Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Tweets of The Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 22/07/18

Hi Y'all. I hope you are enjoying the warm weather. What an odd year it has been? It is strange to think that back in March we were shivering under the chill of the beast from the east! I was looking back at some of my favourite tweets of the year and it seems bizarre that this was a mere four months ago! Do you remember that feeling that summer would never come!

Anyway, this is the tweets of the week, not the tweets from four months ago, so I hope you'll forgive that little diversion! It's full on Summer madness here! Don't forget to follow any of these marvellous tweeters who tickle your fancy.

1. One of the less appreciated traditions in Mill Hill is the spectacle of Mill Hill County High School leavers trashing the park and causing mayhem. With the snow gone, Arrendene has become bone dry. What sort of an idiot would do this? It could have set the whole place on fire. I really hope that the parents of these kids read them the riot act

2. Another sorry sign of summer in Mill Hill. Angel pond dried out and looking terrible

3. We were told that the summer would see an end to Potholes in the Borough. Sadly not

4. On a happier note, canine frolics in Chandos Park. We love a good dog show!

5. Looking for something to do with the kids tomorrow. This looks absolutely brilliant. I quite fancy going myself!

6. Finchley filmmakers are predicting a chilly September!

7. Some good friends of ours getting some well deserved recognition in the Barnet First magazine

8. Talking of friends of ours, The Chandos Arms is launching an Open mic night in September, be there or be square!

9. And if you like amazing Jazz in a brilliant setting, checkout the Mill Hill Jazz Club. There is loads of parking, drinks are very reasonably priced and the music is top notch

10. Amazing young people all over the UK are participating in the National Citizenship Scheme (NCS). A very lucky group in Mill Hill got a studio tour at Londons Leading Independent studios. We hear to many negatives about young people. It was a pleasure for me to meet them, do a Q&A and advise them on their Dragons Den pitch!

That's all folks!

Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Saturday List #180 - Five reasons why the Mill Hill Property bubble may have burst

I live in Mill Hill and own property in Mill Hill. So from a financial perspective, anything that is bad for property prices is bad for my bank balance. There have recently been several posts on the Mill Hill related social media websites reporting a glut of rental properties in Mill Hill along with a stagnating sales market.  The Barnet Eye has been doing some research and discussing the matter with various people, including local estate agents, potential buyers and sellers, as well as people letting property and people looking to rent. We have been trying to work out whether the current situation represents an opportunity or whether it is something more fundamental. From this research, I've compiled a list of the reasons why I believe we are currently seeing a downturn in the Mill Hill property market.

The list we've compiled is purely based on the anecdotal evidence of those we've spoken to, but I am sure anyone with property will be interested. There are several big national issues that have an impact (Brexit, Tax on second properties, etc) but these are national or cross London issues and so I've not included them. I have tried to identify whether Mill Hill is worse than other similar suburban towns and what may make it so.

1. Thameslink. For decades, the fast and reasonably reliable Thameslink service from Mill Hill into central London has been a huge attraction for potential residents. Young professionals renting flats have seen it as an ideal base, with the opportunity to be in central London in 20 minutes. Over the last eighteen months, the service has virtually disintegrated.The new timetable in May has for many proven to be the last straw. Commuters have lost confidence in the service. Many firms do not view continued lateness favourably and it can affect promotion prospects as well as employment prospects. In short, until Thameslink has sorted itself out, no sane commuter would consider moving to Mill Hill. Couple this with all of those who have simply had enough and you have a situation where there are far more sellers than buyers and far more empty flats than renters. As the situation simply cannot stay as it is, this theoretically presents buyers with a great investment opportunity (assuming you believe that sooner or later the service will start working and people will start to trust it again).

2. Traffic issues with private, selective and religious schools. Mill Hill has quite a high number of private and religious schools, including Mill Hill School, Mill Hill County, Goodwyn, Belmont, St Martins, St Vincents, St Pauls, Etz Chaim and Hasmonean. Whilst all of these provide an excellent education, due to the higher than average percentage of non local children, they also all see higher traffic flows than non denominational, non selective and non fee paying schools. Roads like the Ridgeway and Page St have seen massive issues with congestion and parking during school hours and especially around the time of the school run. Whilst canvassing for the local elections, this was an issue that came up time after time. Several residents who were looking to move and lived on roads affected, told me that canny estate agents had advised them not to arrange viewings during the school run. Perhaps the biggest bugbear are the selfish parents who block drives, often telling home owners "It's only for five minutes". I was surprised how many residents said "I've had enough of this, I'm moving out". I guess that if you don't have a car or don't, it means that there are real bargains to be had in such roads.

