Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Your Choice Barnet careworkers: managers slaughter our wages and then just leave - By Kate Belgrave

By Kate Belgrave (Originally posted here)
By total coincidence, one of the people Your Choice Barnet careworkers met this week when they were in Mill Hill handing out leaflets about their strike action was an agency careworker. He was incensed about his own pay and working conditions, to say the very least. He stopped to take a leaflet and he really let fly.
He had trouble with his housing benefit, I think – it sounded like a miscalculation and overpayments problem.
Anyway – Nigel Farage will be the beneficiary of this man’s experience. “I’m going to vote UKIP,” this careworker said furiously. Everyone other politician was useless as far as this man was concerned. He had a point. Nobody would help him. His pay was so low and his costs were so high that he wasn’t sure he could stay in his home. “I earn £102 a week. It’s about 15 hours a week at £7 an hour. Barnet council say I’m earning too much for them to pay my £300 rent. They’ve given me £58 a week and they’ve stopped me £15 week on top of that, because they say that they’ve been overpaying me since March. So, I’m living on £42 a week. I went to spoke to my MP – the Conservative Finchley MP. He had a look at the letters and he said “there’s nothing I can do. That’s the rules. I’m living on £42 a week. ”
The YCB strikers I was with had some sympathy for this bloke, as well they might. Their situation is dire too.
Two years ago, the support and day services they provide for disabled people were moved from the council into Your Choice Barnet, part of the Barnet Group trading company which the council seemed to think should and would make large profits (out of disabled people and their support funds).
This hope was built on sand, of course. The promised Your Choice profits never came to pass. About a year after its glorious launch, Your Choice Barnet management began to bleat about debt and to claim that the only way to make the business “competitive” was to cut careworkers’ wages and staff numbers.
The company duly set about a very unpopular restructure, with predictable results. Staff left, or were made redundant, and the rest are still fighting to hang onto their jobs and already-small wages. Barnet Unison says that about 145 full time equivalent staff were transferred from adult services to the trading company in 2012. After the “restructure” last year and cuts to shift allowance pay, only about 105 FTE staff are in place now – a 30% cut in staffing levels.
Now, careworkers are trying to make Your Choice Barnet management to overturn a 9.5% wage cut which was imposed on them (on the careworkers, that is) in April this year. Careworkers report wage cuts between £100 and £250 a month. That’s why they took two days’ strike action this and why next week, they’re taking more. They want the service to be taken back inhouse by the council. Meanwhile, Andrew Travers, Barnet council’s amazingly crass chief executive, has been turning out on twitter to brag about the opportunities the Barnet Group offer for growth – even as careworkers at the company prepared to strike. Brilliant. I guess was can expect that Travers will restore the careworkers’ lost wages and jobs if that growth transpires. Very big If there, of course.
Anyway. Here are two transcripts from interviews I did with Your Choice Barnet careworkers this week as they took their first two days of strike action in this round. They describe their worries about low staff-to-client ratios, the problems presented at places that are increasingly staffed with low-paid, inexperienced agency workers and how it feels to lose a couple of hundred quid a month when you’ve got a mortgage or rent to pay, and you’ve given more than ten years to a job and have acquired a great deal of experience. This is the world of care and support work. You’re on low pay and you know that it will just keep getting lower unless you fight hard.
And just btw – if Your Choice Barnet doesn’t like any of this – tough shit. That company can let me come in for a couple of weeks to see how things are working out in these services. Transparency around the issues raised by these struggling careworkers would be useful. The last time I saw members of that company’s board, they were running out of a meeting to avoid Your Choice Barnet service users and their families who were furious about YCB’s proposed staff and wage cuts. You can see that action here.
Celia* (name changed). Has been working as a Barnet careworker for 13 years. Now a support worker for adults with autism.
“Our service is for adults with autism. We have people who have one-to-one support and two-to-one support as well. We have a daycentre with inhouse activities and computer sessions, sensory activities, lots of activities in the community. I work 36 hours a week.
