Monday, 12 October 2015

Barnet Libraries - Big Rube bottles it!

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A packed public gallery for the Libraries
Lets, start with a little deviation. Lets face it we all need a bit of deviation of occasion. Lets have a look at Childs Hill ward of Barnet Council. Until May 2014, it had three Lib Dem councillors. In May 2014, the Lib Dems were a demoralised force nationally, like lambs to the slaughter. Two of the Childs Hill Councillors, the much loved Palmers were retiring. Monroe Palmer had received a Knighthood and wanted to concentrate on the House of Lords. The local Tories licked their lips, sensing that the Lib Dems were a spent force. Two new unknown candidates, no track record and no history. Easy pickings. And there was veteran Lib Dem Jack Cohen. With a demoralised machine party machine Jack could be put out of his misery.

Despite many locals having no time at all for the Lib Dems nationally or Nick Clegg, amazingly Jack Cohen held on. The years of work acted as a bulwark against the might and the money of the local Tory Machine. The other two Lib Dems were despatched with ease, but Jack hung on. I believe that every decent person in Barnet, who has ever been to a council meeting in Barnet was delighted to see Jack remaining in the chamber.

What has all this got to do with Barnet Libraries? Well the two new Tories in Childs Hill saved the Tory regime, Shimon Ryde and Peter Zinkin. The Tories have a 32-31 majority in the Town Hall. These two gained seats swung it. That is why we saw a tiny cut in the Council Tax and why we are seeing a major threat to our library service. Whilst some Boroughs have shut Libraries, the Barnet Tories have a different plan. They want  to shrink them, get rid of the staff and make them self service or volunteer run for the majority of the time. So they can say "we've not shut a single library" and "We are actually increasing opening hours". They say, we are using technology to replace librarians.

Let me give you an analogy. Just suppose the government wanted to save money in the NHS. Just suppose they said "Right we'll sack 42% of GP's and we'll put self service ATM's that you can get a diagnosis and a prescription from instead" Just suppose they said "We are increasing the opening hours, so you can use the self service ATM machine any time", justs suppose they cut the size of the building by 80% and let the rest of it out to Starbucks. Would you think you've got a better NHS. Well if you could get a repeat prescription at 10pm, or a letter to say why you were off work, I suppose you may. For some people it would work better some of the time. Just suppose that if you opposed this, because like me you have a serious requirement on occasion to see a trained doctor, you are told "But unless we do this, we'll  have to cut cancer drugs for babies, do you really want babies to die?" You'd feel pretty bad.

This may seem a ridiculous analogy, but that is how it seemed to me. The local Tories are trying to get away with dismembering the library service. They want a chip and pin based access system, to allow you to access an unmanned library. This is fine if you know exactly what you want and where to get it. But what if, like my mother in her final years, you have poor eyesight and you need help finding suitable large print books. Suppose you've read all the Jane Austen books and you want someone to point you at something similar? Just suppose like my mum, you have trouble with CHIP & PIN technology? There may be a library around the corner, but its no use at all. Or just suppose you are a student aged 14 or 15. You won't be allowed in. At present, you can sit in a safe environment to study. In future you will be excluded. They won't let you in.

Tonight we had a meeting of the committee which was supposed to decide whether to implement this cut. The public were allowed to make representations. BAPS leader Barbara Jacobson and blogger Mrs Angry did this. They made excellent points, but the Tory chairman summarily dismissed them. The public were allowed to submit questions. Written answers were supplied and the public were allowed to ask supplimentary questions. Sadly the written answers were not answers in many case. They were unrelated statements. Jack Cohen wryly tweeted

Barnet Eye asking again why his questions are not being answered , Yiddish proverb roughly 
translated says " no answer is also an answer"

I asked a few questions. We ascertained nothing much except that Barnet Council don't like answering questions. One thing became clear. Barnet haven't budgeted for training volunteers. I asked and despite trying to evade the question, this was eventually admitted. It was also admitted that volunteers will have nowhere near the expertise of trained librarians. Barbara Jacobson pressed Cllr Thompstone, the committe chair on the number of people prepared to volunteer. She said she'd attended one meeting where eleven people attended with a view to volunteering. By the end, all but one had reconsidered. There was a council officer, who endlessly droned on in meaningless jargon, arguing that black was white. It was clear to the audience that this was pure waffle, but for some strange reason, Cllr Thompstone was mightily impressed.