3. Massive development schemes. Another refrain I've heard recently is "Mill Hill is getting overdeveloped, we are selling up whilst we still can". On the Ridgeway we've seen the National Institute for Medical Research scheme. There is also the humongous Pentavia scheme. Many residents in roads affected said they were considering moving, as they believe that the traffic issues will make things impossible and were looking to get out before this started to blight their property. There are real worries that if roads such as Bunns Lane become an access for the Pentavia scheme, it could become even more gridlocked. I've yet to speak to anyone (who isn't a developer) with a good word to say about either scheme. There are real concerns around the NIMR scheme and the lack of parking and with the proposed Watchtower development, this is only likely to get worse.

4. Crime. You may well say that Crime is a cross London issue. A year ago, no one was saying to me "Mill Hill is unsafe". A very unfortunate series of events has changed that perception. The saddest and most shocking was the killing of shopkeeper Vijay Patel in Mill Hill Broadway. Such an event rightly unsettles many. What made matters a hundred times worse was the hastily arranged and very badly run meeting at Hartley Hall, where our local MP, Mr Matthew Offord and the local chief of police sought to reassure locals, but only succeeded in scaring them to death. We heard tales from the floor of brutal attacks at home, which were met with a response from the panel of "Mill Hill has RELATIVELY LOW CRIME" which convinced the audience that the panel was a bit clueless. Many left the meeting in a state of shock and I know two people who have moved since directly as a result.

5. The departure of the Jehovahs Witnesses from Mill Hill. The Watchtower  Society owns a large number of properties in Mill Hill. They have signposted their intention to move, which means that these properties will be divested and there will potentially be a glut of properties on the market. Of course this is likely to be a short term issue, with many canny investors snapping them up on the cheap, but for anyone looking to invest now, for refurbishment and development projects, it may well mean that when the projects are nearing completion, the marked has dropped and a loss will occur. An estate agent I spoke to told me that this is starting to become a topic of conversation when homes are coming on the market in the areas where the JW's have large property interests. Although this is in some ways a hyper local issue, combined with other factors affecting the local property market, this is likely to become an ever more looming issue for sellers.

So is Mill Hill still a good place to rent or buy? I was speaking to a Mill Hill renter earlier today, who told me that they were paying £830 a month for a small single person studio flat and they moved here because it was close to a certain well known music studio and as a non driver was ideal for getting in and out of town. They also said that they had friends who had moved here, who previously would not have been able to afford Mill Hill a couple of years ago. As for buyers, if I was looking, I'd take a chance on Mill Hill if I wanted to move hear for the medium to long term, but not at the moment as an investment to turn a quick profit. The Thameslink services will sort themselves out sooner or later and there are good alternatives with the Northern Line and buses. I walk down Mill Hill Broadway every night between 10pm and midnight, as I have to exercise my dogs. I feel it is safe. As to the school run issues, this offers cyclists, people who don't need to drive around school run time and non drivers great opportunities to live in a great place at a rather knock down rate. I live on west side of Millway, which is traditionally one of the cheapest roads in Mill Hill, due to the M1 and the Railway. It is a great location and I paid 75% of what my neighbours across the road paid for a similar sized house, so you can make these issues work for you. We have parking issues, with a nursery over the road, which is a bit of a pain, but generally I walk or take the train when I need to travel at busy times. As I bought my home to live in it has worked well. It has also increased fifteen fold in value since 1987, so I've done OK. When I bought it, the big attraction was that I didn't drive and there were great transport links. It amazes me that estate agents so rarely big up the potential for non drivers in blighted roads.

The one spot I personally would avoid like the plague for the time being is the Ridgeway, especially at the easterly end, where the NIMR is located. The parking will be a nightmare, it is already getting gridlocked and as for walking or cycling, Bittacy Hill is not a cycling challenge for the faint hearted, the 240 bus is already rammed at rush hour, there will not be enough parking spaces and the departure of the JW's is likely to cause even more disturbance and depress the property prices even more. My guess is that ultimately the property prices will see a market correction to price all of that in, but for the time being, I don't see it.

Finally a word about the more London wide issues such as Brexit removing well paid jobs in the City, punitive taxes on second properties and all manner of legislation deterring buy to let investors. None of this will help Mill Hill property prices. As not even the cabinet knows what Brexit means, it would take a brave person to invest in property in London at the moment until the situation becomes clearerr and we know the effect on London's finance and service industries. There is a big debate as to whether buy to let investment is a good or bad thing for the economy. The Conservative government certainly thinks it is bad and has done everything it reasonably can to make such investments difficult. When the market sentiment was bullish this was probably a sensible move, as first time buyers were getting priced out of the market. If Brexit leads to a property price collapse, then they may well need to have a rethink, just to get some homes back on the market. Most of the buy to let landlords I know have actually found themselves in the position out of necessity, being unable to sell existing properties and needing to move. I am not sure punitive taxes is the best solution (but I have to disclose a bias and an interest).