“The [9.5%] pay cut started off this year with a consultation period. But when we were moved from Barnet council to the Your Choice Barnet [company in 2012], we were told that [our wages and conditions] were going to be safe. A couple of years ago, we were told that we were going to be safe. Then a year later, they came back and said that they were running the business at a loss. They said they need to make cuts to make savings – 400k. That’s a lot of wages.
“It’s affected me financially, because that £100 a month [that I've lost], that’s like the electric bill for the month, your car insurance.
“The problem is that the senior managers [who make these decisions] don’t stay in position very long. Like – they make the cuts and then they move on. They leave you lumbered and there’s nobody to go back to to say “this is what’s happened.”
“I’ve done about 13 years for Barnet. It was many years [work] to get to where I am and to get to that salary as well. There’s a few ladies here who have done 30 years. They moved from elderly services [to this service] because services for the elderly have diminished. Privatisation is not good. Look at the state of the country. I find it difficult to save. I’ve got the mortgage and everything else.
“At the moment, we’re still trying to provide a consistent service [for adults with autism who use the service], but when you have got agency people coming in and you’re training them… you can’t really leave the service users unattended with the agency staff. We have got quite a few agency staff. That consistency won’t remain the same. Sometimes we’re really, really overstretched.”
Peter* (name changed), 45.
“I’ve been here just over ten years. A lot of the parents are behind us [in the strike action]. When you see some of these guys – when they first come to us and you see some of the progress that they make…we all know what we’re worth as a staff team. We’re there for people. It’s just really frustrating knowing you’ve given all these years of service.
“My pay cut was £220 a month. It is a big chunk, because I’ve got other outgoings, so just to lose £200 a month – it’s a lot of money. They [Your Choice Barnet] don’t seem to care. They just don’t want to know. It’s really frustrating.
“Now I get about £1200 a month. Got to pay my rent, my bills and every year the travel is going up. It’s going up in January again. It’s going to go up higher than inflation, so that will be about £100 I’ll be spending on travel. I pay for my kids and now this £250 has just gone. It’s like you go through a cycle when you’re living to work. If you save, you end up using that money you’ve saved. I just don’t know how they can justify it.
“I like this job. In the morning, we’ve got people who come in on escort – guys who go out on the bus and pick clients up from their houses and residential houses, and sometimes, you’ve got to contend with behaviour on the bus. Sometimes, we’ve got two staff on the buses in case anything happens. The clients get here between nine and ten o’clock. The staff will be in their various space rooms getting timetables ready… some people will have pictorial timetables based on their level of understanding.
“Everyone’s got their own system that works for them, so they know what they will do throughout the day. They might be going swimming in the morning and then they come back for lunch. In the afternoon, they might go for a walk, or do a sports group. Some people have been going there for longer than I’ve been working there. You have to build up that trust. It could take weeks, or it could take months. We’ve got one particular lady – she’s been with us for years and on a Friday, she’s already anxious and agitated because she knows that we don’t come in on the weekend.
“I’ve got a nephew who is autistic. I gave me sister respite. I used to take my nephew out swimming – just bowling cinema and stuff. I used to do a lot of voluntary work in soup kitchens and things like that.
“The argument that we’ve been having for years is staff ratio. [You need staff-to-client ratios to be right]. [There's a problem if they're] trying to say that someone doesn’t need one-to-one support and we’re saying – hang on, how do you work that out? If anything happens, as we’ve been told, it’s on our heads.
“In the last couple of months, they have started bringing agency workers in…. you can’t just bring these people in. When I started working in this line of work, you couldn’t just go on the shop floor. You had to shadow people for about a month.
“Some of the clients are older than me. They deserve respect. I’m a support worker. That’s what I tell people.”
Kate Belgrave is a journalist. Since 2010, she has focused on the public service cuts made by the coalition government, and on privatisation. Have published articles on these topics at the Guardian, newleftprojectOpen Democracy, False Economy, and the New Statesman. Recent joint film made with the Daily Mirror on the fight to save the Independent Living Fund is here.
She also works part time for the False Economy site.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Would a Scotland yes vote be good for London?

