Monday, 18 February 2019

Environment Monday - The Barnet Waterways disaster Part 1 - Darlands Lake

Darlands Lake
Let me start with a little bit of background. Why this is so important to me. When I was a small child, the biggest treat that my Dad and my elder brothers could do was to take me fishing. I used to hate our locality as there was nowhere we could fish. The only fishing ponds I was aware of were the Totteridge Long Ponds, but you had to be a member and my Dad, as an outback Aussie, didn't believe in paying for the privelige. So he'd take us to Stanmore Common pond, where there was a legendary big pike and Hunton Bridge in Watford, to catch gudgeon to use as live bait. Why weren't there any decent waters in and around Mill Hill? Then one day, I guess I was around seven and attending St Vincents RC school on the Ridgeway, it was announced that we were going on a very special treat. At a guess, it was probably around April 1969. We were going to do a science project. At first I thought it would be to build a space ship, that was what I thought science was, but we were told that it was far more exciting than that. We were going to go to a very special place and catalog all of the wildlife we could find. I then imagined we'd be going to Africa to see Lions and Tigers. But no, we were told that we had to bring wellies tomorrow as we were going to Darlands Lake. I had never heard of this place. I imagined that a bus was coming and we'd drive for miles, to a huge expanse of water, strecthing as far as the horizon, brimming with basking carp and lurking pike.

Folly Brook
Imagine my disappointment when we were ordered to line up and trudge down the footpath that was by our football field. How could there be anything of interest next to our horrible school. We were armed with notepads and jars to collect "samples". I felt we'd been had. We seemed to trudge for miles,behind the NIMR, through fields filled with mooing heffers, through woods, over streams. As my Dad would never walk anywhere, he'd even drive the 200 yards from home to church on a Sunday, I'd never been on such a walk in my life. At first, I was fed up, but as the rolling vale of the Totteridge Valley unfolded and we entered the woods, I got ever more excited. Eventually we arrived at Darlands Lake. How could I have not known such a place existed. There was an island with a Victorian boating lodge, ducks, swans, wading birds, tadpoles, reeds, dragonflies, and all manner of insects. Whilst my more studios classmates busily got to work, I simply stood taking in the wonder of the scene. How could I possibly not know of this magical place? When I got home, I quizzed my Dad why we'd not gone fishing there? He simply replied "It's a bit of a long walk". My brother Laurie took a different view. He promised to take me for a "big explore" at the weekend. He said he'd show me all the parts that "the teacher didn't know". On Saturday, he was true to his word. We packed some sandwiches and a flask full of a tea. We had one of the most magical days. We caught tadpoles and sticklebacks, found sloworms, he showed me all manner of birds and their nests. We hid in the bushes and saw several small mammals such as voles etc.

Over the years, I went off fishing. I realised that being caught was a bad experience for the fish and decided that unless I was fishing for dinner it was something I didn't want to do. I just enjoyed seeing them in their habitat. At Darlands lake there were many fine carp to be seen basking in the Autumn sun. You'd also see herons and other birds hunting for their dinner. Most of all, I loved the dragonflies though. These have always seemed the most alien and exotic of any species anywhere, and Darlands was full of them.

That is how I learned to love Darlands and The Totteridge valley. These days, we have dogs and we regularly walk that same walk. On a sunny day, it is simply the finest walk you will see anywhere with a London post code. I am always shocked when I speak to Mill Hill residents who have never walked Darlands. To me that would be like buying a television, only to never switch it on and simply to use it as a stand for your begonias. If you live in Mill Hill, your property costs more than if you bought a similar one in Colindale. The reason is that we have places like Darlands a short walk away.

But Darlands is no longer quite the idyllic paradise I first saw nearly 50 years ago. Despite its designation as an important site of natural importance, a resting site for migratory birds and sanctuary and watering hole for all manner of life from mammals, to reptiles and insects, the council has designated it a "low quality open space". The boat house has long gone.

Last summer, the lake dried out completely. All of the fine carp suffocated and died.


I urgently lobbied the council to do something, as it became clear what was going to happen. I asked for a specia meeting of the "urgency committee". I couldn't believe that any council could let such an ecological disaster strike such a site. The leader of the council never even bothered replying. Nearly seven months after that awful disaster struck, we now have the official response of the Barnet Council Tory administration. It is simply unbelievable. They are flogging the whole thing off. The reason is quite simple. When it is off the books, they won't have to answer difficult questions from people like me.

The official story is that they are selling it to a trust set up to administer it. This trust is a rather strange entity. Given the cherished nature of the site, you would think they would be seeking public membership, launching fundraising drives, working with local bloggers to make the whole thing work.

The Charity Commission details the trust on their website. The Trust has a website, but this is simply a picture of some wild flowers.  There are no details at all of the organisation that will be running Darlands.

The Charity Commission website also details the people involved.  It is a fine list of the great and good of Mill Hill and Totteridge. I have no doubt all are well intentioned and are trying to do their best for the community. I would in no way cast aspersions on their motives.




The Trusts objectives are as follows.

Charitable objects TO PROMOTE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PUBLIC THE CONSERVATION PROTECTION AND IMPROVEMENT OF THE PHYSICAL AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT OF DARLANDS NATURE RESERVE.

The Totteridge Residents Association posted an update on their website in October 2018. This doesn't really say very much

Darlands Charitable Trust Update

Once the terms and conditions have been finalised, the serious work of raising funds for the urgent maintenance of the reserve will commence.
If you have registered your interest, the Trust will be contacting you.

The Barnet Eye has been aware of the fact that Barnet Council have wanted to get shot of Darlands Lake for at least two years. The hard right ideology of Barnet Council believes that the public sector should do nothing at all apart from commission other organisations to do things. They believe that anyone can run anything better than a public sector body. Whilst there are all manner of great  companies and third sector bodies managing all manner of things well in the UK, given that Darlands is in crisis, is this really the right time to hand it over to an organisation that has no experience of such a site. Whilst some of the Trustees are members of very well respected bodies, they have presented no plans to the public detailing how they will manage the site and no details of how they will handle the potential issues.