So has the Mill Hill Property bubble burst? I'm not mystic Meg, I have no crystal ball, but right now if I had spare cash, for the first time ever I would not invest in property in Mill Hill, unless it was at an absolute basement price. That may sound gloomy, but I certainly wouldn't sell right now either. Mill Hill is one of the best districts of London and sooner or later, anyone who holds their nerve for the white knuckle ride will do very well. I feel sorry for those who have decided to move and are finding their property prices falling through the floor.

Of course all of this is my opinion based on informal conversations as mentioned above. I have no qualifications to advise anyone on any sort of investment, so please just treat this as entertainment!

Friday, 20 July 2018

Policing in London - The chickens come home to roost

I have great respect for the uniformed services. The Police, Fire Service, Ambulance Service, Army, Navy and The RAF. My father was an officer in the RAF during the second world war and he explained to me why we should respect people in uniforms, in very simple terms "When you see a person in a uniform, you see someone who is highly trained and is prepared to put their life at risk for the good of our society". He went on to explain that without people in uniforms, we would have no such thing as society.

Policing is in the spotlight at the moment. This morning I listened to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan discussing policing on the Vanessa Feltz show. I have to say that what I heard was alarming. I have no confidence at all in this Mayor to sort the problems out, having heard what he had to say. It is not just the Mayor. We have had a succession of Home secretaries, starting with the now Prime Minister Theresa May, who have been completely useless when it comes to policing. Police budgets have been cut, community engagement stopped, support staff sacked and officers drowned in paperwork and administration.

Today we've had a London man taking the Mayor to court over police station closures. We used to have a visible police presence on our High Street. If we had a worry, we could nip in and talk to a human being. If we found an old ladies purse we could drop it in. When I was a child, there was an old lady down the road, who I now recognise as having dementia. The police would find her wandering the streets of Mill Hill in her nighty at 3am in the morning. They'd take her to the station, give her a cup of tea and call her daughter to come and get her. She once told me "The chief constable is always sending his car to collect me so he can have a cup of tea with me!". Her daughter gave me a pained look and told me the whole story. She said that the police were lovely.

I remember my first brush with the Police aged 14. I was caught writing graffiti on a poster at Mill Hill Broadway Station, with a pencil. I was frogmarched home, he waited outside, whilst I got a rubber and then frogmarched back to rub it out. The copper in question was a mate of my Dad's. He used to frequent the Mill Hill Services club. He put the fear of God into me. He didn't tell my father though. He said "You owe me one now!".  About five years later, my Dad was buying me a pint in the Services club and playing me at snooker. The copper came over and said "How's the career in graffiti coming on?" I was mortified, he told my Dad the story, who found it hilarious. He then bought me a pint. No paperwork and a lesson learned. It also made me realise that the police are simply members of our community, trying their hardest to make it a decent place to live in.

Fast forward to 2018. I believe in citizenship and community. I have supported through my business, a charity called NCS - The Challenge for quite a few years. This gives 17-18 year olds the opportunity to do  National Citizenship Service. Each year, groups of youngsters come to Mill Hill  Music Complex studios and I give them a tour, answer questions and then advise them on a pitch they are preparing for a team of Dragons, who will fund the winners in a venture they are putting together.

I am always highly impressed by the young people who turn up. They are very switched on. Amongst the presenations I saw this year (I have no idea what it will be until they perform it), one was about long hours NHS workers suffer, one was to arrange a fundraiser for Friern Barnet Library and one to support a mental health charity. All groups were eloquent and well presented.

Breakdancing Policeman
This year, one of the Q&A sessions became a very interesting debate about trust, respect and young people's perceptions of living in London in 2018. I was giving examples of the difference between the music scene in 1979 when I started the studios and now. This became a wider subject. One of the team then told me that in a survey, they had voted the Police as the "least trusted organisation" in their opinion. I was actually quite taken aback by this. Between 2000 and 2010, the Metropolitan Police put a huge amount of energy into building trust and community initiatives.

My studios participated in many events, providing PA systems for Harrow against knives festivals, participating in videos to promote awareness of the dangers of knife crime and all manner of other initiatives. Most of these were either organised or supported by the local Police community officers.  We even saw a breakdancing Policeman at an event organised by the excellent Nutmeg organisation.

Most of these programs were cut in 2010 to save money in response to the call for austerity. At the time when the cuts were first being announced, I interviewed the then chief constable of Barnet. He told me that the Police had been told to stop such community engagement and concentrate on "core policing". I suggested that this was short sighted and was storing up trouble for the future. His response was "Well if we don't have such programs for a year or two, it might not cause too much damage, but if we stop completely, then yes, we run the very real risk of losing the trust of young people".