As the meeting progressed to members questions, we saw a tour de force from Councillor Naqvi. I've not seen him in action before. He is very good indeed. Cllr Thompstone was clearly rattled. His efforts to patronise Cllr Naqvi failed miserably and he was starting to make a bit of an arse of himself. Councillor Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Council started making frantic hand gestures to Cllr Thompstone. I am not an expert in Makaton sign language, but it appeared to say "Shut the F*ck up before you scr*w us completely".

Councillor Thompstone moved to wrap the meeting up. He suggested that all seven recommendations be adopted en masse. Thomas again started gesticulating wildly. Thompstone suddenly said "In light of the huge public interest, I think we should refer this to full council". The last time this happened, was when Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the decision to crucify Jesus. It was a smart move by Thompstone. Him and his four Tory mates clearly don't want to take all the blame for this atrocious policy. They clearly bottled it. They clearly want all 32 of them to be tarred with the same brush.  Rubes obviously thinks his colleagues, to a man, believe his policies are marvellous. I think his faith in his colleagues may be mistakened.

Back in April 2006 Mill Hill and Childs Hill had three Lib Dem councillors each, Mill Hill now has three Tories and Childs Hill has two. How have the people of these wards been repaid. Both have had their libraries downgraded. The motto of this is "Vote Tory and get shafted". At full council, only one Tory councillor needs to break the whip and this awful proposal will fail. If they do, the Tories cannot censure them, because they will lose the council. They have absolutely no excuse. No Tory councillor in any ward that is under threat of losing a full library service has any excuse at all. My guess is that they are all hoping someone else will bite the bullet. I can guarantee that this blog will give unremitting focus to all Tory councillors who vote to disembowel the library service. Some are nice people, but they need to grow some cojones.

So is Cllr Thompstone a bottler? After the meeting, I had a little chat with Councillor Rueben Thompstone on the stairs on the way out. I have to confess, I was shocked. It appears that although he has the build of  a Rugby Player, he is a big wuss. I queried him as to whether he believed that the microscopic cut in council tax, which resulted in the requirement to cut library budgest was a good idea, To my amazement he replied "You are being very aggressive" I was actually quite shocked. I'd assumed that he was a man who was used to a bit of banter and a bit of an argument. It turns out that he is nothing of the sort. He is a sensitive soul, who wants us all to be nice to him and baulks at the idea of chatting to the public. At this I decided to end our conversation. I have come to the conclusion that Cllr Thompstone is a waste of space, a playground bully who can dish it out when he is in the chair, but who lacks the gumption to actually discuss anything with anyone who disagrees with him. He clearly is not cut out for the job.

 I also found out from Councillor Thompstone that he had a in Science. I was surprised. To be a scientist, you have to be able to collate evidence and results and form conclusions based on the evidence. As such I'd expect him to actually understand that simply listening to officers waffle is no basis for formulating a library policy.  Iwas reminded that Tories originally opposed the creation of the Open University. An institution that changed the concept of education in the UK. I wonder if cllr Thompstone realises that institions such as the OU and libraries are the basis of our innovation economy? They give people the opportunity to get a leg up the ladder.

At todays meeting it was clear that the officer have not done their homework and there is scant evidence to support their claims.I am genuinely sorry if trying to have a discussion with Councillor Thompstone upset him. I do have to conclude that he isn't cut out for politics if he gets upset so easily. I've chatted to dozens of Tory councillors on numerous occasions. I am not a shrinking violet, but none has ever compalined before in such a manner. It seems that Big Rube is not quite the bruiser he'd have us believe.

It seems to me that Rubes was genuinely surprised that the people of Barnet were not grateful to him for his bonkers scheme. As he's a scientist, I'd recommend that he sits down with my fellow blogger Mr Reasonable (I've always assumed he chose the name because I am Mr Unreasonable) and have a nice chat about what is wrong with his proposals. For the record, I don't go to meetings with the intention of heckling and winding up Tory councillors. I go hoping to use common sense and reason to win an argument. The trouble is that they refuse to answer questions, they patronise people. They refuse to qcknowledge mistakes, which were obvious to all and sundry. They address the public with a pompous tone when they are caught out telling porkies and people get irate. Then they wonder why we get cross.

