders for having properties sitting empty, as this map from Metro demonstrates.

It is perverse that with such a problem, homes are sitting empty. You may wonder if Barnet Council has a strategy at all for dealing with homelessnese. The answer is yes, you can check it out here  -

Barnet Housing Strategy 2015 to 2025 - Barnet Council

It says:
Barnet Council has taken action to reduce the number of homeless households living in
emergency temporary accommodation and, in doing so, has enabled more families to
remain close to their support networks in Barnet and in more settled accommodation.
This has been achieved through: 
 Increasing focus on early intervention and homelessness prevention measures, such as tenancy sustainment, youth mediation and domestic violence support services.
 Formation of a Welfare Reform Taskforce to work closely with households affected by welfare reform to minimise the risk of homelessness.
 Through undertaking a financial assessment as part of the housing application and signposting applicants to debt advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureau and Christians Against Poverty.
 Increasing the effectiveness of our private rented sector procurement strategy, including the launch of the Let2Barnet team and landlord incentive scheme for private sector landlords, so that the number of affordable private sector lettings to homeless households increased from 121 in 2010/11 to 393 in 2014/15.
 Sourcing affordable accommodation in less expensive areas outside of Barnet. Going forward, we will continue to work with private landlords to ensure that there is a good supply of affordable accommodation and work to sustain tenancies and prevent
I was quite shocked by this. The first two parts of the strategy are sensible measures, one may ask why these weren't already in place, but it is good that these issues are being recognised and addressed.  As to the remaining three, I find this disgusting. Let me explain why

This financial assessment and "signposting applicants to debt advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureau and Christians Against Poverty." is repulsive to me. The council is identifying issues and then relying on charities and volunteers to deal with the issues that they've identified. The council should have such services within its own service portfolio. A joined up approach should be used when addressing such serious issues. Whilst Christians against Poverty is a fine upstanding organisation, there is no way that they could provide a level of assistance comparable with a council, where access to the relevant people and paperwork to stop evictions etc should be easy to facilitate.

The push to increase the private rented sector is also a highly dubious method of alleviating this issue. Council run social housing is more cost effective and manageable. There is of course a role for private landlords in addressing short term issues, however to suggest that this is part of the long term strategy, simply adds huge costs to the taxpayer. I am a private Landlord and I do it for one simple reason, I can make a healthy profit on the deal. The equation is quite simple. I procure a property, and then I rent it with a mark up on my costs and spend all the dosh on beer and expensive holidays. If the council bought the properties, the bit of the equation that I spend on beer and holidays, they could save and use to build more social housing (Or dish out in tax cuts as they usually do in Barnet).

The final part is even more repulsive. Barnet Council Tories do not seem to recognise that social housing tenants are human beings, with feelings and with the need for friendship and support. Moving children away from their friends and parents away from support networks is to me a form of cruel and unusual punishment. It is all very well saying "it's cheaper up north, lets export our problem families", but is it really how a decent society behaves. Of course, for the Barnet Tories, replacing expensive (to the council) Labour voters with cheap to maintain Tory voters might seem like a jolly good idea to the Tories from leafy Totteridge who run the country. To me it simply banks problems for the UK for the future. Although I am a proud Mill Hillian and a proud Londoner, I am also a proud UK citizen and I want the best for our country. I believe that the idea of sink estates up north where London Tory councils dump their problem families is a repulsive concept and at some time in the future, it will cost us all a small fortune to fix.

And that is why Theresa May visiting Barnet is so repulsive. In short, she seems to have forgotten that she is the Prime Minister of the whole UK, not just the leafy Tory boroughs and the home counties. And that is why it is shameful that she came to The London Borough of Barnet to launch her housing policy.

If you want to see how the brave new Barnet is being built, checkout this video of a disabled man from Sweets Way being evicted to make way for a posh housing development

And this from West Hendon

Sadly this is the reality of the gentrification of The London Borough of Barnet. But never mind, if your life is laid to waste, your family split up and dispersed across the country and your house knocked down, the Council will very kindly signpost you  to the nearest friendly Church, where you can cry on someones shoulder over a cup of tea and biscuit (* Terms and conditions may apply).