So here we are in 2018. We are seeing an epidemic of knife crime. We are seeing decent young people, who want to be good citizens, saying they have trust issues with the police. From talking to these young people, I don't think they are the type of people who will commit crime. The reason that trust is so important is that amongst their peer groups and their families, there will be people who are drifiting into trouble. If they have no trust of the Police, they are far less likely to take any action that may help get their friends back on the right track. When I was 18 years old, a friend of mine with family issues, drug problems and mental health issues tried to commit suicide. He did this by taking 18 methodone suppositories. He turned up on our doorstep. I called the police immediately. My father had told me that if someone is in a critical situation, the police will take them to hospital quicker than an ambulance (there was no such thing as paramedics then). I did this in the full knowledge that the police may ask some difficult questions. As it happened they were great. They sorted him out, got him to hospital and he's still alive today. They then came back and asked a few questions. They were interested in how he'd come by the drugs. I explained that he'd simply turned up in a terrible state and I knew I had to call the emergency services. I had no idea where he'd got them or why he was in such a state. They asked if I knew who may have provided them. As I've never been a junkie and we moved in different circles, I couldn't help to much. The officer then said "You did the right thing. Never be afraid to call the police if there is a life and death matter". As I mulled over this, I recall hearing a radio report stating that stabbing victims do not go to hospital for fear of police. This really does make the issue a matter of life or death.

The austerity cuts are killing our society. We urgently need the Met to rebuild its community operations. We need breakdancing policemen. We need discretion. We need back office staff to do the paperwork, so highly trained and well paid officers can get back on the beat. But most of all we need politicians who can actually act like adults and sort things out. Both the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London are sons of bus drivers of Pakistani descent. I call on both of them to reboot their relationship. The time has come for policing to be sorted out. Sorting out gangs and knife crime can be done. It needs sensible policing and it needs money. But most of all it needs leadership. If Sajid and Sadiq could work together and sort this out, both of them could demonstrate that they are of suitable calibre to do the top job (as to my mind there are not exactly a huge number of candidates).

We've had cuts to police budgets for the best part of a decade. The chickens have come home to roost. Now it is time to try something different. It is time to recognise that a tragic mistake has been made and that we need to have trust between police and teenagers. We need a visible police presence in the High Street. Times change, maybe the High St Police station is outdated. I'd like to see a national network of community centres, with activities suitable for teenagers, which house an office for community police teams to work in the community. I'd make sure that community police spent a couple of hours each week working with the teenagers, coaching football, giving breakdancing, table tennis or guitar lessons, and building up a degree of trust. I'd like to see more young people doing outdoor activities and I I'd like to see police officers encouraged to organise these. That is how trust can be rebuilt. You can't start at the margins, you have to start in the mainstream and it is clear to me from what I heard that the mainstream is a problem.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Open Letter to the Barnet Council Policy and Resources Committee

The Barnet Eye has today sent the following open letter to all members of the Barnet Council Policy and Resources committee, ahead of tonights meeting, where the future of Barnet Council's relationship with Capita will be discussed. This communication is being sent to the following Councillors. 

Councillor Richard CorneliusChairmanExpected
Councillor Daniel Thomas BA (Hons)Vice-ChairmanExpected
Councillor Dean Cohen BSc (Hons)Committee MemberExpected
Councillor Anthony Finn BSc (Econ) FCACommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Ross HoustonCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor David LongstaffCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Kath McGuirkCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Arjun MittraCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Alison MooreCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Sachin RajputCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Barry RawlingsCommittee MemberExpected
Councillor Peter ZinkinCommittee MemberExpected

It covers three rather different items on the agenda, all of which have huge implications for the Council and Barnet residents. Whilst the three items are seemingly unrelated, they well demonstrate the lack of joined up thinking within Barnet Council

Dear Councillor, 

I am emailing you in relation to your role as a member of the Barnet Council Policy and Resources committee. Having read the papers, there are three issues of major concern to me, that I urgently request you consider prior to the meeting and ensure that any vote you may cast is made in the best interests of Barnet residents.

1. Loan to Saracens
The Summary states the following:
"The report seeks agreement in principle to make a loan of £22.9 million to Saracens at a commercial rate for a period of 30 years to enable the construction of a new West Stand as part of their Allianz Park stadium at Copthall. It outlines the benefits of the project for the council and the wider Barnet community, and summarises the findings of a preliminary due diligence exercise. The report sets out the further due diligence and assurances required in order for the council to satisfy itself that it is prudent to make the loan. It seeks authority for the Deputy Chief Executive to oversee this work and subject to its satisfactory conclusion to enter, in consultation with Members, into a loan agreement with Saracens Ltd."

As a resident, a Council Tax payer, a Business rates payer, a local business owner and a resident of Mill Hill, I am truly alarmed at this proposal. This is not because I do not wish Saracens to build a new stand, which is a proposal I fully support, but because I do not believe that the function of a Council is to act as a bank. As a businessman, I have sought and would expect other businesses to seek loans on a commercial basis from traditional lenders.

I must ask why Saracens have not been able to secure such a loan for their project? Interest rates are competitive and I would have assumed that if there was a secure business case, then such a loan would not be difficult to obtain. This begs the question as to whether the business case is sound? Have Saracens sought finance and been refused elsewhere? Such decisions are based on the risk profile of the proposal. 