Having just got back from Edinburgh, I was sitting on the plane taking in some of the conversations I've been having with Scots on my visit. I was trying to think what I could possibly add to the debate. It occurred to me that no one has really focussed specifically on what a Yes vote would mean for London. On a purely economic level it is 100% clear that a Yes vote would be excellent news for London. We've already heard various banks have contingency plans to move head office functions to London. This can only mean more jobs and more prosperity for the capital. It is also likely to mean  a redistribution and rethink of priority for infrastructure projects, which is again likely to be concentrated on London and the South East.

At present we only have three fully electrified High speed main line railways in the UK. Two go to Scotland and one goes to France. I do wonder if the Govt would have bothered to electrify the East and West Coast mainline to Scotland if it had been independent. My guess is that one effect of Independence would be to ensure that HS2 never reaches Glasgow and Edinburgh. Whilst this is very bad for the concept of the UK, it is very good for London as it means huge amounts of capitol will be available for local projects. Roads and Rail infrastructure spending is likely to be spent where it will deliver the most benefit to the most people, which in the UK is in the South East. Once Scotland is taken out of the picture, the picture gets radically redrawn. If the banks have moved to London, then that means that the people who provide the finance for infrastructure projects have no vested interest in spending that money north of Carlisle and Newcastle. In fact I think areas such as Carlisle and Newcastle will be huge losers in this process. It seems likely that they'll be far less well served when the cash is splashed. By default such areas have hugely benefitted when the routes to Scotland were improved.

What about the social effects of devolution? These are far less easy to read. Presumably once the BBC is split into two, there will be far less interest from the corporation in Scottish news and events. Culturally one wonders whether the UK will get behind events such as the Commonwealth games in the way they did for Glasgow. I hugely enjoy the Edinburgh festival, but I can't see how devolution will really help it to maintain its profile.I suspect that the fallout in London will actually be positive as the arts community looks a little bit less north. I don't expect this to mean the demise of the Edinburgh festival, but it would mean that London would feel no qualms about setting up its own rival, should it so be inclined.

I've many Scottish friends living in London and most of them are bemused by the swing towards Yes. Most are proud of their Scottish heritage, but don't associate themselves with the Salmond brand of pride in their nation. Many have said that it has actually made them appreciate London even more.

I was trying to think of a negative effect of the vote. One effect of devolution has been that far less Scottish students come to London to study, as they get a free education North of the Border. I don't think this can be  a good thing, but it is already happening. It will only make the Scots more insular and inward looking, which must be a bad thing in the global economy.

You may think that with this in mind, I'd be supporting independence, as I am a Londoner through and through. Not a bit of it. I believe London is the capital of the world and a little bit of the world will get a little bit further away. When Alex Salmond talks about the oil wealth and how rich Scotland is, he neglects to mention the fact that the real losers if he keeps all the oil money will not be London. London has a booming economy. The losers will be deprived English regions on the periphery of the country. These are the real victims in all this, if you take the economic view. Salmond would clearly say "So what, that is an English problem" Whilst on one level he's right, I believe in the long term he's very wrong. We are stronger and better together. Salmond may cherish the flower of Scotland, but what happens to a flower that is cut off from its roots? I guess the big difference between my viwpoint and Salmonds is that whilst it is clear that a Yes would be good for London, I think it would be a tragedy for the Scotland and the rest of England and so I cannot possibly support it.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Thameslink - The dawn of a new era

So this morning at 4am my alarm went off. I had to give a presentation at a conference in Edinburgh today and was flying Heathrow at 6.55am. So as I always do when I am in this position, I checked the train times on First Capital Connect. Click here to see what happened - - Well I'd forgotten that they'd lost the franchise and today was day one of the new mob. Would it really have been to hard for FCC just to redirect customers to the new page (here ) but First don't really give a toss about customers. They never have. I for one am glad to see the back of them. I've no idea if the new mob will be any better, but it would be hard to be worse.

What I cannot understand is just how unhelpfull the First site actually is. Even last week, there was nothing to help you. So groggy eyed. I had to muck around for ten minutes, when all I wanted was a quick tea and a shower, but there I was mucking around trying to find the new page.

Of course it isn't the end of the world. It was just annoying that last Friday the train info link worked and there was not a sausage on it about the new service. Today there was nothing on the old site.

I just hope that Govia, the new operator have a better idea of what a railway should do than First.

Here are my top five First Capital Cock ups.