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 19/11/2017

Quite a good selection to choose from this week. We hope you enjoy them! Don't forget to follow any local tweeters who tickle your fancy

1. The spotlight was on the contibution the Eastern European communittee have made in Burt Oak this week

2. If you hurry, you might get a tasty slice of free Kosher Pizza in Edgware. Sounds good to us!

3. And while you are in Edgware, why not donate blood? What better gift can you give than life

4. If you live in Colindale, why not come along and see what the Residents Association is up to

5. Cricklewood is full of surprises!

6. Sadly there is some very worrying news in Mill Hill

7.If you are a woman and you are in business, check this out!

8. Interested in the massive Finchley redevelopment

9. Long Lane Pastures had some brilliant piccies

10. We finish with a great piccie from Richard Logue

That's all folks!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Saturday list #155 - Ten tips for a great Xmas in the London Borough of Barnet!

Image result for Xmas Mill Hill broadway
A seasonal view of Mill Hill Broadway
The Christmas Season is nearly upon us. Yesterday Mrs T (my long suffering better half) asked me whether we should have "people around for a Christmas drink this year". I'm a sociable sort of chap, so I said yes, of course. Much as I'd love to ask all of the thousands of readers around to join us, sadly, Tichborne mansions probably wouldn't fit you all in! So I thought, maybe I could at least give you a few pointers as to how to have a great Christmas. Now I know that not all of my readers celebrate it, but I'm pretty sure for all of everyone there will be something interesting here for you.

This list is purely based on my not always very objective view of living in Barnet. I rather hope that everyone has a great festive season and if you check out these recommendations. I always try and support local traders and great businesses.

1. Getting a Christmas Tree.
I always get mine from Finchley Nurseries, in Burtonhole Lane in Mill Hill. They will deliver the item to your house, so no need to worry if it won't fit on the back of the moped. They also have a great selection of jams, plants etc for a gifts etc. They also sell seasonal organic vegetables. I often use the opportunity for a walk around the Totteridge Valley and Darlands Nature Reserve first. They have a lovely tea room, so if you get a nice sunny day, why not check it out. Here are a couple of tweets from the Better Mill Hill blog, showing what you could enjoy. It really is a highlight of Mill Hill.

2. Getting a Turkey.
We are blessed with some excellent butchers in the Borough. They supply quality products. I always use Cooksleys in Mill Hill. The Mill Hill Broadway blog likes them as well.

I can also recommend Highland Organics at Mill Hill East. If meat isn't your thing, then Elias Fish at Mill Hill East is a fantastic place to get fresh fish and a few brilliant tips on how to cook it. They gave me an excellent tip for barbequing Sea Bass, although it may be a bit nippy for that at Xmas! Whilst at Mill Hill East, A&D Fruiterers are a great place to get the Spuds and Brussels Sprouts!

3. Christmas Panto.
If you want to do something with the kids, the Arts Depot in Finchley has a whole series of shows and events for kids. The one that caught my eye was the Tiger that Came to Tea.

Another great place to check out is the Bull Theatre in Barnet. They have 'Twas the night before Xmas'.

4. Christmas Presents.
If I want to make my good lady happy at Christmas, I generally find that some Jewellery is a guaranteed winner. She is rather fussy, however I find that Rockman in Mill Hill are brilliant. I am not alone in thinking this. I've even heard Vanessa Feltz on BBC London mention this.

Sadly most of the things we get at Xmas we play with for an hour then we put them away and that's it. I personally would always recommend learning to play a musical instrument. Mill Hill Music Complex sell a great range of Guitars, Ukuleles, Violins and Drum kits.

Another thing which tends to go down rather well is a nice bottle of wine, whisky or Brandy. There is no finer shop to buy them than Mill Hill Wines.

5. A party.
There is nothing better to do at Christmas than have a party. We are having one! Whilst we can't fit most of our readers in the house, we hope we can fit you all in the Chandos Arms in Colindale. Even better, it's all free! Come along on Saturday 9th December for the Barnet Eye community awards and Christmas Party. There will be live music and a DJ. 

It will be a blast!

If you can't wait until the 9th, we will also be having a bit of a knees up in Mill Hill on 1st and 2nd of December. There will be live music, the official lights turn on and a Christmas market. Watch this space for more details.