Last night there was one lie that went unchallenged. This was particlualry galling. Councillor Thomas claimed that protestors never suggested anything that would address the issues of balancing the libraries budget. This is a lie. This blog published in February comprehensively sets out a whole range of steps. It seems to me that Cllr Thompstone and Cllr Thomas do not want to know. They claim to be Conservatives, but are the opposite. The word Conservative implies that they want to maintain the Status quo. This lot want to put it to the torch. Real Conservatives value the library movement as they recognise that they help breed self sufficiency.  A true Tory Council would have responded to the funding crisis by mobilising their friends to hep maintain the service. Get the old ladies to bake apple pies for cake sales, get their friends in business to help with sponsorships. Get IT companies to come up with innovative ways to engage and enjoy the service. Use solar energy to cut costs and get money back from the national grid. Invest in double glazing to cut energy bills.

All of these have been suggested and all ignored. In my business, we recently installed huge solar panels on the roof. There is a five year payback. It is called sustainable investment. If this had been done in 2010, then we'd no have free power in our libraries. They didn't then because they didn't really want to keep the library estate. Sadly local authorities are told to cut costs, but are not encouraged to invest in the future, that is why the finances are in a mess.

In 2018, we have another council election. It seems like a long way off. The previous library restructure debacle lost the Tories a whole bunch of councillors. In Mill Hill and Childs Hill, will voters forgive a party that destroys their library? I suspect that the self interest of the Tory Councillors in these wards may trump loyalty to the fantastic leadership of the likes of Thompstone and Thomas

Updated **** Tonight Barnet Council seals the fate of Barnets Libraries - Make sure your voices is heard

I will be asking a question at the Council meeting tonight. People are meeting from 6pm at the Town Hall to ensure the council know the strength of local feeling.  If you believe in democracy, exercise your democratic right to ensure that your councillors know what you think of these diabolical proposals.

Please note: The Conservatives in the Town Hall have a majority of one. It only takes one Conservative Councillor to side with the people of Barnet for this proposal to be thrown out. If your local Conservative Councillors do not, they are personally responsible for this downgrade and the populace will be reminded of this regularly between now and the next election.

Update. The council has issued the responses (if you can call them that) to public questions

There are 134 questions and the council are allowing 30 mins for the public to get answers.The majority of questions I asked have not had proper answers. Q39 which I asked even asked me to refer to the answer to q39 as part of the answer. Ask yourself this. What sort of organisation does not play straight and fast with the people who pay their bills?

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Business Rates in Barnet and why the Conservatives are not the party of ambition

Back in 1979 I started a business. I didn't know I was starting a business then. All I wanted was somewhere for my band to rehearse and a few pennies in my pocket to spend on living the rock and roll lifestyle. I was still at school. During that period, I had a few months running the business under a Labour government. It is fair to say that the government of the day had no influence on my decision to start a business. Then Thatcher won the election. From 1979 until 1997, Thatcher then Major ran the show. In this period my studio grew from one studio to have five studios and a shop. During this period, I didn't make a penny. Why? Because I had to reinvest every penny in the business to develop it. What I have learned is that banks don't lend money to people who run studios. In 1997 Blair took over. Then Brown took over. During this period we made a fortune? Why? Because the money we reinvested paid off. We reached the critical mass where we could make money. We sat back and the cash rolled in. Then in 2010 Cameron took over. Since then, we've not made a penny. Why? Because we again embarked on a major expansion. As ever, we funded this ourselves (although the bank did fund the property aspect of the development, mostly because it was a no brainer even for a bank!).

Our business breaks all the rules. I like to employ the unemployable. Two of my key staff over the years previously hadn't worked for years due to long term industrial injuries. One of my key members of staff joined us for "work experience" at 14, sent by his school because he was a trouble maker. He now has a degree and full time job. He works for us part time in the evenings. Our first chief recording engineer was female. I was told that women couldn't do the job, which seemed like an excellent reason to employ one.