The papers give some clue as to why a commercial loan has not been forthcoming. They note:

 Saracens made an operating loss of £2.73m in 2016/17.
 The loss has been declining over recent years, and the club has a clear business plan to move to a profit position. The assumptions in the business plan are reasonable.
 At the time of writing the due diligence report, the club had total net liabilities of £45.1m in the form of intercompany loans. The club has since confirmed that these were restructured as at 30 June 2018 to leave the club in a position of having net positive assets. This will be verified during the next stage of due diligence.
 The security offered is independent of the success of the club but the council should test further its robustness through due diligence, and should consider asking for additional security.

A business which lost £2.73 million in the last accounting period, has net liabilities of £45.1 million, which seems to have magically disappeared due to an unverified restructuring surely is not something which taxpayers money should be used to back. In the event of the "business plan" not turning the business around, Barnet Council will be left with a huge stadium and no club to house. Given the problems with The Olympics stadium in Stratford, is it really wise to take the Barnet taxpayer on such a journey. 

I have no issue at all with all of the good work Saracens are doing in the Borough. This is to be encouraged and to be supported, but I do not believe that the way to support any business is for local authorities to step in and offer commercial loans. I am quite surprised that a Conservative lead administration is following such a course.

If it is now council policy to give generous loans to local businesses that do "good work", as a local the owner of a local business doing such things, I would like to have some clarification of the criteria for applying for such funding. I run Mill Hill Music Complex Studios, We have been based in Mill Hill since 1979 and we see approx 1,400 artists a week using our facilities many of whom are youths and teenagers, who have no other facilities for miles for such creative activities. We currently are seeking to construct a new building to increase our provision, but due to the inordinate amount of time it took the council to approve the planning permission, we have had to put plans on hold, due to the withdrawal of our partners, who found alternative accommodation in Brookmans Park. If the council is actively subsidising such schemes, then I would like some documentation to see what are the criteria for applying for such finance. I would be more than happy to host the committee and give them a tour of our facilities. If there is no such criteria and this is just being done as a one off favour to Saracens, a commercial company, then I worry about the legality of the scheme and whether it is actually discriminatory against businesses such as mine, which do not have the opportunity for taxpayer funded finance in a transparent manner.

2. Members Item on Copthall Diving Club.

I note that Councillor Arjun Mittra has raised a members item on North London Aquatics Diving Club. The papers note:

Diving Pool
I request that P&R Committee receives a report on the situation with the proposed diving pool in Copthall, and what action the Council is taking to support the work of North London Aquatics to establish a diving centre.
As part of this, I would like the below answered:
1. Why hasn’t the GLL contract been published? When will it be? Can we have a copy of it please?
2. Why have North London Aquatics been banned from publicising their charitable activities at Copthall leisure centre?
3. What rationale and legal advice was obtained before advising North London Aquatics that they could not film activities at Copthall leisure centre with Middlesex University due to “Purdah rules?”
4. Will the Council now undertake to do the works to link the diving pool electrical, mechanical and plant work to the rest of the Copthall leisure centre?”

It seems to me beyond comprehension that a council facility is preventing a local diving club, helping young people to become fit, confident and healthy. It has been treated so appallingly. It is truly bizarre that the Council seems to have one set of rules for a commercial sports organisation such as Saracens Ltd, whilst treating a long standing local charity so atrociously. As it seems that there is a magic money tree in Barnet, can I suggest that the same tree that has provided Saracens with a £22 million loan, be tapped to sort out the issues with the diving pool. 

3. Capita restructuring.
Tonight the committee will debate the three options on the table for a restructuring of the Capita contracts. At the time that the contracts were let, myself, other bloggers and a whole host of experts on the subject of outsourcing asked for a "public sector comparator" to be provided so we could ensure we are comparing like with like when discussing savings. As this was not done, we really have no idea of what the true savings are. 

Option three (ending relationship with Capita) marks the "value for money" of this as low. It states

"Low – Capita has delivered significant economies of scale across transactional services, including by delivering them outside of London. The council would not be able to replicate these savings."
It also states that the quality of services would be affected

"Medium/Low – wholesale in-sourcing or reprocurement is likely to divert management and staff time from service improvement. Many staff based outside of London may choose not to relocate to Barnet. Low unemployment locally is likely to make it hard to recruit to consequent vacancies" 

All of these services were previously provided inhouse. Clearly people have found other jobs and whilst there is "low unemployment" locally, there is not zero unemployment. Clearly whatever happens, there will have to be a transitional period and transitional arrangements. If the words "We have performed a public sector comparator and have found that an in house option is not viable" had been written (with accompanying report transparently published), I would have no issue agreeing with these statements. As it is, the report simply looks to have chosen a form of words to try and justify a decision to try and address the worst aspects of the Capita deal, without taking the risk that a proper study would expose some rather embarrassing facts about the way the deal has been put together and the way Capita have managed it.