On Saturday, we were made aware of another major challenge they will face. It appears that Folly Brook, which feeds Darlands Lake has become contaminated. We are not sure whether this is raw sewage or something more sinister.


Former Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey, who lives in Finchley,  and is an enthusiastic supporter of protection of Waterways, chipped into the debate offering support and help in how to identify the source.



Should this contamination have made its way into Darlands Lake, it could well be that there is a major cleanup operation required, just to make the area safe for people and animals. Clearly if the source of the contamination is identified, then they should be held responsible for the clear up costs, but this could take time to recover and may incur huge costs. As the Darlands Trust are looking to take over the site, they should be actively involved in helping to identify and resolve this issue.

It is vital that water samples are taken from Darlands and surrounding brooks to try and establish the scale of the problem. We really need to start taking the waterways in Barnet seriously. They are hidden gems, many locals being totally unaware of these amazing places. What many don't realise is that Folly Brook is just one small part of a network of waterways. After Darlands Lake, it branches off, and heads through Finchley, past the North Circular, becoming Dollis Brook and through Brent Cross and into The Welsh Harp, where many young people are involved in sailing and kayaking activities. This map shows the network around the lake. You can click on it and trace it through.

Darland Waterways

Water is the most precious resource we have. Well managed waterways are essential. When we let sewage and other contaminants get into the network, the streams and lakes become dangerous sites. Sewage will result in E-Coli that can seriouslly damage not only your dog but your health. When Birds, Rats and other animals use the water supply, they can spread bacteria far and wide. Although it is likely to be dogs, jumping in streams around Darlands that will come into contact with these and present the most risk in these areas, once the stream gets into the more urbanised areas, such as Brent Cross, there is a much greater risk of these bacteria being spread into areas where unsuspecting people may become contaminated.

Folly Brook Contamination
Any contamination of such water supplies is potentially disasterous. We must all be vigilant and report breaches and spillages. Why does this matter? As I entered the footpath next to the pollute Brook, I saw a young family with a soggy cocker spaniel being brought out. I've no idea if it had been in the stream, but if it had, there is a very real risk that the kids that were petting it had been exposed to something very nasty. I woud be a very irresponsible person if I didn't take this seriously.

I do hope that the Darlands Trust have the expertise to manage this area properly, will monitor water quality and draw up action plans to deal with such incidents. I worry that without a robust plan and suitable insurance in place, the well meaning people of the Trust may find that they are personally responsible for a very large bill, when all they wanted to do was make a difference.

My thanks to Laurence Bard at Pond Life Aquatic Centre, Finchley Nurseries, who came down, took water samples and reported the breach to the Environment agency on our behalf. He is a waterways expert, I am not. He explained all of these risks etc.



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Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Tweets of The Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 17/2/2019

As it's Sunday, here's our pick of the weeks tweets from the London Borough of Barnet

1. This is very much my tweet of the week. I've always loved a good concrete bridge and heavy civil engineering plant. I remember this going up. This brings back great memories. My brother Frank worked on the construction of the M1 in Mill Hill and after everyone knocked off would let me play on the diggers and dumpers.




2. Sadly at the Railway Hotel in Edgware, every day is groundhog day and yet again this is in our collection


3. This is something we really shouldn't forget


4. Good to see a bit of community spirit in Cricklewood


5. According to West Hendon Police, a certain drug dealer in the locale is not going to be winning "Dealer of the year" any time soon at the Criminal Mastermind competition.


6. A warning for all Mill Hill Dog walkers


7. Some great live music in Mill Hill this week


8. Stolen musical equipment. Help us get it back


9. Fascinbating tweet from Golders Green


10. A Mill Hill institution had a special birthday this week





That's all Folks

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Saturday List #207 - my ten favourite examples of idiotic internet behaviour

Over the past few weeks, I've been spending no time at all on Facebook and Twitter and almost none blogging. It has been bliss. This semi detachment has allowed me to have some perspective on some of the most unintentionally funny tendencies of some of the people who seem to have no life beyond tweeting and writing banal blogs.

Here are my top ten twattish behaviours as demonstrated by bloggers and other people on our local social media. Feel free to add your won favourites withc omments at the end.

1. Delusions of granduer.
Some people have a rather hilariously funny tendency to pretend that their little blog is a massive news corporation, with multiple staff and a whole team of  experts working for it, rather than a bloke in the bedroom of his flat with a laptop.

2. Disparagement of people who actually make money out of their work.
Some people who write online and clearly produce nothing of value love to throw brickbats at people who actually write interesting stuff that earns them money. Personally I salute anyone savvy enough to generate a few quid blogging. I am very jealous of the teenage fashion bloggers who have become billionaires by writing about makeup etc. I salute their savvy skills. It doesn't happen too often but if someone has a product I love, I'd happily big it up for a pile of dosh or a new Fender Strat guitar (Are you listening Fender Guitars). I make no bones about it. Nothing to hide, if you can do something well enough to earn cash, then do it and don't be ashamed, so long as it is neither illegal, immoral or hurts anyone.

3. Distortings blog stats etc to pretend you are doing better than you are.
Since I found out you could, I've put a hit counter, supplied by blogger at the side of the blog. This gives readers some idea of how popular the blog is. There are no secrets. When we pass milestones, such as most recently 2.5 million registered views on Blogger, I say a few words because I'm proud of it. Some people however make all sorts of ridiculous claims that strangely they never substanciate. The funny thing is that it doesn't matter. The most read blog I wrote is about the opening of Bang Bang Oriental. I put no work into it at all. Other blogs which I've toiled over for weeks have had a hundred times less hits, but that is irrelevant. what matters is that I am proud of what I do. If you need to claim you are doing better than the people you see as competition, then put a blog counter up and cut the unsupportable claims.

4. Slagging other peope off for their choice of topics to blog about.
When people start saying that they have a better policy than everyone else, it is a sure sign that they've lost the plot. I couldn't give a damn what Mrs Angry or Mr RMustard and Reasonable decide to blog about. That is there business and if they write a good blog, I am a bit jealous but also happy to be part of such a brilliant collective known as The Barnet Blogs. They are far too sensible and serious to indulge in slagging off anyone else. My advice, do what you do and live and let live. What is especially funny is when people invent feuds and perceived slights that don't exist. We advise anyone tempted to indulge in such behaviour to get out and get a life.