1. Cutting the number of trains from Mill Hill  to St Pancras from eight to four per hour in rush hour (now reinstated to 5/6)
2. Letting the network virtually collapse due to lack of drivers.
3. Abolishing the automatic refund for season ticket holders for bad service
4. Painting City Thameslink platforms with paint which became dangerously slippery in the rain.
5. Abolishing the practice of adding extra stops for fast trains when slow trains are cancelled and cancelling stops on slow trains when they are running late.

Only time will tell.   Cross your fingers

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why every decent person in Barnet should support the Your Choice Barnet Care workers

There is currently a dispute between the management of Your Choice Barnet Ltd and the workforce. The core of the dispute is about a pay cut being imposed on the staff. Supposedly this is "vital" to protect the company and its financial stability.

This blog questioned from the start the logic and "need" for the council to divest itself of adult social care. We have consistently called for the services to be taken back in house, as we believe this is the only way to protect the quality of care for the most vulnerable people in Barnet.

Some local right wing commentators have claimed that what is happening a good thing. They claim that publc services need  agood dose of market reality. Now if these commentators were running a whelk stall they may well be right. But let us consider what Your Choice Barnet actually do. They look after the most vulnerable people in Barnet. People who can't look after themselves. Now the idea of the right wing ideologs is that every role in the economy has a value and this finds itself by market forces. How this works is that the people at the top give themselves ever higher pay packets and those at the bottom have their pay packets ever squeezed.

The idea is that those at the bottom can like it or lump it because in our recessive economy. There's plenty of other people to fill the roles. But this isn't running a whelk stall. You see every person that Your Choice cares for has special requirements. Every single one of them is a special person with special requirements. Each one of them needs someone who understands their needs and is familair with their routines. For many of the clients, it is essential to build up a relationship. Trust is a key factor. Every time a worker moves on, the client has a period of stress and readjustment. Even silly things like knowing how many sugars a client has in their coffee are important. We all need to feel safe and secure and familiarity is a key part.

If someone has a pay cut and they are on low pay anyway, they are forced into a very difficult position. Which means they even if they don't want to, they'll be forced to try and get another job.  If we value the quality of life of the weakest and most vulnerable people in Barnet, we should value the people who care for them. That means paying them decent wages and giving them the security of employment that will encourage them to commit to the job in the long term.

This is why every single decent person in Barnet should care. If it costs every household a penny a week to pay for it, then so be it. Are we such cheapskates that we can't afford that?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Saturday List #69 - Rog T's top ten sex tips !!!!!

So the Saturday list reaches edition number 69 !!!! We thought we'd give you our top ten sex tips to ensure you have a really romantic, raunchy evening.

1. Eight pints of beer and a vindaloo is not a great way to prepare for a night of lurve!!! There are only so many sins that a pack of Trebor Extra strong mints will hide. The only time this rule should be broken is when your partner has also had eight pints and a vindaloo, in which case it is a necessity.

2. Don't look at Twitter/Facebook/texts whilst making out. One of our studio customers was telling me that after a night out, he felt the need to engage the services of a lady of ill repute in the Kings Cross area. He said that the "date" was going swimmingly until he realised she was looking at her phone whilst he was doing the business.

3. Make sure that the bedroom door is shut, if you have pets and you want to have a bit of lurve. There is no greater passion spoiler than the labrador leaping on the bed in the middle of a good session.

4. Sharing a glass of Baileys to romantic music is a good way to get in the mood. Sharing two bottles isn't.

5. In the art of seduction, it is essential to set the mood. Soft lighting may assist. We tend to find that an excellent album to set the mood is Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The album starts with the anthemic "Love Comes in Spurts" which is a surefire winner. It also rather helpfully has "Betrayal takes two" if you're planning on getting lucky with your best mates partner. Of course this music choice only really applies if your partner is a 70's punk rock nut!

6. Recognise that very few of us are psychic. Therefore if your partner is not doing what you want in the way you like, it is really quite a good idea to give them some encouragement to get their act together. Generally saying "I'd really like it if you do this like this" is far more likely to get results than "Oi dogbreath, is this the first time you've done this? Get your act together"

7. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Generally we find different things attractive and exciting. So bear this in mind. Men generally respond well to visual stimulus wheras women respond better to mental stimulation. So instead of assuming that something works for you, try and find out what works for your partner. If they say they like something, assume they are telling you that for a reason.

