Today has been a good day. I started the day planning to write a blog about the "Swinging Vicar" mentioned in the Express this morning. As the day went on this changed to the great news that the Post Office will not need to close 3,000 outlets as they've kept the benefits payments contract. Then I noticed a remarkable thing. Something that have made the last six months blogging all worth it! In the stand off between Our glorious leader, Councillor Mike Freer and us Barnet Bloggers, Mike Freer has blinked !!!!!!!
I did my usual daily check of his Leader Listens blog (click HERE to see it in it's full glory) to see if Mike has published my comments yet. He hasn't, but the good news is that he's acknowledged (in a very Mike Freer sort of way) that us bloggers have been right about Council extravagance and he's finally doing something about it.
One of my favourite local blogs is the Barnet Council Watch blog, run by "Don't Call Me Dave" Miller. David sits at the opposite end of the political spectrum to myself. He's what I call a "sensible Tory" (I'm usually called a Swivel eyed Trotskyite by the local Tories). He opposes waste and wants to see the Council do a good job. He's become rather disenchanted with the way Barnet Council are doing things and he gives a pretty well informed commentary on the subject in his blog.
David likes to get to the bottom of things and has found that the best way in Barnet is via the Freedom of Information act. In America, right wing libertarians view their equivalent act as sacred. Anyone opposing FOI requests in America would be viewed as a dangerous leftist subversive. It is seem as part of a process of open and honest Government. In short the price we have to pay for democracy. Some recent comments seem to imply that our top councillors have a different view.
It looks to me as if David has won a rather big victory for us bloggers and the hard pressed Council Tax Payers of Barnet today, with his blogs and FOI requests. Earlier in the year, David forced the Council to reveal that Mike Freer had travelled Business class to the USA (Full details on David Blog HERE), at the taxpayers expense, for a Conference. The explanation was that "he needed to be fresh to get the most out of the meetings". What he didn't say was that he had travelled so as to have the Sunday to himself in San Francisco. This cost us thousands of pounds. Freer has never apologised for this excess. It seems that David has started to get through to Mr Freer that excessive waste in these times is not acceptable.
The acting Borough Finance Supremo has travelled to Iceland, to attend a creditors meeting of two Icelandic Banks which went bust, freezing £27.4 million of Taxpayers money. Now I fully support all efforts to get the Council's cash back and contrary to Mikes opening comments, see no useful purpose to be made criticising this trip.
In fact the final paragraph is probably the most sensible thing I've seen Mr Freer write for a very long time. He says "Be assured, Barnet and Kent will not be picking up the bill to represent every other local authority and the modest travel and accommodation expenses of both Clive and Lynda will be shared between all of the authorities affected. For the record, and to avoid a raft of Freedom of Information Requests, Clive travelled to Iceland using a budget airline and has accommodation in a 3* hotel at a cost of approximately £50 per night."
This seems to me to be a sea change in council policy. What would be even better would be a commitment from Freer that in future, this travel policy will be applied across the board. It is clear from the tone of Freer's blog, that he has started taking the criticism to heart. He has started to realise that we have a point. He has realised that people like myself and David Miller will uncover excessive waste and publicise it. I am sure he doesn't like it. The response boxes at the end of my blogs tell me this, but if it makes him do his job a bit better, then it is worth it.
In his Barnet Press column last week, Councillor Brian Coleman said that bloggers have 20/20 hindsight and achieve nothing useful. Well Brian - looks like your leader might be starting to take a different view. I certainly think that the green shoots of common sense have most certainly been nourished by the blogs of Barnet. I'm sure I'll get the usual raft of sneering comments from the FoF's but they'll make me laugh even more than usual this time !!!! In the words of that other darling of the Right, George Bush - "Bring 'em on"
I'm off to play 5 a side now. When I finish I'll have a celebratory Shandy to celebrate the first major victory of us Barnet Bloggers. I hope David has a rather large glass of his favourite tipple as the victory is his today.