5. Having multiple social media accounts to congratulate yourself with.
This is perhaps the strangest of all behaviours. I manage 3 1/2 twitter accounts. The one I use for blog related and personal stuff is @Barneteye. I have the business one @MillHillMusicCo which I only use for studio related posts. I jointly administer and post occasionally from the @ABetterMillHill with my fellow Mill Hill Lib Dems Richard and Donna, to highlight Mill Hill specific issues and pictures. And I have a secret account that I never tweet with, but I  use to view people who have blocked me for various reasons. As a blogger this is a useful tool, but it only works if I don't tweet from it. What I don't do is pretend I'm someone else who thinks I'm marvellous. I have two dogs for such ego building activities. They think I'm wonderful.

6. Pretending that you are something  you are not.
I guess that as I'm pretty successful at what I do, I don't need to make up a back story. I can understand why someone on the run from the Mafia or someone with an unsavoury past may wish to invent a new persona. I fully understand the wish to big oneself up, it's certainly a massive part of music promotion, but as soon as you start to invent a back story that doesn't exist you end up getting caught out if you start making ridiculous claims on your blogs and social media.

7. Pretending to be an expert
There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion. If you do so on a public social media forum, you often find that people who know their subject will shoot you down in flames. When this happens the sensible course of action is to stop posting from whatever nonsensical position you were taking. It is very unlikely that a quick google of things will give you ammunition to better someone who has made a lifetime career out of researching a topic. Just accept that someone else knows a bit more. I fully accept that someone like Mr Reasonable spends far more time than I do researching council finances. I often fact check things with him, if I know I am blogging in his sphere of interest. It saves many car crashes. I don't do detail to the same level, but I see my role is to put issues in the public eye. If I get shot down and learn something that is a good thing. Sadly some people on social media do not learn, they just shout the same nonsense louder and longer.

8.Pretending googling something is research,.
I always grown when someone says in a blog or a social media post "Just Google it". This is nonsense. I often google things, but it is not the googling that is research, it is reading reports that come up. These have to be well researched, have credible source information and be more than stream of consciousness rants. If I see something that is relevant, I always post a link. It is really easy to take a bunch of unrelated facts and use them to "prove something". For example I could say that Brexit has damaged Mill Hill because since the vote was taken, Google tells me that there are 17 commercial properties to rent in NW7 and Wikipedia tells me less people are using Mill Hill Broadway station than they were five years ago. It might be true, Google tells me these facts,  but it isn't research it is just patching together unrelated facts to support a hypothesis.

9. Pretending your Hobby is work
If you start getting a few hits on your blog, it is easy to get carried away. You are not a journalist, you are someone with a hobby. I play football every week at Powerleague. It doesn't make me a professional footballer. I'll give you an opinion on anything you like in the domain of football, but it is only an opinion. It is as valid as anyone elses. My blog is the same. I do it because I enjoy it. I actually earn a few quid from the adwords advertising on the blog, which pays for the odd slap up meal with Mrs T. I've been approached to write professionally on a few occasions, and have done so on occasion for very well respected organisations, but to me blogging is still a hobby. Until it pays the gasbill every month and the rent on the kids Uni accomodation, it is nothing more. Keep it real.

10. Hoodwinking gullible people that your blog is 'official'
This is the one that really gets my goat. I am a bloke that writes  a blog, quite a few people read it and we've had some great people write guest blogs for us. That is the extent of our official status. I am not the mouthpiece for Barnet, I am simply a mouthpiece for Roger Tichborne. If you agree with me great. If you want to quote me I am flattered. If you think that I have something worth saying, I've succeeded as a blogger. But a blog is simply a set of personal opinions. When people are unprepared to put their name to a blog that always rings alarm bells (unless there is a really good personal reason, such as if the blog features personal/sensitive information). When their is an implied "officialness" to combine with that, I always say "If that bloke is so successful and doing his 'job' so well, why doesn't he want anyone to know who he is. If I publish a guest blog, I always say who the person is and why they are blogging, if it  isn't clear. Very occasionally I withold a guest bloggers name on request, if there is a good reason related to privacy. I am especially concerned when people say that a blog is published by a company and they are unwilling to say more. You can check the company details at companies house - https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/   -  This will tell you who the company is run by. If the company doesn't exist, one has to ask why. My belief is that anything to do with the community and public matters should be transparent.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Mill Hill Music Complex is 40 years old!



Dav of the False Dots about to record the first song at Mill Hill Music Complex in 1979
Dav, drummer of the False Dots about to record the first ever song at Mill Hill
As you can see from the photo of our first recording session above, it was pretty basic back then. Now we have a purpose built, acoustically tuned live room. Throughout the year, we’ll be organising fun and festivities for our customers and friends.
Tony and Darren in the old shop back in 2001
We’ve tranformed Mill Hill from a musical desert into a centre for musician’s from all over London, the UK and indeed the world. One of the theme tunes for the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa was Africa Moto by Congolese Superstar Mose Fan Fan. Mose travelled all the way to Mill Hill to record the track. We hope to be here for another 40 years, giving the planets finest musicians a home.

Roger Tichborne at the opening of MHMC in 1979

I am currently writing a book detailing the whole story, which will be published later this year. To celebrate, we are hosting a gig at The Midland Hotel on Friday 15th March. Watch this space.....
 
Here's to another 40 years of amazing music in Mill Hill! Keep on rocking

Monday, 11 February 2019

Environment Monday - Why Cricklewood is the model for Barnet Town centre teams

Welcome to Environment Monday. This series of blogs is dedicated to exploring ways that we can shape our local space to be healthier, more sustainable, safer and more pleasant to live in. When people talk about the Environment, we often think of rainforests, coral reefs and melting icecaps. At the Barnet Eye we believe that whilst these issues are important, we should be looking at where we live, where we work and how we travel. We should use our own communities to learn the lessons before we start pontificating about what everyone else should do. There are great things going on locally, there are also some massive challenges. Our mission is to promote the great things and get to work on the challenges. Today we look at one of the jewels in the local crown, the work of The Cricklewood Town team and also some of the challenges they face.