8.Switch off the mobile phone. If you are engrossed and the phone goes off, it will spoil it for both of you. You can always call back later.

9. Make a bucket list of things you fantasize about and share it with your partner (assuming his/her sister or his/her brother isn't top of the list if you know what I mean). If you don't you'll die with none of it done.

10. Don't spend your time reading silly sex tips on stupid blogs!  Generally the problem is staring you in the face if you think you need them. The problem is communication. If it ain't working, you are not communicating. If you are not communicating you are either with the wrong person or you are not giving their needs the respect they deserve. If you are not telling them what you want, in effect you are cheating both of you.

Have a great weekend! Why not join us tonight at the Chandos Arms for the Four Flavours music festival, which is running every Saturday night in September and is free.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Friday Joke 12/9/2014 - Scottish Independence Special

The Queen is in Glasgow and she bumped into Alex Salmond.

HMtQ:  How nice to see you Mr Salmond.

AS:  Nice to see you Ma’am. Now, what are we going to call Scotland when we win Independence? How about calling it a Kingdom, and then I’ll be a King?

HMtQ:  No, we don’t like that, it'll upset Charles, you know he sort of has an eye on that job.

AS:  Empire, and I'll be Emperor?

HMtQ: Oh no, that will be a real step backwards into the past.

AS:  Alright, so how about calling it a Principality, and then I’ll be a Prince?

HMtQ:  No Mr Salmond, we've already got enough of them, we've even got another one on the way.  I suggest we call it a Country and you can carry on as you are.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Thursday Music Special #3 - The Heartbreakers

Preamble -When I decided to do this series of blogs, I originally started by trying to make a list of the songs I liked and the artists I liked. I then decided that this was a bit of a bland and uninteresting list, and decided to try and chronologically list the musical influences of my own musical career. So for the format of this series, I'll try and feature two clips from each artist, their "greatest hit" and the song which influenced me. I hope a few of you out there enjoy these. It is a bit left field and I guess my approach is a tad self indulgent, but hey ho, if like me music fascinates you and is a "bit of a journey" I hope somewhere you find some new gems and enjoy the ride. I have.

Anyway onto this weeks choice. We have the Heartbreakers. Not the Tom Petty lot, Johnny Thunders rip roaring bunch of smackheads. In 1977 as we were setting up the band, these were my very favourite band. I bought the album LAMF purely because it was the only punk record in the Mill Hill record shop. I'd not really heard of the band, I was just starting my musical journey. It was the second punk album I bought (after Puremania by The Vibrators). I ran home and put it on the stero, not knowingwhat to expect. I got into punk rock on the 6th June 1977, going to see the Ramones. I then bought Puremania, by the Vibrators. I had Stones and Wings albums, but Puremania was different. It is imposible to describe how fantastic it sounded to listen to people writing about the alienation I felt. Then I bought LAMF. It was great. There is something about Johnny Thunders guitar playing that is just so cool. His lyrics and his singing has attitude, but is ultimately so vulnerable. I was 14 so I didn't get the drug references like "Chinese Rocks", perhaps their most notorious song, written with Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell.

 I instantly fell in love with the band. I lent the album to my best mate Pete Conway, also getting into punk. He'd bought a bass and I'd bought a guitar. To my amazement, he went off and worked out "I wanna be loved" from LAMF and suggested we do a cover of it. I asked why, he replied "Cos its really easy". Our drummer, Dave Edwards was also a Heartbreakers nut, so bought into the idea.

Although "6000 crazy" by Spizz was the first song Pete & I jammed, "I wanna be Loved" was the first cover we played as a band.  And it was easy, it is a great Rock and Roll song and stayed in the set for over four years.

I always dedicated it to my girlfriend of the day and told them I'd insisted the band play it for them. I'd recommend any rock and roll band, anywhere to play the song. It is what rock and roll really should be. Simple, dirty and easy to play. I love the song and we only stopped playing it because we got a girl singer and changed our style.