After a period of five years making nothing, ploughing all our savings into the business, we are again looking at a profit. If we don't do any more expansion and growth, we'll have a nice comfy few years. Why am I sharing all this? To emphasise a few points. The first is that I am traditionally skint when the Tories are in power! I am far better off under Labour. Bt having said that, as I am sure you figured out for yourself, this has nothing to do with the governments. In fact, as a small business, there is nothing the government has ever done that has been the slightest bit of help. Both Tories and Labour have heaped regulation upon regulation on small business. None of them have a clue. George Osborne has announced massive rises in the minimum wage. Whilst this is in some ways good, it will hit small business hard. We get no breaks at all. Unlike Starbucks and Google, we cant salt our profits away abroad. We pay our taxes and we play the game. I constantly hear that the Tories are the party of ambition, but I see no evidence. They are the party of making a permissive tax regime for billionaires.

Now they have said local authorities can set and keep business rates locally. My experience of Barnet is that they hate small business and have no interest in helping them. Ask small traders like Helen Michael, who's business has been ruined by the abolition of Pay and Display cash parking. She used to be a Tory until they screwed her business. Ask anyone whether they think the local Tories will reward ambition and they'll just laugh. My first experenice with Barnet Council was on rates appeals. These take years to resolve. All this time you pay. Thousands of pounds. I asked the council why they took so long. A Tory councoillor said "It is irrelevant, appeals are always rejected". I won all mine and have saved thousands. These are the people who will be setting my rates. god help us

Friday, 9 October 2015

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Cancer is a form of mental illness

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 51 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down againg at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer), albiet with small mass. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

Yesterday I got some reasonably bad news about my cancer. As I've said on numerous occasions, I write this blog because I believe Cancer (and health issues generally) are things we should talk about. I don't subscribe to the "keep it private" school of thought. People die because they don't share info, don't tell people whats going on, don't get help and don't take advanatage of the lessons friends learn. If I go to the pub I don't spend the evening boring people about my latest biopsy results, but I do discuss what I am going through if people are interested and ask. Having said that, I really dislike the "oh you poor thing" school of conversations. Yesterday I was told my cancer was more serious than previously believed. How did I respond? I played football, went to the pub then got a take away curry, which is more or less what I do every Thursday. I have no symptoms. It is not going to kill me any time soon. I really don't need sympathy, as all that is going to happen is I will have some sort of procedure to treat the problem and it will hopefully go away. Any risks are more from infection acquired in hospital or from having a reaction to anaesthetic. To be honest, these risks are no worse than if I was having dental surgery for a wisdom tooth. The cancer I have has national survival rate of 84% over ten years and I am at the low risk end. For all cancers now 50% of people will survive more than ten years. Have a look at the chart below. (Click here for more details)
Infographic showing one-, five- and ten year survival for the common cancers
UK Cancer Survival Rates

Which brings me to the main point I am seeking to make today. For most people in my position, the main issues I have to face are not physical but psychological. I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have a strong network of support in the form of family and friends. I am also able to talk abbout the issues which helps. But I can't pretend that at times the whole thing isn't both scary and disturbing. Over the last four years, I've managed to take many positives out of the experience. I have realised that I have no fear whatsoever of death. I have strong faith, which means death has no fears. I discussed this with friends who are atheists. They asked if I had ever considered that this faith could be misplaced. My views is that if it is, it really doesn't matter as I'll be none the wiser. We can all be wrong, in fact I given that their is no majority view of what happens next, presumably the vast majority of us will in some way shape or form be wrong. But this isn't really the timeor place to have such discussions. I just add this to give a flavour of how I deal with these issues. Having said that, I am far less comfortable with the prospect of pain and discomfort. In fact the biggest fear in my case is the dreaded three I's that are the most common side effects of a radical prostate removal procedure. These are Impotence, Incontinence and Infertitlity. I fear that I will not be a proper man any more and that this will put a strain on my relationship with my wife. This is my greatest fear. Maybe I am immature, but that is the one aspect of this I simply can't get my head around. But again, although these are common side effects, they are not necessarily the definite outcome. This does however massively colour my view of treatments. For some people they love being alive so much that they simply want to have the damn thing removed. For me, I do struggle with the idea that I would be alive but not be able to enjoy the best things in life. And this causes anxiety and is my biggest struggle at the moment. So I am very much tempted to plump for whatever treatment is least likely to have these effects.

Everyone I have spoken to has different worries and fears. I was having a chat last night with a good friend who is a Muslim and is facing cancer surgery. His fears are different to mine. He has great faith and believes what happens is Gods will. But he is scared. He is also angry. We all react differently. As we discussed it, we both concluded that it is important to take someone with you when you get a diagnosis. When you get bad news, you are overwhelmed. Having someone there, who you can later calmly and rationally discuss the issue with is a really important help.