6. Christmas Carols.
For me as a musician, I have a special affection for Christmas carols. They are a huge part of our culture and heritage and for many of us are the way we first got involved in music. There are several fantastic carol services. St Michaels Church in Mill Hill always have a great carol service and have an excellent choir.

Another event which looks to be rather special is the at St James Church in  New Barnet. The choir will be accompanied by the Barnet Band on the  17th December at 6.30.

Barnet mencap

Another great service to check out is the Barnet Mencap service.

There will be a short Carol Service, starting at 3pm, followed by tea and cakes.
St Mary's Church is located on Hendon Lane, Finchley N3 1TR, opposite the Barnet Mencap office.

If you're travelling by bus, it is near stops for the 82, 125, 143 and 326. It is a short walk from Finchley Central Underground Station.7.

For charities like Mencap, Christmas is a very important time of the year. For various reasons, their services can be quite stretched, so joining them for a carols, a cup of tea and asing song is surely a great thing to do.

Finally if you want a more modern take on a Christmas Choir event, checkout the Choirs are US event in aid of North London Samaritans.   With special guests: Gwalia Welsh Male Voice Choir
7.30pm Saturday 9th December 2017.  Ewen Hall, Wood Street, Barnet EN5 4BW,  Tickets: £10 adults (include glass of wine and mince pie).  Free for under 16's, Doors open 7.00pm.   Celebrate Christmas with some fabulous Christmas and pop songs from two great choirs!

8. Checkout some great live music.
Of course not everyone is into carols. There are plenty of other gigs and events coming up in the Borough of Barnet (apart from our party!).

There is far too much to list here, and there is a great website that lists all of the forthcoming gigs, so checkout

A few I've picked out that I'll be checking out

gig details
The Portobello Jazz Band (Jazz, 6 piece) at The Greyhound, Hendon
8.30pm - 11pm Info »

gig details
The Looters (60s / 70s covers, 4 piece) at The Three Wishes, Edgware
9pm - midnight Info »

gig details
Odyssey Blues & Soul Band (Soul, Blues, Jazz, 4 piece) at The Elephant Inn, Finchley
First time here. Come down for a Pre-Christmas knees-up.
9.15pm - midnight Info »

9. Christmas Lunch.

Are you looking for a great place for a Christmas lunch? Here's a few suggestions. All of these are places I regularly visit and can thoroughly recommend.

The Chandos Arms, Colindale

The Bohemia, North Finchley

Haven, Totteridge

The Rising Sun
Rising Sun Xmas Menu

This year, my business are having our party at Valentino's oon th A41. I always think of them as a Mill Hill venue, but they are of course in Hendon! They are also worth a visit

10. And finally......
I spent a couple of hours putting this together for you. Please could you do something for me? It won't take you very long. At this time of year, I hope everyone has a great Xmas or festive season. Sadly some of us won't. Many families are under strain. Colindale Foodbank supports families during this period. Next weekend, the Sacred Heart Church in Mill Hill is having a collection for them. It's really easy. You just get a bag of non perishable food (They are asking for tinned meats, fish, soups, tea, coffee) and leave it in the reception area at the front of the church. The church is open from around 8am till 2pm then from around 5.30-7pm. Donations can also be dropped into the presbetery. The church simply acts as a drop off point, the food is collected on the Monday.  There is also a drop off point at Waitrose in Mill Hill. So if you are shopping there, simply buy a couple of extra items and pop them in the box. I was speaking to Fr Michael at Sacred Heart and he told me he was genuinely touched at how many members of the wider community now dropped off regular donations for the first Sunday of the month regular collection.

We couldn't finish, without a little music, could we. This is surely the finest Christmas song of them all.


Friday, 17 November 2017

The Friday Joke - 17/11/2017

Image result for coffee jokes
A middle aged woman went to her doctor to ask advice in reviving her husband's libido. 
"What about trying Viagra?" asked the doctor. 
"Not a chance," she said. "He won't even take an aspirin." 
"Not a problem," replied the doctor. "Drop the Viagra tablet into his  coffee. He won't even taste it... Give it a try and call me in a week to let me know how things went." 
When she called the doctor he asked how it went and she exclaimed, "It was horrid! Just terrible, doctor!' 
"Really? What happened?" asked the doctor. 
"Well, I did as you said and slipped it in his coffee and after just a few sips he jumped straight up, with a twinkle in his eye and with his pants a-bulging fiercely! 
With one swoop of his arm, he sent the cups flying, ripped my clothes to tatters and took me then and there on the tabletop! It was a nightmare, it was an absolute nightmare!" 
"Do you mean the sex your husband provided was no good?" 
"It was the best sex I've had in 25 years! But I'll never be able to show my face in Starbucks again!" 