I was present outside the recent Capita AGM. Shareholders told me that the management of Capita had said that Barnet Council were not capable of managing the contract and this was the root of the problems. If a vendor is saying this about the management of one of their largest clients, what level of assurance can we possibly have that these contracts will ever deliver value for money.

John Dix has comprehensively proven, using information release by Barnet Council, that the One Barnet Capita contracts are not delivering value for money or savings. Despite all of the work John has done, no one from the administration has ever sat down with him and worked through his findings. I urge the committee to arrange a workshop with Mr Dix and get a proper, independent report into how best to manage Barnet before committing the council to any further contracts with Capita. I would support the ending of the arrangements outlined in Option 2, if this was accompanied by a commitment to perform a proper, independent review of the ones remaining with Capita, to assess whether Capita really is the best provider. I would urge that this review be lead by John Dix.

In summary, it is time that Barnet Council started working for the people of the Borough, people such as the volunteers that run North London Aquaatics, rather than large commercial businesses such as  Saracens Ltd and Capita. 

Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Yet another Capita Cock Up damages Barnet Council's reputation and costs taxpayers money

Last night, the Barnet Eye, along with fellow bloggers Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry attended the Audit committee meeting at Hendon Town Hall. The meeting was scheduled to discuss the annual audit of the Council business. It was a long meeting. The Audit committee is a rather dry committee and reviews of the Council accounts are serious matters. This was reflected by the number of questions submitted by members of the public (The full set of papers and an audio recording are available here).

I had submitted three questions on the subject of commercial waste collection and two on water safety. I asked two supplimentals (I wanted to ask a third about the water safety issues but the volume of questions meant that this was not possible).  The second supplimental question, asked in response to the answer to question eleven was "The question I asked was in relation to Performance Monitoring Issues, specifically mentioned in the papers and included in the question. The answer does not reference these at all. Please can you detail specifically what has been done to mitigate these issues". For once, I got a completely honest and sensible answer. It was "Sorry, we don't know". The chair complimented me on my question and suggested that this was the type of question bloggers should ask.

He hadn't appreciated the previous question from naughty Mrs Angry, who had asked him whether he took responsibility for the cock ups and was going to resign for being useless. The Public gallery took a different view

 I was a tad disappointed with Councillor Finn. For a long standing politician, he missed a golden chance to say "This is my first meeting as chair so it's not my fault. It was all down to the former Chair Hugh Rayner and he did sling his hook, so surely you should be happy". In his final meeting as chair of Audit, Hugh said that the committee was not up to the job and required proper training and experienced councillors. You may be interested to note that the Barnet Tory regime completely ignored his advice. The two latest Tory members to this committee are Laithe Jajeh (pronounced "Zsa Zsa" as he rather narkedly told Cllr Finn). The two departing members were Cllr Rayner and Cllr Khatri, both of whom who had eight years experience, both of these councillors had proven to be sensible, pragmatic and suitably cynical about what they were being told, to earn the respect of bloggers and the public. For his diligence, Councillor Khatri was deselected by the Tories. As for Hugh Rayner, there is an ongoing "did he jump or was he pushed" debate. He seems to be enjoying himself a bit more these days, so I suspect that either way, he's not too sad to be out of the firing line.

Once the fun of public questions had died down, it was onto the long slog of ploughing through the audit. Nearly an hour of scrutiny prompted me to tweet the following

Mr Reasonable was less than impressed by the sorry tale of woe from the head of internal audit

On we ploughed. The Labour members making a reasonable stab at trying to clarify the myriad of issues that an audit which was significantly worse than last years might justify. Eventually we had a couple of less than searching questions from a few of the Tory members. I have no idea why they are so acquiescent. They really should realise that if they want to run a successful administration, they need to take scrutiny seriously. Simply nodding and agreeing with officers and the man from Capita has landed the council in a complete mess. It is telling that in Barnet, the most serious questioning and scrutiny comes from bloggers and activists, as demonstrated by the public questions (all 36 of them).

I have long advocated that Mr Reasonable, AKA John Dix should be co-opted as an independent member onto Audit. John reads the papers and formulates the right questions to ask. Any sane and rational administration would have done this years ago. I genuinely have no idea why they haven't. If they had, it is perhaps possible that One Barnet may even have worked and saved money. At one stage, Councillor Finn started to rant about the hundred and sixteen million pounds that Capita had saved. He clearly hasn't been doing his homework. John Dix has comprehensively destroyed this contention, using the council's own figures.

Then we got to the part where the external, independent auditors give their presentation of the audit. More or less as soon as it started, the auditors dropped a bombshell. The Pension fund audit was going to miss it's filing deadline. I filmed the moment for posterity (apologies for the shaky mobile phone footage). Note the gasps when the bombshell is dropped.

So the obvious question to ask was "who is to blame". The Auditor pulled no punches.