Given the survival rates, most of us with cancers, well be around for at least ten years. That means that realisitically, the biggest issue is psychological. I have formed the view that everyone who has been diagnosed should automaticallly be given counselling. I was asked if I wanted it back in 2011. I said no. I felt it was a sign of weakness and I felt I didn't need help in dealing with it. I was probably wrong. The main reason I said no, was I felt this was a waste of NHS resources that could be better used elsewhere. In my case, this may be true, but it would probably have helped me get to a better place more quickly. Many people don't have the support network I have. I also had the experience of seeing my mother successfully be treated for a cancer that had a zero survival rate in 1970. I am under no illusion as to just how awful that was. She had a series of operations, leading up to her stomach being completely removed. She was ill for years and looked like a ghost. But she survived and eventually thrived. I was seven years old when my mother became ill. To the day she died, she still had treatments related. That was in 2008.  I vividly remember the reaction of my Father, a very tough Aussie WWII bomber pilot, when he was told the news that my mums cancer had a zero survival rate after five years. He told us and burst into tears. My mum was the love of his life and he couldn't contemplate life without her. A it was, she outlived him by 19 years.

But cancer devastates families. The fear and the stress is for many worse than the disease. We really need to recognise this and ensure that this is addressed. Cancer is a very scary subject. If we could in some way remove this fear, many people would have far better lives. As I have been writing this blog, it occured to me that I haven't asked my wife how she felt about hearing the news. That is remiss of me and will be the first thing I address when I finish typing. Because when it comes down to it, I believe that of all the horrible things cancer does, inducing fear and depression is the worst. we need to acknowledge that Cancer is in many ways a very nasty form of mental illness, that affectes far more people than those that simply are the direct victims of the curse.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Rog T's Cancer Blog - The news I was hoping not to hear

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 51 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down againg at 4.6.  I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

As regular readers and followers of this particular series of blogs will know, this time last week I was having a biopsy.  Today was the big day. Today I travelled up to Barnet General for the results. I was feeling pretty chipper about the whole thing. My PSA has been stable for four years. My recent MRI showed no progression. So what was there to worry about.

"God Bless the NHS"
So I turned up at Barnet General for my 10am appointment. As ever this never happens at the time you are told. My chief worry was the parking. I'd only put 1 hour on the ticket. I thought this would be ample, but by 10.35, I realised that this may have been a mistake, as I was still waiting.

Eventually I was called in. The doctor I saw wasn't one I'd previously seen. She looked at the notes and her opening gambit "Well the news isn't good, but it isn't time to panic". This was not what I was expecting to hear. She proceeded to tell me that the biopsy had found samples with a more aggressive form of cancer. This biopsy was a more extensive one than the previous. So I asked if this was likely to be simply that the previous biopsy was less extensive. Her response was along the lines of "yes, but it is irrelevent, you have something that requires some sort of response". I've been on what is called active surveillance for four years. She said "Now we need a change of strategy".

She then proceeded to outline the three recommended options. These are Surgery, Radiation/Chemotherapy or Ultrasound. She suggested a consult with each of the teams so that an informed decision could be made. I also need a bone scan.

I must confess this wasn't the news I was expecting. But the purpose of active surveillance is to ensure that when today comes, it is done in a way that can be managed. At present there is a small amount of a more aggresive cancer. I have options and whilst none are pleasant, I have the choice of several paths all of which potentially can make the problem go away. The only issue is that none are really that pleasant. My initial thoughts are that if it is feasable, I'd go for the Ultrasound treatment as this is the least invasive, has the least possible side effects and will involve the least disruption to my lifestyle. The only issue is whether it is feasable. We shall see.

I have many things to think about. My first responsibility is to my family. Whatever path I go down, it must be the best one for all of us. it influences various decisions about work and about other life related decisions. If I didn't have a family, I'd probably cash in a few investments and go on a massive holiday binge for a year or two, then have the treatment. I don't feel this is a fair option for them. In this day and age, your kids need all manner of help with matters financial. Reckless decisions are not the order of the day, although I do feel a holiday would be good to clear my mind.