Last Tuesday, we visited Cricklewood to meet with representatives of the The Town Team, The Cricklewood Collective and the local Vicar. They are doing some amazing work, check out this video to see what we found.



Several areas in the Borough of Barnet have groups of residents working to improve the local community. In Mill Hill, I am involved with the Neighbourhood Forum, but the Cricklewood Town Team is by far the most established, active, well organised and successful. This is not a criticism of the other groups as the Cricklewood team has been around far longer. They have successfully managed to pull people in from across the community to harness the energy of local people and deliver real, tangible improvements. These include

* Designation of the Green by B&Q as an asset of community  value and a greenspace, with a wild flower garden and artworks.
* Improvements to the station, with a book club scheme and a general brightening up.
* Support of other schemes such as Cricklewood Farm.
* Organising community festivals etc

I also met with the Orna from the the Creative Cricklewood Collective, a group of artists who are dedicated to creating a thriving local arts scene. I loved what they were doing and it is clear to me that Mill Hill is crying out for justs such a group, to pull together the amazing artists that we have in our locality.

What is clear from what I found in Cricklewood is that local people were not prepared to put up with a drab, miserable town centre. They wanted a bright, vibrant, welcoming place, of which the community could be proud. Anyone who has known Cricklewood over the decades will see the huge difference that has been made. I am proud to have been involved in a small way with all of this. I've supplied sound systems for the Town team over the last four years for community events. This has allowed me to see the team in action, which has been a pleasure.

The team has many challenges. The old station building, which could be a centrepiece, is derelict and a complete eyesore. Local Councillor, Anne Clarke, who is to my mind a model of what a local councillor should be, has been working with Network rail to address this. Like her predecessor in the Childs Hill ward, Anne is well known locally and as we walked around people stopped for a chat. Sadly when I see many other Barnet Councillors, ordinary locals haven't a clue who they are. Anne was involved in the Town Team long before she was a councillor and the team also includes locals from the Boroughs of Camden and Brent, which are all part of the Cricklewood mix. Angela, one of the volunteers from the Brent side also came along. Angela is typical of the unsung community hero's who make such projects work.

I would urge anyone trying to set up a similar group to drop in at Cricklewood and meet the team. Although other town centres have such teams, none have delivered anything like what Cricklewood have. Sadly in High Barnet and North Finchley, Boris dished out grants of over a million pounds, but they have none of bright, welcoming innovations, such as the sheep, swans, wild flower gardens and the multi coloured cow of Cricklewood, all done by local artists for a fraction of the cost.

The difference between Finchley/Barnet and Cricklewood is that the changes in Cricklewood are driven from the ground. The locals who live there are the commissioners of works. They have made sure the cash is well spent. In Finchley and Barnet, highly paid external consultants were drafted in with little regard to locals. Whilst in Cricklewood, the art is by local artists who understood the culture and history, in North Finchley, the improvements were simply mundane and unimaginative, a lick of black paint on railings etc.

The other thing that the Cricklewood Town Team have done far more effectively than anyone else in Barnet is to engage with Network Rail. The station has been transformed from an eyesore, to a welcoming and exciting place with "Wow" factor.  I remember when Mill Hill Bus station was opened under the M1 in 1968 (I think). I thought it was the most amazing space I'd ever seen. The brutalist arches with buses underneath are stunning, but rather than celebrate this and make this space an eyecatching centrepiece for the town, any talk of it amongst the powers that be always refer it as an eyesore and a problem, this is a complete failure of imagination. Cricklewood have set a fine example of how the least promising of spaces can create an amazing area for the community. It is time for other areas, like Mill Hill to follow the lead and start to celebrate our assets, rather than be ashamed of them and work out how to hide them.

I was also impressed by the energy of Roy, the local CofE Vicar. Roy is my type of clergyman. I had to insist he wore his dog collar for the video above, he prefers to be informal. I felt that it is easier if people see it, to understand the visual context. Roy isn't a bible basher, he's a practical man wanting to do good for the community. His passion is Basketball and he wants to set up a coaching scheme for local young people. Whilst many would despair, Roy seeks out the good, working to make a difference.

As I look around the London Borough of Barnet, it is clear to me that, as a community, we need to up our game. We need to take responsibility for our own communities and our own destiny. There are all manner of brilliant local schemes, such as the litter pickers and the Town Teams. It was suggested to me that there should be a committee set up to pull all of these things together. I was horrified. The majority of people who get involved don't want that, they just want to do practical things that make a difference, rather than attend endless meetings. Social media allows events to be organised and co-ordinated with a minimal amount of administration. What we do need is a central focal point in Barnet Council for these groups to get support where necessary. We need a community Tsar, who has a telephone that you can get to without navigating and incomprehnsible switchboard, who can organise litter sacks for litter pickers and signpost grants etc for colourful cows. For established groups like the Cricklewood Town team, they have these knowledge to navigate these hurdles, but for any new groups it can be demoralising.

I'd love to see the likes of the Town Team properly recognised by Barnet Council. None of them want gongs or platitudes. What they really need are things like the community space that Orna spoke about for her Arts collective. The Council should make sure that there is always such places. The old station building would be the perfect place. Maybe Network Rail and Barnet Council could work together to make it happen. It is time that Barnet Council see the value of such places, rather than as a way to generate cash for the council, as has happened with the lease for the Mill Hill Library/Hub.

Friday, 8 February 2019

The Friday Joke - This one has been driving me mad!

Image result for chauffeur jokes
 
I've just spent £300 on a limousine and found out it doesn't come with a driver.

Spent all that money and nothing to chauffeur it!

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Have a great weekend team and don't forget, keep watching the skies!

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Tail Wagging the Dog: Capita and Barnet - Joint blog by the Barnet Bloggers

With credit to John Darkow
Barnet's Conservative led administration has never been so divided.

Since the local elections last May, new members of the Tory group have been confronted with the legacy of their longer serving colleagues’ failure in office: the crisis over the Capita contracts, a massive budget deficit, and the exposure of fraud by a Capita manager, enabled by a failure to put in place any adequate system of financial controls.