The auditor spelled out that the problem was fairly and squarely down to Capita. The auditor also spelled out that there would be additional costs associated with the extra work caused by the latest issues with Capita. This is not the first time that Capita have caused audits to be late. Capita have been virtually running the council for five years. They were brought in to save money and to give better service. As Mr Reasonable discovered, they don't save money and as the auditors have revealed, the service is worse. The council has no control of it's own business.

It is time to take back control and Kick Out Capita. Join our campaign now. It is clear that the One Barnet experiment is not working.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

What is happening to the ponds and lakes of Mill Hill

One of the reasons I have always loved Mill Hill is the green belt, the peaceful areas and our ponds and lakes. Back in 2012, I made a list of the ten best waterways in the Borough of Barnet.  Number five on  the list was Darlands Lake. At the time I said

Image result for darlands lake
Darlands Lake as it was
 5. Darlands Lake. When I was at St Vincents school on the Ridgeway, we would occasionally do "nature surveys" at Darlands Lake. This is a large lake between Mill Hill and Totteridge. It is beautiful. It used to have a boating hut and pier, but this is long gone. Sadly few in Mill Hill even know of its existence. It is well worth a trip

At number 9, was the picturesque Angel Pond at the top of Milespit Hill. I said this of it

Angel Pond in 2016
9. Angel Pond. This is the most picturesque pond in Barnet, it is located at the top of Milespit Hill, with an old brick church as its backdrop. As a child, I'd walk past it on the way to and from St Vincents school. I was always fascinated by the tadpoles, sticklebacks and goldfish that lived there. 

Sadly if you took either of these pictures today, you'd be greeted with a totally different sight.

Yesterday the team at "A Better Mill Hill" tweeted this picture.

As you can see, Darlands lake is silted up and dried out. This lake is used as a summer watering hole for all manner of local animals. It used to have a population of carp of reasonable size. Last year I wrote a couple of blogs detailing a scheme to set up a trust to manage Darlands Lake.
Darlands Trust details

The papers around this admitted that the site had been left to go to rack and ruin over 20 years. The justification seemed to be that no one else could do a worse job than Barnet Council in protecting the nature reserve. It seems that since then, nothing has happened with the proposal to sort the situation out. Even more alarming, the lake has dried out so presumably the fish have died.  I walk around the site most days, I can only believe that our councillors do not visit this part of Mill Hill to allow this situation to reach such a point. The bottom line is that a site of significant importance for biodiversity in the Borough has deteriorated to the point where it is simply a large, smelly mudpit.

Then there is Angel Pond. This used to be the Jewel in the crown of Mill Hill. Any book, postcard or other image of Mill Hill would have a picture of Angel Pond, usually with the picturesque reflection of the former Methodist chapel (now the Brotherhood of the Cross and the Star)

This is how it looks today, as pictured by the team at A Better Mill Hill.

This is a slightly different issue to Darlands. The pond has been overrrun by an invasive weed. A guest blog by Aquatic expert Laurance Bard detailed the issues in October 2016. What is 100% clear is that we need urgent action to sort the issue out. We need the pond restoring to its former glory. Mr Bard suggested that an aquatic expert should build a plan to save the pond. It appears that his call was ignored. The time has come to sort this out. Barnet Council should get involved as the smell is becoming an issue for residents.

What is clear is that Barnet has no strategy for managing important wetland habitats in Mill Hill. Last week, the Council convened a meeting of the urgency committee to sort out issues with the licensing of the Town Hall for wedding ceremonies. I would like to see it reconvened as a matter of urgency (pardon the pun), to develop an urgent strategy to save our wetlands.

The issue is too important to become an exercise in blaming anyone. Lets just sort these issues out. I have written to Councillor Cornelius to request this.

Here is the text of my email
Dear Councillor Cornelius / Cllr Thomas,

I am not sure whether you are aware of the appalling state of two important wetland sites in Mill Hill? I am referring to Darlands Lake and Angel Pond in Mill Hill.

Darlands is a site of significant environmental importance. It is currently completely dried out. Presumably this has resulted in the death of all of the fish and also deprived local wildlife of and important watering hole.

Angel Pond is the jewel in the crown of the picturesque Mill Hill Village High Street. It has been overrun by an invasive plant species and is virtually completely dried out, again killing fish and depriving the ducks of their habitat.

I have detailed my views in the following blog - - which details the demise.

I am not seeking anything other than an urgent plan to restore both important Barnet open water spaces, to preserve local wildlife and ecosystems.

I would suggest engagement with local organisations, Preservation society, Neighbourhood forum and Residents Association. I would be fully supportive of any crowdfunding initiative to carry out emergency works.

I have cc'd local individuals and stakeholders who I believe may have an interest in sorting this out. As a community we need to pull together to resolve this. 

I trust you will treat this request as a matter of utmost urgency (excuse the pun)

Roger Tichborne


Monday, 16 July 2018

Does this look healthy to you?