Have a great weekend!

Councillor Reuben Thompstone - The worst committee chair in Barnet?

Councillor Reuben Thompstone
Cllr Thompstone
Councillor Reuben Thompstone is the chair of the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee for Barnet Council. In return for this, he receives a Special responsibility allowance of £15,333 on top of the ten grand basic allowance he gets as a councillor.

This Committee has a wide range of responsibilities, which include:

·         Planning the adequate  provision of school places in the Borough
·         Investment in educational infrastructure;
·         The Library Service
·         Cultural activities
·         Powers, duties and functions of the Council in relation to Children’s Services (including schools)
·         Approving the Children and Young People Plan

This Committee also leads on the Council’s responsibilities under the Children Act 2004 and Education and inspection Act 2007 to:

·         Oversee effective support for young people in care; and enhance the Council’s corporate parenting role
·         Oversee the multi-agency Youth Offending Team
·         Oversee the effective provision of support across partners for the well-being of vulnerable families - including the Troubled Families programme

The Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee is made up of Councillors and co-opted Members.  This Committee has three co-opted Voluntary Aided School Representatives to provide a faith perspective on education matters.

The Committee also has two Parent governor representatives elected by other parent governors to represent the views of all parents on decisions relating to education.

I think most people would agree that this is an important role and that it deserves a chairman who is competent and takes the role seriously. Firstly lets consider what the role of a councillor is. Councillors are elected by the voters in their ward as representatives to ensure that the organisation is run in the interests of the voters, taxpayers and residents. They are expected to ensure that the paid officers do their jobs and that their is proper democratic oversight. Council meetings are held in public, so that anyone who is interested can see that everything is being run in above board fashion. The constitution of the council allows for residents to ask questions at meetings, make representations and present petitions. The constitution allows for a maximum of half an hour for this at meetings.

There is a very sensible reason for this. Councillors are meant to represent residents and this half an hour allows for residents to have their say. Regardless of whether councillors agree with what members of the public have to say, if they are doing their job properly, they listen with respect and if there are genuine issues, they should do their best to address these issues.

The role of the chair of the committee is to ensure that the meeting is run effectively. A primary role is to ensure that when members of the public interact with the committee, their concerns are addressed. Members of the public, who give up their time to address the committee do so out of a public spirited desire for the council to conduct their business in a proper manner.

I've asked questions on many occasions, presented petitions and addressed committees. Whenever I have done this, it has been because I felt the council needed to address serious issues. Unlike councillors, I don't get paid to do this. I get nothing at all out of the experience, except on occasion something to say in a blog. Most of the people who ask questions don't even get to write a  blog. They just care. One example of such a person is Gerrard Roots. Gerrard asked a question to the CELS committee on Wednesday night. Mr Roots was formerly the curator of Church Farmhouse Museum.  He dedicated his working life to the culture of our Borough and is clearly a man with a great wealth of knowledge and a huge interest in the cultural life of the Borough. He curated many exhibitions of great value to the people of the Borough and during his tenure, he built the reputation of Church Farmhouse as a highly innovative museum. many of the exhibitions were featured in TV and radio articles. I first got to know Mr Roots when the museum featured an exhibition about popular music in the Borough ( .
Our studio contributed many exhibits. Other excellent exhibitions I recall were ones such as the one of photography of the Spanish Civil War, the Harry Beck London Transport Exhibiton and the one LGBT culture in the Borough.

He is a very well respected member of the local community and he asked a question about the meeting held to put together a bid for the Barnet bid for London Borough of Culture, which was mentioned in the meeting Agenda reports pack - I would have expected Mr Roots to be a prime contact to attend such a meeting, given his wealth of knowledge, contacts and history of working in arts and culture in the Borough.
"Please give me a complete list of those 100 or so individuals and organizations invited to the workshop held in July, and the names of those who actually attended. Please tell me, too, the name of the 'outside facilitator' who convened the workshop. In addition, please give me a complete list of the individuals and organizations who participated in the follow-up workshop held on 9 November."