I'd been mentally preparing this blog for a week. All of that has gone out of the window. We are in a new phase of the game and it isn't one I had anticipated. But there is something I need to say to everyone who is reading this. I am in this position because at age 49 I had a full NHS checkout. I am now in the position where I am weighing up treatment options which will make the problem go away (hopefully). I have options and choices. If I hadn't had that check up, I'd be happily going about my business, none the wiser. I would have found out when the whole thing went wrong. I'd be facing a situation where I would not be dealing with options for a cure. I'd be dealing with options where I'd be looking at managing a life limiting disease. No matter how bad I feel about this all right now, I am in a far better position than I would have been, if i'd found out when the symptoms made me visit the doctor. So please, do yourself a favour. Get your PSA checked out. Today isn't a great day, but it means that I'll be spared a far worse day further down the line.

For all my friends and all of those who aren't, I am likely to be around for a good while yet. As the doctor said "This isn't the time to panic". It is the time to make some haard nosed and rational decisions. In a delicious irony, as I write this, Robert Elms is playing 1999 by Prince. "We're gonna party like its 1999". Gotta say, I cannot think of anything further from my mind right now, but the irony did make me chuckle. I am glad I am British. No other nation does Gallows Humour better. Not only that, we have the NHS. Don't let anyone lead you to believe the NHS is anything other than the best idea ever. God bless the NHS. I am not a violent person, but I really think that any party or govenrment that tries to harm this organisation are a bunch of psychopathic criminals. The NHS is one thing I would fight to my last breath to defend. Whatever worries I have, unlike 97% of the population of Planet Earth I know I will receive the treatment I need and I won't have to become bankrupt in the process.

Barnet Council and the decimation of the library services

On Monday 12th October, 2015 7.00 pm there is a special Meeting of the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee. Click here to see the full agenda pack. Local residents have organised a protest meeting prior to the meeting at 6pm at the town hall. It is clear that the strategy the council have adopted has completely ignored the consultation it carried out.

I have reviewed the proposals and it is clear to me that they are not well thought out. There are more questions asked than answered. Basically a whole bunch of libraries are being downgraded. They will not have trained librarians ans will be unmanned for lengthy periods. Given that the elderly, children and vulnerable people are often the main user groups for libraries, is this really desirable?

It seems to me that the Barnets Conservative councillors do not have any concept of what a library is, beyond knowing it is a building with a few books in. They do not understand the key role librarians play in the life of the Borough. They don't understand that some elderly people go to the library and read papers as it is the only way they can afford to keep warm and keep up to date with what is happening in the world. They don't understand that many elderly have poor eyesight and need he;p in selecting large print books. They don't understand that refugees and immigrants can be put in touch with services to help them get jobs and educational services. They don't understand that some young people need quiet space for study. I could go on.

Sadly we live in a punishing world. Whilst I am sure you and I are truly fine citizens, there are elements of our society who see a nice, unstaffed public space as an opportunity. If it has children and young people there, you don't have to be a genius to identify what sort of undesirables may see that as an opportunity. If it has vulnerable and elderly people there, sadly soceity has undesirable elements who see these as rich pickings.

The plan also has aspirations to man the library with volunteers. I think this is a good idea, but not if there are no trained staff at all. Barnet has a duty of care to the public. What checks will be conducted? As there are children, the elderly and teh vulnerable, what first aid training?

And the practicalities. How safe is it to have the public in such buildings withoutr staff? Is there a fire risk etc? Who manages the situation if there is a fire or other emergency.

Anyway, I've asked the following questions.

Having reviewed the council proposals for Barnet library's and given that library's are heavily used by the elderly and children and other vulnerable people, please can you advise.
A) has the council consulted with its insurers with regards to the additional public liability risks? If so how has this affected premiums?
B) with regards to volunteers, what first aid, emergency procedure and health and safety will be provided and what is the cost?
C) with regards to unmanned operation, what consideration and risk assessments have been performed to ensure the safety of the public and the councils assets?
D) have the police and fire service been consulted as to safety aspects of the proposal
E) what backgrounds checks will be performed on volunteers and what are the associated costs
F) what additional management oversight is required and what is the additional costs for managing volunteers
G) what are the additional costs of security for buildings under the new arrangement. How many extra security staff will be employed by the council or its contractors
H) what steps are being taken to ensure that substance abuse and other criminal activities are not undertaken in unmanned libraries