Members of the previous administration appear not to have grasped the seriousness of the situation, or at least are reluctant to acknowledge the extent of the problems facing this borough. 

After receiving payment of a paltry £4 million from Capita in ‘compensation’, Tory councillors have now voted to delay any immediate severance of ties, in favour of a long drawn out process of assessment, during which time Capita will continue its contractual partnership with this borough, and our services will continue to be left in their control. 

We believe this is quite wrong, and so, it seems, do some Tory members.

At last week's Audit meeting, for example, it was revealed that BDO, the authority's external auditors, are now obliged to visit Capita's offices in Darlington, where their administration of Barnet's Local Government Pension Scheme is based. This extra work will incur an additional charge on top of the audit fee. Capita continue to administer this scheme, despite very serious concerns about standards of performance. 

Also at last week's Audit meeting, there was discussion about why new systems that should have been implemented following the £2 million fraud by a Capita employee were not in use. 

Grant Thornton, Internal Audit, Senior Council Officers and Capita’s Partnership Manager in Barnet had all agreed these control systems should be implemented immediately. A Capita employee, however, based in Chichester, where these payments are handled, had taken it upon themselves not to implement this critical system, a failing only identified when Internal Audit carried out a follow up check. 

At least one of the Tory members had grave misgivings about the continuing partnership with Capita. 

Councillor for Hale, Laithe Jajeh, said at the meeting, “I find it really worrying that someone from Capita (can do this)..it’s almost the tail wagging the dog …’ He also commented on twitter that assurance from Capita on implementation of Grant Thorntons’ recommendations was ‘not reassuring whatsoever …’ 


He added that Capita’s performance was not good enough and that he was not confident that promised dates for completion would be met.
 

At a further point in the audit meeting it was identified that 51% of the internal audit recommendations were not completed, the majority of which were the responsibility of Capita. Labour councillor Alison Moore suggested that such a high level of actions not implemented was a sign of an unhealthy organisation. The Head of Assurance said it was a very serious matter from the officers’ perspective. 

The Committee Chairman wanted to take a ‘positive’ view of the situation and suggested that we do not look at criticisms. There was a clear consensus, however, that Councillors, both Conservative and Labour, were not satisfied. 

At last there is an acknowledgement, at least from councillors who were not involved with the original outsourcing exercise, that the partnership with Capita may not be the great panacea we were promised, under the lure of ‘Better services for less money’.

We are facing a review of the contract in February, yet there is a very real concern that decisions have already been made. 

The dispersed structure of the contract, with Capita offices situated all around the country, makes it hard to implement change, hard to control, and hard to monitor. Different reporting lines in different organisations mean that it is difficult to pin down responsibility for actions or inaction. This exacerbates and complicates the failure in accountability between the management of local services, and the local community itself.

We call upon the council to make the outsourcing review as open and unbiased as possible, held in public, with full and meaningful consultation with residents - and with key roles for some of the new Conservative members such as Cllr Jajeh, and Cllr Prager, who seem to have a more clear sighted view of Capita’s performance - and we urge all members to look at how quickly services can be brought back to Barnet, where they can be properly managed, monitored and controlled. 

Roger Tichborne
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The Barnet Eye adds - 
This blog is a joint statement, co written and agreed by all four Barnet Bloggers. We urge all Barnet Councillors to take note. The Barnet bloggers hae consistently warned of the risks to the finances of the Borough of Barnet since the One Barnet program was first conceived in 2008. Sadly we have been proven right on all of the concerns we raised. The time has come for the administration to finally accept that this whole scheme has been an unmitigated disaster and pull the plug on it.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Does moving ground ruin your football club?

Image result for Ayresome park
Middlesboro Ayresome Park -
Image credits
Copyright:Robin Dale / Mary Evans Picture Library
Yesterday, I was brushing up on my guitar technique prior to a recording session with the The False Dots, listening to sports radio. As I gently strummed,there was a mention of Middlesborough, followed by a mention of Sunderland. Both of these "sleeping giants" moved from their tribal homes of Ayresome Park and Roker Park to magnificent new grounds, which would supposedly herald a new golden age. As a cup of tea was required,getting up to make this, and selecting my Barnet FC tea mug, made me think of Barnet FC, currently languishing in the National League. Barnet too moved to a new, more modern ground, however sadly unlike Sunderand and Middlesborough, without even the support of their local authority. Iin fact Barnet were forced out of the Borough to The Hive in Harrow.  I never visited either Ayresome and Roker Park,  I was however a regular visitor to Underhill. I would meet with mates for a swift pint in Ye Old Mitre, take a brisk stroll down the hill, for a bit of fun footie and trot back for a couple more beers rounded off with a tasty Ruby Murray at The Shapla. Barnet FC were, for decades, my second team.  Then they moved to their marvellous new ground.

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Underhill - Pic www.stadiumguide.com
Although I've  been to the Mitre a few times when Lee Thompson and The Silencerz have been playing, I've not been back to the Shipla since Underhill was abandoned. My nephew, Alexander Sarychkin, has been writing a blog about Non League football in Barnet. It is worth a read if you like our cultural history. He mentioned that although I took him to see Manchester City FC, I never took him to the Hive, although I did take his younger brother, Vik once. There was more of a reason to this than he alludes to in his blog. Until my son was old enough to appreciate dire football in the freezing cold, I used to go with mates and have a bit of a boys day out. Much as I loved Alex, dragging him along as a kid would have meant curtailment of jollity, so I didn't ask him until I took Vik and Matt.