The response Mr Roots received was as follows

The request for information will need to be assessed through the Information Management Team due to the provisions in legislation, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998. 
For further information and to make a freedom of information request please visit the following webpage:
I was present for the meeting. Mr Roots used the opportunity to ask a supplimentary question. What ensured was perhaps the worst example of how a chair should behave I have ever seen. Mr Roots was rightly upset that he'd received a complete non answer. As a very minimum, given the huge sum Councillor Thompstone is paid as a committee chair, I would expect him to read answers to questions and to challenge the officers if a non answer is given. Mr Roots asked why he'd received a non answer. It was clear what information was required. The council could redact any individuals name that they wished. He asked for the individuals and the organisations. There is no reason why a list of the organisations asked couldn't be provided. I personally cannot see why there is any privacy issue in regards to individuals attending if they are representing an organisation at a council run meeting, however they could have said "A representative from Brent Cross shopping centre" had they wished.

The organisations represented included Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, CommUNITY Barnet, Barnet and Southgate College, Middlesex University, Brent Cross shopping centre,
Metropolitan Police, Job Centre Plus, Groundwork London, Federation of Small Businesses, West London Business, Argent Related and Saracens, according to the report.

I would have expected those attending to be aware that the council has an openness and transparency policy and that they should have been informed that their names may be made public. Given that a bid for London Borough of Culture is a positive and good thing to do, any individual should welcome the opportunity to be named as a represenatative. It seems ironic that Mr Roots name has appeared on the council website, when names of people attending a meeting, which I believe should be open and transparent is deemed "Private".

In short, the official rather than helping a resident with a valid question, were as obstructive as possible. Mr Roots was simply told he had to issue an FoI request. Given that the council were discussing the bid, councillors and members of the public had no opportunity to actually find out who had been engaged. Not only that but Councillor Thompstone, rather than standing up for a taxpaying resident with a genuine interest in culture, rudely dismissed Mr Roots, once it was clear that the officer was not interested in answering.

I also spoke at the meeting. I had previously emailed all of the councillors, to make what I believe were helpful suggestions. Mr Thompstone did not acknowledge my email. When I spoke, he did not welcome me or thank me. I was polite and I believe my input could only be construed as constructive, even if he didn't agree at all with what I was saying. I may be old fashioned, but I detest bad manners. I had put myself out to attend his committee and make a positive input to a process which should be good for Barnet. Councillor Thompstone treated me with complete contempt. Now you may think that he simply sees me as a trouble making political opponent. If he does, he clearly didn't read my email or listen to what I had to say. If he isn't doing that, then he's really not doing his job.

My mind went back to when I addressed the Audit Committee chaired by Hugh Rayner in September. I also made a statement at that meeting (as did fellow blogger John Dix). It was a difficult meeting for Cllr Rayner. However, he made a point of thanking myself and John after and assurring us that he was listening to our comments and taking them on board. He also thanked us for our efforts. Whilst I disagree with Hugh on many political issues, I respect him and think he is a decent chairman. He clearly recognises the rights of residents and the value of engagement. He also was quite happy to challenge Capita and demonstrate leadership in his role.

Sadly Councillor Thompstone is the opposite. As well as Mr Roots, fellow blogger Theresa Musgrove and Local campaigner Barbara Jacobson also asked questions. Mr Thompstone repeatedly interrupted Ms Musgrove, hectoring her saying "have you actually got a question". Ms Jacobson was treated with equal contempt. Councillor Thompstone answered no questions. He simply asked officers to respond. That is not what a char should do, especially when officers are not providing answers.

We then had a lady presenting a petition on School funding. Labour Councillors asked for Councillor Thompstone to write to the Secretary of State for education to ensure that Barnet does not lose out when the new funding arrangements are introduced. Councillor Thompstone asked the lead officer to explain what he was doing in this respect. A cross London organisation of Boroughs is working to make the case. The officer felt that his was a good forum to apply pressure. Labour members agreed, but asked if he could also write to the secretary of state, to specifically make the case for Barnet. Councillor Thompstone refused. I was quite shocked. As a Conservative Council, with many outstanding schools, Councillor Thompstone is ideally placed to try and get a good deal for Barnet pupils. Tory Councillors across London are doing just this. Sadly Councillor Thompstone, the man responsible for education in Barnet, does not think it is necessary to try and work for a better deal.