 Often when you add up all the costs, you actually don't save very much. Barnet has a history of cocking up schemes and you end up with a worse service at a greater cost. I am sure that our councillors don't do this on purpose, they just lack the analytic and business skills to identify costs and risks. We saw a small example of this yesterday when BAPS member Barbara Jacobson tried to submit a question for the committee and was told that she was too late to do this, due to an obscure rule change. Myself and several other members of the public emailed the Council Leader, Richard Cornelius and asked him to apply common sense. Happily he realised that this was a completely needless row and Barbara has been allowed to ask her question. It was yet another example of how the Council doesn't really see itself as being there to serve the public.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A simple question for all Councillors on Barnet Council

I have a very simple question for the Councillors of Barnet Council. It is

Why are you a Councillor?

The reason I ask this is that since I started writing this blog back in 2008, I've seen Sheltered Housing decimated, Church Farm Museum shut down and left to rot, hundreds of jobs lost and exported to far flung reaches of the UK under One Barnet, hundreds of small traders forced out of business by the abolition of ay and display parking, your own citizens taking you to court to reverse illegal CPZ parking charge hikes, use of unregulated security contractors to look after vulnerable people, numerous IT infrastructure projects exceed their original budgets by 2, 3 or 4 times the initial estimate, destruction of dozens of football pitches and other spaces where young people can play sport and get fit. The latest schemes which Barnet Council are championing are the abolition of Meals on Wheels and the destruction of the the library service. As with all of the other cuts, these are dressed up in extremely dishonest terms and portrayed as "improvements" and "giving more choice", but the users have rejected the schemes and the only people who are making the choice are the Councillors.

Is this why you became a Councillor?

Not everything is bad in Barnet (at least for councillors). Who has forgotten how Barnet Councillors voted themselves a big rise in allowances, shortly after the May 2010 elections.  In all the time I've been writing this blog, I can only recall one instance where tory Councillors broke ranks to defy the leadership. That was on the Mapledown Special school vote. In this case the policy being proposed by Counciller Rueben Thompstone was so vile that even his own loyalists knew the game was up when they saw the parents of disabled children attending the meeting en masse. Rumour has it that Maureen Braun the Tory who broke ranks, will be deselect at the next council election. I am told she only survived in May because it was too late to get rid of her. It seems that a bevvy of young and rather ideologically pure men are being lined up to replace "The old Guard". I am told that they believe that with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, in Barnet Tories only have to turn up to win. Therefore they can be as hard line as they like. I've been given a list of Tories who will not be around at the next Council election. Some familiar faces are heading for the hills and I am sure not all of them will be too thrilled to find out. I won't be shedding too many tears. They have made their bed, they can lie in it. I just hope that when they have some time on their hands, the find that their mates haven't shut down their local library.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Under what circumstances would the Prime Minister fire a Trident missile?

Like many people, I groaned when Jeremy Corbyn stated that there are no circumstances under which he'd unilaterally fire a Trident missile. I am a pacifist, but it is always possible that such a situation could arise. The trouble is that the more I think about it, the harder it is to actually envisage one. There are several science fiction scenarios where I suppose a nuclear strike may be appropriate. For instance a Zombie apocalypse engulfing Birmingham may warrant such a strike as a way to protect the rest of the country. Or possibly the discovery of a hostile alien race living off the Outer Hebredies.