Johnny Thunders died of a heroin overdose in 1991. I saw the Heartbbreakers on many occasions. Many times Johnny was stoned off his nut and the band were terrible. Just occasionally, he hit top form and they were awesome. At their best I believe they were the worlds greatest rock and roll band. I love Walter Lure's guitar playing and I believe Jerry Nolan (also dead) was perhaps punks most underrated drummer of the era. Listen to his beats on "All by myself", what he does is awesome. Billy Rath is a great bass player. I guess with their habits the Heartbreakers were always doomed. The one lesson they taught me was that you don't have to write complicated songs to rock. Maybe we'll reprise "I wanne be Loved" for our next gig. The one girlfriend I've never played it for is the Missus as we started going out just after we dropped it. After 28 years its well overdue!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The London Borough of Barnet - A Bad Place to do Business in the new world of Capita Ville

I am very disappointed by recent events in The London Borough of Barnet. They seem to indicate that Barnet Council has turned "anti small business". One would assume that a Conservative authority would look after its core voters, people running businesses large and small. I've not a Conservative voter, but I accept that the Conservatives are traditionally the party of business. Sadly in Barnet, they seem to be only interested in maintaining the profits of mega corporations. They have handed all of the councils functions to Capita PLC, generating huge profits for Capita shareholders. Now firstly there is nothing wrong with big profits for the shareholders of big companies. These pay most peoples pensions in the UK, so it is extremely naive to say such things are bad per se.

The trouble is that when the interests of such companies ride roughshod over everything else and there are no checks and controls, all of a sudden we have a very dangerous situation. Last year when Capita PLC took over running the Councils business, the first thing they did was bring in their own firm of bailiffs, called Equita, to enforce payment of fines & taxes on their behalf. The Council had other agreements, but Capita set these aside. The worry of myself and many others was that as Equita make a big profit on every order they enforce, there was a huge conflict of interest. Wheras Bailiffs are traditionally the last port of call, sent when there is no other option, for Capita, rigorous use of bailiffs becomes a nice little Earner.

What happened this week in Finchley High road was amicrocosm of all that is wrong with the business environement Capita have created. Local cafe owner Helen Michael had an extremely difficult time between August 2012 and August 2013. Firstly her mum got seriously ill. Then former Councillor Brian Coleman beat her outside her shop. To compound matters, Coleman lied about this and pretended He was the victim. This went on for six months, until he was eventaully exposed as a complete liar and a violent thug in court, courtesy of the CCTV footage.

Then Helen's mum passed away. Dealing with the stress of all this lead to her getting behind on her rates. She ran up debts on her rates of £8,000. When she got her head together, she started to pay off the debt. Barnet Council got a court order, but as Helen was paying the debt, she assumed the matter had gone away. In August the debt was down to £1800. The council apparently started chaing her. By September the debt was down to £800. Then out of the blue, Equita turned up at her cafe, despite 90% of the debt in a year. It was only the lack of paperwork that prevented them from taking her coffe machine. Given it was clear she was paying, why did the Council call in the Capita?Equita bailiffs just before the debt was cleared. Is this business friendly.

The Council issued the following statement

“Barnet Council’s business rates department has been in regular correspondence for over 12 months with Ms Michael concerning her outstanding business rates for 2013/14. Her initial bill was sent in March 2013, a reminder was sent on 22nd April 2013, a final notice on 18th June 2013 and a court summons issued on 23rd July 2013.

In August 2013 Ms Michael wrote to us offering monthly payment plan, which wasn’t deemed to be an acceptable rate of payment and on 13th August 2013 the Magistrates’ Court granted the council a liability order for £8,114. Ms Michael increased her payments after the liability order was issued.

However after several missed payments the council handed the matter to its Enforcement Agents Equita. On 8th August 2014 Equita issued Ms Michael with a letter of enforcement for £2,032.50 plus a compliance fee of £75.00.

Ms Michael wrote back to the council on 15th August 2014 in response to this letter of enforcement. At the time of the Enforcement Agent’s visit Ms Michael had paid off some more of the outstanding debt, but was still in arrears for last year’s business rates.