I was going to post a completely different blog today, however I take health issues seriously (I have to). As someone with two daughters and who has seen a friends sister die of anorexia, I am painfully aware of the problems young women have with body image and the dangers of eating disorders.

This morning, this advert appeared on my Facebook timeline.

It was posted by a "health club" which operates in Totteridge. My first thought was "Actually as a man, I think I prefer week 1" and posted a message accordingly. Soon the timeline had a whole host of other messages posted by female friends. Here are a couple

"To be honest, this type of promotion is dangerous, worrying and one of the reasons why healthy people are given hang ups about their body image. I think Blueprint Fitness might want to reconsider what they think is an attractive body and the shape and tone real, busy people should aspire to"

 "I prefer week 1 to the rest! Takes all sorts and all shapes to make a world !"

"I’d love to look as good as week 1! Week 22 looks awful,in my opinion"

I am all for healthy lifestyles and if you are overweight then it is good to exercise and eat healthy. I take exercise seriously enough to organise a weekly five a side kickabout and we try extremely hard to eat healthy. But to me "week 22" is an extreme look, at the other end of the spectrum. Whilst it may just be a very unflattering picture of a very fit person to me it looks unhealthily thin.  Week 1 certainly does not look unhealthily fat from the picture. For anyone suffering from anorexia I am sure that this sends completely the wrong message. In Mill Hill we have one of the countries leading centres for treatment of anorexia and we are staging some music therapy at the studio for one of the patients, trying to help them get balance and positivity back into their lives. The head of education at the centre is a schoolfriend and he has told me many times just how hard it is to change the perceptions of people with anorexia that any look which is not skeletal is bad. I really think companies promoting healthy living should be aware of this. 

I'm sure that everyone who uses the training service at Blueprint will benefit and that all will emerge healthier. I do however agree with the comment above that they should be more circumspect in their advertising.. Maybe they should also employ a better photographer and advertising agency as I really think that these pictures are quite unappealing. 

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Tweets of The Week in The London Borough of Barnet - 15/7/2018

It's that time of the week again. The good, the bad and the ugly, through the eyes of the Borough's Twitteratti!

Don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle your fancy!

What has been going on?

1. Mill Hill Broadway was 150 years old this week. Thanks to the Mill Hill Historical Society for the historcial tweet of the week!

2. John Keough recorded the launch of the #Barnet Wall and the Kick Out Capita campaign in Hendon for posterity!

3. Jonny Smash, clearly impressed by the efforts of those in Childs Hill, would like to see a little bit more of his local councillors!

4. On a rather more worrying note, we had a shooting locally

5. This blog supports the Colindale Foodbank. We hope you do as well. Summer Holidays are a time of need, as children don't get a school lunch

6. We had a little bit of rain on Friday Night! Didyou get caught?

7. I also picked my first blackberry of the season on this morning's Darlands walk. Very tasty it was too!

8.I gotta say I rather like the look of this tweet. Nothing like sitting on a comfy sofa in the sun!

9. However this does not mean that dumping your old sofa in the park is ok!

10. Calvin Casino rather likes one of the False Dots catchy little ditties

Oh and a final small deviation. Two weeks ago, Steve Hedley from the RMT Union addressed Barnet residents at the Barnet Alliance AGM. Steve explained ways in which Rail privatisation has delivered expensive tickets and poor services for rail passengers. Trades Unionists who see life at the coalface have an interesting and informative perspective.
Imagine my horror and disgust to see what fascists did to Steve in London yesterday. I really couldn't let this pass without comment

That's all folks!

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Saturday List #179 - My Top Ten songs that mention food!

We've not had a musical Top Ten for some time. I was at the studio earlier and someone asked "Do you know of any songs that mention Cheeseburgers?". I immediately thought of "Living in the USA" by The Steve Miller Band. That ends with the line "Someone get me a cheeseburger". A google search revealed a whole swathe, with everyone from Chuck Berry to Frank Zappa mentioning them. It got me thinking, what would be my foodie top ten tunes. Now it would be easy to have a pretty easy to simply list songs with food, such as Toast by The Street band, but these are all songs that reside in my record collection. I think it's a pretty good playlist, with great tunes (I've added a Spotify playlist at the bottom of page!)

So here it is.

1. Living in the USA by The Steve Miller Band - Cheeseburger

2. The Doors - Back Door Man - Pork, Beans and Chicken

3. Pluto Shervington - Dat - It is about a Rasta trying to buy Pork, but not wanting to say it

4. The Ramones - I Just want to Have Something to Do - Chicken Vindaloo

5. The Steve Miller Band - Hot Chilli

6. Souixsie and The Banshees - Hong Kong Garden - Chicken Chow Mein and Chop Suey

7. The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar

8. Jesus and Mary Chain - Just Like Honey

9. Blondie - Sunday Girl - Ice cream!

10. The Small Faces - Itchycoo Park - Buns

That's all folks!