But those sort of scenarios aside, what scenarios are there? Trident was devised in the days of the cold war. The idea was that Great Britain needed a nuclear arsenal to deter the USSR from invading or attacking us. Given that the USSR doesn't exist and it would be far easier for Russia simply to turn off the gas to Europe in the middle of winter, it seems a far from realistic proposition. If Vladimir Putin did launch a nuke at London, he'd simply wipe out the assets of many of his rich mates. The truth is that London is awash with Russian money. The idea that Putin would see us as a threat which warrants a nuke is quite frankly bonkers. What other countries have nukes? Well the French do, but can anyone really see a situation where we have a nuclear spat with our next door neighbours? That would be simply bonkers as the fallout of any nuke launched at Paris would soon contaminate London. Or the USA? Even with a nutter like Trump in charge, is there any scenario where we'd want to start a nuclear war with the Yanks? I suppose if you believe the Daily Mail, it is actually quite reassuring that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't want to nuke them! Then there are the Chinese. For China to pose a realistic threat to the UK, they'd either have to come through India, Pakistan, Russia and France to reach us. All of who have nukes of their own and one has to assume would be less than thrilled with the prospect of a Chinese invasion. Given that the Chinese really don't seem to have any expansionist ambitions, again this is not exactly realistic. What about India and Pakistan? Can anyone see a scenario where we'd start a war with either of these Commonwealth countries which we get on rather well with most of the time? North Korea? Well yes, the latest lunatic dictator there is a tad unpredictable, but is there really any serious prospect of the UK getting involved in a nuclear spat with them? I could foresee a Donald Trump inspired scenario where bad things happen, but the UK would do very well to stay well away from that particular argument. Israel? Again, given that the Daily Mail and many commentators claim Corbyn has "antisemitic mates" I suppose it is quite reassuring to know he's ruled out nuking the Israelis. I can't see any scenarios where were any sane Prime Minister would nuke them.

So having looked at the list of credible nuclear threats, one has to conclude that Trident isn't much use. What about rogue terrorists in caves in Afghanistan or elsewhere? Is there a scenario where a Trident missile is the only realistic way to prevent them attacking the UK. I have friends in the airforce, who tell me that a far better solution would be to scrap the Trident replacement and invest the money in a fleet of nuclear capable bomber aircraft. These clear could also drop non nuclear bombs and would be far more adaptable to the credible threats we really face. The armed forces budget is hugely under pressure. Scrapping Trident is one way to ensure that the Aircforce, Army and Navy have the resources required to actually deal with real life issues we face.

So although I suspect that Corbyn has made a bad technical blunder in stating that he'd never press the button, nothing in the debate has actually addressed the real issue, which is whether we are spending our defence budget in a sensible manner that addresses the real threats we face. Ever since the cold war ended, there has been no sensible debate as to what the armed forces should be doing. If someone can make a credible case for a Trident replacement, based on evidence and a rational analysis of the situation we face, I'd support that case. As far as I am concerned, that case has not been made.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 04/10/2015

Regular readers of my blog will know I've been preoccupied with things other than Twitter this week! However there have been a few classic tweets out there.So without further ado.....

1. There can only be one.... if this doesn't bring a smile to your face, you probably are not that interested in Burnt Oak!

    1. 12h12 hours ago
      Burnt Oak Buddy - 3rd October - Belle Vue  

2. This was the Tweet of the week, until Burnt Oak Buddy did the business. A lovely little clip.

Here's the VIDEO! Super Blood Moon 28.9.2015 speeded up 5000 times

3. Parking hero and Barnet blogger Mr Mustard reveals that he is also moonlighting as Batman!

was losing one of these a week from Café Buzz until yesterday when I chased a thief up the street ...

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4. Olympic runner and Strictly star Iwan Thomas popped up in Mill Hill to film for the One Show this week

Iwan Thomas and The One Show in studio 21 at Mill Hill Music Compex

5.  Call me Metrosexual or what! You don't have to be a mum to find loads of great local info on Mumsnet!

Got a or event in ? Don't forget to list it in our What's On Guide

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 6. Many thanks to our old friend Brian Coleman for bringing this fascinating article to our attention! If my friends in Golders Green are anything to go by, I think they may be rather less shocked than Brian suspects.

7. A rather horrifying picture of a coach on fire in Brent Cross from Coolimage77

7h7 hours ago
Massive coach fire on A406/Brent Cross

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8. Jack Cohen is upset at the slow deatrh being imposed by the local Tories on Childs Hill library

So Child's Hill library condemned to a slow death ? 15 hours opening a week proposed? unacceptable

9. In a first, Jack Cohen gets a second appearance. First time anyone has got two in the tweets of the week, but I couldn't ignore this one!

  1. Cricklewood Green wins opening race at Ascot 12 to 1, save our very own Cricklewood Green

10. This week we'll give the final place to Mr Reasonable, who as ever succinctly sums up things up so well. This time he sets out in 130 words the devastation that is facing Barnets library service.

Barnet libraries currently open 634.5 hrs. New plan 188 staffed hrs, 120 hrs volunteers, 596 hrs unmanned. They didn't listen to residents.

Got to say that there have been some brilliant tweets this week.