When Barnet moved to the Hive, my Barnet based mates, who I so enjoyed the trip with stopped going. Not because of any drop in their love of football, but as the footie was simply part of a ritual of beer drinking, curries, football and bad behaviour, they simply couldn't be bothered to make the 17 hour trip on buses to a completely different Borough to watch their "local team". I have been to the Hive more than they have. The reason, one of my best mates is a Wrexham fan. We usually go whenever they play. Keith is from Croydon, we have a few beers in Cannons Park and a curry at Cannons Curry house as part of the ritual. I stand in the away end and cheer on the "Sheepshaggers" as they are lovingly known by English fans. Keith is always highly amused by the indignation of the uninitiated "right on" brigade at the mildest of slights. He has spent the last 40 odd years since he moved to England from Rhyl in North Wales being called a "sheepshagger", merely for being born in Wales. Does he mind? he sees it as an essential part of the banter. If you can't bear having 36,000 drunken yobbo's accusing you of one of the most disgusting forms of sexual deviance, expressely forbidden by Noah in the bible, then what sort of a man are you? But I digress, that is more or less the sum of my visits to The Hive. Bizarrely, with the Wrexham fans I feel a sense of belonging that I just didn't on the couple of occasions that I've sat with the home fans in the Hive. At least they know why they are there and whho their team are.  At the Hive, I just get nostalgic for the dump that was Underhill. At least with the boys from Wrexham, I just feel as if I'm at just another soulless ground, being abused by an opposition who lack the class and pedigree of the fine Welsh club. In short, the move has ruined the Barnet experience for me. These days, I tend to get my fix of Non Manchester City football in our locality at Watford. I have plenty of friends who are Hornets who are happy to drag me along.

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The Clock End  Pic https://theworldnews.net
As I reflected on this, I thought back to the first game of the season. A trip to The Emirates to see Arsenal. As a City fan, I was lucky to be given a ticket for the Arsenal section by a mate who is a season ticket holder and couldn't make it. I've been going to watch Arsenal play City since the days of Highbury in the mid 1970s when I'd stand in the clock end with the City fans. In those days, you'd just turn up. It was joyous. Now the atmosphere at The Emirates is referred to as a library. Against City, who played Arsenal off the park, it was equally bland. After 65 minutes the chief topic of conversation amongst the assembled Gooners was how early they'd leave to avoid the crush.

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Upton Park - Pic The Brewer Family
Another London club that has moved are West Ham. Upton Park was the first ground I visited to see Manchester City play in 1975, hooking up with a bunch of drunken City fans who'd made the way down, they took me to the pub and bought me four pints of beer. I loved it. I didn't go this season,  I was in Australia when they played City at Home, a 0-5 thrashing, but went to watch Watford play at The London Stadium. However bad the atmosphere is at The Emirates, it is a million times worse at The London Stadium. Designed as an Athletics stadium and still retaining the running track, it is probably the least fit for purpose ground in the country. You are miles away from the pitch and given the bizarre layout, even miles away from the fans in the lower tier if you are in the upper tier. Given that it was half empty, the whole experience was rather strange. Watford won comfortably, so by the end there was not a Hammer in sight.

Tottenham Hotspur are soon to move to a new stadium. I used to love White Hart Lane, a proper footballing palace. I also went to see Watford play Spurs last week, again down to a mates spare ticket. Whilst Wembley is great for a cup final, when it is half empty it is a very sorry place. I've seen City win the FA Cup once and The League Cup twice in the staduim, but watching Spurs scrape a last minute win against Watford to a half empty stadium was a rather dispiriting sight. The only passion we saw was from a steward at the end of  block 118 around row 18, next to us, who started taunting and abusing Watford Fans when Spurs scored what proved to be the winner. It was quite bizarre that the only Spurs fan in the place with any passion was getting paid to ensure Watford fans behaved. Rather unbelievably, when the Watford fans objected, they were threatened with ejection, whilst the rather excitable steward simply stood there smirking. As an unbiased observer, I commented to my Watford supporting friends "he wouldn't have done that if it was Millwall fans in there". As Watford are a family club and many around us had small children it was a very unseemly incident. If he worked for me, I'd sack him. Stewards are meant to represent the organisation they work for. If they make obscene gestures at vistors, that really conveys a poor image of the organisation. I've always liked Spurs most out of the big London clubs, I was disappointed with them. After the game, it did make me wonder whether the new White Hart Lane avoid library syndrome?

I made a list of the clubs that have moved grounds that I could quickly think of, Sunderland, Middlesborough, Barnet, Arsenal, West Ham, the MK Dons, Stoke, Northampton Town, etc, it struck me just how few are living the dream. One notable exception being my club. Manchester City FC are enjoying a period of success unparalleled in their history. Visiting the Etihad is a joy as we see the likes of Aguero, Silva, De Bruyne and Fernandinho setting record after record and smashing clubs that less than a decade ago saw us as easy meat. It seems that the success has written a new chapter and that has warmed fans to the setting. Contrary to what United fans would have you believe the atmosphere is amazing.

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 The Kippax at Maine Road - Pic Dakovich
I first visited the old home at Maine Road in 1977 to see City play Spurs, travelling up on a Football special with Spurs mates. City won 5-0 and relegated Spurs. It was a difficult day for them, but I loved the place. I have visited as often a I could ever since. The golden period for me visiting was between 1986 and 1988 when Clare was at Manchester University and I'd go up every fortnight to see her on the train and catch a game whilst there. At they time they were rubbish and got relegated. I learned that football is not about victory. The City fans didn't care about the result, they cared about belonging. When I went to the Etihad for the first time, City had yet to have the billions they inherited. It was a game against Portsmouth in 2007 most notable for a sending off, I was sat in the Gods at the top of the stadium.  I didn't much enjoy the atmosphere. It was so staid that I didn't really understand the severity of the sending off offence until I got back to the hotel and watched it on telly. I had deliberately avoided going to the Etihad for a couple of seasons, but was working locally and the match was on, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Now the experience is different. I think that with the success, the fans have grown into the stadium. The last game we went to was the match against Everton just before Xmas. I drove up with my nephew Alex, collected my son Matt who is now at the Uni and went to the game. City played Everton off the park. As Matt and myself cheer Watford as a second team, it was especially nice to see their manager, who left Watford in acrimonious circumstances, get a football lesson. We were right by the pitch, near the corner flag, in a section where City fans stand and sing throughout the game. It was almost like the old days at Maine Road, as Colin Bell, Peter Barnes, Dennis Tueart and Dave Watson would sweep all aside. Almost but not quite.