It may amuse you to know that I was out for a few beers with a mate of mine last night, who is a Tory Councillor in Bedfordshire. He was telling me that he's currently furiously lobbying the Tory government about changes to the rail service, which will adversely affect his ward and the residents who elected him. This is what good councillors do. I've attended most of the committees of Barnet Council. It is clear to me that of all of these, Thompstone is the worst chair (IMHO). Not only is he rude, but he doesn't take responsibility, doesn't listen and is cowardly. Failing to write to the secretary of state to defend Barnet Schools is a shocking dereliction of duty. He gave no reason other than "I am not into political grandstanding". If Councillor Thompstone is unable to write a letter to the secretary of state for Education which lays out good reasons why schools in Barnet need to have their funding protected, then he is not up to the job and should let someone who will take responsibility do the job. If he thinks standing up for pupils and schools is "grandstanding" then lord help us. I have a vested interest in this. I am the chair of a trust which is responsible for raising funding for one of Barnets top schools. I have seen first hand just how devastating the current financial position of schools is becoming. When flagship schools, which are in the list of top schools in the country can't balance the books, something is seriously wrong.

During the meeting, perhaps the most useful input came from Councillor Helena Hart. She is a long standing Tory councillor who clearly takes her role seriously. She is chair of the Health and Wellbeing board and is an excellent councillor. It is no surprise to me that Barnet failed an OFSTED inspection for childrens services when they let a buffoon like Thompstone run the committee. If I was the Leader of The Council, I'd promote Helena Hart to the job. She would do the job properly and I would have no material for blogs like this. But sadly in the London Borough of Barnet, being good at your job means nothing when the allowances are dished out. These committee chair roles are simply used as a mechanism to dish out taxpayer funded allowances to political allies.

The only quality Thompstone demonstrated that could possibly justify his role is the fact that he's clearly an excellent brown noser, who wants to stay in with his political masters. He clearly thinks writing to the secretary of state to defend Barnet schools is a bad career move as he plots his political career. Sadly he is too dim to realise that if he makes a good case, he will come to the attention of the high fliers and will be seen as a man who can do tough jobs.

I will wrap this up with a question about leadership. Who was the greatest ever Tory Prime Minister? My vote would be for Winston Churchill. Churchill was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, he was fearless. What do you think Churchill would have made of a spineless individual, unprepared to stand up for the students who he is responsible for educating? I doubt that Thompstone would have got on in Churchills Tory party. Sadly though, things are done rather differently in Barnet.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

How to succeed in the world of music and culture

Ok, let me put a few cards on the table. In 1979 I started a business that has grown to be one of the worlds leading centres for musicians to rehearse and record. We have musicians coming from across the world to record music. This week it is one of Africa's finest musicians Fiston Lusambo, working on his latest album.

The studio business runs without subsidies and is unencumbered with debt. I'm also on the organising committee for Mill Hill Music Festival. This is one of the few music festivals that receives no subsidies from the taxpayer. We put on Opera, classical music, Jazz and a whole host of other music. The finances of the festival are extremely healthy and this years festival was a great success. I also help organise a whole stack of other festivals and events. I mentor bands and artist and advise them on how to have a sustainable career. This year, as one example, I've helped a band called The Black Doldrums. As a direct result of my advice on crowd funding, marketing and merchandising, they've managed to release an album, sign a record deal, tour the US and UK and elevate their career. I explained how they could use crowdfunding and merchandising to develop their potential. As a result of this advice they are on tour as we write this and recording their second album.

I'm in the lucky position that by and large I can pick and choose what I want to work on, because I've been successful. It may surprise you to learn that people pay me to advise them and speak at events. I generally only do this when it is something I am interested in. Generally I don't seek a fee as I really don't need the cash, but if it is a commercial organisation and they are doing good things I will take a fee.

Generally most people treat me with respect and recognise that I know what I am talking about. I understand music and I know many of the worlds top musicians. I apologise for writing this "I am wonderful" blog. I generally don't really like telling the world what a marvellous person I am. I didn't get into music for accolades, I do it because I love it and it is life enhancing. But I do know what I am talking about and I have the CV to prove it.