Business rates are set by central government and a proportion is retained by the council and the GLA. The council is responsible for their collection and enforcement on behalf of the government, and the GLA. The council’s four year collection rate for business rates is 98.8%. The council tax collection rate is 98.1%.

Enforcement Agents follow a strict code of conduct and issue fixed fees in line with Ministry of Justice rules. Barnet uses Enforcement Agents to recover unpaid Business Rates and Council Tax, and to date has recovered £3.6m of unpaid tax with this method.”
So the question is this. Were the bailiffs called in as a last resort? Was it necessary? We believe it wasn't and the action wasn't proportional. Was Helen singled out for anti council activities or will they do this to all of us, if we make one small slip with our rates payments? Either way, it is plain wrong

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Guest Blog - An Update from the retired Curator of Church Farmhouse Museum by Gerrard Roots

Dear All

As expected, Barnet's Assets, Regeneration & Growth (ARGhhhh!) Committee voted last night to offer Church Farm to Middlesex University on a 7-year lease, rent-free, and also cough-up £280,000 towards the costs that Middx has identified as necessary for refurbishments- refurbishments needed only because Barnet has so grossly neglected the building for many years.

I, Theresa Musgrove (blogger 'Mrs Angry') and Jeremy Teare submitted pertinent written questions to the Committee, and Theresa and I were present to ask supplementary questions. We might as well have stayed at home. One might have thought that with the consignment of Cllrs Rams & Coleman (the main architects of Church Farm's demise) to the political graveyard there could now be a sensible discussion about the future of Church Farm: but, no- the effluvia from their rotting corpses still permeates the 'debating-chambers' of Barnet council.

Chairman Cllr Daniel Thomas proved, if more proof was needed, that he had no understanding of history, of the importance of museums, or of the common good, but  ,perhaps, even more disturbingly, his new mantra,  'protecting services, not buildings,' revealede that he, like the rest of his cloddish Tory chums, is incapable of recognising that the Council has a 'duty of care' towards any listed buildings it owns. The responsibilty is statutory, not optional, but why should the Deputy Leader of the second biggest borough in London be expected to be aware of that?

Of the Committee members, only Labour Councillor Pauline Coakley Webb spoke about Church Farm as a much-loved museum, and as a significant historic building. In reply, Cllr Thomas stated that it was obvious  that nobody really cared about the Museum, because Hendon Ward (in which Church Farm is sited) had returned, yet again, three  Tory councillors at the elections last May. The fact that Church Farm, which had by that time been shut for three years,  was an asset not just for Hendon but for all of Barnet (and beyond),  and that his- increasingly beleagured and flouncingly defensive- collection of Conservative 'colleagues' snuck in to control Barnet in May by one seat seems not have impinged on this wannabe (anywhere-else-but-in- Barnet) Conservative MP.

After the meeting, a former Chair of the Friends of the Museum, aptly quoted Oscar Wilde: 'They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing'. Moreover, in Barnet, only Barnet's Tories actually know the price: the rest of us, the humble oiks who pay these posturing dolt's allowances, were excluded from the deliberations on the financial details of the lease between two publicly- funded bodies: Barnet Council and Middlesex University.

Middlesex  University has, despite Barnet's claims otherwise, no proven expertise in dealing with an old and 'vulnerable' (English Heritage's description) Grade II* building. But then two baboons with lump-hammers would have been more adept at preserving Church Farmhouse's fabric than Barnet Council has. Perhaps Middllesex will make a better job of it.

Now, to me, there remain two major issues: Barnet claims that the lease to MU includes 'community use' of the building in the evenings, and at week-ends. There were no 'consultations' with the 'community' before the Council report (after all, this is Barnet) but Cllr Thomas reassured us that these would be forthcoming at some unspecified time.  If such  'consultations' actually materialize  then we must engage withe them. More importantly, we need to know what Barnet Council ( if it is still in existence in 2021) intends to do with  Church Famhouse when the lease runs out. Perhaps we should make our overtures to London Borough of  Capita now: 'Please sir, can you return this lovely !7th century building that we have all paid for into a public museum? Please, sir! Oh, please, sir!'



Editors Note : This is a video we made with Gerrard Roots Earlier this year


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