Nothing will really ever be like Maine Road ever again. In truth it was a dump, especially towards the end. The team were in a seeming spiral of terminal decline. In the season that Manchester United won the treble, I took Alex to the League 2 Play off final for City vs Gillingham at the old Wembley. I explained to Alex, who was torn between supporting City or United at the time, (our family is split with my brothers both being in United households), that City was the harder road. I told him that for United fans, it was all about boasting about winning trophies, boasting and singing along to trite recordings of "Glory Glory Man United" at the end of games, but for City fans it was all about belonging. It was no surprie to me that whilst United produced Mick Hucknell, Ciy produced Oasis.

We knew there were better teams, the best being our neighbours, we knew that Trophies were a distant dream, but we also knew that on the terraces, we were there for the right reasons. We were there because we wanted to stand with our team through thick and thin. United fans wuld sing lame songs about their latest victory, we'd bring our inflatable banana's and celebrate our awfulness. We weren't there for prawn sandwiches or glory, we were simply there because we wanted to experience the pleasure and the pain with like minded people

That season in the third teir was in many ways for me the most memorable.A United fan recently taunted me on Facebook that when United were in Div 2 for a season in 1974, they still had the biggest attendence in the league. It seems to me that United fans are addicted to boasting and winning, even when they have nothing to boast about and have won nothing. I did note that City actually saw attendences rise on the previous season, after a decade of abject football, but what is the point argiung with people on a different spiritual plane.  As for that final, the Leage 2 play off final. I am sure that it was the Trophy that City have least wanted to win in their history, apart from on the actual day, when it was vital. It was a cathartic game. The team were 2-0 down in the 89th minute. They levelled in injury time to win on penalties. Sure United had the treble, but we had our soul. Had City not won that match, I have no doubt that things would have been different. No rich investors, no premier league titles, no Ageuro, Silva and De Bruyne, if we were lucky we'd be dusting up with Leeds and Norwich for promotion, one of those sleeping giants in a perpetual cycle of misery, like Sunderland and Middlesborough.

One of my friends locally is a postman called Mick. I was at primary school with him. He is a Sunderland fan for his sins. For years we would always exchange tales of misery about our respective clubs. Both have wonderful shiny new stadiums, but I almost feel gulty now. We bought that lucky ticket and have escaped. I think of Mick rather like like a criminal feels if he successfully busts out of jail, digs up his millions and is living the life of luxury in Brazil. Mick is the mate who didn't make it out of the tunnel before the wardens came. Every year I'd send him a picture from the beach, surrounded by a bevvy of beauties slurping on champagne and lobsters, as he ate his porridge. It would be rude not to send him a card, wouldn't it?

I suspect for Mick and all of the other fans of under achieving clubs who thought the move would be the dawn of a bright new era, only to find themselves watching rubbish football in empty, soulless palaces, the real dream is not that a bunch of rich Arab investors buy them and they start winning trophies. I think the real dream is that they could buy a Tardis and get back what they lost in the old, crumbling stadiums that saw the birth and death of so many dreams. Does moving ground ruin your club? It looks very much like it does to me.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Environment Monday - Saving the planet one meal at a time

A sustainable and healthy lunch?
The mantra of the FBI, when trying to catch gangsters was "follow the money". I'd always wondered why the government doesn't do more to put an end to all of the issues related to food production that are trashing the natural environment. Just a few of the things I've campaigned about over the years include unsustainable fishing methods depleting fishing stocks and destroying environments, Palm oil plantations destroying eco systems, anti biotic overuse in farming creating resistant bacteria, pesticide use killing pollinators such as bees, plastics used in packaging etc filling the seas, killing animals and fish.

There are many other problems, but lets focus on these. Follow the money. Why does all of this happen? Because there is huge amounts of money generated by all. Unsustainable fishing is all about costs. Huge supertrawlers can catch and process fish and have them ready for your supermarket at  fraction of the finacial cost to you the consumer. We all love being environmentalists until it hits us in the pocket. There are big profits for everyone factory fishing but the environment is suffers. Palm oil production is decimating huge swathes of Tropical rain forests, removing the habitat for all manner of residents of such places, such as Orang Utangs. The only reason Palm oil is used is because it is cheap. It has no other place in the food chain. It makes production of the products it contains more profitable for both manufacturers and supermarkets. The overuse of anti biotoics has seen the rise of all manner of nasty superbugs. In factory farming anti biotics are routinely used and with bugs getting ever more resistant, we are on the edge of the cliff with resistant bacteria. Again the sole reason this happens is to make the chicken, lamb and beef we eat cheaper. Pesticides are a cheap fix. Monoculture farming, where a single crop is planted over acres and acres results in these areas becoming a haven for whatever pests destroy such crops. it is easy for the bugs to hop from plant to plant and decimate while areas, heavy usage of pesticides are the only solution if you plant intensively. There is an environmentally better alternative but it is far more expensive to manage. You simply plant small areas of each crop and plant hedgerows and other plants in between that attract the predators that stop pests thriving. Then there is the plastic packaging we all seem to love to have our tomatoes and sweet corn wrapped in. We get the products home, throw the packaging in the recycling bin and think we've done our bit. Sadly in the London Borough of Barnet, all of the recycling has recently been going into Landfil as the refuse processing chain fell apart. Much of what we think is being recycled isn't. Even worse, as a member of the Mill Hill litter pickers, I see just how much of this is simply thrown away. Why so much plastic? Again the reason is that it's cheaper than more eco friendly alternatives.

How can we actually get change. What can we do to address these issues, which we've been aware of for decades? I've come to the conclusion that democracy in the UK is a myth, a smokescreen to fool us into thinking we matter. I would always advocate voting, campaigning and fighting, because if you give up and stop, the bad guys will always win. But big business controls our political process. If you don't believe me, have a look at what the most successful Labour PM of all time makes his money doing these days. Follow the money. Money talks and there are always "sound economic reasons for doing nothing".