So what is my secret? How do you succeed in music and culture? Well there is no secret at all. There are three simple elements.

1. Hard work. If you are not prepared for the slog, don't bother. For me, this has not come over a few days or weeks. It's been nearly four decades. I am constantly exhausted. Late nights, early mornings, crisis after crisis, people continually lying, bs'ing and letting you down. The earth is promised and nothing delivered. I've built studios from materials I've reclaimed from skips, rigged PA's for festivals in torrential rain and lightening, threatened gig promoters with physical violence when faced with non payment of commitments, consoled artists after personal tragedy, done my back in lifting heavy PA gear, seen relationships fail when I've been to busy to nurture them. The upside has been awesome but the downside is soul destroying at times.

2. Set clear goals. This is perhaps the most important. For the first fifteen years of our studio business, we had no focus. It was just a place for our band to rehearse and to earn beer money. I realised that it was potentially a great business but my then partners didn't share my vision. I amicably bought them out and got a new business partner, who shared my vision and my desire for success. We also started to get involved in local festivals, as part of a wider strategy to ensure that our customers had a thriving scene to make their efforts worthwhile. We wanted to be the best studio, a one stop shop for artists and a cultural hub. And we wanted to do it without subsidies or grants. I believe these damage the focus of many organisations. I've seen so many, surviving on public money, serving the management rather than the artists. Often these organisations are lead by patronising individuals with no talent, who stifle creativity and innovation. For us, it is important to constantly reinvent ourselves. If we fail, the customers go and we go. Sadly many artistic organisations simply gobble up cash to pay people to do nothing useful. Of course there are also great creative organisations that receive subsidies and couldn't exist without them. I'm not suggesting that the V&A for example could run commercially or even that such an idea is desirable. What I am saying though, is that if you want to build a creative business, the financial discipline of commercial reality should be viewed as an asset. It will ensure you focus on the right things.

3. You need a great team around you. From the early paragraphs you may think I have an inflated view of my own capabilities. In truth, none of it would be possible without the teams I am a part of. For Mill Hill Music Complex, we have a great team. Every staff member makes a huge contribution. I will pick out a few, just to illustrate this. Clare looks after the finances and billing side. If these don't get paid, we cease to exist. As company secretary, she is absolutely key. She previously worked for Central TV, ensuring productions such as Sharpe, which was filmed in the Ukraine, were effectively managed. She is also a fine musician with the BBC Elstree Concert Band.She gives our organisation planning and financial discipline. She also understands our mission and ethos. Darren is our studio manager. He organises our staff rosters and day to day management of operations. He's been with us for 17 years. Fil is our chief recording engineer. He's a talented musician and is very gifted as a sound man. He's been on the staff for 20 years. Stuart is our equipment tech, previously he ran Manta and Rocket studios. He's also a working musician. He's been with us for 20 years. Then there's Kasia, our cleaner. If we had filthy toilets etc, we'd have no customers. She is as vital to the business as anyone else, in some ways more so. It is attention to such details that make the difference between success and failure. There is Kelechi, our web designer who ensures the studio websites work. There's Derek, who is our building designer and creative guru. There's David, who is our electrician. Then Carl, Ted,   Steve, Nick, Matt and Tom, who run the reception shifts, detailing with customers and keeping the show on the road.

You may wonder what I do? Well sometimes any of the above jobs, but mostly just plan strategy and direction. I work out our priorities and hopefully ensure the team have the tools to deliver them. Ultimately we need to make a profit to survive. Mostly this is around advertising and promotion. So there it is, the secret of how we've built a successful business that's known around the world. Of course we don't always get it right and every day brings a new challenge, but as we have over 1,000 musicians a week pass through the doors, and our customers have included Amy Winehouse, The Damned, Kate Nash, Mose Fan Fan, The Beautiful South, London Grammar, Eddie Floyd, Tom Jones with Chicane, The BBC, Channel 4, ITV to name a few, we must be doing something right. I consider myself lucky to have been born and raised in Mill Hill, an ideal location for such a business. I was also lucky that my father was a small businessman and was happy to rent me premises and advise me. Unlike some (The current US president) my parents didn't financially back my business. My Dad said 'it has to stand on its own and you have to work hard to make a success of it'. That was the best advice I ever got.