Last night, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services held a residents forum, for local people to air their grievances about life in Barnet. There were five main groups of people in a well attended meeting.
1. Local members of the public, inspired to come along by the policies of the local authority (Barnet Council). They were generally concerned about cuts to welfare for people who need support, cuts to budgets for youth services and parks and the insane parking policies of Barnet Council.
2. Members of the local Labour party. Councillor Alan Schneiderman, GLA Candidate Andrew Dismore and a bevvy of other activists.
3. Regular BAPS members, who are generally interested in Barnet politics, but as keen, if not more so to discuss the global issues of capitalism, finance and dodgy bankers.
4. A few interested onlookers, who said nothing, but occasionally clapped vigourously and nodded their head when points (parking, parks and welfare). This group seemed more interested in local issues than the discussions on the relative merits of the global financial system, but not being a mindreader, that is my take on their views.
5. The local Conservative Councillors and MP's. Unlike previous meetings, they were represented at this meeting. In fact they were represented by a world famous figure, who has been represented in many books and movies. Yup, the invisible man turned up. Sadly he had nothing to say (sorry guys, couldn't resist the dig).
The first three groups of people all had a lot to say. The meeting was ably chaired by Alan Sloam, a former Barnet Councillor, who genuinely seemed to enjoy chairing a public meeting. I missed the first half of the meeting. I came in as Andrew Dismore gave a masterclass in dissection of the inept parking changes in Barnet. Whatever you think of Dismore, he certainly is a detail man. An issue such as parking is made for him. He won universal approval from the audience (after the meeting a couple of people told me they'd voted Tory in May, but would definately vote for Dismore to see the back of Coleman. People seem to know who is to blame for the parking fiasco.)
Another member of the Labour party spoke up for the policies of the previous government and explained how many people who had benefitted from schemes for young people in Barnet were suffering because of the policies of the council/government.
Councillor Schneiderman commented on the difficulty scrutinising One Barnet projects. He stated that the devil was in the detail and that the focus should be on individual service areas. He also commented that the parking changes could kill town centres (wide applause).
A BAPS member stated that the he was a member of the Coalition against the Cuts. He berated Labour for allowing cuts in Camden and other Labour Boroughs and stated that this was worse than Tory cuts. At this point, I reminded the audience that One Barnet was conceived long before the current crisis. The project started as Future Shape, shortly after Brian Coleman and Mike Freer arranged a palace coup and deposed Brian Salinger as leader, shortly after the May 2006 Council elections.
Julian Silverman, as vice chair, reminded the audience that the crisis was far wider than just Barnet. He explained that we needed root and branch reform of the financial services industry.
A local resident suggested that councillors should not chair Council run residents forums. The chair should be selected by the residents present.
Linda Evans, one of the local carers, discussed the hardships being caused by Council policies. She discussed the role of the CADDS organisation, which represents carers (and has been discussed on guest blogs by Janet Leifer here). She explained how CADDS had managed to reverse some seriously bad decisions. She detailed one, where a man who couldn't take himself to the toilet had his night care removed. She also discussed how Barnet Council has form for performing surveys of carers and then ignoring and burying the results.
Alan Sloam added that at a conference, a care worker in Barnet discussed the importance of parents with disabled parents putting in care plans for when they die. Apparently, despite there being a clear need, in Barnet at present only 7 out of 2,000 parent carers have lodged a care plan. This is due to rise to 12 by the end of the year.
Nagus Naren, subject of ridicule and abuse at a Hendon & District Residents forum earlier this year, for her Sri Lankan accent, from Councillor John Hart, who was the chair (and paid for the role), explained how Barnet Council has lost all credibility due to its toleration of such behaviour. She was visibly upset as she recounted the issue (This blog is disgusted that there are apologists for Hart who seem to think his behaviour was OK and that just because the committee delivered a perverse judgement, doesn't mean that it is all OK).
And with that, the meeting rapped up at 9.15. A motion was passed to deliver the minutes of the meeting to Barnet Council. I wonder what they will do with them?
There is something about all of this that does bother me. Again Conservative Councillors were invited. Again none bothered to come. Out of the 37 of them, surely there must be at least one who is eloquent,witty and able to handle a public meeting. That cannot be the issue. The issue must be that none of them agree with the policies that their council is implementing in relation to parking and One Barnet. I suspect that the only two councillors who think the parking fiasco is a good idea are Rams and Coleman. The rest are too scared. As for One Barnet, I don't think a single Barnet Conservative really has a clue what it is all about. Last night I was told of a very interesting conversation between Brian Coleman and someone present at the meeting regarding One Barnet. I'm sworn to secrecy, but lets just say that even the man who thinks the parking changes are a good idea has his reservations about One Barnet.
One thing I've learned over the years about people is that if something doesn't affect them, generally they don't care. They go with the flow. However, when they become the victims of injustice, they care passionately and for a very long time. Let me give you an example. At school, I received the cane so many times, I can't recall them all. Most of the time, I'd done something which transgressed the school rules and I accepted it. There were however three times when I got into serious trouble and I felt that I'd been treated unfairly by the school. To this day I remember these instances in minute detail and feel a sense of being wronged. That is why I believe we could have some interesting results in elections in the coming years.