But we as cocnsumers, have power in the marketplace. We can make choices. We can exercise power. Every day, millions of us buy these products. Most days on average 500-1,000 people read this blog. just suppose, just 500 people decided to say "we will change our behaviour, we will alter our shopping behaviour. If for arguments sake, lets take the lower number and say if those 500 people spend £100 a week on groceries, that is £50,000 a week. Over a year, that is £2,600,000. That is a large enough amount to influence any business. I hear you saying "but how will they know". Well Tesco's, ASDA, Marks and Spencers, Waitrose, Morrisons etc know to the last tin of beans what is happening in their supermarkets. Barcodes  mean that every trend can be spotted and analysed. They also read blogs that mention them. Just suppose this blog sparks a wider conversation? The most read blog on this site was read by nearly 30,000 people. If this post went viral in such a way, the buying power of those readers would be £3 million a week and £156 million a year.

For the last six month, I've been working on mending my ways. How could I personally change what I do, so that I personally am making better choices. Lets start with what I eat.

1. Buying Fish - Lets start with the issue of fishing.If I buy fish, I only buy those that are caught by sustainable fishing methods. I find it quite irritating that in supermarkets, fish is one of the most overpackaged commodities. But you can make informed choices.
Check on the GOODFISHGUIDE website -for guidance on what is sustainable. I recommend using a good fishmonger, such as Elias fish in Mill Hill East. They also don't use all of the packaging yoou tend to get if you buy a bit of cod off a supermarket shelf. Abel and Cole also do organice, sustainable meat and fish boxes.

We eat fish 2-3 times a week. That is around £15 a week, £780 a year. If my 500 readers do the same, that is £390,000 a year in economic choices made.

2. Avoiding Palm Oil products.
Last year, I wrote a blog on the subject of Palm Oil. I applauded Iceland for their policies and listed how other supermarkets had risen to the challenge. Sadly there has been a degree of backsliding from them. My advice? Read the label on the product. If you find a product in your shopping basket with Palm Oil, tweet the retailed and ask why they are selling it. We have not knowingly had a product containing Palm Oil in the house for a year, apart from some my Sister in Law brough over for Xmas. I've no idea how much we were spending on Palm Oil products previously. If we say £15, That is around £15 a week, £780 a year. If my 500 readers do the same, that is £390,000 a year in economic choices made.

3.  Anti Biotic farming methods.
As Mrs T doesn't eat meat and the kids have left home, we hardly ever buy meat these days. That is a shame, I love a bacon buttie and good roast beef. When we do, we eat organic.  Riverford do organic meats that are recommended.

If we guess that the average Barnet Eye reader spends £25 a week on meat,If my 500 readers do the same, that is £650,000 a year in economic choices made.

4. As for Pesticides in plants, since I was diagnosed with Cancer in 2011, I've tried to avoid these. We have over the years used organic delivery services that provide veg boxes. We use Abel and Cole and Riverford mainly. This weeks was the medium, magnificent mixed box from Abel and Cole for £19,95. That will more or less see us through the week for fruit and veg. Most days we make fresh vegetable soup for lunch, it takes exactly 15 minutes and I do it whilst reading and researching blogs (or my book). Here's a hint for crafty consumers. If you do what Mrs T does, order from one for a couple of months then switch to the other. After a while, the lot you are not using will ring you or email you special offers to tempt you back. Another hint. If you work and don't have access to a stove, you can make a weeks worth of soup and freeze it. Bung a few croutons, and various sauces such as tabasco etc in to vary it from day to day. I bung some bacon in if I am taking it to work (so long as Mrs T isn't looking). So if we say I spend £19.95 on organic veg, If my 500 readers do the same, that is £518,700 a year in economic choices made.

5. Packaging.
Both Riverford and Abel and Cole use cardboard boxes and packaging that they recycle. If you compare the equivalent products bought from M&S that is a lot of plackaging. That is another good reason for using such services. We have a drawer in the house where we put all plastic bags etc when we shop at Iceland & M&S. I always try and buy loose veg. Firstly they are cheaper and secondly, I take the same plastic bags back to use, to put the individual items in. That is  a simple way to help the environment. We can make informed choices and taking a couple of plastic bags with you is a great way to make a small difference. If all of my 500 readers just reused 3 bags a week that is 1,500 less bags a week.

As I am about to make lunch, I thought I'd put myself to the test. I am making a pot of soup for Mrs T and myself. What have we got?

1. Olive Oil. This article is quite interesting. It is a glass bottle so presumably recycleable.
2. Oxo stock pot. Hmm. Mrs T likes these and buys them. I prefer the cubes. I really don't like plastic packaging. The ingredients are sound.
3. Turmeric. This is in a plastic bag. Again, could do better.
4. Smoked Paprika. Again in a plastic bag, could do better.
5. Pepper. We buy these in a cardboard box and fill the grinder, so I am happy with this.
6. The veg were all from Able and Cole this morning and came in a cardboard box, which they will take away, except for.
7. Organic Garlic - Bought loose from M&S.
8. Chilli pepper - Bought loose from Broadway food, the Turkish run independent on Mill Hill Broadway.

I estimate that the cost of this meal for two will be approx £1. The cooking technique is similar to that for the rocket fuel soup recipe I published in 2013. I don't personally believe that this is a significantly bigger effort than buying a pre packaged soup and microwaving it. It will be more healthy and will save you around £2. If that is lunch every day of the week, that is £500 a year.

The Telegraph have a great list of holidays for under £500 last summer,, so you could put that cash to good use!

Here it is .


Ingredients.

1 Fresh tomato
2 cloves of Garlic
1 large hot red chilly
1 medium sized potato
1 large flat mushroom
1 medium sized onion
1/4 of a thinly sliced red cabbage
A tblspoon full of turmeric
A tblspoon full of smoked paprika
1 stock pot
Enough olive oil to cover bottom of pan
450 ml Water


Method
Chop up Garlic cloves 10 mins before you start
Chop chillies, potatoes, cabbage, mushroom , tomatoe & onion into small pieces
Put olive oil in saucepan with lid. warm medium heat
add potatoes, onions, chillies & garlic - put lid on and cook for 3 mins, shaking periodically
Mix stock with tomatoes, water, tumeric, ginger & capers. Add to mix & cook on medium heat for for 12 mins
Serve.




I believe that we can make a huge difference, one meal at a time. If you agree, please share this with friends and family.


Please note that the Barnet Eye has recieved no payment or inducement to mention any firm or product mentioned in this article.