The Leader of Barnet Council has had a rather bumpy ride of late. As a well known Banker, he found the Council he runs in the rather unfortunate position of having lost £27.4 Million in dodgy savings accounts in Iceland. Now anyone who's followed this blog will know the history of this rather well (rather too well maybe), so I'm not going to rehash that. I am going to tell you what Michael Whitney Freer's master plan is. Brian Coleman, in his column in the Barnet Press (you know, that one in amongst all the ads for Brothels, whippings and spankings) states that us bloggers show 20-20 hindsight. Well here I am staking my reputation on showing you the future. I know Mike Freer is an avid reader, so I'll be interested to here what he has to say, via his various alter ego's. If I were a Labour or Lib Dem councillor or PPC I'd take a few notes. You would be rather surprised if you knew how I am able to make such accurate predictions !!!!
This time last week, Mike Freer was a bit nervous. Whilst he had the numbers in chambre, he didn't know what rabbits Labour and the Lib Dems had ready to pull out of the hat. His body language and that of his colleagues gave that away all too well. Unfortunately for the Opposition, despite a excellent start from Councillor Wayne Casey, they blew it. Mike Freer's twitchy leg came back under control as Labour supremo finished her speech with "Shoot..." (at least that's what she claimed she'd said when the Mayor told her that time was up).
No rabbits, Bugs Bunny lived to fight another day along with the Mike Freer regime. He's also got a bit lucky. Leo Boland, the Chief Exec has just got another job at the GLA, so he's even got a scapegoat to pile all of the blame on, for any can's yet to be opened, which are currently being devoured by worms. He has a dilemma though. The economy has turned nasty and Mike's plan to become MP for Finchley could easily be derailed. A large Council Tax increase to plug the hole left in the reserves will finish him. To plug a £10 million hole the Tories claimed existed when they came in, they put council tax up 25%. Another rise on that scale would be the end of the career of Freer. He knows it. Mind you he only has to survive till May 2010. The arguments over the Icelandic deposits will most probably go on for years. In the eye's of Mike and his Spinmeisters, the money is only "lost" for good when the books are closed and the positions finally wound up, possibly years down the line.
Mike is nothing if not a survivor, so the answer is simple, borrow the money to plug the hole, in anticipation of it being returned by the Icelandic Administrators. He'll lose his four star council rating, but so what? It is a nice to have but in the harsh world of politics, all the stars in the world will not offset a huge Council Tax hike. His position will be that it is treasury orthodoxy, supported by all sides, that we borrow our way out of recession. How can the Labour Councillors disagree, when that seems to be Gordon Brown's preferred policy?
Having said that resources will be scarce. Spending priorities will need to be carefully managed. Don't expect any new, large scale projects, just lots of nice little headline grabbing initiatives. There are policies which deliver votes (especially marginal votes) and policies which don't. That is why all of the tenants on the (Labour heartland) Childs Hill estate, who saw the motion to improve their living quality defeated by the Tory block, are unlikely to see improvements any time soon. Expect lots of new shrubs in parks in nice middle class areas (how can anyone disagree with a few attractive shrubs). Mike is a slippery customer, he know that Labour can't oppose spending in marginal areas, it's win - win for him.
As to cock-ups like Aerodrome Road, he'll use the Brownite line that "Infrastructure projects" are needed to kick start the economy and overspending is to be expected in financially challenging times.
So in May 2010, if all goes to plan and he manages to avoid anymore banana skins, we'll be out of recession and he'll be sitting pretty for Finchley.
There's just one snag for the poor muppets (apologies to Statler and Waldorf) who take over. The cupboard will be bare, as not only will the loans need repaying, the interest servicing and the black hole need filling, you'll also most likely be faced with a Tory regime who will also have a tax and services cutting agenda. So what will we see in Barnet? Service cuts and huge tax increases will be order of the day. Freer will be sitting in the Palace of Westminster, doubtlessly having moved into a nice Westminster flat subsidised by the Taxpayer. He'll have his inflation proof salary and plentiful allowances to get by on.
For us in Barnet, the the Councillor Mike Freer as leader era will seem like a golden age, after the tax rises and service cuts hit. Freer will be gone, so his successors will be the bad guys. Brian Coleman and his chums who aren't off to Westminster will have to carry the can. I guess they'll just keep on rolling up the allowances for another 4 years and hope they get away with it.
Of course the Tories could stage another palace coup and sort the problems out now, before it gets too bad, before the debts pile up too much, but that would take Cojones and the only Balls I can see is the crystal one into which I'm gazing !